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  ― 177 ―

That Other Fellow




  ― 179 ―

A Tale of the Seventies

DUNCAN MCINTYNE sat on the cap of the stockyard-fence, smoking quietly, contemplating a colt which, in his capacity of horse-breaker, he was about to mount for the first time. The colt was also contemplating Duncan, and wondering what fresh devilry he meditated. Only a week ago and he was as free as air; now he was penned in by posts and rails, his mouth sore with a breaking-bit, a roller had been buckled around him, in which he felt as comfortable as a girl in her first corset, his mane and tail had been pulled, and to-day a saddle had been girthed on him—all these indignities he justly attributed to the man “cockatooing” on the fence. He had been violently taking it out of himself bucking


  ― 180 ―
round the yard, and now stood breathlessly gazing at his enemy.

Duncan knocked the ashes out of his pipe, replaced it in his pouch, and sprang lightly down into the enclosure. A blackfellow, who had been sunning himself in a corner, arose also on noticing the movement. Between fear and exertion the colt was sweating profusely, the perspiration dropped from his body on to the dusty ground, and ran in dirty streams down his legs. After a smart display of equine temper, Duncan got his hand on the youngster's mane and spoke soothingly to him.

“Steady, old boy, you've had your fling like the rest of us, and now work begins.”

The pair looked in each other's eyes like two duellists. Neither man nor horse could foresee the future; there they were on an equality of ignorance. No instinct could tell the animal that a time would come when he would appeal to his hated foe with piteous whinnies for relief, and die with that hand caressing him, and those eyes full of unshed tears for his fate.




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The blackboy approached the horse's head while Duncan made his usual preparations to mount. “My word!” said the boy as he got hold of the colt's ear, “this the fellow Sherman Jarley say, kick out mid his front feet that time we brand him.”

“Yes, Billy,” returned Duncan, flipping the stirrup-leather once or twice against the flap of the saddle; “and if you don't let go quick he'll shake hands with you as he did with German Charley. Now!”

With a quick, easy movement he was in the saddle, and the boy stepped back. For a moment the colt stood motionless, then started pawing and rearing, and again stood doggedly still.

“Now don't sulk,” said McIntyre, but the words were no sooner uttered than the colt started bucking in a vicious and roundabout fashion, which called upon all the rider's powers of horsemanship. The struggle lasted a short time only, and then the horse gave in defeated.

“Get your horse, Billy,” says McIntyre, and the boy, after letting down the rails,


  ― 182 ―
mounts an old horse which has been standing indifferent and half-asleep in an adjacent yard; then the colt, after a little coaxing, goes off quietly down the paddock alongside the old stager.

Duncan McIntyre was a gentleman who had gone down in the world. He was one of the curst victims of heredity; only, unfortunately for himself, he had not succeeded to the whisky-proof head of his Scottish ancestors. Liquor ever turned him from a generous, easy-going, mild-tempered fellow into a mad rowdy, ready to ride a wild race through the main street of a bush township, fight with his best friend, or drink with his worst enemy. Fortunately, his manly, adventurous character had prevented him sinking into the ranks of the sponger and the loafer. He had fallen from his own set to an ordinary bush-hand, and could always earn a good cheque at any kind of work, but this was surely followed by the fatal and inevitable “spree.” Some morning he would awake possessed of nothing but the clothes he had slept in, “a liver” a blue-blanket


  ― 183 ―
and a bottle of “sudden death,” kindly given him by the publican to stave off the impending “horrors.”

One day Fate led him to Darromine, a medium-sized cattle-station. Mitford, the managing partner, was a man gifted with an exceptionally good and kindly heart. He knew McIntyre's story, soon recognised the worth dormant beneath the assumed roughness of the fallen nature, and, after some trouble, induced him to come and live with him, and endeavour to assume once more the habits of his better days. Naturally, the besetting sin betrayed itself from time to time, but Mitford set himself to banish the unclean spirit, and by untiring vigilance, unaccompaned by any ostentatious display of solicitude, he partly succeeded. Needless to say that Duncan had conceived a strong and lasting friendship for the other.

