Part 3 out of 5
"Together--how curious!" said Cecilia.
"Not a bit; you're the only unmarried ladies on board. And they're
packed like sardines--not a vacant berth on the ship. Over two
thousand men and two hundred officers, to say nothing of wives and
children." He leaned back, thankful that his rush of work was
over. "Well, when I make a long voyage I hope it won't be on a
"Well, that's a bad remark to begin one's journey on," said Jim
Linton, following the girls up the gangway. "Doesn't it scare you,
"No," she said, with a little laugh. "Nothing would scare me
except not going."
"Why, that's all right," he said. His hand fell on his sister's
shoulder. "And what about you, Nor?"
The face she turned him was so happy that words were hardly needed.
"Why--I'm going back to Billabong!" she said.
THE WELCOME OF AUSTRALIA
A path of moonlight lay across the sea. Into it drifted a great
ship, her engines almost stopped, so that only a dull, slow throb
came up from below, instead of the swift thud-thud of the screw
that had pounded for many weeks. It was late; so late that most of
the ship's lights were extinguished. But all through her was a
feeling of pulsating life, of unrest, of a kind of tense
excitement, of long-pent expectation. There were low voices
everywhere; feet paced the decks; along the port railings on each
deck soldiers were clustered thickly, looking out across the grey,
tossing sea to a winking light that flashed and twinkled out of the
darkness like a voice that cried "Greeting!" For it was the Point
Lonsdale light, at the sea gate of Victoria; and the men of the
Nauru were nearly home.
There was little sleep for anyone on board on that last night.
Most of the Nauru's great company were to disembark in Melbourne;
the last two days had seen a general smartening up, a mighty
polishing of leather and brass, a "rounding-up" of scattered
possessions. The barber's shop had been besieged by shaggy crowds;
and since the barber, being but human, could not cope with more
than a small proportion of his would-be customers, amateur clipping
parties had been in full swing forward, frequently with terrifying
results. Nobody minded. "Git it orf, that's all that matters!"
was the motto of the long-haired.
No one knew quite when the Nauru would berth; it was wrapped in
mystery, like all movements of troopships. So every one was ready
the night before--kit bags packed, gear stowed away, nothing left
save absolute necessaries. Then, with the coming of dusk, unrest
settled down upon the ship, and the men marched restlessly, up and
down, or, gripping pipe stems between their teeth, stared from the
railings northwards. And then, like a star at first, the Point
Lonsdale light twinkled out of the darkness, and a low murmur ran
round the decks--a murmur without words, since it came from men
whose only fashion of meeting any emotion is with a joke; and even
for a "digger" there is no joke ready on the lips, but only a catch
at the heart, at the first glimpse of home.
Norah Linton had tucked herself away behind a boat on the hurricane
deck, and there Cecilia Rainham found her just after dusk. The two
girls had become sworn friends during the long voyage out, in the
close companionship of sharing a cabin--which is a kind of acid
test that generally brings out the best--and worst--of travellers.
There was something protective in Norah's nature that responded
instantly to the lonely position of the girl who was going across
the world to a strange country. Both were motherless, but in
Norah's case the blank was softened by a father who had striven
throughout his children's lives to be father and mother alike to
them, while Cecilia had only the bitter memory of the man who had
shirked his duty until he had become less than a stranger to her.
If any pang smote her heart at the sight of Norah's worshipping
love for the tall grey "dad" for whom she was the very centre of
existence, Cecilia did not show it. The Lintons had taken them
into their little circle at once--more, perhaps, by reason of
Cecilia's extraordinary introduction to them than through General
Harran's letter--and Bob and his sister were already grateful for
their friendship. They were a quiet quartet, devoted to each other
in their undemonstrative fashion; Norah was on a kind of boyish
footing with Jim, the huge silent brother who was a major, with
three medal ribbons to his credit, and with Wally Meadows, his
inseparable chum, who had been almost brought up with the brother
"They were always such bricks to me, even when I was a little scrap
of a thing," she had told Cecilia. "They never said I was 'only a
girl,' and kept me out of things. So I grew up more than three
parts a boy. It was so much easier for dad to manage three boys,
"You don't look much like a boy," Cecilia had said, looking at the
tall, slender figure and the mass of curly brown hair. They were
getting ready for bed, and Norah was wielding a hair-brush
"No, but I really believe I feel like one--at least, I do whenever
I am with Jim and Wally," Norah had answered. "And when we get
back to Billabong it will be just as it always was--we'll be three
boys together. You know, it's the most ridiculous thing to think
of Jim and Wally as grown-ups. Dad and I can't get accustomed to
it at all. And as for Jim being a major!--a major sounds so
dignified and respectable, and Jim isn't a bit like that!"
"And what about Captain Meadows?"
"Oh--Wally will simply never grow up." Norah laughed softly.
"He's like Peter Pan. Once he nearly managed it--in that bad time
when Jim was a prisoner, and we thought he was killed. But Jim got
back just in time to save him from anything so awful. One of the
lovely parts of getting Jim again was to see the twinkle come back
into Wally's eyes. You see, Wally is practically all twinkle!"
"And when you get back to Australia, what will you all do?"
Norah had looked puzzled.
"Why, I don't know that we've ever thought of it," she said.
"We'll just all go to Billabong--we don't seem to think further
than that. Anyway, you and Bob are coming too--so we can plan it
all out then."
Looking at her, on this last night of the voyage, Cecilia wondered
whether the unknown "Billabong" would indeed be enough, after the
long years of war. They had been children when they left; now the
boys were seasoned soldiers, with scars and honours, and such
memories as only they themselves could know; and Norah and her
father had for years conducted what they termed a "Home for Tired
People," where broken and weary men from the front had come to be
healed and tended, and sent back refitted in mind and body. This
girl, who leaned over the rail and looked at the Point Lonsdale
light, had seen suffering and sorrow; the mourning of those who had
given up dear ones, the sick despair of young and strong men
crippled in the very dawn of life; and had helped them all. Beside
her, in experience, Cecilia felt a child. And yet the old bush
home, with its simple life and the pleasures that had been
everything to her in childhood, seemed everything to her now.
Cecilia went softly to her side, and Norah turned with a start.
"Hallo, Tommy!" she said, slipping her arm through the new-comer's--
Cecilia had become "Tommy" to them all in a very short time, and
her hated, if elegant, name left as a legacy to England. "I didn't
hear you come. Oh, Tommy, it's lovely to see home again!"
"You can't see much," said Tommy, laughing.
"No, but it's there. I can feel it; and that old winking eye on
Point Lonsdale is saying fifty nice things a minute. And I can
smell the gum leaves--don't you tell me I can't, Tommy, just
because your nose isn't tuned up to gum leaves yet!"
"Does it take long to tune a nose?" asked Tommy, laughing.
"Not a nice nose like yours." Norah gave a happy little sigh. "Do
you see that glow in the sky? That's the lights of Melbourne. I
went to school near Melbourne, but I never loved it much; but
somehow, it seems different now. It's all just shouting welcomes.
And back of beyond that light is Billabong."
"I want to see Billabong," said the other girl. "I never had a
home that meant anything like that--I want to see yours."
"And I suppose you'll just think it's an ordinary, untidy old
place--not a bit like the trim English places, where the woods look
as though they were swept and dusted before breakfast every
morning. I suppose it is all ordinary. But it has meant just
everything I wanted, all my life, and I can't imagine its meaning
anything less now."
"And what about Homewood--the Home for Tired People?"
"Oh, Homewood certainly is lovely," Norah said. "I like it better
than any place in the world that isn't Billabong--and it was just
wonderful to be able to carry it on for the Tired People: dad and I
will always be thankful we had the chance. But it never was home:
and now it's going to run itself happily without us, as a place for
partly-disabled men, with Colonel Hunt and Captain Hardress to
manage it. It was just a single chapter in our lives, and now it
is closed. But we're--all of us--parts of Billabong."
Some one came quietly along the deck and to the vacant place on her
"Who's talking Billabong again, old kiddie?" Jim Linton's deep
voice was always gentle. Norah gave his shoulder a funny little
rub with her head.
"Ah, you're just as bad as I am, so you needn't laugh at me,
"I wasn't laughing at you," Jim defended himself. "I expected to
find you ever so much worse. I thought you'd sing anthems on the
very word Billabong all through the voyage, especially in your
bath. Of course I don't know what Tommy has suffered!"
"Tommy doesn't need your sympathy," said that lady. "However, she
wants to look her best for Melbourne, so she's going to bed. Don't
hurry, Norah; I know you want to exchange greetings with that light
for hours yet!"
She slipped away, and Norah drew closer to Jim. Presently came
Wally, on her other side, and a few moments later a deep voice
behind them said, "Not in bed yet, Norah?"--and Wally made room for
"I couldn't go to bed, dad."
"Apparently most of the ship is of your mind--I didn't feel like
bed myself," admitted the squatter, letting his hand rest for a
moment on his daughter's shoulder. He gave a great sigh of
happiness. "Eh, children, it's great to be near home again!"
"My word, isn't it!" said Jim. "Only it's hard to take in. I keep
fancying that I'll certainly wake up in a minute and find myself in
a trench, just getting ready to go over the top. What do you
suppose they're doing at Billabong now, Nor?"
"Asleep," said Norah promptly. "Oh, I don't know--I don't believe
"I know she's not," Wally said. He and the old nurse-housekeeper
of Billabong were sworn allies; though no one could ever quite come
up to Jim and Norah in Brownie's heart, Wally had been a close
third from the day, long years back, that he had first come to the
station, a lonely, dark-eyed little Queenslander. "She's made the
girls scrub and polish until there's nothing left for them to rub,
and she's harried Hogg and Lee Wing until there isn't a leaf
looking crooked in all the garden, and she and Murty have planned
all about meeting you for the hundred and first time."
"And she's planning to make pikelets for you!" put in Norah.
"Bless her. I wouldn't wonder. She's planning the very wildest
cooking, of course--do you remember what the table used to be the
night we came home from school? And now she's gone round all the
rooms to make sure she couldn't spend another sixpence on them, and
she's sitting by her window trying to see us all on the Nauru.
'Specially you, old Nor."
"'Tis the gift of second sight you have," said Jim admiringly. "A
few hundred years ago you'd have got yourself ducked as a witch or
"Oh, Wally and Brownie were always twin souls; no wonder each knows
what the other is thinking of," Norah said, laughing. "It all
sounds exactly true, at any rate. Boys, what a pity you can't land
in uniform--wouldn't they all love to see you!"
"Can't do it," Jim said. "Too long since we were shot out of the
army; any enterprising provost-marshal could make himself obnoxious
"I know--but I'm sorry," answered Norah. "Brownie won't be
satisfied unless she sees you in all your war paint."
"We'll put it on some night for dinner," Jim promised. He peered
suddenly into the darkness. "There's a moving light--it's the
pilot steamer coming out for us."
