― 20 ―

The Shanghai-Ing of Peter Barlow.

‘YES, Peter, no doubt they're a couple of fine colts, and should make good steppers. I hope you'll have them well broken in for the drag by the time I return. Then, with the other pair of browns, they ought to turn out about the smartest four-in-hand in the district.’

‘Goin' away, sir?’ asked Peter Barlow, Head Stockman and Chief of Horse at Wicklow Downs.

‘Yes, Peter; I'm thinking of taking a trip to the Old Country,’ replied Mr Forrest, owner of the big cattle station on the border. ‘I mean to take Mrs Forrest and the children, and be away twelve months; so you'll have plenty of time to fix up a team. We start in three weeks from to-day.’

‘Well, sir,’ said Peter, ‘afore you goes I shouldn't mind takin' a spell down country myself, if you haven't no objection.’

His employer turned sharply round from the horse-yard rail, and looked at the young fellow.

Twenty-five, born on the station, an orphan, fairly steady, very useful, the best rough-rider in the district,

  ― 21 ―
never more than fifty miles away from home in his life. Such was the record of Peter Barlow, who chewed a straw, and smiled as he noticed his master's surprise.

‘Why, what's bitten you, my lad,’ said the latter, ‘that you want to get away amongst the spielers and forties of the big smoke? Isn't Combington large enough for a spree?’

‘Well, sir,’ replied Peter, rather sheepishly, ‘you see, they're always a-poking borack an' a-chiackin' o' me over in the hut because I've never seed nothin'. There's chaps there as has been everywheres, an' can talk nineteen to the dozen o' the things they've gone through, an' me a-settin' listenin' like a stuffed dummy.’

‘I see, Peter,’ said Mr Forrest, laughing, ‘you want to travel. “Home-keeping youths have ever homely wits,” eh, Peter? Believe me, my lad, for all that, you're better off as you are, notwithstanding the gas of those other fellows. However, you may take a month if you like. I think, though, that you'll be glad to get back in the half of it. But how would it do for you to come down with us? I shall be staying in town for a week or so, and could often see you, and that you didn't get into any mischief.’

But Peter shook his head sagely, saying,—

‘You see, sir, I'd like to git back in about a fortnight or so. There's that lot o' calves in the heifer paddock to be weaned, an' that last lot o' foals 'll want brandin', an'—’

‘All right, Peter, my boy,’ interrupted the squatter, laughing again. ‘Put money in thy purse, go forth and

  ― 22 ―
see the world. Only, when you're tired, don't forget the track back to the old station.’

So, after a day or two, Peter rode 150 miles to the railway terminus, and, leaving his horse in a paddock, embarked on a very strange adventure, and one that will be handed down with ever-increasing embroidery to each generation of Barlows, until, in time, the narrative overshadows that of Munchausen. It would be tedious to attempt to depict Peter's astonishment at the first sight of steam. As a matter of fact, he was not a bit surprised—or, if he was, he didn't show it. It takes more than the first sight of an express train to upset the marvellous stoicism, or adaptability—which is it?—of the Native-Born. It takes all that subsequently befel to do so. Peter arrived in safety at the first large inland town. Here he tarried awhile and enjoyed himself after the manner of his kind. He stared into shop windows; went to a race meeting, and there lost five pounds to a monte man. With a dim notion percolating under his cabbage-tree that he had been cheated, he made a furious attack on both man and table. Sequel— five shillings or twenty-four hours. This, now, was something like life! Would he not soon be able to ruffle it with the loudest of them on his return?

After this exploit Peter decided to proceed on his travels.

His first emotion of expressed surprise was displayed at sight of the sea. As the train ran along the embankment, and the stretch of water studded with ships' masts caught his eye, he exclaimed,—

‘By Jinks! that's a thunderin' big lagoon if yer likes.

  ― 23 ―
But what's all that dead timber a-stickin' up in it? Must ha' been a good-sized flood hereabout!’

Then his fellow-travellers laughed; and Peter, abashed, withdrew into himself, but stared steadily over that wondrous expanse of water whose like so far exceeded his imaginings.

At the port Fate led him—of all people in the world— to put up at a sailors' boarding-house. And here, for the first time in his life, he found himself an oracle.

Many sailors ‘go up the Bush.’ But those who get so far as where Peter hailed from seldom or never return to the sea.

Therefore, no one criticising, wondrous were the yarns he spun to an ever-shifting audience of all nations. Wondrous yarns of fierce blacks, of men perishing of thirst and hunger in the lonely bush, of wild cattle, of bucking horses, of the far inland life. And, in return, they told him tales of the stormy seas, and drank heartily at his expense. The port was busy, wages high, and men scarce. But Peter's audience never failed him. The fame of the ‘Jolly Bushman down at Gallagher's’ had spread about the shipping, and whole crews used to drop in of an evening to listen to Peter and drink his beer and rum.