II

Some fifteen miles from Darromine there was a small township, and in that township


  ― 184 ―
lived the fair and only daughter of the police-magistrate thereof, a widower. She was nineteen and the belle of the district. Not that she prided herself on that distinguished position, for there were only five girls in the district, all told, and the other four were so uncommonly hard-featured that to be the acknowledged belle in such company was, after all, but a doubtful distinction. Doubtless Miss Jennie Webster cherished a hidden conviction, in which she was quite justified, that, had she to compete with more favoured rivals she would have held her own; but this notion she kept to herself, and did not assume any undue airs as the belle of Corraville. Needless to say that all the youths of the district were madly in love with her, even those who professed engagements with absent fair ones in Sydney or Melbourne. Jennie smiled upon all alike, but favoured no one in particular.

Now it happened that the very day on which Duncan gave the colt his first lesson had been selected by Mr. Webster to drive his daughter to Darromine on a visit.


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McIntyre and Billy were walking the horses quietly homeward along the Corraville road, which led through the paddock, when at a turn amongst some scrub they were suddenly overtaken by the buggy. The colt shied violently and commenced to buck. It was rather awkward in the scrub, and Duncan was nearly getting into trouble two or three times ere he brought his green mount under control. After offering his apologies for unintentionally frightening the colt, which the young lady accepted with a frank smile of admiration, for most women like to see good horsemanship, the police-magistrate and his daughter drove on.

“What a quiet man that Mr. McIntyre is,” said Jennie, “I can never get half-a-dozen words out of him; but he can ride.”

Her father smiled somewhat grimly; McIntyre's past was known to him, and he was glad to see the change that was being worked.

“It's a case of still waters, my girl,” he replied, “but he is a good fellow, I believe.”




  ― 186 ―

Mitford was one of Jennie's victims. For a long time he had been ready to lay himself and his share of Darromine at her feet; the present visit, therefore, translated him to the seventh heaven.

“How well you ride, Mr. McIntyre!” said Miss Webster in the course of the dinner. “I must confess I like to see a bit of good buckjumping.”

Duncan smiled. “I nearly came to grief under that low brigalow though,” he said.

“I saw it,” she returned; “and I can assure you my heart was in my mouth, for it was all our fault.”

“How does he shape?” asked Mitford, alluding to the colt.

“Very well indeed. I have taken a great fancy to him, he has no vice—it's only nervousness. In a week he'll get confidence, and in a month I'll make a lady's hack of him.”

“There! Miss Webster,” said Mitford; “may I send him in for you to ride this day month if McIntyre guarantees that he is fit?”




  ― 187 ―

“Certainly, I accept the challenge,” she returned, for she was a good horsewoman. “I will rely upon Mr. McIntyre's skill and judgment.”

Duncan bowed and the subject dropped; but thenceforth the colt, christened Challenger, became the object of special care and attention.

The month passed, and Miss Webster, arrayed in a workmanlike habit of dark blue serge, was seated in the verandah reading a book, and occasionally glancing along the road which led to Darromine. A rider with a led horse presently made his appearance, but, sooth to say, the young lady looked slightly disappointed. “He might have come too, to see how the colt went,” she thought.

“Are you ready, dad?” she called out; “here comes Mr. Mitford with the horse.”

Mitford rode into the stable yard, and the magistrate and his daughter came out to inspect the colt. What a difference to the sullen, fierce-eyed rebel who had snorted


  ― 188 ―
defiance at his enemy only thirty days before!

“Oh, dad, isn't he a beauty!” cried the little lady in her delight.

“McIntyre has handled him so that a child could ride him, but he is full of pluck all the same,” said Mitford, delighted at her pleasure.

Challenger was soon saddled, and the three set out; the trim-figured Jennie forgetting her annoyance at the non-appearance of McIntyre in the pleasure of her mount. The ride was a success, and thenceforth Challenger was entirely at Miss Webster's disposal.

It is impossible for a girl and a man to be on the verge of a violent passion for each other without both knowing it, although never a word may have been interchanged on the subject. Jennie had not quite suffered herself to fall in love with the interesting Duncan, but she was perilously near it. McIntyre himself was lost. He had fought against the feeling tooth and nail; had told himself over and over again


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that the curse which shadowed his life made it a heinous crime for him to think of marriage; and had almost won the fight. Suddenly the fatal knowledge came to him that it needed but a word from him to obtain the confession of her affection. The flower was unfolding for him to pluck. He almost threw caution to the winds. Almost—not quite.