They watched the light pass slowly from the dim region that meant
the Heads, until, as the pilot boat swung out through the Rip to
where the Nauru lay, her other lights grew clear, and presently her
whole outline loomed indistinctly, suddenly close to them. She lay
to across a little heaving strip of sea, and presently the pilot
was being pulled across to them by a couple of men and was coming
nimbly up the Nauru's ladder, hand over hand. He nodded cheerily
at his welcome--a fusillade of greetings from every "digger" who
could find a place at the railings, and a larger number who could
not, but contented themselves with shouting sweet nothings from
behind their comrades. A lean youngster near Jim Linton looked
down enviously at the retreating boat.
"If I could only slide down into her, an' nick off to the old
Alvina over there, I'd be home before breakfast," he said. "Me
people live at Queenscliff--don't it seem a fair cow to have to go
past 'em, right up to Melbourne?"
The pilot's head appeared above on the bridge, beside the
captain's, and presently the Nauru gathered way, and, slowly
turning, forged through the tossing waters of the Rip. Before her
the twin lights of the Heads opened out; soon she was gliding
between them, and under the silent guns of the Queenscliff forts,
and past the twinkling house lights of the little seaside town.
There were long coo-ees from the diggers, with shrill, piercing
whistles of greeting for Victoria; from ashore came faint answering
echoes. But the four people from Billabong stood silently, glad of
each other's nearness, but with no words, and in David Linton's
heart and Norah's was a great surge of thankfulness that, out of
many perils, they were bringing their boys safely home.
The Nauru turned across Port Phillip Bay, and presently they felt
the engines cease, and there came the rattle of the chain as the
anchor shot into the sea.
"As the captain thought," said Jim. "He fancied they'd anchor us
off Portsea for the night and bring us up to Port Melbourne in the
morning, after we'd been inspected. Wouldn't it be the limit if
some one developed measles now, and they quarantined us!"
"You deserve quarantining, if ever anyone did," said Norah,
indignantly. "Why do you have such horrible ideas?"
"I don't know--they just seem to waft themselves to me," said Jim
modestly. "Anyhow, the quarantine station is a jolly little place
for a holiday, and the sea view is delightful." He broke off,
laughing, and suddenly flung his arm round her shoulders in the
dusk of the deck. "I think I'm just about insane at getting home,"
he said. "Don't mind me, old kiddie--and you'd better go to bed,
or you'll be a ghost in the morning."
They weighed anchor after breakfast, following a perfunctory
medical inspection--so perfunctory that one youth who, having been
a medical student, and knowing well that he had a finely-developed
feverish cold, with a high temperature, and not wishing to
embarrass his fellow-passengers, placed in his mouth the wrong end
of the clinical thermometer handed him by the visiting nurse. He
sucked this gravely for the prescribed time, reversing it just as
she reappeared; and, being marked normal and given a clean bill of
health, returned to his berth to shiver and perspire between huge
doses of quinine. More than one such hero evaded the searching eye
of regulations; until finally the Nauru, free to land her
passengers, steamed slowly up the Bay.
One by one the old, familiar landmarks opened out--Mornington,
Frankston, Mordialloc, while Melbourne itself lay hidden in a mist
cloud ahead. Then, as the sun grew stronger the mist lifted, and
domes and spires pierced the dun sky, towering above the jumbled
mass of the grey city. They drew closer to Port Melbourne, and lo!
St. Kilda and all the foreshore were gay with flags, and all the
ships in the harbour were dressed to welcome them; and beyond the
pier were long lines of motors, each beflagged, waiting for the
fighting men whom the Nauru was bringing home.
"Us!" said a boy. "Why, it's us! Flags an' motors--an' a blessed
band playin' on the pier! Wot on earth are they fussin' over us
for? Ain't it enough to get home?"
The band of the Nauru was playing Home, Sweet Home, very low and
tenderly, and there were lumps in many throats, and many a pipe
went out unheeded. Slowly the great ship drew in to the pier,
where officers in uniform waited, and messengers of welcome from
the Government. Beyond the barriers that held the general public
back from the pier was a black mass of people; cheer upon cheer
rose, to be wafted back from the transport, where the "diggers"
lined every inch of the port side, clinging like monkeys to yards
and rigging. Then the Nauru came to rest at last, and the gangways
rattled down, and the march off began, to the quick lilt of the
band playing "Oh, it's a Lovely War." The men took up the words,
singing as they marched back to Victoria--coming back, as they had
gone, with a joke on their lips. So the waiting motors received
them, and rolled them off in triumphal procession to Melbourne,
between the cheering crowds.
From the top deck the Lintons, with the Rainhams, watched the men
go--disembarkation was for the troops first, and not till all had
gone could the unattached officers leave the ship. The captain
came to them, at last a normal and friendly captain--no more the
official master of a troopship, in which capacity, as he ruefully
said, he could make no friends, and could scarcely regard his ship
as his own, provided he brought her safely from port to port. He
cast a disgusted glance along the stained and littered decks.
"This is her last voyage as a trooper, and I'm not sorry," he said.
"After this she'll lie up for three months to be refitted; and then
I'll command a ship again and not a barracks. You wouldn't think
now, to see her on this voyage, that the time was when I had to
know the reason why if there was so much as a stain the size of a
sixpence on the deck. Oh yes, it's been all part of the job, and
I'm proud of all the old ship has done, and the thousands of men
she's carried; and we've had enough narrow squeaks, from mines and
submarines, to fill a book. But I'm beginning to hanker mightily
to see her clean!"
The Lintons laughed unfeelingly. A little mild grumbling might
well be permitted to a man with his record; few merchant captains
had done finer service in the war, and the decoration on his breast
testified to his cool handling of his ship in the "narrow squeaks"
he spoke of lightly.
"Oh yes. I never get any sympathy," said the captain, laughing
himself. "And yet I'll wager Miss Linton was 'house-proud' in that
'Home for Tired People' of hers, and she ought to sympathize with a
tidy man. You should have seen my wife's face when she came aboard
once at Liverpool, and saw the ship; and she's never had the same
respect for me since! There--the last man is off the ship, and the
gangways are clear; nothing to keep all you homesick people now."
He said good-bye, and ran up the steps to his cabin under the
It was a queer home-coming at first, to a vast pier, empty save for
a few officials and policemen--for no outsiders were allowed within
the barriers. But once clear of customs officials and other
formalities they packed themselves into cabs, and in a few moments
were outside the railed-off space, turning into a road lined on
either side with people--all peering into the long procession of
cabs, in the hope of finding their own returning dear ones. It was
but a few moments before a posse of uncles, aunts and cousins
swooped down upon the Lintons, whose cab prudently turned down a
side street to let the wave of welcome expend itself. In the side
street, too, were motors belonging to the aunts and uncles; and
presently the new arrivals were distributed among them, and were
being rushed up to Melbourne, along roads still crowded by the
people who had flocked to welcome the "diggers" home. The Rainhams
found themselves adopted by this new and cheery band of people--at
least half of whose names they never learned; not that this seemed
to matter in the least. It was something new to them, and very un-
English; but there was no doubt that it made landing in a new
country a very different thing from their half-fearful anticipations.
"And you really came out all alone--not knowing anyone!" said an
aunt. "Aren't you English people plucky! And I believe that most
of you think we're all black fellows--or did until our diggers went
home, and proved unexpectedly white!"
"I don't think we're quite so bad as that!" Bob said, laughing.
"But certainly we never expected quite so kind a welcome."
"Oh, we're all immensely interested in people who take the trouble
to come across the world to see us," said Mrs. Geoffrey Linton.
"That is, if they don't put on 'side'; we don't take kindly to
being patronized. And you have no idea how many new chums do
patronize us. Did you know, by the way, that you're new chums
"It has been carefully drilled into us on the ship," Bob said
gravely. "I think we know pretty well all we have to face--the
snakes that creep into new chums' boots and sleep under their
pillows, the goannas that bite our toes if we aren't watchful, and
the mosquitoes that sit on the trees and bark!"
"Also the tarantulas that drop from everywhere, especially into
food," added Tommy, dimpling. "And the bush fires every Sunday
morning, and the blacks that rush down--what is it? Oh yes, the
Block, casting boomerangs about! There is much spare time on a
troopship, Mrs. Linton, and all of it was employed by the
subalterns in telling us what we might expect!"
"I can quite imagine it," Mrs. Geoffrey laughed. "Oh well,
Billabong will be a good breaking-in. Norah tells me you are going
up there at once?"
"Well, not quite at once," Bob said. "We think it is only fair to
let them get home without encumbrances, and as we have to present
other letters of introduction in Melbourne, we'll stay here for a
few days, and then follow them."
"Then you must come out to us," said Mrs. Geoffrey firmly. "No use
to ask my brother-in-law, of course; he has just one idea, and that
is to stay at Scott's, get his luggage through the customs, see his
bankers as quickly as possible, and then get back to his beloved
Billabong. If we get them out to dinner to-night, it's as much as
we can hope for. But you two must come to us--we can run you here
and there in the car to see the people you want." She put aside
their protests, laughing. "Why, you don't know how much we like
capturing bran-new English people--and think what you have done for
our boys all these four years! From what they tell us, if anyone
wants to go anywhere or do anything he likes in England, all he has
to do is to wear a digger's slouched hat!"
They stopped in Collins Street, and in a moment the new-comers,
slightly bewildered, found themselves in a tea-room; a new thing in
tea-rooms to Tommy and Bob, since it was a vision of russet and
gold--brown wood, masses of golden wattle and daffodils, and of
bronze gum leaves; and even the waitresses flitted about in russet-
brown dresses. David Linton hung back at the doorway.
"It isn't a party, Winifred?"
"My dear David, only a few people who want to welcome you back.
Really, you're just as bad as ever!" said his sister-in-law, half
vexed. "The children's school friends, too--Jim and Wally's mates.
You can't expect us to get you all back, after so long--and with
all those honours, too!--and not give people a chance of shaking
hands with you." At which point Norah said, gently, but firmly,
"Dad, you mustn't be naughty," and led him within.
Some one grasped his hand. "Well, Linton, old chap!" And he found
himself greeting the head of a big "stock and station" firm. Some
one else clapped him on the shoulder, and he turned to meet his
banker; behind them towered half a dozen old squatter friends, with
fellow clubmen, all trying at once to get hold of his hand. David
Linton's constitutional shyness melted in the heartiness of their
greeting. Beyond them Norah seemed to be the centre of a mass of
girls, one of whom presently detached herself, and came to him. He
said in amazement, "Why, it's Jean Yorke--and grown up!" and
actually kissed her, to the great delight of Jean, who had been an
old mate of Norah's. As for Jim and Wally, they were scarcely to
be seen, save for their heads, in a cluster of lads, who were
pounding and smiting them wherever space permitted. Altogether,
it was a confused and cheerful gathering, and, much to the
embarrassment of the russet-brown waitresses, the last thing
anybody thought of was tea.
