no next

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  ― 157 ―


MOTHER MIDDLETON was an awful woman, an ‘old hand’ (transported convict) some said. The prefix ‘mother’ in Australia mostly means ‘old hag’, and is applied in that sense. In early boyhood we understood, from old diggers, that Mother Middleton — in common with most other ‘old hands’ — had been sent out for ‘knocking a donkey off a hen-roost.’ We had never seen a donkey. She drank like a fish and swore like a trooper when the spirit moved her; she went on periodical sprees, and swore on most occasions. There was a fearsome yarn, which impressed us greatly as boys, to the effect that once, in her best (or worst) days, she had pulled a mounted policeman off his horse, and half-killed him with a heavy pick-handle, which she used for poking down clothes in her boiler. She said that he had insulted her.

She could still knock down a tree and cut a load of firewood with any Bushman; she was square and muscular, with arms like a navvy's; she had often

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worked shifts, below and on top, with her husband, when he'd be putting down a prospecting shaft without a mate, as he often had to do — because of her mainly. Old diggers said that it was lovely to see how she'd spin up a heavy green-hide bucket full of clay and ‘tailings’, and land and empty it with a twist of her wrist. Most men were afraid of her, and few diggers' wives were strong-minded enough to seek a second row with Mother Middleton. Her voice could be heard right across Golden Gully and Specimen Flat, whether raised in argument or in friendly greeting. She came to the old Pipeclay diggings with the ‘rough crowd’ (mostly Irish), and when the old and new Pipeclays were worked out, she went with the rush to Gulgong (about the last of the great alluvial or ‘poor-man's’ goldfields) and came back to Pipeclay when the Log Paddock goldfield ‘broke out’, adjacent to the old fields, and so helped prove the truth of the old digger's saying, that no matter how thoroughly ground has been worked, there is always room for a new Ballarat.

Jimmy Middleton died at Log Paddock, and was buried, about the last, in the little old cemetery — appertaining to the old farming town on the river, about four miles away — which adjoined the district racecourse, in the Bush, on the far edge of Specimen Flat. She conducted the funeral. Some said she made the coffin, and there were alleged jokes to the effect that her tongue had provided the corpse; but this, I think, was unfair and cruel, for she loved Jimmy Middleton in her awful way, and was, for all I ever heard to the contrary, a good wife to him. She then lived in a hut in Log Paddock, on a little

  ― 159 ―
money in the bank, and did sewing and washing for single diggers.

I remember hearing her one morning in neighbourly conversation, carried on across the gully, with a selector, Peter Olsen, who was hopelessly slaving to farm a dusty patch in the scrub.

‘Why don't you chuck up that dust-hole and go up country and settle on good land, Peter Olsen? You're only slaving your stomach out here.’ (She didn't say stomach.)

Peter Olsen (mild-whiskered little man, afraid of his wife). ‘But then you know my wife is so delicate, Mrs Middleton. I wouldn't like to take her out in the Bush.’

Mrs Middleton. ‘Delicate, be damned! she's only shamming!’ (at her loudest.) ‘Why don't you kick her off the bed and the book out of her hand, and make her go to work? She's as delicate as I am. Are you a man, Peter Olsen, or a ——?’

This for the edification of the wife and of all within half a mile.

Long Paddock was ‘petering’. There were a few claims still being worked down at the lowest end, where big, red-and-white waste-heaps of clay and gravel, rising above the blue-grey gum-bushes, advertised deep sinking; and little, yellow, clay-stained streams, running towards the creek over the drought-parched surface, told of trouble with the water below — time lost in baling and extra expense in timbering. And diggers came up with their flannels and moleskins yellow and heavy, and dripping with wet ‘mullock’.

Most of the diggers had gone to other fields, but

  ― 160 ―
there were a few prospecting, in parties and singly, out on the flats and amongst the ridges round Pipeclay. Sinking holes in search of a new Ballarat.

Dave Regan — lanky, easy-going Bush native; Jim Bently — a bit of a ‘Flash Jack’; and Andy Page — a character like what ‘Kit’ (in the ‘Old Curiosity Shop’) might have been after a voyage to Australia and some Colonial experience. These three were mates from habit and not necessity, for it was all shallow sinking where they worked. They were poking down pot-holes in the scrub in the vicinity of the racecourse, where the sinking was from ten to fifteen feet.

Dave had theories — ‘ideers’ or ‘notions’ he called them; Jim Bently laid claim to none — he ran by sight, not scent, like a kangaroo-dog. Andy Page — by the way, great admirer and faithful retainer of Dave Regan — was simple and trusting, but, on critical occasions, he was apt to be obstinately, uncomfortably, exasperatingly truthful, honest, and he had reverence for higher things.

Dave thought hard all one quiet drowsy Sunday afternoon, and next morning he, as head of the party, started to sink a hole as close to the cemetery fence as he dared. It was a nice quiet spot in the thick scrub, about three panels along the fence from the farthest corner post from the road. They bottomed here at nine feet, and found encouraging indications. They ‘drove’ (tunnelled) inwards at right angles to the fence, and at a point immediately beneath it they were ‘making tucker’; a few feet farther and they were making wages. The old alluvial bottom sloped gently that way. The

  ― 161 ―
bottom here, by the way, was shelving, brownish, rotten rock.

Just inside the cemetery fence, and at right angles to Dave's drive, lay the shell containing all that was left of the late fiercely lamented James Middleton, with older graves close at each end. A grave was supposed to be six feet deep, and local gravediggers had been conscientious. The old alluvial bottom sloped from nine to fifteen feet here.

Dave worked the ground all round from the bottom of his shaft, timbering — i.e., putting in a sapling prop — here and there where he worked wide; but the ‘payable dirt’ ran in under the cemetery, and in no other direction.

Dave, Jim, and Andy held a consultation in camp over their pipes after tea, as a result of which Andy next morning rolled up his swag, sorrowfully but firmly shook hands with Dave and Jim, and started to tramp Out-Back to look for work on a sheep-station.

This was Dave's theory — drawn from a little experience and many long yarns with old diggers: —

He had bottomed on a slope to an old original water-course, covered with clay and gravel from the hills by centuries of rains to the depth of from nine or ten to twenty feet; he had bottomed on a gutter running into the bed of the old buried creek, and carrying patches and streaks of ‘wash’ or gold-bearing dirt. If he went on he might strike it rich at any stroke of his pick; he might strike the rich ‘lead’ which was supposed to exist round there. (There was always supposed to be a rich lead round there somewhere. ‘There's gold in them ridges yet

  ― 162 ―
— if a man can only git at it,’ says the toothless old relic of the Roaring Days.)

Dave might strike a ledge, ‘pocket’, or ‘pot-hole’ holding wash rich with gold. He had prospected on the opposite side of the cemetery, found no gold, and the bottom sloping upwards towards the graveyard. He had prospected at the back of the cemetery, found a few ‘colours’, and the bottom sloping downwards towards the point under the cemetery towards which all indications were now leading him. He had sunk shafts across the road opposite the cemetery frontage and found the sinking twenty feet and not a colour of gold. Probably the whole of the ground under the cemetery was rich — maybe the richest in the district. The old gravediggers had not been gold-diggers — besides, the graves, being six feet, would, none of them, have touched the alluvial bottom. There was nothing strange in the fact that none of the crowd of experienced diggers who rushed the district had thought of the cemetery and racecourse. Old brick chimneys and houses, the clay for the bricks of which had been taken from sites of subsequent goldfields, had been put through the crushing-mill in subsequent years and had yielded `payable gold'. Fossicking Chinamen were said to have been the first to detect a case of this kind.

Dave reckoned to strike the ‘lead’, or a shelf or ledge with a good streak of wash lying along it, at a point about forty feet within the cemetery. But a theory in alluvial gold-mining was much like a theory in gambling, in some respects. The theory might be right enough, but old volcanic disturbances — ‘the shrinkage of the earth's surface,’ and that sort of old

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things — upset everything. You might follow good gold along a ledge, just under the grass, till it suddenly broke off and the continuation might be a hundred feet or so under your nose.

Had the ‘ground’ in the cemetery been ‘open’ Dave would have gone to the point under which he expected the gold to lie, sunk a shaft there, and worked the ground. It would have been the quickest and easiest way — it would have saved the labour and the time lost in dragging heavy buckets of dirt along a low lengthy drive to the shaft outside the fence. But it was very doubtful if the Government could have been moved to open the cemetery even on the strongest evidence of the existence of a rich goldfield under it, and backed by the influence of a number of diggers and their backers — which last was what Dave wished for least of all. He wanted, above all things, to keep the thing shady. Then, again, the old clannish local spirit of the old farming town, rooted in years way back of the goldfields, would have been too strong for the Government, or even a rush of wild diggers.

‘We'll work this thing on the strict Q.T.,’ said Dave.

He and Jim had a consultation by the camp fire outside their tent. Jim grumbled, in conclusion, —

‘Well, then, best go under Jimmy Middleton. It's the shortest and straightest, and Jimmy's the freshest, anyway.’

Then there was another trouble. How were they to account for the size of the waste-heap of clay on the surface which would be the result of such an extraordinary length of drive or tunnel for shallow

  ― 164 ―
sinkings? Dave had an idea of carrying some of the dirt away by night and putting it down a deserted shaft close by; but that would double the labour, and might lead to detection sooner than anything else. There were boys 'possum-hunting on those flats every night. Then Dave got an idea.

There was supposed to exist — and it has since been proved — another, a second gold-bearing alluvial bottom on that field, and several had tried for it. One, the town watchmaker, had sunk all his money in ’duffers’, trying for the second bottom. It was supposed to exist at a depth of from eighty to a hundred feet — on solid rock, I suppose. This watchmaker, an Italian, would put men on to sink, and superintend in person, and whenever he came to a little ‘colour’-showing shelf, or false bottom, thirty or forty feet down — he'd go rooting round and spoil the shaft, and then start to sink another. It was extraordinary that he hadn't the sense to sink straight down, thoroughly test the second bottom, and if he found no gold there, to fill the shaft up to the other bottoms, or build platforms at the proper level and then explore them. He was living in a lunatic asylum the last time I heard of him. And the last time I heard from that field, they were boring the ground like a sieve, with the latest machinery, to find the best place to put down a deep shaft, and finding gold from the second bottom on the bore. But I'm right off the line again.

‘Old Pinter’, Ballarat digger — his theory on second and other bottoms ran as follows: —

‘Ye see, This here grass surface — this here surface with trees an' grass on it, that we're livin' on, has

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got nothin' to do with us. This here bottom in the shaller sinkin's that we're workin' on is the slope to the bed of the new crick that was on the surface about the time that men was missin' links. The false bottoms, thirty or forty feet down, kin be said to have been on the surface about the time that men was monkeys. The secon' bottom — eighty or a hundred feet down — was on the surface about the time when men was frogs. Now ——’

But it's with the missing-link surface we have to do, and had the friends of the local departed known what Dave and Jim were up to they would have regarded them as something lower than missing-links.

‘We'll give out we're tryin' for the second bottom,’ said Dave Regan. ‘We'll have to rig a fan for air, anyhow, and you don't want air in shallow sinkings.’

‘And some one will come poking round, and look down the hole and see the bottom,’ said Jim Bently.

‘We must keep 'em away,’ said Dave. ‘Tar the bottom, or cover it with tarred canvas, to make it black. Then they won't see it. There's not many diggers left, and the rest are going; they're chucking up the claims in Log Paddock. Besides, I could get drunk and pick rows with the rest and they wouldn't come near me. The farmers ain't in love with us diggers, so they won't bother us. No man has a right to come poking round another man's claim: it ain't ettykit — I'll root up that old ettykit and stand to it — it's rather worn out now, but that's no matter. We'll shift the tent down near the claim and see that no one comes nosing round on Sunday. They'll think we're only some more second-bottom lunatics, like Francea [the mining

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watchmaker]. We're going to get our fortune out from under that old graveyard, Jim. You leave it all to me till you're born again with brains.’

Dave's schemes were always elaborate, and that was why they so often came to the ground. He logged up his windlass platform a little higher, bent about eighty feet of rope to the bole of the windlass, which was a new one, and thereafter, whenever a suspicious-looking party (that is to say, a digger) hove in sight, Dave would let down about forty feet of rope and then wind, with simulated exertion, until the slack was taken up and the rope lifted the bucket from the shallow bottom.

‘It would look better to have a whip-pole and a horse, but we can't afford them just yet,’ said Dave.

But I'm a little behind. They drove straight in under the cemetery, finding good wash all the way. The edge of Jimmy Middleton's box appeared in the top corner of the ‘face’ (the working end) of the drive. They went under the butt-end of the grave. They shoved up the end of the shell with a prop, to prevent the possibility of an accident which might disturb the mound above; they puddled — i.e., rammed — stiff clay up round the edges to keep the loose earth from dribbling down; and having given the bottom of the coffin a good coat of tar, they got over, or rather under, an unpleasant matter.

Jim Bently smoked and burnt paper during his shift below, and grumbled a good deal. ‘Blowed if I ever thought I'd be rooting for gold down among the blanky dead men,’ he said. But the dirt panned out better every dish they washed, and Dave worked the `wash' out right and left as they drove.

  ― 167 ―

But, one fine morning, who should come along but the very last man whom Dave wished to see round there — ‘Old Pinter’ (James Poynton), Californian and Victorian digger of the old school. He'd been prospecting down the creek, carried his pick over his shoulder — threaded through the eye in the heft of his big-bladed, short-handled shovel that hung behind — and his gold-dish under his arm.

I mightn't get a chance again to explain what a gold-dish and what gold-washing is. A gold washing-dish is a flat dish — nearer the shape of a bedroom bath-tub than anything else I have seen in England, or the dish we used for setting milk — I don't know whether the same is used here: the gold-dish measures, say, eighteen inches across the top. You get it full of wash dirt, squat down at a convenient place at the edge of the water-hole, where there is a rest for the dish in the water just below its own depth. You sink the dish and let the clay and gravel soak a while, then you work and rub it up with your hands, and as the clay dissolves, dish it off as muddy water or mullock. You are careful to wash the pebbles in case there is any gold sticking to them. And so till all the muddy or clayey matter is gone, and there is nothing but clean gravel in the bottom of the dish. You work this off carefully, turning the dish about this way and that and swishing the water round in it. It requires some practice. The gold keeps to the bottom of the dish, by its own weight. At last there is only a little half-moon of sand or fine gravel in the bottom lower edge of the dish — you work the dish slanting from you. Presently the gold, if there was any in the dirt, appears

  ― 168 ―
in ‘colours’, grains, or little nuggets along the base of the half-moon of sand. The more gold there is in the dirt, or the coarser the gold is, the sooner it appears. A practised digger can work off the last speck of gravel, without losing a `colour', by just working the water round and off in the dish. Also a careful digger could throw a handful of gold in a tub of dirt, and, washing it off in dishfuls, recover practically every colour.

The gold-washing ‘cradle’ is a box, shaped something like a boot, and the size of a travelling trunk, with rockers on, like a baby's cradle, and a stick up behind for a handle; on top, where you'll put your foot into the boot, is a tray with a perforated iron bottom; the clay and gravel is thrown on the tray, water thrown on it, and the cradle rocked smartly. The finer gravel and the mullock goes through and down over a sloping board covered with blanket, and with ledges on it to catch the gold. The dish was mostly used for prospecting; large quantities of wash dirt was put through the horse-power ‘puddling-machine’, which there isn't room to describe here.

‘'Ello, Dave!’ said Pinter, after looking with mild surprise at the size of Dave's waste-heap. ‘Tryin' for the second bottom?’

‘Yes,’ said Dave, guttural.

Pinter dropped his tools with a clatter at the foot of the waste-heap and scratched under his ear like an old cockatoo, which bird he resembled. Then he went to the windlass, and resting his hands on his knees, he peered down, while Dave stood by helpless and hopeless.

  ― 169 ―

Pinter straightened himself, blinking like an owl, and looked carelessly over the graveyard.

‘Tryin' for a secon' bottom,’ he reflected absently. ‘Eh, Dave?’

Dave only stood and looked black.

Pinter tilted back his head and scratched the roots of his chin-feathers, which stuck out all round like a dirty, ragged fan held horizontally.

‘Kullers is safe,’ reflected Pinter.

‘All right?’ snapped Dave. ‘I suppose we must let him into it.’

‘Kullers’ was a big American buck nigger, and had been Pinter's mate for some time — Pinter was a man of odd mates; and what Pinter meant was that Kullers was safe to hold his tongue.

Next morning Pinter and his coloured mate appeared on the ground early, Pinter with some tools and the nigger with a windlass-bole on his shoulders. Pinter chose a spot about three panels or thirty feet along the other fence, the back fence of the cemetery, and started his hole. He lost no time for the sake of appearances, he sunk his shaft and started to drive straight for the point under the cemetery for which Dave was making; he gave out that he had bottomed on good ‘indications’ running in the other direction, and would work the ground outside the fence. Meanwhile Dave rigged a fan — partly for the sake of appearances, but mainly because his and Jim's lively imaginations made the air in the drive worse than it really was. A ‘fan’ is a thing like a paddle-wheel rigged in a box, about the size of a cradle, and something the shape of a shoe, but rounded over the top. There

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is a small grooved wheel on the axle of the fan outside, and an endless line, like a clothes-line, is carried over this wheel and a groove in the edge of a high light wooden driving-wheel rigged between two uprights in the rear and with a handle to turn. That's how the thing is driven. A wind-chute, like an endless pillow-slip, made of calico, with the mouth tacked over the open toe of the fan-box, and the end taken down the shaft and along the drive — this carries the fresh air into the workings.

Dave was working the ground on each side as he went, when one morning a thought struck him that should have struck him the day Pinter went to work. He felt mad that it hadn't struck him sooner.

Pinter and Kullers had also shifted their tent down into a nice quiet place in the Bush close handy; so, early next Sunday morning, while Pinter and Kullers were asleep, Dave posted Jim Bently to watch their tent, and whistle an alarm if they stirred, and then dropped down into Pinter's hole and saw at a glance what he was up to.

After that Dave lost no time: he drove straight on, encouraged by the thuds of Pinter's and Kullers' picks drawing nearer. They would strike his tunnel at right angles. Both parties worked long hours, only knocking off to fry a bit of steak in the pan, boil the billy, and throw themselves dressed on their bunks to get a few hours' sleep. Pinter had practical experience and a line clear of graves, and he made good time. The two parties now found it more comfortable to be not on speaking

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terms. Individually they grew furtive, and began to feel criminal like — at least Dave and Jim did. They'd start if a horse stumbled through the Bush, and expected to see a mounted policeman ride up at any moment and hear him ask questions. They had driven about thirty-five feet when, one Saturday afternoon, the strain became too great, and Dave and Jim got drunk. The spree lasted over Sunday, and on Monday morning they felt too shaky to come to work and had more drink. On Monday afternoon, Kullers, whose shift it was below, stuck his pick through the face of his drive into the wall of Dave's, about four feet from the end of it: the clay flaked away, leaving a hole as big as a wash-hand basin. They knocked off for the day and decided to let the other party take the offensive.

Tuesday morning Dave and Jim came to work, still feeling shaky. Jim went below, crawled along the drive, lit his candle, and stuck it in the spiked iron socket and the spike in the wall of the drive, quite close to the hole, without noticing either the hole or the increased freshness in the air. He started picking away at the ‘face’ and scraping the clay back from under his feet, and didn't hear Kullers come to work. Kullers came in softly and decided to try a bit of cheerful bluff. He stuck his great round black face through the hole, the whites of his eyes rolling horribly in the candle-light, and said, with a deep guffaw —

‘'Ullo! you dar'?’

No bandicoot ever went into his hole with the dogs after him quicker than Jim came out of his.

  ― 172 ―
He scrambled up the shaft by the foot-holes, and sat on the edge of the waste-heap, looking very pale.

‘What's the matter?’ asked Dave. ‘Have you seen a ghost?’

‘I've seen the — the devil!’ gasped Jim. ‘I'm — I'm done with this here ghoul business.’

The parties got on speaking terms again. Dave was very warm, but Jim's language was worse. Pinter scratched his chin-feathers reflectively till the other party cooled. There was no appealing to the Commissioner for goldfields; they were outside all law, whether of the goldfields or otherwise — so they did the only thing possible and sensible, they joined forces and became ‘Poynton, Regan, & Party’. They agreed to work the ground from the separate shafts, and decided to go ahead, irrespective of appearances, and get as much dirt out and cradled as possible before the inevitable exposure came along. They found plenty of ‘payable dirt’, and soon the drive ended in a cluster of roomy chambers. They timbered up many coffins of various ages, burnt tarred canvas and brown paper, and kept the fan going. Outside they paid the storekeeper with difficulty and talked of hard times.

But one fine sunny morning, after about a week of partnership, they got a bad scare. Jim and Kullers were below, getting out dirt for all they were worth, and Pinter and Dave at their windlasses, when who should march down from the cemetery gate but Mother Middleton herself. She was a hard woman to look at. She still wore the

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old-fashioned crinoline and her hair in a greasy net; and on this as on most other sober occasions, she wore the expression of a rough Irish navvy who has just enough drink to make him nasty and is looking out for an excuse for a row. She had a stride like a grenadier. A digger had once measured her step by her footprints in the mud where she had stepped across a gutter: it measured three feet from toe to heel.

She marched to the grave of Jimmy Middleton, laid a dingy bunch of flowers thereon, with the gesture of an angry man banging his fist down on the table, turned on her heel, and marched out. The diggers were dirt beneath her feet. Presently they heard her drive on in her spring-cart on her way into town, and they drew breaths of relief.

It was afternoon. Dave and Pinter were feeling tired, and were just deciding to knock off work for that day when they heard a scuffling in the direction of the different shafts, and both Jim and Kullers dropped down and bundled in in a great hurry. Jim chuckled in a silly way, as if there was something funny, and Kullers guffawed in sympathy.

‘What's up now?’ demanded Dave apprehensively.

‘Mother Middleton,’ said Jim; ‘she's blind mad drunk, and she's got a bottle in one hand and a new pitchfork in the other, that she's bringing out for some one.’

‘How the hell did she drop to it?’ exclaimed Pinter.

‘Dunno,’ said Jim. ‘Anyway she's coming for us. Listen to her!’

  ― 174 ―

They didn't have to listen hard. The language which came down the shaft — they weren't sure which one — and along the drives was enough to scare up the dead and make them take to the Bush.

‘Why didn't you fools make off into the Bush and give us a chance, instead of giving her a lead here?’ asked Dave.

Jim and Kullers began to wish they had done so.

Mrs Middleton began to throw stones down the shaft — it was Pinter's — and they, even the oldest and most anxious, began to grin in spite of themselves, for they knew she couldn't hurt them from the surface, and that, though she had been a working digger herself, she couldn't fill both shafts before the fumes of liquor overtook her.

‘I wonder which shaf' she'll come down,’ asked Kullers in a tone befitting the place and occasion.

‘You'd better go and watch your shaft, Pinter,’ said Dave, ‘and Jim and I'll watch mine.’

‘I — I won't,’ said Pinter hurriedly. ‘I'm — I'm a modest man.’

Then they heard a clang in the direction of Pinter's shaft.

‘She's thrown her bottle down,’ said Dave.

Jim crawled along the drive a piece, urged by curiosity, and returned hurriedly.

‘She's broke the pitchfork off short, to use in the drive, and I believe she's coming down.’

‘Her crinoline'll handicap her,’ said Pinter vacantly, ‘that's a comfort.’

‘She's took it off!’ said Dave excitedly; and peering along Pinter's drive, they saw first an

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elastic-sided boot, then a red-striped stocking, then a section of scarlet petticoat.

‘Lemme out!’ roared Pinter, lurching forward and making a swimming motion with his hands in the direction of Dave's drive. Kullers was already gone, and Jim well on the way. Dave, lanky and awkward, scrambled up the shaft last. Mrs Middleton made good time, considering she had the darkness to face and didn't know the workings, and when Dave reached the top he had a tear in the leg of his moleskins, and the blood ran from a nasty scratch. But he didn't wait to argue over the price of a new pair of trousers. He made off through the Bush in the direction of an encouraging whistle thrown back by Jim.

‘She's too drunk to get her story listened to to-night,’ said Dave. ‘But to-morrow she'll bring the neighbourhood down on us.’

‘And she's enough, without the neighbourhood,’ reflected Pinter.

Some time after dark they returned cautiously, reconnoitred their camp, and after hiding in a hollow log such things as they couldn't carry, they rolled up their tents like the Arabs, and silently stole away.

  ― 177 ―


‘SIMPLE as striking matches,’ said Dave Regan, Bushman; ‘but it gave me the biggest scare I ever had — except, perhaps, the time I stumbled in the dark into a six-feet digger's hole, which might have been eighty feet deep for all I knew when I was falling. (There was an eighty-feet shaft left open close by.)

