― 285 ―


My Horse

I OWN a tall, domesticated horse of the semi-angular type of beauty. He has an open countenance, a hollow back, and an expressive hazel eye. A former owner of the horse removed the other eye. This person was vexed and mortified because he could not catch the horse, and in the heat of the debate assaulted the animal with a gun. The horse has been sceptical about the trustworthiness of human nature ever since. I have owned him for a long time now, but I have not yet won his entire confidence. His name is Parkes.

He associates with a number of illiterate quadrupeds that roam the bush here, and they all regard Parkes as their chieftain. When any member of the mob finds a patch of couch-grass, Parkes depresses his ears and sidles alongside with a sour look. If the animal knows Parkes he goes away. But if he stays there, Parkes bites his neck and kicks him until he does adjourn. Then my horse eats the grass in a thoughtful way, and afterwards gets another horse to reverse ends with him, and whisk the flies off with his tail. But Parkes does not whisk for the other horse. He is too languid.

Many people think it is easy to catch Parkes, but they are wrong. They are deceived by the statuesque attitude he assumes when another horse is being caught. But when you approach Parkes with a bridle, he smiles satirically and goes away quite rapidly. That is, if you have only a bridle. But if you have a tin dish of corn, he takes the corn with him. He gets it by degrees from your hand, and when you grab for his front hair he ducks and cross-counters with his front paws. He is very quick with his left.

Last winter I made a rug for Parkes with two flour-bags and a

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clothes-line. He was pleased with the effect, and at once struck up an intimacy with a neighbour's cow, although before that he was a very bashful horse in female society.

The neighbour's cow's name is Mike. Her owner was facetious and named her Mike Howe. But (he is dead now) I am told he was otherwise a most estimable man, and a model husband and father.

Mike and my horse became very affectionate, and my horse got quite vain and haughty, because of the distinguished look the rug gave him. But one day, when he was trying to help Mike's calf into a lucerne paddock, the rug became disarranged. The ropes straddled his back, and the main body of the rug clung confidingly to his abdomen. When he next called on Mike, she received my horse coldly. He was hurt at this, and came home to me to have his garb refitted; but I took it off and made it into a meat-safe.

Mike never afterwards associated with my horse. She even pretended that she did not recognise him, and dropped his acquaintance altogether. Her cruelty broke my horse's heart, and he has never since recovered his old gaiety of spirit. He pushed Mike's calf down a shaft last week; but he is still gloomy and abstracted.

I think his disposition is permanently soured.


Hanging and Hell.

THERE are at least six Hanging Rocks and three Gallows Hills in New South Wales. There is one Hell. I've been there, thus:

Assize time in Wagga Wagga and a man on trial for murder. Another man, myself, on trial of sobriety, dead broke, hat battered, boots unlaced, swag all no-how, and so nervous that the gambolling of Pop scares me. Funny that that animal is never so delighted as when I shoulder bluey. I pass the court-house; a knot of idlers are round the gate, a policeman comes out and says, “They'll hang

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him!” I'm off like a shot, and in my ears the din of “Hang him, hangin', hangin', hang, 'ang, 'ng—ng—ng!” Then I turn a corner to get out of public gaze. Unluckily, I pass the side door of the building. I am spell-bound; there I see an awful visage, a face with such a ghastly mouth, and such a dress below the mouth, for the mouth has taken charge of the face, like the Cheshire Cat's grin in Wonderland. Then the grin and the hair, the mouth and the gown, the words and the black cap take me by the shoulders and elsewhere and hustle me on to the river bank. “Hang, hang, hang—ng—ng!” and now I've got them. I know they're on me and so does Pop, because he whines and fawns on me. But for Pop I'd have shown the horrors. Now I only feel them.

Then I walk and walk and walk. It seems two days, but it's not so wearisome, because I have music,—that rhythm, you know, always in my ears. It's company if it's horrible, and the dog is some consolation. Next, I find myself by a vineyard full of angels; they give me three tumblers of wine and a bottle for the road. They wish me to stay, and see me through my recovery, but—that grin, that mug, that wig, and the little black cap! I'm off.

Again I travel about a week, in my mind's eye, and camp near an old shed under a tree. There's a paling fence near, and it looks like the bars of a cage or prison.

