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  ― 53 ―

III. DOC. WILD

Peter gradually increased his horse's speed along the rough bush track until he was riding at a good pace. It was ten miles to the main road, and five from there to the shanty kept by Black.

For some time before Peter started the atmosphere had been very close and oppressive. The great black edge of a storm-cloud had risen in the east, and everything indicated the approach of a thunderstorm. It was not long coming. Before Peter had completed six miles of his journey, the clouds rolled over, obscuring the moon, and an Australian thunderstorm came on with its mighty downpour, its blinding lightning, and its earth-shaking thunder. Peter rode steadily on, only pausing now and then until a flash revealed the track in front of him.

Black's shanty — or, rather, as the sign had it, “Post Office and General Store” — was, as we have said, five miles along the main road from the point where Middleton's track joined it. The building was of the usual style of bush architecture. About two hundred yards nearer the creek, which crossed the road further on, stood a large bark and slab stable, large enough to have met the requirements of a legitimate bush “public”.

The reader may doubt that a “sly grog shop” could openly carry on business on a main Government road along which mounted troopers were continually passing. But then, you see, mounted troopers get thirsty like other men; moreover, they could always get their


  ― 54 ―
thirst quenched gratis at these places; so the reader will be prepared to hear that on this very night two troopers' horses were stowed snugly away in the stable, and two troopers were stowed snugly away in the back room of the shanty, sleeping off the effects of their cheap but strong potations.

There were two rooms, of a sort, attached to the stables — one at each end. One was occupied by a man who was “generally useful”, and the other was the surgery, office, and bedroom pro tem. of Doc. Wild.

Doc. Wild was a tall man, of spare proportions. He had a cadaverous face, black hair, bushy black eyebrows, eagle nose, and eagle eyes. He never slept while he was drinking. On this occasion he sat in front of the fire on a low three-legged stool. His knees were drawn up, his toes hooked round the front legs of the stool, one hand resting on one knee, and one elbow (the hand supporting the chin) resting on the other. He was staring intently into the fire, on which an old black saucepan was boiling and sending forth a pungent odour of herbs. There seemed something uncanny about the doctor as the red light of the fire fell on his hawk-like face and gleaming eyes. He might have been Mephistopheles watching some infernal brew.

He had sat there some time without stirring a finger, when the door suddenly burst open and Middleton's Peter stood within, dripping wet. The doctor turned his black, piercing eyes upon the intruder (who regarded him silently) for a moment, and then asked quietly:

“What the hell do you want?”




  ― 55 ―

“I want you,” said Peter.

“And what do you want me for?”

“I want you to come to Joe Middleton's wife. She's bad,” said Peter calmly.

“I won't come,” shouted the doctor. “I've brought enough horse-stealers into the world already. If any more want to come they can go to blazes for me. Now, you get out of this!”

“Don't get yer rag out,” said Peter quietly. “The hoss-stealer's come, an' nearly killed his mother ter begin with; an' if yer don't get yer physic-box an' come wi' me, by the great God I'll ——”

Here the revolver was produced and pointed at Doc. Wild's head. The sight of the weapon had a sobering effect upon the doctor. He rose, looked at Peter critically for a moment, knocked the weapon out of his hand, and said slowly and deliberately:

“Wall, ef the case es as serious as that, I (hic) reckon I'd better come.”

Peter was still of the same opinion, so Doc. Wild proceeded to get his medicine chest ready. He explained afterwards, in one of his softer moments, that the shooter didn't frighten him so much as it touched his memory — “sorter put him in mind of the old days in California, and made him think of the man he might have been,” he'd say, — “kinder touched his heart and slid the durned old panorama in front of him like a flash; made him think of the time when he slipped three leaden pills into ‘Blue Shirt’ for winking at a new chum behind his (the Doc.'s) back when he was telling a truthful yarn, and charged the said ‘Blue Shirt’ a hundred dollars for extracting the said pills.”




  ― 56 ―

Joe Middleton's wife is a grandmother now.

Peter passed after the manner of his sort; he was found dead in his bunk.

Poor Doc. Wild died in a shepherd's hut at the Dry Creeks. The shepherds (white men) found him, “naked as he was born and with the hide half burned off him with the sun,” rounding up imaginary snakes on a dusty clearing, one blazing hot day. The hut-keeper had some “quare” (queer) experiences with the doctor during the next three days and used, in after years, to tell of them, between the puffs of his pipe, calmly and solemnly and as if the story was rather to the doctor's credit than otherwise. The shepherds sent for the police and a doctor, and sent word to Joe Middleton. Doc. Wild was sensible towards the end. His interview with the other doctor was characteristic. “And, now you see how far I am,” he said in conclusion — “have you brought the brandy?” The other doctor had. Joe Middleton came with his waggonette, and in it the softest mattress and pillows the station afforded. He also, in his innocence, brought a dozen of soda-water. Doc. Wild took Joe's hand feebly, and, a little later, he “passed out” (as he would have said) murmuring “something that sounded like poetry”, in an unknown tongue. Joe took the body to the home station. “Who's the boss bringin'?” asked the shearers, seeing the waggonette coming very slowly and the boss walking by the horses' heads. “Doc. Wild,” said a station hand. “Take yer hats off.”

They buried him with bush honours, and chiselled his name on a slab of bluegum — a wood that lasts.

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