‘It was the night of the day after the Queen's birthday. I was sinking a shaft with Jim Bently and Andy Page on the old Redclay goldfield, and we camped in a tent on the creek. Jim and me went to some races that was held at Peter Anderson's pub., about four miles across the ridges, on Queen's birthday. Andy was a quiet sort of chap, a teetotaller, and we'd disgusted him the last time he was out for a holiday with us, so he stayed at home and washed and mended his clothes, and read an arithmetic book. (He used to keep the accounts, and it took him most of his spare time.)

‘Jim and me had a pretty high time. We all got

  ― 178 ―
pretty tight after the races, and I wanted to fight Jim, or Jim wanted to fight me — I don't remember which. We were old chums, and we nearly always wanted to fight each other when we got a bit on, and we'd fight if we weren't stopped. I remember once Jim got maudlin drunk and begged and prayed of me to fight him, as if he was praying for his life. Tom Tarrant, the coach-driver, used to say that Jim and me must be related, else we wouldn't hate each other so much when we were tight and truthful.

‘Anyway, this day, Jim got the sulks, and caught his horse and went home early in the evening. My dog went home with him too; I must have been carrying on pretty bad to disgust the dog.

‘Next evening I got disgusted with myself, and started to walk home. I'd lost my hat, so Peter Anderson lent me an old one of his, that he'd worn on Ballarat he said: it was a hard, straw, flat, broad-brimmed affair, and fitted my headache pretty tight. Peter gave me a small flask of whisky to help me home. I had to go across some flats and up a long dark gully called Murderer's Gully, and over a gap called Dead Man's Gap, and down the ridge and gullies to Redclay Creek. The lonely flats were covered with blue-grey gum bush, and looked ghostly enough in the moonlight, and I was pretty shaky, but I had a pull at the flask and a mouthful of water at a creek and felt right enough. I began to whistle, and then to sing: I never used to sing unless I thought I was a couple of miles out of earshot of any one.

  ― 179 ―

‘Murderer's Gully was deep and pretty dark most times, and of course it was haunted. Women and children wouldn't go through it after dark; and even me, when I'd grown up, I'd hold my back pretty holler, and whistle, and walk quick going along there at night-time. We're all afraid of ghosts, but we won't let on.

‘Some one had skinned a dead calf during the day and left it on the track, and it gave me a jump, I promise you. It looked like two corpses laid out naked. I finished the whisky and started up over the gap. All of a sudden a great `old man' kangaroo went across the track with a thud-thud, and up the siding, and that startled me. Then the naked, white glistening trunk of a stringy-bark tree, where some one had stripped off a sheet of bark, started out from a bend in the track in a shaft of moonlight, and that gave me a jerk. I was pretty shaky before I started. There was a Chinaman's grave close by the track on the top of the gap. An old chow had lived in a hut there for many years, and fossicked on the old diggings, and one day he was found dead in the hut, and the Government gave some one a pound to bury him. When I was a nipper we reckoned that his ghost haunted the gap, and cursed in Chinese because the bones hadn't been sent home to China. It was a lonely, ghostly place enough.

‘It had been a smotheringly hot day and very close coming across the flats and up the gully — not a breath of air; but now as I got higher I saw signs of the thunderstorm we'd expected all day, and felt the breath of a warm breeze on my

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face. When I got into the top of the gap the first thing I saw was something white amongst the dark bushes over the spot where the Chinaman's grave was, and I stood staring at it with both eyes. It moved out of the shadow presently, and I saw that it was a white bullock, and I felt relieved. I'd hardly felt relieved when, all at once, there came a "pat-pat-pat" of running feet close behind me! I jumped round quick, but there was nothing there, and while I stood staring all ways for Sunday, there came a "pat-pat", then a pause, and then "pat-pat-pat-pat" behind me again: it was like some one dodging and running off that time. I started to walk down the track pretty fast, but hadn't gone a dozen yards when "pat-pat-pat", it was close behind me again. I jerked my eyes over my shoulder but kept my legs going. There was nothing behind, but I fancied I saw something slip into the Bush to the right. It must have been the moonlight on the moving boughs; there was a good breeze blowing now. I got down to a more level track, and was making across a spur to the main road, when "pat-pat!" "pat-pat-pat, pat-pat-pat!" it was after me again. Then I began to run — and it began to run too! "pat-pat-pat" after me all the time. I hadn't time to look round. Over the spur and down the siding and across the flat to the road I went as fast as I could split my legs apart. I had a scared idea that I was getting a touch of the "jim-jams", and that frightened me more than any outside ghost could have done. I stumbled a few times, and saved myself, but, just

  ― 181 ―
before I reached the road, I fell slithering on to my hands on the grass and gravel. I thought I'd broken both my wrists. I stayed for a moment on my hands and knees, quaking and listening, squinting round like a great gohana; I couldn't hear nor see anything. I picked myself up, and had hardly got on one end, when "pat-pat!" it was after me again. I must have run a mile and a half altogether that night. It was still about three-quarters of a mile to the camp, and I ran till my heart beat in my head and my lungs choked up in my throat. I saw our tent-fire and took off my hat to run faster. The footsteps stopped, then something about the hat touched my fingers, and I stared at it — and the thing dawned on me. I hadn't noticed at Peter Anderson's — my head was too swimmy to notice anything. It was an old hat of the style that the first diggers used to wear, with a couple of loose ribbon ends, three or four inches long, from the band behind. As long as I walked quietly through the gully, and there was no wind, the tails didn't flap, but when I got up into the breeze, they flapped or were still according to how the wind lifted them or pressed them down flat on the brim. And when I ran they tapped all the time; and the hat being tight on my head, the tapping of the ribbon ends against the straw sounded loud of course.

‘I sat down on a log for a while to get some of my wind back and cool down, and then I went to the camp as quietly as I could, and had a long drink of water.

‘“You seem to be a bit winded, Dave,” said Jim

  ― 182 ―
Bently, “and mighty thirsty. Did the Chinaman's ghost chase you?”

‘I told him not to talk rot, and went into the tent, and lay down on my bunk, and had a good rest.’

  ― 183 ―


DAVE REGAN, Jim Bently, and Andy Page were sinking a shaft at Stony Creek in search of a rich gold quartz reef which was supposed to exist in the vicinity. There is always a rich reef supposed to exist in the vicinity; the only questions are whether it is ten feet or hundreds beneath the surface, and in which direction. They had struck some pretty solid rock, also water which kept them baling. They used the old-fashioned blasting-powder and time-fuse. They'd make a sausage or cartridge of blasting-powder in a skin of strong calico or canvas, the mouth sewn and bound round the end of the fuse; they'd dip the cartridge in melted tallow to make it water-tight, get the drill-hole as dry as possible, drop in the cartridge with some dry dust, and wad and ram with stiff clay and broken brick. Then they'd light the fuse and get out of the hole and wait. The result was usually an ugly pot-hole in the bottom of the shaft and half a barrow-load of broken rock.

There was plenty of fish in the creek, fresh-water

  ― 184 ―
bream, cod, cat-fish, and tailers. The party were fond of fish, and Andy and Dave of fishing. Andy would fish for three hours at a stretch if encouraged by a ‘nibble’ or a ‘bite’ now and then — say once in twenty minutes. The butcher was always willing to give meat in exchange for fish when they caught more than they could eat; but now it was winter, and these fish wouldn't bite. However, the creek was low, just a chain of muddy water-holes, from the hole with a few bucketfuls in it to the sizable pool with an average depth of six or seven feet, and they could get fish by baling out the smaller holes or muddying up the water in the larger ones till the fish rose to the surface. There was the cat-fish, with spikes growing out of the sides of its head and if you got pricked you'd know it, as Dave said. Andy took off his boots, tucked up his trousers, and went into a hole one day to stir up the mud with his feet, and he knew it. Dave scooped one out with his hand and got pricked, and he knew it too; his arm swelled, and the pain throbbed up into his shoulder, and down into his stomach too, he said, like a toothache he had once, and kept him awake for two nights — only the toothache pain had a ‘burred edge,’ Dave said.

Dave got an idea.

‘Why not blow the fish up in the big water-hole with a cartridge?’ he said. ‘I'll try it.’

He thought the thing out and Andy Page worked it out. Andy usually put Dave's theories into practice if they were practicable, or bore the blame for the failure and the chaffing of his mates if they weren't.

  ― 185 ―

He made a cartridge about three times the size of those they used in the rock. Jim Bently said it was big enough to blow the bottom out of the river. The inner skin was of stout calico; Andy stuck the end of a six-foot piece of fuse well down in the powder and bound the mouth of the bag firmly to it with whipcord. The idea was to sink the cartridge in the water with the open end of the fuse attached to a float on the surface, ready for lighting. Andy dipped the cartridge in melted bees'-wax to make it water-tight. ‘We'll have to leave it some time before we light it,’ said Dave, ‘to give the fish time to get over their scare when we put it in, and come nosing round again; so we'll want it well watertight.’

Round the cartridge Andy, at Dave's suggestion, bound a strip of sail canvas — that they used for making water-bags — to increase the force of the explosion, and round that he pasted layers of stiff brown paper — on the plan of the sort of fireworks we called ' gun-crackers.' He let the paper dry in the sun, then he sewed a covering of two thicknesses of canvas over it, and bound the thing from end to end with stout fishing-line. Dave's schemes were elaborate, and he often worked his inventions out to nothing. The cartridge was rigid and solid enough now — a formidable bomb; but Andy and Dave wanted to be sure. Andy sewed on another layer of canvas, dipped the cartridge in melted tallow, twisted a length of fencing-wire round it as an afterthought, dipped it in tallow again, and stood it carefully against a tent-peg, where he'd know where to find it, and wound the fuse loosely round it. Then he went to the

  ― 186 ―
camp-fire to try some potatoes which were boiling in their jackets in a billy, and to see about frying some chops for dinner. Dave and Jim were at work in the claim that morning.

They had a big black young retriever dog — or rather an overgrown pup, a big, foolish, four-footed mate, who was always slobbering round them and lashing their legs with his heavy tail that swung round like a stock-whip. Most of his head was usually a red, idiotic, slobbering grin of appreciation of his own silliness. He seemed to take life, the world, his two-legged mates, and his own instinct as a huge joke. He'd retrieve anything: he carted back most of the camp rubbish that Andy threw away. They had a cat that died in hot weather, and Andy threw it a good distance away in the scrub; and early one morning the dog found the cat, after it had been dead a week or so, and carried it back to camp, and laid it just inside the tent-flaps, where it could best make its presence known when the mates should rise and begin to sniff suspiciously in the sickly smothering atmosphere of the summer sunrise. He used to retrieve them when they went in swimming; he'd jump in after them, and take their hands in his mouth, and try to swim out with them, and scratch their naked bodies with his paws. They loved him for his good-heartedness and his foolishness, but when they wished to enjoy a swim they had to tie him up in camp.

He watched Andy with great interest all the morning making the cartridge, and hindered him considerably, trying to help; but about noon he went off to the claim to see how Dave and Jim

  ― 187 ―
were getting on, and to come home to dinner with them. Andy saw them coming, and put a panful of mutton-chops on the fire. Andy was cook to-day; Dave and Jim stood with their backs to the fire, as Bushmen do in all weathers, waiting till dinner should be ready. The retriever went nosing round after something he seemed to have missed.

Andy's brain still worked on the cartridge; his eye was caught by the glare of an empty kerosene-tin lying in the bushes, and it struck him that it wouldn't be a bad idea to sink the cartridge packed with clay, sand, or stones in the tin, to increase the force of the explosion. He may have been all out, from a scientific point of view, but the notion looked all right to him. Jim Bently, by the way, wasn't interested in their ‘damned silliness.’ Andy noticed an empty treacle-tin — the sort with the little tin neck or spout soldered on to the top for the convenience of pouring out the treacle — and it struck him that this would have made the best kind of cartridge-case: he would only have had to pour in the powder, stick the fuse in through the neck, and cork and seal it with bees'-wax. He was turning to suggest this to Dave, when Dave glanced over his shoulder to see how the chops were doing — and bolted. He explained afterwards that he thought he heard the pan spluttering extra, and looked to see if the chops were burning. Jim Bently looked behind and bolted after Dave. Andy stood stock-still, staring after them.

‘Run, Andy! run!’ they shouted back at him. ‘Run!!! Look behind you, you fool!’ Andy turned slowly and looked, and there, close behind

  ― 188 ―
him, was the retriever with the cartridge in his mouth-wedged into his broadest and silliest grin. And that wasn't all. The dog had come round the fire to Andy, and the loose end of the fuse had trailed and waggled over the burning sticks into the blaze; Andy had slit and nicked the firing end of the fuse well, and now it was hissing and spitting properly.

Andy's legs started with a jolt; his legs started before his brain did, and he made after Dave and Jim. And the dog followed Andy.

Dave and Jim were good runners — Jim the best — for a short distance; Andy was slow and heavy, but he had the strength and the wind and could last. The dog leapt and capered round him, delighted as a dog could be to find his mates, as he thought, on for a frolic. Dave and Jim kept shouting back, 'Don't foller us! don't foller us, you coloured fool!' but Andy kept on, no matter how they dodged. They could never explain, any more than the dog, why they followed each other, but so they ran, Dave keeping in Jim's track in all its turnings, Andy after Dave, and the dog circling round Andy — the live fuse swishing in all directions and hissing and spluttering and stinking. Jim yelling to Dave not to follow him, Dave shouting to Andy to go in another direction — to 'spread out,' and Andy roaring at the dog to go home. Then Andy's brain began to work, stimulated by the crisis: he tried to get a running kick at the dog, but the dog dodged; he snatched up sticks and stones and threw them at the dog and ran on again. The retriever saw that he'd made a mistake about Andy, and left

  ― 189 ―
him and bounded after Dave. Dave, who had the presence of mind to think that the fuse's time wasn't up yet, made a dive and a grab for the dog, caught him by the tail, and as he swung round snatched the cartridge out of his mouth and flung it as far as he could: the dog immediately bounded after it and retrieved it. Dave roared and cursed at the dog, who seeing that Dave was offended, left him and went after Jim, who was well ahead. Jim swung to a sapling and went up it like a native bear; it was a young sapling, and Jim couldn't safely get more than ten or twelve feet from the ground. The dog laid the cartridge, as carefully as if it was a kitten, at the foot of the sapling, and capered and leaped and whooped joyously round under Jim. The big pup reckoned that this was part of the lark — he was all right now — it was Jim who was out for a spree. The fuse sounded as if it were going a mile a minute. Jim tried to climb higher and the sapling bent and cracked. Jim fell on his feet and ran. The dog swooped on the cartridge and followed. It all took but a very few moments. Jim ran to a digger's hole, about ten feet deep, and dropped down into it — landing on soft mud — and was safe. The dog grinned sardonically down on him, over the edge, for a moment, as if he thought it would be a good lark to drop the cartridge down on Jim.

‘Go away, Tommy,’ said Jim feebly, ‘go away.’

The dog bounded off after Dave, who was the only one in sight now; Andy had dropped behind a log, where he lay flat on his face, having suddenly remembered a picture of the Russo — Turkish war with a circle of Turks lying flat on their faces

  ― 190 ―
(as if they were ashamed) round a newly-arrived shell.

There was a small hotel or shanty on the creek, on the main road, not far from the claim. Dave was desperate, the time flew much faster in his stimulated imagination than it did in reality, so he made for the shanty. There were several casual Bushmen on the verandah and in the bar; Dave rushed into the bar, banging the door to behind him. ‘My dog !’ he gasped, in reply to the astonished stare of the publican, ‘the blanky retriever — he's got a live cartridge in his mouth ——’

The retriever, finding the front door shut against him, had bounded round and in by the back way, and now stood smiling in the doorway leading from the passage, the cartridge still in his mouth and the fuse spluttering. They burst out of that bar. Tommy bounded first after one and then after another, for, being a young dog, he tried to make friends with everybody.

The Bushmen ran round corners, and some shut themselves in the stable. There was a new weatherboard and corrugated-iron kitchen and wash-house on piles in the back-yard, with some women washing clothes inside. Dave and the publican bundled in there and shut the door — the publican cursing Dave and calling him a crimson fool, in hurried tones, and wanting to know what the hell he came here for.

The retriever went in under the kitchen, amongst the piles, but, luckily for those inside, there was a vicious yellow mongrel cattle-dog sulking and nursing his nastiness under there — a sneaking, fighting, thieving canine, whom neighbours had tried for

  ― 191 ―
years to shoot or poison. Tommy saw his danger — he'd had experience from this dog — and started out and across the yard, still sticking to the cartridge. Half-way across the yard the yellow dog caught him and nipped him. Tommy dropped the cartridge, gave one terrified yell, and took to the Bush. The yellow dog followed him to the fence and then ran back to see what he had dropped.

Nearly a dozen other dogs came from round all the corners and under the buildings — spidery, thievish, cold-blooded kangaroo-dogs, mongrel sheep and cattle-dogs, vicious black and yellow dogs — that slip after you in the dark, nip your heels, and vanish without explaining — and yapping, yelping small fry. They kept at a respectable distance round the nasty yellow dog, for it was dangerous to go near him when he thonght he had found something which might be good for a dog to eat. He sniffed at the cartridge twice, and was just taking a third cautious sniff when ——

It was very good blasting powder — a new brand that Dave had recently got up from Sydney; and the cartridge had been excellently well made. Andy was very patient and painstaking in all he did, and nearly as handy as the average sailor with needles, twine, canvas, and rope.

Bushmen say that that kitchen jumped off its piles and on again. When the smoke and dust cleared away, the remains of the nasty yellow dog were lying against the paling fence of the yard looking as if he had been kicked into a fire by a horse and afterwards rolled in the dust under a barrow, and finally thrown against the fence from a distance. Several saddle

  ― 192 ―
horses, which had been ‘hanging-up’ round the verandah, were galloping wildly down the road in clouds of dust, with broken bridle-reins flying; and from a circle round the outskirts, from every point of the compass in the scrub, came the yelping of dogs. Two of them went home, to the place where they were born, thirty miles away, and reached it the same night and stayed there; it was not till towards evening that the rest came back cautiously to make inquiries. One was trying to walk on two legs, and most of 'em looked more or less singed; and a little, singed, stumpytailed dog, who had been in the habit of hopping the back half of him along on one leg, had reason to be glad that he'd saved up the other leg all those years, for he needed it now. There was one old one-eyed cattle-dog round that shanty for years afterwards, who couldn't stand the smell of a gun being cleaned. He it was who had taken an interest, only second to that of the yellow dog, in the cartridge. Bushmen said that it was amusing to slip up on his blind side and stick a dirty ramrod under his nose: he wouldn't wait to bring his solitary eye to bear — he'd take to the Bush and stay out all night.

For half an hour or so after the explosion there were several Bushmen round behind the stable who crouched, doubled up, against the wall, or rolled gently on the dust, trying to laugh without shrieking. There were two white women in hysterics at the house, and a half-caste rushing aimlessly round with a dipper of cold water. The publican was holding his wife tight and begging her between

  ― 193 ―
her squawks, to ‘hold up for my sake, Mary, or I'll lam the life out of ye.’

Dave decided to apologise later on, ‘when things had settled a bit,’ and went back to camp. And the dog that had done it all, ‘Tommy,’ the great, idiotic mongrel retriever, came slobbering round Dave and lashing his legs with his tail, and trotted home after him, smiling his broadest, longest, and reddest smile of amiability, and apparently satisfied for one afternoon with the fun he'd had.

Andy chained the dog up securely, and cooked some more chops, while Dave went to help Jim out of the hole.

And most of this is why, for years afterwards, lanky, easy — going Bushmen, riding lazily past Dave's camp, would cry, in a lazy drawl and with just a hint of the nasal twang —

‘'El-lo, Da-a-ve! How's the fishin' getting on, Da-a-ve ?’

  ― 195 ―


1. I. Dave Regan's Yarn.

‘WHEN we got tired of digging about Mudgee-Budgee, and getting no gold,‘ said Dave Regan, Bushman, ‘me and my mate, Jim Bently, decided to take a turn at droving; so we went with Bob Baker, the drover, overland with a big mob of cattle, way up into Northern Queensland.

‘We couldn't get a job on the home track, and we spent most of our money, like a pair of fools, at a pub. at a town way up over the border, where they had a flash barmaid from Brisbane. We sold our pack-horses and pack-saddles, and rode out of that town with our swags on our riding-horses in front of us. We had another spree at another place, and by the time we got near New South Wales we were pretty well stumped.

‘Just the other side of Mulgatown, near the border, we came on a big mob of cattle in a

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paddock, and a party of drovers camped on the creek. They had brought the cattle down from the north and were going no farther with them; their boss had ridden on into Mulgatown to get the cheques to pay them off, and they were waiting for him.

‘“And Poisonous Jimmy is waiting for us,” said one of them.

‘Poisonous Jimmy kept a shanty a piece along the road from their camp towards Mulgatown. He was called “Poisonous Jimmy” perhaps on account of his liquor, or perhaps because he had a job of poisoning dingoes on a station in the Bogan scrubs at one time. He was a sharp publican. He had a girl, and they said that whenever a shearing-shed cut-out on his side and he saw the shearers coming along the road, he'd say to the girl, “Run and get your best frock on, Mary! Here's the shearers comin'.” And if a chequeman wouldn't drink he'd try to get him into his bar and shout for him till he was too drunk to keep his hands out of his pockets.

‘“But he won't get us,” said another of the drovers. “I'm going to ride straight into Mulgatown and send my money home by the post as soon as I get it.”

‘“You've always said that, Jack,” said the first drover.

‘We yarned a while, and had some tea, and then me and Jim got on our horses and rode on. We were burned to bricks and ragged and dusty and parched up enough, and so were our horses. We only had a few shillings to carry us four or five hundred miles home, but it was mighty hot and

  ― 197 ―
dusty, and we felt that we must have a drink at the shanty. This was west of the sixpenny-line at that time — all drinks were a shilling along here.

‘Just before we reached the shanty I got an idea.

‘“We'll plant our swags in the scrub,” I said to Jim.

‘“What for?” said Jim.

‘“Never mind — you'll see,” I said.

‘So we unstrapped our swags and hid them in the mulga scrub by the side of the road; then we rode on to the shanty, got down, and hung our horses to the verandah posts.

‘“Poisonous” came out at once, with a smile on him that would have made anybody home-sick.

‘He was a short nuggety man, and could use his hands, they said; he looked as if he'd be a nasty, vicious, cool customer in a fight — he wasn't the sort of man you'd care to try and swindle a second time. He had a monkey shave when he shaved, but now it was all frill and stubble — like a bush fence round a stubble-field. He had a broken nose, and a cunning, sharp, suspicious eye that squinted, and a cold stony eye that seemed fixed. If you didn't know him well you might talk to him for five minutes, looking at him in the cold stony eye, and then discover that it was the sharp cunning little eye that was watching you all the time. It was awful embarrassing. It must have made him awkward to deal with in a fight.

‘“Good day, mates,” he said.

‘“Good day,” we said.

‘“It's hot.”

‘“It's hot.”

  ― 198 ―

‘We went into the bar, and Poisonous got behind the counter.

‘“What are you going to have?” he asked, rubbing up his glasses with a rag.

‘We had two long-beers.

‘“Never mind that,” said Poisonous, seeing me put my hand in my pocket; “it's my shout. I don't suppose your boss is back yet? I saw him go in to Mulgatown this morning.”

‘“No, he ain't back,” I said; “I wish he was. We're getting tired of waiting for him. We'll give him another hour, and then some of us will have to ride in to see whether he's got on the boose, and get hold of him if he has.”

‘“I suppose you're waiting for your cheques?” he said, turning to fix some bottles on the shelf.

‘“Yes,” I said, “we are;” and I winked at Jim, and Jim winked back as solemn as an owl.

‘Poisonous asked us all about the trip, and how long we'd been on the track, and what sort of a boss we had, dropping the questions offhand now an' then, as for the sake of conversation. We could see that he was trying to get at the size of our supposed cheques, so we answered accordingly.

‘“Have another drink,” he said, and he filled the pewters up again. “It's up to me,” and he set to work boring out the glasses with his rag, as if he was short-handed and the bar was crowded with customers, and screwing up his face into what I suppose he considered an innocent or unconscious expression. The girl began to sidle in and out with a smart frock and a see-you-after-dark smirk on.

  ― 199 ―

‘“Have you had dinner?” she asked. We could have done with a good meal, but it was too risky — the drovers' boss might come along while we were at dinner and get into conversation with Poisonous. So we said we'd had dinner.

‘Poisonous filled our pewters again in an offhand way.

‘“I wish the boss would come,” said Jim with a yawn. “I want to get into Mulgatown to-night, and I want to get some shirts and things before I go in. I ain't got a decent rag to me back. I don't suppose there's ten bob amongst the lot of us.”