But the tree—the gallows-tree! The boughs are scraggy, and the leaves white on top; there's a break in the middle, and a guard round the barrel. It looks like that head. The gap is the cavernous mouth, and the soughing of the breeze is “Hang him, they'll hang him!”

Still, I'm not so badly off. I can see an angel or two feeding Pop. A man comes down with a pint of tea and a plate of soup. He tells me this is the “Burnt Hut,” and that the fires are Hell. Just then he's called by the overseer, and says “Hang him!” Now I'm off again. The din begins, the tree shivers, the head wags, the mug mutters, some crows perch on the top and make a black cap, and I fall asleep near the paling fence—the prison cage.

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When I wake I look through. I see Pop, watching my swag on the other side, and a man tieing the legs of a sheep. That sheep is, to me, myself. He skins it, and calls to his mate, “Come and help me to hang him!” The wretch is going to hang me, the same good fellow who gave me the soup. Luckily, I spot the bottle of wine. I reach for it and drink it, holding the bottle by the neck. I know that I am being hung—hanged, I mean; but I'm not going to let them touch me, myself, the “alter ego.” They come near me and fetch the overseer, who brings me a nip of the real Mackay. It is now a little funny: I'm hung, and still drinking whisky, and the hangman isn't so bad. I suppose the overseer's the devil, because he says, in a sort of pitying tone, “Well! isn't this hell?”

Another snooze, and I awake. It ought to be dark, but it isn't. The night is lit up by bush-fires on and around a pinnacle of smoke and flame. We can see the timbers falling, the sparks rising. “We” are the men and I. I can see the wig and the mouth and the grin and the corpse, standing out like red lights on a murky background. A calico shroud has been tied round the sheep, and it now looks like a suspended ghost. I fancy its soul has gone to—well, blazes was my thought. Then I become sure of it, because the overseer—the devil, I mean—calls the men to look at the Hanging Rock, the pillar of fire, and tells them or half asks them, “Isn't it hell?” What with the Hanging and the Hell, I start again (mentally), and have my little song of “Hang him, hang him, hell, 'ell, well—not so bad—hang—hell!”

And I awoke; and behold, it was a dream. “Well, old fellow! Are you better? Can you cook? Can have a job if you like. Only me and some fencers. We're out all day. Tackle it to-morrow. I'll give you a nip or two—I've had 'em myself.”

But there are few overseers like the one who used to be at the Burnt Hut, under the Hanging Rock. “Isn't it hell?”


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The School at Sergeant's.

OF all the small bush schools I ever had the misfortune to be in charge of, I think with least regret of the school at Sergeant's. And this, with other things, leads me to say that the experience of teachers does not vary so much with the schools as with the places they board at. Practically, the schools are alike—little wooden boxes with iron roofs—cold as Kiandra in winter and hot as Booligal in summer. Nowadays the buildings are even more uniform—built to style, as it were; but in my day the only difference was in the width of the cracks. The children are always the same (God forgive them!); the results never vary; and the same loneliness pervades all. But the chief difference in the place you board at is that each is the worst. All except Sergeant's.

Old Sergeant was one of the finest men I ever saw—six-feet-two at sixty-three! A rugged and seamed old face, clean-shaven but for a fringe of white hair about his neck; eyes clear as a child's; and a mouth that expressed determination except when he was in company and couldn't get rid of the superfluous saliva engendered by his inactivity. He was a rough old customer, with many quaint and truthful sayings—more or less concerning women, and more or less unprintable. But his veneration for his wife was almost pathetic. It showed in his speech. With a total disregard for grammar, it was, “When me an' Tom was on Lambing Flat,” or “The time me and Bill Wade was overlandin',”—but every reference to her was “Mother and me”; and “Wasn't it, mother?” comprised half of his yarns.

The family were all married; and, in the long winter evenings, after my solitary tea—my mouth waters even now at the memory of those preserves—I would go into the kitchen and find the old woman knitting socks, and old Sergeant making picture-frames of fruit-stones and cones. A steaming glue-pot by his side, and pliers in his hand, he cracked the nuts and fitted the pieces with such minute care that to cover three square inches of frame was a long night's work. After a while, I drew designs for him to pick

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out with different kinds of stones, and even essayed one myself—which was picked to pieces in more ways than one. And then, in front of the log fire, he would tell stories of the old times, or I would play the fiddle.