Mitford came back from Corraville one evening with his sunny face clouded: he had ventured all, and lost.

“I am sure she would have had me, old man,” he innocently confided to his friend, “but there's another fellow in the way; she as good as admitted it.”

Duncan was silent for some time; then he rallied his companion, and somewhat roused him from his despondency.

“Look here, McIntyre,” said Mitford, “I have a plan in my head about which I have already consulted my partner and obtained his consent. You have heard of the country out west beyond the Queensland border? We are thinking of taking a bit up, and


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sending out some of our spare stock to form for us a station. Will you go out and manage for a third share and a salary?”

Duncan rose and shook the other's hand. “Your offer is too generous. You could get a man anywhere for a couple or three hundred a year.”

“No, we couldn't, not such an all-round man as you. Besides, it's not all beer and skittles living out there. What with fever and blacks and short commons, you'll earn your third share.”

“When do you propose to start?”

“You and I and a blackboy will go as soon as possible and inspect the country. When we come back we will start the cattle, provided we find anything good enough. We have three years' grace to stock.”

“There is nothing much to do here,” returned McIntyre, “we can start in a fortnight.” After a few more words they parted for the night. McIntyre lay sleepless, thinking of what the day had brought forth. She might have accepted Mitford,


  ― 191 ―
but for that other fellow. He, Duncan McIntyre, the ne'er-do-well, was “that other fellow.” His way was clear: before him lay escape from the temptation of love, and perhaps a drunkard's death; he must go, and go quickly without speaking.

Of a sudden he asked himself would she forget him? Would not his exile in the wilderness arouse the very flame he sought to extinguish, by adding the touch of absence and romance? No, that other fellow must go under in a way that would conclude the matter. Mitford on his return would probably get a favourable answer. “That other fellow” went under that night, although Mitford on his restless bed little thought so.

McIntyre had broken out again. That was the last news in the little township where news was so scarce. Everybody said they had expected it all along, and everybody, saving the local publicans, said they were very sorry. It had been “an old man spree.” Duncan had damaged the sergeant of police, who was good-naturedly trying to induce him to leave town. Mitford had to come in


  ― 192 ―
and bail him out of the lock-up. Jennie had heard of it, and shed some bitter tears but, with all a woman's faith in the reforming power of love, still believed that had she the right she could exorcise the evil spirit. Alas for Jennie! the worst was yet to come.

McIntyre went “on the tear” again, and this time capped all his former delinquencies. One of the publicans had imported a new barmaid, a young damsel with gold-washed hair, who rejoiced in the name of Flossie. Duncan rode Challenger into town, and an hour or two afterwards Flossie might have been seen steering the colt down the main street in the sight of all people. Jennie saw her, saw this garish young party mounted on the horse that had been kept sacred to her use, that McIntyre had devoted weeks to breaking in for her—Challenger, her pet who ate sugar from her hand!

From that moment poor Duncan was to her a thing of the most bitter scorn and contempt. He might have damaged the whole of the police-force and painted the town scarlet, and been forgiven; but this


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insult was too much. That other fellow went under for good and all.

One small bit of triumph was afforded her. The vainglorious Flossie, flushed with the pride that precedes a fall, took opportunity, when parading before the P.M.'s house, to give Challenger a cruel and undeserved cut across the ears. This for a horse of spirit, accustomed to be treated as a gentleman, was unendurable. Already irritated by the antics of his strange rider, he gave a side-bound that seated Flossie, to her sudden astonishment, in the middle of the dusty road. Challenger trotted off, and the forlorn damsel, holding up her skirt, had to follow on foot, amidst much chaff from the spectators.

Mitford got McIntyre out of town, somehow. Hurt as he was he refrained from reproach, and he was rewarded. Ere they started, he asked once more, and this time he was told, “When you come back I may say yes.” What more would he have?

Once only did Jennie allude to the disgraceful


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episode. “I hope you are taking that horse with you, I never want to see him again.” Mitford assured her that the innocent animal which had done its best to protest against indignity, would never more be seen by her, little dreaming of a time to come when life and hope would be bound up in Challenger's endurance and his rider's faith.

They parted, and Jennie, watching, saw another horseman join him in the main street, and she turned into the house with a bright sparkle in her eye and a flush upon her cheek.