‘There was a general store back on the creek, near the drovers' camp.

‘“Oh, go to the store and get what you want,” said Poisonous, taking a sovereign from the till and tossing it on to the counter. “You can fix it up with me when your boss comes. Bring your mates along.”

‘“Thank you,” said Jim, taking up the sovereign carelessly and dropping it into his pocket.

‘“Well, Jim,” I said, “suppose we get back to camp and see how the chaps are getting on?”

‘“All right,” said Jim.

‘“Tell them to come down and get a drink,” said Poisonous; “or, wait, you can take some beer along to them if you like,” and he gave us half a gallon of beer in a billy-can. He knew what the first drink meant with Bushmen back from a long dry trip.

‘We got on our horses, I holding the billy very carefully, and rode back to where our swags were.

‘“I say,” said Jim, when we'd strapped the swags to the saddles, “suppose we take the beer back to

  ― 200 ―
those chaps: it's meant for them, and it's only a fair thing, anyway — we've got as much as we can hold till we get into Mulgatown.”

‘“It might get them into a row,” I said, “and they seem decent chaps. Let's hang the billy on a twig, and that old swagman that's coming along will think there's angels in the Bush.”

‘“Oh! what's a row?” said Jim. “They can take care of themselves; they'll have the beer anyway and a lark with Poisonous when they take the can back and it comes to explanations. I'll ride back to them.”

‘So Jim rode back to the drovers' camp with the beer, and when he came back to me he said that the drovers seemed surprised, but they drank good luck to him.

‘We rode round through the mulga behind the shanty and came out on the road again on the Mulgatown side: we only stayed at Mulgatown to buy some tucker and tobacco, then we pushed on and camped for the night about seven miles on the safe side of the town.’

  ― 201 ―

2. II. Told by One of the Other Drovers.

‘TALKIN' o' Poisonous Jimmy, I can tell you a yarn about him. We'd brought a mob of cattle down for a squatter the other side of Mulgatown. We camped about seven miles the other side of the town, waitin' for the station hands to come and take charge of the stock, while the boss rode on into town to draw our money. Some of us was goin' back, though in the end we all went into Mulgatown and had a boose up with the boss. But while we was waitin' there come along two fellers that had been drovin' up north. They yarned a while, an' then went on to Poisonous Jimmy's place, an' in about an hour one on 'em come ridin' back with a can of beer that he said Poisonous had sent for us. We all knew Jimmy's little games — the beer was a bait to get us on the drunk at his place; but we drunk the beer, and reckoned to have a lark with him afterwards. When the boss come back, an' the station hands to take the bullocks, we started into Mulgatown. We stopped outside Poisonous's place an' handed the can to the girl that was grinnin' on the verandah. Poisonous come out with a grin on him like a parson with a broken nose.

  ― 202 ―

‘“Good day, boys!” he says.

‘“Good day, Poisonous,” we says.

‘“It's hot,” he says.

‘“It's blanky hot,” I says.

‘He seemed to expect us to get down. “Where are you off to?“ he says.

‘“Mulgatown,” I says. “It will be cooler there,” and we sung out, “So-long, Poisonous!” and rode on.

‘He stood starin' for a minute; then he started shoutin', “Hi! hi there!” after us, but we took no notice, an' rode on. When we looked back last he was runnin' into the scrub with a bridle in his hand.

‘We jogged along easily till we got within a mile of Mulgatown, when we heard somebody gallopin' after us, an' lookin' back we saw it was Poisonous.

‘He was too mad and too winded to speak at first, so he rode along with us a bit gasping: then he burst out.

‘“Where's them other two carnal blanks?” he shouted.

‘“What other two?” I asked. ‘We're all here. What's the matter with you anyway?”

‘“All here!” he yelled. “You're a lurid liar! What the flamin' sheol do you mean by swiggin' my beer an' flingin' the coloured can in me face? without as much as thank yer! D'yer think I'm a flamin' ——!”

‘Oh, but Poisonous Jimmy was wild.

‘“Well, we'll pay for your dirty beer,” says one of the chaps, puttin' his hand in his pocket. “We

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didn't want yer slush. It tasted as if it had been used before.”

‘“Pay for it!” yelled Jimmy. “I'll —— well take it out of one of yer bleedin' hides!”

‘We stopped at once, and I got down an' obliged Jimmy for a few rounds. He was a nasty customer to fight; he could use his hands, and was cool as a cucumber as soon as he took his coat off: besides, he had one squirmy little business eye, and a big wall-eye, an', even if you knowed him well, you couldn't help watchin' the stony eye — it was no good watchin' his eyes, you had to watch his hands, and he might have managed me if the boss hadn't stopped the fight. The boss was a big, quiet-voiced man, that didn't swear.

‘“Now, look here, Myles,” said the boss (Jimmy's name was Myles) — “Now, look here, Myles,” sez the boss, “what's all this about?”

‘“What's all this about?” says Jimmy, gettin' excited agen. “Why, two fellers that belonged to your party come along to my place an' put up half-a-dozen drinks, an' borrered a sovereign, an' got a can o' beer on the strength of their cheques. They sez they was waitin' for you — an' I want my crimson money out o' some one!”

‘“What was they like?” asks the boss.

‘“Like?” shouted Poisonous, swearin' all the time. “One was a blanky long, sandy, sawny feller, and the other was a short, slim feller with black hair. Your blanky men knows all about them because they had the blanky billy o' beer.”

‘“Now, what's this all about, you chaps?” sez the boss to us.

  ― 204 ―

‘So we told him as much as we knowed about them two fellers.

‘I've heard men swear that could swear in a rough shearin'-shed, but I never heard a man swear like Poisonous Jimmy when he saw how he'd been left. It was enough to split stumps. He said he wanted to see those fellers, just once, before he died.

‘He rode with us into Mulgatown, got mad drunk, an' started out along the road with a tomahawk after the long sandy feller and the slim dark feller; but two mounted police went after him an' fetched him back. He said he only wanted justice; he said he only wanted to stun them two fellers till he could give 'em in charge.

‘They fined him ten bob.’

  ― 205 ―



DAVE and I were tramping on a lonely Bush track in New Zealand, making for a sawmill where we expected to get work, and we were caught in one of those three-days' gales, with rain and hail in it and cold enough to cut off a man's legs. Camping out was not to be thought of, so we just tramped on in silence, with the stinging pain coming between our shoulder-blades — from cold, weariness, and the weight of our swags — and our boots, full of water, going splosh, splosh, splosh along the track. We were settled to it — to drag on like wet, weary, muddy working bullocks till we came to somewhere — when, just before darkness settled down, we saw the loom of a humpy of some sort on the slope of a tussock hill, back from the road, and we made for it, without holding a consultation.

It was a two-roomed hut built of waste timber from a sawmill, and was either a deserted settler's home or a hut attached to an abandoned sawmill

  ― 206 ―
round there somewhere. The windows were boarded up. We dumped our swags under the little verandah and banged at the door, to make sure; then Dave pulled a couple of boards off a window and looked in: there was light enough to see that the place was empty. Dave pulled off some more boards, put his arm in through a broken pane, clicked the catch back, and then pushed up the window and got in. I handed in the swags to him. The room was very draughty; the wind came in through the broken window and the cracks between the slabs, so we tried the partitioned-off room — the bedroom — and that was better. It had been lined with chaff-bags, and there were two stretchers left by some timber-getters or other Bush contractors who'd camped there last; and there were a box and a couple of three-legged stools.

We carried the remnant of the wood-heap inside, made a fire, and put the billy on. We unrolled our swags and spread the blankets on the stretchers; and then we stripped and hung our clothes about the fire to dry. There was plenty in our tucker-bags, so we had a good feed. I hadn't shaved for days, and Dave had a coarse red beard with a twist in it like an ill-used fibre brush — a beard that got redder the longer it grew; he had a hooked nose, and his hair stood straight up (I never saw a man so easy-going about the expression and so scared about the head), and he was very tall, with long, thin, hairy legs. We must have looked a weird pair as we sat there, naked, on the low three-legged stools, with the billy and the tucker on the box

  ― 207 ―
between us, and ate our bread and meat with clasp-knives.

‘I shouldn't wonder,’ says Dave, ‘but this is the “whare”note where the murder was that we heard about along the road. I suppose if any one was to come along now and look in he'd get scared.’ Then after a while he looked down at the flooring-boards close to my feet, and scratched his ear, and said, ‘That looks very much like a blood-stain under your stool, doesn't it, Jim?’

I shifted my feet and presently moved the stool farther away from the fire — it was too hot.

I wouldn't have liked to camp there by myself, but I don't think Dave would have minded — he'd knocked round too much in the Australian Bush to mind anything much, or to be surprised at anything; besides, he was more than half murdered once by a man who said afterwards that he'd mistook him for some one else: he must have been a very short-sighted murderer.

Presently we put tobacco, matches, and bits of candle we had, on the two stools by the heads of our bunks, turned in, and filled up and smoked comfortably, dropping in a lazy word now and again about nothing in particular. Once I happened to look across at Dave, and saw him sitting up a bit and watching the door. The door opened very slowly, wide, and a black cat walked in, looked first at me, then at Dave, and walked out again; and the door closed behind it.

Dave scratched his ear. ‘That's rum,’ he said.

  ― 209 ―
‘I could have sworn I fastened that door. They must have left the cat behind.’

‘It looks like it,’ I said. ‘Neither of us has been on the boose lately.’

He got out of bed and up on his long hairy spindle-shanks.

The door had the ordinary, common black oblong lock with a brass knob. Dave tried the latch and found it fast; he turned the knob, opened the door, and called, ‘Puss — puss — puss!’ but the cat wouldn't come. He shut the door, tried the knob to see that the catch had caught, and got into bed again.

He'd scarcely settled down when the door opened slowly, the black cat walked in, stared hard at Dave, and suddenly turned and darted out as the door closed smartly.

I looked at Dave and he looked at me — hard; then he scratched the back of his head. I never saw a man look so puzzled in the face and scared about the head.

He got out of bed very cautiously, took a stick of firewood in his hand, sneaked up to the door, and snatched it open. There was no one there. Dave took the candle and went into the next room, but couldn't see the cat. He came back and sat down by the fire and meowed, and presently the cat answered him and came in from somewhere — she'd been outside the window, I suppose; he kept on meowing and she sidled up and rubbed against his hairy shin. Dave could generally bring a cat that way. He had a weakness for cats. I'd seen him kick a dog, and hammer a horse — brutally, I thought — but I never saw him hurt a cat or let any one else do it. Dave was good to cats: if a cat had a family where Dave was round, he'd see her all right and comfortable, and only drown a fair surplus. He said once to me, ‘I can understand a man kicking a dog, or hammering a horse when it plays up, but I can't understand a man hurting a cat.’

He gave this cat something to eat. Then he went and held the light close to the lock of the door, but could see nothing wrong with it. He found a key on the mantel-shelf and locked the door. He got into bed again, and the cat jumped up and curled down at the foot and started her old drum going, like shot in a sieve. Dave bent down and patted her, to tell her he'd meant no harm when he stretched out his legs, and then he settled down again.

We had some books of the ‘Deadwood Dick’ school. Dave was reading ‘The Grisly Ghost of the Haunted Gulch’, and I had ‘The Dismembered Hand’, or ‘The Disembowelled Corpse’, or some such names. They were first-class preparation for a ghost.

I was reading away, and getting drowsy, when I noticed a movement and saw Dave's frightened head rising, with the terrified shadow of it on the wall. He was staring at the door, over his book, with both eyes. And that door was opening again — slowly — and Dave had locked it! I never felt anything so creepy: the foot of my bunk was behind the door, and I drew up my feet as it came open; it opened wide, and stood so. We waited, for five minutes it seemed, hearing each other breathe, watching for the

  ― 210 ―
door to close; then Dave got out, very gingerly, and up on one end, and went to the door like a cat on wet bricks.

‘You shot the bolt outside the catch,’ I said, as he caught hold of the door — like one grabs a craw-fish.

‘I'll swear I didn't,’ said Dave. But he'd already turned the key a couple of times, so he couldn't be sure. He shut and locked the door again. ‘Now, get out and see for yourself,’ he said.

I got out, and tried the door a couple of times and found it all right. Then we both tried, and agreed that it was locked.

I got back into bed, and Dave was about half in when a thought struck him. He got the heaviest piece of firewood and stood it against the door.

‘What are you doing that for?’ I asked.

‘If there's a broken-down burglar camped round here, and trying any of his funny business, we'll hear him if he tries to come in while we're asleep,’ says Dave. Then he got back into bed. We composed our nerves with the ‘Haunted Gulch’ and ‘The Disembowelled Corpse’, and after a while I heard Dave snore, and was just dropping off when the stick fell from the door against my big toe and then to the ground with tremendous clatter. I snatched up my feet and sat up with a jerk, and so did Dave — the cat went over the partition. That door opened, only a little way this time, paused, and shut suddenly. Dave got out, grabbed a stick, skipped to the door, and clutched at the knob as if it were a nettle, and the door wouldn't come! — it was fast and locked!

  ― 211 ―
Then Dave's face began to look as frightened as his hair. He lit his candle at the fire, and asked me to come with him; he unlocked the door and we went into the other room, Dave shading his candle very carefully and feeling his way slow with his feet. The room was empty; we tried the outer door and found it locked.

‘It muster gone by the winder,’ whispered Dave. I noticed that he said ‘it’ instead of ‘he’. I saw that he himself was shook up, and it only needed that to scare me bad.

We went back to the bedroom, had a drink of cold tea, and lit our pipes. Then Dave took the waterproof cover off his bunk, spread it on the floor, laid his blankets on top of it, his spare clothes, &c., on top of them, and started to roll up his swag.

‘What are you going to do, Dave?’ I asked.

‘I'm going to take the track,’ says Dave, ‘and camp somewhere farther on. You can stay here, if you like, and come on in the morning.’

I started to roll up my swag at once. We dressed and fastened on the tucker-bags, took up the billies, and got outside without making any noise. We held our backs pretty hollow till we got down on to the road.

‘That comes of camping in a deserted house,’ said Dave, when we were safe on the track. No Australian Bushman cares to camp in an abandoned homestead, or even near it — probably because a deserted home looks ghostlier in the Australian Bush than anywhere else in the world.

It was blowing hard, but not raining so much.

  ― 212 ―

We went on along the track for a couple of miles and camped on the sheltered side of a round tussock hill, in a hole where there had been a landslip. We used all our candle-ends to get a fire alight, but once we got it started we knocked the wet bark off ‘manuka’ sticks and logs and piled them on, and soon had a roaring fire. When the ground got a little drier we rigged a bit of shelter from the showers with some sticks and the oil-cloth swag-covers; then we made some coffee and got through the night pretty comfortably. In the morning Dave said, ‘I'm going back to that house.’

‘What for?’ I said.

‘I'm going to find out what's the matter with that crimson door. If I don't I'll never be able to sleep easy within a mile of a door so long as I live.’

So we went back. It was still blowing. The thing was simple enough by daylight — after a little watching and experimenting. The house was built of odds and ends and badly fitted. It `gave' in the wind in almost any direction — not much, not more than an inch or so, but just enough to throw the door-frame out of plumb and out of square in such a way as to bring the latch and bolt of the lock clear of the catch (the door-frame was of scraps joined). Then the door swung open according to the hang of it; and when the gust was over the house gave back, and the door swung to — the frame easing just a little in another direction. I suppose it would take Edison to invent a thing like that, that came about by accident. The different strengths and directions of the gusts of wind must have accounted for the

  ― 213 ―
variations of the door's movements — and maybe the draught of our big fire had helped.

Dave scratched his head a good bit.

‘I never lived in a house yet,’ he said, as we came away — ‘I never lived in a house yet without there was something wrong with it. Gimme a good tent.’

  ― 215 ―


ABOUT seven years ago I drifted from Out-Back in Australia to Wellington, the capital of New Zealand, and up country to a little town called Pahiatua, which meaneth the ‘home of the gods’, and is situated in the Wairarappa (rippling or sparkling water) district. They have a pretty little legend to the effect that the name of the district was not originally suggested by its rivers, streams, and lakes, but by the tears alleged to have been noticed, by a dusky squire, in the eyes of a warrior chief who was looking his first, or last — I don't remember which — upon the scene. He was the discoverer, I suppose, now I come to think of it, else the place would have been already named. Maybe the scene reminded the old cannibal of the home of his childhood.

Pahiatua was not the home of my god; and it rained for five weeks. While waiting for a remittance, from an Australian newspaper — which, I anxiously hoped, would arrive in time for enough of it to be left (after paying board) to take me

  ― 216 ―
away somewhere — I spent many hours in the little shop of a shoemaker who had been a digger; and he told me yarns of the old days on the West Coast of Middle Island. And, ever and anon, he returned to one, a hard-case from the West Coast, called ‘The Flour of Wheat’, and his cousin, and his mate, Dinny Murphy, dead. And ever and again the shoemaker (he was large, humorous, and good-natured) made me promise that, when I dropped across an old West Coast digger — no matter who or what he was, or whether he was drunk or sober — I'd ask him if he knew the ‘Flour of Wheat’, and hear what he had to say.

I make no attempt to give any one shade of the Irish brogue — it can't be done in writing.

‘There's the little red Irishman,’ said the shoemaker, who was Irish himself, ‘who always wants to fight when he has a glass in him; and there's the big sarcastic dark Irishman who makes more trouble and fights at a spree than half-a-dozen little red ones put together; and there's the cheerful easy-going Irishman. Now the Flour was a combination of all three and several other sorts. He was known from the first amongst the boys at Th' Canary as the Flour o' Wheat, but no one knew exactly why. Some said that the right name was the F-l-o-w-e-r, not F-l-o-u-r, and that he was called that because there was no flower on wheat. The name might have been a compliment paid to the man's character by some one who understood and appreciated it — or appreciated

  ― 217 ―
it without understanding it. Or it might have come of some chance saying of the Flour himself, or his mates — or an accident with bags of flour. He might have worked in a mill. But we've had enough of that. It's the man — not the name. He was just a big, dark, blue-eyed Irish digger. He worked hard, drank hard, fought hard — and didn't swear. No man had ever heard him swear (except once); all things were ‘lovely’ with him. He was always lucky. He got gold and threw it away.

‘The Flour was sent out to Australia (by his friends) in connection with some trouble in Ireland in eighteen-something. The date doesn't matter: there was mostly trouble in Ireland in those days; and nobody, that knew the man, could have the slightest doubt that he helped the trouble — provided he was there at the time. I heard all this from a man who knew him in Australia. The relatives that he was sent out to were soon very anxious to see the end of him. He was as wild as they made them in Ireland. When he had a few drinks, he'd walk restlessly to and fro outside the shanty, swinging his right arm across in front of him with elbow bent and hand closed, as if he had a head in chancery, and muttering, as though in explanation to himself —

‘“Oi must be walkin' or foightin'! — Oi must be walkin' or foightin'! — Oi must be walkin' or foightin'!”

‘They say that he wanted to eat his Australian relatives before he was done; and the story goes that one night, while he was on the spree, they

  ― 218 ―
put their belongings into a cart and took to the Bush.

‘There's no floury record for several years; then the Flour turned up on the west coast of New Zealand and was never very far from a pub. kept by a cousin (that he had tracked, unearthed, or discovered somehow) at a place called “Th' Canary”. I remember the first time I saw the Flour.

‘I was on a bit of a spree myself, at Th' Canary, and one evening I was standing outside Brady's (the Flour's cousin's place) with Tom Lyons and Dinny Murphy, when I saw a big man coming across the flat with a swag on his back.

‘“B' God, there's the Flour o' Wheat comin' this minute,” says Dinny Murphy to Tom, “an' no one else.”

‘“B' God, ye're right!” says Tom.

‘There were a lot of new chums in the big room at the back, drinking and dancing and singing, and Tom says to Dinny —

‘“Dinny, I'll bet you a quid an' the Flour'll run against some of those new chums before he's an hour on the spot.”

‘But Dinny wouldn't take him up. He knew the Flour.

‘“Good day, Tom! Good day, Dinny!”

‘“Good day to you, Flour!”

‘I was introduced.

‘“Well, boys, come along,” says the Flour.

‘And so we went inside with him. The Flour had a few drinks, and then he went into the back-room where the new chums were. One of them was

  ― 219 ―
dancing a jig, and so the Flour stood up in front of him and commenced to dance too. And presently the new chum made a step that didn't please the Flour, so he hit him between the eyes, and knocked him down — fair an' flat on his back.

‘“Take that,” he says. “Take that, me lovely whipper-snapper, an' lay there! You can't dance. How dare ye stand up in front of me face to dance when ye can't dance?”

‘He shouted, and drank, and gambled, and danced, and sang, and fought the new chums all night, and in the morning he said —

‘“Well, boys, we had a grand time last night. Come and have a drink with me.”

‘And of course they went in and had a drink with him.

‘Next morning the Flour was walking along the street, when he met a drunken, disreputable old hag, known among the boys as the “Nipper”.

‘“Good morning, me lovely Flour o' Wheat!” says she.

‘“Good morning, me lovely Nipper!” says the Flour.

‘And with that she outs with a bottle she had in her dress, and smashed him across the face with it. Broke the bottle to smithereens!

‘A policeman saw her do it, and took her up; and they had the Flour as a witness, whether he liked it or not. And a lovely sight he looked, with his face all done up in bloody bandages, and only one damaged eye and a corner of his mouth on duty.

  ― 220 ―

‘“It's nothing at all, your Honour,” he said to the S.M.; “only a pin-scratch — it's nothing at all. Let it pass. I had no right to speak to the lovely woman at all.”

‘But they didn't let it pass, — they fined her a quid.

‘And the Flour paid the fine.

‘But, alas for human nature! It was pretty much the same even in those days, and amongst those men, as it is now. A man couldn't do a woman a good turn without the dirty-minded blackguards taking it for granted there was something between them. It was a great joke amongst the boys who knew the Flour, and who also knew the Nipper; but as it was carried too far in some quarters, it got to be no joke to the Flour — nor to those who laughed too loud or grinned too long.

‘The Flour's cousin thought he was a sharp man. The Flour got “stiff”. He hadn't any money, and his credit had run out, so he went and got a blank summons from one of the police he knew. He pretended that he wanted to frighten a man who owed him some money. Then he filled it up and took it to his cousin.

‘“What d'ye think of that?” he says, handing the summons across the bar. “What d'ye think of me lovely Dinny Murphy now?”

‘“Why, what's this all about?”

‘“That's what I want to know. I borrowed a five-pound-note off of him a fortnight ago when I was drunk, an' now he sends me that.”

‘“Well, I never would have dream'd that of

  ― 221 ―
Dinny,” says the cousin, scratching his head and blinking. “What's come over him at all?”

‘“That's what I want to know.”

‘“What have you been doing to the man?”

‘“Divil a thing that I'm aware of.”

‘The cousin rubbed his chin-tuft between his forefinger and thumb.

‘“Well, what am I to do about it?” asked the Flour impatiently.

‘“Do? Pay the man, of course?”

‘“How can I pay the lovely man when I haven't got the price of a drink about me?”

‘The cousin scratched his chin.

‘“Well — here, I'll lend you a five-pound-note for a month or two. Go and pay the man, and get back to work.”

‘And the Flour went and found Dinny Murphy, and the pair of them had a howling spree together up at Brady's, the opposition pub. And the cousin said he thought all the time he was being had.

‘He was nasty sometimes, when he was about half drunk. For instance, he'd come on the ground when the Orewell sports were in full swing and walk round, soliloquising just loud enough for you to hear; and just when a big event was coming off he'd pass within earshot of some committee men — who had been bursting themselves for weeks to work the thing up and make it a success — saying to himself —

‘“Where's the Orewell sports that I hear so much about? I don't see them! Can any one direct me to the Orewell sports?”

  ― 222 ―

‘Or he'd pass a raffle, lottery, lucky-bag, or golden-barrel business of some sort, —

‘“No gamblin' for the Flour. I don't believe in their little shwindles. It ought to be shtopped. Leadin' young people ashtray.”

‘Or he'd pass an Englishman he didn't like, —

‘“Look at Jinneral Roberts! He's a man! He's an Irishman! England has to come to Ireland for its Jinnerals! Luk at Jinneral Roberts in the marshes of Candyhar!”

‘They always had sports at Orewell Creek on New Year's Day — except once — and old Duncan was always there, — never missed it till the day he died. He was a digger, a humorous and good-hearted “hard-case”. They all knew “old Duncan”.

‘But one New Year's Eve he didn't turn up, and was missed at once. “Where's old Duncan? Any one seen old Duncan?” “Oh, he'll turn up alright.” They inquired, and argued, and waited, but Duncan didn't come.