He would never let me play my best piece—“Home, Sweet Home”—because: “When me and Tom was on Araluen—that was before mother and me took up, wasn't it, mother?—we got word that a great fiddler, called Something-Whisky, was comin'. There was a bit of a hall at the pub., and me and Tom was often there, doin'a bit of steppin' and such. Me and Tom was counted the best steppers on the diggin's—leastways, Tom always played,” he added, with characteristic modesty. “Well, Whisky took the hall, and we all dressed up to take out our ten bobs' worth; and, my word! there was a mixed crowd there—wasn't there, mother? Well, Whisky came out, and as soon as he starts we could see he was a fine player; but there was too much shakes and such for us. He ran up and down like winkin' till big Tom M'Grath—you remember Tom, mother?—stands up on a seat and says: ‘I move Jack Sergeant does a step.’ That was me; and before old Whisky knew where he was I was at it. Whisky stood on one side pattin' his fiddle and speakin' some language to himself, while I gave a new step me and Tom had been practisin' on the quiet. Well, of course, there was drinks; but no one remembered old Whisky, till he ups and starts playin' ‘Home, Sweet Home,’ just plain like. Sometimes now, when I'm lyin' in bed, it comes to me; don't it, mother? Well, you never heard a lot of fellows cough and clear their throats like we did. After that we cleared the stage, and made him promise only to play plain tunes we knew, and then we all goes out and paid afresh to come in; didn't we, mother?”

When the old woman died I offered to move, but old Sergeant would n't hear of it. “You stay along with me and we'll rub along—you was a favourite of hers.” One night he selected one from a number of tombstone photographs and asked me to write the inscription. He looked over my shoulder and spelled the words as

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I wrote “Sacred to the memory of Jane, the beloved wife of——” Then he stopped me. “What's wrong?” I asked. “Well,” he said, “her and me was never properly married; best rub out wife and put helpmate. She was that—true—wasn't you, mother?” said the old man dreamily.


The Burial Service of a Musician.

WE gathered around the open grave, ten of us, and gazed down silently at the plain deal coffin. None of us knew any burial-service, but something of the sort seemed necessary, so we stood puzzling our brains to recall some good action of the deceased. After a lapse of several minutes Jones mentioned how the corpse had once treated Cornish Joe to a big burst. This had been better left unsaid; for we all remembered that the sequel to that action was running through the traveller's pockets and abstracting the contents.

There was another silence of five minutes while we moved our feet about, shuffling the loose earth into rude circles. Then Darbyshire whispered that perhaps if we sang something it would be better than keeping dead silence. There was no answer to Darbyshire's suggestion.

By and by, Murphy could stand it no longer. “Boys,” he cried, “d' ye moind the toime he did Ginger Smith outer a pen at Gerogery? A low, sneaking hound he was!”

“Ay, he was that,” chipped in old M'Dougall. “Do ye no' remember him saltin' the South claim, too?”

We all remembered it well. Our tongues were loosened at once, and each of us had some anecdote to relate of the perfidy of the departed. For an hour or more we stayed, until the pauses grew longer between the yarns, and ultimately conversation came to a stop. We shovelled in the earth and left a yellow mound to mark

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the spot. Then we made for the Miner's Arms to drink the corpse's health.

“Fill 'em up, mon,” said M'Dougall. “He was a dom'd scoundrel, but, my oath, he could play the Jew's harp!”


Selling Scripture Texts.

THERE are many different ways of making a living; but selling Scripture texts is not one of them. I discovered this in two days. A friend who frames pictures in Sydney gave me some nice little works of art with a passage of Scripture in one corner, and I started out to supply a long-felt want. I always thought that when people are up to their eyes in debt and trouble would be the right time to drop in with some nice little texts, setting forth that “The Lord will provide,” etc. It seems not. But I should have sold more if I had only known what part of the town the Christians live in. I'm satisfied of that. As soon as I find that out I intend to make money. I met some queer people, though, for a person who doesn't know the town.

One of them is the woman who tells you, after a lot of talk, that she has a house-full of pictures—more than she has room to hang up; and just then one of the children opens the door wide and you discover that the walls are perfectly bare, excepting here and there a large, red spot where some robust bed-insect paused abruptly. And I like the woman who opens the door and smiles. When you put your pictures down on the door-step and start to clear your throat, she slams the door and knocks your pictures right to the bottom of the steps. Your throat clears very suddenly just here, and you quote Scripture which is n't on the texts. This person always lives in a fine, big house, being a lady.