It would have taken a longer purse than Peter's to stand this kind of thing.

He had put aside enough money to take him back, and now he resolved to travel no further. He had heard and seen sufficient; and, above all, been listened to with deference and attention.

Besides, had he not been on board of ships and there

  ― 24 ―
drank rum of such strength as made his very hair stand on end; and eaten biscuits and salt junk.

Moreover, once his friends had taken him out and away upon the ‘lagoon,’ away so far, than when he looked for his native land he beheld it not. Then the water, hitherto smooth, gradually began to heave and swell into hills as tall as the Wonga Ranges, and, presently, he fell deadly sick and lay in the salt water in the boat's bottom, feeling as if the very soul-bolts were being wrenched out of him.

Afterwards his friends had apologised, and said something about ‘a squall.’ But Peter would venture no more.

These things, and many others, would he have to tell. Also the time was approaching for the weaning of calves and branding of foals. He had spent nearly all his money. But that did not trouble him. For the future he must be a bold man who, in the hut, or on the run, could snub Peter Barlow. One last jovial evening he and his sea-friends would have together, and then, hey for the far-inland scrubs and rolling downs.

So far as Peter recollected, it was a jovial evening. He had sung his famous ballad of ‘The Wild Australian Boy,’ applauded to the echo as he had never been at home. He had drunk healths innumerable in divers liquors; had accepted as much strong ‘niggerhead’ in parting gifts—it was all they possessed—as would have stocked a tobacconist's shop, and seen the last guest lurch out into the night.

Then Gallagher had proposed one more drink, ‘for luck!’ After that—oblivion.

  ― 25 ―

When Peter awoke, his first thought was that he must have fallen asleep in the saddle, as he had done before now when camping out with cattle from the back of the run.

But, on this occasion, his throat was hot and dry, and his head full of ringing bells. Raising himself, he bumped his nose sharply, and fell back to consider.

It was almost dark, and he could hear a noise of wind and of rushing waters. Also he felt a rocking motion which assuredly was not that of a feeding horse.

He had heard the same sounds and felt the same motion recently, but he could not recollect when. Presently a door slid open, and a flood of sunshine came in, with a black face in the midst of it.

‘Ahi,’ said a voice, as Peter blinked at its owner. ‘You 'wake now, eh? Copper hot, I 'spect? Have drink?’ and the speaker handed up a hook-pot full of water.

Peter drank copiously, and made shift to get out.

‘Where the blazes am I?’ he exclaimed, weak and trembling all over, as his feet touched the deck.

‘Barque John F. Harkins, o' Boston, State o' Maine. I'm de doctor. Guess you've been shanghaied. Best come out afore de greaser gets mad.’

This was Greek to poor Peter. But, stumbling over the door-sill, he gazed about him with a wildly-amazed look, which made the negro cook grin more widely than ever.

All around was blue water, blue water from where it touched the sky-line to where, close to him, it rushed

  ― 26 ―
swiftly past, curling, white-tipped. Above his head acres of snowy canvas bellied in graceful curves aloft into a blue sky; everywhere a maze of ropes and gear, crossed and re-crossed like the threads of a spider's web.

Peter gasped. He was astonished and dismayed too deeply for words; and at the expression of his face the darkey laughed outright.

The ship giving a sudden lurch, he staggered, slipped over to leeward, and clutched a belaying pin. Then he heard a bell strike somewhere. Then men came out of a hole in the deck near by, and one, staring hard, exclaimed,—

‘Why, damn my rags, if this ain't the Jolly Bushman come to sea!’

‘What!’ shouted the mate, walking for'ard to meet his watch. ‘Isn't he a sailor-man?’

‘Nary sailor-man,’ replied the other. ‘He's a fellow from the country—a good sort o' chap—but as green's they make 'em as regards o' salt water.’

‘Damn that Gallagher!’ exclaimed the officer. ‘He brought the coon aboard, an' got the bounty, swearin' he was a shellback all over—blood Stockholm tar, and every hair on his head a rope yarn! If ever we fetch Coalport again I'll skin that Irish thief!’

So also affirmed the captain of the John F. Harkins, who was out of pocket a month's advance, besides two pounds “head money,” to the crimp who had netted poor Peter.

Luckily, very luckily for Peter, he had not fallen into the hands of a set of ‘white-washed Americans,’ half Irish, half anything, proficients in the art of seabullying,

  ― 27 ―
and in the use of revolvers and knuckle-dusters.