Still, when the buzz of greetings had subsided, and at length
"morning tea"--that time-honoured institution of Australia--had a
chance to appear, it was of a nature to make the new arrivals gasp.
The last four years in England had fairly broken people in to plain
living; dainties and luxuries had disappeared so completely from
the table that every one had ceased to think about them.
Therefore, the Linton party blinked in amazement at the details of
what to Melbourne was a very ordinary tea, and, forgetting its
manners, broke into open comment.
"Cakes!" said Wally faintly. "Jean, you might catch me if I
"What's wrong with the cakes?" said Jean Yorke, bewildered.
"Nothing--except that they are cakes! Jim!"--he caught at his
chum's sleeve--"that substance in enormous layers in that enormous
slice is called cream. Real cream. When did you see cream last,
"I'm hanged if I know," Jim answered, grinning. "About four years
ago, I suppose. I'd forgotten it existed. And the cakes look as
if they didn't fall to pieces if you touched 'em."
"What, do the English cakes do that?" asked a pained aunt.
"Rather--when there are any. It's something they take out of the
war flour--what is it, Nor?"
"Gluten, I think it's called," said Norah doubtfully. "It's
something that ordinarily makes flour stick together, but they took
it all out of the war flour, and put it into munitions. So
everything you made with war flour was apt to be dry and crumbly.
And when you made cakes with it, and war sugar, which was half full
of queer stuff like plaster of paris, and egg substitute, because
eggs--when you could get them--were eightpence halfpenny, and
butter substitute (and very little of that)--well, they weren't
exactly what you would call cakes at all."
"Butter substitute!" said the aunt faintly. "I could not live
without good butter!"
"Bless you, Norah and dad hadn't tasted butter for nearly three
years before they came on board the Nauru," said Jim. "It was
affecting to see Nor greeting a pat of butter for the first time!"
"But you had some butter--we read about it."
"Two ounces per head weekly--but they put all their ration into the
'Tired People's food,'" said Wally.
"It wasn't only dad and I," said Norah quickly. "Every soul we
employed did that--Irish maids, butler, cook-lady and all. And we
hadn't to ask one of them to do it. The Tired People always had
butter. They used to think we had a special allowance from
Government, but we hadn't."
"Dear me!" said the aunt. "It's too terrible. And meat?"
"Oh, meat was very short," said Norah, laughing. "Of course we
were fairly well off for our Tired People, because they had
soldiers' rations; but even so, we almost forgot what a joint
looked like. Stews and hot pots and made dishes--you call them
that because you make them of anything but meat! We became very
clever at camouflaging meat dishes. Somehow the Tired People ate
them all. But"--she paused, laughing--"you know I never thought I
could feel greedy for meat. And I did--I just longed, quite often,
for a chop!"
"And could you not have one?"
"Gracious, no!" Norah looked amazed. "Chops were quite the most
extravagant thing of all--too much bone. You see, the meat ration
included bone and fat, and I can tell you we were pretty badly
worried if we got too much of either."
"To think of all she knows," said the aunt, regarding her with a
tearful eye. Whereat Norah laughed.
"Oh, I could tell you lots of homely things," she said. "How we
always boiled bones for soup at least four times before we looked
on them as used up; and how we worked up sheep's heads into the
most wonderful chicken galantines; and--but would you mind if I ate
some walnut cake instead? It's making me tremble even to look at
After which Jean Yorke and the russet-brown waitresses vied in
plying the new-comers with the most elaborate cakes, until even Jim
and Wally begged for mercy.
"You ought to remember we're not used to these things," Wally
protested, waving away a strange erection of cream, icing and
wafery pastry. "If I ate that it would go to my head, and I'd have
to be removed in an ambulance. And the awful part of it is--I want
to eat it. Take it out of my sight, Jean, or I'll yield, and the
consequences will be awful."
"But it is too dreadful to think of all you poor souls have gone
through," said an aunt soulfully. "How little we in Australia know
of what war means!"
"But if it comes to that, how little we knew!" Norah exclaimed,
"Why, there we were, only a few miles from the fighting--you could
hear the guns on a still day, when a big action was going on; and
except for the people who came directly in the way of air raids,
England knew little or nothing of war: I mean, war as the people of
Belgium and Northern France knew it. The worst we had to admit was
that we didn't get everything we liked to eat, and that was a joke
compared to what we might have had. Hardly anyone in England went
cold or hungry through the war, and so I don't think we knew much
about it either." She broke off blushing furiously, to find every
one listening to her. "I didn't mean to make a speech."
"It's quite true, though," said her father, "even if you did make a
speech about it. There were privations in some cases, no doubt--
invalids sometimes suffered, or men used to a heavy meat diet,
whose wives had not knowledge--or fuel--enough to cook substitutes
properly. On the other hand, there was no unemployment, and the
poor were better fed than they had ever been, since every one could
make good wages at munitions. The death rate among civilians was
very much lower than usual. People learned to eat less, and not to
waste--and the pre-war waste in England was terrific. And I say--
and I think we all say--that anyone who grumbles about 'privations'
in England deserves to know what real war means--as the women of
Belgium know it."
He stopped, and Norah regarded him with great pride, since his
remarks were usually strictly limited to the fewest possible words.
"Well, it's rather refreshing to hear you talk," remarked another
squatter. "A good many people have come back telling most pathetic
tales of all they had to endure. I suppose, though, that some were
worse off than you?"
"Oh, certainly," David Linton said. "We knew one Australian, an
officer's wife, who was stranded in a remote corner of South Wales
with two servants and two babies; it was just at the time of
greatest scarcity before compulsory rationing began, when most of
the food coming in was kept in the big towns and the Midlands.
That woman could certainly get milk for her youngsters; but for
three months the only foods she and her maids were sure of getting
were war bread, potatoes, haricot beans and salt herrings. She was
a good way from the nearest town, and there was deep snow most of
the time. There was no carting out to her place, and by the time
she could get into the town most of the food shops would be empty."
"And if you saw the salt herrings!" said Norah. "They come down
from Scotland, packed thousands in a barrel. They're about the
length and thickness of a comb, and if you soak them for a day in
warm water and then boil them, you can begin to think about them as
a possible food. But Mrs. Burton and her maids ate them for three
months. She didn't seem to think she had anything to grumble
about--in fact, she said she still felt friendly towards potatoes,
but she hoped she'd never see a herring or a bean again!"
"She had her own troubles about coal, too," remarked Jim. "The
only coal down there is a horrible brownish stuff that falls into
damp slack if you look at it; it's generally used only for
furnaces, but people had to draw their coal allowance from the
nearest supply, and it was all she could get. The only way to use
the beastly stuff was to mix it with wet, salt mud from the river
into what the country people call culm--then you cut it into
blocks, or make balls of it, and it hardens. She couldn't get a
man to do it for her, and she used to mix all her culm herself--and
you wouldn't call it woman's work, even in Germany. But she used
to tell it as a kind of joke."
"She used to look on herself as one of the really lucky women,"
said David Linton, "because her husband didn't get killed. And I
think she was--herrings and culm and all. And we're even luckier,
since we've all come back to Australia, and to such a welcome as
you've given us." He stood up, smiling his slow, pleasant smile at
them all. "And now I think I've got to go chasing the Customs, if
I'm ever to disinter our belongings and get home."
The girls took possession of Norah and Tommy, who left their
menfolk to the drear business of clearing luggage, and thankfully
spent the afternoon in the Botanical Gardens, glad to have firm
ground under their feet after six weeks of sea. Then they all met
at dinner at Mrs. Geoffrey Linton's, where they found her son,
Cecil, who greeted Norah with something of embarrassment. There
was an old score between Norah and Cecil Linton, although they had
not seen each other for years; but its memory died out in Norah's
heart as she looked at her cousin's military badge and noted that
he dragged one foot slightly. Indeed, there was no room in Norah's
heart for anything but happiness.
The aunts and uncles tried hard to persuade David Linton to remain
a few days in Melbourne, but he shook his head.
"I've been homesick for five years," he told them. "And it feels
like fifty. I'll come down again, I promise--yes, and bring the
children, of course. But just now I can't wait. I've got to get
"That old Billabong!" said Mrs. Geoffrey, half laughing. "Are you
going to live and die in the backblocks, David?"
"Why, certainly--at least I hope so," he said. "I suppose there
must be lucid intervals, now that Norah is grown up, or imagines
she is--not that she seems to me a bit different from the time when
her hair was down. Still I suppose I must bring her to town, and
let her make her curtsy at Government House, and do all the correct
Some one slipped a hand through his arm.
"But when we've done them, daddy," said Norah cheerfully, "there
will always be Billabong to go home to!"
"Will it be fine, Murty?"
The person addressed made no answer for a moment, continuing to
stare at the western horizon with his eyes wrinkled and his face
anxious. He turned presently; a tall, grizzled man, with the
stooping shoulders and the slightly bowed legs that are the
heritage of those who spend nine-tenths of their time in the
"Sorra a one of me knows," he said. "It's one of thim unchancy
days that might be annything. Have ye looked at the glass?"
"It's mejum," replied the first speaker. She was a vast woman,
with a broad, kindly face, lit by shrewd and twinkling blue eyes,
dressed, as was her custom, in a starched blue print, with a snowy
apron. "Mejum only. But I don't feel comferable at that there
bank of clouds, Murty."
"I'd not say meself it was good," admitted Murty O'Toole, head
stockman on the Billabong run. He looked again at the doubtful
sky, and then back to Mrs. Brown. "Have ye no corns, at all, that
'ud be shootin' on ye if rain was coming?"
"Corns I 'ave, indeed," said Mrs. Brown, with the sigh of one who
admits that she is but human. "But no--they ain't shootin' worth
speakin' about, Murty. Nor me rheumatic knee ain't givin' tongue,
as Master Jim would say."
"Yerra, that's all to the good," said the stockman, much cheered.
"I'll not look at the ould sky anny longer--leastways, not till I
have that cup of tea ye were speakin' about."
"Come in then," said Mrs. Brown, leading the way into the kitchen--
a huge place so glittering with cleanliness and polish that it
almost hurt the eye. "Kettle's boilin'--I'll have it made in a
jiffy. No, Murty, you will not sit on that table. Pounds of bath-
brick 'ave gone into me tables this last week."
"Ye have them always that white I do not see how ye'd want them to
be whiter," remarked Murty, gazing round him. "But I niver see
anything to aiqual the shine ye have on them tins an' copper. And
the stove is that fine it's a shame to be cookin' with it." He
looked with respect at the black satin and silver of the stove,
where leaping flames glowed redly. "Well, I'll always say there
isn't a heartsomer place to come into than the Billabong kitchen.
