― 140 ―
view facsimile

Chapter II

On the Road to Queensland

WHILE Nellie had been talking temperance to Mr. Hobbs, Ned had been watching her impatiently from the other side of the street. For an hour and more he had been prowling up and down, up and down, between the Phillipses and the Hobbses, having learned from Mrs. Phillips, who looked wearier than ever, where the Hobbses lived now and why Nellie had gone there after hardly stopping to swallow her dinner. At seven he had acquired this information and returned soon after nine to find Nellie still at the house of sickness, now, alas, the house of death. So he had paced up and down, up and down, waiting for her. He had seen the Hobbs' door open at last and had watched impatiently, from the shadow opposite, the conversation on the door step. His heart gave a great leap as she stopped across the road full in the moonlight. He saw again the sad stern face that had lived as an ideal in his memory for two long eventful years. There was none like her in the whole world to him, not one.

The years had come to her in this stifling city, amid her struggling and wrestling of spirit, but the strong soul in her had borne her up through all, she had aged without wearying, grown older and sadder without withering from her intense womanhood. Broader of hip a little, as Ned could see with the keen eyes of love, not quite so slender in the waist, fuller in the uncorsetted bust, more sloping of shoulder as though the pillared neck had fleshed somewhat at the base; the face, too, had gathered form and force, in the freer curve of her will-full jaw, in the sterner compression of fuller lips that told their tale of latent passions strangely bordering on the cruel, in the sweeter blending of Celt and Saxon shown in straight nose, strong cheek-bones and well-marked brows. She trod still with the swinging spring of the hill-people, erect and careless. Only the white gleam of her collar and a dash of colour in her hat broke the sombre hue that clothed her, as before, from head to foot.

Ned devoured her with his eyes as she came rapidly towards him, unconscious of his presence. She was full grown at

  ― 141 ―
view facsimile

last, in woman's virgin prime, her mind, her soul, her body, all full and strong with pure thoughts, natural instincts and human passions. Her very sadness gave her depths of feeling that never come to those who titter and fritter youth away. Her very ignoring of the love-instincts in her, absorbed as her thoughts were in other things, only gave those instincts the untrammelled freedom that alone gives vigorous growth. She was barbarian, as her thoughts had been beside the dying baby: the barbarian cultured, as Shakespeare was, the barbarian wronged, as was Spartacus, the barbarian hating and loving and yearning and throbbing, the creature of her instincts, a rebel against restrictions, her mind subject only to her own strong will. She was a woman of women, in Ned's eyes at least. One kiss from her would be more than all other women could give, be their self-abandonment what it might. To be her lover, her husband, a man might yield up his life with a laugh, might surrender all other happiness and be happy ever after. There was none like her in the whole world to Ned, not one—and he came to say good-bye to her, perhaps for ever.

In the black shadows thrown by the high-rising moon, the crossing alley-way cut a slice of brilliancy as if with a knife. From the shadow into the moonshine two hands stretched towards her as Ned's voice greeted her. She saw his tall form looming before her.

“Ned!” she cried, in answer, grasping both his hands and drawing him forward into the light. “I was expecting you. I've been thinking of you every minute for the last week. How tired you look! You're not ill?”

“No! I'm all right,” he answered, laughing. “It's those confounded trains. I can't sleep on them, and they always give me a headache. But you're looking well, Nellie. I can't make out how you do it in this stuffed-up town.”

“I'm all right,” She replied, noticing a red rose in his coat but saying nothing of it. “Nothing seems to touch me. Did you come straight through?”

“Straight through. We rushed things all we could but I couldn't get away before. Besides, as long as I get Saturday's boat in Brisbane it'll be as soon as it's possible to get on. That gives me time to stay over to-night here. I didn't see you going down and I began to wonder if I'd see you going back. You can do a pitch, Nellie. When a fellow's waiting for you, too.”

  ― 142 ―
view facsimile

Nellie laughed, then sobered down. “The baby's dead,” she said, sadly. “You recollect it was born when you were here before, the day we went to the Strattons.”