After a few of these confidential interviews, I ceased to wonder how anarchists were built. I have a recipe which would make an anarchist of Job. If this meets the eye of any anarchist who wishes

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to begin work in Sydney, I will be glad to point out some houses which I think could be blown to pieces conveniently, and at little cost. I hate to see any man out of work.

Then there is the Salvation woman, who reads your texts over in a sacred voice as though afraid of stepping on her creed, and tells you to “Remember what them says!” Every minute at that house is time heaved away. The Sunday-school teacher—ditto. I think a lot of the man who sits smoking his pipe on the back verandah, and, when you come to the side-gate and ask if that dog will bite, says, “Sometimes.” A second glance at the house convinces you that the people in there don't know a nice, neat picture when they see it. Consequently, they don't see it.

I also met the man who said “he got some of them Scripture things once, but the kids knocked”—well, a very tropical place—“out of them.” Yes, I met some queer people. In fact, the only people I did n't meet were the people who wanted some nice little religious pictures. If the Apostle Paul were here now, he would soon knock off selling Scripture texts, and start out with “The Life of the Kelly Boys,” or “Bushranging in Australia.” Then he might make a living.


“Colonial Experience.”

HE was a good fellow—the boss liked him, the hands liked him: in fact, we all liked him.

It was only eight months since he had come from England to Yowlahmine Station with a letter of recommendation to Mr. Foster, our boss. His name was Edward—Ted, we used to call him; Ted Oscott. Nobody thought of calling him Mister now, except Maggie M'Farlane.

Maggie's father was the married man on the home station. Ted thought a lot of Maggie, and often used to sit with her under

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the old fig-tree behind the store of a night and tell her about England and his people.

One night he asked her why she didn't call him “Ted” and not “Mister Oscott.” She said she did n't like, as he might think her forward. Maggie was very shy.

Ted thought he would change the conversation, so he asked her if she knew that Murphy was leaving. Murphy was one of the married boundary-riders.

Maggie said she had heard her father saying something about it, and she was very glad if it was true; because she never did like Murphy, and did n't want to see him any more—or his wife, either.

Ted assured her that it was true, and the boss had offered the billet to him (Ted), remarking at the time that it would be a good chance for him to marry Maggie.

Ted then drew a little closer, and asked her if he might tell Mr. Foster that he would take his offer. Maggie said she would see what her father said.

Anyhow, it was soon arranged. They were to ride into Nerribong on Monday, get married and spend a few days, and then on Sunday ride home to Murphy's, where everything would be ready for them.

Nerribong, Saturday night. Maggie had gone to bed, and Ted was paying Hennessy, the landlord, for the week's accommodation, when who should walk into the bar but Murphy! Ted ordered drinks, and Murphy wished him luck and told him he had got another job, at Greendale, and was going out in the morning. Then they went to bed.

When Ted walked into the yard next morning, two horses were hung up at the post, saddled. One was Murphy's; the other the one that Maggie had ridden in from Yowlahmine. Murphy had brought them up from the paddock, but couldn't find Ted's horse anywhere. Ted went to look for him, but with no success.

When he came back Maggie was mounted and ready, and Murphy was pulling down the slip-rails to let her pass through.

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Having got both horses outside, he carefully replaced the rails and bade Ted “Good morning!”

“Wait a minute,” says Ted. “Where are you going?”

“Greendale,” answers Murphy.

“She going with you?”


“Going to stay with you?”


“But where's your wife?”

“Left her at Yowlahmine—she expects you to-night.”

“Ah, well,” says Ted, “you had better come and have a drink before you go. It's pretty sultry this morning.”

“Going to have a hot day, I think,” says Murphy.

Ted thought so too.

He was a good fellow—we all liked him. He has n't come back from Nerribong yet.

J. P.

The Ferryman.

MITCHELL stood six feet in his stockings. By the water's edge, the boat; behind the shingle bed, the green turf; on the turf, the cottage. Part dairyman, part stock-raiser, and a big lump digger— that is the ferryman.

“Familiarity breeds contempt.” You see the mariner of thirty years lash the rope of the sail in its cleat. You see the engine-driver of ten years fall in a moment under the ponderous wheels of the locomotive. You watch the successful pilot of a hundred races thrown, dragged by the stirrup, and brained. Why should the ferryman be an exception?