And isn't it the little misthress that thinks so?"
"Bless her, she was always in and out of it from the time she could
toddle," said Mrs. Brown, pausing with the teapot in her hand.
"And she wasn't much more than toddlin' before she was at me to
teach her to cook. When she was twelve she could cook a dinner as
well as anyone twice her age. I never see the beat of her--handy
as a man out on the run, too--"
"She was that," said Murty solemnly. "Since she was a bit of a
thing I never see the bullock as could get away from her. And the
ponies she'd ride! There was nothin' ever looked through a bridle
that cud frighten her."
"Poof! Miss Norah didn't know what it was to be afraid," said Mrs.
Brown, filling the huge brown teapot. "Sometimes I've wished she
was, for me heart's been in me mouth often and often when I see her
go caperin' down the track on some mad-'eaded pony."
"An' there was niver a time when they was late home but you made
sure the whole lot of 'em was killed," said Murty, grinning. "I'd
come in here an' find you wit' all the funerals planned, so to
"Ah, go on! At least, I alwuz stayed at home when I was nervis,"
said Mrs. Brown. "Who was it I've known catch an 'orse in the
dark, an' go off to look for 'em when they were a bit late? Not
me, Mr. O'Toole!" She filled his cup and handed it to him with a
"Yerra, I misremember doin' any such thing," said Murty, slightly
confused. "'Tis the way I was most likely goin' afther a sick
bullock, or it might be 'possum shootin'." He raised his cup and
took a deep draught; then, with a wry face, gazed at its contents.
"I dunno is this a new brand of tea you're afther usin', now?
Sure, it looks pale."
Mrs. Brown cast a glance at the cup he held out, and gave a gasp of
"Well, not in all me born days 'ave I made tea an' forgot to put
the tea in!" she exclaimed, snatching it from his hand. "Don't you
go an' tell Dave and Mick, Murty, or I'll never hear the end of it.
Lucky there's plenty of hot water." She emptied the teapot
swiftly, and refilled it, this time with due regard to the tea-
"Now, Murty, don't you sit there grinnin' at me like a hyener--it
isn't every day I get Miss Norah home."
"It is not," said Murty, taking his renewed cup and a large piece
of bread and butter. "Sure, I'd not blame ye if ye fried bacon in
the tea-pot--not this morning. I dunno, meself, am I on me head or
me heels. All the men is much the same; they've been fallin' over
each other, tryin' to get a little bit of extra spit-an'-polish on
the whole place. I b'lieve Dave Boone wud 'a' set to work an'
whitewashed the paddock fences if I'd encouraged him at all."
"There's that Sarah," said Mrs. Brown. "Ornery days it takes me,
an alarum clock, an' Mary, to say nothin' of a wet sponge, to get
her out of bed. But bless you--these last three days she's up
before the pair of us, rubbin' an' polishin' in every corner. An'
she an' 'Ogg at each other's throats over flowers; she wantin' to
pick every one to look pretty in the 'ouse, an' 'Ogg wantin' every
one to look pretty in the garden."
"Well, Hogg's got enough an' to spare," was Murty's comment. "No
union touch about his work. I reckon he's put in sixteen hours a
day at that garden since we heard they were comin'."
"But there never was any union touch about Billabong," said Mrs.
"Not much! We all know when we're well off," said Murty. "I'll
bet no union was ever as good a boss as David Linton."
Two other men appeared at the kitchen door--Mick Shanahan and Dave
Boone--each wearing, in defiance of regulations, some battered
remnant of uniform that marked the "digger," while Mick, in
addition, would walk always with a slight limp. He was accustomed
to say 'twas a mercy it didn't hinder his profession--which, being
that of a horsebreaker, freed him, as a rule, from the necessity of
much walking. Other men Billabong had sent to the war, and not all
of them had come back; the lonely station had been a place of
anxiety and of mourning. But to-day the memories of the long years
of fighting and waiting were blotted out in joy.
"Come in, boys," Mrs. Brown nodded at the men. "Tea's ready.
What's it going to be?"
"Fine, I think," said Boone, replying to this somewhat indefinite
question with complete certainty as to the questioner's meaning.
"I seen you an' Murty pokin' your heads up at them clouds, but
there ain't nothin' in them." A smile spread over his good-
looking, dark face. "Bless you, it couldn't rain today, with Miss
Norah comin' home!"
"I don't believe, meself, that Providence 'ud 'ave the 'eart," said
Mrs. Brown. "Picksher them now, all flyin' round and gettin' ready
to start, and snatchin' a bite of breakfast--"
"If I know Master Jim 'twill be no bite he'll snatch!" put in Mick.
"Well, all I 'ope is that the 'otel don't poison them," said Mrs.
Brown darkly. "I on'y stopped in a Melbin' 'otel once, and then I
got pot-o'-mine poisoning, or whatever they call it. I've 'eard
they never wash their saucepans!"
"No wonder you get rummy flavours in what you eat down there, if
that's so," said Dave. "Surprisin' what the digestions of them
city people learn to put up with. Well, I suppose you won't be
addin' to their risks by puttin' up much of a dinner for them to-
day, Mrs. Brown." He grinned wickedly.
"You go on, imperence!" said the lady. "If I let you look into the
larder now (w'ich I won't, along of knowin' you too well), there'd
be no gettin' you out to work to-day. Murty, that turkey weighed
"Sure he looked every ounce of it," said Murty. "I niver see his
aiqual--he was a regular Clydesdale of a bird!"
"I rose him from the aig meself," said Mrs. Brown, "and I don't
think I could 'a' brung meself to 'ave 'im killed for anythink less
than them comin' 'ome. As it was, I feel 'e's died a nobil death.
An' 'e'll eat beautiful, you mark my words."
"Well, it'll be something to think of the Boss at the head of his
table, investigatin' a Billabong turkey again," said Boone, putting
down his empty cup. "And as there's nothing more certain than that
they'll all be out at the stables d'reckly after dinner, wantin' to
see the 'orses, you an' I'd better go an' shine 'em up a bit more,
Mick." They tramped out of the kitchen, while Mrs. Brown waddled
to the veranda and cast further anxious glances at the bank of
clouds lying westward.
Norah was watching them, too. She was sitting in the corner of the
compartment, as the swift train bore them northward, with her eyes
glued to the country flying past. Just for once the others did not
matter to her; her father, Jim, and Wally, each in his own corner,
as they had travelled so many times in the past, coming back from
school. Then she had had eyes only for them; to-day her soul was
hungry for the dear country she had not seen for so long. It lay
bare enough in the early winter--long stretches of stone-walled
paddocks where the red soil showed through the sparse, native
grass; steep, stony hillsides, with little sheep grazing on them--
pygmies, after the great English sheep; oases of irrigation, with
the deep green of lucerne growing rank among weed-fringed water-
channels; and so on and on, past little towns and tiny settlements,
and now and then a stop at some place of more importance. But
Norah did not want the towns; she was homesick for the open
country, for the scent of the gum trees coming drifting in through
the open window, for the long, lonely plains where grazing cattle
raised lazy eyes to look at the roaring engine, or horses flung up
nervous heads and went racing away across the grass--more for the
fun of it than from fear. The gum trees called to her, beckoned to
her; she forgot the smooth perfection of the English landscape as
she feasted her eyes on the dear, untidy trees, whose dangling
strips of bark seemed to wave to her in greeting, telling her she
was coming home. They passed a great team of working bullocks in a
wagon loaded with an enormous tree trunk; twenty-four monsters,
roan and red and speckled, with a great pair of polled Angus in the
lead; they plodded along in their own dust, their driver beside
them with his immense whip over his shoulder. Norah pointed them
out to the others with a quick exclamation, and Jim and Wally came
to look out from her window.
"By Jove, what a team!" said Jim. "Well, just at this moment I'd
rather see those fellows than the meet of the Coaching Club in Hyde
Park--and I had a private idea that that was the finest sight in
"Aren't you a jungly animal!" quoth Wally.
"Rather--just now," Jim rejoined. "Some day, I suppose, I'll be
glad to go back to London, and look at it all again. But just now
there doesn't seem to be anything to touch a fellow's own country--
and that team of old sloggers there is just a bit of it. Isn't it,
old Nor?" She nodded up at him; there was no need of words.
The morning was drawing towards noon when they came in sight of
their own little station: Cunjee, looking just as they had left it
years ago, its corrugated iron roofs gleaming in the sunlight, its
one street green with feathery pepper trees along each side. The
train pulled up, and they all tumbled out hastily; presumably the
express wasted no more time upon Cunjee than in days gone by, when
it was necessary to hustle out of the carriage, and to race along
to the van, lest the whistle should sound and your trunks be
whisked away somewhere down the line.
There were many people on the platform, and, wonderful to relate, a
band was playing--Home Sweet Home; a little band, some of its
musicians still in the aprons in which they had rushed from their
shop duties; with instruments few and poor, and with not much
training, so that the cornet was apt to be half a bar ahead of the
euphonium. The Lintons had heard many bands since they had been
away, and some had played before the King himself; but no music had
ever gripped at their heartstrings like the music of the little
backblocks band that stood on the gravelled platform of Cunjee and
played to welcome them home.
Suddenly, as they stood bewildered, there seemed people all round
them; kindly, homely faces, gripping their hands, shouting
greetings. Evans, the manager of Billabong, showed a delighted
face for a moment, said, "Luggage in the van. I'll see to it;
don't you bother," and was gone. Little Dr. Anderson and his wife,
friends of long years, were trying to shake hands with all four at
once. They were the centre of an excited little crowd--and found
it hard to believe that it was really for them. The train roared
away, unnoticed, and the station-master and the porter ran up to
add their voices to the chorus. Somehow they were outside the
station, gently propelled; and there was a great arch of gum
leaves, with a huge WELCOME in red letters, and beneath it were the
shire president and his councillors, and other weighty men, all
with speeches ready. But the speeches did not come to much, for
the shire president had lads himself who had gone to the war, and a
lump came in his throat as he looked at the tall boys from
Billabong, whom he had known as little children; so that half the
fine things he had prepared were never said--which did not matter,
since he had it all written out and gave it to the reporter of the
local paper afterwards! Something of speech-making there
undoubtedly was, but no one could have told you much about it--and
suddenly it ended in some one calling for "Three cheers!" which
every one gave with a will, while the band played that they were
Jolly Good Fellows--and some of the band cheered while they played,
with very curious results. Then David Linton tried to speak, and
that was a failure also, as far as eloquence went; but nobody
seemed to mind. So, between hand grips and cheers, they made their
way through the welcome of Cunjee to where the big double buggy of
Billabong stood, with three fidgeting brown horses, each held by a
volunteer. Beyond that was the carry-all of the bush; an express
wagon, with a grinning black boy at the horses' heads--and Norah
went to him with outstretched hands.
