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Title: Chips And Splinters Author: Edward S. Sorenson * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1500101h.html Language: English Date first posted: February 2015 Most recent update: February 2015 This eBook was produced by: Colin Choat 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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PARTS OF THIS BOOK ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN
"THE WORKER," "BULLETIN," "PUNCH," AND
"TOWN AND COUNTRY JOURNAL."
When Dad Drives Home from
How the Sailor Rode the Brumby
On Sawpit Gully
How Joe Worked the Oracle
A New System
The Old Barn School
The Pasted Cheque
Granny from the Country
Knights of the Boomerang
A Bush Bard
Crossing the Log
A Crook's Deal
The Back Log
An Old Fossicker
The Eternal Maternal Lecture
The Manly Qudruped
"Timberlegs" and "The Barwon News"
The Settlers' Clock
The Office Boy's Nightmare
The Big Tree
The Sailor Ploughman
When Dad goes into town he takes The old selection dray, And carefully attends the brakes, While dawdling all the way; But when he's interviewed the shops, And liquor'd at "The Crown"— You bet there's no such thing as stops As Dad drives home from town. A careful man he starts away, All watchfulness and joy; "Now, mind your pinny, Sis," he'll say; Don't soil your coat, me boy; Take care there, Tom, you don't fall out; And "Minnie, do sit down!" But all who will may roll about When Dad drives home from town. And roll we do, by gum, we do; And bump from side to side; We yell and howl—and so would you If fated thus to ride; 'Tis over logs and foul of stumps, And knocking saplings down, For waddies ply and Spanker jumps When Dad drives home from town. The kangaroos beat right and left, The possums rush for trees, As Dad stands up like one bereft, With coat tails in the breeze; While Spanker's shod hoofs clout and ring, And youngsters gasp and frown; Dad's hurry's quite astonishing When driving home from town. The tail-board was the first to go, And with it went the toys; Then one by one the girls dropped low, And after them the boys; While 'cross the creek he dashed, and then "Hold tight," he cried, "or drown!" 'Tis really interesting when The "Guv'nor" drives from town. We're holding tight to mother earth, A-sprawl in twos and threes, While clocking cart wheels drown our mirth, Till swallowed in the trees. Then, gathering spoil from log and rut, With swags addressed "J. Brown," We "pad the hoof" to Bargo Hut, While Dad drives home from town. A slush-lamp at the window burns, To guide the travellers back; It dies and glows as Spanker turns The windings of the track; And mother hastens towards the sound To throw the sliprails down— She knows what whirls the wheels around When Dad drives home from town. With empty cart, and minus hat, He draws the reins a-foam; In Indian file across the flat The "kids" come toddling home— With packages and bags a-back, With mother's boots and gown, And other things that blaze the track When Dad drives home from town.
He was an agile sailor man, Who longed to know the bush, And with his swag and billy can, He said he'd "make a push"; He left his ship in Moreton Bay, And faced the western sun— He asked the way ten times a day, And steered for Bandy's Run. Said Bandy, "You can start, my son, If you can ride a horse." 'Twas stockmen for the cattle run Were wanted there, of course. Now Jack had strode the crossbars oft On many a rolling sea, So reckoned he'd be safe aloft On any moke, you see. They caught him one, and saddled it, And led it from the yard; It sidled round, and champed its bit, And at the sailor sparr'd: He towed her round, and with a grin He eyed her fore and aft; Then thrust his foot the gangway in, And swung aboard the craft. The whites and blacks climbed on the rails, The boss stood smiling by, As Jack exclaimed. "Away she sails!" And Brumby 'gan to fly. She bounded first against the gate, And Jack cried out, "Astarn!" Then struck a whirlpool—'t any rate, That was the sailor's yarn. For Brumby spun him round and round, She reared and kicked and struck, And with alternate bump and bound, In earnest 'gan to buck. A tree loomed onhe starboard bow, And—"Port yer helm!" cried he; She fouled a bush; he roared, "You scow, Keep to the open sea!" One moment he was in the seat, The next was lying down; Anon some acrobatic feat Would shame a circus clown. But still he clung, as monkeys cling, To rudder-line and flap, Although at every prop and spring They thought his neck would snap. From tail to ears he rode her hard, From ears to tail again, A mile beyond the cattle yard, And back across the plain; Now high upon the pommel bumped, Now hanging at the side, Anon behind the saddle dumped, With arms and legs flung wide. The watchers tumbled off the rail, The boss lay down and roared, While Jack held tight by rein and tail, And rocked about "on board"; They stared to see him stick aloft, Though Bruucked fierce and free; But he had strode the crossbars oft, On many a bounding sea. The saddle from the rounded back Went spinning in mid-air, Whilst two big boots were flung off Jack, And four shoes off the mare; The bridle broke and left her free, He grasped her round the neck; "We're 'mong the breakers now," cried he, "There's bound to be a wreck!" She struck and squealed, and snorted loud, She reared, and pawed the air; It was the greatest sight the crowd Had ever witnessed there; For Jack with legs and arms clung tight, The Brumby's neck around, And yelled, "A pilot—quick as light, Or, dash me, I'm aground!" They only laughed the louder when The mare began to back— Until she struck the fence, and then Sat down to snort at Jack. He gasped, "I'm safe in port at last, I'll quit yer bounding mane"; Dropped off and sang, "All danger's past, And Jack's come home again!" Now, Jack has been on Bandy's Run, A stockman, many years, Yet mem'ries of that morning's fun To many still bring tears. They cannot understand it yet. A fall he did not dree— But Jack had strode the yardarms wet On many a plunging sea.
I halted one day for lunch on the bank of Sawpit Gully. On the slope, now covered with ferns, was a half-filled pit, with heavy junks of partly-sawn timber, a rotten cedar log, and a couple of old rusted saws lying about it.
Those saws had once been the pride of the men who worked there. They kept them as bright as a new shilling, and loved to hear the swish of their savage teeth through the fragrant red-wood.
Then, when the buzz and hum of the circular was heard, those saws, that no other dared touch before, were thrown aside in disgust. The deserted sawpit was eloquent. "We won't want them any more, Jack," it echoed still. "We've got to find another job."
But it was a busy scene that I looked back upon long, long years ago, when those rusted blades were humming on Sawpit Gully.
The sawyers, whose home was a bark gunyah near by, were tradesmen whose work was important then.
The homes of the pioneer settlers were commonly built of split timber, but here and there was one that rose to the magnificence of sawn planks and boards. It was something very special in the way of houses, built of solid cedar throughout, even to the sleepers, and piece by piece sawn by hand and dressed by hand.
On that quiet gully side, where the lyre bird learnt to mock the swish of the pitsaw, the work was constant and long continued.
It took a good while to cut enough material for a house, which necessarily made sawn timber prohibitive to the poor man. If he cut it himself, he could only spare a little time now and again, so that it sometimes took him years to complete his contract. His house was built in sections, a couple of rooms to begin with, and the rest added from time to time, the outside being completed a long while before the inside was commenced.
Pitsawing was then a lucrative trade. Hundreds followed it, working in scrub and forest, by many a stream other than Sawpit Gully.
Then the portable mill arrived, and with it a new phase in bush life. The pit sawyers, their trade for ever vanished, had to throw down their saws; they could not even sell them; and the pit was abandoned, with a pang of regret, no doubt, for the storms to fill and erase as the years roll by.
Phineas Jones was a native of Wattle Gully, an obscure little place that isn't marked on any map excepting always the mud maps that Phineas draws on the road with a stick when directing some unfortunate wanderer to the awful place. He was a timber getter, having commenced in that pioneering work as soon as he was able to ride after bullocks and act as offsider at pinches for his father, and was educated between whiles at the little slab school in Wattleville. His father was the only one in a community of 29 who subscribed to current literature. He took the "Government Gazette" and "Hansard," and as he read them aloud to the family in the big fireplace at night, especially the political speeches, which he punctuated with long discourses of his own, the budding genius beside him, which was Phineas, got not only an early grip of the world's doings, but, following the bent of the oldest inhabitant, which was his father, shaped his interests into a decided political channel. Thus he talked politics in his boyhood in the timber-getters' camp; he talked politics to himself as he plodded along beside his bullocks with the whip on his shoulder; and he dreamed politics at night, when he was mostly member for the district, driving around and handing out bridges and culverts to Wattle Gully and neighboring deputationists.
He was so politically obsessed that he named all his team after leading members of Parliament; the near-side bullocks were the Government and the offsiders the Opposition. Apposition. When there was a change in the House he changed the sides of his team, and consequently had trouble with it for a week or two after. The new Premier and the new Ministers took a lot of breaking in to office. When he had a good side, including several bearing the names of members whose politics pleased him, his fondest hope was to see those members returned at every election.
Sometimes he took a dislike to a politician because a bullock bearing his name was intractable or a loafer, or perhaps the animal would be named after a member of Parliament who had incurred his displeasure. In either case the unfortunate brute would get more than his share of the whip and abuse, and the driver would see him poleaxed before ever he would get a vote from him again. When the member he represented was defeated, the driver would wave his hat joyfully and cry: "Hooray you've got kicked out, you waster—now you can go to the beef cask." And ten to one the ex-M.P. would be fattened up and killed.
As he grew older Phineas was listened to with more respect, and came to be regarded as an authority on Parliamentary matters. Nothing pleased him better than to meet one who could argue with him. Then he expressed his views at great length, dilating in particular on local requirements and timber-getters' grievances, the disgraceful condition of the roads of Wattle Gully, and the scandalous neglect of the district generally. In this way he acquired a masterful oratory—that is, for Wattle Gully—and when someone suggested that he should put up for Parliament the idea took root in his mind and stayed there. He was convinced that he was the man to save the country. He went about more, even to towns and hamlets 20 miles away; he attended all meetings and social functions in the neighborhood, and hurled long speeches at the gatherings on the least provocation.
These were not impromptu speeches, though they were supposed to be. Phineas carefully wrote them out while lying in his tent at night by the light of a malodorous slush-lamp; and he practised them when nobody was about. Joe Anderson had seen him coming along the timber track one day, with the whip in one hand and his hat in the other, orating loudly to the surrounding bush. He recognised at once that this sort of thing would get him talked about as a lunatic, so he contented himself with a short address at his camp at night-time. He stood on a stump and talked to the trees, now with hands under his coat-tails (or where they should be), now leaning impressively forward and tapping a finger on his palm, and again throwing his hand out towards the audience that wasn't there. Occasionally he would wheel round sharply and answer an imaginary interjector in his best sarcastic manner, and he would put in the hand-claps and hear-hears of his admirers, who were absent, and wind up by moving a vote of confidence in himself, which he would carry unanimously.
A genius like Phineas Jones wasn't to be buried in the bush of Wattle Gully for ever. He prospered with his timber-carrying; he bought a town house, married the charming daughter of poor-but-honest parents, and became a respectable and God-fearing citizen of Wattleville. Then he shoved and bored his way into everything that had honorable intentions. There couldn't be a dogfight without Phineas being among those present. He harangued at street corners; he was Prime Minister in the debating club, and the leading light of the progress association. He was so many things and in so many places that he scarcely had time to drive bullocks those days. In fact, bullock-driving was getting beneath him, though he never let that be suspected even when, later, he hired men to do it for him. He blossomed into an auctioneer and timber-buyer, by which time he was indeed a busy man of importance, and so well known thait there was no reason why the idea that had been planted in his head in the bogs of Wattle Gully should not blossom also.