Was it a river? Yes, when it rained; in fine weather it was only a creek. But then it often rained. At such times the water changed its colour and became a sour white. There is a caution in that which is fickle.

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Like a million other streams, its destiny was the Pacific. Under cover of the clouds the sea found time to whisper as they embraced:

“I am thy mother—some children played upon the shore to-day —I coveted them, but the tide was spent. Bring me a corpse of man to make me sport.”

And the river promised.

That night the sky was filled with silver cords. It was the rain. The river gurgled and rose. Mitchell took his lantern at ten o'clock, and went to see to his boat. He found water all round it.

The river eyed him cunningly. The boat never warned him. Below the boat was a recent eddy—breathless, triumphant. It had but that minute torn a huge hole in the shingle.

Putting the lantern on the bank, Mitchell stepped into the water to drag the boat further up the beach. He clutched the gunwale, and felt that his feet were drawn right under. At the same instant the boat began to pay out broadside down the stream.

Mitchell opened his mouth to cry for help. That attempted appeal was his death-warrant, swimmer though he was. In an instant his head went under.

The water poured down his throat. In fancy he felt his mother gently stroking his cheek. He loosed his grasp of the boat. When he rose, the power to struggle was for ever gone.

Mitchell's wife took the tin lamp, and, with her daughter, went in quest of her husband. The other children crowded in the doorway. The lantern still burned, but it rested on the stones. Where were the hands that had brought it there?


No answer.


Silence is a mocker.

The river was too high to cross to the township, but one of the boys rode five miles down the bank to a neighbour's place for counsel and assistance. There is sublimity in the compulsory craving for sympathy at such a time.

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Ex-lieutenant Hamborough, once a soldier, now a beachcomber, rubbed his huge hands with satisfaction. The sea had been rough. There was a fine flat of sand with a bank of six feet at high-tide mark. All night had the sea sluiced those tons of stuff.

He reckoned twenty ounces at least.

He took his box with its plush and blanket ripples and sallied out. Gold sticks in hair. Maybe that is how woman first learned to feed vanity from effect.

Descending the bank, he began to shovel the useful sand into heaps.

He stopped, for the shovel struck a portion of flesh. He bored more. It was a man's back. He uncovered the lot, and identified it easily. It was his old friend, Mitchell, who had fought by his side at Cawnpore. And the knots of twenty years worn into the rope with which he had carried his box were easier to unravel than the wherefore of this strange meeting arranged by Fate.

Do not play at hazards with danger; keep well on the upper side.


Barmy Barker's Boots.

YOU see, Barmy Barker was once trampin' the roads. He was always forgettin' himself and was half his time bushed. He was awful absent-minded, was Barker. For instance, he'd get up in the mornin' and wouldn't know no more 'n the man in the moon which way he'd been goin' the night afore, and ten to one he'd go back t' where he'd come from. He 'adn't gumption enough to beat about and track himself. He'd no idea of anythink barrin' straight ahead to nowhere in particular. What he was goin' for—he didn't know. Once he scorned the offer of a good billet, when he was downright 'ard-up for one. It came o' bein' 'ead-over-ears in some big scheme or other in his mind.

Often as not he'd go to stations with his tucker-bags and come

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away with nothin'. Couldn't recollect what took him up, and forgot his bags thinkin' of it. Then he'd 'ave to ante-up a bob to a blackfellow to show him where he left his swag. When it come to payin', Barker 'd say, quite innocent, “Do I owe you a shillin': what was it for, now? I can't think.” “Me find um swag.” “But that's my swag. I put it there.” “Das right, boss. You been lose um camp, see?” Barker 'd barney over that for an hour sometimes, but he'd stump up at last. He lost a mint o' money that way.

Anyhow, ratty as he was, he hit on a good plan to steer by. When he'd come to his campin'-place he'd take his boots off, and leave 'em pointin' the right way. Then he could twist about as much as he liked takin' his swag off, and makin' preparations in gen'ral for the night. Till them boots was right, though, he darsn't turn, or he'd be flabbergasted altogether. In the mornin' everything must be shouldered for the track 'fore he dare step into 'em. Otherwise he might get turned pickin' up something. He did go without 'em wonst, and it wasn't till he'd picked forty or so thorns out o' his feet it occurred to him he was in the 'abit o' wearin' boots. A trav'ler fetched 'em along for him that time.