"Why, Billy!" she said.
Billy's grin expanded in a perfectly reckless fashion.
"Plenty glad!" he stammered--and thereby doubled his usual output
Willing hands were tossing their luggage into the wagon--unfamiliar
luggage to Cunjee, with its jumble of ship labels, Continental
hotel brands, and the names of towns all over England, Ireland and
Scotland. There were battered tin uniform cases of Jim and
Wally's, bearing their rank and regiment in half effaced letters:
"Major J. Linton"; "Captain W. Meadows"--it was hard to realize
that they belonged to the two merry-faced boys, who did not seem
much changed from the days when Cunjee had seen them arrive light-
heartedly from school. Mr. Linton ran his eye over the pile,
pronouncing it complete. Then Evans was at his side.
"The motor you sent is ready at the garage in the township if you
want it," he said. "But you wired that I was to bring the buggy."
"I did," said David Linton, with a slow smile. "I suppose for
convenience sake we'll have to shake down to using the motor. But
I drove the old buggy away from Billabong, and I'll drive home now.
Jump in, children."
He gathered up the reins, sitting, erect and spare, with one foot
on the brake, while the brown horses plunged impatiently, and the
volunteers found their work cut out in holding them. Norah was by
him, Evans on her other hand; Jim and Wally "tumbled up" into the
back seat, as they had done so many times. David Linton looked
down at the crowd below.
"Thank you all again," he said. "We'll see you soon--it's not
good-bye now, only 'so-long.' Let 'em go, boys."
The volunteers sprang back, thankfully. The browns stood on their
hind legs for a moment, endeavouring to tie themselves in knots;
then the whip spoke, and they came to earth, straightened
themselves out with a flying plunge, and wheeled out of the station
yard and up the street. Behind them cheers broke out afresh, and
the band blared once more--which acted as a further spur to the
horses; they were pulling double as the high buggy flashed along
the street, where every house and every shop showed smiling faces,
and handkerchiefs waved in welcome. So they passed through Cunjee,
and wheeled to the right towards the open country--the country that
There were seventeen miles of road ahead, but the browns made
little of them. They had come into the township the evening
before, and had done nothing since but eat the hotel oats and wish
to be out of a close stable and back in their own free paddocks.
They took the hills at a swift, effortless trot, and on the down
slopes broke into a hand-gallop; light-hearted, but conscious all
the time of the hand on the reins, that was as steel, yet light as
a feather upon a tender mouth. They danced merrily to one side
when they met a motor or a hawker's van with flapping cover; when
the buggy rattled over a bridge they plainly regarded the drumming
of their own hoofs as the last trump, and fled wildly for a few
hundred yards, before realizing that nothing was really going to
happen to them. But the miles fled under their swift feet. The
trim villas near the township gave place to scattered farms. These
in their turn became further and further apart, and then they
entered a wide belt of timber, ragged and wind-swept gums, with
dense undergrowth of dogwood and bracken fern. The metalled road
gave place to a hard, earthern track, on which the spinning tyres
made no sound; it curved in and out among the trees, which met
overhead and cast upon it a waving pattern of shadows. Grim things
had once happened to Norah in this belt of trees, and the past came
back to her as she looked at its gloomy recesses again.
They were all silent. There had been few questions to ask of
Evans, a few to be answered; then speech fled from them and the old
spell of the country held them in its power. Every yard was
familiar; every little bridge, every culvert, every quaint old
skeleton tree or dead grey log. Here Jim's pony had bolted at
sight of an Indian hawker, in days long gone, and had ended by
putting his foot into a hole and turning a somersault, shooting Jim
into a well-grown clump of nettles. Here Norah had dropped her
whip when riding alone, and her fractious young mare had succeeded
in pulling away when she dismounted, and had promptly departed
post-haste for home; leaving her wrathful owner to follow as she
might. A passing bullock-wagon had given her a lift, and the
somewhat anxious rescue party, setting out from Billabong, had met
its youthful mistress, bruised from much bumping, but otherwise
cheerful, progressing in slow majesty towards its gates. Here--but
the memories were legion, even to the girl and the two boys. And
David Linton's went further back, to the day when he had first
driven Norah's mother over the Billabong track; little and dainty
and merry, while he had been as always, silent, but unspeakably
proud of her. The little mother's grave had long been green, and
the world had turned topsy-turvy since then, but the old track was
the same, and the memory, and the pride, were no less clear.
They emerged from the timber at last, and spun across a wide plain,
scattered with clumps of gum-trees. Then another belt of bush, a
narrow one this time; and they came out within view of a great
park-like paddock where Shorthorn bullocks, knee-deep in grass,
scarcely moved aside as the buggy spun past, with the browns
pulling hard. The track ran near the fence, and turned in at a big
white gate glistening with new paint. It stood wide open, and
beside it was a man on a splendid bay horse.
"There's Murty, and he's on Garryowen," spoke Jim quickly. "The
"I guess if anyone else had wanted to open the gate for you to-day,
he'd have had to fight Murty for the job," said Evans. "And
Garryowen's been groomed till he turns pale at the sight of a
brush, Great horse he's made, Mr. Jim."
"He's all that," said his owner, leaning out to view him better,
with his eyes shining. He raised his voice in a shout as they
swung in through the gateway. "Good for you, Murty! Hurroo!"
"Hurroo for ye all!" said Murty, and found to his amazement that
his voice was shaky. "Ah, don't shtop, sir, they're all waitin' on
ye. I'll be up as soon as ye."
Norah had tried to speak, and had found that she had no voice at
all. She could only smile at him, tremulously--and be sure the
Irishman did not fail to catch the smile. Then, as they dashed up
the paddock, her hand sought for her father's knee under the rug,
in the little gesture that had been hers from babyhood. The track
curved round a grove of great pines, and suddenly they were within
sight of Billabong homestead, red-walled and red-roofed, nestled in
the deep green of its trees.
"By Jove!" said Jim, under his breath. "I thought once I'd never
see the old place again."
They flashed through mighty red gums and box trees, Murty galloping
beside them now. There was a big flag flying proudly on Billabong
house--they found later that the household had unanimously
purchased it on the day they heard that Jim had got his captaincy.
The gate of the great sanded yard stood open, and near it, on a
wide gravel sweep, were the dear and simple and faithful people
they loved. Mrs. Brown first, starched and spotless, her hair
greyer than it had been five years before, with Sarah and Mary
beside her--they had married during the war, but nothing had
prevented them from coming back to make Billabong ready. Near them
the storekeeper, Jack Archdale, and his pretty wife, with their
elfish small daughter; and Mick Shanahan and Dave Boone, with the
Scotch gardener, Hogg, and his Chinese colleague--and sworn enemy--
Lee Wing. They were all there, a little welcoming group--but Norah
could see them only through a mist of happy tears. The buggy
stopped, and Evans sprang out over the wheel; she followed him
almost as swiftly, running to the old woman who had been all the
mother she had known.
"My precious lamb!" said Brownie, and held her tightly. She had no
hands left for Jim and Wally, and they did not seem to mind; they
kissed her, patting her vast shoulders very hard. Then Mrs.
Archdale claimed Norah, and Brownie found herself looking mistily
up at David Linton and he was gripping her hand tightly, the other
hand on her shoulder.
"Why, old Brownie!" he said. "Dear old Brownie!"
They were shaking hands all round, over and over again. Nobody
made any speeches of welcome--there were only disjointed words, and
once or twice a little sob. Indeed, Brownie only found her tongue
when they had drifted across the yard in a confused group, and had
reached the wide veranda. Then she looked up at Jim and seemed
suddenly to realize his mighty height and breadth.
"Oh!" she said. "Oh! Ain't 'e grown big an' beautiful!" Whereat
Wally howled with laughter, and Jim, scarlet, kissed her again, and
told her she was a shameful old woman.
No one on Billabong could have told you much of that day, after the
first wonderful moment of getting home. It was a day of blurred
memories. The new-comers had to wander through the house where
every big window stood open to the sunlight, and every room was gay
with flowers; and from every window it was necessary to look out at
the view across the paddocks and down at the gardens, and to follow
the winding course of the creek. The gong summoned them to dinner
in the midst of it, and Brownie's dinner deserved to be remembered;
the mammoth turkey flanked by a ham as gigantic, and somewhat
alarming to war-trained appetites; followed by every sweet that
Brownie could remember as having been a favourite. They drifted
naturally to the stables afterwards, to find their special horses,
apparently little changed by five years, though some old station
favourites were gone, and the men spoke proudly of some new young
ones that were going to be "beggars to go," or "a caution to jump."
Then they wandered down to the big lagoon, where the old boat yet
lay at the edge of the reed-fringed water; and on through the home
paddock to look at the little herd of Jerseys that were kept for
the use of the house, and some great bullocks almost ready for the
Melbourne market. So they came back to the homestead, wandering up
from the creek through Lee Wing's rows of vegetables, and came to
rest naturally in the kitchen, where they had afternoon tea with
Brownie, who beamed from ear to ear at the sight of Jim and Wally
again sitting on her table.
"I used to think of you in them 'orrible trenches, an' wonder wot
you got to eat, an' if it was anything at all," she said
"We got something, but it was apt to be queer," said Jim, laughing.
"We used to think of sitting on the table here, Brownie, and eating
hot scones--like this. May I have another?"
"My pore dears!" said Brownie, hastily supplying him with the
largest scone in sight. "Now, Master Wally, my love, ain't you
ready for another? Your appetite's not 'alf wot it used to be.
A pikelet, now?"
"I believe I've had six!" said Wally, defending himself.
"An' wot used six pikelets to be to you? A mere fly in the
ointment," said Brownie, whose similes were always apt to be
peculiar. "Just another, then, my dear. An' I've got your
fav'rite sponge cake, Miss Norah--ten aigs in it!"
"Ten!" said Norah faintly. "Hold me, daddy! Doesn't it make you
feel light-headed to think of putting ten eggs in one cake again?"
"An' why not?" sniffed Brownie. "Ah, you got bad treatment in that
old England. I never could see why you should go short, an' you
all 'elpin' on the war as 'ard as you could." Brownie's
indifference to national considerations where her nurselings were
concerned was well known, and nobody argued with her. "Any'ow, the
cake's there, an' just you try it--it's as light as a feather,
though I do say it."
Once in the kitchen Norah and the boys went no further. They
remained sitting on the tables, talking, while presently David
Linton went away to his study, and, one by one, Murty and Boone and
Mick Shanahan drifted in. There was so much to tell, so much to
ask about; they talked until the dusk of the short winter afternoon
stole into the kitchen, making the red flames in the stove leap
more redly. It was time to dress for tea. They went round the
wide verandas and ran upstairs to their rooms, while old Brownie
stood in the kitchen doorway listening to the merry voices.
"Ain't it just 'evinly to 'ear 'em again!" she uttered.