Soon it was known that he was a candidate for the constituency of Wattleville. Phineas made it known far and wide by shoals of handbills and placards, backed by a stentorian voice trained in the lordly profession of ox-conductor and seller of old furniture. Old mates and co-workers read on the trees by the roadside: "Vote for Phineas Jones. The Working Man's Friend. The Timber-getters' Hope. The Man Who Understands Your Work and Wants." He talked to them with the enthusiasm of a great local patriot whose interests were wrapped up in Wattle Gully and its people. He promised them roads, bridges, culverts, schools and Government billets. Above all, he was a man who would always remember old mates, who would never turn his back on the laborer no matter how high he might climb himself. He had been a working man all his life, and was still in heart one of themselves, and would ever be. In short, he was a modest, honest democrat, who was never going to change, and who regarded the capitalist as the scourge of the country.
He talked like that at his timber-camp meetings, but the timber-getters noticed that he wore a different coat when he was among the squattocracy. They observed that he had social ambitions; already he considered himself a superior person among the rugged knights of the long-handled whip. When Joe Anderson met him in town Phineas didn't know him. Joe was a good-natured, simple soul, but utterly impossible in select circles. On the same occasion Phineas, magnificently important in a nail-can hat and clawhammer coat, passed his father in the street without seeing him; but then he was walking between the visiting magistrate and the new postmaster, and the old man was rough-shod in blue dungarees and a slouch hat, and was wearing a leather belt with a huge plebeian pouch on it. It would have been embarrassing to have had to admit the relationship to his gentleman friends.
These little peculiarities got Phineas talked about in a fashion that was decidedly unparliamentary. The timber warriors regarded him as a renegade, and for awhile openly resented his unbrotherly airs. Then all at once they came round to him again, and flattered him with positive assurances of success at the ballot. He had their support to a man. Phineas, confident in himself, prepared to leave Wattleville immedately after the election. He sold out his interests and possessions to Brown, a shrewd business rival and subsequently discovered that Brown had cornered the timber trade as well. But it didn't matter to him now; his sphere was politics; and he spent all his time and much hard cash in the campaign.
On election day there was a great rally of timber-getters in Wattleville. They rallied round Jones; they shepherded him and toasted him until he subsided limply on to a couch in his committee-room. That was late in the afternoon. About 10 p.m. they pulled him together, and spruced him up a bit. Then his excited eyes lit on the figures that had been posted up in the room:
PHINEAS JONES 1202 DANIEL MURPHY 17
Phineas at once ordered free drinks to be served out at the pub, after which he was escorted to a commanding balcony to deliver his thanksgiving speech.
His appearance was greeted with wild cheers. Urged by grinning associates, he commenced to beef out the speech he had prepared for the occasion. At first dead silence fell on the crowd. The hero of the day was warming up before they got the hang of the situation. Then the spontaneous hilarity of the audience shook the roof, at which Phineas halted with a stupefied look. He made another start, and was greeted with catcalls. He couldn't understand it. They had all voted for him, and now they guyed him. It was too much for his muddled brain, and presently he gulped down an overdose of whisky and collapsed.
When he woke in the morning his wife's eyes reproached him from the bedside. She threw a damp copy of the local paper at him, and walked out with an air of mingled humiliation and scorn. In perplexity he opened the sheet. For a moment he ceased to breathe, and his eyes bulged as he read:
DANIEL MURPHY 1225 PHINEAS JONES 17
He was still staring at it in a cold tremor when the old man slouched in.
"Why, bless me soul, boy," he said, "I was 'bout the only one who voted for yer!"
"The paper's got the figures reversed!" gasped Phineas. "It's me that's elected."
"Elected be d——d! You're the biggest fool on Wattle Gully," said his father, with feeling. "Th' bullock-camp's YOUR Parliament."
The shock made the deluded candidate ill for a week. When he crept forth at last he found everybody provokingly mirthful. He had three fights within an hour, and wound up by getting run in for riotous behavior. That finished him in Wattleville. He stole away one night, and when last heard of he was trekking north with a string of bullocks, and spitting anathemas at the worst member in the team, the name of which was Dan'l Murphy.
The manager of Mooly-ong was standing at the gate of the horse-yard, waiting for some colts to come in, when a breathless and excited traveller hurried up to him.
"For God's sake, ken yer lend 's a horse an cart, boss?" he panted, while he breathed with the hard, rasping sound of a winded sheep.
"What's up?" asked the manager, now scrutinising the stranger with some concern.
"Accident—four-mile tank—Lor! it's awful!" said the traveller in disjointed gasps, his eyes bulging.
"What is? What's happened?" the manager repeated.
"My mate—Bob—got his leg broke." He waved his hand impatiently towards the four-mile. "I want a cart to run him to th' hospital 'fore dark."
"How did it happen?" asked the manager complacently.
"It was this way," said the traveller. "We camped 'longside a dead tree, an' Bob—he was always a bit of a fool, was Bob (God forgive me)—he makes his fire agin it, an' fore he got up this mornin' the blamed thing falls across his legs an' breaks one of 'em. I dunno how he wasn't killed. He's in a purty bad way, though, I ken tell yer."
"You'd better wait till the men come, and they'll help you to take him in on a stretcher. The jolting of a cart will be too severe."
The traveller's face seemed to cloud over at this suggestion.
"Yer needn't trouble 'em at all, boss," he said, hurriedly. "Bob's got th' constitootion of a cart-'orse, an' he's useter 'avin' broken legs. We've bound it up with a couple o' shingles an' saddle-straps, an' he's doin' fine. He specially mentioned not to fetch anybody or anything—barrin' a cart. 'S a queer sort Bob. Independent like. Don't like to see anybody else fusain' around him—or even lookin' on."
"You'll want somebody to help you get him in, anyhow."
"There's another cove there," said the traveller, quickly. "He'll be help enough. All we want's a cart an' a good-steppin' 'orse. There's no need to trouble yer a bit further, boss, thank yer all th' same."
"Well, there's a spring-dray there—it's the only thing I've got in the line of vehicles just at present. The harness is in it. Catch that bay horse in the yard while I get you a mattress and some brandy. A nip will do him good."
The traveller smacked his lips as he got the winkers, and hastened into the yard to catch the horse. In a few minutes he was driving away at a fast trot.
The camp was in a clump of gidgee, two miles from the homestead. Around it were stacks of billet wood, recently cut in readiness for shearing. Bob was sitting on a rolled-up swag, smoking and looking very pleasant—considering. A broad grin was on his face as the cart came bumping and rattling up to the nearest pile of wood, against which it was backed. Then the traveller threw out the mattress with a curse. Bob walked over, and he walked well for a man with a broken leg.
"So yer worked th' oracle, Joe?" he remarked, and the grin expanded.
"Aye," said Joe, "but it was ticklish business, lemme tell yer. I was afraid th' old dog was comin' himself."
"But what's this?" asked Bob, kicking the mattress.
"That's a comfort for yer broken leg. It'll be a dashed nuisance, but I couldn't very well refuse it, or he'd 'ave thought I was 'ard-hearted—an' perhaps got suspicious. Had to pitch him a few mulgas as it was to stop him from sendin' th' whole bloomin' station out for yer. Broken legs seem to be quite unordinary in this part. But here's one good thing he sent yer, anyway." He drew the flask from his pocket and took a long swig before handing it to Bob. "Try how that acts on yer leg, mate. It's the real Ma-ki."
It was near midnight when Joe got back to the station with the cart and a very tired horse.
"Had to drive awful slow, as Bob was purty bad—worse 'n I thought," he explained. "It'll be a long time 'fore he's fit for th' wallaby again."
"I'll have a look at him to-morrow," said the manager. "I'd have gone out to-day, only we were so busy in the yard—and short-handed."
"Oh, there's no occasion to 'pologise," said Joe, gratefully. "We managed fust-class—an' many thanks to yer, boss, for th' loan o' th' cart."
The manager offered him a night's board and lodging, and promised to see what he could do for him; but Joe politely declined any further assistance, and very shortly took his departure.
While riding next morning the manager struck the cart track, and followed it to have a look at the scene of the alleged catastrophe. The first thing he noticed was the disappearance of an alarming quantity of his billet wood, and several tracks, indicating that various trips had been made thence towards the town. Putting spurs to his horse, he followed these traces at a gallop, and they led him into the yard of Murphy's hotel, where the missing wood was neatly stacked. He called Murphy without dismounting.
"Where did you get that wood?" he demanded.
"Bought it from those shearers you lent the cart to—the two chaps," said Murphy, "who are cutting wood in your paddock till shearin' starts."
"What did you give for it?"
In less than half an hour a black-tracker, two troopers and the irate manager of Mooly-ong were following like bloodhounds in the footsteps of two swagmen. Three miles from town they found the remains of a fire; and there they were baffled, for no tracks led from it.
Joe and Bob had taken their boots off at that fire, and wrapping pieces of woolly sheepskin round their feet, had cut across country to another road. One of the troopers accidentally hit upon the tracks there three days afterwards, when it was too late to follow, and picked up the improvised moccasins that had been discarded. These he sent as a memento to the manager of Mooly-ong. Later, he found the sheep that had been killed to provide the bits of sheepskin; and then the manager's cup was full.
Fair maid, who walketh past me now, With distant gaze and lifted brow, And knoweth me not from a cow: Thou once wert all and wholly mine, And kisses linked my lips with thine— Alas! my draught was poisoned wine. Thy fancy flits; 'twas versatile; Thy sparkling eyes and witching smile Wert fashioned but to practise guile. I rue the day that we first met, I dread the days my heart must fret, Since I must leave thee—with regret. Thy laughter, like sweet music, thrills me; Thy cherry lips with longing fills me; But thy persistent "cutting" kills me. If thou couldst know, 'twould doubtless please thee; But I will woo elsewhere to tease thee, And regulate my looks to freeze thee. Why should I mope and fret and pine? The're other eyes as bright as thine, And lips as sweet to mate with mine. Then go thy way free as of yore, Fools wait thy smiles still as before; Thout art beloved—go love once more! T'were evanescent hopes thou lent; Thy fickle love was swiftly spent; Go, shadow, go—pursue thy bent. 'Tis plain my judgment was erratic, When I could be e'en once ecstatic O'er one so cold and autocratic. Thou art not fair, nor art thou sweet; Thou art a cackling, indiscreet, Ungainly wench with monstrous feet. I'd rather Blight exterminate thee, If I could choose, than reinstate thee; For I despise—I scorn—I hate thee!
Malcolm Mackenzie, of Targo, squatter and police magistrate, was driving briskly towards town to attend to his magisterial duties, it being court day, when two disreputable-looking persons in ragged clothes and scraggy whiskers suddenly stepped out of a scrub and bailed him up. One, standing in the middle of the road, covered him with a revolver, whilst the other made impatient signs to the indignant driver to get down.
Having obeyed the mandate, with some forcible remarks suitable to the occasion but hardly befitting a magistrate, the dispenser of justice was demonstratively enjoined to put up his hands. This done, he was relieved of his money and other valuables; then, by further extravagant signs, he was commanded to stand with his back against a tree. In this position he was tied from head to feet with the buggy reins.
During the whole course of the humiliating operation the two highwaymen never spoke a word except on their fingers. They were dumb, a circumstance which mingled surprise and interest with the magistrate's indignation. In all his forensic experiences he had never heard of a dumb bushranger before; and here were two of them carrying on their unlawful profession in partnership.
While he humbly marvelled at this the two robbers decamped.
Diving into the scrub, they hurried along until they came to a little running stream, on the bank of which two saddled horses were tied up. Here the dumb pair unostentatiously recovered their speech. Here, too, they underwent a rapid transformation, and presently two respectably-dressed, clean-shaven men mounted and rode away in the direction of the township. When they had gone a mile they cut across to the road, and then turned in the direction of Targo.
