previous
next

Part II.

‘Is your life insured?’ ‘You'll get sudden notice to vamose the ranche, sir!’ ‘Mind the dogs!’ ‘Look out for whips!’ ‘You'll lose your stock!’

Such were some of the warnings and admonitions dealt out to Mr Potts by his friends, as he heavily


  ― 201 ―
loaded his buggy preparatory to starting for Barracaboo.

‘I'll chance it!’ said he. ‘Haven't sold a cent's worth yet; and it's the only place I haven't tried. They can't very well kill a fellow, anyhow. I'll chance it; faint heart never won fair lady!’

‘Give you five pounds to one you don't deal!’ cried one.

‘Give you five pounds to one you're hunted!’ shouted ‘The Hermit.’

‘Bet you slap-up feed for the crowd to-night, and wine thrown in, that somethin's broke afore you come back,’ said the American gentleman.

‘Done, and done, and done,’ replied Mr Potts placidly, as he carefully booked the wagers and drove off; whilst the bystanders, to a man, agreed to delay their departure for the sake of not only eating a cheap dinner, but witnessing a return which they were all convinced would be ‘as good as a play.’

But they were mistaken. Mr Potts was received at Barracaboo with open arms, no one recognising in the clean-shaven features those of the bearded, dilapidated swagman who had the other night spied out the lay of the land and the leanings of its people. The manager was absent; but the overseer, who had already by personal inspection satisfied himself of the merits of ‘Bold Dick Turpin,’ etc., was amongst the earliest purchasers.

‘Everything went like wildfire. Mr Potts could hardly hand them out fast enough. Those present


  ― 202 ―
bought for others away on the run, and in a very short time there were only three volumes left.

These were of a different calibre to the rest of the rubbish, being nothing less than ‘The Adventures of Don Quixote de la Mancha,’ with illustrations by Gustave Doré. However, as no one would even look at them at the price—five pounds—the dealer, having pretty well cleaned out ‘the Hut,’ determined to try his luck at ‘the House.’

Now, it happened that Mrs Morris, the manager's wife, wished just at this time to buy something for her eldest boy, whose birthday was approaching. Recognising, as a reading woman, that the work was genuine, and not more than a pound or two over price, she bought it. It was so much less trouble than sending to the capital, with a chance of disappointment.

‘It'll do very nicely for Master Reginald,’ quoth she; ‘I'm sure he'll be pleased with it. And I'm glad to see that you people are at last beginning to carry something better than the usual lot of trash. I hope you did well amongst the men with these standard works?’

‘Very nicely indeed, thank you, ma'am,’ replied Mr Potts, smiling, as he bowed and withdrew.

John, the waiter, had twice informed the ‘commercial gents’ that dinner was ready, before the anxious watchers saw the man who was expected to pay for it drive into the yard of the hotel.




  ― 203 ―

‘He looks kinder spry,’ remarked the American gentleman disappointedly. ‘Guess he's got clear off with a caution this once.’

‘Buggy seems to run light,’ chimed in another. ‘Shouldn't wonder if they'd unloaded it into the river.’

‘Never had such a haul since I've been in the business, gentlemen!’ exclaimed Mr Potts, as he presently entered the dining-room with a big roll of paper in his hand. ‘There must have been some mistake about the place. Why, they're the mildest crowd you'd see in a day's march. Sellin' 'em books is like tea-drinkin'. It actually kept me goin' as fast as I could to change their stuff for 'em. Here, you know the Barracaboo cheques. Look at this, and count em', one of you. Blessed if I've had time! I hope dinner's ready. Never let me hear a word against Barracaboo after this!’

There was a long silence of utter astonishment, during which the American rapidly thumbed strips of green paper, and made mental calculations.

‘Eight hundred dollars!’ exclaimed he, at last, in tones of unalloyed admiration. ‘Mister Potts, sir, you're a gifted genius! I ante-up, Colonel, to once, an' allow I'll take a back seat.’

And so, in their several fashions, said the rest; whilst the lion of the evening ate his dinner, sipped his porphyry, and kept his own counsel.

‘Cost me four bob, landed in Sydney, averaging the lot,’ said Mr Potts confidentially to a friend that evening, as they enjoyed their coffee and cigars


  ― 204 ―
on the balcony. ‘I'm on my own hook, too, now. I seen that the specimen-sheet-monthly-delivery-collection-per-agent game was blown—not that I guessed it was near as bad as it really is. So I sends straight away to New York for this consignment, specially got up and prepared for the Bush. It was a regular bobby-dazzler! You see, the boards are only stuck on with glue, type and paper's as rough as they make 'em, and the picturin's done by a cheap colour patent. I've got another lot nearly due by this— not for here, though. You fellows have ruined this district. Of course the Dorees was genuine. I bought the three of 'em a job lot in town for a song. They're the only books I've got left now. If I'd had a score more of Turpins and such, I could have sold 'em at the station.’