‘Duncan was working at Duffers. The boys inquired of fellows who came from Duffers, but they hadn't seen him for two days. They had fully expected to find him at the creek. He wasn't at Aliaura nor Notown. They inquired of men who came from Nelson Creek, but Duncan wasn't there.

‘“There's something happened to the lovely man,” said the Flour of Wheat at last. “Some of us had better see about it.”

‘Pretty soon this was the general opinion, and so a party started out over the hills to Duffers before daylight in the morning, headed by the Flour.

  ― 223 ―

‘The door of Duncan's “whare” was closed — but not padlocked. The Flour noticed this, gave his head a jerk, opened the door, and went in. The hut was tidied up and swept out — even the fireplace. Duncan had “lifted the boxes” and “cleaned up”, and his little bag of gold stood on a shelf by his side — all ready for his spree. On the table lay a clean neckerchief folded ready to tie on. The blankets had been folded neatly and laid on the bunk, and on them was stretched Old Duncan, with his arms lying crossed on his chest, and one foot — with a boot on — resting on the ground. He had his “clean things” on, and was dressed except for one boot, the necktie, and his hat. Heart disease.

‘“Take your hats off and come in quietly, lads,” said the Flour. “Here's the lovely man lying dead in his bunk.”

‘There were no sports at Orewell that New Year. Some one said that the crowd from Nelson Creek might object to the sports being postponed on old Duncan's account, but the Flour said he'd see to that.

‘One or two did object, but the Flour reasoned with them and there were no sports.

‘And the Flour used to say, afterwards, “Ah, but it was a grand time we had at the funeral when Duncan died at Duffers.”

‘The Flour of Wheat carried his mate, Dinny

  ― 224 ―
Murphy, all the way in from Th' Canary to the hospital on his back. Dinny was very bad — the man was dying of the dysentery or something. The Flour laid him down on a spare bunk in the reception-room, and hailed the staff.

‘“Inside there — come out!”

‘The doctor and some of the hospital people came to see what was the matter. The doctor was a heavy swell, with a big cigar, held up in front of him between two fat, soft, yellow-white fingers, and a dandy little pair of gold-rimmed eye-glasses nipped onto his nose with a spring.

‘“There's me lovely mate lying there dying of the dysentry,” says the Flour, “and you've got to fix him up and bring him round.”

‘Then he shook his fist in the doctor's face and said —

‘“If you let that lovely man die — look out!”

‘The doctor was startled. He backed off at first; then he took a puff at his cigar, stepped forward, had a careless look at Dinny, and gave some order to the attendants. The Flour went to the door, turned half round as he went out, and shook his fist at them again, and said —

‘“If you let that lovely man die — mind!”

‘In about twenty minutes he came back, wheeling a case of whisky in a barrow. He carried the case inside, and dumped it down on the floor.

‘“There,” he said, “pour that into the lovely man.”

‘Then he shook his fist at such members of the staff as were visible, and said —

‘“If you let that lovely man die — look out!”

  ― 225 ―

‘They were used to hard-cases, and didn't take much notice of him, but he had the hospital in an awful mess; he was there all hours of the day and night; he would go down town, have a few drinks and a fight maybe, and then he'd say, “Ah, well, I'll have to go up and see how me lovely mate's getting on.”

‘And every time he'd go up he'd shake his fist at the hospital in general and threaten to murder 'em all if they let Dinny Murphy die.

‘Well, Dinny Murphy died one night. The next morning the Flour met the doctor in the street, and hauled off and hit him between the eyes, and knocked him down before he had time to see who it was.

‘“Stay there, ye little whipper-snapper,” said the Flour of Wheat; “you let that lovely man die!”

‘The police happened to be out of town that day, and while they were waiting for them the Flour got a coffin and carried it up to the hospital, and stood it on end by the doorway.

‘“I've come for me lovely mate!” he said to the scared staff — or as much of it as he baled up and couldn't escape him. “Hand him over. He's going back to be buried with his friends at Th' Canary. Now, don't be sneaking round and sidling off, you there; you needn't be frightened; I've settled with the doctor.”

‘But they called in a man who had some influence with the Flour, and between them — and with the assistance of the prettiest nurse on the premises — they persuaded him to wait. Dinny wasn't

  ― 226 ―
ready yet; there were papers to sign; it wouldn't be decent to the dead; he had to be prayed over; he had to be washed and shaved, and fixed up decent and comfortable. Anyway, they'd have him ready in an hour, or take the consequences.

‘The Flour objected on the ground that all this could be done equally as well and better by the boys at Th' Canary. “However,” he said, “I'll be round in an hour, and if you haven't got me lovely mate ready — look out!” Then he shook his fist sternly at them once more and said —

‘“I know yer dirty tricks and dodges, and if there's e'er a pin-scratch on me mate's body — look out! If there's a pairin' of Dinny's toe-nail missin' — look out!”

‘Then he went out — taking the coffin with him.

‘And when the police came to his lodgings to arrest him, they found the coffin on the floor by the side of the bed, and the Flour lying in it on his back, with his arms folded peacefully on his bosom. He was as dead drunk as any man could get to be and still be alive. They knocked air-holes in the coffin-lid, screwed it on, and carried the coffin, the Flour, and all to the local lock-up. They laid their burden down on the bare, cold floor of the prison-cell, and then went out, locked the door, and departed several ways to put the “boys” up to it. And about midnight the “boys” gathered round with a supply of liquor, and waited, and somewhere along in the small hours there was a howl, as of a strong Irishman in Purgatory, and presently the voice of the Flour was heard to plead in changed and awful tones —

  ― 227 ―

‘“Pray for me soul, boys — pray for me soul! Let bygones be bygones between us, boys, and pray for me lovely soul! The lovely Flour's in Purgatory!”

‘Then silence for a while; and then a sound like a dray-wheel passing over a packing-case…That was the only time on record that the Flour was heard to swear. And he swore then.

‘They didn't pray for him — they gave him a month. And, when he came out, he went half-way across the road to meet the doctor, and he — to his credit, perhaps — came the other half. They had a drink together, and the Flour presented the doctor with a fine specimen of coarse gold for a pin.

‘“It was the will o' God, after all, doctor,” said the Flour. “It was the will o' God. Let bygones be bygones between us; gimme your hand, doctor…Good-bye.”

‘Then he left for Th' Canary.’

  ― 229 ―


‘Oh, tell her a tale of the fairies bright —
That only the Bushmen know —
Who guide the feet of the lost aright,
Or carry them up through the starry night,
Where the Bush-lost babies go.’

HE was one of those men who seldom smile. There are many in the Australian Bush, where drift wrecks and failures of all stations and professions (and of none), and from all the world. Or, if they do smile, the smile is either mechanical or bitter as a rule — cynical. They seldom talk. The sort of men who, as bosses, are set down by the majority — and without reason or evidence — as being proud, hard, and selfish, — ‘too mean to live, and too big for their boots.’

But when the Boss did smile his expression was very, very gentle, and very sad. I have seen him smile down on a little child who persisted in sitting on his knee and prattling to him, in spite of his silence and gloom. He was tall and gaunt, with haggard grey eyes — haunted grey eyes sometimes —

  ― 230 ―
and hair and beard thick and strong, but grey. He was not above forty-five. He was of the type of men who die in harness, with their hair thick and strong, but grey or white when it should be brown. The opposite type, I fancy, would be the soft, dark-haired, blue-eyed men who grow bald sooner than they grow grey, and fat and contented, and die respectably in their beds.

His name was Head — Walter Head. He was a boss drover on the overland routes. I engaged with him at a place north of the Queensland border to travel down to Bathurst, on the Great Western Line in New South Wales, with something over a thousand head of store bullocks for the Sydney market. I am an Australian Bushman (with city experience) — a rover, of course, and a ne'er-do-well, I suppose. I was born with brains and a thin skin — worse luck! It was in the days before I was married, and I went by the name of ‘Jack Ellis’ this trip, — not because the police were after me, but because I used to tell yarns about a man named Jack Ellis — and so the chaps nicknamed me.

The Boss spoke little to the men: he'd sit at tucker or with his pipe by the camp-fire nearly as silently as he rode his night-watch round the big, restless, weird-looking mob of bullocks camped on the dusky starlit plain. I believe that from the first he spoke oftener and more confidentially to me than to any other of the droving party. There was a something of sympathy between us — I can't explain what it was. It seemed as though it were an understood thing between us that we understood

  ― 231 ―
each other. He sometimes said things to me which would have needed a deal of explanation — so I thought — had he said them to any other of the party. He'd often, after brooding a long while, start a sentence, and break off with ‘You know, Jack.’ And somehow I understood, without being able to explain why. We had never met before I engaged with him for this trip. His men respected him, but he was not a popular boss: he was too gloomy, and never drank a glass nor ‘shouted’ on the trip: he was reckoned a ‘mean boss’, and rather a nigger-driver.

He was full of Adam Lindsay Gordon, the English-Australian poet who shot himself, and so was I. I lost an old copy of Gordon's poems on the route, and the Boss overheard me inquiring about it; later on he asked me if I liked Gordon. We got to it rather sheepishly at first, but by-and-by we'd quote Gordon freely in turn when we were alone in camp. ‘Those are grand lines about Burke and Wills, the explorers, aren't they, Jack?’ he'd say, after chewing his cud, or rather the stem of his briar, for a long while without a word. (He had his pipe in his mouth as often as any of us, but somehow I fancied he didn't enjoy it: an empty pipe or a stick would have suited him just as well, it seemed to me.) ‘Those are great lines,’ he'd say —

‘“In Collins Street standeth a statue tall —
A statue tall on a pillar of stone —
Telling its story to great and small
Of the dust reclaimed from the sand-waste lone.

  ― 232 ―
Weary and wasted, worn and wan,
Feeble and faint, and languid and low,
He lay on the desert a dying man,
Who has gone, my friends, where we all must go.”

That's a grand thing, Jack. How does it go? —

“With a pistol clenched in his failing hand,
And the film of death o'er his fading eyes,
He saw the sun go down on the sand, ” ’ —

The Boss would straighten up with a sigh that might have been half a yawn —

‘“And he slept and never saw it rise,”’

— speaking with a sort of quiet force all the time. Then maybe he'd stand with his back to the fire roasting his dusty leggings, with his hands behind his back and looking out over the dusky plain.

‘“What mattered the sand or the whit'ning chalk,
The blighted herbage or blackened log,
The crooked beak of the eagle-hawk,
Or the hot red tongue of the native dog?”

They don't matter much, do they, Jack?’

‘Damned if I think they do, Boss!’ I'd say.

‘“The couch was rugged, those sextons rude,
But, in spite of a leaden shroud, we know
That the bravest and fairest are earth-worms' food
Where once they have gone where we all must go.”’

Once he repeated the poem containing the lines —

‘“Love, when we wandered here together,
Hand in hand through the sparkling weather —
God surely loved us a little then.”

Beautiful lines those, Jack.

  ― 233 ―
“Then skies were fairer and shores were firmer,
And the blue sea over the white sand rolled —
Babble and prattle, and prattle and murmur’—

How does it go, Jack?’ He stood up and turned his face to the light, but not before I had a glimpse of it. I think that the saddest eyes on earth are mostly women's eyes, but I've seen few so sad as the Boss's were just then.

It seemed strange that he, a Bushman, preferred Gordon's sea poems to his horsey and bushy rhymes; but so he did. I fancy his favourite poem was that one of Gordon's with the lines —

‘I would that with sleepy soft embraces
The sea would fold me, would find me rest
In the luminous depths of its secret places,
Where the wealth of God's marvels is manifest!’

He usually spoke quietly, in a tone as though death were in camp; but after we'd been on Gordon's poetry for a while he'd end it abruptly with, ‘Well, it's time to turn in,’ or, ‘It's time to turn out,’ or he'd give me an order in connection with the cattle. He had been a well-to-do squatter on the Lachlan river-side, in New South Wales, and had been ruined by the drought, they said. One night in camp, and after smoking in silence for nearly an hour, he asked —

‘Do you know Fisher, Jack — the man that owns these bullocks?’

‘I've heard of him,’ I said. Fisher was a big squatter, with stations both in New South Wales and in Queensland.

‘Well, he came to my station on the Lachlan

  ― 234 ―
years ago without a penny in his pocket, or decent rag to his back, or a crust in his tucker-bag, and I gave him a job. He's my boss now. Ah, well! it's the way of Australia, you know, Jack.’

The Boss had one man who went on every droving trip with him; he was ‘bred’ on the Boss's station, they said, and had been with him practically all his life. His name was ‘Andy’. I forget his other name, if he really had one. Andy had charge of the ‘droving-plant’ (a tilted two-horse waggonette, in which we carried the rations and horse-feed), and he did the cooking and kept accounts. The Boss had no head for figures. Andy might have been twenty-five or thirty-five, or anything in between. His hair stuck up like a well-made brush all round, and his big grey eyes also had an inquiring expression. His weakness was girls, or he theirs, I don't know which (half-castes not barred). He was, I think, the most innocent, good-natured, and open-hearted scamp I ever met. Towards the middle of the trip Andy spoke to me one night alone in camp about the Boss.

‘The Boss seems to have taken to you, Jack, all right.’

‘Think so?’ I said. I thought I smelt jealousy and detected a sneer.

‘I'm sure of it. It's very seldom he takes to any one.’

I said nothing.

Then after a while Andy said suddenly —

‘Look here, Jack, I'm glad of it. I'd like to see him make a chum of some one, if only for

  ― 235 ―
one trip. And don't you make any mistake about the Boss. He's a white man. There's precious few that know him — precious few now; but I do, and it'll do him a lot of good to have some one to yarn with.’ And Andy said no more on the subject for that trip.

The long, hot, dusty miles dragged by across the blazing plains — big clearings rather — and through the sweltering hot scrubs, and we reached Bathurst at last; and then the hot dusty days and weeks and months that we'd left behind us to the Great North-West seemed as nothing, — as I suppose life will seem when we come to the end of it.

The bullocks were going by rail from Bathurst to Sydney. We were all one long afternoon getting them into the trucks, and when we'd finished the boss said to me —

‘Look here, Jack, you're going on to Sydney, aren't you?’

‘Yes; I'm going down to have a fly round.’

‘Well, why not wait and go down with Andy in the morning? He's going down in charge of the cattle. The cattle-train starts about daylight. It won't be so comfortable as the passenger; but you'll save your fare, and you can give Andy a hand with the cattle. You've only got to have a look at 'em every other station, and poke up any that fall down in the trucks. You and Andy are mates, aren't you?’

I said it would just suit me. Somehow I fancied that the Boss seemed anxious to have my company for one more evening, and, to tell the truth, I felt

  ― 236 ―
really sorry to part with him. I'd had to work as hard as any of the other chaps; but I liked him, and I believed he liked me. He'd struck me as a man who'd been quietened down by some heavy trouble, and I felt sorry for him without knowing what the trouble was.

‘Come and have a drink, Boss,’ I said. The agent had paid us off during the day.

He turned into a hotel with me.

‘I don't drink, Jack,’ he said; ‘but I'll take a glass with you.’

‘I didn't know you were a teetotaller, Boss,’ I said. I had not been surprised at his keeping so strictly from the drink on the trip; but now that it was over it was a different thing.

‘I'm not a teetotaller, Jack,’ he said. ‘I can take a glass or leave it.’ And he called for a long beer, and we drank ‘Here's luck!’ to each other.

‘Well,’ I said, ‘I wish I could take a glass or leave it.’ And I meant it.

Then the Boss spoke as I'd never heard him speak before. I thought for the moment that the one drink had affected him; but I understood before the night was over. He laid his hand on my shoulder with a grip like a man who has suddenly made up his mind to lend you five pounds. ‘Jack!’ he said, ‘there's worse things than drinking, and there's worse things than heavy smoking. When a man who smokes gets such a load of trouble on him that he can find no comfort in his pipe, then it's a heavy load. And when a man who drinks gets so deep into trouble that

  ― 237 ―
he can find no comfort in liquor, then it's deep trouble. Take my tip for it, Jack.’

He broke off, and half turned away with a jerk of his head, as if impatient with himself; then presently he spoke in his usual quiet tone —

‘But you're only a boy yet, Jack. Never mind me. I won't ask you to take the second drink. You don't want it; and, besides, I know the signs.’

He paused, leaning with both hands on the edge of the counter, and looking down between his arms at the floor. He stood that way thinking for a while; then he suddenly straightened up, like a man who'd made up his mind to something.

‘I want you to come along home with me, Jack,’ he said; ‘we'll fix you a shake-down.’

I forgot to tell you that he was married and lived in Bathurst.

‘But won't it put Mrs Head about?’

‘Not at all. She's expecting you. Come along; there's nothing to see in Bathurst, and you'll have plenty of knocking round in Sydney. Come on, we'll just be in time for tea.’

He lived in a brick cottage on the outskirts of the town — an old-fashioned cottage, with ivy and climbing roses, like you see in some of those old settled districts. There was, I remember, the stump of a tree in front, covered with ivy till it looked like a giant's club with the thick end up.

When we got to the house the Boss paused a minute with his hand on the gate. He'd been home a couple of days, having ridden in ahead of the bullocks.

  ― 238 ―

‘Jack,’ he said, “I must tell you that Mrs Head had a great trouble at one time. We — we lost our two children. It does her good to talk to a stranger now and again — she's always better afterwards; but there's very few I care to bring. You — you needn't notice anything strange. And agree with her, Jack. You know, Jack.’

‘That's all right, Boss,’ I said. I'd knocked about the Bush too long, and run against too many strange characters and things, to be surprised at anything much.

The door opened, and he took a little woman in his arms. I saw by the light of a lamp in the room behind that the woman's hair was grey, and I reckoned that he had his mother living with him. And — we do have odd thoughts at odd times in a flash — and I wondered how Mrs Head and her mother-in-law got on together. But the next minute I was in the room, and introduced to ‘My wife, Mrs Head,’ and staring at her with both eyes.

It was his wife. I don't think I can describe her. For the first minute or two, coming in out of the dark and before my eyes got used to the lamp-light, I had an impression as of a little old woman — one of those fresh-faced, well-preserved, little old ladies — who dressed young, wore false teeth, and aped the giddy girl. But this was because of Mrs Head's impulsive welcome of me, and her grey hair. The hair was not so grey as I thought at first, seeing it with the lamp-light behind it: it was like dull-brown hair lightly dusted with flour. She wore it short, and it became her that way. There was something aristocratic about her face — her nose and chin — I

  ― 239 ―
fancied, and something that you couldn't describe. She had big dark eyes — dark-brown, I thought, though they might have been hazel: they were a bit too big and bright for me, and now and again, when she got excited, the white showed all round the pupils — just a little, but a little was enough.

She seemed extra glad to see me. I thought at first that she was a bit of a gusher.

‘Oh, I'm so glad you've come, Mr Ellis,’ she said, giving my hand a grip. ‘Walter — Mr Head — has been speaking to me about you. I've been expecting you. Sit down by the fire, Mr Ellis; tea will be ready presently. Don't you find it a bit chilly?’ She shivered. It was a bit chilly now at night on the Bathurst plains. The table was set for tea, and set rather in swell style. The cottage was too well furnished even for a lucky boss drover's home; the furniture looked as if it had belonged to a tony homestead at one time. I felt a bit strange at first, sitting down to tea, and almost wished that I was having a comfortable tuck-in at a restaurant or in a pub. dining-room. But she knew a lot about the Bush, and chatted away, and asked questions about the trip, and soon put me at my ease. You see, for the last year or two I'd taken my tucker in my hands, — hunk of damper and meat and a clasp-knife mostly, — sitting on my heel in the dust, or on a log or a tucker-box.

There was a hard, brown, wrinkled old woman that the Heads called ‘Auntie’. She waited at the table; but Mrs Head kept bustling round herself most of the time, helping us. Andy came in to tea.

  ― 240 ―

Mrs Head bustled round like a girl of twenty instead of a woman of thirty-seven, as Andy afterwards told me she was. She had the figure and movements of a girl, and the impulsiveness and expression too — a womanly girl; but sometimes I fancied there was something very childish about her face and talk. After tea she and the Boss sat on one side of the fire and Andy and I on the other — Andy a little behind me at the corner of the table.

‘Walter — Mr Head — tells me you've been out on the Lachlan river, Mr Ellis?’ she said as soon as she'd settled down, and she leaned forward, as if eager to hear that I'd been there.

‘Yes, Mrs Head. I've knocked round all about out there.’

She sat up straight, and put the tips of her fingers to the side of her forehead and knitted her brows. This was a trick she had — she often did it during the evening. And when she did that she seemed to forget what she'd said last.

She smoothed her forehead, and clasped her hands in her lap.

‘Oh, I'm so glad to meet somebody from the back country, Mr Ellis,’ she said. ‘Walter so seldom brings a stranger here, and I get tired of talking to the same people about the same things, and seeing the same faces. You don't know what a relief it is, Mr Ellis, to see a new face and talk to a stranger.’

‘I can quite understand that, Mrs Head,’ I said. And so I could. I never stayed more than three months in one place if I could help it.

She looked into the fire and seemed to try to

  ― 241 ―
think. The Boss straightened up and stroked her head with his big sun-browned hand, and then put his arm round her shoulders. This brought her back.

‘You know we had a station out on the Lachlan, Mr Ellis. Did Walter ever tell you about the time we lived there?’

‘No,’ I said, glancing at the Boss. ‘I know you had a station there; but, you know, the Boss doesn't talk much.’

‘Tell Jack, Maggie,’ said the Boss; ‘I don't mind.’

She smiled. ‘You know Walter, Mr Ellis,’ she said. ‘You won't mind him. He doesn't like me to talk about the children; he thinks it upsets me, but that's foolish: it always relieves me to talk to a stranger.’ She leaned forward, eagerly it seemed, and went on quickly: ‘I've been wanting to tell you about the children ever since Walter spoke to me about you. I knew you would understand directly I saw your face. These town people don't understand. I like to talk to a Bushman. You know we lost our children out on the station. The fairies took them. Did Walter ever tell you about the fairies taking the children away?’

This was a facer. ‘I — I beg pardon,’ I commenced, when Andy gave me a dig in the back. Then I saw it all.

‘No, Mrs Head. The Boss didn't tell me about that.’

‘You surely know about the Bush Fairies, Mr Ellis,’ she said, her big eyes fixed on my face — ‘the Bush Fairies that look after the little ones that are

  ― 242 ―
lost in the Bush, and take them away from the Bush if they are not found? You've surely heard of them, Mr Ellis? Most Bushmen have that I've spoken to. Maybe you've seen them? Andy there has?’ Andy gave me another dig.

‘Of course I've heard of them, Mrs Head,’ I said; ‘but I can't swear that I've seen one.’

‘Andy has. Haven't you, Andy?’

‘Of course I have, Mrs Head. Didn't I tell you all about it the last time we were home?’

‘And didn't you ever tell Mr Ellis, Andy?’

‘Of course he did!’ I said, coming to Andy's rescue; ‘I remember it now. You told me that night we camped on the Bogan river, Andy.’

‘Of course!’ said Andy.

‘Did he tell you about finding a lost child and the fairy with it?’

‘Yes,’ said Andy; ‘I told him all about that.’

‘And the fairy was just going to take the child away when Andy found it, and when the fairy saw Andy she flew away.’

‘Yes,’ I said; ‘that's what Andy told me.’

‘And what did you say the fairy was like, Andy?’ asked Mrs Head, fixing her eyes on his face.

‘Like. It was like one of them angels you see in Bible pictures, Mrs Head,’ said Andy promptly, sitting bolt upright, and keeping his big innocent grey eyes fixed on hers lest she might think he was telling lies. ‘It was just like the angel in that Christ-in-the-stable picture we had at home on the station — the right-hand one in blue.’

She smiled. You couldn't call it an idiotic smile, nor the foolish smile you see sometimes in melancholy

  ― 243 ―
mad people. It was more of a happy childish smile.

‘I was so foolish at first, and gave poor Walter and the doctors a lot of trouble,’ she said. ‘Of course it never struck me, until afterwards, that the fairies had taken the children.’

She pressed the tips of the fingers of both hands to her forehead, and sat so for a while; then she roused herself again —

‘But what am I thinking about? I haven't started to tell you about the children at all yet. Auntie! bring the children's portraits, will you, please? You'll find them on my dressing-table.’

The old woman seemed to hesitate.

‘Go on, Auntie, and do what I ask you,’ said Mrs Head. ‘Don't be foolish. You know I'm all right now.’

‘You mustn't take any notice of Auntie, Mr Ellis,’ she said with a smile, while the old woman's back was turned. ‘Poor old body, she's a bit crotchety at times, as old women are. She doesn't like me to get talking about the children. She's got an idea that if I do I'll start talking nonsense, as I used to do the first year after the children were lost. I was very foolish then, wasn't I, Walter?’