For awhile they rode in silence, peering intently ahead. On each face there was a half-expectant, half-anxious expression.
At last, through the growing heat, they discerned the furious magistrate still lashed to the tree, at which they were plainly relieved.
When they rode up to him they looked astonished.
"Why, he's bound hand an' foot, Bob!" was the leader's exclamation. "Bless me soul, who tied yer up?" he asked the victim in the next breath.
"A pair of scamps," said Mr. McKenzie, viciously. "Armed bushrangers," he added, heaving at the binding reins.
"Good lor'!" the horseman ejaculated. "I thought bushrangers was done away with ages ago."
"How long have they been gone? asked Bob, with the air of a man who was going to run them down whatever start they had got.
"Half an hour."
Bob busily gathered up his reins and looked at the ground for tracks.
"You attend to the gentleman, Joe," he said, moving off. "I'll see what way them villains are goin'."
He tracked them to the scrub, where he disappeared for 20 minutes or so. Eventually he returned with the report that the scoundrels had crossed the creek, and continued straight on through the bush on the other side.
Joe, who was profusely sympathetic, had just financed the victim with a couple of bank notes.
Mr. McKenzie shook hands with both, and thanked them warmly for their good services.
"I must hurry along to town now," he said in conclusion. "You two chaps stop at Targo. I'll be back some time this afternoon, and I'll have something for you."
He presented them with a cigar each, and smoking these they rode on in high glee.
"The advantage of this system," Joe observed, speaking in a way which suggested that there had been an argument about the prudence of it some time earlier, "is that we put ourselves beyond suspicion, an' baffle the police utterly. An' instead o' bein' hunted criminals, hidin' from th' light o' day an' tremblin' at th' crack of a stick, we'll be 'ospitably received an' entertained an' rewarded by the kind gentleman we robbed. He'll give us a fiver apiece at least, besides loadin' us up with rations."
"We'll push on first thing in th' mornin'," Bob interposed.
He felt he could enjoy the situation better after some brisk travelling exercise.
Joe nodded contemplatively. "He might offer usajob—"
"If he does, we don't want it," Bob interrupted quickly. "We're goin' to a job out West, thank him all th' same."
They reached Targo in time for lunch; and before an hour had passed everybody on the place knew half the story of the morning's adventure. Joe was feeling very comfortable.
About mid-afternoon the pair were on the front verandah, and Joe was happily describing the rescue to Mrs. McKenzie and her daughter, at their special request, when Mr. McKenzie arrived home, accompanied by two gentlemen on horseback.
The two gentlemen were policemen. One of them immediately arrested Bob for robbery under arms, the other arrested Joe.
There was no simulation in the astonishment of the delinquents at this juncture. For a space it could also be said that they were genuinely dumb.
Their blank looks were answered by Malcolm McKenzie:
"When you fellows affect disguises again don't forget your identification marks. You [to Joe] forgot that peculiar black mark on your left thumb-nail; and you [to Bob] forgot the little carbuncle on your right eyelid."
It was built of bark and shingles, Where the mopoke's cry commingles With the dingo's nightly howls; And the desks were 'tween the straddles, 'Neath the harness and the saddles, Which made perches for the fowls. So those desks were nightly spotted, While the maps were streaked and blotted, And the youths of Dangledool Had each morn to do some rubbing, Dusting, sweeping, and much scrubbing, In the old barn school. Our learned pedagogue was Irish, Not pedantic, proud, nor stylish, Vain nor egotistical; He was still somewhat a farmer, And his petticoated charmer Was an antiquated gal. There were sixteen lads and lasses In two rows he called the classes, Each upon a hardwood stool; And the syllabus in favor Linked instruction with hard labor, In the old barn school. We were taught the art of batching, Cleaning pots and pans and patching, 'Tween geography and sums; And to know the differences 'Tween the timbers used in fences, We'd to split colossal gums! Down the farm, too, we went hoeing, Where the corn and spuds were growing, And the weather never cool; Some went husking, others thrashing, Some were reading, some were mashing, In the old barn school. We'd define the one word "chopping" For a whole hour without stopping. At the wood-pile in the yard; Then he'd show us what was "churning," 'Mong the stubble what was "burning," And we found the meanings hard. "In zoology the course is Milkin' cows and groomin' horses," Taught our pedagogue O'Toole; Whilst uncouth botanic hunters Gathered thistles for the grunters, At the old barn school. 'Twas the syllabus to steer a Boy to be an expert shearer. And a master judge of swine; We had but to hear one grunting, Round for spuds and pumpkins hunting, To be sure 'twas gen-u-ine; If a hen began to cackle, Ornithology we'd tackle, With a bound from desk and stool; And for eggs, through weeds and grasses, We would form exploring classes, At the old barn school. But there came a day of weeping, End of study and of reaping, When the harvest, too, was ripe; For there was a conflagration, Caused, they said in consternation, By a spark from master's pipe! But the charge O'Toole confuted, And his pupils with disputed, When they labelled him a fool. Then the waddy, draped in sashes, Was interned beneath the ashes Of the old barn school.
One morning, in the spring of 1898, I stepped out of the manager's office at Wompah, carefully folding a cheque for £6 which had just been drawn in my favor by Mr. Lethbridge. The same day I parted with it at Yalpunga, in exchange for some purchases and two other cheques.
In that part the common mediums of exchange were cheques and shin-plasters. Bank notes were rare, and a sovereign was a novelty. When one got hold of a bank note he often found written on the back of it, by some wandering romancer, "The last of ten thousand."
My destination was Tibooburra, the neighboring town. There, eight months afterwards, I saw my cheque spread out on a hotel bar in four pieces. The bearer was a lightweight who followed sheds and back-country racecourses. He had got it as part change for a bigger cheque at a hotel in Milparinka, to which place it had gone in a hawker's van from Yantara.
The late owner of the dilapidated pieces explained that it had broken at the folds through being carried in his pocket when riding at Bancannia picnic races, and he had no means of repairing it. Already two slips of paper had been pasted over the back, and several little blank squares from postage-stamp sheets had been gummed on here and there.
The publican spread it on the bar, and pasted another sheet of paper over the back, and the accumulation, now as thick as thin cardboard, was endorsed by the traveller.
It rested but a few days in the till, then set out on further adventures in the pocket of a kangaroo shooter. Three months later it returned, per teamster, from Halfpenny's pub at Connulpie, a little thicker than before, and a little harder to read.
Shearing was now in progress, and, bands of men passing in and out, the pasted cheque began to have a high old time. It bought various things in different places, from horses to clothes and boots; it went from hand to hand at cards, two-up, betting, and racing wagers; but always it dropped in at some pub for refreshments.
When I saw it last it was a thick slab, not easy to read and difficult to fold. It had been newly patched at Johnny Rogan's pub at Warri Warri and given to a rabbit-poisoner known as "Billy-the-Rooster" for a skewbald packhorse which Billy had "jumped over the bar."
A few weeks afterwards a dead man was found by a dry creek near the border, and the only thing that was on him by which he could be identified was the pasted cheque. I accepted this as evidence that poor old Billy-the-Rooster had passed out.
Months later, however, I was surprised to meet Billy in town. He had parted with the cheque, which he remembered only as the bit of pasteboard he had got from Rogan for the packhorse, at Nocundra, where, as usual, it had passed across the bar to somebody unknown.
But Billy-the-Rooster was more than surprised to see me.
"Why," he said, with a half-blank, mystified look on his ruddy face, "it was reported that you were found dead in the bush!"
My name was on the pasted cheque.
What's that you say, laddy? Live 'ere with your mother in town? Indeedy, I couldn't; 'tis only for Christmas I'm down. 'Tis fine for a bit of a change, but to live in, you see, The town is no place for a countrified body like me. The ways of the bush, an' the things that are rural, I'd miss; The paddocks of room that we have, an' such rustical bliss, With the horses an' cows and poultry an' pigs an' all that; The trees an' the flow'rs, an' the croak of the frogs on the flat, With the emus around, an' the magpies, mopokes and' jackasses, An' all the marsoopals that gambol about in the grasses; Tho' when we got hooked, me an' Davy, one beautiful mornin' in May, An' he drove me out there honeymoonin' on top of the dray, I'll own that I cried, with ache in the side o' me here, When I saw the bark hut, an' no sign of another one near— Not even a track next or nigh, where a trav'ler might pass, An tell ye the latest, while squattin' awhile on the grass. Tho' all the good things that he'd promised was there, sure enough— You'd to winnow the sweets from the bitters, the smooth from the rough. Aye, Davy would tell me, the chirp of the cricket was sweeter An' peacefuller after you'd had a good dose of moskeeter. That's thirty-five years ago now, an me brown hair is gray. Thirty-five! Bless your heart, lad, how soon the time passes away! Seems only last week when I lost me skirt climbin' a tree, The first time I went for the cows, an' the cows went for me! 'Twas the dress that attracted; so, not to be doin' it by halves, I dressed like your grandfather often to put up the calves. An' the mornin' the brindle cow kicked me back over the block— Oh, wasn't I drenched! An' the muck o' the yard on me frock! I laugh at it now, as I've laughed at it many a time, Tho' riled I was then, to be sure, with the wet an' the grime. An' don't I remember the first time I rode on a horse! Makin' pancakes I was, when he bolted full split, an' of course, Jumpin over a bit of a log on the flat, I was spilt; Such a tumble, head over his tail—I was sure I was kilt— Slap-splash in a tadpoley hole—mercy me! 'twas a freezer; An' the water belched up as it belches up out of a geyser Me hair was all down at the back—it come down with the floppin'; Me hat on me ear, an' me habit all spattered an' soppin'. Ah well! I can say, once I got in the way of the art, I rode quite a lot, tho' I always rode best in a cart. An' how did I fare, lord o' mercy! when Dave went away A-drovin' for months, for the s'lection just yet didn't pay— Me a towny an' used to all town things (excludin' peaners). Oh, didn't I holler an' scoot when I saw the goanners One mornin' come down thro' the chimley a-nosin' for eggs! I climbed on the table an' tightened the skirts round me legs, Then I took down the rifle that Davy had charged an' forgot— An' it kicked me clean on to the sofy, I thought I was shot. I'd shut me two eyes—an' a picture that hung on the wall— An enlargement of Davy's old mother—got peppered, that's all. (Poor soul, when she happened to pay us a visit long after, An' I showed the remains stowed away 'tween the bark an' a rafter, She swore with much venom I'd shot her for spite in fijee*, [* effigy] On account of a coolness existin' betwixt her an' me; An' away she goes back with her silly old head in the air, An' we never spoke after—that's true as I sit in this chair). Well, th' very same day as the shootin' I fell in the river; You should 'ave just seen me! half drownded an all of a shiver, With the weeds round me neck, an' with mud from above to below— How I 'scaped with me life I declare to you, child, I don't know. Then on Saturday fol'rin', afore I could sweep out a room, I'd to go for some brush in the tea trees to make a new broom. In me hurry I didn't—O dear!—see the wasps that were in it— An' they stung me a dozen times over in less than a minute. My eyes were that bunged that I had to ketch hold of the lids, An' pull 'em apart 'fore I knew head or tail o' me kids; An' me lips was that stiff an' enlarged 'twas with pain that I smiled. Lor' sakes, I could see it meself like a wart that's been biled. But that wasn't all, nor the half o' me troubles that day, For luggin' me broom home an pickin' up sticks on the way, May I be struck stiff if I didn't step onto a snake— A pizonous, red-bellied reptile as long as a rake. Good lawks! How I jumped, how I run, how I yelled to be spairt; I couldn't scarce breathe when I stopped, be'n so flustered an' scairt; You could hear me heart thumpin' ten yards off—two hundred a minute. As I stood back an' trembled, an' gasped, with me hand pressed agin it. But when I recovered, believe me, I got me a waddy, An' I battered an' bashed every inch of his wrigglesome body. Still at night time at every least sound I was jumpin' an' scarin', Through thoughts o' them pesky darn critters (excuse me for swearin'). 'Twarnt restful nor peaceful when left all alone by yourself, With th' possums an' bears on the roof an' the mice on the shelf; With the crawlin' an' scratchin' like santypees round in the dark, An' all sorts o' spider-leg things droppin' off o' the bark. I'd lay with me head covered up, an' be tryin' to sleep, 'With the curlews outside screamin' murder, the house all a creep; Then a squawk in the fowlhouse 'ud tell me the cats were about, Or them horrid constrictors may be, but I daren't go out. Oh, I was the awfullest coward as ever trod grass, Tho', mind you, with daylight I'd bustle around bold as brass. I'd pastimes in plenty to keep off the mopes in the day— Employin' each hour, as the larryet says, makin' hay; In luggin' up water with kerosene tins and a hoop; With looking for eggs, an' attendin' the chicks in the coop; With watchin' the fences an' keepin' the cattle from boxin', Gettin' cow dung for skeeters, an' wood with the slide an' two oxen; With milkin' an' churnin', The clearin' and burnin', The diggin' an' weedin', The settin' an' feedin', The hoein' an' growin', The washin' an' sewin', The sweepin' an' bakin', The choppin' an' rakin', The ridin' an' walkin', The huntin' an' stalkin', The dodgin' an' baulkin', The pantin' an' caulkin', White-washin' an' chalkin', A week without talkin'. Oh! aye! I was busy, too busy by half to be pinin', Or feel lonely at all while the glorious sun was a-shinin. With grandfather home with his fiddle an' bow an' his yarnin', I was happy as Larry at night with me knittin' an darnin'. There never came cat or constrictor but what I'd be after. The winds didn't wail, an' there wasn't a creak in a rafter. The dingo's howl scairt me no more'n the squeak of a mouse; I was quite a new woman, indeed with a man in the house. We'd sit in the fireplace together like Darby an' Joan, When the frost was outside an' the winds made the ironbarks groan; An' many's the time when out splittin', to save him a jog, I've carried the tea in a can, an' we've dined on a log— An' I'll never forget when we sat on one Dave 'ad just busted, On a bag, for the sap made your clothes look as if they 'ad rusted, An' the wedges flew out, an' the split snapped together like that, An' lawks! we were gripped by the garments an pinched where we sat. Poor Davy he groaned And he grunted an' moaned, An' he wiggled an' swore, An' he heaved an' he tore, Till he parted, with shrieks, From the seat of his breeks— Oh, mercy! I laughed while he drove in the wedges to free me. An gad My lad, Grandad Was mad, As I stitched an' I stitched—I was glad there was no one to see me. Ah! home may be humble; our thoughts fondly dwell in that quarter— I was wond'rin' to-day if the ducks an' the turkeys had water. 'Tis all very well for a change, but to live in, you see, The town is no place for a countrified body like me.