"It is that," said Murty. "We've been quare an' lonesome an' quiet
these five years."
Cecilia--otherwise Tommy--and Bob Rainham came up to Billabong
three days later, and were met by Jim, who had ridden into Cunjee
with Black Billy, and released the motor from inglorious seclusion
in the local garage. Billy jogged off, leading Garryowen, and Jim
watched them half wistfully for a minute before turning to the car.
Motors had their uses certainly; but no Linton ever dreamed of
giving a car the serious and respectful consideration that
naturally belonged to a horse.
Nevertheless, it was a good car; a gift to Norah from an Irishman
they had known and loved; and Jim drove well, having developed the
accomplishment over Flemish roads that were chiefly a succession of
shell holes. He took her quietly up to the station, and walked on
to the platform as the train thundered in.
Tommy and Bob were looking eagerly from their carriage window, and
hailed him with delight; they had been alone, for the first time
since leaving England, and had begun to feel that Australia was a
large and slightly populated country, and that they were
inconsiderable atoms, suddenly dumped into its vacant spaces. Jim
was like a large and friendly rock, and Australia immediately
became less wide and desolate in their eyes. He greeted them
cheerily and helped Bob to pack their luggage into the car.
"Now, I could get you afternoon tea here," he said; "and I warn
you, it will be bad. Or I could have you home in well under an
hour, and you wouldn't be too late for tea there. Which is it to
"Oh--home," said Tommy. "I don't care a bit about tea; and I want
to see this Billabong of yours. Do let's go, Jim."
"I hoped you wouldn't choose tea here," said Jim, striding off to
the car. "Bush townships don't run to decent tea places, as a
rule; the hotel is the only chance, and though they can give you a
fair dinner, tea always seems to be a weak spot." He packed them
in, and they moved off down the winding street.
"Do you know," Jim said, "that I never went down this street before
except on a horse, or behind one? It seems quite queer and
unnatural to be doing it in a car. I suppose I'll get used to it.
Had a good trip up?"
"Oh, quite," Tommy told him. "Jim, how few people seem to be
living in Australia!"
Jim gave a crack of laughter.
"Well, you saw a good many in Melbourne, didn't you?" he asked.
"Oh, yes. But Melbourne isn't Australia. It's only away down in a
wee little corner." Tommy flushed a little. "You see, I haven't
seen much of any country except France and the England that's near
London," she said. "And there isn't much waste space there."
"No, there isn't," Jim agreed. "I suppose we'll fill up Australia
some day. But the people who come out now seem to have a holy
horror of going into the 'waste spaces,' as you call 'em, Tommy.
They want to nestle up to the towns, and go to picture theatres."
"Well, I want to go and find a nice waste space," said Tommy. "Not
too waste, of course, only with room to look all round. And I'd
like it to be not too far from Norah, 'cause she's very cheering to
a lone new-chum. But don't you go planning to settle in one of
those horrid little tin-roofed towns, Bobby, for I should simply
"Certainly, ma'am," said Bob cheerfully. "We'll get out into the
open. I can always run you about in an aeroplane, if you feel
lonesome, provided we make enough money to buy one, that is. Only
new-chums don't always make heaps of money, do they, Jim?"
"Not at first, I'm afraid," Jim said. "The days of picking up
fortunes in Australia seem to be over; anyway, there's no more gold
lying about. Nowadays, you have to put your back into it extremely
hard, if you've no capital to start with; and even if you have, you
can't loaf. How did you get on in Melbourne? I hope you didn't
buy a station without consulting us."
"Rather not," Bob answered. "We raced round magnificently in your
aunt's car and presented our letters, and had more invitations to
sundry meals than we could possibly accept. Every one was
extraordinarily kind to us. I've offers and promises of advice in
whatever district we settle; three squatters asked me up to their
places, to stay awhile and study the country; and one confiding
man--I hadn't a letter to him at all, by the way, only some one
introduced us to him in Scott's--actually offered me a job as
jackeroo on a Queensland run. But he was a lone old bachelor, and
when he heard I had a sister he shied off in terror. I think he's
Jim shouted with laughter.
"Poor old Tommy!" he said.
"Yes, is it not unfair?" said Tommy. "I told Bob I was a mere
encumbrance, but he would bring me."
"You wait until you've settled, and Bob wants some one to run his
house, and then see how much of an encumbrance you are," rejoined
Jim. "Then you'll suddenly stop being meek and get swelled head."
"And not be half so nice," interjected Bob.
"But so useful!" said Tommy demurely. "Only sometimes I become
afraid--for you seem always to kill a whole sheep or bullock up in
the bush, and how I am to deal with it I do not know!"
"It sounds as if you preferred some one to detach an occasional
limb from the sheep as it walked about!" said Jim, laughing.
"Much easier for me--if not for the sheep," said Tommy.
"Well, don't you worry--the meat problem will get settled somehow,"
Jim told her cheerfully. "All problems straighten out, if you give
'em time. Now we're nearly home--that's the fence of our home-
paddock. And there are Norah and Wally coming to meet you."
"Oh--where?" Tommy started up, looking excitedly round the
landscape. "Oh--there she is--the dear! And isn't that a
"That's Norah's special old pony, Bosun," said Jim. "We're making
her very unhappy by telling her she's grown too big for him, but he
really carries her like a bird. A habit might look too much on
him, but not that astride kit. You got yours, by the way, Tommy, I
"Oh yes. I look very strange in it," said Tommy. "And Bob thinks
I might as well have worn out his old uniforms. But I shall never
ride like that--as Norah does."
She looked at Norah, who was coming across the paddock with Wally,
at a hard canter. Her pony was impatient, reefing and plunging in
his desire to gallop; and Norah was sitting him easily, her hands,
well down, giving to the strain on the bit, her slight figure, in
coat and breeches, swaying lightly to each bound. The sunlight
rippled on Bosun's glossy, bay coat, and on the big black horse
Wally rode. They pulled up, laughing, at the gateway, just as the
car turned off the road. There were confused and enthusiastic
greetings, and the car dashed on up the track, with an outrider on
each side--both horses strongly resenting this new and ferocious
monster. The years had brought a good deal of sober sense to Bosun
and Monarch, but motors were still unfamiliar objects on Billabong.
Indeed, no car of the size of Norah's Rolls-Royce had ever been
seen in the district, and the men gaped at it open-mouthed as Jim
drove it round to the stable after unloading his passengers.
"Yerra, but that's the fine carry-van," said Murty. "Is that the
size they have them in England, now?"
"No, it isn't, Murty--not as a rule," Jim answered. "This was
built specially for a man who was half an invalid; he used to go
for long tours, and sleep in the car because he hated hotels. So
it's a special size. It used to be jolly useful taking out wounded
men in England."
"Sure, it would be," Murty said. "Only--somehow, it don't seem to
fit into Billabong, Mr. Jim!"
"So big as that! I say, Murty!"
"Yerra, there's room enough for it," grinned the Irishman. "Only,
motors and Billabong don't go hand in hand--we've always stuck to
horses, haven't we, Mr. Jim?"
"We'll do that still," Jim said. "But it will be useful, all the
same, Murty." He laughed at the stockman's lugubrious face. "Oh,
I know it's giving you the sort of pain you had when dad had the
telephone put on--"
"Well, 'tis the quare onnatural little machine, an' I niver feel
anyways at home with it, Mr. Jim," Murty defended himself.
"There's lots like you, Murty. But you'll admit that when we've
got to send a telegram, it's better to telephone it than make a man
ride thirty-four miles with it?"
"I suppose it is," said the Irishman doubtfully. "I dunno, though--
if 'twas that black imp of a Billy he'd as well be doing that as
propping up the stable wall an' smokin'!"
"There's no getting round an Irishman when he makes up his mind,"
he said. "And if you had to catch the eight o'clock train to
Melbourne I believe you'd rather get up at three in the morning and
run up the horses to drive in, than leave here comfortably in the
car at seven."
"Is it me to dhrive in it?" demanded Murty, in horror. "Begob, I'd
lose me life before I'd get into one of thim quare, sawed-off
things. Give me something with shafts, Mr. Jim, and a dacint horse
in them. More by token, I would not get up at three in the morning
either, but dhrive in aisy an' comfortable the night before." He
beamed on Jim with so clear a conviction that he was unanswerable
that Jim hadn't the heart to argue further. Instead he ran the car
deftly into a buggy-shed whence an ancient double buggy had been
deposed to make room for her, and then fell to discussing with
Murty the question of building a garage, with a turn-table and pit
for cleaning and repairs. To which Murty gave the eager interest
and attention he would have shown had Jim proposed building
anything, even had it been an Eiffel Tower on the front lawn.
Brownie came out through the box-trees to the stables, presently.
"Now, Master Jim, afternoon tea's in these ten minutes."
"Good gracious! I forgot all about tea!" Jim exclaimed. "Thanks
awfully, Brownie. Had your own?" He slipped his arm through hers
as they turned back to the house.
"Not yet, my dear," said Brownie, beaming up at him. That this
huge Major, with four years of war service to his credit, was
exactly the same to her as the little boy she had bathed and
dressed in years gone by, was a matter of nightly thanksgiving in
her prayers. "I was just goin' to settle to it when it come over
me that you weren't in--and the visitors there an' all."
"I'd come and have mine with you in the kitchen if they weren't
there," Jim told her. "Tea in your kitchen is better than anything
else." He patted her shoulders as he left her at the door of her
domain, going off with long strides to wash his hands.
"We didn't wait for you," Norah said, as he came into the drawing-
room; a big cheery room, with long windows opening out upon the
veranda, and a conservatory at one end. A fire of red gum logs
made it pleasantly warm; the tea table was drawn near its blaze,
and the arm-chairs made a semicircle round it. "These poor people
looked far too hungry to wait--to say nothing of Wally and myself.
How did the car go, Jimmy?"
"Splendidly," Jim said, taking his cup, and retiring from the tea-
table with a scone. "Never ran better; that man in Cunjee knows
his job, which I didn't expect. Are you tired, Tommy?"
"Tired?--no," said Tommy. "I was very hungry, but that is getting
better. And Norah is going to show me Billabong, so I could not
possibly dream of being tired."
"If Norah means to show you all Billabong before dark, she'll have
to hurry," said Jim lazily. "Don't you let yourself be persuaded
into anything so desperate, Tommy."
"Don't you worry; I'll give her graduated doses," Norah said.
"I'll watch the patient carefully, and see if there is any sign of
strength failing. When do you begin to teach Bob to run a
"I never saw anyone in such a hurry," said Jim. "Why, the poor
beggar hasn't had his tea yet--give him time."
"But we are in a hurry," said Tommy. "We're burning to learn all
about it. Norah is to teach me the house side, while you instruct
Bob how to tell a merino bullock--is it not?--from an Ayrshire."