‘You were, Maggie,’ said the Boss. ‘But that's all past. You mustn't think of that time any more.’

‘You see,’ said Mrs Head, in explanation to me, ‘at first nothing would drive it out of my head that the children had wandered about until they perished of hunger and thirst in the Bush. As if the Bush Fairies would let them do that.’

  ― 244 ―

‘You were very foolish, Maggie,’ said the Boss; ‘but don't think about that.’

The old woman brought the portraits, a little boy and a little girl: they must have been very pretty children.

‘You see,’ said Mrs Head, taking the portraits eagerly, and giving them to me one by one, ‘we had these taken in Sydney some years before the children were lost; they were much younger then. Wally's is not a good portrait; he was teething then, and very thin. That's him standing on the chair. Isn't the pose good? See, he's got one hand and one little foot forward, and an eager look in his eyes. The portrait is very dark, and you've got to look close to see the foot. He wants a toy rabbit that the photographer is tossing up to make him laugh. In the next portrait he's sitting on the chair — he's just settled himself to enjoy the fun. But see how happy little Maggie looks! You can see my arm where I was holding her in the chair. She was six months old then, and little Wally had just turned two.’

She put the portraits up on the mantel-shelf.

‘Let me see; Wally (that's little Walter, you know) — Wally was five and little Maggie three and a half when we lost them. Weren't they, Walter?’

‘Yes, Maggie,’ said the Boss.

‘You were away, Walter, when it happened.’

‘Yes, Maggie,’ said the Boss — cheerfully, it seemed to me — ‘I was away.’

‘And we couldn't find you, Walter. You see,’ she said to me, ‘Walter — Mr Head — was away in Sydney on business, and we couldn't find his address.

  ― 245 ―
It was a beautiful morning, though rather warm, and just after the break-up of the drought. The grass was knee-high all over the run. It was a lonely place; there wasn't much bush cleared round the homestead, just a hundred yards or so, and the great awful scrubs ran back from the edges of the clearing all round for miles and miles — fifty or a hundred miles in some directions without a break; didn't they, Walter?’

‘Yes, Maggie.’

‘I was alone at the house except for Mary, a half-caste girl we had, who used to help me with the housework and the children. Andy was out on the run with the men, mustering sheep; weren't you, Andy?’

‘Yes, Mrs Head.’

‘I used to watch the children close as they got to run about, because if they once got into the edge of the scrub they'd be lost; but this morning little Wally begged hard to be let take his little sister down under a clump of blue-gums in a corner of the home paddock to gather buttercups. You remember that clump of gums, Walter?’

‘I remember, Maggie.’

‘“I won't go through the fence a step, mumma,” little Wally said. I could see Old Peter — an old shepherd and station-hand we had — I could see him working on a dam we were making across a creek that ran down there. You remember Old Peter, Walter?’

‘Of course I do, Maggie.’

‘I knew that Old Peter would keep an eye to the children; so I told little Wally to keep tight hold of

  ― 246 ―
his sister's hand and go straight down to Old Peter and tell him I sent them.’

She was leaning forward with her hands clasping her knee, and telling me all this with a strange sort of eagerness.

‘The little ones toddled off hand in hand, with their other hands holding fast their straw hats. “In case a bad wind blowed,” as little Maggie said. I saw them stoop under the first fence, and that was the last that any one saw of them.’

‘Except the fairies, Maggie,’ said the Boss quickly.

‘Of course, Walter, except the fairies.’

She pressed her fingers to her temples again for a minute.

‘It seems that Old Peter was going to ride out to the musterers' camp that morning with bread for the men, and he left his work at the dam and started into the Bush after his horse just as I turned back into the house, and before the children got near him. They either followed him for some distance or wandered into the Bush after flowers or butterflies ——’ She broke off, and then suddenly asked me, ‘Do you think the Bush Fairies would entice children away, Mr Ellis?’

The Boss caught my eye, and frowned and shook his head slightly.

‘No. I'm sure they wouldn't, Mrs Head,’ I said — ‘at least not from what I know of them.’

She thought, or tried to think, again for a while, in her helpless puzzled way. Then she went on, speaking rapidly, and rather mechanically, it seemed to me —

‘The first I knew of it was when Peter came to

  ― 247 ―
the house about an hour afterwards, leading his horse, and without the children. I said — I said, “O my God! where's the children?”’ Her fingers fluttered up to her temples.

‘Don't mind about that, Maggie,’ said the Boss, hurriedly, stroking her head. ‘Tell Jack about the fairies.’

‘You were away at the time, Walter?’

‘Yes, Maggie.’

‘And we couldn't find you, Walter?’

‘No, Maggie,’ very gently. He rested his elbow on his knee and his chin on his hand, and looked into the fire.

‘It wasn't your fault, Walter; but if you had been at home do you think the fairies would have taken the children?’

‘Of course they would, Maggie. They had to: the children were lost.’

‘And they're bringing the children home next year?’

‘Yes, Maggie — next year.’

She lifted her hands to her head in a startled way, and it was some time before she went on again. There was no need to tell me about the lost children. I could see it all. She and the half-caste rushing towards where the children were seen last, with Old Peter after them. The hurried search in the nearer scrub. The mother calling all the time for Maggie and Wally, and growing wilder as the minutes flew past. Old Peter's ride to the musterers' camp. Horsemen seeming to turn up in no time and from nowhere, as they do in a case like this, and no matter how lonely the district. Bushmen galloping

  ― 248 ―
through the scrub in all directions. The hurried search the first day, and the mother mad with anxiety as night came on. Her long, hopeless, wild-eyed watch through the night; starting up at every sound of a horse's hoof, and reading the worst in one glance at the rider's face. The systematic work of the search-parties next day and the days following. How those days do fly past. The women from the next run or selection, and some from the town, driving from ten or twenty miles, perhaps, to stay with and try to comfort the mother. (‘Put the horse to the cart, Jim: I must go to that poor woman!’) Comforting her with improbable stories of children who had been lost for days, and were none the worse for it when they were found. The mounted policemen out with the black trackers. Search-parties cooeeing to each other about the Bush, and lighting signal-fires. The reckless break-neck rides for news or more help. And the Boss himself, wild-eyed and haggard, riding about the Bush with Andy and one or two others perhaps, and searching hopelessly, days after the rest had given up all hope of finding the children alive. All this passed before me as Mrs Head talked, her voice sounding the while as if she were in another room; and when I roused myself to listen, she was on to the fairies again.

‘It was very foolish of me, Mr Ellis. Weeks after — months after, I think — I'd insist on going out on the verandah at dusk and calling for the children. I'd stand there and call “Maggie!” and “Wally!” until Walter took me inside; sometimes he had to force me inside. Poor Walter! But of course I

  ― 249 ―
didn't know about the fairies then, Mr Ellis. I was really out of my mind for a time.’

‘No wonder you were, Mrs Head,’ I said. ‘It was terrible trouble.’

‘Yes, and I made it worse. I was so selfish in my trouble. But it's all right now, Walter,’ she said, rumpling the Boss's hair. ‘I'll never be so foolish again.’

‘Of course you won't, Maggie.’

‘We're very happy now, aren't we, Walter?’

‘Of course we are, Maggie.’

‘And the children are coming back next year.’

‘Next year, Maggie.’

He leaned over the fire and stirred it up.

‘You mustn't take any notice of us, Mr Ellis,’ she went on. ‘Poor Walter is away so much that I'm afraid I make a little too much of him when he does come home.’

She paused and pressed her fingers to her temples again. Then she said quickly —

‘They used to tell me that it was all nonsense about the fairies, but they were no friends of mine. I shouldn't have listened to them, Walter. You told me not to. But then I was really not in my right mind.’

‘Who used to tell you that, Mrs Head?’ I asked.

‘The Voices,’ she said; ‘you know about the Voices, Walter?’

‘Yes, Maggie. But you don't hear the Voices now, Maggie?’ he asked anxiously. ‘You haven't heard them since I've been away this time, have you, Maggie?’

‘No, Walter. They've gone away a long time. I

  ― 250 ―
hear voices now sometimes, but they're the Bush Fairies' voices. I hear them calling Maggie and Wally to come with them.’ She paused again. ‘And sometimes I think I hear them call me. But of course I couldn't go away without you, Walter. But I'm foolish again. I was going to ask you about the other voices, Mr Ellis. They used to say that it was madness about the fairies; but then, if the fairies hadn't taken the children, Black Jimmy, or the black trackers with the police, could have tracked and found them at once.’

‘Of course they could, Mrs Head,’ I said.

‘They said that the trackers couldn't track them because there was rain a few hours after the children were lost. But that was ridiculous. It was only a thunderstorm.’

‘Why!’ I said, ‘I've known the blacks to track a man after a week's heavy rain.’

She had her head between her fingers again, and when she looked up it was in a scared way.

‘Oh, Walter!’ she said, clutching the Boss's arm; ‘whatever have I been talking about? What must Mr Ellis think of me? Oh! why did you let me talk like that?’

He put his arm round her. Andy nudged me and got up.

‘Where are you going, Mr Ellis?’ she asked hurriedly. ‘You're not going to-night. Auntie's made a bed for you in Andy's room. You mustn't mind me.’

‘Jack and Andy are going out for a little while,’ said the Boss. ‘They'll be in to supper. We'll have a yarn, Maggie.’

  ― 251 ―

‘Be sure you come back to supper, Mr Ellis,’ she said. ‘I really don't know what you must think of me, — I've been talking all the time.’

‘Oh, I've enjoyed myself, Mrs Head,’ I said; and Andy hooked me out.

‘She'll have a good cry and be better now,’ said Andy when we got away from the house. ‘She might be better for months. She has been fairly reasonable for over a year, but the Boss found her pretty bad when he came back this time. It upset him a lot, I can tell you. She has turns now and again, and always ends up like she did just now. She gets a longing to talk about it to a Bushman and a stranger; it seems to do her good. The doctor's against it, but doctors don't know everything.’

‘It's all true about the children, then?’ I asked.

‘It's cruel true,’ said Andy.

‘And were the bodies never found?’

‘Yes;’ then, after a long pause, ‘I found them.’

‘You did!’

‘Yes; in the scrub, and not so very far from home either — and in a fairly clear space. It's a wonder the search-parties missed it; but it often happens that way. Perhaps the little ones wandered a long way and came round in a circle. I found them about two months after they were lost. They had to be found, if only for the Boss's sake. You see, in a case like this, and when the bodies aren't found, the parents never quite lose the idea that the little ones are wandering about the Bush to-night (it might be years after) and perishing from hunger, thirst, or cold. That mad idea haunts 'em all their lives. It's the same, I believe, with friends

  ― 252 ―
drowned at sea. Friends ashore are haunted for a long while with the idea of the white sodden corpse tossing about and drifting round in the water.’

‘And you never told Mrs Head about the children being found?’

‘Not for a long time. It wouldn't have done any good. She was raving mad for months. He took her to Sydney and then to Melbourne — to the best doctors he could find in Australia. They could do no good, so he sold the station — sacrificed everything, and took her to England.’

‘To England?’

‘Yes; and then to Germany to a big German doctor there. He'd offer a thousand pounds where they only wanted fifty. It was no good. She got worse in England, and raved to go back to Australia and find the children. The doctors advised him to take her back, and he did. He spent all his money, travelling saloon, and with reserved cabins, and a nurse, and trying to get her cured; that's why he's droving now. She was restless in Sydney. She wanted to go back to the station and wait there till the fairies brought the children home. She'd been getting the fairy idea into her head slowly all the time. The Boss encouraged it. But the station was sold, and he couldn't have lived there anyway without going mad himself. He'd married her from Bathurst. Both of them have got friends and relations here, so he thought best to bring her here. He persuaded her that the fairies were going to bring the children here. Everybody's very kind to them. I think it's a mistake to run away from a town where

  ― 253 ―
you're known, in a case like this, though most people do it. It was years before he gave up hope. I think he has hopes yet — after she's been fairly well for a longish time.’

‘And you never tried telling her that the children were found?’

‘Yes; the Boss did. The little ones were buried on the Lachlan river at first; but the Boss got a horror of having them buried in the Bush, so he had them brought to Sydney and buried in the Waverley Cemetery near the sea. He bought the ground, and room for himself and Maggie when they go out. It's all the ground he owns in wide Australia, and once he had thousands of acres. He took her to the grave one day. The doctors were against it; but he couldn't rest till he tried it. He took her out, and explained it all to her. She scarcely seemed interested. She read the names on the stone, and said it was a nice stone, and asked questions about how the children were found and brought here. She seemed quite sensible, and very cool about it. But when he got her home she was back on the fairy idea again. He tried another day, but it was no use; so then he let it be. I think it's better as it is. Now and again, at her best, she seems to understand that the children were found dead, and buried, and she'll talk sensibly about it, and ask questions in a quiet way, and make him promise to take her to Sydney to see the grave next time he's down. But it doesn't last long, and she's always worse afterwards.’

We turned into a bar and had a beer. It was a

  ― 254 ―
very quiet drink. Andy ‘shouted’ in his turn, and while I was drinking the second beer a thought struck me.

‘The Boss was away when the children were lost?’

‘Yes,’ said Andy.

‘Strange you couldn't find him.’

‘Yes, it was strange; but he'll have to tell you about that. Very likely he will; it's either all or nothing with him.’

‘I feel damned sorry for the Boss,’ I said.

‘You'd be sorrier if you knew all,’ said Andy. ‘It's the worst trouble that can happen to a man. It's like living with the dead. It's — it's like a man living with his dead wife.’

When we went home supper was ready. We found Mrs Head, bright and cheerful, bustling round. You'd have thought her one of the happiest and brightest little women in Australia. Not a word about children or the fairies. She knew the Bush, and asked me all about my trips. She told some good Bush stories too. It was the pleasantest hour I'd spent for a long time.

‘Good night, Mr Ellis,’ she said brightly, shaking hands with me when Andy and I were going to turn in. ‘And don't forget your pipe. Here it is! I know that Bushmen like to have a whiff or two when they turn in. Walter smokes in bed. I don't mind. You can smoke all night if you like.’

‘She seems all right,’ I said to Andy when we were in our room.

He shook his head mournfully. We'd left the door ajar, and we could hear the Boss talking to

  ― 255 ―
her quietly. Then we heard her speak; she had a very clear voice.

‘Yes, I'll tell you the truth, Walter. I've been deceiving you, Walter, all the time, but I did it for the best. Don't be angry with me, Walter! The Voices did come back while you were away. Oh, how I longed for you to come back! They haven't come since you've been home, Walter. You must stay with me a while now. Those awful Voices kept calling me, and telling me lies about the children, Walter! They told me to kill myself; they told me it was all my own fault — that I killed the children. They said I was a drag on you, and they'd laugh — Ha! ha! ha! — like that. They'd say, “Come on, Maggie; come on, Maggie.” They told me to come to the river, Walter.’

Andy closed the door. His face was very miserable.

We turned in, and I can tell you I enjoyed a soft white bed after months and months of sleeping out at night, between watches, on the hard ground or the sand, or at best on a few boughs when I wasn't too tired to pull them down, and my saddle for a pillow.

But the story of the children haunted me for an hour or two. I've never since quite made up my mind as to why the Boss took me home. Probably he really did think it would do his wife good to talk to a stranger; perhaps he wanted me to understand — maybe he was weakening as he grew older, and craved for a new word or hand-grip of sympathy now and then.

When I did get to sleep I could have slept for three or four days, but Andy roused me out about

  ― 256 ―
four o'clock. The old woman that they called Auntie was up and had a good breakfast of eggs and bacon and coffee ready in the detached kitchen at the back. We moved about on tiptoe and had our breakfast quietly.

‘The wife made me promise to wake her to see to our breakfast and say Good-bye to you; but I want her to sleep this morning, Jack,’ said the Boss. ‘I'm going to walk down as far as the station with you. She made up a parcel of fruit and sandwiches for you and Andy. Don't forget it.’

Andy went on ahead. The Boss and I walked down the wide silent street, which was also the main road; and we walked two or three hundred yards without speaking. He didn't seem sociable this morning, or any way sentimental; when he did speak it was something about the cattle.

But I had to speak; I felt a swelling and rising up in my chest, and at last I made a swallow and blurted out —

‘Look here, Boss, old chap! I'm damned sorry!’

Our hands came together and gripped. The ghostly Australian daybreak was over the Bathurst plains.

We went on another hundred yards or so, and then the Boss said quietly —

‘I was away when the children were lost, Jack. I used to go on a howling spree every six or nine months. Maggie never knew. I'd tell her I had to go to Sydney on business, or Out-Back to look after some stock. When the children were lost, and for nearly a fortnight after, I was beastly drunk in an out-of-the-way shanty in the Bush — a sly grog-shop.

  ― 257 ―
The old brute that kept it was too true to me. He thought that the story of the lost children was a trick to get me home, and he swore that he hadn't seen me. He never told me. I could have found those children, Jack. They were mostly new chums and fools about the run, and not one of the three policemen was a Bushman. I knew those scrubs better than any man in the country.’

I reached for his hand again, and gave it a grip. That was all I could do for him.

‘Good-bye, Jack!’ he said at the door of the brake-van. ‘Good-bye, Andy! — keep those bullocks on their feet.’

The cattle-train went on towards the Blue Mountains. Andy and I sat silent for a while, watching the guard fry three eggs on a plate over a coal-stove in the centre of the van.

‘Does the boss never go to Sydney?’ I asked.

‘Very seldom,’ said Andy, ‘and then only when he has to, on business. When he finishes his business with the stock agents, he takes a run out to Waverley Cemetery perhaps, and comes home by the next train.’

After a while I said, ‘He told me about the drink, Andy — about his being on the spree when the children were lost.’

‘Well, Jack,’ said Andy, ‘that's the thing that's been killing him ever since, and it happened over ten years ago.’

  ― 259 ―


‘TAP, tap, tap, tap.’

The little schoolhouse and residence in the scrub was lighted brightly in the midst of the ‘close’, solid blackness of that moonless December night, when the sky and stars were smothered and suffocated by drought haze.

It was the evening of the school children's ‘Feast’. That is to say that the children had been sent, and ‘let go’, and the younger ones ‘fetched’ through the blazing heat to the school, one day early in the holidays, and raced — sometimes in couples tied together by the legs — and caked, and bunned, and finally improved upon by the local Chadband, and got rid of. The schoolroom had been cleared for dancing, the maps rolled and tied, the desks and blackboards stacked against the wall outside. Tea was over, and the trestles and boards, whereon had been spread better things than had been provided for the unfortunate youngsters, had been taken outside to keep the desks and blackboards company.

On stools running end to end along one side of the

  ― 260 ―
room sat about twenty more or less blooming country girls of from fifteen to twenty odd.

On the rest of the stools, running end to end along the other wall, sat about twenty more or less blooming chaps.

It was evident that something was seriously wrong. None of the girls spoke above a hushed whisper. None of the men spoke above a hushed oath. Now and again two or three sidled out, and if you had followed them you would have found that they went outside to listen hard into the darkness and to swear.

‘Tap, tap, tap.’

The rows moved uneasily, and some of the girls turned pale faces nervously towards the side-door, in the direction of the sound.

‘Tap — tap.’

The tapping came from the kitchen at the rear of the teacher's residence, and was uncomfortably suggestive of a coffin being made: it was also accompanied by a sickly, indescribable odour — more like that of warm cheap glue than anything else.

In the schoolroom was a painful scene of strained listening. Whenever one of the men returned from outside, or put his head in at the door, all eyes were fastened on him in the flash of a single eye, and then withdrawn hopelessly. At the sound of a horse's step all eyes and ears were on the door, till some one muttered, ‘It's only the horses in the paddock.’

Some of the girls' eyes began to glisten suspiciously, and at last the belle of the party — a great,

  ― 261 ―
dark-haired, pink-and-white Blue Mountain girl, who had been sitting for a full minute staring before her, with blue eyes unnaturally bright, suddenly covered her face with her hands, rose, and started blindly from the room, from which she was steered in a hurry by two sympathetic and rather ‘upset’ girl friends, and as she passed out she was heard sobbing hysterically —

‘Oh, I can't help it! I did want to dance! It's a sh-shame! I can't help it! I — I want to dance! I rode twenty miles to dance — and — and I want to dance!’

A tall, strapping young Bushman rose, without disguise, and followed the girl out. The rest began to talk loudly of stock, dogs, and horses, and other Bush things; but above their voices rang out that of the girl from the outside — being man comforted —

‘I can't help it, Jack! I did want to dance! I — I had such — such — a job — to get mother — and — and father to let me come — and — and now!’

The two girl friends came back. ‘He sez to leave her to him,’ they whispered, in reply to an interrogatory glance from the schoolmistress.

‘It's — it's no use, Jack!’ came the voice of grief. ‘You don't know what — what father and mother — is. I — I won't — be able — to ge-get away — again — for — for — not till I'm married, perhaps.’

The schoolmistress glanced uneasily along the row of girls. ‘I'll take her into my room and make her lie down,’ she whispered to her sister, who was staying with her. ‘She'll start some of the other girls presently — it's just the weather for it,’ and she passed

  ― 262 ―
out quietly. That schoolmistress was a woman of penetration.

A final ‘tap-tap’ from the kitchen; then a sound like the squawk of a hurt or frightened child, and the faces in the room turned quickly in that direction and brightened. But there came a bang and a sound like ‘damn!’ and hopelessness settled down.

A shout from the outer darkness, and most of the men and some of the girls rose and hurried out. Fragments of conversation heard in the darkness —

‘It's two horses, I tell you!’

‘It's three, you ——!’

‘Lay you ——!’

‘Put the stuff up!’

A clack of gate thrown open.

‘Who is it, Tom?’

Voices from gatewards, yelling, ‘Johnny Mears! They've got Johnny Mears!’

Then rose yells, and a cheer such as is seldom heard in scrub-lands.

Out in the kitchen long Dave Regan grabbed, from the far side of the table, where he had thrown it, a burst and battered concertina, which he had been for the last hour vainly trying to patch and make air-tight; and, holding it out towards the back-door, between his palms, as a football is held, he let it drop, and fetched it neatly on the toe of his riding-boot. It was a beautiful kick, the concertina shot out into the blackness, from which was projected, in return, first a short, sudden howl, then a face with one eye glaring and the other covered by an enormous

  ― 263 ―
brick-coloured hand, and a voice that wanted to know who shot ‘that lurid loaf of bread?’

But from the schoolroom was heard the loud, free voice of Joe Matthews, M.C., —

‘Take yer partners! Hurry up! Take yer partners! They've got Johnny Mears with his fiddle!’

  ― 265 ―


SATURDAY afternoon.

There were about a dozen Bush natives, from anywhere, most of them lanky and easy-going, hanging about the little slab-and-bark hotel on the edge of the scrub at Capertee Camp (a teamster's camp) when Cob & Co.'s mail-coach and six came dashing down the siding from round Crown Ridge, in all its glory, to the end of the twelve-mile stage. Some wiry, ill-used hacks were hanging to the fence and to saplings about the place. The fresh coach-horses stood ready in a stock-yard close to the shanty. As the coach climbed the nearer bank of the creek at the foot of the ridge, six of the Bushmen detached themselves from verandah posts, from their heels, from the clay floor of the verandah and the rough slab wall against which they'd been resting, and joined a group of four or five who stood round one. He stood with his back to the corner post of the stock-yard, his feet well braced out in front of him, and contemplated the toes of his tight new

  ― 266 ―
'lastic-side boots and whistled softly. He was a clean-limbed, handsome fellow, with riding-cords, leggings, and a blue sash; he was Graeco-Roman-nosed, blue-eyed, and his glossy, curly black hair bunched up in front of the brim of a new cabbage-tree hat, set well back on his head.

‘Do it for a quid, Jack?’ asked one.

‘Damned if I will, Jim!’ said the young man at the post. ‘I'll do it for a fiver — not a blanky sprat less.’

Jim took off his hat and ‘shoved’ it round, and ‘bobs’ were ‘chucked’ into it. The result was about thirty shillings.

Jack glanced contemptuously into the crown of the hat.

‘Not me!’ he said, showing some emotion for the first time. ‘D'yer think I'm going to risk me blanky neck for your blanky amusement for thirty blanky bob. I'll ride the blanky horse for a fiver, and I'll feel the blanky quids in my pocket before I get on.’

Meanwhile the coach had dashed up to the door of the shanty. There were about twenty passengers aboard — inside, on the box-seat, on the tail-board, and hanging on to the roof — most of them Sydney men going up to the Mudgee races. They got down and went inside with the driver for a drink, while the stablemen changed horses. The Bushmen raised their voices a little and argued.

One of the passengers was a big, stout, hearty man — a good-hearted, sporting man and a racehorse-owner, according to his brands. He had a

  ― 267 ―
round red face and a white cork hat. ‘What's those chaps got on outside?’ he asked the publican.