He lives in song and story, as one of the old identities of the period of the dog-leg fence and the bark hut, but as a useful reality the shepherd has disappeared from the broad runs of the jumbucks.
The poet loved him, and so did the painter, though what there was in his tame, monotonous calling to inspire them I don't know. He represented the calm and peaceful aspect of pastoral life. As such he was out of place outback, where runs are wild and wide, and life is leavened with stirring adventure.
Generally he was an old man, who was unfitted for hard work, though in the adventurous times when the nimble aborigine played skittles with him from behind a tree, he needed to be smart and alert—at least, in looking after himself.
Sheep were shepherded then on almost every run. They were small, docile creatures compared to the active heavyweights that rattle the back teeth of shearers to-day; little mooching beasts that the old inhabitant and his dog could keep together without getting up a sweat.
For the shepherd it was a lonely and monotonous existence, dawdling after his flock all day; sitting under trees playing pegknife or whittling sticks by the hour; and strolling serenely back to the log-and-brush yard as the sun went down.
It was certainly suited to one who liked a quiet life and the pleasures of primitive simplicity. He camped in a tent or a small hut, usually in a locality where no travellers passed, and that was only occasionally visited by one or other of the squattage people.
Shepherding has persisted in the old countries, but in this land of big estates and colossal flocks it soon passed, only revived here and there for a brief space when runs are bare and dry, and starving flocks must leave their paddocks and move to live.
It was a period, despite the dull routine, in which there was much romance. The old shepherd regards it as the rosy time in the country's history. He owed his dismissal to wire fencing.
He had hoped, even as he watched the broad runs being crossed and recrossed with endless miles of wire, that the ubiquitous dingo would save him from total extinction; but he was passed out in spite of the ravages of Warrigal.
And by his old brush yards the boundary-rider jogs on his daily round.
Men who thoroughly know the Australian aborigine in his natural state generally have a good opinion of him. It is a libel on the race to take the degenerate King Billy, who loafs about towns, as a criterion, embodying, as he does, the results of rum, opium, tobacco, and other vices of the white man. In his native wilds he is a smart, intelligent animal—quick-witted, keen-eyed, and humorous; and he is possessed of a highly retentive memory. He lives from hand to mouth, the boundless bush being his storehouse. When there is nothing on the premises for dinner, his industry in pursuit of the elusive meal is prodigious, his patience and endurance are wonderful, his cunning admirable; and when the roast bandicoot and grilled snake have put a bulge on him, his indolence and all-round incapacity are sublime.
He has never attempted to cultivate anything, or to domesticate and improve the breed of his wild stock; his inheritance afforded him full and plenty, and when one locality was depleted of game, sugar-bags, yams, fish, and other digestible items, he selected a new capital site, and took the municipality with him.
He had no use for substantial dwellings; they made hard work, and involved difficulties in transportation; and as he had never been taught to cover up his own body as a thing of shame, he had no use for clothes either. He made only what was indispensable, and having no trams to catch, and no message-sticks to go by the 4.20 post, he had plenty of time to make them in.
When cordial relations King of existedbetween his Government and the King of Sandilands, and the Emperor of Bungawalbyn, and his stock and poultry were numerous and fat in a bounteous season, the child of nature revelled in opulence, and got all possible enjoyment out of simple life with the least possible exertion.
His native industries boomed when there was activity in the war department. Then the reigning monarch and his grand vizier, the medicine man, issued a proclamation that every warrior was expected to do his duty, and make boomerangs. They worked early, and they worked late, squatting on the ground, shaping the weapons with stone tomahawks and paring them down with sharp shells and stones. They stacked them in great heaps, and the grand vizier consecrated them with an incantation of some sort.
They were of all shapes and sorts and sizes, according to the adaptability of the raw material, which had to conform somewhat to the limitations of the artisans' tools. There was the big double-handed boomerang, with which the President of the Wyangaree Republic subjugated his enemy at close quarters; the long wooden sword, with which he smote him hip and thigh, and likewise on the cranium; the light, sharp-edged whizzer that disorganised the internal machinery of Bungawalbyn's infantry at long range, and threw somersaults after the flying wallaby; the come-back boomerang, which flew past the opposing battalion, then circled back and attacked General Wombat in the rear; the hook boomerang, designed to catch on the defender's weapon or shield, then spin on the hook, and fetch him a sharp welt with the other end; and the carved boomerang, upon which the native artist displayed his decorative genius.
There was also the cross boomerang, called yalma and pirbu-pirbu (N.Q.); and there were barbed and glass-pointed spears, woomeras, yam sticks, waddies, nulla-nullas, and heilamons. The nulla is a skull-smashing club that was made more effective after the advent of the pioneers. The hob-nails were extracted from blucher boots, and the nobby end of the nulla studded with them. Many a poor shepherd was assassinated in the old days for the ironmongery he walked on. Murri wasn't in the habit of trading boomerangs then, or he might have exchanged a few of inferior brand for hob-nails, as he does to-day for tobacco or the means of drowning his sorrows in rum.
BOWRAL, Tuesday (1905). The first snipe of the season was shot near Bong Bong River to-day by J. Upton.—"S. M. Herald." A famous man is Upton J., The proudest in his town to-day, For which there's rhyme and reason; He is the hero, brave and bold, Who dared the morning's damp and cold— For wot? To pot The first snipe of the season. And it is said He banged it dead, The very first this season. The long-to-be-remembered day Had not yet dawned, when Upton J. Crept forth his hands and knees on; And by the fierce bird's marshy run, He shut one eye, let off his gun, And shot— Great Scot! The first snipe of the season; While he, alert, Escaped unhurt, The hero of the season. He bore it home without a pal; The wondrous news went thro' Bowral Like lightning that has grease on. And Brown and Smith came out to view, They eyed the gun, inspected, too, The shot That got The first snipe of the season, And heard him tell The way it fell— The first to fall this season. The local rag, in local pars, Gave readers full particul—ars— It's compliments were pleasin'; And every winsome little gal, 'Who circulates around Bowral, Has got A lot Of smiles for "Snipes" this season. Yea, Upton J. Is great to-day— He bagged "first snipe" this season.
In turbulent days when meat is elusive and butter is a diminishing quantity, our gracious Cow stands large in the foreground, bellowing her exaltedness into our ears all day long. But whether she favors us with the fulness of her abundance, or adopts the go-slow principle, she is always in the front paddock of our existence.
Half the troubles in life pertain to Cow. She is an insistent, intrusive beast, from which there is no escape. She even pervades our dreams, disputing our right to the earth. We are aroused in the shivery hours of the morning by the arrival of her liquid product, and we are reminded of her every time we sit down at the table.
Her bovine majesty, the Cow, as you have observed, is one of the greatest resources of this country. She has more literature devoted to her than any other animal on earth. The country editor studies Cow and writes of Cow as the mainspring of existence now and for evermore; and clippings about Cow and her offspring and her products are always a standby to fill up with.
He does not forget that honor is due to him who owns most cows and produces most butter. That man's word carries weight in the district, showing the wonderful prevailing influence of Cow; wherefore he is mentioned as among those present at the dance in Thompson's barn, or the public is informed that he was in town yesterday, and looks quite as young as he did the day before. Likewise the decease of his Cow receives an obituary notice in the "Butterfat Banner."
Cow is the goddess of dairyland. Yet the goddess is often the cowman's epithet. When he is pleased with his wife he calls her a duck; when she does anything silly he calls her a goose; but when he falls out with her he calls her "a cow." If she is extra aggravating, she becomes a "fair cow."
Everything that is cow is good, and everything that is bad is cow. Even the war was a cow.
Drought was on the western runs, and our flocks were mustered on the bore water in the "open country"—or no man's land—beyond Connulpie Downs.
Around the bore were many camps—travellers spelling or weather-bound; shearers camping for the benefit of their horses; men and boys with sheep and cattle. At night the tents were picked out by little fires that blazed brightly for a couple of hours. But some were there who reared no canvas roof, but courted the sparing breeze and studied the stars in a bedchamber that was as wide as the land was wide.
The chief entertainer of the camp was a bush poet—a tall soldierly man, with a soft voice and a long, white beard. He looked like the oldest inhabitant, but he was made of the tough material that is commonplace out west.
Whenever I saw him he had a new poem to read and to discuss—and most of them reminded me of the old-time poets whose compositions ran to fourteen cantos or thereabouts.
He wrote doggerel on every insignificant thing that happened in the vicinity. If one lost track of his flock through falling asleep under a tree, or fell into the canal when going home at night, or got permanently separated from his only hat in a dust-storm, the incident was commemorated in verse, suitable for recitation on convivial occasions. The swagman who lost his dog was the theme of an epic.