Everybody ate with suspicious haste, and she looked at them
shrewdly. "Now, I have said that all wrong, I feel sure, but it's
just as well for you to be prepared for that. Norah will have a
busy time correcting my mistakes."
"You aren't supposed to know anything about cattle and things like
that," said Norah. "And when it comes to the house side, I don't
think you'll find I can teach you much--if anyone brought up to
know French cooking and French housekeeping has much to learn from
a backblocks Australian, I'll be surprised."
"In fact," said Mr. Linton, "I should think that the lessons will
generally end in the students of domestic economy fleeing forth
upon horses and studying how to deal with beef--on the hoof. Don't
"Rather," said Wally. "And Brownie will wash up after them, and
say, 'Bless their hearts, why would they stay in a hot kitchen!'
And so poor old Bob will go down the road to ruin!"
"It's a jolly prospect," said Bob placidly. "I think we'll knock a
good deal of fun out of it!"
They trooped out in a body presently on their preliminary voyage of
discovery; touring the house itself, with its big rooms and wide
corridors, and the broad balconies that ran round three sides, from
which you looked far across the run--miles of rolling plains,
dotted with trees and clumps of timber, and merging into a far line
of low, scrub-grown hills. Then outside, and to the stables--a
massive red brick pile, creeper-covered, where Monarch and
Garryowen, and Bosun, and the buggy ponies, looked placidly from
their loose boxes, and asked for--and got--apples from Jim's
pockets. Tommy even made her way up the steep ladder to the loft
that ran the whole length of the stables--big enough for the men's
yearly dance, but just now crammed with fragrant oaten hay. She
wanted to see everything, and chatted away in her eager, half-
French fashion, like a happy child.
"It is so lovely to be here," she told Norah later, when the keen
evening wind had driven them indoors from a tour of the garden.
She was kneeling on the floor of her bedroom, unpacking her trunk,
while Norah perched on the end of the bed. "You see, I am no
longer afraid; and I have always been afraid since Aunt Margaret
died. In Lancaster Gate I was afraid all the time, especially when
I was planning to run away. Then, on the ship, though every one
was so kind, the big, unknown country was like a wall of Fear
ahead; even in Melbourne everything seemed uncertain, doubtful.
But now, quite suddenly, it is all right. I just know we shall get
along quite well."
"Why, of course you will," Norah said, laughing down at the earnest
face. "You're the kind of people who must do well, because you are
so keen. And Billabong has adopted you, and we're going to see
that you make a success of things. You're our very own immigrants!"
"It's nice to be owned by some one who isn't my step-mother," said
Tommy happily. "I began to think I was hers, body and soul--when
she appeared on that awful moment in Liverpool. I made sure all
hope was over. Bob says I shouldn't have panicked, but then Bob
had not been a toad under her harrow for two years."
"I'm very glad you panicked, since it sent you straight into our
arms," said Norah. "If we had met you in an ordinary, stodgy way--
you and Bob presenting your letter of introduction, and we saying
'How do you do?' politely--it would have taken us ages to get to
know you properly. And as it was, we jumped into being friends.
You did look such a poor, hunted little soul as you came dodging
across that street!"
"And you took me on trust, when, for all you know, the police might
have been after me," said Tommy. "Well, we won't forget; not that
I suppose Bob and I will ever be able to pay you back."
"Good gracious, we don't want paying back!" exclaimed Norah,
wrinkling her nose disgustedly. "Don't talk such utter nonsense,
Tommy Rainham. And just hurry up and unpack, because tea will be
ready at half-past six."
"My goodness!" exclaimed the English girl, to whom dinner at half-
past seven was a custom of life not lightly to be altered. "And I
haven't half unpacked, and oh, where is my blue frock? I don't
believe I've brought it." She sought despairingly in the trunk.
"Yes, you have--I hung it up for you in the wardrobe ages ago,"
said Norah. "And it doesn't matter if you don't finish before tea.
There's lots of time ahead. However, I certainly won't be dressed
if I don't hurry, because I've to see Brownie first, and then sew
on a button for Jim. You'll find me next door when you're ready."
Tommy heard her go, singing downstairs, and she sighed happily.
This, for the first time for two years, was a real home.
The education of the new-chums began next morning, and was carried
out thoroughly, since Mr. Linton did not believe in showing their
immigrants only the pleasanter side of Australian life. Bob was
given a few days of riding round the run, spying out the land, and
learning something about cattle and their handling as he rode.
Luckily for him, he was a good horseman. The stockmen, always on
the alert to "pick holes" in a new-chum, had little fault to find
with his easy seat and hands, and approved of the way in which he
waited for no one's help in saddling up or letting go his horse; a
point which always tells with the man of the bush.
"We've had thim on this run," said Murty, "as wanted their horses
led gently up to thim, and then they climb into the saddle like a
lady. And when they'd come home, all they'd be lookin' for 'ud be
some one to casht their reins to, the way they cud strowl off to
their tay. Isn't that so, Mick?"
"Yairs," said Mick. He was riding an unbroken three-year-old, and
had no time for conversation.
After a few days of "gentle exercise," Bob found himself put on to
work. He learned something of cutting out and mustering, both in
cleared country and in scrub; helped bring home young cattle to
brand, and studied at first hand the peculiar evilness of a scrub
cow when separated from her calf. They gave him jobs for himself,
which he accomplished fairly well, aided by a stock horse of
superhuman intelligence, which naturally knew far more of the work
than its rider could hope to do. Bob confided to Tommy that never
had he felt so complete a fool as when he rode forth for the first
time to cut out a bullock alone under the eyes of the experts.
"Luckily, the old mare did all the work," he said. "But I knew
less about it than I did the first time I went up alone at the
His teaching went on all the time. Mr. Linton and Jim were
tireless in pointing out the points of cattle, and the variations
in the value of feed on the different parts of the run, with all
the details of bush lore; and the airman's eyes, trained to
observe, and backed by keen desire to learn, picked up and retained
knowledge quickly. Billabong was, in the main, a cattle run, but
Mr. Linton kept as well a flock of high class sheep, with the usual
small mob for killing for station use, and through these a certain
amount of sheep knowledge was imparted to the new-chum. To their
surprise, for all his instructors were heart and soul for cattle,
Bob showed a distinct leaning towards mutton.
"They're easier to understand, I think," he said. "Possibly it's
because they're not as intelligent as cattle, and I don't think I
"Well, I know something about bullocks, but these woolly objects
have always been beyond me," said Jim. "Necessary evils, but I
can't stand them. I used to think there was nothing more hopeless
than an old merino ewe, until I met a battery mule--he's a shade
"Wait till you've worked with a camel in a bad temper, Mr. Jim,"
said Dave Boone darkly; he had put in a weary time in Egypt. "For
downright wickedness them snake-headed beggars is the fair limit!"
"Yes, I've heard so," said Jim. "Anyhow, we haven't added mules
and camels to our worries in Victoria yet; sheep are bad enough for
me. Norah says turkey hens are worse, and she's certainly tried
both; there isn't much about the run young Norah doesn't know. But
you aren't going to make a living out of turkeys."
"No--Tommy can run them as a side line," said Bob. "I fancy sheep
will give me all I want in the way of worry."
"And you really think you'll go in for sheep, old man?" asked Jim
Bob set his lips obstinately.
"I don't think anything yet," he said. "I don't know enough. Wait
until I've learned a bit more--if you're not sick of teaching such
"Yerra, ye're no ijit," said Murty under his breath.
Education developed as the weeks went on. Wally had gone to
Queensland, to visit married brothers who were all the "people" he
possessed; and Jim, bereft of his chum, threw himself energetically
into the training of the substitute. Bob learned to slaughter a
bullock and kill a sheep--being instructed that the job in winter
was not a circumstance to what it would be in summer, when flies
would abound. He never pretended to like this branch of learning,
but stuck to it doggedly, since it was explained to him that the
man who could not be his own butcher in the bush was apt to go
hungry, and that not one hired hand in twenty could be trusted to
More to Bob's taste were the boundary riding expeditions made with
Jim to the furthest corners of the run; taking a pack horse with
tucker and blankets, and camping in ancient huts, of which the sole
furniture was rough sacking bunks, a big fireplace, and empty
kerosene cases for seats and tables. It was unfortunate, from the
point of view of Bob's instruction, that the frantic zeal of Murty
and the men to have everything in order for "the Boss" had left no
yard of the Billabong boundary unvisited not a month before.
Still, winter gales were always apt to bring down a tree or two
across the wires, laying a few panels flat; the creeks, too, were
all in flood, and where a wire fence crossed one, floating
brushwood often damaged the barrier, or a landslip in a water-worn
bank might carry away a post. So Jim and his pupil found enough
occupation to make their trips worth while; and Bob learned to sink
post holes, to ram a post home beyond the possibility of moving,
and to strain a wire fence scientifically. He was not a novice
with an axe, though Jim's mighty chopping made him feel a child;
still, when it was necessary to cut away a fallen tree, he could do
his share manfully. His hands blistered and grew horny callouses,
even as his muscles toughened and his shoulders widened; and all
the time the appeal of the wide, free country called to his heart
and drew him closer and closer to his new life.
"But he's too comfortable, you know," David Linton said to Jim one
night. "He's shaping as well as anyone could expect; but he won't
always have Billabong at his back."
Jim nodded wisely.
"I know," he said. "Been thinking of that. If you can spare me
for a bit we'll go over and lend ourselves as handy men to old Joe
His father whistled.
"He'll make you toe the mark," he said, laughing. "He won't have
you there as gentlemen boarders, you know."
"Don't want him to," said Jim.
So it came about that early on Monday morning Jim and Bob fixed
swags more or less scientifically to their saddles--Jim made his
disciple unstrap his three times before he consented to pass it--
and rode away from Billabong, amidst derisive good wishes from
Norah and Tommy, who kindly promised to feed them up on their
return, prophesying that they would certainly need it. They took a
westerly direction across country, and after two or three hours'
riding came upon a small farm nestling at the foot of a low range
"That's old Howard's," Jim said. "And there's the old chap
himself, fixing up his windmill. You wait a minute, Bob; I'll go
over and see him."
He gave Bob his bridle, and went across a small paddock near the
house. Howard, a hard-looking old man with a long, grey beard, was
wrestling with a home-made windmill--a queer erection, mainly
composed of rough spars with sails made from old wheat-sacks. He
clambered to the ground as Jim approached, and greeted him civilly.
"I thought you'd have forgotten me, Mr. Howard," said Jim.
"Too like your dad--an', anyhow, I know the horses," was the
laconic answer. "So you're back. Like Australia better'n
"Rather!" said Jim. "Fighting's a poor game, I think, when you
hardly ever see the other fellow. Want any hands, Mr. Howard?"
"No." The old man shook his head. "They want too much money
nowadays, an' they're too darned partickler about their tucker.