One night he 'ad to get up and go to the waterhole for a drink. That was the turnin'-point in his life. He put his boots on—it bein' the time snakes go picnickin' and matin'; and there's nothin' in the wide world that sets Barker's hair standin' on end more'n snakes.

When he got up next day the boots was facin' the waterhole.

“Dang it!” says Barker; “I didn't know I 'ad to cross that!”

But the boots pointed that way, so there was no get out of it. It was only fifty yards round that hole, but leather said cross it, and 'cross it went Barker—up to his neck. He felt miserable when he got out, for Barker wasn't used to bein' wet. So he stripped off to dry. When he was ready to start ag'in he found his compass 'ad gone bung once more. One boot pointed east, t' other west. “Now, which way am I goin'?” says Barker. He sat down to think it out. But it wasn't no use. Thinkin' made him giddy, and put

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him in such a gen'ral muddle that he lost sight o' what he wanted to think about. So he saw there was no help then but to wait till some one came along.

So Barker filled his pipe. He 'adn't 'ad a smoke that mornin', and his mouth was waterin'. Soon he was puffin' away big licks, and found it a good help to his brain. So he tried ag'in to think them boots the one way, and finished up with bandicootin' murphies in the old country. He was that disgusted that he grabbed the old clay-dabber to knock the ashes out, and then he saw as he'd never lit it. Barker saved a lot o' 'bacca in his time forgettin' the match part o' the performance.

As luck 'appened, a stockman came in sight about dinner-time. Barker cooeyed, and he came over. “ 'Scuse me,” says Barker; “would you do me a favor, mate? I'm a bit flummoxed.” “Certainly, old man—if it's not too much trouble. What is it?” “Ah, what is it? Lemme see—Oh! … Will you tell me where I'm goin' to, and oblige—yours sincerely” … Barker was workin' it off on his fingers.

“Why, strike me dead!” says the stockman to himself, “that bloomin' old fool's mad!”

“Where am I goin'?” asks Barker again.

“Off yer nanny,” says the stockman, riding off. “Keep straight on, and you'll not be long afore you're there.”

Barker chewed that over for an hour. One boot said east and one said west. Which was straight on? “Dang me if I don't go with Bobindie,” says Barker—he called one of them boots Bobindie. So he put Bobindie on and went west. That night he struck a dry gully, and near perished for want of water. “You're the devil's own,” says Barker. “To blazes with you!”

He got back next night—how, I dunno—and he says to the other boot, that he called Brian Boroo: “Brian,” he says, “we'll go east at your wish, and the Lord strike you blind if your designs be treacherous!” So he put on Brian Boroo and went east, leaving Bobindie to perish. He'd 'ave no more truck with that gentleman.

In three hours Brian Boroo kicked ag'in a slug o' gold, and

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Barker danced and howled in his delight. Before sundown he struck this one-'orse place where I'm treed now. But in Barker's eyes, with that slug shining in 'em, this miserable old creek was Heaven. So here he stuck. He was offered a tidy sum afterwards by a shindykit in the township to show 'em the spot where Brian hit the slug; but, Lor' bless you! by that time Barker knew as much of its whereabouts as a gorilla.

Anyway, he took the old blucher off, and knelt down 'fore the 'ouses and kissed him. “Brian Boroo,” says Barker, “you 're a brick!” So he pensioned him off straight away, and—well, there's the old fellow, snug and comfortable, in that glass case.

Me? Oh, I'm Barmy Barker.


The Benefit of Clergy.

As Father Connolly reached the door of the Squatters' Rest a dozen arms were stretched out to hold his horse and help him alight.

“It's a hot ride you've had, sure, father?” said the buxom proprietress.

“Faith, hot's no name for it, Mrs. Dargan. Is there annything left in moi bottle?”

“Well, it's close on four months since ye was here, yer riverince; but I've got some good old Irish tack ye 're welcome to.”

“That's right, mother! Let's have some, an' a bite; too; for Oi'm off again immadiately.”

“Ye won't be stayin' the night, then?”

“No. Oi've a sick-call at Bull-bull Station, and Oi must start again at once and get there to-noight.”

“I'm sorry for yer hurry, father; for there's some business for ye here.”