III

A wide stretch of grey plain, bounded by a shimmering haze, a haze that grotesquely magnifies what few objects are visible, turning a stone into a rock, a bush into a tree. A shallow depression, bordered by dry polygonum bushes, with here and there a crooked, distorted coolibah tree, threads this plain. At one point in this apology for a creek,


  ― 195 ―
there is a pool of milky looking water. From the edge of this pool a short growth of green grass extends for a little distance up the bank, and on this patch of sward, the only green thing visible, some horses are feeding. Under a scanty shade of boughs, erected near one of the largest coolibah trees, Mitford and McIntyre are sitting; blackened by sun and wind, thin with semi-starvation, and cursed with “the infinite torment of flies.” The blackboy is curled up under the trunk of the tree. He lets the flies cluster around his eyes, infest his mouth and nostrils, and makes no effort, like the white men, to drive them away. The others are less patient, and a hasty exclamation continually escapes them. “When shall we get out of this purgatory?” says Mitford.

They were in a trap. They had penetrated far into the unknown country west of the Queensland border. From one scanty water-hole to another they had made their way to their present position, and now they could neither advance nor retreat. Before


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them there was an illimitable expanse of dry country; behind them the water-holes had dried up, and their return was cut off. Sturt, at the Depôt Camp, was in the same fix, and scores of men since have been caught in a similar way. A hundred and twenty miles of dry, cracked, gaping plains lay between them and a large permanent lagoon they had found on their outward journey. No horse could travel that distance without water under the vertical summer sun. No horse could traverse half the distance over the soft, spongy soil full of holes and deep cracks and live. Their only hope was a kindly thunderstorm, for the water-hole where they were camped was fast shrinking, and when that was gone it meant death.

Day after day they watched the clouds gather, dark and threatening, only to break in wind and dust, and a few fierce flashes of lightning.

At last, an ominous cloud gathered in the east. As night drew on, the heavens darkened and the setting sun was reflected


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from the opposite hemisphere in a quickly-fading flush of angry scarlet. A black night closed in. The air was heavy, oppressive and sultry; the two men and the boy stood silently watching. Their fate was hidden in that sullen bank of vapour. Quick, bright flashes of lightning soon commenced to blaze, followed, after a long interval, by a low, distant mutter of thunder. Presently even this ceased, and, with a sigh of bitter disappointment, the men stretched themselves on their blankets and sought forgetfulness in sleep.

“How far off was that storm?” said Mitford, breaking the silence.

“Any distance over seventy miles,” returned Duncan. “Did you not notice the long interval between the flash and the thunder?”

Mitford replied wearily, and both men soon slept.

In an hour or two McIntyre awoke, and instantly noticed a change in the atmosphere. The wind was blowing faintly from the direction of the late storm, and with it came


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the unmistakeable smell of wet earth. Rain had fallen to the eastward at last. The wind had brought the message, but from how far had it come?

Duncan aroused Mitford, and together they stood and sniffed the cool, damp air.

“We must get out of here somehow,” said McIntyre at last. “Now, listen. I am going to take Challenger and a pack-horse with water, and ride in the direction that wind comes from; I have the bearing, a little south of east. I will let the packhorse go in about twenty miles, after I have given Challenger a drink from the bags; the pack-horse will come back here. I shall go on until I find where that storm fell. If I don't come back you will know it is too far, and that I am done for; then you must shift for yourself. If I find water I shall come back.”

“But, Duncan, what nonsense! Why can't we all go and chance it?”

“Because I might get a little puddle of water that would serve me and the horse and


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would not be enough for all of us. Man, don't you understand! I owe you a debt and must pay you in my own way. For God's sake, don't thwart me.”

Mitford could say no more. McIntyre roused up Billy, and they strode into the darkness after the horses, which were soon caught, and, under the now starlit sky, the two men said good-bye.

About three hours after daylight, McIntyre pulled up, watered Challenger by means of a tin dish he had on the pack, then released the pack-horse to find its own way back to camp, and proceeded on his lonely way. Hour after hour of monotonous progress over the dead, dry plain, the only break an occasional shallow depression bordered with brown polygonum. Hour after hour through the great stillness of the night, save for a short occasional rest for his gallant horse.