“I don't wonder,” he answered, looking round at the closed-in street, with its dull, hopeless, dreary rows of narrow houses and hard roadway between. “But I suppose you're tired, Nellie. Let's go and get some oysters!”

“I don't care to, thanks. I feel like a good long walk,” she went on, taking his arm and turning him round to walk on with her. “I'm thirsting for a breath of fresh air and to stretch myself. I'm a terrible one for walks, you know.”

“Not much riding here, Nellie;” walking on.

“That's why I walk so. I can go from here right down to Lady Macquarie's Chair in under half-an-hour. Over two miles! Not bad, eh, Ned?”

“That's a good enough record. Suppose we go down there now, Nellie, only none of your racing time for me. It's not too late for you?”

“Too late for me! My word! I'm still at the Phillipses and they don't bother. I wouldn't stay anywhere where I couldn't come and go as I liked. I'd like to go if you're not too tired.”

“It'll do me good,” said Ned, gleefully. So they set off, arm in arm. After they had walked a dozen yards he stopped suddenly.

“I've brought you a rose, Nellie,” he exclaimed, handing it to her. “I'm so pleased to see you I forgot it.”

“I knew it was for me,” she said, fondly, pinning it at her throat. “How ever did you recollect my colour?”

“Do you think I forget anything about you, Nellie?” he asked. She did not answer and they walked on silently.

“Where is Geisner?” he enquired, after a pause.

“I don't know. Why?”

“Oh, nothing. Only he'd advise us a little.”

After a pause: “What do you think of things, Ned?”

“What do I think? We couldn't get any wires through that explained anything. There was nothing on but the ordinary strike business when I came down. I suppose some of the chaps have been talking wild and the Government has snapped at the chance to down the union. You know what our fellows are.”

“Yes. But I don't quite see what the Government's got to gain. Proclamations and military only make men worse, I think.”

  ― 143 ―
view facsimile

“Sometimes they do and sometimes they don't,” answered Ned. “A crowd that's doing no harm, only kicking up a bit of a row, will scatter like lambs sometimes if a single policeman collars one of them. Another time the same crowd will jump on a dozen policemen. The Government thinks the crowd'll scatter and I'm afraid the crowd'll jump.”

“Why afraid?” enquired Nellie, biting her lips.

“Because it has no chance,” answered Ned. “These are all newspaper lies about them having arms and such nonsense. There aren't 500 guns in the whole Western country and half of them are old muzzle-loading shot guns. The kangarooers have got good rifles but nineteen men out of twenty no more carry one than they carry a house.”

“But the papers say they're getting them!”

“Where are they to get them from, supposing they want them and naturally the chaps want them when they hear of military coming to ‘shoot 'em down’? You can reckon that the Government isn't letting any be carried on the railways and, even if they did I don't believe you could buy 500 rifles in all Queensland at any one time.”

“Then it's all make-up that's in the papers? It certainly seemed to me that there was something in it.”

“That's just it, there is something in it. Just enough, I'm convinced, to give the Government an excuse for doing what they did during the maritime strike without any excuse and what the squatters have been planning for them to do all along.”

“One of the Queensland men who was here a week or two ago was telling me about the maritime strike business. It was the first I'd heard of that. Griffith didn't seem to be that way years ago,” said Nellie.

“Griffith is a fraud,” declared Ned, hotly. “I'd sooner have one of the Pure Merinoes than Griffith. They do fight us out straight and fair, anyway, and don't cant much about knowing that things aren't right, with Elementary Property Bills and ‘Wealth and Want’ and that sort of wordy tommy-rot. I like to know where to find a man and that trick of Griffith at the maritime strike in Brisbane showed where to find him right enough.”

“Was it Griffith?” asked Nellie.