We called him Spokeshave, which was Billy-the-Rooster's corruption of Shakespeare. He was venerable enough for the Bard of Avon, if he hadn't genius enough to wear his laurels.
Spokeshave wrote while shepherding his flock through the day, and at night he read his compositions to anyone who would listen. If it appeared to be an appreciative ear, he spent the whole evening in droning rhymes into it.
In the morning each man struck out on a line of his own. He watched his sheep all day, and at night penned them in an enclosure made of calico hurdles. After tea they visited one another for a yarn, or gathered at some tent for a game of cards. A couple of singers and a concertina helped to enliven the proceedings. A few had books, which went the round of everybody, swopped and re-swopped—a sort of circulating library.
But the happiest man in the camp was the poet. The hours sped for him on fairy feet, for he always had something new to rcad.
From bank to bank of Gowrie Creek There stretched a black-butt tree, And for the letters once a week There crossed a fair ladie. It hapt that one was fishing there With rod and line unseen, Who saw this gentle one prepare To walk the shores between. From dainty feet two dainty shoes, And creamy hose were stripp'd, With flashing of delightful hues Upon the log she tripp'd. Half-way she slipped and straddled it, Slid round, and hung below, And as her hat and gingham quit, She screamed and let it go. A sullen miss 'twas faced about, And left the task to me To fish some little items out, And deck the black-butt tree.
Two dust-covered and disreputable-looking travellers made camp at Sleepy Hollow as the sun dropped behind a wooded rise in the immediate background. They had a pack-horse and a saddle-horse between them. The latter they had ridden, turn about, all day, one mounting for a couple of miles at a time while the other walked. In fact, that had been their method of travelling for three weeks past, and both were heartily tired of the process. The pack-horse was about knocked up. He was also slightly lame. Obviously he wanted a spell as much as his owners wanted a change, but the pair had no money. Nevertheless they resolved to do some dealing.
At his best the old pack-horse was woth about a fiver. To get £10 for him, and to raise enough on the hack to buy a third horse, was the contract they set themselves to carry out within the next 24 hours. They lived mainly on their wits, these two, who addressed one another as Bob and Joe, and apparently the wits had been at work, with designs on two persons in Sleepy Hollow, before they arrived within its peaceful precincts.
While Bob made a fire and boiled the billy Joe had a wash and changed his clothes; then he set out on foot for a house on the outskirts of the town, leading the pack-horse, which had nothing on him now but a halter. The place selected was the residence of Bill Waggles, with whom Joe was slightly acquainted, and who did a little dealing at times when he was dead certain of making something out of it. He had a well-grassed allotment alongside which was apparently the object of Joe's visit, for he asked at once if he might leave the animal in it for the night; he'd had a horse impounded at Sleepy hollow once, and was afraid of letting this one run loose on the flat. Bill had no objection.
While they put the moke in the paddock Joe talked of the hard roads he had been travelling for months on end, and incidentally mentioned that he didn't like parting with the old horse, but as times were so hard there was no help for it.
"I'll sell 'im to you for a tenner," Joe said finally. "He ain't much to look at now, but when he's in condition yer can't beat 'im."
Bill Waggles grinned scornfully and shook his head. Joe left then; and as soon as he returned to camp Bob mounted the hack and rode down past Waggles's. He eyed the old pack-horse critically as he rounded the vacant block, seeming to be greatly interested in him. Bill Waggles was leaning over his gate.
"That's not a bad sort of a neddy yet got there," Bob remarked. "I fancy I know 'im. too." He slewed in his saddle and had another look. "Didn't he used to belong to old Joe Weary?"
"That's him," said Waggles.
"What do yer want for 'im?"
"Twelve pounds," Waggles promptly answered, a twinkle in his eyes.
To his surprise Bob went into the paddock to have a closer look at the moke. He looked in his mouth, he lifted up all his feet, and viewed him from fore and aft and from both sides.
"I'll take 'im at that," he said, coming back. "He's a bit low, but I know what he can do when he's in nick, I'll call with th' money an' get 'im in the mornin'."
Mr. Waggles was thinking hard. He had been joking at first, but the prospect of making two pounds altered the position.
"Call about dinner time," he said. "I'll be away workin' on a job, to near about that time."
"Right," said Bob. "I'll be along."
Leaving Mr. Waggles, he rode round to Josh Taylor's place, where he obtained permission to paddock the hack. He also instructed Mr. Taylor if he could get a fiver for the quadruped in the meantime to sell him, and he could have 5 per cent. commission. Josh Taylor didn't like hard work. He always avoided it when he could, but he was mostly on the look-out for little commissions.
"I think I can get that for him," he said musingly. "He's not a bad stamp."
"In good fettle he's well worth fifteen quid," said Bob. "I refused as much for him six months ago. He was in fust-rate nick then, an' attractin' notice wherever I rode 'im; but since he's got poor nobody looks at 'im—'s if th' beast couldn't put on condition ag'in if he 'ad th' chance. Anyone with 'alf an eye can see he's a 'orse that'll improve with feedin'. That's all he wants—plenty o' feed an' a good spell; an' he's worth 15 poun' of any man's money. If yer can trade 'im, there he is, trade him."
* * * *
In the morning Bob remained in camp while Joe went out. Joe was away about two hours, and then he returned with the hack and a new pack-horse.
"So you worked th' oracle, Joe?" Bob remarked pleasantly.
Joe grinned. "Bill 'Waggles 'as got a job drovin', an wanted a 'orse in a hurry. So he give me a tenner for the old packer. I bought your hack with half of it, after a lot o' barneyin' with old Josh, an' got this other moke from the blacksmith with the balance.
"Good biz!" said Bob. "We're doin' famous, Joe. To-morrer we'll both be mounted an a-drivin' our pack-horse, an' life will be a lot rosier."
Later in the day, whilst Mr. Waggles was waiting, at first with benign patience, then anxiously for an expected buyer, Bob called on Josh Taylor and demanded his horse. Josh met him with a beaming face. He tendered £4/15/- with the explanation that he had sold the quadruped for the stipulated figure, and deducted his commission as agreed upon. Bob stared blankly at him without offering to take the money.
"Ain't that right?" Mr. Taylor queried. "Five pounds you said, wasn't it?"
"No-o!" Bob looked genuinely surprised. "If I said anything about values, I said the 'orse was worth fifteen quid an' that's my price."
Josh Taylor's face turned ashy grey. "What sort o' game's this?" he demanded wrathfully. "You told me if I could get a fiver for him to sell him, didn't yer?"
Bob couldn't recollect anything about it. He confessed to having a very poor memory, in consequence of which he usually insisted on having any important agreement put in black and white; but positively no man in his right senses would part with an animal like that for such a paltry sum. Josh Taylor, spluttering in his indignation and fear, repeated the conversation they had had about the beast, his forefinger playing on his opposite palm to clinch the points, and demanded once more: "Ain't that right?"
"Where's yer witness?" Bob asked him.
Josh Taylor's face went a shade paler, and there was a scintillating, snake-like glitter in his eyes. "You know blasted well there was no witness."
"Then what's the use o' arguin'?" said Bob. "I want my 'orse or fifteen quid."
Mr. Taylor responded that he would see Robert in a particularly sultry place before he'd get either.
"You're nothing but a dirty scoundrel, that's what you are," he concluded, giving little hitches to his shirt-sleeves as if he meditated something violent.
"I'm not goin' to stand ere to be insulted," Bob returned, stepping back out of reach. "If the sergeant gets to hear that yer sold another man's 'orse, he'll put you somewhere without the option o' payin'."
Josh Taylor glared in speechless rage.
"I s'pose it would mean seven years' 'ard," Bob added reflectively.
Taylor's face took on an uglier look. He moved slowly forward like a man in a dream. Bob closed the argument by slipping out through the gate. As he was about to depart, Josh Taylor's manner as quickly changed.
"Here, come inside," he said in quieter tones.
Bob was doubtful about the prudence of accepting the invitation.
"Come inside an' I'll settle up with yer," said the other, turning indoors.
Bob was shown into the front room, where he was left for a couple of minutes while Josh conferred in undertones with Mrs. Taylor. When he returned he had a bundle of notes in one hand and writing materials in the other. He counted out fifteen notes, folded them up neatly, and clasping the roll tightly in his hand, shook it across the table with the remark: "There's your money."
Bob stretched out an eager hand to connect with it, but Taylor drew it back.
"I want a receipt first," he said, shoving the writing materials over, "or you might forget I paid yer."
Bob wrote out the usual receipt. Josh Taylor read it over three times to make sure it meant all that it said, after which he folded it up carefully as he had folded the notes and put it in his pocket. Then with painful deliberation he counted out £4/15/-, and put the balance of the money in his other pocket. Bob gazed on the proceeding with chilled amazement.
"There's your money," Taylor reminded him. "Yer hat's on the floor, ain't it?"
"The amount's 15 pound," Bob protested.
"You can call it what you like," Josh Taylor replied. "I'm a bit of a rogue myself, I don't mind tellin' yer." He tapped his pocket. "This bit o' paper says you sold the 'orse for value received. That's the end of the argument. Now get."
He held the door open in an aggressive manner. Bob dragged his hat on with the air of a man who was trying to determine where he was, and slouched dejectedly out. It was too apparent that Taylor had correctly described himself.
The grates that they have in the houses in town, And their quaint imitations of wood, Make a fellow feel cold when he's asked to sit down For "a warm" with the resident brood. There's room round the hearth for a pair and a half, And no chance for the cat and the dog— In the places I know you could roast a big calf, And a dozen sit round the back log. The fireplace was wide as a skillion, and deep; 'Twas plain and old-fashioned, maybe; But cosy and snug, and no trouble to sweep, And 'twas always inviting to me. With the fire in the centre there seldom was need With a maul or with axes to slog; You could drop in long sticks as you'd drop in a reed, And behind them a solid back log. The walls were whitewashed with wood-ash from the bed Where we roasted potatoes and yams; Salt meat was hung round on stout nails overhead, With bacon, bananas and hams; The chains and the pothooks hung down from the beam— At its elegance none stood agog; But there we could loll in sweet comfort and dream In the light of a blazing back log. We lined the wide front and we squatted each side, There was nobody left in the cold; And many a laugh then went echoing wide, And many a story was told. When winter winds wailed round the corners at night Or the landscape was shrouded with fog, Or when icicles formed on the leaves in the bright— Oh, then we enjoyed the back log.
I was but a nipper at the time, 'tis many years ago, Way down in Tomki Bight, where I learnt farming with a hoe, When Harry took me to the barn, and there he shut me in To fight a gory battle with a boy named Billy Flynn. Harry'd taught me every Sunday with the gloves he brought from town; He would tap me till he wearied, when he mostly knocked me down; So he reckoned I could scrap some, and had grit enough to win When I donned the bulky mittens with that boy named Billy Flynn. Billy was two years my senior; he was heavy, strong and stout, I felt certain ere we started that the scamp would knock me out. We shook hands between the straddles just as Harry said, "Begin!" And I did some clever footwork getting back from Billy Flynn. Round the ring we hopped and polka'd, and at times got very near, As we drove erratic tunnels through the dusty atmosphere; Then the beggar swung a stinger, and I blocked it with my chin, While with left and right I landed where there was no Billy Flynn. Now, he seemed to get more courage, buzzed around me like a fly, Drove his dirty digits at me—and I stopped 'em with my eye; Till the claret trickled from me, everything began to spin, And 'twas through a thousand comets that I jabbed at Billy Flynn. All th' adornments of my frontispiece he pounded something cruel, While he uppercut me awful where I'd stowed my morning gruel. I felt sick and 'gan to stagger, and I saw the beggar grin As he shaped up for the knock-out 'Twas the end of Billy Flynn. He went double on a sudden, and he gasped as though he'd choke, And I stared at him and thought it was a paralytic stroke. * * * He would never fight me after, which I must say saved my skin, For 'twas Harry from behind me put the bend on Billy Flynn.