‘Oh, it's a bet they've got on about riding a horse,’ replied the publican. ‘The flash-looking chap with the sash is Flash Jack, the horse-breaker; and they reckon they've got the champion outlaw in the district out there — that chestnut horse in the yard.’

The sporting man was interested at once, and went out and joined the Bushmen.

‘Well, chaps! what have you got on here?’ he asked cheerily.

‘Oh,’ said Jim carelessly, ‘it's only a bit of a bet about ridin' that blanky chestnut in the corner of the yard there.’ He indicated an ungroomed chestnut horse, fenced off by a couple of long sapling poles in a corner of the stock-yard. ‘Flash Jack there — he reckons he's the champion horse-breaker round here — Flash Jack reckons he can take it out of that horse first try.’

‘What's up with the horse?’ inquired the big, red-faced man. ‘It looks quiet enough. Why, I'd ride it myself.’

‘Would yer?’ said Jim, who had hair that stood straight up, and an innocent, inquiring expression. ‘Looks quiet, does he? You ought to know more about horses than to go by the looks of 'em. He's quiet enough just now, when there's no one near him; but you should have been here an hour ago. That horse has killed two men and put another chap's shoulder out — besides breaking a cove's leg. It took six of us all the morning to run him in and

  ― 268 ―
get the saddle on him; and now Flash Jack wants to back out of it.’

‘Euraliar!’ remarked Flash Jack cheerfully. ‘I said I'd ride that blanky horse out of the yard for a fiver. I ain't goin' to risk my blanky neck for nothing and only to amuse you blanks.’

‘He said he'd ride the horse inside the yard for a quid,’ said Jim.

‘And get smashed against the rails!’ said Flash Jack. ‘I would be a fool. I'd rather take my chance outside in the scrub — and it's rough country round here.’

‘Well, how much do you want?’ asked the man in the mushroom hat.

‘A fiver, I said,’ replied Jack indifferently. ‘And the blanky stuff in my pocket before I get on the blanky horse.’

‘Are you frightened of us running away without paying you?’ inquired one of the passengers who had gathered round.

‘I'm frightened of the horse bolting with me without me being paid,’ said Flash Jack. ‘I know that horse; he's got a mouth like iron. I might be at the bottom of the cliff on Crown Ridge road in twenty minutes with my head caved in, and then what chance for the quids?’

‘You wouldn't want 'em then,’ suggested a passenger. ‘Or, say! — we'd leave the fiver with the publican to bury you.’

Flash Jack ignored that passenger. He eyed his boots and softly whistled a tune.

‘All right!’ said the man in the cork hat, putting

  ― 269 ―
his hand in his pocket. ‘I'll start with a quid; stump up, you chaps.’

The five pounds were got together.

‘I'll lay a quid to half a quid he don't stick on ten minutes!’ shouted Jim to his mates as soon as he saw that the event was to come off. The passengers also betted amongst themselves. Flash Jack, after putting the money in his breeches-pocket, let down the rails and led the horse into the middle of the yard.

‘Quiet as an old cow!’ snorted a passenger in disgust. ‘I believe it's a sell!’

‘Wait a bit,’ said Jim to the passenger, ‘wait a bit and you'll see.’

They waited and saw.

Flash Jack leisurely mounted the horse, rode slowly out of the yard, and trotted briskly round the corner of the shanty and into the scrub, which swallowed him more completely than the sea might have done.

Most of the other Bushmen mounted their horses and followed Flash Jack to a clearing in the scrub, at a safe distance from the shanty; then they dismounted and hung on to saplings, or leaned against their horses, while they laughed.

At the hotel there was just time for another drink. The driver climbed to his seat and shouted, `All aboard!' in his usual tone. The passengers climbed to their places, thinking hard. A mile or so along the road the man with the cork hat remarked, with much truth —

  ― 270 ―

‘Those blanky Bushmen have got too much time to think.’

The Bushmen returned to the shanty as soon as the coach was out of sight, and proceeded to ‘knock down’ the fiver.

  ― 271 ―


THE Half-way House at Tinned Dog (Out-Back in Australia) kept Daniel Myers — licensed to retail spirituous and fermented liquors — in drink and the horrors for upward of five years, at the end of which time he lay hidden for weeks in a back skillion, an object which no decent man would care to see — or hear when it gave forth sound. ‘Good accommodation for man and beast’; but few shanties save his own might, for a consideration, have accommodated the sort of beast which the man Myers had become towards the end of his career. But at last the eccentric Bush doctor, ‘Doc' Wild’ (who perhaps could drink as much as Myers without its having any further effect upon his temperament than to keep him awake and cynical), pronounced the publican dead enough to be buried legally; so the widow buried him, had the skillion cleaned out, and the sign altered to read, ‘Margaret Myers, licensed, &c.’, and continued to conduct the pub. just as she had run it for over five years, with the joyful and blessed exception that there was no

  ― 272 ―
longer a human pig and pigstye attached, and that the atmosphere was calm. Most of the regular patrons of the Half-way House could have their horrors decently, and, comparatively, quietly — or otherwise have them privately — in the Big Scrub adjacent; but Myers had not been one of that sort.

Mrs Myers settled herself to enjoy life comfortably and happily, at the fixed age of thirty-nine, for the next seven years or so. She was a pleasant-faced dumpling, who had been baked solid in the droughts of Out-Back without losing her good looks, and had put up with a hard life, and Myers, all those years without losing her good humour and nature. Probably, had her husband been the opposite kind of man, she would have been different — haggard, bad-tempered, and altogether impossible — for of such is woman. But then it might be taken into consideration that she had been practically a widow during at least the last five years of her husband's alleged life.

Mrs Myers was reckoned a good catch in the district, but it soon seemed that she was not to be caught.

‘It would be a grand thing,’ one of the periodical boozers of Tinned Dog would say to his mates, ‘for one of us to have his name up on a pub.; it would save a lot of money.’

‘It wouldn't save you anything, Bill, if I got it,’ was the retort. ‘You needn't come round chewing my lug then. I'd give you one drink and no more.’

The publican at Dead Camel, station managers,

  ― 273 ―
professional shearers, even one or two solvent squatters and promising cockatoos, tried their luck in vain. In answer to the suggestion that she ought to have a man to knock round and look after things, she retorted that she had had one, and was perfectly satisfied. Few trav'lers on those tracks but tried `a bit of bear-up' in that direction, but all to no purpose. Chequemen knocked down their cheques manfully at the Half-way House — to get courage and goodwill and `put it off' till, at the last moment, they offered themselves abjectly to the landlady; which was worse than bad judgment on their part — it was very silly, and she told them so.

One or two swore off, and swore to keep straight; but she had no faith in them, and when they found that out, it hurt their feelings so much that they ‘broke out’ and went on record-breaking sprees.

About the end of each shearing the sign was touched up, with an extra coat of paint on the ‘Margaret’, whereat suitors looked hopeless.

One or two of the rejected died of love in the horrors in the Big Scrub — anyway, the verdict was that they died of love aggravated by the horrors. But the climax was reached when a Queensland shearer, seizing the opportunity when the mate, whose turn it was to watch him, fell asleep, went down to the yard and hanged himself on the butcher's gallows — having first removed his clothes, with some drink-lurid idea of leaving the world as naked as he came into it. He climbed the pole, sat astride on top, fixed the rope to

  ― 274 ―
neck and bar, but gave a yell — a yell of drunken triumph — before he dropped, and woke his mates.

They cut him down and brought him to. Next day he apologised to Mrs Myers, said, ‘Ah, well! So long!’ to the rest, and departed — cured of drink and love apparently. The verdict was that the blanky fool should have dropped before he yelled; but she was upset and annoyed, and it began to look as though, if she wished to continue to live on happily and comfortably for a few years longer at the fixed age of thirty-nine, she would either have to give up the pub. or get married.

Her fame was carried far and wide, and she became a woman whose name was mentioned with respect in rough shearing-sheds and huts, and round the camp-fire.

About thirty miles south of Tinned Dog one James Grimshaw, widower — otherwise known as ‘Old Jimmy’, though he was little past middle age — had a small selection which he had worked, let, given up, and tackled afresh (with sinews of war drawn from fencing contracts) ever since the death of his young wife some fifteen years agone. He was a practical, square-faced, clean-shaven, clean, and tidy man, with a certain ‘cleanness’ about the shape of his limbs which suggested the old jockey or hostler. There were two strong theories in connection with Jimmy — one was that he had had a university education, and the other that he couldn't write his own name. Not nearly such a ridiculous nor simple case Out-Back as it might seem.

Jimmy smoked and listened without comment to

  ― 275 ―
the ‘heard tells’ in connection with Mrs Myers, till at last one night, at the end of his contract and over a last pipe, he said quietly, ‘I'll go up to Tinned Dog next week and try my luck.’

His mates and the casual Jims and Bills were taken too suddenly to laugh, and the laugh having been lost, as Bland Holt, the Australian actor would put it in a professional sense, the audience had time to think, with the result that the joker swung his hand down through an imaginary table and exclaimed —

‘By God! Jimmy'll do it.’ (Applause.)

So one drowsy afternoon at the time of the year when the breathless day runs on past 7 P.M., Mrs Myers sat sewing in the bar parlour, when a clean-shaved, clean-shirted, clean-neckerchiefed, clean-moleskinned, greased-bluchered — altogether a model or stage swagman came up, was served in the bar by the half-caste female cook, and took his way to the river-bank, where he rigged a small tent and made a model camp.

A couple of hours later he sat on a stool on the verandah, smoking a clean clay pipe. Just before the sunset meal Mrs Myers asked, ‘Is that trav'ler there yet, Mary?’

‘Yes, missus. Clean pfellar that.’

The landlady knitted her forehead over her sewing, as women do when limited for ‘stuff’ or wondering whether a section has been cut wrong — or perhaps she thought of that other who hadn't been a ‘clean pfellar’. She put her work aside, and stood in the doorway, looking out across the clearing.

  ― 276 ―

‘Good-day, mister,’ she said, seeming to become aware of him for the first time.

‘Good-day, missus!’





‘No, not particular!’

She waited for him to explain. Myers was always explaining when he wasn't raving. But the swagman smoked on.

‘Have a drink?’ she suggested, to keep her end up.

‘No, thank you, missus. I had one an hour or so ago. I never take more than two a-day — one before breakfast, if I can get it, and a night-cap.’

What a contrast to Myers! she thought.

‘Come and have some tea; it's ready.’

‘Thank you. I don't mind if I do.’

They got on very slowly, but comfortably. She got little out of him except the facts that he had a selection, had finished a contract, and was ‘just having a look at the country.’ He politely declined a ‘shake-down’, saying he had a comfortable camp, and preferred being out this weather. She got his name with a ‘by-the-way’, as he rose to leave, and he went back to camp.

He caught a cod, and they had it for breakfast next morning, and got along so comfortable over breakfast that he put in the forenoon pottering about the gates and stable with a hammer, a saw, and a box of nails.

And, well — to make it short — when the big Tinned

  ― 277 ―
Dog shed had cut-out, and the shearers struck the Half-way House, they were greatly impressed by a brand-new sign whereon glistened the words —





The last time I saw Mrs Grimshaw she looked about thirty-five.

  ― 279 ―


IT was blazing hot outside and smothering hot inside the weather-board and iron shanty at Dead Dingo, a place on the Cleared Road, where there was a pub. and a police-station, and which was sometimes called ‘Roasted’, and other times ‘Potted Dingo’ — nicknames suggested by the everlasting drought and the vicinity of the one-pub. township of Tinned Dog.

From the front verandah the scene was straight-cleared road, running right and left to Out-Back, and to Bourke (and ankle-deep in the red sand dust for perhaps a hundred miles); the rest blue-grey bush, dust, and the heat-wave blazing across every object.

There were only four in the bar-room, though it was New Year's Day. There weren't many more in the county. The girl sat behind the bar — the coolest place in the shanty — reading ‘Deadwood Dick’. On a worn and torn and battered horse-hair sofa, which had seen cooler places and better days, lay an awful and healthy example, a bearded swagman,

  ― 280 ―
with his arms twisted over his head and his face to the wall, sleeping off the death of the dead drunk. Bill and Jim — shearer and rouseabout — sat at a table playing cards. It was about three o'clock in the afternoon, and they had been gambling since nine — and the greater part of the night before — so they were, probably, in a worse condition morally (and perhaps physically) than the drunken swagman on the sofa.

Close under the bar, in a dangerous place for his legs and tail, lay a sheep-dog with a chain attached to his collar and wound round his neck.

Presently a thump on the table, and Bill, unlucky gambler, rose with an oath that would have been savage if it hadn't been drawled.

‘Stumped?’ inquired Jim.

‘Not a blanky, lurid deener!’ drawled Bill.

Jim drew his reluctant hands from the cards, his eyes went slowly and hopelessly round the room and out the door. There was something in the eyes of both, except when on the card-table, of the look of a man waking in a strange place.

‘Got anything?’ asked Jim, fingering the cards again.

Bill sucked in his cheeks, collecting the saliva with difficulty, and spat out on to the verandah floor.

‘That's all I got,’ he drawled. ‘It's gone now.’

Jim leaned back in his chair, twisted, yawned, and caught sight of the dog.

‘That there dog yours?’ he asked, brightening.

They had evidently been strangers the day before, or as strange to each other as Bushmen can be.

  ― 281 ―

Bill scratched behind his ear, and blinked at the dog. The dog woke suddenly to a flea fact.

‘Yes,’ drawled Bill, ‘he's mine.’

‘Well, I'm going Out-Back, and I want a dog,’ said Jim, gathering the cards briskly. ‘Half a quid agin the dog?’

‘Half a quid be ——!’ drawled Bill. ‘Call it a quid?’

‘Half a blanky quid!’

‘A gory, lurid quid!’ drawled Bill desperately, and he stooped over his swag.

But Jim's hands were itching in a ghastly way over the cards.

‘Alright. Call it a —— quid.’

The drunkard on the sofa stirred, showed signs of waking, but died again. Remember this, it might come in useful.

Bill sat down to the table once more.

Jim rose first, winner of the dog. He stretched, yawned ‘Ah, well!’ and shouted drinks. Then he shouldered his swag, stirred the dog up with his foot, unwound the chain, said ‘Ah, well — so long!’ and drifted out and along the road toward Out-Back, the dog following with head and tail down.

Bill scored another drink on account of girl-pity for bad luck, shouldered his swag, said, ‘So long, Mary!’ and drifted out and along the road towards Tinned Dog, on the Bourke side.

A long, drowsy, half hour passed — the sort of half hour that is as long as an hour in the places where days are as long as years, and

  ― 282 ―
years hold about as much as days do in other places.

The man on the sofa woke with a start, and looked scared and wild for a moment; then he brought his dusty broken boots to the floor, rested his elbows on his knees, took his unfortunate head between his hands, and came back to life gradually.

He lifted his head, looked at the girl across the top of the bar, and formed with his lips, rather than spoke, the words —

‘Put up a drink?’note

She shook her head tightly and went on reading.

He staggered up, and, leaning on the bar, made desperate distress signals with hand, eyes, and mouth.

‘No!’ she snapped. ‘I means no when I says no! You've had too many last drinks already, and the boss says you ain't to have another. If you swear again, or bother me, I'll call him.’

He hung sullenly on the counter for a while, then lurched to his swag, and shouldered it hopelessly and wearily. Then he blinked round, whistled, waited a moment, went on to the front verandah, peered round, through the heat, with bloodshot eyes, and whistled again. He turned and started through to the back-door.

‘What the devil do you want now?’ demanded the girl, interrupted in her reading for the third time by him. ‘Stampin' all over the house. You

  ― 283 ―
can't go through there! It's privit! I do wish to goodness you'd git!’

‘Where the blazes is that there dog o' mine got to?’ he muttered. ‘Did you see a dog?’

‘No! What do I want with your dog?’

He whistled out in front again, and round each corner. Then he came back with a decided step and tone.

‘Look here! that there dog was lyin' there agin the wall when I went to sleep. He wouldn't stir from me, or my swag, in a year, if he wasn't dragged. He's been blanky well touched [stolen], and I wouldn'ter lost him for a fiver. Are you sure you ain't seen a dog?’ then suddenly, as the thought struck him: ‘Where's them two chaps that was playin' cards when I wenter sleep?’

‘Why!’ exclaimed the girl, without thinking, ‘there was a dog, now I come to think of it, but I thought it belonged to one of them chaps. Anyway, they played for it, and the other chap won it and took it away.’

He stared at her blankly, with thunder gathering in the blankness.

‘What sort of a dog was it?’

Dog described; the chain round the neck settled it.

He scowled at her darkly.

‘Now, look here,’ he said; ‘you've allowed gamblin' in this bar — your boss has. You've got no right to let spielers gamble away a man's dog. Is a customer to lose his dog every time he has a doze to suit your boss? I'll go straight across to the police camp and put you away, and I don't care if you lose your licence. I ain't goin' to lose

  ― 284 ―
my dog. I wouldn'ter taken a ten-pound note for that blanky dog! I ——’

She was filling a pewter hastily.

‘Here! for God's sake have a drink an' stop yer row.’

He drank with satisfaction. Then he hung on the bar with one elbow and scowled out the door.

‘Which blanky way did them chaps go?’ he growled.

‘The one that took the dog went towards Tinned Dog.’

‘And I'll haveter go all the blanky way back after him, and most likely lose me shed! Here!’ jerking the empty pewter across the bar, ‘fill that up again; I'm narked properly, I am, and I'll take twenty-four blanky hours to cool down now. I wouldn'ter lost that dog for twenty quid.’

He drank again with deeper satisfaction, then he shuffled out, muttering, swearing, and threatening louder every step, and took the track to Tinned Dog.

Now the man, girl, or woman, who told me this yarn has never quite settled it in his or her mind as to who really owned the dog. I leave it to you.

  ― 285 ―


MOST Bushmen who hadn't ‘known Bob Baker to speak to’, had ‘heard tell of him’. He'd been a squatter, not many years before, on the Macquarie river in New South Wales, and had made money in the good seasons, and had gone in for horse-racing and racehorse-breeding, and long trips to Sydney, where he put up at swell hotels and went the pace. So after a pretty severe drought, when the sheep died by thousands on his runs, Bob Baker went under, and the bank took over his station and put a manager in charge.

He'd been a jolly, open-handed, popular man, which means that he'd been a selfish man as far as his wife and children were concerned, for they had to suffer for it in the end. Such generosity is often born of vanity, or moral cowardice, or both mixed. It's very nice to hear the chaps sing ‘For he's a jolly good fellow’, but you've mostly got to pay for it twice — first in company, and afterwards alone. I once heard the chaps singing that I was a jolly good fellow, when I was leaving a place and they were

  ― 286 ―
giving me a send-off. It thrilled me, and brought a warm gush to my eyes; but, all the same, I wished I had half the money I'd lent them, and spent on 'em, and I wished I'd used the time I'd wasted to be a jolly good fellow.

When I first met Bob Baker he was a boss-drover on the great north-western route, and his wife lived at the township of Solong on the Sydney side. He was going north to new country round by the Gulf of Carpentaria, with a big mob of cattle, on a two years' trip; and I and my mate, Andy M`Culloch, engaged to go with him. We wanted to have a look at the Gulf Country.

After we had crossed the Queensland border it seemed to me that the Boss was too fond of going into wayside shanties and town pubs. Andy had been with him on another trip, and he told me that the Boss was only going this way lately. Andy knew Mrs Baker well, and seemed to think a deal of her. ‘She's a good little woman,’ said Andy. ‘One of the right stuff. I worked on their station for a while when I was a nipper, and I know. She was always a damned sight too good for the Boss, but she believed in him. When I was coming away this time she says to me, “Look here, Andy, I'm afraid Robert is drinking again. Now I want you to look after him for me, as much as you can — you seem to have as much influence with him as any one. I want you to promise me that you'll never have a drink with him.”

‘And I promised,’ said Andy, ‘and I'll keep my word.’ Andy was a chap who could keep his word, and nothing else. And, no matter how the Boss

  ― 287 ―
persuaded, or sneered, or swore at him, Andy would never drink with him.

It got worse and worse: the Boss would ride on ahead and get drunk at a shanty, and sometimes he'd be days behind us; and when he'd catch up to us his temper would be just about as much as we could stand. At last he went on a howling spree at Mulgatown, about a hundred and fifty miles north of the border, and, what was worse, he got in tow with a flash barmaid there — one of those girls who are engaged, by the publicans up country, as baits for chequemen.

He went mad over that girl. He drew an advance cheque from the stock-owner's agent there, and knocked that down; then he raised some more money somehow, and spent that — mostly on the girl.

We did all we could. Andy got him along the track for a couple of stages, and just when we thought he was all right, he slipped us in the night and went back.

We had two other men with us, but had the devil's own bother on account of the cattle. It was a mixed-up job all round. You see it was all big runs round there, and we had to keep the bullocks moving along the route all the time, or else get into trouble for trespass. The agent wasn't going to go to the expense of putting the cattle in a paddock until the Boss sobered up; there was very little grass on the route or the travelling-stock reserves or camps, so we had to keep travelling for grass.

The world might wobble and all the banks go bung, but the cattle have to go through — that's the

  ― 288 ―
law of the stock-routes. So the agent wired to the owners, and, when he got their reply, he sacked the Boss and sent the cattle on in charge of another man. The new Boss was a drover coming south after a trip; he had his two brothers with him, so he didn't want me and Andy; but, anyway, we were full up of this trip, so we arranged, between the agent and the new Boss, to get most of the wages due to us — the Boss had drawn some of our stuff and spent it.

We could have started on the back track at once, but, drunk or sober, mad or sane, good or bad, it isn't Bush religion to desert a mate in a hole; and the Boss was a mate of ours; so we stuck to him.

We camped on the creek, outside the town, and kept him in the camp with us as much as possible, and did all we could for him.

‘How could I face his wife if I went home without him?’ asked Andy, ‘or any of his old mates?’

The Boss got himself turned out of the pub. where the barmaid was, and then he'd hang round the other pubs., and get drink somehow, and fight, and get knocked about. He was an awful object by this time, wild-eyed and gaunt, and he hadn't washed or shaved for days.

Andy got the constable in charge of the police station to lock him up for a night, but it only made him worse: we took him back to the camp next morning and while our eyes were off him for a few minutes he slipped away into the scrub, stripped himself naked, and started to hang himself to a leaning tree with a piece of clothes-line rope. We got to him just in time.

Then Andy wired to the Boss's brother Ned, who

  ― 289 ―
was fighting the drought, the rabbit-pest, and the banks, on a small station back on the border. Andy reckoned it was about time to do something.

Perhaps the Boss hadn't been quite right in his head before he started drinking — he had acted queer some time, now we came to think of it; maybe he'd got a touch of sunstroke or got brooding over his troubles — anyway he died in the horrors within the week.

His brother Ned turned up on the last day, and Bob thought he was the devil, and grappled with him. It took the three of us to hold the Boss down sometimes.

Sometimes, towards the end, he'd be sensible for a few minutes and talk about his ‘poor wife and children’; and immediately afterwards he'd fall a-cursing me, and Andy, and Ned, and calling us devils. He cursed everything; he cursed his wife and children, and yelled that they were dragging him down to hell. He died raving mad. It was the worst case of death in the horrors of drink that I ever saw or heard of in the Bush.

Ned saw to the funeral: it was very hot weather, and men have to be buried quick who die out there in the hot weather — especially men who die in the state the Boss was in. Then Ned went to the public-house where the barmaid was and called the landlord out. It was a desperate fight: the publican was a big man, and a bit of a fighting man; but Ned was one of those quiet, simple-minded chaps who will carry a thing through to death when they make up their minds. He gave that publican nearly as good a thrashing as he deserved. The constable in

  ― 290 ―
charge of the station backed Ned, while another policeman picked up the publican. Sounds queer to you city people, doesn't it?

Next morning we three started south. We stayed a couple of days at Ned Baker's station on the border, and then started on our three-hundred-mile ride down-country. The weather was still very hot, so we decided to travel at night for a while, and left Ned's place at dusk. He parted from us at the homestead gate. He gave Andy a small packet, done up in canvas, for Mrs Baker, which Andy told me contained Bob's pocket-book, letters, and papers. We looked back, after we'd gone a piece along the dusty road, and saw Ned still standing by the gate; and a very lonely figure he looked. Ned was a bachelor. ‘Poor old Ned,’ said Andy to me. ‘He was in love with Mrs Bob Baker before she got married, but she picked the wrong man — girls mostly do. Ned and Bob were together on the Macquarie, but Ned left when his brother married, and he's been up in these God-forsaken scrubs ever since. Look, I want to tell you something, Jack: Ned has written to Mrs Bob to tell her that Bob died of fever, and everything was done for him that could be done, and that he died easy — and all that sort of thing. Ned sent her some money, and she is to think that it was the money due to Bob when he died. Now I'll have to go and see her when we get to Solong; there's no getting out of it, I'll have to face her — and you'll have to come with me.’