“Of course it was Griffith. Who else would it be? The fellows in Brisbane feel sore over it, I tell you. When they'd been staying up nights and getting sick and preaching themselves

  ― 144 ―
view facsimile

hoarse, talking law and order to the chaps on strike and rounding on every man who even boo'd as though he were a blackleg, and when the streets were quieter with thousands of rough fellows about than they were ordinary times, those shop-keepers and wool-dealers and commission agents went off their heads and got the Government to swear in ‘specials’ and order out mounted troopers and serve out ball cartridges. And all the time the police said it wasn't necessary, that the men on strike were perfectly orderly. Who'd ever do that but Griffith? And what can we expect from a government that did such a thing?”

“The Brisbane men do seem sore over that,” agreed Nellie. “The man who told me vowed it would be a long time before he'd do policeman's work again. He said that for him Government might keep its own order and see how soon it got tired of it.”

“Well, it's the same thing going on now. I mean the Government and the squatters fixing up this military business between them just to dishearten our fellows. Besides, they've got it into their heads, somehow, that most men are only unionists through fear and that if they're sure of ‘protection’ they'll blackleg in thousands.”

“That's a funny notion,” said Nellie. “But all employers have it or pretend to have it. I fancy it comes through men, afraid of being victimised if they display independence, shifting the responsibility of their sticking up for rules upon the union and letting the boss think they don't approve of the rules but are afraid to break them, when they're really afraid to let him know they approve them.”

“That's about it, Nellie, but most people find it easy to believe what they want to believe. Anyway, I've got it straight from headquarters that the squatters expect to get blacklegs working under enough military protection to make blacklegging feel safe, as they look at it, and then they think our unions will break right down. And, of course, what maddens our crowd is that blacklegs are collected in another part of the world and shipped in under agreements which they can be sent to prison if they break, or think they can, which amounts to the same, and are kept guarded away from us, like convicts, so that we can't get to them to talk to them and win them over as is done in ordinary strikes in towns.”

“That's shameful!” said Nellie. “The squatter governments have a lot to answer for.”

  ― 145 ―
view facsimile

“And what can we do?” continued Ned. “They won't let us have votes. There are 20,000 men in the back country altogether and I don't believe 5000 of them have votes and they're mostly squatters and their managers and ‘lifers’ and the storekeepers and people who own land. I've no vote and can't get one. None of the fellows in my lot can get votes. We can't alter things in Parliament and the law and the government and the military and the police and the magistrates and everything that's got authority are trying to down us and we can't help ourselves. Do you wonder that our chaps get hot and talk wild and act a little wild now and then?”

Nellie pressed his arm answeringly.

“I feel myself a coward sometimes,” went on Ned. “Last drought-time some of us were camped 'way back at a water-hole on a reserve where there was the only grass and water we could get for hundreds of miles. We had our horses and the squatter about wanted the grass for his horses and tried to starve us away by refusing to sell us stores. He wouldn't even sell us meat. He was a fool, for we took his mutton as we wanted it, night-times, and packed our stores from the nearest township, a hundred and eighty miles off. I used to think that the right thing to do was to take what we wanted off his run and from his store, in broad daylight, and pay him fair prices and blow the heads off anybody who went to stop us. For we'd a better right to the grass than he had. Only, you see, Nellie, it was easier to get even with him underhand and we seem to do always what's easiest.”

“They've always acted like that, those squatters, Ned,” said Nellie. “Don't you recollect when they closed the road across Arranvale one drought 'cause the selectors were cutting it up a bit, drawing water from the reserve, and how everybody had to go seven miles further round for every drop of water? I've often wondered why the gates weren't lifted and the road used in spite of them.”

“They'd have sent for the police,” remarked Ned. “Next year Arranvale shed was burned,” he added.

“It's always that way,” declared Nellie, angrily. “For my part I'd sooner see the wildest, most hopeless outbreak, than that sort of thing.”