I don't know what his name was; he was introduced to me as Digging Dick, and to his wide circle of acquaintances he was known by no other name.
Here and there, over thousands of miles of country, on many tracks, travellers had met him; and stockmen had come upon him in the beds of numerous creeks, by the sides of rugged mountains, in valleys and gorges; and always he was alone, always searching for the earth's treasures.
He was a wandering mineralogical museum. When his swag was unrolled it disclosed a wonderful collection of precious stones and specimens, varying in value from a few pence to many pounds; gems and minerals of all kinds, gathered from far and wide, and tied up with loving care in neat little bags.
The collection was freely displayed at campfires where a couple of travellers had chanced to meet him, but no definite information as to where it was obtained was given them.
He spoke of good things he knew, not a hundred miles away, which he intended to probe into as soon as he got a bit of money for working expenses. If a certain spec turned out a failure, anybody could have its address; if it was a bonanza the world would know.
As for the rest, he confided in his notebook, a valuable storehouse of information which no eyes ever looked into but his own. In camp he was either absorbed in that book, occasionally licking a stub of a pencil and jotting down fresh data, illustrated with a mystery map, or making more little bags to contain his future gleanings.
His swag after a fairly successful fossicking tour was a burden for a horse. Then he would make for a place where he could unload. Sometimes, if local bids were unsatisfactory, he steered for a railway and trained to a centre where there were expert buyers for all such wares as he traded in.
His fossicking kept him comfortable and interested at the same time. Once, when Fortune was unkind, he took a job of fencing, but every posthole was a mining shaft; some of them went down deeper than the posts; some of them were like irrigation channels.
Nothing could take his mind from fossicking; he had probed and pried after the secrets of Mother Earth from boyhood, and would continue until she claimed him for her own.
His eternal quest was a gold mine; but the Eldorado, pictured in many a tantalising dream, was elusive. Still he was patient, persevering; years and years were fossicked by, and still he fossicked on. To such persistent exploring in the earth's hidden ways were Nature's treasure troves revealed.
So Digging Dick was working for his country's good.
Oh, Jimmy, will ever you get to school? 'Tis a quarter past nine or more, An' here you've not started to wash yourself, though I called you three times before. You're askin', my lad, for the strap, that's sure, an' you'll get it before you're old; It's dawdlin' an' wastin' my time you are, an' you don't do a thing you're told. What's this? 'Nother button come off—O dear! An' th' seat of your pants rubbed out That I sat up an' patched but two nights ago. You're th' pest of a child, no doubt! I've scarce 'ad a needle out of my hand, half-blinded an' all's I am, Since I put you in knickers in Tooley-street, when Liz Buttenook bought your pram. Just look at that collar for one day's wear—not fit to be seen, you pig! There's th' Mugglesons with not a spot or crease, an' a week in th' self-same rig. Their mother, I'm sure, doesn't stitch an' darn in th' way that I do for you— Or she wouldn't be gapin' at folks so much, an' be gossipin' like she do. I really don't know how she keeps her house; 'tain't as tidy as mine, I'll bet. An' th' style of her, too! If th' truth was known, that new hat isn't paid for yet. O, Heavens above! if his coat ain't torn, an it's only been washed but twice. That's climbin' again on that fence, you imp, where I caught you with Erny Grice. What, Tommy did it? Don't tell me lies; it's always a yarn like that. An' I've told you a hundred times over, I have, not to play with that dirty brat, As ain't fit to be seen with a decent child, an' the very next time you do I'll tike you by th' scruff of the neck, I will, an I'll shake th' life out of you. How long are you goin' to be fiddlin' there with that boot, I should like to know? Lace broken again! If you ain't a curse! An' you never can tie a bow. You'll worry me into my grave, you will; I am gettin' all grey an' lean With scrapin' an' savin' to make ends meet, an' tryin' to keep you clean. What's all this stuff in your pockets 'ere? That's how they get draggled so, With your marbles an' tops, an' your tins an' chalk, an chronometers that won't go. If ever was one to be pitied it's me—turn round till I brush your hair— With a troublesome plague of a scamp like you that is always in disrepair. You're ready at last—an' that hat's a disgrace. It's the best I can do just now. There's the things on the table not washed up yet, an' the house is all anyhow. There, give me a kiss, an' get out o' me sight. Hurry up, an' stop rubbin' yer eye. An' I'll give you a larrupin', don't forget, if you dirty them clothes. Good-bye!
He was down from Texas Station with a cheque for recreation, And he seemed to own creation by the way he put on side. He was something of a giant, Rather thin, but hard and pliant, And his name was Andrew Briant plus Theophilus McBride. If you asked him could he ride, His sarcastic grin was wide— He could shave himself defiant while his horse bucked off its hide. Quite by accident he wandered 'cross to Manly Beach, and pondered Where the counter-jumpers squandered time on Sunday afternoon; There he struck the hardest cases, And the queerest sort of races. His experience embraces 'neath the Austral sun and moon. "Ride, a penny!" yelled a coon, Andrew So-forth gasped, and soon He was writhing 'mong the laces till the ladies thought he'd swoon. There were donkeys and a pony—very quiet and very bony; And the nippers who were "stoney" begged McBride to "shout a ride;" But he couldn't move for starin', When they tied a baby's chair on, And 'twas hard to keep his hair on when they strapped the jock inside. Then a "steward" stride for stride, Raced that donkey by the tide, Just to keep the luggage square on, and to whack the donkey's hide. There were ladies plump and brazen, riding in a style amazin', That induced the men to gaze on perforated finery; There were mashers in straw kadies, Cutting dashes with the ladies, And all working like O'Grady's cranky windmill on the spree. When a donkey sent one free On the wet sand by the sea Andrew Briant swore by Hades he would show them how to gee. So when Mac had sauntered down he said, "I'll take a canter, Townie;" And he proffered him the brownie, and he grasped the donkey's ear. "Just to show our town relations," Added he 'mid speculations, "How we ride 'em on the stations where the brumbies buck a year When they start, and like a spear, Shoot clean through the tightest gear— Just you watch this moke's gyrations when he finds the darbies near." Then he threw his long leg over in the manner of a drover, And he shouted, "Heel him, Rover," as he gathered in the slack; But the donkey kicked and snorted, While the urchins round him sported, And the grinning girls retorted, when they bumped the stubborn hack, That the brute would lose its pack, If they left it on the track, And the Texas man contorted, for that beast would only back. Since the prads of Manly horsemen had been broken in by Norsemen, And were hacked about by worse men 'twas impossible to teach On the back of one the clever Artifices that are ever To the fore in Never-Never where men practise what they preach; When he tried some end to reach. He was greeted with a screech, And his very best endeavor was a joke on Manly Beach. For that donkey's disposition made a sorry exhibition Of the Texas man's ambition his equestrian fame to spread; He backed Andrew to the ocean And he ducked him with the notion That his agitated motion wanted cooling down instead; He was hauled out by the head, And he wished that he were dead Ere he drank the salted potion on a long-eared quadruped.
"Timberlegs" was an ex-horse-trainer who was addicted to steeplechase riding in his sleep. On cold nights he had to supplement his scanty nap with three fires, one at each side of him and one at his feet. At first he put stakes between his nap and the fires to keep himself in; but he rode his dream nags over these, and not infrequently came a cropper among the coals. So he always camped with his head close to a small tree, to which he tethered himself with straps. Though plenty of mates cobbered with him, they mostly dissolved partnership at short notice. One of them was awakened by a blaze among his blankets. "Timberlegs" had got loose, and was spurring firebrands about the neighborhood. The alarmed mate rolled up, and silently stole away before the next race started.
The only one who stuck to him for any length of time was the "Barwon News." This man, who was a Barwon River native, had a horror of crawling things, and used to surround himself with sheets of newspaper pinned to the ground. Snakes, scorpions, and centipedes make a great noise crawling over or under dry paper; and, being a light sleeper, he was thus always warned when danger approached. In ant country he made a little trench in addition round his nap ground, averring that no ant would cross it. He was striking matches half the night and searching about his paper barricade for disturbing live stock. So, all considered, he was a very good mate for "Timberlegs."
The latter was a native of Geelong. They met there, dead broke, and started together on the wallaby. They might have travelled to Kingdom Come together, and enjoyed each other's eccentricities all the way but for one thing: "Timberlegs" wouldn't ask for anything on the Geelong tracks, as most of the people knew him. When those tracks were distanced, folks about still knew him; in fact, he appeared to be the most widely known person who had ever humped bluey.
"Barwon," on the other hand, didn't care two straws who knew him or who didn't. It was all the same to him. But he objected to having the whole of the responsibility of provisioning the firm cast upon his own shoulders, and awaited a chance to get home on his mate. It came at Toowong.
"Barwon" had called at a cocky's place. He entered the kitchen at the back just as the woman passed out by the front door. On the table was a steaming meat pudding, just taken up for dinner. When the woman came back it was gone.
"How did you get on?" asked "Timberlegs" when "Barwon" returned.
"Fus'rate," the latter replied. "Look what she give me! I b'lieve it was all she 'ad too, but she said: 'Take it, my poor man, an' welcome.' I took it."
They made a big dinner, and when "Barwon" had washed the basin, he said: "Now, 'Timber,' I've been findin' you in tucker since we started, an' I think the least you can do is to take the basin back to th' good ole soul who give us th' puddin'."
"Oh, certainly!" said "Timberlegs," and he went off quite pleased.
He wasn't away very long. When "Barwon" saw him coming he felt sorry. He helped to patch up his damaged nose, shaved his head in three places where the scalp was broken, and gave him a new shirt. For all that "Timberlegs" spoke not a word in explanation, though "Barwon" showed the greatest concern to know what had happened to him, and next day he went off alone on another track.
"Deserted me—after all I had done for him!" "Barwon" used to say when telling the yarn.
Nearly two years afterwards they met again in Thargomindah. The old sore had evidently worn off then, for "Timberlegs," told it himself in the bar as a grand joke. So they joined lots again, and tramped together up Mount Margaret way, "Timberlegs" orating loudly on the virtues of Socialism, and strongly denouncing those scallywags who didn't recognise old mates when "in collar."
He got a job of cooking at Cooroopa. There was no chance for "Barwon," so he camped that night on his lonesome in a hut near by. Next morning he went up to see "Timberlegs." That worthy showed plainly that he didn't want to see him. The job had transformed him.
Noticing a big batch of bread which he had just taken out of the oven, "Barwon" remarked that he wouldn't mind sampling some of it—just to show there was no ill-feeling between them.
"I've none to spare," "Timber" informed him uncivilly. "You fellows seem to think a man's got nothing to do on these stations but cook for travellers."
"You fit yourself to new conditions quickly, 'Timber,'" "Barwon" rejoined with some sarcasm. He saw that "Timber" had nursed the grudge against him all the time, and this was his revenge. But "Barwon" determined to trump that card.
There was a drover camped down the road. "Barwon" bought a lot of tucker from him, and carried it up to the station hut. He spread it all out on the table, with rations and two or three little bags of sand. It made a fine display.
On the door was a notice: "No travellers allowed to camp here." To let the boss know that his notice was being ignored, "Barwon" made a big fire in the chimney. The boss was soon down, and the spread at once caught his eye. "Barwon" purposely mistook him for a rouseabout.