“Indade! And what moight it be?”

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“Well, father, there's Mary. She be near her time to Ted Hogan, at Howlong; an' they wants joinin'.”

“Call 'em in, mother!”

Mrs. Dargan went out of the parlour, and soon came back followed by Mary and her lover, a hard-faced young boundary-rider, who, fortunately for himself and the object of his affections, had ridden over to the Squatters' Rest that morning.

“So!” said the priest, sternly, “so! ye've not had the dacency to wait moi comin'?”

The young couple made no reply.

“How do ye expect to obtain a blessin',” continued the priest, “whin ye stale the joys of matrimony widout God's lave? Kneel down, the pair of ye! Now, say the worrds afther me. Mrs. Dargan, call all hands in as witnesses!”

For some minutes the ceremony proceeded; then the priest asked, “Mary O'Neill, do ye take this man for your husband?”

“Yer ain't asked 'im if 'e'll 'ave me first, father.”

“Soilence, you hussy! Will you have him? He is going to marry you.”

“Yes, yer reverence.”

“That's roight. There now! ye are man and woife, and God bless ye!”

“Whisky all round, mother!” cried Ted Hogan; and all joined in the toast which followed.

“Is there annything else now, Mrs. Dargan?” asked the priest, pocketing the pound-note given him by the newly-wedded man.

“Yes, yer riverince; there's a baptism.”

“Whose is the infant?”

“It's Jane's, father.”

“Jane! She's not married!”

“Ah! poor thing, father, she's in a bad way, an' her man won't be here this side Christmas.”

“Who is he?”

“Alick M'Intyre, the bullocky.”

  ― 302 ―

“Heavens! the sin, the sin of it all! Fetch the mother and choild in at once.”

A pale young woman was brought in, bearing in her arms a fine little boy a month or two old.

“Ah! Jane, you've been in a divil of a hurry,” said the priest, not unkindly. “Who stand sponsors for this choild? God bless him! He's a beauty, too.”

A toothless old rabbiter in for a spree, and a young fellow from a neighbouring selection, stepped forward, and the ceremony was soon over.

“There, Jane, me gurrl, the little wan is as pure as snow now. But what's all those tears for? Mrs. Dargan, what's wrong?”

The women-folk, as if by magic, had all begun to sob; and the men stood here and there conversing in whispers and looking very glum.

“Come now, mother, what's the maning of it all?” asked the priest again, and impatiently this time.

“Ah, father, there's pretty Nellie yet!”

“An' what, in heaven's name, is wrong with her?—the angel of the flock. The pride of the Big Gum Plain. The flower among so many weeds.”

There was a ring of alarm in the old man's tones, and he looked anxiously from one to the other.

“Faith, father, it's buryin' she wants.”

“Burying? Nellie dead! No, no. So bright, so fair. The queen of you all! Not dead!”

“Indade, father.”

“Take me to her!”

“She's all nicely laid out; with a pretty coffin, too, made by Ted, here. The poor lamb died yester-morn.”

Mrs. Dargan led the priest into an adjoining room where, on a stretcher, lay the body of poor Nellie. She had been a very beautiful girl, and even Death could not rob her perfect features of their charm. The long golden hair had been carefully brushed and

  ― 303 ―
trained down each side of the reclining figure. On her breast was a bunch of wild flowers.

“She's bin ailin' since your last visit, father. The young gentleman from Mooraboo run was after her, and Nellie was very fond of him. But the damn blackguard, savin' your presence, father, wint away an' got spliced to a lady in Adelaide, an' our girl here broke her poor heart an' died.”

Mrs. Dargan told her tale with many sobs.

“And was she innocent, do you think, mother?” asked the priest, anxiously.

“More's the pity, no, father. She——”

“God, God! The sin, the sin! Poor lamb, to be wrecked by that son of the devil. Wait until Oi meet him!—which, plase Heaven, will be soon. Now bring all hands in, Mrs. Dargan, and Oi'll say prayers.”

And when the prayer was over he spoke to them about the savage way they were living, and said the back-blocks should be called the Black-blocks, for there was no light there. An hour later, after Nellie's body had been placed in the rough grave prepared for it, Father Connolly took his leave of the shanty and its inmates, blessing them all from his seat in the saddle. And as he rode away a tear trickled down his face. “Lord!” he cried, “when will women know men?”