The officers and most of the men of the John F. were genuine Down-Easters, natives of Salem, Martha's Vineyard, and thereabout, shrewd and kindly people; and, though all naturally indignant at the trick played upon them, too just to visit their wrath on its unfortunate object.

Presently Peter was recognised by the steward, who had tasted of his hospitality ashore, and who now, seeing the poor fellow still suffering from the effects of the narcotic administered in that last ‘for luck’ drink of scamp Gallagher's, put him to bed and brought him restoratives. So, in due course, Peter became his own man again, and got fine-weather sea-legs upon him, and would have been comparatively happy but for thoughts of those far-away calves and foals, and the clumsy fingers of a certain assistant stockman. They taught him how to sweep decks, coil up ropes, and make sinnet. They also coaxed him aloft; but he never could get further up the rigging than the futtock-shrouds. There he stuck helplessly, and over them he never went. He was young and light and active; but, somehow, he couldn't bend his body outward into empty air and trust its weight to a little bit of rope no thicker than a clothes-line. It didn't seem natural. One cannot make a sailor at twenty-five.

The John F. was bound for Colombo, thence to Hamburg, and, so far, everything had been fine sailing. But one day a dead-ahead gale arose and blew fiercely for three days.

  ― 28 ―

Then it was that Peter began to realise earnestly what he had before but dimly suspected, viz., that on such an occasion one foot of dry land is worth ten thousand acres of foaming ocean. Easier by far would it have been for him to sit the roughest colt that ever bucked than to stand a minute erect on the barque's deck.

Of such jumping and rearing, plunging and swerving, Peter had possessed no conception before, except in the saddle. There, however, he would have been comparatively safe. Here he was tossed about apparently at the pleasure of the great creature beneath him—one minute on to the back of his head, the next in the lee-scuppers. When he arose, dripping and grasping blindly for support, the rushing past of big seas, the wild, stern hum in the strained rigging, the roar of the blast in the bellies of the tugging topsails, and the swirling of green water round his legs, so bewildered him that he was unable to distinguish one end of the ship from the other.

Under the circumstances, he did the wisest thing he could, and turned into his bunk. There he lay, and wondered with all his might why men should go to sea.

On the fourth day, the gale moderating, they made sail again. During this operation an unfortunate A.B. fell from the main-yard, and broke his leg. The captain did his best, but he was, like the rest, quite unskilled, and the poor fellow lay in agony. Two days after this, when nearly a calm, the mate roused the skipper out of a nap with,—

  ― 29 ―

‘Here's one of them big packet boats a-overhaulin' us, sir.’

‘Well,’ replied the skipper sleepily, ‘what about it? Let her rip. I don't want her. Wish we had her wind, that's all.’

‘Poor Bill's leg, sir,’ answered the other.

‘Why, of course; I forgot,’ said the skipper. ‘Stop the beggar, by all manner of means. She'll have a doctor, an' ice, an' all sorts o' fixin's on board. Run the gridiron half-mast, Mr Stokes. They packets don't care much about losin' time for sich a trifle as a broken leg, but thet oughter ease her down.’

And so it did. No sooner was the American flag seen flying half-way up the signal halliards than the steamer kept away, and came thundering down upon the barque.

‘What's the matter?’ shouted someone, as she slowed nearly alongside.

‘A doctor!’ roared the mate. ‘Man very bad with a broken leg!’

‘Send him on board, and look smart,’ was the reply.

So a boat was lowered, and amongst its crew was Peter Barlow, who, from the first, had been told off to attend the injured man, and who assisted to carry him up the gangway-ladder of the R.M.S. Barcelona.

‘Umph, umph,’ said the surgeon; ‘he'll have to stay here if he wants to save his leg.’ Then to Peter, ‘Off you go back, my lad, and get his kit and what money's coming to him. It'll be many a long day before he sails the sea again.’

But Peter, whose eyes had been roving over the surrounding

  ― 30 ―
crowd, suddenly, to the medico's astonishment, shouting,—‘The boss, by G—d!’ rushed through the people, and, regardless of appearances, seized a gentleman's hand and shook it frantically, exclaiming,—

‘Oh, Mr Forrest, sir, don't you know me? I'm Peter, sir—Peter Barlow, from the ole station. I've been shanghaied an' locussed away to sea, an' I wants to git back home again!’

Mr Forrest was more astonished than Peter at such a meeting. Matters, however, were soon arranged.

Peter went on to Colombo in the Barcelona, and, in a fortnight, joining another boat, duly arrived at Wicklow Downs, whence he has never since stirred.

And, if the reader chance one day to journey thither, he may hear at first hand this story, embellished with breezy Bush idioms and phrases that render it infinitely more graphic and stirring a version, but which, somehow, do not read well in type.