"That's a jolly good sort of a cook you've got 'ere, mate," he remarked. "Gave me the best lift I've had for a long time."
"Did he give you all that?" the other asked, his wide eyes sweeping the table with a look of horror.
"Barwon" said he did, and piled more encomiums on "Timber's" head.
"Hem!" grunted the boss, with a grim compression of his lips. He had another look at it; the sight seemed to fascinate him. Then he walked out.
"Barwon" posted himself at a convenient crack. Presently he saw "Timberlegs" rush out of the kitchen; next he saw him at the office; a little later he was going great licks along the road with bluey up.
"No," "Barwon" would say, in reply to an obvious question, "I'm not the sort as would get a man th' sack an' take his job. An' I didn't like the grumpy way that boss asked me to take it."
"What did he say, 'Barwon?'" somebody would ask.
"He said: 'Are you goin' to live 'ere?' So I departed an hour after 'Timberlegs.'"
There's times when things are lively in The hut on Farrell's Flat, When father's bluchers make a din, His language scares the cat; When e'en the dog slinks off and hides, Lest he should get a swipe: But peace, the sweetest peace, abides When father fills his pipe. Occasions come when mischief plays (As mischief always will) Some pranks that make red-letter days, And leaves a bill to fill; And then the imps of Farrell's Flat Are designated "tripe," And lie as low as any rat Till father lights his pipe. The "Pipe of Peace" is aptly named, It soothes his troubled brow; The rampant spirit's quickly tamed, And calm succeeds the row; And rebel imps, in hiding, know That then the time is ripe, And one by one their faces show— While father smokes his pipe. We really love that old dudeen, It's saved our hides so oft, And Dad looks far more pleasant seen Through whiffs that curl aloft; Besides, he's entertaining then, He earns a yarner's stripe; And so we cluster round him when He sits behind his pipe.
"Why don't I get a horse to carry me?" said old Bill the Battler, as he made a comfortable seat with his swag at the camp fire and proceeded leisurely to fill his pipe. "I never travelled with a horse but once, and since then my only ambition in regard to travellin' has been to break the long-distance walkin' record.
"A horse is a nuisance especially on a dry track," he went on. "You are always askin' about grass an' lookin' for grass, an' when you've got grass there's bound to be no water. I reckon a horseman's never troubled with want of work; his greatest concern is finding grass. When he strikes a patch he's got to hobble out whether he likes it or not. It's not a question as to whether the campin' place suits him; he's got to study the convenience of the animal. Then, instead of feedin' to keep his condition up, the brute goes ramblin' about, takin' a mouthful about every ten yards. You think he's rakin' off, an' turn him back. When you're asleep he'll go some other way. In the mornin' you'll see his track, an', of course, you'll know where to find him—at the other end of it.
"A good campin' horse is precious scarce. Mostly you're up all night listenin' for the bell, an' it's surprisin' what a variety of sounds resembles that bell of yours. It's a burden on your mind all night. In the morning you go to ketch the moke—where you heard his bell just before daylight—an' he ain't there. You walk back ten miles, to the last gate you came through, an' find him with his head angin' over the fence. You've tramped half a day's journey after him; if he's broke his hobbles you run yourself blind ketchin' him, an' you lead him half a day's journey to camp. Then you start.
"He's also inconvenient when your finances are low an' you want to get rations at the squattages. Squatters object to givin' rations to men who can afford horses; to circumvent that the mounted traveller, when he's broke, hides his prad among the bushes an' goes up to the homestead carryin' a dummy swag.
"It became necessary for me to adopt that course one day at a place west o' Thargomindah. The manager was not a bad sort, I'll say that for him; but he'd become suspicious of people like me through bein' imposed on so often. He was a bit of a shrewdy, too.
"'Walk far to-day?' he asked.
"'Twenty-five miles,' I told him.
"'Wear the spurs all the way?'
"I cast a quick an' embarrassed glance at my guilty heels, an' blushed. I had forgotten to remove the persuaders.
"'N-o,' I stammered. 'I picked 'em up on the road an' put 'em on as the easiest way to carry 'em.'
"'I see!' said the manager, with a twinkle in his eye. 'I presume you picked up the sweat-stains on the heels of your boots an' the legs of your trousers also.'
"That knocked me flat; I hadn't a satisfactory answer ready to account for them. They were too transparently obvious.
"'Better tie them up with your horses next time,' the manager advised me, an' walked away.
"This cuddy of mine was a pot-gutted bay. Called him Nugget. He was a great horse—in size. Frisky as a monkey, an' could gallop like a racer—if you wanted to yard him. When you were ridin' him he was too slow for a funeral. He always had his eye on me, though; watched me continuous hour after hour, an' the moment he caught me off my guard he would give a sudden peculiar buck that grassed me before I hardly knew what was happenin'. There was nothin' vicious about the animal, for after throwin' me off he would whinny softly to me, as though apologisin' for his little joke; then stand very quietly for me to get on again. If I was returnin' from town with a little too much wine on board, when a simple 'shy' would have been sufficient to topple me over, that horse never tried to take any liberties with me at all, but carried me home, day an' night, as safely as the most trustworthy hack in the land.
"I had a great respect for Nugget in those days. That was when he was in good nick; I could only ride the brute with his permission; an' when he was too poor to play up I 'ad often to carry the pack for him. When I was leadin' him with the pack on, an' especially if I 'ad a billycan or two strapped to the side of it, he'd lurch over, with malice aforethought, an' bash it against any tree I passed close to. When I drove him in front of me, he kept an eye out for low limbs that might drag the pack off him or seriously damage it; he'd roll it in any water he came to, if he got the chance; an' once he bolted an spread it piecemeal over the landscape. Took me seven solid hours gatherin' it up an repairin' the damage.
"Travellin' from Nanango to Tenterfield put a set on him. Terribly dry it was, with not as much grass as would keep a billy-goat. Chuck a log on that fire, mate. Gettin' a bit chilly.
"Well. Nugget got that dog-poor that he 'ad to stand broadside to the sun to make a shadow. Then he would try to get in it, an' when he lost it by turnin' end-on he'd whinny for it. We'd a lot of treeless plains to cross, where shadows were scarce, an' I think he was a bit shook up in his intellect. His head looked the size of a house, with a lip on the end of it that would have tripped a bullock-waggon. Worse than all, he'd got a sore back, an' swelled wither, an' puffed legs, an' tender feet, an' was girth-galled both sides. I used to have him padded, too—fit to break him down. Tried all sorts of remedies—from axle-grease to Stockholm tar; but I couldn't effect a cure nohow. Instead of bein' a testimonial to me, he was the ruin of my business, for I was travellin' as a vet'rinary surgeon at this time. There's lots o' little jobs a vet. can pick up out back, which was why I became a horse-owner. It doesn't look business-like for a horse expert to be carryin' his swag. By way of excuse for his disgraceful appearance, I used to say I had just swopped a good hack for him out of kindness to the poor brute, an' for the purpose o' curin' him.
"I never went through a town without a dread of bein' had up. As for Nugget, he'd sidle into every house. If a woman came out he would whinny at her an' stand. I would ask the way to the baker's, pretendin' I'd called for that purpose. If I sat there talkin', Nugget would look round mournfully, askin' as plain as words, 'Why don't you get off?' He would smell my boots, first one an' then the other; an' by-an'-bye he'd take one in his mouth an' try to pull it out of the stirrup. I would start him again, an' he'd sidle across to the next place. I'd ask for the butcher's shop. Maybe he'd call there next, and I'd buy some steak I didn't want. It was his visitin' day when he was in town. When I'd gathered a heap of superfluous information about people an' places, I'd get off an' drag him out of the township. I was ashamed of that moke if ever a man was. He had such an aggravatin' way about him. When nobody could see him he would go first rate, but as soon as anyone came along he'd slow down to a crawl. I never met a horseman who didn't have to haul round Nugget. There was only one thing he'd give the road to, an' that was a camel.
"Then we came into flat, swampy country, where there was plenty of green feed. I gave him a spell there—an' he got the scours. That left him so weak that he staggered when I put the saddle on him. I led him for a week an' carried the pack myself.
"When we got to dry country again, the clods an' stones bruised his feet till he could scarcely walk. The swamps had softened them, an he limped an' grunted sorlethin' awful...Got any tea in that billy?
"One day I was ridin' up to a house for bread. Nugget was goin' splendid. He must 'ave thought it was home, seein' some ladies outside. They were inspectin' the poultry. I had got pretty close up when—down goes Nugget. Turned me a turtle on to one of the hens and spank among the petticoats! An how they did yell!
"'Oh, dear, I hope he's not hurt,' says one.
"'Oh, look at that poor horse!' says another. 'Poor thing.'
"An' everybody looked at Nugget. His legs were spread out, his head down, an' his bottom lip hangin' a foot.
"The boss of the establishment came up from the rear an' walked round the injured chook—the only thing that concerned him.
"'You've crippled that fowl,' he said, quite nasty. 'Why the deuce don't you mind where you're fallin'?'
"I asked the way to a station I wasn't goin to. Then I hauled Nugget round, pulled him down the road, an' let him go for another spell. After you with that firestick.
"I used to notice flash blokes wavin' handkerchiefs to girls as they went along. Seemed fine fun to me, an' I reckoned I'd have a joke, too. I hadn't as much sense then as a respectable man ought to have. There was a house half a mile off an' a girl at the door. Just the thing! I hauled out a sweat-rag an waved it. She waved back, then ran inside. Presently she came out again, with the old woman puttin' on her specs, the old man, three more girls, an' Heaven knows how many youngsters. I felt scared, but was just liftin' the sweat-rag for another shake when—down goes Nugget again! Dash his old hide, but he shot me summersettin' through the dust like a tumblin' Tommy. I don't know how they took it. Didn't look. I slipped on in a hurry and stared straight ahead for hours. No mistake, that did make me feel small.
"The last station we passed, me and Nugget, was Ellangowan. We were close to the Condamine then. There was a hut on the bank, so I reckoned on havin' a week's spell—ketchin' cod. I fastened the reins to the stirrup-iron, so's he'd dodder along in front.
"Tell you what a cantankerous beast he was! He tried to bolt with the pack the minute he was out of reach. He did get away—into a swamp. He's there yet. Bog! It would 'ave bogged a duck. In two minutes all you could see was his head an' the top of the pack. I got that out. The poor brute whinnied to me, too. Thought he was bein' let go. But it was no use. His bones are there still, not a rifle-shot from Ellangowan. I've stuck hard and fast to Blucher ever since. He's slow, but he's sure; an' that's what you can't say of anythin' else when you've got to travel bad country."
This is the tale of a take-me-down That chanced long ago in an infant town On the bank of the Richmond River— When I was eleven or thereabouts, And sports were held by the country louts, By squatters' sons and their rouseabouts, And many a cheerful giver. There men competed on sprinting tracks, With buckets of water or tied in sacks, And some with their legs together; They'd Old Aunt Sally, with pipe and wig, The Highland fling and the Irish jig, The slippery pole and the greasy pig, And throwing the ball of leather. Then entries were called for "The Settlers' Clock"; 'Twas under a case on a bloodwood block, And had to be found blindfolded. I entered in haste—there was naught to pay— Determined to carry that prize away, If I fell in the river or groped all day, And got me severely scolded. They covered my eyes and they spun me round, They gave me a stick to explore the ground, And started me off elated. The crowd came after to joke and scoff; They shouted "Come here," and they yelled "Gee off!" But I steered unheeding for Regan's cough, Which was by the goal located. I struck it at last—O, I was proud! The happiest mortal in all the crowd That towered and clamored o'er me. I hoisted the bandage above my eyes, I lifted the box to inspect my prize, Then staggered back at the mocking cries, And stared at the thing before me. It started to strike as the people roared— A roar that echoed and spread and soared, Till heard on the Murra Murra; It laughed "Ha-ha!" and it laughed "Ho-ho!" It cackled aloud, and it cackled low— For "The Settlers' Clock," as the settlers know, Was only a kookaburra.