“So would the squatters, Nellie,” retorted Ned, grimly. “I feel all you do,” he went on. “But human nature is human

  ― 146 ―
view facsimile

nature and the squatters did their level best, ignorantly I admit, to make the men mere brutes, and the life alone has made hundreds mad, so we can't wonder if the result isn't altogether pleasant. They've made us hut in with Chinese and Malays. They've stuck up prices till flour that cost them tuppence a pound I've seen selling us for a shilling. They've cut wages down whenever they got a chance and are cutting them now, and they want to break up our unions with their miserable ‘freedom of contract’ agreement. Before there were unions in the bush the only way to get even with a squatter was by some underhand trick and now we've got our unions and are ready to stand up manly and fight him fair he's coming the same dodge on us that the shipowners came on the seamen, only worse. Going to use contract labour from the South that we can't get near to talk to and that can't legally knock off if we did talk it over, and going to break up the camps and shoot down unarmed men just to stop the strike. How can you wonder if a few fires start or expect the chaps to be indignant if they do? Besides, half the fires that happen at times like this are old shanties of sheds that are insured above their value. It's convenient to be able to put everything down to unionists.”

“It worries me,” said Nellie, after a few minutes' silence.

“Me too,” said Ned. “We've got such a good case if both sides could only be shown up. We've been willing to talk the whole thing over all along and we're willing yet or to arbitrate it either. We're right and lots of these fellows know it who abuse us. And if our chaps do talk a bit rough and get excited and even if they do occasionally carry on a bit, it's not a circumstance to the way the other side talk and get excited and carry on. Only all the law is against us and none against them. Our chaps are so hot that they don't go at it like lawyers but like a bull at a gate, when they talk or write. And so the Government gets a hold on us and can raise a dust and prevent people from seeing how things really are!”

“Ned,” she said, after a pause. “Tell me honestly! Do you think there will be any trouble?”

“Honestly, I don't, Nellie. At least nothing serious. Some of the fellows may start to buck if the Government does try to break up the camps and it might spread a little, but there are no guns and so I don't see how it could. There seems to be a lot of talk everywhere but that's hard fact. Ten thousand bushmen with

  ― 147 ―
view facsimile

rifles wouldn't have much trouble with the Government and the Government wouldn't have much trouble with ten thousand bushmen without rifles. Besides, we're trying to do things peacefully and I don't see why we shouldn't win this round as things stand and get votes soon into the bargain!”

“But if there is trouble, Ned?” she persisted. “Supposing it does start?”

“I shall go with the chaps, of course, if that's what you mean.”

“Knowing it's useless, just to throw your life away?” she asked, quietly, not protestingly, but as one seeking information.

“I've eaten their bread,” answered Ned. “Whatever mad thing is done, however it's done, I'm with them. I should be a coward if I stood out of it because I didn't agree with it. Besides ——”

“Besides what?”

“I believe in Fate somehow. Not as anything outside bossing us, you know, but as the whole heap of causes and conditions, of which we're a part ourselves. But I don't feel that there'll be any real trouble though some of us'll get into trouble just the same.”

“The Government will pick the big thistles, you mean.”

“Those they think the big thistles, I suppose. Of course the Government is only the squatters and the companies in another shape and they only want to break down the strike and are glad of any excuse that'll give them a slant at us. They have a silly idiotic notion that only a few men keep the unions going and that if they can get hold of a dozen or two the others will all go to work like lambs just as the squatter wants. The fellows here have heard that the Government's getting ready to make a lot of arrests up there. I'm one.”

Nellie squeezed his arm again; “I've heard that. I suppose they can do anything they like, Ned, but surely they won't dare to really enforce that old George the Fourth law they've resurrected?”

“Why not? They'll do anything, Nellie. They're frantic and think they must or the movement will flood them out. They'd like nothing better than a chance to shoot a mob of us down like wild turkeys. They have squatter magistrates and squatter judges—you know we've got some daisies up in Queensland—and they'll snap up all the best lawyers and pack the jury with a lot of shopkeepers who're just in a panic at the newspaper yarns.

  ― 148 ―
view facsimile

The worst interpretation'll be put on everything and every foolish word be magnified a thousand times. I know the gentry too well. They'll have us sure as fate and all I hope is that the boys won't be foolish enough to give them an excuse to massacre a few hundred. It'll be two or three years apiece, the Trades Hall people have heard. However, I suppose we can stand it. I don't care so long as the chaps stick to the union.”

