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  ― 78 ―

Chapter VIII. Station Life

HAVING disposed of the Calabash Races and heaped dirt on the head of the Chinaman, Fitzroy and his employer were free to attend to financial business. But it is remarkable how little business a really wealthy man ever needs to do. James Tyson, an Australian grazier who died worth over two millions sterling, never even had an office. Applicants for an interview, especially bishops, were always turned down, because, as he said himself, he never saw a bishop but what the bishop wanted something; and when he wished to fix up a deal of a hundred thousand pounds or so over a station, his bank was always prepared to let him have the use of a room for nothing. The big graziers have all their accounts kept, their returns received, and purchases made by the financial firms that sell their wool.

It is even on record that one grazier, wishing to be married, wrote to his financial house to fix up everything about the wedding. They were to select the church and the parson, to buy presents for the bride and bridesmaids, to chose the place for the honeymoon, to engage the necessary accommodation and buy the railway tickets. And everything went off with the greatest éclat, though, certainly, the man charged with


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the arrangements did remark to a friend that if he had been allowed to select the bride he might have done better for his client.

A vast amount of correspondence had followed them to Calabash, and Fitzroy shuddered at the amount of dictionary work he would have to do in answering all those letters. But most of them answered themselves. There was a huge envelope from the Empire Pastoral Company containing reports from the various station managers — all very favourable except for one outlying man who reported some mortality among the old ewes.

“Tell him to report something else next time, or I'll think there's nothing but old ewes on the station,” the millionaire remarked.

Another report stated that a big stock-dealer wished to buy the whole drop of lambs (about ten thousand) on one station, paying for same with a promissory note, and that the buyer was “undoubted.” Red Fred snorted at this and said:

“Well, I doubt him! I knew that feller when he hadn't got a bob and I'll know him when he hasn't got a bob again. These big dealers always go broke.”

Then they tackled the mass of circulars from tradesmen, begging letters, appeals from cranks, offers to trace his descent from William the Conqueror, letters from ladies who would be glad to meet Mr Carstairs any time and show him a good time. All these got short shrift, for the millionaire's mind was on other matters.

“What's this fellow want? Fifty thousand pounds to finance a perpetual motion machine. Tell him to write to Callan Park lunatic asylum, there's plenty there will lend it to him. I say, Fitz, did you ever see


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anything like the way the little mare battled it out? Here's another cove wants twenty thousand to develop a gold-mine. He says all the mine wants is a capitalist to put some money into it. Well, I suppose that's the only way it'll ever get any money into it. We'll go down to Sydney, Fitz, and buy something to have a crack at 'em while those young ones of Delahunty's are coming on.”

Then he opened another letter:

“Here's a letter from a woman with a lot of children and very hard up. Reads straight enough, too. Put all the letters that look straight into an envelope and send them to the Empire Pastoral. They've got a man who looks into those cases for me. And some nice birds he ketches, too. One chap wrote that he was starving and he came round in a motor-car to collect his letters. We help the real cases. If I win the Melbourne Cup I'll give 'em the lot. Good gosh, here's a letter from Jimmy the Pat with a cheque for two thousand — lucky you only crippled his left hand. Now you write the Empire and tell 'em to get cash for those lambs and in everything else to work their own topknots. What do they want to bother me for? It's no use keeping a dog and barking yourself. Dump all the other letters, and when you've finished we'll go out and have a look at the little mare.”

The next few days were spent in idling about the station. They did some duck-shooting on the river, where the birds came over in clouds. Fitzroy got one with each barrel every time. But Red Fred was no shot, and he even missed a bewildered wallaby that tried to run up his leg. Soured by this misfortune he was


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just about to put his gun away in the car when a mob of wood-duck came over. In a great flurry he fired both barrels into the brown of them and was amazed to see five drop into a little patch of reeds.

Rushing into the water up to his ankles he grabbed about in all directions and as he secured each threw it out on the bank. Making sure none were left, he turned round to wade ashore, and nearly sat down in the water with astonishment when he saw the whole five get up and fly away. To make things worse, as he stood gaping after them, Tarpot Tommy, a station black, who had been driving the ducks, rode up and laughed at him just as though he were a common person and not the owner of several stations and a gold-mine.

“Hoo!” said the black, “that feller young duck. He no fly before. You prighten him bad, he hide longa reeds. Sposin' you ketch him he sham dead, and then he ply away.”

This was bad enough, but when they returned to the house the blackfellow started giving imitations of the scene for the benefit of the blacks' camp — and the blacks are the world's best mimics.

Having beaten a Chinaman, Red Fred thought he could beat a black, so he decided to show Tarpot Tommy a point. Liberally smearing an old pair of riding-breeches with aniseed he sent for all the blacks in camp and presented the breeches to Tarpot Tommy as a compliment to his histrionic powers.

“You go make him bang bang, all same gun, go splash splash, all same duck.”

Just as the delighted Tarpot Tommy started on his performance the half-dozen or so station dogs in the


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backyard got wind of the aniseed, and a whiff of it was borne on the breeze down to the hundred or so dogs in the blacks' camp. Among this lot there was one fellow with a trace of foxhound in his ancestry; throwing his tongue, he set off to investigate. All the others followed, and the bewildered Tarpot Tommy saw the whole of the mongrel pack coming for him on the full run.

