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.”

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“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?”