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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.

PONTE.

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