‘There's old Morris, of Barracaboo, just come in,’ remarked someone the next morning. ‘He's on his way home from Larras Show, I expect.’

‘Which is him?’ asked Mr Potts eagerly (all literary people are not necessarily purists).

‘Sorry to disturb you at lunch, sir,’ said Mr Potts presently, as he entered, bearing a large book. ‘But Mrs Morris was kind enough to say that this would do nicely for Master Reginald's birthday. ‘Don Quixote,’ sir, the most startling work of that celebrated author, Gustavus Do-ree, sir. Splendidly illustrated, sir. Your good lady was very much pleased with it.’




  ― 205 ―

‘Umph, umph,’ growled the manager. ‘Been out at the station, eh? Didn't they run you, eh? No whips, no dogs! Eh! eh! What?’

‘I am not an advance agent for books I know nothing about, sir,’ returned the other with dignity, as he took the volume up again. ‘I sell a genuine article, sir, for cash on the nail. In transactions of that kind there can be no mistake, sir.’

‘Umph!’ growled the squatter doubtfully. ‘Well, as long as the missus says it's all right, I s'pose it is. How much?’

He paid without a murmur. Mrs M. was a lady who stood no trifling.

‘Wrap the thing up and put it in the buggy,’ said he. ‘Gad, it's as big as the station ledger! Look sharp, now, I'm in a hurry!’

‘So am I,’ quoth Mr Potts, as he returned. ‘John, what time does the next train start?’

When the manager reached home that afternoon with ‘Don Quixote,’ and compared notes and books, there was a row, the upshot of which was that he received orders to hurry off at once in pursuit, and avenge the trick played upon them.

‘You're a J.P.,’ stormed the lady, ‘and if you can't give that oily villain three months, what's the use of you? Besides, isn't five pounds worth recovering?’

Mr Morris would much sooner have let the matter drop quietly. No man likes to publicly advertise


  ― 206 ―
the fact of his having been duped, least of all by a book-fiend.

‘Well, well, my dear,’ said he at last, ‘never mind. I'll go directly. I've got some letters to write first. But I'll send M‘Fadyen into town to see the fellow doesn't get away.’

‘Tell him,’ said the manager, as the overseer was preparing to start, ‘tell him I'm coming in presently, about—um—er—about a book. Oh, and if he gives you anything, perhaps you'd better take it. No use,’ he muttered to himself, with a side glance to where his wife sat, ‘letting all hands and the cook know one's business. The beggar 'll only be too glad to stump up when he finds I'm in earnest. Thought, I suppose, that I wouldn't bother about it, eh, what!’

Inquiring at the ‘Royal,’ the overseer was told that Mr Potts had left; although, perhaps, if he hastened, he might yet see him, as the train hadn't started. Sure enough, galloping up to the station and searching along the carriages, he found his man just making himself comfortable in smoking-cap and slippers.

‘Be jakers, mister,’ he gasped breathlessly, ‘the Boss wants to see ye badly! Have ye got anythin' for him? It's of a book he was spakin'. Tould me to tell ye that he'd be in himself directly.

‘Too late! Can't stop! Time's up!’ replied Mr Potts. ‘But’—rising to the occasion, and taking the last copy of ‘Do-ree’ out of his portmanteau—‘this


  ― 207 ―
is it. It's for Master Reginald's birthday. Your Boss wouldn't miss having it for three times the money. Six pounds—quick!’

In a desperate flurry, the overseer ransacked his pockets. No; he could only muster four.

‘All right, guard, wait a minute!’ he yelled as, borrowing the balance, he clutched the book, whilst the train, giving a screech, moved away, with Mr Potts nodding and grinning a friendly farewell.

‘Be kicked now!’ exclaimed the overseer, ‘if that wasn't a close shave! The Boss oughter think himself lucky, so he ought!’

So, carrying the book carefully under his arm, he jogged Barracaboowards.

Half way he met Mr Morris coming in at full speed.

‘No hurry in loife, sorr!’ cried the overseer, beamingly, and showing ‘Don Quixote.’ ‘I ped six notes for it, an' had to borrow two. It was just touch an' go, though, so it was!’

previous
next