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  ― 203 ―

A Bridal Party and A Dog.

IT was afternoon when I rode into Bear Gully. I was bound for the railway-station five miles north, and at first thought to ride straight through the almost-deserted hamlet. Bear Gully had once a dozen or so houses. That was before the railway-station opened in the north. Now the pub. was the only inhabited dwelling in the place, and it lingered partly to catch teamsters and occasional wanderers, and partly, seemingly, because it was used to lingering there and never thought of shifting.

The day was hot and steamy after late rain. Several puddles of water studded the flat in front. The pub. verandah was odiously dirty. Mud was spattered on the posts and on the weatherboard walls, and the entire establishment looked disreputable in the extreme. A brown shabby dog of mixed collie and retriever breed lay at the far end of the verandah, and eyed me in a peculiarly suspicious way. However, throwing the bridle over a hook, I walked in.

“Anyone here?” I asked. There were glasses on the counter and bottles on a shelf behind, but no one in attendance.

“Anyone here?” I repeated. Thinking the publican might be temporarily busy elsewhere, I turned out of the bar to have a look at the dog, whose appearance had attracted me.

The brute had partly struggled to his feet and was snapping at something, to me invisible, which seemed to annoy him. He was as dirty as his surroundings, with large lumps of mud sticking here and there to his shaggy sides. As I approached him, in making a particularly vicious snap over his right shoulder, he overbalanced and rolled on his back. I went closer. His eyes were shut, but he moved his head spasmodically, and every few seconds snapped at


  ― 204 ―
some unseen enemy. I judged his complaint to be a kind of local paralysis combined with illusions of the senses.

Going back, I re-entered the bar. To my surprise a red, swollen-faced man sat behind the counter.

“Hello,” I said, “I thought the house abandoned. Is n't it hot?” The man was looking towards, but beyond me. His eyes were bloodshot and the lids heavy.

“What'll y' 'ave?” he asked, almost in a whisper. I wished I had ridden on, but as things had gone so far I determined to make the best of them.

“A little whisky,” I answered. “It's terrible work riding in this clammy heat.” He gripped the counter with one hand, while reaching for the bottle with the other. He looked at the bottle as he looked at me—that is, he appeared to be looking far away beyond it. Catching it, however, he placed it before me.

“You don't seem very well,” I remarked.

No answer.

“That's a queer dog of yours outside,” I added.

No answer.

I swallowed the drink and placed a shilling on the counter. The man put the bottle back, picked up the shilling in a dreamy, death-like silence, and then, with a shout that shook the rafters, jumped several feet in the air, and turning round, rushed through the bar entrance into an adjoining room. Recovering from the shock, I followed him. I had heard a crash, and concluded he had fallen over something. He had; and there he lay on the floor, evidently injured, though to what extent I could not tell.

“What's up?” I asked. He made desperate efforts to rise, but knee or ankle was damaged and he could not get on his feet. But he snapped at me with his mouth, and, when I stood aside out of his view, he snapped and struck at objects invisible to me.

“Who the mischief's looking after this den?” I mused, walking through the house to the rear of the premises. In a large room, like a bushman's dining-room, my eye caught a youngish man in shirt and trousers, sitting at a heavy table, engaged at some absorbing


  ― 205 ―
work. His face was toward me, and, though he was unshaven and unwashed, I at once set him down for a city clerk.

“Well, now,” I began, walking in; “I'm glad to come on someone in his senses. What's up with the party inside?” By this time I noticed that the heavy wooden table was pitted all over with small cavities, some the size of marbles, and others as large as eggcups, and that my new acquaintance was busily digging out a fresh one with his sheath knife. He did not notice my words, but worked on.

“What do all these holes mean?”

Sh—sh!” he whispered. “I'm getting 'em all out. Oh, they can't escape me! Centipedes—see? Scorpions—see? I'm getting 'em out! I'm getting 'em out!”

Whipping a wriggling shaving of wood from the hole he worked on, he threw it on the floor and, with blood-curdling yells, jumped and danced on it. When the fit was over he resumed his seat and went on calmly with his work.

As I unhitched my horse the cross-bred collie, still snapping at the air, wriggled to the edge of the verandah, and rolled over into a pool of water on the road beneath.

I didn't look back. “I'll report the facts to the authorities,” I said, “and leave the job to them.” On turning the first bend in the road I came flush on a horse and trap.

“Ye're fram beyant?” asked a sergeant of police who drove the trap. “Did ye lave them all well?” Then he informed me that he and the constable sitting beside him were bound for the Bear pub. to carry away the remaining inmates.

“Ye see,” went on the sergeant, “we tuk away the wimmin this marnin'. It all came about through a weddin' as done it. The darter of the oul' man was spliced three weeks ago to a young fella, a clerk from town, an' they kep' the cellybrashun up till ivery man jack has the d.t.'s. I tuk away the bride an' 'er mother an' an oul' woman cook in this thrap this marnin', an' now I'm goin' back for the oul' man an' the bridegroom.”




  ― 206 ―

“And the dog?” I said.

An' the dog,” said the sergeant. “The dog's ivery bit as bad as the rest. It's the worst case of profligacy iver occurred in this part in my time, an' the dog's as bad's any wan of them. This'll burst up the Bear pub. annyway, an' it's a good job. Will ye ride back wid us?”

“No, sergeant, thank you. I'm in a hurry. I'll not want to see the bridal party or its dog any more.”

OMEGA

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