“Do you think they will?” asked Nellie, after another pause.

“I'm sure they will. They can rake a hundred of us in for life and knock the union endways and in a year there'll be as much fight in the boys as there is now, and more bitter, too. Why they're raising money in Sydney for us already and I'm told that it was squeezed as dry as a bone over the maritime strike. The New South Wales fellows are all true blue and so they are down Adelaide way, as good as gold yet. The bosses don't know what a job they tackled when they started in to down unionism. They fancy that if they can only smash our fellows they'll have unionism smashed all over Australia. The fun will only just have started then.”

“What makes you so sure the men will stick, Ned?” enquired Nellie.

“Because they all know what the squatter was before the union and what he'll be the minute he gets another chance. The squatters will keep the unions going right enough. Besides everybody's on for a vote now in the bush and, of course, the Government is going to keep it from them as long as possible. Without unionism they'll never get votes and they know it.”

They had reached the path by Wooloomooloo Bay. Ned took off his hat and walked bareheaded. “This is lovely!” he remarked, refreshed.

“What a fool Griffith is!” cried Nellie, suddenly.

“He's not as cunning as he ought to be,” assented Ned. “But why?”

“Do you know what I'd do if I were him?” answered Nellie. “I'd send all the military and all the police home and go up into the bush by myself and have a chat with the committee and the men at the camps and find out just how they looked at the thing and ask them to assist in keeping order and I'd see that they got justice if Parliament had to be called together specially to do it.”

“He's not smart enough to do that,” answered Ned. “Besides, the squatters and the capitalistic set are the Parliament and

  ― 149 ―
view facsimile

wouldn't let him. I suppose he believes every lie they stuff him with and never gives a minute's thought to our having a side.”

“He didn't use to be a bad man, once,” persisted Nellie.

“I suppose he's not a bad man now,” cried Ned, boiling over. “He's not on the make like most of them and he fancies he's very patriotic, I imagine, but what does he know of us or of the squatter? He sees us at our worst and the squatter at his best and we've got different ways of talking and when we get drunk on poisoned rum that the Government lets be sold we aren't as gentlemanly as those who get drunk on Hennessy and champagne. We don't curse in the same gentlemanly way and we splash out what we think and don't wear two faces like his set. And so he thinks we're ruffians and outlaws and he can't feel why the bushmen care for the unions. The squatter has taken up all the land and the squatter law has tied up what hasn't been taken and most of us are a lot of outcasts, without homes or wives or children or anything that a man should have barring our horses. We've got no votes and every law is set against us and we've no rights and the squatter'd like to throw us all out to make room for Chinese. There's nothing in front of the bushman now unless the union gets it for him and they're trying to break up our union, Griffith and his push, and, by God, they shan't do it. They haven't gaols enough to hold every good unionist, not if they hang a thousand of us to start with.”

“What does it matter, after all, Ned?” said Nellie, gently. “The Cause itself gains by everything that makes men think. There'll never be peace until the squatter goes altogether and the banks and the whole system. And the squatter can't help it. I abuse him myself but I know he only does what most of our own class in his place would do.”

“Of course he can't help it, Nellie,” agreed Ned. “They're mostly mortgaged up to the neck like the shopkeepers and squeeze us partly to keep afloat themselves. It's the system, not the squatters personally. A lot of them are decent enough, taking them off their runs and some are decent even on their runs. Even the squatters aren't all bad. I don't wish them any harm individually but just the same we're fighting them and they're fighting us and what I feel sorest about is that it's just because the New Unionism is teaching our chaps to think and to be better and to have ideas that they are trying so hard to down it.”

  ― 150 ―
view facsimile

“They don't know any better,” repeated Nellie.

“That's what Geisner says, I recollect. I mind how he said they'd try sending us to prison here in Australia. They're beginning soon.”

They were right at the point now.

“There's only one thing I'd like to know first, Nellie.”

“What is it, Ned?” she asked, unconsciously, absorbed in her fear for him.