Every road has an interesting history, much of it tragic, humorous, and romantic; and no one knows it better than the man who works on the road through rain and shine, through winter and summer.
The dusty brown streak which seems endless—undulating and winding amid the hills and timber; that means only weariness to the hurrying traveller, who describes it as lonely and dreary—has a story in every bend, in every dip and rise.
You must become closely associated with your road to know its character, to know the beauties it possesses, to dip into the treasures it has stored.
To the walking tourist it is a fascinating study, for its records embody the records of the districts it traverses, and every local incident and episode of note are told there, where all sorts and conditions of men meet and pass.
And what memories cling to it for those who have known it intimately from their earliest years!—happy memories and sad memories, engraving every twist of that insentient ribbon of dust indelibly on the mind, making it forever loved or forever hated.
Note the rapture, not unmingled with regret, with which an old couple goes over it after years of absence, discussing familiar spots, recalling half-forgotten names and things, marking the changes, and observing with keen interest where an old house has been pulled down and a new one has been built; and here and there they ask the rodman about people they used to know.
The old roadman can talk about his special thoroughfare for hours. He knows its history, from when it was merely a blazed-tree line, away back in the dim past when life was young, and in his reflective moods he sees in it all its slow stages of development, with its years'-long procession of travellers passing in dumb review.
It is one of life's great moving-picture shows.
"Now then, Bobby! Get up. Dick!" Wake us every morn; "Cockatoos are coming—quick, 'Fore they're in the corn!" Out we tumble in the cold, Frost cracks under foot! Not too young to work and scold, Yet too young to shoot. So We run along and yell Through the dripping weeds, Heading for that sentinel O'er where cocky feeds. Coo-ee! Coo-ee! Up they rise, Like a snow-white cloud, Circling round with blatant cries While we shout aloud. Soon they settle in the trees, Seem to think it fun; Well they know our naked knees, Know we've got no gun. When we dance on log or stump. Cocky looks aslant; Seems to like to see us jump, Cackles "Elegant!" We have learnt to know their speech, When they cry "All's well!" And the sharp, quick danger screech Of their sentinel. We resort to strategy, Hide where cover's thick; Re-appear beneath the tree, Armed now with a stick. When we point it like a gun, How they screech and fly! While we beat the corn and run, Lest they linger by. Homeward, for ten moments sweet, When the fiends retire, Warming frozen hands and feet O'er a blazing fire. Then their hated cries again Break upon our ears; Swooping down upon the grain, Same old flock appears. Day by day till harvest's o'er, Hours of sleep we lose; Hoarse with shouting, tired and sore, Minding cockatoos.
I did some pioneering years ago, and thought it was a pretty rough job, but on going back to the old spots, after enjoying the sweets of civilisation, I discovered that there were compensations in that semi-wild life.
In the rugged days of pioneering we did not recognise our opulence. We counted wealth only in sordid coin, and as we never did possess much of that we considered ourselves poor. But there are more things in life that make one rich than money.
Consider our grand inheritance! For miles around us flowering trees, grass, reeds, and ferns rioted in wild luxuriance; towering trees, straight as gun barrels, stood so thickly that we looked upon them in despair, thinking of the hard work of getting rid of them. Fortunes were there, the fruits of hundreds of years; and everywhere, on the new selections, they were levelled by the axe and the firestick.
We shot ducks in the waterhole from the tent door—so many were obtained nearabouts at odd times that in a couple of weeks we had a cask filled with pickled duck. We shot kangaroos and wallabies on moonlight nights from the fireside.
Emus stalked close by as we sat at meals, attracted by the novelty of our camp. From the rise at night came the cry of stone curlews, and from the scrub by the creek the call of the mopoke.
'Possums gambolled on the roof, and birds, gay-dressed and sweet-voiced, filled the bush with life and song. We cut buckets of honey from the trees, caught fish when we wanted it from lagoon and creek.
In this sort of solitude the bush impressed one deeply who went into it for the first time, but it was no less haunting to one who was bush-bred, only he appreciated the charms of his environment and was tolerant of its loneliness. Pretty well everyone who took up selection life in new country knew this phase at the beginning, and to most of them in after years it was a cherished memory. There was something to atone for the roughing that one had to go through that was missed when the country about had become thickly populated.
There was a beauty in the bush in all its shades and moods, in its many forms of life, ever giving pleasure to the roving eye—but only valued slowly as the axe and the firestick swept on. And there was an incomparable sweetness which gradually disappeared as though sullied by the foot of the invader.
* * * *
When I went back the place looked bedraggled, lonely, and miserable. Trees were bare and ghostly-white; long strips of bark swung in the wind; and dead wood and litter encumbered the ground.
Only crows, hawks, and eagles perched in the leafless tops, that erstwhile diffused the sweetest perfume over the land, and called brilliant-hued parrots in millions to feast among the honey-laden blossoms.
The place looked dead. The rich beauty spot was settled in accordance with the idiotic ideas of the day.
The office-boy was weary, So laid him down to rest; Then came his troubles dreary, And sat upon his chest— "A" shelves, "B" shelves, pigeon-holes and files. Throwing out their packets, shedding manuscripts, Cartoons, book-plates, 'graving blocks in piles, Careering round and round him with fantas- tic skips. Around him danced cotillions— A regiment of books, And out of them, in millions, Trooped with laughing looks— Long scraps, short scraps, scraps of every hue, Dropping tracts around him, sowing seeds of sin, Love-scraps, war-scraps, lying scraps and true, Yelling out their secrets with a Hell's own din. The office-basket grumbled In Editorial style, And out of him there tumbled Effusions by the mile— Long pomes, short pomes, pomes of every sort, Shedding tears around him, venting music sweet, Love-yarns, snake-yarns, tragedy and sport, Telling him their troubles with a mourn- ful bleat. Then brooms began to muster, And scissors blunt to grind, The paper-knife and duster And God knows what behind— Paste-pots, ink-pots, pots of every size, Putting on the war-paint, piling on the jam, Square brush, round brush—dab him in the eyes, And the "office-boy" arises with a great big Dam.
In a sunny forest, which the old splitter said had been worked out years and years ago, and in which remained only milling timber and small sticks, waiting for the sawmill that would come some day and complete the destruction, there stood one straight-bodied giant whose exceptional size made it an oddity among its fellows.
Strangers who came there admired its fine proportions, and wondered what association or sentiment had caused it to be so long preserved where big round boles like that were wanted for the maul and wedges.
The old splitter grinned, and told its many admirers that they could have it, as he had plenty of other stuff for his own use.
Then they looked at it closely, at first with covetous eyes, and then with disappointment; and finally they were satisfied to let it stand, a relic of the old glory of the little forest that had been picked over a thousand times in the course of years.
One by one they had gone to it like eager-homing bees, calculating how many slabs or rails and posts they could get out of it; and on examining it found many old marks round the huge butt, showing that different axemen long before them, deceived by its noble appearance, had tried it and left it. There were cuts that had healed over, cuts high and low that rung it almost round, and cuts again into old wounds.
For that big tree was an old wooded monarch that knew a time when there was no sheltering forest around it, and it had been the sport of free winds and fires. It defied them all, but it grew up the twistiest and toughest old stick in the place; and having bravely conquered the elements, it defied the tools of the splitter.
Some day it would be a prize to the timber-hauler, whose quest is logs for the mill; but for ages it might stand defiant while there were only maul and wedges to assail its massive trunk.
In nearly every forest the splitter knows, where red gums fling great boles to the sky, there is one big tree that everybody spares, not because some beautiful sentiment whispers, "O woodman, spare that tree," but because its twisted grain laughs at him like some sylvan sprite and sends him away cursing.
I was ploughin' th' billows for many a year, But now I'm a-ploughin' th' land; An' I wish I was back in the fo'c'sle, clear O' th' corn an' potato band; For a quarryman's barge or a lumber raft Would keep a more even keel Than this troublesome craft, which leaves tracks abaft Like th' wake of a stranded eel. Tho' she's ironclad from her stem to stern, She ain't what she ought to be, With a goose-neck crook in that beam o' her'n, An' her rig it do puzzle me. There's her yards want squarin' at ev'ry breeze, And her bowlines get all adrift, Or they foul if th' gees only cough or sneeze, An' she sinks when she ought to lift. She don't answer her helm in no kind o' sort Of weather, or trim, or tide. With her barnacled hull all abulge to port, An' sheer on th' starboard side, She is pitchin' and lurchin' like tars from town. An' makin' my timbers flinch; One moment she's plow'n thro' th' sile hull down. An' th' next she ain't draw'n an' inch. A-towed along by two tugs that neigh, It's th' sorriest berth I've found; She's no end o' hard to get under weigh, An' capsizes when turnin' round. I ken bowse an' tack where th' stumpbergs loom, But she rams 'em whate'er I do, With her blamed jibboom as wants all th' room, An' she kicks when I bring her to. The skipper he hollered the other day, When I wobbled up all a-hang. "Why th' deuce don't you walk in a workman way, An' not like a boomerang?" An' I takes in a reef, an' I ses to 'im, "Sir, It's all very well to talk; I'm too busy by fer with a-pilotin' her To cultivate that 'ere walk." When her cutwater ketches a solid root, An' yer hit where yer belt goes round, It doesn't incline you to plant your foot To th' front in uncharted ground. You're expectin' them handles to jib and heave Each step of th' way you go, And th' less you will grieve if you're trimmed to leave, Well aft, when she strikes below. Nigh ev'rywhere round rocks an' snags there be, An' no buoys for to mark them out; I'm a-navigatin' an unknown sea With the crankiest craft about— One as leaps right up like a harpooned shark If I let go a spoke to scratch, Or plunges stark to her Plimsoll mark, An staggers her boobyhatch. To-day as I starts on th' first trip round, A-sailin' sou'-east by south, On a sudden her bowsprit went hard aground, An' her rudder-gear bumped me mouth; An' them mutinous lubbers o' 'orses skipt When they ought to have gone astarn, 'N' as her cable she'd slipt I was jerked an' tript Head over th' whole consarn. You see, I am captain an' mate an' crew, As economy here insists, An' there bein' so much for each hand to do, I'd th' painters around me wrists; So on me beam-ends when they breaks away. With no anchor or grapplin pow'r, I was wallowin' aye in the wash o' they At seventeen knots an hour. I reckoned it was th' last v'yage I'd make, Didn' seem I could weather it out, With me riggin' fast strippin' on root an' stake, An' me bows gettin' bumped about; But th' runaway pair didn't quite agree, An' brought up with a soundin' smack, For one sheered to th' lee of a standin' tree, An' one on th' other tack. With th' weigh they 'ad on they both swung around, Then hung on th' moorin' lines; An' while they are heavin' and churnin' ground, My clearance I ups an' signs. An' th' skipper he comes, an' he makes a stir— "You're sp'ilin' them nags," ses he; And I ses to 'im, "Sir, that is where you err, It's them that's a-sp'ilin' me." Jes' look at me now, with me figurehead Th' worse for th' wear an' tear, Bit slack in th' stays, an' all painted red, An' th' skin off me starboard ear. No, it isn't th' sort of a berth that suits A seafarin' man like me. An' I'd barter th' fruits of th' land's recruits For a home on the old brinee.
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