‘Damned if I will!’ I said.

‘But you'll have to,’ said Andy. ‘You'll have to stick to me; you're surely not crawler enough to

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desert a mate in a case like this? I'll have to lie like hell — I'll have to lie as I never lied to a woman before; and you'll have to back me and corroborate every lie.’

I'd never seen Andy show so much emotion.

‘There's plenty of time to fix up a good yarn,’ said Andy. He said no more about Mrs Baker, and we only mentioned the Boss's name casually, until we were within about a day's ride of Solong; then Andy told me the yarn he'd made up about the Boss's death.

‘And I want you to listen, Jack,’ he said, ‘and remember every word — and if you can fix up a better yarn you can tell me afterwards. Now it was like this: the Boss wasn't too well when he crossed the border. He complained of pains in his back and head and a stinging pain in the back of his neck, and he had dysentery bad, — but that doesn't matter; it's lucky I ain't supposed to tell a woman all the symptoms. The Boss stuck to the job as long as he could, but we managed the cattle and made it as easy as we could for him. He'd just take it easy, and ride on from camp to camp, and rest. One night I rode to a town off the route (or you did, if you like) and got some medicine for him; that made him better for a while, but at last, a day or two this side of Mulgatown, he had to give up. A squatter there drove him into town in his buggy and put him up at the best hotel. The publican knew the Boss and did all he could for him — put him in the best room and wired for another doctor. We wired for Ned as soon as we saw how bad the Boss was, and Ned rode night and day and got there

  ― 292 ―
three days before the Boss died. The Boss was a bit off his head some of the time with the fever, but was calm and quiet towards the end and died easy. He talked a lot about his wife and children, and told us to tell the wife not to fret but to cheer up for the children's sake. How does that sound?’

I'd been thinking while I listened, and an idea struck me.

‘Why not let her know the truth?’ I asked. ‘She's sure to hear of it sooner or later; and if she knew he was only a selfish, drunken blackguard she might get over it all the sooner.’

‘You don't know women, Jack,’ said Andy quietly. ‘And, anyway, even if she is a sensible woman, we've got a dead mate to consider as well as a living woman.’

‘But she's sure to hear the truth sooner or later,’ I said, ‘the Boss was so well known.’

‘And that's just the reason why the truth might be kept from her,’ said Andy. ‘If he wasn't well known — and nobody could help liking him, after all, when he was straight — if he wasn't so well known the truth might leak out unawares. She won't know if I can help it, or at least not yet a while. If I see any chaps that come from the North I'll put them up to it. I'll tell M`Grath, the publican at Solong, too: he's a straight man — he'll keep his ears open and warn chaps. One of Mrs Baker's sisters is staying with her, and I'll give her a hint so that she can warn off any women that might get hold of a yarn. Besides, Mrs Baker is sure to go and live in Sydney, where all her people are — she was a Sydney girl; and she's not likely to meet

  ― 293 ―
any one there that will tell her the truth. I can tell her that it was the last wish of the Boss that she should shift to Sydney.’

We smoked and thought a while, and by-and-by Andy had what he called a ‘happy thought’. He went to his saddle-bags and got out the small canvas packet that Ned had given him: it was sewn up with packing-thread, and Andy ripped it open with his pocket-knife.

‘What are you doing, Andy?’ I asked.

‘Ned's an innocent old fool, as far as sin is concerned,’ said Andy. ‘I guess he hasn't looked through the Boss's letters, and I'm just going to see that there's nothing here that will make liars of us.’

He looked through the letters and papers by the light of the fire. There were some letters from Mrs Baker to her husband, also a portrait of her and the children; these Andy put aside. But there were other letters from barmaids and women who were not fit to be seen in the same street with the Boss's wife; and there were portraits — one or two flash ones. There were two letters from other men's wives too.

‘And one of those men, at least, was an old mate of his!’ said Andy, in a tone of disgust.

He threw the lot into the fire; then he went through the Boss's pocket-book and tore out some leaves that had notes and addresses on them, and burnt them too. Then he sewed up the packet again and put it away in his saddle-bag.

‘Such is life!’ said Andy, with a yawn that might have been half a sigh.

We rode into Solong early in the day, turned our

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horses out in a paddock, and put up at M`Grath's pub. until such time as we made up our minds as to what we'd do or where we'd go. We had an idea of waiting until the shearing season started and then making Out-Back to the big sheds.

Neither of us was in a hurry to go and face Mrs Baker. ‘We'll go after dinner,’ said Andy at first; then after dinner we had a drink, and felt sleepy — we weren't used to big dinners of roast-beef and vegetables and pudding, and, besides, it was drowsy weather — so we decided to have a snooze and then go. When we woke up it was late in the afternoon, so we thought we'd put it off till after tea. ‘It wouldn't be manners to walk in while they're at tea,’ said Andy — ‘it would look as if we only came for some grub.’

But while we were at tea a little girl came with a message that Mrs Baker wanted to see us, and would be very much obliged if we'd call up as soon as possible. You see, in those small towns you can't move without the thing getting round inside of half an hour.

‘We'll have to face the music now!’ said Andy, ‘and no get out of it.’ He seemed to hang back more than I did. There was another pub. opposite where Mrs Baker lived, and when we got up the street a bit I said to Andy —

‘Suppose we go and have another drink first, Andy? We might be kept in there an hour or two.’

‘You don't want another drink,’ said Andy, rather short. ‘Why, you seem to be going the same way as the Boss!’ But it was Andy that edged off towards

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the pub. when we got near Mrs Baker's place. ‘All right!’ he said. ‘Come on! We'll have this other drink, since you want it so bad.’

We had the drink, then we buttoned up our coats and started across the road — we'd bought new shirts and collars, and spruced up a bit. Half-way across Andy grabbed my arm and asked —

‘How do you feel now, Jack?’

‘Oh, I'M all right,’ I said.

‘For God's sake!’ said Andy, ‘don't put your foot in it and make a mess of it.’

‘I won't, if you don't.’

Mrs Baker's cottage was a little weather-board box affair back in a garden. When we went in through the gate Andy gripped my arm again and whispered —

‘For God's sake stick to me now, Jack!’

‘I'll stick all right,’ I said — ‘you've been having too much beer, Andy.’

I had seen Mrs Baker before, and remembered her as a cheerful, contented sort of woman, bustling about the house and getting the Boss's shirts and things ready when we started North. Just the sort of woman that is contented with housework and the children, and with nothing particular about her in the way of brains. But now she sat by the fire looking like the ghost of herself. I wouldn't have recognised her at first. I never saw such a change in a woman, and it came like a shock to me.

Her sister let us in, and after a first glance at Mrs Baker I had eyes for the sister and no one else. She was a Sydney girl, about twenty-four or twenty-five, and fresh and fair — not like the sun-browned

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women we were used to see. She was a pretty, bright-eyed girl, and seemed quick to understand, and very sympathetic. She had been educated, Andy had told me, and wrote stories for the Sydney ‘Bulletin’ and other Sydney papers. She had her hair done and was dressed in the city style, and that took us back a bit at first.

‘It's very good of you to come,’ said Mrs Baker in a weak, weary voice, when we first went in. ‘I heard you were in town.’

‘We were just coming when we got your message,’ said Andy. ‘We'd have come before, only we had to see to the horses.’

‘It's very kind of you, I'm sure,’ said Mrs Baker.

They wanted us to have tea, but we said we'd just had it. Then Miss Standish (the sister) wanted us to have tea and cake; but we didn't feel as if we could handle cups and saucers and pieces of cake successfully just then.

There was something the matter with one of the children in a back-room, and the sister went to see to it. Mrs Baker cried a little quietly.

‘You mustn't mind me,’ she said. ‘I'll be all right presently, and then I want you to tell me all about poor Bob. It's seeing you, that saw the last of him, that set me off.’

Andy and I sat stiff and straight, on two chairs against the wall, and held our hats tight, and stared at a picture of Wellington meeting Blucher on the opposite wall. I thought it was lucky that that picture was there.

The child was calling ‘mumma’, and Mrs Baker went in to it, and her sister came out. ‘Best tell

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her all about it and get it over,’ she whispered to Andy. ‘She'll never be content until she hears all about poor Bob from some one who was with him when he died. Let me take your hats. Make yourselves comfortable.’

She took the hats and put them on the sewing-machine. I wished she'd let us keep them, for now we had nothing to hold on to, and nothing to do with our hands; and as for being comfortable, we were just about as comfortable as two cats on wet bricks.

When Mrs Baker came into the room she brought little Bobby Baker, about four years old; he wanted to see Andy. He ran to Andy at once, and Andy took him up on his knee. He was a pretty child, but he reminded me too much of his father.

‘I'm so glad you've come, Andy!’ said Bobby.

‘Are you, Bobby?’

‘Yes. I wants to ask you about daddy. You saw him go away, didn't you?’ and he fixed his great wondering eyes on Andy's face.

‘Yes,’ said Andy.

‘He went up among the stars, didn't he?’

‘Yes,’ said Andy.

‘And he isn't coming back to Bobby any more?’

‘No,’ said Andy. ‘But Bobby's going to him by-and-by.’

Mrs Baker had been leaning back in her chair, resting her head on her hand, tears glistening in her eyes; now she began to sob, and her sister took her out of the room.

Andy looked miserable. ‘I wish to God I was off this job!’ he whispered to me.

  ― 298 ―

‘Is that the girl that writes the stories?’ I asked.

‘Yes,’ he said, staring at me in a hopeless sort of way, ‘and poems too.’

‘Is Bobby going up among the stars?’ asked Bobby.

‘Yes,’ said Andy — ‘if Bobby's good.’

‘And auntie?’


‘And mumma?’


‘Are you going, Andy?’

‘Yes,’ said Andy hopelessly.

‘Did you see daddy go up amongst the stars, Andy?’

‘Yes,’ said Andy, ‘I saw him go up.’

‘And he isn't coming down again any more?’

‘No,’ said Andy.

‘Why isn't he?’

‘Because he's going to wait up there for you and mumma, Bobby.’

There was a long pause, and then Bobby asked —

‘Are you going to give me a shilling, Andy?’ with the same expression of innocent wonder in his eyes.

Andy slipped half-a-crown into his hand. ‘Auntie’ came in and told him he'd see Andy in the morning and took him away to bed, after he'd kissed us both solemnly; and presently she and Mrs Baker settled down to hear Andy's story.

‘Brace up now, Jack, and keep your wits about you,’ whispered Andy to me just before they came in.

‘Poor Bob's brother Ned wrote to me,’ said Mrs

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Baker, ‘but he scarcely told me anything. Ned's a good fellow, but he's very simple, and never thinks of anything.’

Andy told her about the Boss not being well after he crossed the border.

‘I knew he was not well,’ said Mrs Baker, ‘before he left. I didn't want him to go. I tried hard to persuade him not to go this trip. I had a feeling that I oughtn't to let him go. But he'd never think of anything but me and the children. He promised he'd give up droving after this trip, and get something to do near home. The life was too much for him — riding in all weathers and camping out in the rain, and living like a dog. But he was never content at home. It was all for the sake of me and the children. He wanted to make money and start on a station again. I shouldn't have let him go. He only thought of me and the children! Oh! my poor, dear, kind, dead husband!’ She broke down again and sobbed, and her sister comforted her, while Andy and I stared at Wellington meeting Blucher on the field of Waterloo. I thought the artist had heaped up the dead a bit extra, and I thought that I wouldn't like to be trod on by horses, even if I was dead.

‘Don't you mind,’ said Miss Standish, ‘she'll be all right presently,’ and she handed us the ‘Illustrated Sydney Journal’. This was a great relief, — we bumped our heads over the pictures.

Mrs Baker made Andy go on again, and he told her how the Boss broke down near Mulgatown. Mrs Baker was opposite him and Miss Standish

  ― 300 ―
opposite me. Both of them kept their eyes on Andy's face: he sat, with his hair straight up like a brush as usual, and kept his big innocent grey eyes fixed on Mrs Baker's face all the time he was speaking. I watched Miss Standish. I thought she was the prettiest girl I'd ever seen; it was a bad case of love at first sight, but she was far and away above me, and the case was hopeless. I began to feel pretty miserable, and to think back into the past: I just heard Andy droning away by my side.

‘So we fixed him up comfortable in the waggonette with the blankets and coats and things,’ Andy was saying, ‘and the squatter started into Mulgatown…It was about thirty miles, Jack, wasn't it?’ he asked, turning suddenly to me. He always looked so innocent that there were times when I itched to knock him down.

‘More like thirty-five,’ I said, waking up.

Miss Standish fixed her eyes on me, and I had another look at Wellington and Blucher.

‘They were all very good and kind to the Boss,’ said Andy. ‘They thought a lot of him up there. Everybody was fond of him.’

‘I know it,’ said Mrs Baker. ‘Nobody could help liking him. He was one of the kindest men that ever lived.’

‘Tanner, the publican, couldn't have been kinder to his own brother,’ said Andy. ‘The local doctor was a decent chap, but he was only a young fellow, and Tanner hadn't much faith in him, so he wired for an older doctor at Mackintyre, and he even sent out fresh horses to meet the doctor's

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buggy. Everything was done that could be done, I assure you, Mrs Baker.’

‘I believe it,’ said Mrs Baker. ‘And you don't know how it relieves me to hear it. And did the publican do all this at his own expense?’

‘He wouldn't take a penny, Mrs Baker.’

‘He must have been a good true man. I wish I could thank him.’

‘Oh, Ned thanked him for you,’ said Andy, though without meaning more than he said.

‘I wouldn't have fancied that Ned would have thought of that,’ said Mrs Baker. ‘When I first heard of my poor husband's death, I thought perhaps he'd been drinking again — that worried me a bit.’

‘He never touched a drop after he left Solong, I can assure you, Mrs Baker,’ said Andy quickly.

Now I noticed that Miss Standish seemed surprised or puzzled, once or twice, while Andy was speaking, and leaned forward to listen to him; then she leaned back in her chair and clasped her hands behind her head and looked at him, with half-shut eyes, in a way I didn't like. Once or twice she looked at me as if she was going to ask me a question, but I always looked away quick and stared at Blucher and Wellington, or into the empty fireplace, till I felt that her eyes were off me. Then she asked Andy a question or two, in all innocence I believe now, but it scared him, and at last he watched his chance and winked at her sharp. Then she gave a little gasp and shut up like a steel trap.

The sick child in the bedroom coughed and cried

  ― 302 ―
again. Mrs Baker went to it. We three sat like a deaf-and-dumb institution, Andy and I staring all over the place: presently Miss Standish excused herself, and went out of the room after her sister. She looked hard at Andy as she left the room, but he kept his eyes away.

‘Brace up now, Jack,’ whispered Andy to me, ‘the worst is coming.’

When they came in again Mrs Baker made Andy go on with his story.

‘He — he died very quietly,’ said Andy, hitching round, and resting his elbows on his knees, and looking into the fireplace so as to have his face away from the light. Miss Standish put her arm round her sister. ‘He died very easy,’ said Andy. ‘He was a bit off his head at times, but that was while the fever was on him. He didn't suffer much towards the end — I don't think he suffered at all…He talked a lot about you and the children.’ (Andy was speaking very softly now.) ‘He said that you were not to fret, but to cheer up for the children's sake…It was the biggest funeral ever seen round there.’

Mrs Baker was crying softly. Andy got the packet half out of his pocket, but shoved it back again.

‘The only thing that hurts me now,’ says Mrs Baker presently, ‘is to think of my poor husband buried out there in the lonely Bush, so far from home. It's — cruel!’ and she was sobbing again.

‘Oh, that's all right, Mrs Baker,’ said Andy, losing his head a little. ‘Ned will see to that. Ned is

  ― 303 ―
going to arrange to have him brought down and buried in Sydney.’ Which was about the first thing Andy had told her that evening that wasn't a lie. Ned had said he would do it as soon as he sold his wool.

‘It's very kind indeed of Ned,’ sobbed Mrs Baker. ‘I'd never have dreamed he was so kind-hearted and thoughtful. I misjudged him all along. And that is all you have to tell me about poor Robert?’

‘Yes,’ said Andy — then one of his ‘happy thoughts’ struck him. ‘Except that he hoped you'd shift to Sydney, Mrs Baker, where you've got friends and relations. He thought it would be better for you and the children. He told me to tell you that.’

‘He was thoughtful up to the end,’ said Mrs Baker. ‘It was just like poor Robert — always thinking of me and the children. We are going to Sydney next week.’

Andy looked relieved. We talked a little more, and Miss Standish wanted to make coffee for us, but we had to go and see to our horses. We got up and bumped against each other, and got each other's hats, and promised Mrs Baker we'd come again.

‘Thank you very much for coming,’ she said, shaking hands with us. ‘I feel much better now. You don't know how much you have relieved me. Now, mind, you have promised to come and see me again for the last time.’

Andy caught her sister's eye and jerked his head towards the door to let her know he wanted to speak to her outside.

  ― 304 ―

‘Good-bye, Mrs Baker,’ he said, holding on to her hand. ‘And don't you fret. You've — you've got the children yet. It's — it's all for the best; and, besides, the Boss said you wasn't to fret.’ And he blundered out after me and Miss Standish.

She came out to the gate with us, and Andy gave her the packet.

‘I want you to give that to her,’ he said; ‘it's his letters and papers. I hadn't the heart to give it to her, somehow.’

‘Tell me, Mr M`Culloch,’ she said. ‘You've kept something back — you haven't told her the truth. It would be better and safer for me to know. Was it an accident — or the drink?’

‘It was the drink,’ said Andy. ‘I was going to tell you — I thought it would be best to tell you. I had made up my mind to do it, but, somehow, I couldn't have done it if you hadn't asked me.’

‘Tell me all,’ she said. ‘It would be better for me to know.’

‘Come a little farther away from the house,’ said Andy. She came along the fence a piece with us, and Andy told her as much of the truth as he could.

‘I'll hurry her off to Sydney,’ she said. ‘We can get away this week as well as next.’ Then she stood for a minute before us, breathing quickly, her hands behind her back and her eyes shining in the moonlight. She looked splendid.

‘I want to thank you for her sake,’ she said quickly. ‘You are good men! I like the Bushmen! They are grand men — they are noble! I'll probably never see either of you again, so it doesn't matter,’

  ― 305 ―
and she put her white hand on Andy's shoulder and kissed him fair and square on the mouth. ‘And you, too!’ she said to me. I was taller than Andy, and had to stoop. ‘Good-bye!’ she said, and ran to the gate and in, waving her hand to us. We lifted our hats again and turned down the road.

I don't think it did either of us any harm.


  ― 307 ―

THIS is a story — about the only one — of Job Falconer, Boss of the Talbragar sheep-station up country in New South Wales in the early Eighties — when there were still runs in the Dingo-Scrubs out of the hands of the banks, and yet squatters who lived on their stations.

Job would never tell the story himself, at least not complete, and as his family grew up he would become as angry as it was in his easy-going nature to become if reference were made to the incident in his presence. But his wife — little, plump, bright-eyed Gerty Falconer — often told the story (in the mysterious voice which women use in speaking of private matters amongst themselves — but with brightening eyes) to women friends over tea; and always to a new woman friend. And on such occasions she would be particularly tender towards the unconscious Job, and ruffle his thin, sandy hair in a way that embarrassed him in company — made him look as sheepish as an old big-horned ram that has just been shorn and turned amongst the ewes. And the

  ― 308 ―
woman friend on parting would give Job's hand a squeeze which would surprise him mildly, and look at him as if she could love him.

According to a theory of mine, Job, to fit the story, should have been tall, and dark, and stern, or gloomy and quick-tempered. But he wasn't. He was fairly tall, but he was fresh-complexioned and sandy (his skin was pink to scarlet in some weathers, with blotches of umber), and his eyes were pale-grey; his big forehead loomed babyishly, his arms were short, and his legs bowed to the saddle. Altogether he was an awkward, unlovely Bush bird — on foot; in the saddle it was different. He hadn't even a ‘temper’.

The impression on Job's mind which many years afterwards brought about the incident was strong enough. When Job was a boy of fourteen he saw his father's horse come home riderless — circling and snorting up by the stockyard, head jerked down whenever the hoof trod on one of the snapped ends of the bridle-reins, and saddle twisted over the side with bruised pommel and knee-pad broken off.

Job's father wasn't hurt much, but Job's mother, an emotional woman, and then in a delicate state of health, survived the shock for three months only. ‘She wasn't quite right in her head,’ they said, ‘from the day the horse came home till the last hour before she died.’ And, strange to say, Job's father (from whom Job inherited his seemingly placid nature) died three months later. The doctor from the town was of the opinion that he must have ‘sustained internal injuries’ when the horse threw him. ‘Doc. Wild’ (eccentric Bush doctor) reckoned

  ― 309 ―
that Job's father was hurt inside when his wife died, and hurt so badly that he couldn't pull round. But doctors differ all over the world.

Well, the story of Job himself came about in this way. He had been married a year, and had lately started wool-raising on a pastoral lease he had taken up at Talbragar: it was a new run, with new slab-and-bark huts on the creek for a homestead, new shearing-shed, yards — wife and everything new, and he was expecting a baby. Job felt brand-new himself at the time, so he said. It was a lonely place for a young woman; but Gerty was a settler's daughter. The newness took away some of the loneliness, she said, and there was truth in that: a Bush home in the scrubs looks lonelier the older it gets, and ghostlier in the twilight, as the bark and slabs whiten, or rather grow grey, in fierce summers. And there's nothing under God's sky so weird, so aggressively lonely, as a deserted old home in the Bush.

Job's wife had a half-caste gin for company when Job was away on the run, and the nearest white woman (a hard but honest Lancashire woman from within the kicking radius in Lancashire — wife of a selector) was only seven miles away. She promised to be on hand, and came over two or three times a-week; but Job grew restless as Gerty's time drew near, and wished that he had insisted on sending her to the nearest town (thirty miles away), as originally proposed. Gerty's mother, who lived in town, was coming to see her over her trouble; Job had made arrangements with the town doctor, but prompt

  ― 310 ―
attendance could hardly be expected of a doctor who was very busy, who was too fat to ride, and who lived thirty miles away.

Job, in common with most Bushmen and their families round there, had more faith in Doc. Wild, a weird Yankee who made medicine in a saucepan, and worked more cures on Bushmen than did the other three doctors of the district together — maybe because the Bushmen had faith in him, or he knew the Bush and Bush constitutions — or, perhaps, because he'd do things which no ‘respectable practitioner’ dared do. I've described him in another story. Some said he was a quack, and some said he wasn't. There are scores of wrecks and mysteries like him in the Bush. He drank fearfully, and ‘on his own’, but was seldom incapable of performing an operation. Experienced Bushmen preferred him three-quarters drunk: when perfectly sober he was apt to be a bit shaky. He was tall, gaunt, had a pointed black moustache, bushy eyebrows, and piercing black eyes. His movements were eccentric. He lived where he happened to be — in a town hotel, in the best room of a homestead, in the skillion of a sly-grog shanty, in a shearer's, digger's, shepherd's, or boundary-rider's hut; in a surveyor's camp or a black-fellows' camp — or, when the horrors were on him, by a log in the lonely Bush. It seemed all one to him. He lost all his things sometimes — even his clothes; but he never lost a pigskin bag which contained his surgical instruments and papers. Except once; then he gave the blacks £5 to find it for him.

His patients included all, from the big squatter to Black Jimmy; and he rode as far and fast to a

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squatter's home as to a swagman's camp. When nothing was to be expected from a poor selector or a station hand, and the doctor was hard up, he went to the squatter for a few pounds. He had on occasions been offered cheques of £50 and £100 by squatters for ‘pulling round’ their wives or children; but such offers always angered him. When he asked for £5 he resented being offered a £10 cheque. He once sued a doctor for alleging that he held no diploma; but the magistrate, on reading certain papers, suggested a settlement out of court, which both doctors agreed to — the other doctor apologising briefly in the local paper. It was noticed thereafter that the magistrate and town doctors treated Doc. Wild with great respect — even at his worst. The thing was never explained, and the case deepened the mystery which surrounded Doc. Wild.

As Job Falconer's crisis approached Doc. Wild was located at a shanty on the main road, about half-way between Job's station and the town. (Township of Come-by-Chance — expressive name; and the shanty was the ‘Dead Dingo Hotel’, kept by James Myles — known as ‘Poisonous Jimmy’, perhaps as a compliment to, or a libel on, the liquor he sold.) Job's brother Mac. was stationed at the Dead Dingo Hotel with instructions to hang round on some pretence, see that the doctor didn't either drink himself into the ‘D.T.'s’ or get sober enough to become restless; to prevent his going away, or to follow him if he did; and to bring him to the station in about a week's time. Mac. (rather more careless, brighter, and more energetic than his

  ― 312 ―
brother) was carrying out these instructions while pretending, with rather great success, to be himself on the spree at the shanty.