Meat three times a day, whether you've killed it or not. An'
puddin'. Cock 'em up with puddin'--a fat lot of it I ever saw
where I was raised. An' off to the township on Saturday afternoon,
an' lucky if they get back in time for milkin' nex' mornin'. No--
the workin' man ain't what 'e was, an' the new kind'll make
precious little of Australia!"
"That's about right, I'm afraid," said Jim, listening sympathetically
to this oration. "Well, will you take me and my friend as hands
for a few weeks, Mr. Howard?"
"You!" The old man stared at him. "Ain't 'ad a quarrel with yer
dad, 'ave yer? You take my tip, if yer 'ave--go back and make it
up. Not many men in this districk like yer dad."
"I know that, jolly well," said Jim, laughing. "No--but my
friend's a new-chum, and I want to show him something of work on a
place like yours. We've been breaking him in on Billabong, but
he'll have to take a small place for himself, if he settles, and
he'd better see what it's like."
The old man shook his head doubtfully.
"English officer, I suppose?"
"I dunno," said Howard. "Too much of the fine gent about that
sort, Mr. Jim. I dunno 'ow I'd get down to orderin' the pair of
yous about. An' I ain't got no 'comodation for yous; an' the
tucker's not what yous 'ave bin used ter."
"You needn't let any of that worry you," said Jim cheerfully. "He
isn't a bit of a fine gent, really, and we'll tackle any job that's
going. As for accommodation, we've brought our blankets, and, in
case you were short of tucker, we've a big piece of corned beef and
some bread. I wish you'd try it, Mr. Howard; we don't want pay,
and we'll do no end of work. Murty reckons you won't be sorry if
you take on Captain Rainham."
"Oh, Murty says that, does 'e?" asked the old man, visibly cheered.
"Well, Murty ain't the man to barrack for a useless new-chum."
"Great Scott, do you think I am?" demanded Jim, laughing. "Or my
"Yous cert'nly didn't ought to be," agreed Howard. "All the same"--
he pushed his hat back from his worried brow--"I dunno as I quite
like it. If I take on a chap I like 'im to step quick an' lively
when I tell him anything I want done; an' I don't make no guests of
'em either. They got to do their own cookin', an' keep things
clean an' tidy, too."
"We'll take our share," said Jim. "As for stepping quick and
lively, we've both been trained to that pretty thoroughly during
the last few years. If you're worse than some of the Sergeant-
majors I met when I was training, I'll eat my hat."
"I'm told they're 'ard," said Howard. "Well, I s'pose I'd better
take yous on, though it's a queer day when the son of Linton of
Billabong comes askin' old Joe Howard for a job. But, I say"--and
anguish again settled on his brow--"wot am I to call yous? I can't
order you about as Mr. Jim. It wouldn't seem to come natural."
"Oh, call us any old thing," said Jim, laughing.
The old man pondered.
"Well, I'll call yous Major an' Captin," he declared, at length.
"That'll sound like a pair of workin' bullocks, an' I'll feel more
"Right-o," said Jim, choking slightly. "Where shall we put our
"Put 'em in the little paddock over there, an' stick yer saddles in
the shed," said his employer. "An' then bring in yer beef, an'
we'll 'ave a bit o' dinner. I ain't killed for a fortnight."
Then began for Bob Rainham one of the most strenuous fortnights of
his existence. Once having agreed to employ them, old Joe speedily
became reconciled to the prospect of cheap labour, and worked his
willing guests with a devouring energy. Before dawn had reddened
the eastern sky a shout of "Hi, Captin! Time the cow was in!"
drove him from his blankets, to search in the darkness of a scrub-
covered paddock for a cow, who apparently loved a game of hide-and-
seek, and to drive her in and milk her by the fitful light of a
hurricane lantern. Then came the usual round of morning duties;
chopping wood, feeding pigs, cleaning out sheds and outhouses,
before the one-time airman had time to think of breakfast. By the
time he came in Howard and Jim had generally finished and gone out--
the old man took a sly delight in keeping "Major" away from
"Captin"--and after cooking his meal, it was his job to wash up and
to clean out the kitchen, over which old Joe proved unexpectedly
critical. Then came a varied choice of tasks to tackle to while
away the day. Sometimes he would be sent to scrub cutting, which
he liked best, particularly as Jim was kept at it always; sometimes
he slashed mightily at a blackberry-infested paddock, where the
brambles would have daunted anyone less stout of heart--or less
ignorant. Then came lessons in ploughing on a dry hillside; he
managed badly at first, and came in for a good deal of the rough
side of old Joe's tongue before he learned to keep to anything
approaching a straight line. Ploughing, Bob reflected, was clearly
an art which needed long apprenticeship before you learned to
appreciate it, and he developed a new comprehension and sympathy
for the ploughman described by Gray as "homeward plodding his weary
way." He also wondered if Gray's ploughman had to milk and get his
own tea after he got home.
Other relaxations of the bush were open to him. Old Joe had a
paddock, once a swamp, which he had drained; it was free of water,
but abounded in tussocks and sword grass which "Captin" was
detailed to grub out whenever no duty more pressing awaited him.
And sword grass is a fearsome vegetable, clinging of root and so
tough of stem that, if handled unwarily, it can cut a finger almost
to the bone; wherefore the unfortunate "Captin" hated it with a
mighty hatred, and preferred any other branch of his education.
There were stones to pick up and pile in cairns; red stones, half
buried in grass and tussocks, and weighing anything from a pound to
half a hundredweight. He scarred his hands and broke his
fingernails to pieces over them, but, on the whole, considered it
not a bad employment, except when old Joe took it into his head to
perch on the fence and spur him on to greater efforts by
disparaging remarks about England. Whatever his work, there was
never any certainty that old Joe would not appear, to sit down,
light his short, black pipe, and make caustic remarks about his
methods or his country--or both. Bob took it all with a grin. He
was a cheerful soul.
They used to meet for dinner--dinner consisting of corned beef and
potatoes until the corned beef ran out; then it became potatoes and
bread and jam for some days, until Joe amazed them by saddling an
ancient grey mare and riding into Cunjee, returning with more
corned beef--and more jam. He boiled the beef in a kerosene tin,
and Bob thought he had never tasted anything better. Appetites did
not need pampering on Howard's Farm. Work in the evening went on
until there was barely light enough to get home and find the cow;
it was generally quite dark by the time milking was finished, and
Bob would come in with his bucket to find Jim just in, and lighting
the fire--"Major," not being the milking hand, worked in the
paddocks a little longer. Tea required little preparation, since
the only menu that occurred to old Joe seemed to be bread and jam.
Jim, being a masterful soul, occasionally took the matter into his
own hands and, aided by Bob, made "flap-jacks" in the frying-pan;
they might have been indigestible for delicately-constituted
people, but at least they had the merit of being hot and comforting
on a biting winter night. Old Joe growled under his breath at the
"softness" of people who required "cocking up with fal-lals." But
he ate the flap-jacks.
After tea the "hands" divided the duties of the evening; taking it
in turn, one to wash up, while the other "set" bread. Joe's only
baking implement was a camp-oven, which resembles a large saucepan
on three legs; it could hold just enough for a day's supply, so
that it was necessary to set bread every night, and bake every
morning. This wounded their employer, who never failed to tell
them, with some bitterness, that when alone he had to bake only
twice a week. However, he knew all that there was to know about
camp-oven baking, and taught them the art thoroughly, as well as
that of making yeast from potatoes. "That's an extry," he remarked
thoughtfully, "but I won't charge yer for it, yous 'avin' bin
With the bread set, and rising pleasantly before the fire, under a
bit of old blanket, and the kitchen tidy, a period of rest ensued,
when "Major" and "Captin" were free to draw up chairs--seated with
greenhide with the hair left on, and very comfortable--and smoke
their pipes. This was the only time of the day when old Joe
unbent. At first silent, he would presently shift his pipe to the
corner of his mouth and spin them yarns of the early days, told
with a queer, dry humour that kept his hearers in a simmer of
laughter. It was always a matter of regret to poor "Captin" that
he used to be the one to end the telling, since no story on earth
could keep him, after a while, from nodding off to sleep. He would
drag himself away to his blankets in the next room, hearing, as
sleep fully descended upon him, the droning voice still entertaining
Jim--whose powers of keeping awake seemed more than human!
Saturday brought no slackening of work. Whatever his previous
hired men had done, old Joe was evidently determined that his
present "parlour-boarders" should not abate their efforts, and even
kept them a little later than usual in the paddocks, remarking that
"ter-morrer bein' Sunday, yous might as well cut a bit more scrub."
The next morning broke fine and clear, and he looked at them a
little doubtfully after breakfast.
"Well, there ain't no work doin' on Sunday, I reckon. I can manage
the ol' keow to-night, if yous want to go home."
The guests looked at each other doubtfully.
"What do you say, Bob? Shall we ride over?"
"All one to me, o' course," said Joe, getting up and stumping out.
He paused at the door. "On'y if yous mean ter stick on 'ere a bit
you'll find comin' back a bit 'ard, onced yous see Billabong."
"Just what I was thinking," said Bob, as the old man disappeared.
"I'm not going, Jim; I know jolly well I'd hate to come back after--
er--fleshpotting at your place. But look here, old chap--why
don't you go home and stay there? You've done quite enough of
this, especially as you've no earthly need to do it at all. You go
home, and I'll stay out my fortnight."
"What, leave you here alone?" queried Jim. "Not much, Bobby."
"But why not? I've Joseph, and we'd become bosom friends. And
your father must think it ridiculous for you to be kept over here,
"Don't you worry your old head about dad," said Jim cheerfully.
"It's a slack time, and he doesn't need me, and he's perfectly
satisfied at my being here. Bless you, it's no harm for me to get
a bit of this sort of life."
"You'll never have to do it."
"No one can tell that," said Jim. "The bottom has dropped out of
land in other countries, and it may happen here. Besides, if
you've got to employ labour it's just as well to know from
experience what's a fair thing to expect from a man as a day's
work. For which reason, I have desired our friend Joseph to take
me off scrub-duty, which I feel I know pretty well, and to detail
me for assorted fatigues, like yours, next week. And anyhow, my
son, having brought you to this savage place, I'm not going to
leave you. Finally, we couldn't go anywhere, because this is the
day that we must wash."
"I have washed!" said Bob indignantly.
"I didn't mean your person, Bobby, but your clothes. The laundress
doesn't call out here."
"Oh!" said Bob, and grinned. "Then I'd better put on a kettle."
So they washed, very cheerfully, taking turns in the one bucket,
which was all Joe could offer as laundry equipment. He had an
iron, but after brief consultation, "Major" and "Captin" decided
that to iron working shirts would be merely painting the lily. Old
Joe watched them with a twinkle, saying nothing. But a spirit of