In a second they were all round him, sniffing at his trouser-legs in a sort of ecstasy. Dogs were in front of him, dogs behind him, dogs shouldering each other and fighting to get near him. He could not move a step for dogs, and could not take his eyes off them for various reasons. Grabbing a big stick he swung it round to make the dogs keep their distance. As he made a vicious swipe at a particularly persistent mongrel he said:

“By crikey, Missa Carstairs, these damn dogs think me smell all same you!”

After that the millionaire and his secretary decided it was time to go to Sydney.

Before they left they received a letter from Mr Delahunty who wrote just as pompously as he talked:

MY DEAR SIR,

I have to communicate the unpleasant fact that the Philistines are upon us. Your three yearlings were missing from the stud paddock in the last few days and have disappeared altogether. They would certainly not go away from their mates, so it does not need a Sherlock Holmes to deduce that they must have been stolen. I have a tracker here who claims to be able to track a mosquito along a bar of iron, but there have been four inches of rain and all tracks are obliterated. The country is now in a state which, to quote the aforesaid tracker, would bog a duck with a shingle on his foot.

I hear by the mulga wire that your young friend Fitzroy had a bit of a dust-up with that Chinese criminal Jimmy the Pat, so I have no doubt as to the thief, or rather as to the Moriarty


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who arranged the crime. Whether we have any hope of getting a conviction, or any chance of recovering the horses is another matter. He has agents and spies everywhere and, given two days' start, he can take them north, south, east, or west, and substitute them for three of the less aristocratic yearlings on some station where he has the head stockman in his power. I am sorry to say that I never brand my yearlings, so by this time they probably have brands and new identities, pedigrees, etc.

One thing is certain, they are sure to race them sooner or later, for not even the fear of the police — even of the devil himself — would keep these local Dick Turpins from racing horses of this class. We have a few men in the police who are peculiarly qualified to prove the truth of the proverb “set a thief to catch a thief,” so a good big reward, privately circulated among the police, might bring results. Meanwhile, if we hear of any colt with an obscure pedigree racing like a champion we can have him overhauled.

I cannot understand why they have never arrested Jimmy the Pat. They are always threatening to do so, but, as my tracker says, they will never do it, until he has whiskers which trail on the ground.

Moira sends her regards and Maggie has already blinded several people with her opal.

Coming on top of his unfortunate effort to be funny at the expense of Tarpot Tommy, the theft of these yearlings upset their owner considerably.

“Did you ever hear the like of that?” he said. “I suppose that Chow sent somebody into the paddock with a handful of hay, and when the yearlings come up to him, he slipped halters on 'em and off they all went. When I started shearin', before the motor bikes come in, we used many a time to slip into a squatter's paddick and ketch a couple of horses that may, and ride 'em fifty or a hundred miles to a shed. But we always let 'em go again. We'll offer five hundred reward, and we'll make it free for all, not only the traps.

“I knew a little bloke named Flash Jack; was out on bail for pinchin' a horse, and he went down to the


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police-station and pinched the horse out of their yard and they never saw him or the horse again. I s'pose he'll be up in the Territory now — that's where most of 'em go, when the traps are after 'em. If Flash Jack hears there's five hundred hangin' to it, he'll come down and find them horses. And look here. You'd better write to the police and get your discharge. Tell 'em you've turned respectable.”

Fitzroy himself had been worrying over this for some time. It is fairly hard to get into the police force, but (as with an Australian Eleven) it is much harder to get out of it. The training of a policeman costs a lot of money, even more than the training of a soldier, so the authorities are unwilling to let a man go, even though he may have done something particularly silly — such as Fitzroy had done at Barcoo. That faux pas had been offset by his magnificent victory over the Chinaman at Calabash, and a strong, willing man can always be used in the criminal districts where he can arrest pretty well anybody without much fear of a mistake. Acting on the principle of “do it now,” he decided to write the letter at once and went in search of a dictionary.

A search in the station bookcase revealed some yellow-backs and a set of Walter Scott's novels, but nothing in the nature of a dictionary; and an inquiry of the manager's wife revealed that there had never been such a thing in the place. Faced with this catastrophe, he thought for a while of going through one of Scott's novels till he found each word he wanted; but on second thoughts he decided that his own natural spelling might be an inducement to them to let him


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go. So he sat himself down in the station office, with its samples of wool and strong smell of sheep-dip, took up his pen and wrote:

TO THE COMMISSIONER OF POLICE —

SIR,

[He was all right so far, as he had written those words hundreds of times, but then he had to launch on an uncharted sea] I regret to say that my sirkumstances have alltered very much for the better, since I unlissted in the force. I am now seekertary to a gentleman of wealth and owner of several stations. In regard to my applecation for discharge from the force, consiquent on arresting a milliunar on a charge of theft, I now beg that you will aprove same. [Having got so far, he was soon on safe ground when he wrote the familiar words] I have the honor to be, Sir, your obedient servant

HILTON FITZROY,

Mounted Trooper No. 79.

Fortunately for him, this letter got to headquarters before any report of the famous victory at Calabash over Kum Yoon Jim, the terror of the force, otherwise he might never have got his discharge. His letter was dealt with by the Secretary to the Commissioner, a man who was a purist in English but had been put on to secretarial work because of his dislike for arresting or mixing in any way with desperate criminals. Having shuddered at the spelling and criticized the construction of the letter, this official relaxed so far as to mark it, “applecation granted,” and Fitzroy was free — free to indulge in thoughts of a return to England.

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