But one morning, early in the specified week, Job's uneasiness was suddenly greatly increased by certain symptoms, so he sent the black boy for the neighbour's wife and decided to ride to Come-by-Chance to hurry out Gerty's mother, and see, by the way, how Doc. Wild and Mac. were getting on. On the arrival of the neighbour's wife, who drove over in a spring-cart, Job mounted his horse (a freshly broken filly) and started.

‘Don't be anxious, Job,’ said Gerty, as he bent down to kiss her. ‘We'll be all right. Wait! you'd better take the gun — you might see those dingoes again. I'll get it for you.’

The dingoes (native dogs) were very bad amongst the sheep; and Job and Gerty had started three together close to the track the last time they were out in company — without the gun, of course. Gerty took the loaded gun carefully down from its straps on the bedroom wall, carried it out, and handed it up to Job, who bent and kissed her again and then rode off.

It was a hot day — the beginning of a long drought, as Job found to his bitter cost. He followed the track for five or six miles through the thick, monotonous scrub, and then turned off to make a short cut to the main road across a big ring-barked flat. The tall gum-trees had been ring-barked (a ring of bark taken out round the butts), or rather ‘sapped’ — that is, a ring cut in through the sap — in order to kill them, so that the little strength in the ‘poor’

  ― 313 ―
soil should not be drawn out by the living roots, and the natural grass (on which Australian stock depends) should have a better show. The hard, dead trees raised their barkless and whitened trunks and leafless branches for three or four miles, and the grey and brown grass stood tall between, dying in the first breaths of the coming drought. All was becoming grey and ashen here, the heat blazing and dancing across objects, and the pale brassy dome of the sky cloudless over all, the sun a glaring white disc with its edges almost melting into the sky. Job held his gun carelessly ready (it was a double-barrelled muzzle-loader, one barrel choke-bore for shot, and the other rifled), and he kept an eye out for dingoes. He was saving his horse for a long ride, jogging along in the careless Bush fashion, hitched a little to one side — and I'm not sure that he didn't have a leg thrown up and across in front of the pommel of the saddle — he was riding along in the careless Bush fashion, and thinking fatherly thoughts in advance, perhaps, when suddenly a great black, greasy-looking iguana scuttled off from the side of the track amongst the dry tufts of grass and shreds of dead bark, and started up a sapling. ‘t was a whopper,’ Job said afterwards; ‘must have been over six feet, and a foot across the body. It scared me nearly as much as the filly.’

The filly shied off like a rocket. Job kept his seat instinctively, as was natural to him; but before he could more than grab at the rein — lying loosely on the pommel — the filly ‘fetched up’ against a dead box-tree, hard as cast-iron, and Job's left leg was jammed from stirrup to pocket. ‘I felt the blood

  ― 314 ―
flare up,’ he said, ‘and I knowed that that’ — (Job swore now and then in an easy-going way) — ‘I knowed that that blanky leg was broken alright. I threw the gun from me and freed my left foot from the stirrup with my hand, and managed to fall to the right, as the filly started off again.’

What follows comes from the statements of Doc. Wild and Mac. Falconer, and Job's own ‘wanderings in his mind’, as he called them. ‘They took a blanky mean advantage of me,’ he said, ‘when they had me down and I couldn't talk sense.’

The filly circled off a bit, and then stood staring — as a mob of brumbies, when fired at, will sometimes stand watching the smoke. Job's leg was smashed badly, and the pain must have been terrible. But he thought then with a flash, as men do in a fix. No doubt the scene at the lonely Bush home of his boyhood started up before him: his father's horse appeared riderless, and he saw the look in his mother's eyes.

Now a Bushman's first, best, and quickest chance in a fix like this is that his horse go home riderless, the home be alarmed, and the horse's tracks followed back to him; otherwise he might lie there for days, for weeks — till the growing grass buries his mouldering bones. Job was on an old sheep-track across a flat where few might have occasion to come for months, but he did not consider this. He crawled to his gun, then to a log, dragging gun and smashed leg after him. How he did it he doesn't know. Half-lying on one side, he rested the barrel on the log, took aim at the filly, pulled both triggers, and then fell over and lay with his head against the

  ― 315 ―
log; and the gun-barrel, sliding down, rested on his neck. He had fainted. The crows were interested, and the ants would come by-and-by.

Now Doc. Wild had inspirations; anyway, he did things which seemed, after they were done, to have been suggested by inspiration and in no other possible way. He often turned up where and when he was wanted above all men, and at no other time. He had gipsy blood, they said; but, anyway, being the mystery he was, and having the face he had, and living the life he lived — and doing the things he did — it was quite probable that he was more nearly in touch than we with that awful invisible world all round and between us, of which we only see distorted faces and hear disjointed utterances when we are ‘suffering a recovery’ — or going mad.

On the morning of Job's accident, and after a long brooding silence, Doc. Wild suddenly said to Mac. Falconer —

‘Git the hosses, Mac. We'll go to the station.’

Mac., used to the doctor's eccentricities, went to see about the horses.

And then who should drive up but Mrs Spencer — Job's mother-in-law — on her way from the town to the station. She stayed to have a cup of tea and give her horses a feed. She was square-faced, and considered a rather hard and practical woman, but she had plenty of solid flesh, good sympathetic common-sense, and deep-set humorous blue eyes. She lived in the town comfortably on the interest of some money which her husband left in the bank. She drove an American waggonette with a good

  ― 316 ―
width and length of ‘tray’ behind, and on this occasion she had a pole and two horses. In the trap were a new flock mattress and pillows, a generous pair of new white blankets, and boxes containing necessaries, delicacies, and luxuries. All round she was an excellent mother-in-law for a man to have on hand at a critical time.

And, speaking of mother-in-law, I would like to put in a word for her right here. She is universally considered a nuisance in times of peace and comfort; but when illness or serious trouble comes home! Then it's ‘Write to Mother! Wire for Mother! Send some one to fetch Mother! I'll go and bring Mother!’ and if she is not near: ‘Oh, I wish Mother were here! If Mother were only near!’ And when she is on the spot, the anxious son-in-law: ‘Don't you go, Mother! You'll stay, won't you, Mother? — till we're all right? I'll get some one to look after your house, Mother, while you're here.’ But Job Falconer was fond of his mother-in-law, all times.

Mac. had some trouble in finding and catching one of the horses. Mrs Spencer drove on, and Mac. and the doctor caught up to her about a mile before she reached the homestead track, which turned in through the scrubs at the corner of the big ring-barked flat.

Doc. Wild and Mac. followed the cart-road, and as they jogged along in the edge of the scrub the doctor glanced once or twice across the flat through the dead, naked branches. Mac. looked that way. The crows were hopping about the branches of a tree way out in the middle of the flat, flopping down

  ― 317 ―
from branch to branch to the grass, then rising hurriedly and circling.

‘Dead beast there!’ said Mac. out of his Bushcraft.

‘No — dying,’ said Doc. Wild, with less Bush experience but more intellect.

‘There's some steers of Job's out there somewhere,’ muttered Mac. Then suddenly, ‘It ain't drought — it's the ploorer at last! or I'm blanked!’

Mac. feared the advent of that cattle-plague, pleuro-pneumonia, which was raging on some other stations, but had been hitherto kept clear of Job's run.

‘We'll go and see, if you like,’ suggested Doc. Wild.

They turned out across the flat, the horses picking their way amongst the dried tufts and fallen branches.

‘Theer ain't no sign o' cattle theer,’ said the doctor; ‘more likely a ewe in trouble about her lamb.’

‘Oh, the blanky dingoes at the sheep,’ said Mac. ‘I wish we had a gun — might get a shot at them.’

Doc. Wild hitched the skirt of a long China silk coat he wore, free of a hip-pocket. He always carried a revolver. ‘In case I feel obliged to shoot a first person singular one of these hot days,’ he explained once, whereat Bushmen scratched the backs of their heads and thought feebly, without result.

‘We'd never git near enough for a shot,’ said the doctor; then he commenced to hum fragments from

  ― 318 ―
a Bush song about the finding of a lost Bushman in the last stages of death by thirst, —

The crows kept flyin' up, boys!
The crows kept flyin' up!
The dog, he seen and whimpered, boys,
Though he was but a pup.”’

‘It must be something or other,’ muttered Mac. ‘Look at them blanky crows!’

‘“The lost was found, we brought him round,
And took him from the place,
While the ants was swarmin' on the ground,
And the crows was sayin' grace!”’

‘My God! what's that?’ cried Mac., who was a little in advance and rode a tall horse.

It was Job's filly, lying saddled and bridled, with a rifle-bullet (as they found on subsequent examination) through shoulders and chest, and her head full of kangaroo-shot. She was feebly rocking her head against the ground, and marking the dust with her hoof, as if trying to write the reason of it there.

The doctor drew his revolver, took a cartridge from his waistcoat pocket, and put the filly out of her misery in a very scientific manner; then something — professional instinct or the something supernatural about the doctor — led him straight to the log, hidden in the grass, where Job lay as we left him, and about fifty yards from the dead filly, which must have staggered off some little way after being shot. Mac. followed the doctor, shaking violently.

‘Oh, my God!’ he cried, with the woman in his

  ― 319 ―
voice — and his face so pale that his freckles stood out like buttons, as Doc. Wild said — ‘oh, my God! he's shot himself!’

‘No, he hasn't,’ said the doctor, deftly turning Job into a healthier position with his head from under the log and his mouth to the air: then he ran his eyes and hands over him, and Job moaned. ‘He's got a broken leg,’ said the doctor. Even then he couldn't resist making a characteristic remark, half to himself: ‘A man doesn't shoot himself when he's going to be made a lawful father for the first time, unless he can see a long way into the future.’ Then he took out his whisky-flask and said briskly to Mac., ‘Leave me your water-bag’ (Mac. carried a canvas water-bag slung under his horse's neck), ‘ride back to the track, stop Mrs Spencer, and bring the waggonette here. Tell her it's only a broken leg.’

Mac. mounted and rode off at a break-neck pace.

As he worked the doctor muttered: ‘He shot his horse. That's what gits me. The fool might have lain there for a week. I'd never have suspected spite in that carcass, and I ought to know men.’

But as Job came round a little Doc. Wild was enlightened.

‘Where's the filly?’ cried Job suddenly between groans.

‘She's all right,’ said the doctor.

‘Stop her!’ cried Job, struggling to rise — ‘stop her! — oh God! my leg.’

‘Keep quiet, you fool!’

‘Stop her!’ yelled Job.

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‘Why stop her?’ asked the doctor. ‘She won't go fur,’ he added.

‘She'll go home to Gerty,’ shouted Job. ‘For God's sake stop her!’

‘O—h!’ drawled the doctor to himself. ‘I might have guessed that. And I ought to know men.’

‘Don't take me home!’ demanded Job in a semi-sensible interval. ‘Take me to Poisonous Jimmy's and tell Gerty I'm on the spree.’

When Mac. and Mrs Spencer arrived with the waggonette Doc. Wild was in his shirt-sleeves, his Chinese silk coat having gone for bandages. The lower half of Job's trouser-leg and his 'lastic-side boot lay on the ground, neatly cut off, and his bandaged leg was sandwiched between two strips of bark, with grass stuffed in the hollows, and bound by saddle-straps.

‘That's all I kin do for him for the present.’

Mrs Spencer was a strong woman mentally, but she arrived rather pale and a little shaky: nevertheless she called out, as soon as she got within earshot of the doctor —

‘What's Job been doing now?’ (Job, by the way, had never been remarkable for doing anything.)

‘He's got his leg broke and shot his horse,’ replied the doctor. ‘But,’ he added, ‘whether he's been a hero or a fool I dunno. Anyway, it's a mess all round.’

They unrolled the bed, blankets, and pillows in the bottom of the trap, backed it against the log, to have a step, and got Job in. It was a ticklish job, but they had to manage it: Job, maddened by pain and heat, only kept from fainting by whisky,

  ― 321 ―
groaning and raving and yelling to them to stop his horse.

‘Lucky we got him before the ants did,’ muttered the doctor. Then he had an inspiration —

‘You bring him on to the shepherd's hut this side the station. We must leave him there. Drive carefully, and pour brandy into him now and then; when the brandy's done pour whisky, then gin — keep the rum till the last’ (the doctor had put a supply of spirits in the waggonette at Poisonous Jimmy's). ‘I'll take Mac.'s horse and ride on and send Peter’ (the station hand) ‘back to the hut to meet you. I'll be back myself if I can. This business will hurry up things at the station.

Which last was one of those apparently insane remarks of the doctor's which no sane nor sober man could fathom or see a reason for — except in Doc. Wild's madness.

He rode off at a gallop. The burden of Job's raving, all the way, rested on the dead filly —

‘Stop her! She must not go home to Gerty!…God help me shoot!…Whoa! — whoa, there!…“Cope — cope — cope” — Steady, Jessie, old girl…Aim straight — aim straight! Aim for me, God! — I've missed!…Stop her!’ &c.

‘I never met a character like that,’ commented the doctor afterwards, ‘inside a man that looked like Job on the outside. I've met men behind revolvers and big mustarshes in Califo'nia; but I've met a derned sight more men behind nothing but a good-natured grin, here in Australia. These lanky sawney Bushmen will do things in an easy-going way some day that'll make the old world sit up and think hard.’

  ― 322 ―

He reached the station in time, and twenty minutes or half an hour later he left the case in the hands of the Lancashire woman — whom he saw reason to admire — and rode back to the hut to help Job, whom they soon fixed up as comfortably as possible.

They humbugged Mrs Falconer first with a yarn of Job's alleged phenomenal shyness, and gradually, as she grew stronger, and the truth less important, they told it to her. And so, instead of Job being pushed, scarlet-faced, into the bedroom to see his first-born, Gerty Falconer herself took the child down to the hut, and so presented Uncle Job with my first and favourite cousin and Bush chum.

Doc. Wild stayed round until he saw Job comfortably moved to the homestead, then he prepared to depart.

‘I'm sorry,’ said Job, who was still weak — ‘I'm sorry for that there filly. I was breaking her in to side-saddle for Gerty when she should get about. I wouldn't have lost her for twenty quid.’

‘Never mind, Job,’ said the doctor. ‘I, too, once shot an animal I was fond of — and for the sake of a woman — but that animal walked on two legs and wore trousers. Good-bye, Job.’

And he left for Poisonous Jimmy's.

  ― 323 ―


I LATELY revisited a western agricultural district in Australia after many years. The railway had reached it, but otherwise things were drearily, hopelessly, depressingly unchanged. There was the same old grant, comprising several thousands of acres of the richest land in the district, lying idle still, except for a few horses allowed to run there for a shilling a-head per week.

There were the same old selections — about as far off as ever from becoming freeholds — shoved back among the barren ridges; dusty little patches in the scrub, full of stones and stumps, and called farms, deserted every few years, and tackled again by some little dried-up family, or some old hatter, and then given best once more. There was the cluster of farms on the flat, and in the foot of the gully, owned by Australians of Irish or English descent, with the same number of stumps in the wheat-paddock, the same broken fences and tumble-down

  ― 324 ―
huts and yards, and the same weak, sleepy attempt made every season to scratch up the ground and raise a crop. And along the creek the German farmers — the only people there worthy of the name — toiling (men, women, and children) from daylight till dark, like slaves, just as they always had done; the elder sons stoop-shouldered old men at thirty.

The row about the boundary fence between the Sweeneys and the Joneses was unfinished still, and the old feud between the Dunderblitzens and the Blitzendunders was more deadly than ever — it started three generations ago over a stray bull. The O'Dunn was still fighting for his great object in life, which was not to be ‘onneighborly’, as he put it. ‘I don't want to be onneighborly,’ he said, ‘but I'll be aven wid some of 'em yit. It's almost impossible for a dacent man to live in sich a neighborhood and not be onneighborly, thry how he will. But I'll be aven wid some of 'em yit, marruk my wurrud.’

Jones's red steer — it couldn't have been the same red steer — was continually breaking into Rooney's ‘whate an' bringin' ivery head av the other cattle afther him, and ruinin' him intirely.’ The Rooneys and M`Kenzies were at daggers drawn, even to the youngest child, over the impounding of a horse belonging to Pat Rooney's brother-in-law, by a distant relation of the M`Kenzies, which had happened nine years ago.

The same sun-burned, masculine women went past to market twice a-week in the same old carts and driving much the same quality of carrion. The string of overloaded spring-carts, buggies, and sweating horses went whirling into town, to ‘service’,

  ― 325 ―
through clouds of dust and broiling heat, on Sunday morning, and came driving cruelly out again at noon. The neighbours' sons rode over in the afternoon, as of old, and hung up their poor, ill-used little horses to bake in the sun, and sat on their heels about the verandah, and drawled drearily concerning crops, fruit, trees, and vines, and horses and cattle; the drought and ‘smut’ and ‘rust’ in wheat, and the ‘ploorer’ (pleuro-pneumonia) in cattle, and other cheerful things; that there colt or filly, or that there cattle-dog (pup or bitch) o' mine (or ‘Jim's’). They always talked most of farming there, where no farming worthy of the name was possible — except by Germans and Chinamen. Towards evening the old local relic of the golden days dropped in and announced that he intended to `put down a shaft' next week, in a spot where he'd been going to put it down twenty years ago — and every week since. It was nearly time that somebody sunk a hole and buried him there.

An old local body named Mrs Witherly still went into town twice a-week with her `bit av prodjuce', as O'Dunn called it. She still drove a long, bony, blind horse in a long rickety dray, with a stout sapling for a whip, and about twenty yards of clothes-line reins. The floor of the dray covered part of an acre, and one wheel was always ahead of the other — or behind, according to which shaft was pulled. She wore, to all appearances, the same short frock, faded shawl, men's 'lastic sides, and white hood that she had on when the world was made. She still stopped just twenty minutes at old Mrs Leatherly's on the way in for a yarn and a cup

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of tea — as she had always done, on the same days and at the same time within the memory of the hoariest local liar. However, she had a new clothes-line bent on to the old horse's front end — and we fancy that was the reason she didn't recognise us at first. She had never looked younger than a hard hundred within the memory of man. Her shrivelled face was the colour of leather, and crossed and recrossed with lines till there wasn't room for any more. But her eyes were bright yet, and twinkled with humour at times.

She had been in the Bush for fifty years, and had fought fires, droughts, hunger and thirst, floods, cattle and crop diseases, and all the things that God curses Australian settlers with. She had had two husbands, and it could be said of neither that he had ever done an honest day's work, or any good for himself or any one else. She had reared something under fifteen children, her own and others; and there was scarcely one of them that had not given her trouble. Her sons had brought disgrace on her old head over and over again, but she held up that same old head through it all, and looked her narrow, ignorant world in the face — and ‘lived it down’. She had worked like a slave for fifty years; yet she had more energy and endurance than many modern city women in her shrivelled old body. She was a daughter of English aristocrats.

And we who live our weak lives of fifty years or so in the cities — we grow maudlin over our sorrows (and beer), and ask whether life is worth living or not.

  ― 327 ―

I sought in the farming town relief from the general and particular sameness of things, but there was none. The railway station was about the only new building in town. The old signs even were as badly in need of retouching as of old. I picked up a copy of the local `Advertiser', which newspaper had been started in the early days by a brilliant drunkard, who drank himself to death just as the fathers of our nation were beginning to get educated up to his style. He might have made Australian journalism very different from what it is. There was nothing new in the ‘Advertiser’ — there had been nothing new since the last time the drunkard had been sober enough to hold a pen. There was the same old ‘enjoyable trip’ to Drybone (whereof the editor was the hero), and something about an on-the-whole very enjoyable evening in some place that was tastefully decorated, and where the visitors did justice to the good things provided, and the small hours, and dancing, and our host and hostess, and respected fellow-townsmen; also divers young ladies sang very nicely, and a young Mr Somebody favoured the company with a comic song.

There was the same trespassing on the valuable space by the old subscriber, who said that ‘he had said before and would say again’, and he proceeded to say the same things which he said in the same paper when we first heard our father reading it to our mother. Farther on the old subscriber proceeded to ‘maintain’, and recalled attention to the fact that it was just exactly as he had said. After which he made a few abstract, incoherent remarks about the ‘surrounding district’, and concluded by

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stating that he ‘must now conclude’, and thanking the editor for trespassing on the aforesaid valuable space.

There was the usual leader on the Government; and an agitation was still carried on, by means of horribly-constructed correspondence to both papers, for a bridge over Dry-Hole Creek at Dustbin — a place where no sane man ever had occasion to go.

I took up the ‘unreliable contemporary’, but found nothing there except a letter from ‘Parent’, another from ‘Ratepayer’, a leader on the Government, and ‘A Trip to Limeburn’, which latter I suppose was made in opposition to the trip to Drybone.

There was nothing new in the town. Even the almost inevitable gang of city spoilers hadn't arrived with the railway. They would have been a relief. There was the monotonous aldermanic row, and the worse than hopeless little herd of aldermen, the weird agricultural portion of whom came in on council days in white starched and ironed coats, as we had always remembered them. They were aggressively barren of ideas; but on this occasion they had risen above themselves, for one of them had remembered something his grandfather (old time English alderman) had told him, and they were stirring up all the old local quarrels and family spite of the district over a motion, or an amendment on a motion, that a letter — from another enlightened body and bearing on an equally important matter (which letter had been sent through the post sufficiently stamped, delivered to the secretary, handed to the chairman, read aloud in council, and passed round several

  ― 329 ―
times for private perusal) — over a motion that such letter be received.

There was a maintenance case coming on — to the usual well-ventilated disgust of the local religious crank, who was on the jury; but the case differed in no essential point from other cases which were always coming on and going off in my time. It was not at all romantic. The local youth was not even brilliant in adultery.

After I had been a week in that town the Governor decided to visit it, and preparations were made to welcome him and present him with an address. Then I thought that it was time to go, and slipped away unnoticed in the general lunacy.

  ― 331 ―


By homestead, hut, and shearing-shed,
By railroad, coach, and track —
By lonely graves of our brave dead,
Up-Country and Out-Back:
To where 'neath glorious clustered stars
The dreamy plains expand —
My home lies wide a thousand miles
In the Never-Never Land.

It lies beyond the farming belt,
Wide wastes of scrub and plain,
A blazing desert in the drought,
A lake-land after rain;
To the sky-line sweeps the waving grass,
Or whirls the scorching sand —
A phantom land, a mystic land!
The Never-Never Land.

  ― 332 ―
Where lone Mount Desolation lies,
Mounts Dreadful and Despair —
'Tis lost beneath the rainless skies
In hopeless deserts there;
It spreads nor'-west by No-Man's Land —
Where clouds are seldom seen —
To where the cattle-stations lie
Three hundred miles between.

The drovers of the Great Stock Routes
The strange Gulf country know —
Where, travelling from the southern droughts,
The big lean bullocks go;
And camped by night where plains lie wide,
Like some old ocean's bed,
The watchmen in the starlight ride
Round fifteen hundred head.

And west of named and numbered days
The shearers walk and ride —
Jack Cornstalk and the Ne'er-do-well,
And the grey-beard side by side;
They veil their eyes from moon and stars,
And slumber on the sand —
Sad memories sleep as years go round
In Never-Never Land.

  ― 333 ―
By lonely huts north-west of Bourke,
Through years of flood and drought,
The best of English black-sheep work
Their own salvation out:
Wild fresh-faced boys grown gaunt and brown —
Stiff-lipped and haggard-eyed —
They live the Dead Past grimly down!
Where boundary-riders ride.

The College Wreck who sunk beneath,
Then rose above his shame,
Tramps West in mateship with the man
Who cannot write his name.
'Tis there where on the barren track
No last half-crust's begrudged —
Where saint and sinner, side by side,
Judge not, and are not judged.

Oh rebels to society!
The Outcasts of the West —
Oh hopeless eyes that smile for me,
And broken hearts that jest!
The pluck to face a thousand miles —
The grit to see it through!
The communism perfected! —
And — I am proud of you!

  ― 334 ―
The Arab to true desert sand,
The Finn to fields of snow;
The Flax-stick turns to Maoriland,
Where the seasons come and go;
And this old fact comes home to me —
And will not let me rest —
However barren it may be,
Your own land is the best!

And, lest at ease I should forget
True mateship after all,
My water-bag and billy yet
Are hanging on the wall;
And if my fate should show the sign,
I'd tramp to sunsets grand
With gaunt and stern-eyed mates of mine
In Never-Never Land.

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