Daylight again, and the outlook unchanged—no sign of rainfall visible. As the sun got hotter Challenger began to show signs of distress, so Duncan started to walk, and


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together man and horse stumbled over the treacherous plain. He had a small canvas bag of water on his saddle, but only a scanty remnant of the former contents was now left. Death was walking beside them, step for step.

At last Challenger began to give in, his flanks were pinched and the hollows over his eyes deep sunken; he rubbed his nose against Duncan's arm, whinnied, and looked pleadingly at him. These are the things to break a man's heart in the wilderness. Still there was nothing in sight but the heat-haze and the tall columns of dust raised by the wandering whirlwinds that crossed their track. A false step and the horse went down. McIntyre tried to get him up, but Challenger was too far gone—he must proceed alone. Wetting his lips with a few drops of the water fast evaporating from the bag, he went forward on the course he had been keeping.

Suddenly, right in front of him, rose a small flock of birds. They wheeled and chattered and settled down again! It could


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only mean water, for since leaving camp he had seen no living thing, and now he recognised the birds as spur-winged plover.

With perspiration nearly blinding him, he staggered on, and then he must have crossed the crest of an almost imperceptible rise, for before him the plain was covered with sheets of shallow water. He had reached the extreme edge of the thunderstorm.

When Duncan lifted his face from the tepid pool after slaking his thirst, his first thought was of the dying horse on the plain. He filled his felt hat and the bag, and dragged himself back to his dumb companion. Challenger lifted his head when he saw him, and whinnied piteously. Four times more he made the journey backwards and forwards, and then the plucky horse managed to get on its legs and follow him down to the water. There was a solitary coolibah tree not far off, and in the miserable shade that it afforded Duncan sat down and tried to eat some of the dried


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horse-flesh he had brought with him. He was conscious of a fearful headache, for he had been bareheaded when carrying the water to Challenger. He must get back as soon as possible, for the water on the plain was but a few inches deep and fast disappearing. Still he must spell his horse, for after such an ordeal the colt would not carry him half way without rest. At last he felt too stupid to think, and sank into a sleep that lasted until sundown. His head was still throbbing painfully when he awoke, and he arose and bathed it in one of the pools, but the water was warm and afforded him no relief. Challenger seemed greatly recovered, and was feeding on the dry Mitchell grass.

One thought haunted Duncan during the ensuing night of pain—the scorching ride back over the drought-smitten country. Suddenly a whisper seemed to come from the darkness, “Why go back?” To the eastward the country was well watered, and a few easy stages would take him to the Queensland border and safety. Mitford


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would wait, and at last give him up, start back on some other course, and probably perish. It was one or other of them. The colt would not carry him more than half way back to camp; then he must walk, and the sun would soon make an end of him. All through the dark hours of semidelirium the voices from the surrounding solitude kept up the refrain, “Why go back?”

On the fifth day after McIntyre's departure Mitford started on Duncan's tracks with a pack-horse laden with water, hoping to encounter him. The pool was falling rapidly and in a few days would be dry. Fifteen miles from camp he thought he saw a figure moving towards him. It could only be McIntyre, for in that solitude there was no living soul but themselves. He hastily dismounted and, water-bag in hand, hurried to meet him. Duncan did not know him; he was blindly, instinctively following his tracks back to the camp, and it was not until Mitford had poured the water over his head and breast and down his baked throat


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that his bloodshot eyes lost some of their wildness. His friend had dragged him out of the sun into the only shade there was on that bare plain—beneath the belly of the pack-horse. Here he lay a while with his eyes half closed. At last he began to speak coherently.

“I've got back, old man. Follow my tracks out and you will get to the water, but be quick, for it's drying up fast. Poor old Challenger! I shot him—it was all I could do for him; he never gave in until he was dying.” His head fell back on his friend's knee, and he was silent for a time. “I must go on,” he muttered presently. “Blast that sun! it has done for me; but I will get back”—and he struggled to rise. Mitford kept him down, and he sank into unconsciousness once more.

An hour passed during which Mitford kept pouring water over the burning head; then Duncan opened his eyes and his friend saw that his senses had returned. “Mitford, old man, I tell you that you must go back to camp and start at once, or it will be


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late, too late. The water is so shallow it will dry up in a day or two. Poor old Challenger, you'll see his body as you go; but start now and you'll get home safe. That other fellow is going another road. Goodbye.”

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