Part 4 out of 5
festivity and magnificence must have entered into him, for when the
washermen went for a walk, after disposing their damp raiment upon
bushes, he entered the kitchen hurriedly and dived for the flour-
bag; and later, they found unwonted additions to the corned beef
and potatoes--the said additions being no less than boiled onions
and a jam tart.
The week that followed was a repetition of the first, save for a
day of such rain that even old Joe had to admit that work in the
paddocks was out of the question. He consoled himself by making
them whitewash the kitchen. Large masses of soot fell down into
the fireplace throughout the day, seriously interfering with
cooking operations, which suggested to Joe that "Captin" might
acquire yet another art--that of bush chimney sweeping--which he
accomplished next day, under direction, by the simple process of
tugging a great bunch of tea-tree up and down the flue. "Better'n
all them brushes they 'ave in towns," said Joe, watching his
blackened assistant with satisfaction.
"Well, we're off to-morrow, Mr. Howard," said Jim on Saturday
night. They were seated round the fire, smoking.
"I s'pose so. Didn't think yous'd stick it out as long," the old
"We've had a very good time," said Bob; and was astonished to find
himself speaking truthfully. "Jolly good of you to have me; I know
a new-chum isn't much use."
"Well, I wouldn't say as how you weren't," said old Joe deliberately.
"I ain't strong on new-chums, meself--some of them immy-grants
they send out are a fair cow to handle; but I will say, Captin,
you ain't got no frills, nor you don't mind puttin' your back into
a job. I worked you pretty 'ard, too." He chuckled deeply.
"Did you?" asked Bob--and chuckled in his turn.
"Well, I didn't see no points in spoon-feedin' you. If a man's
goin' on the land he may as well know wot 'e's likely to strike.
There's lots'll tell you you won't strike anythink 'arder than ol'
Joe--an' p'raps you won't," he added. "Any'ow, yous asked fer
work, an' it was up ter me ter see that yous got it. But don't go
imaginin' you've learned all there is ter know about farmin' yet."
"If there's one thing I'm certain of, it's that," said Bob a trifle
"That's right. I ain't got much of a farm, an' any'ow, it's
winter. I on'y showed yous a few of the odd jobs--an' wot it is to
'ave to batch fer yerself, not comin' in like a lord to Billabong
ter see wot Mrs. Brown's been cookin' for yous. Nothin' like a bit
o' batchin' ter teach a cove. An' you mind, Captin--if you start
anywhere on yer own, you batch decent; keep things clean an' don't
get into the way o' livin' just any'ow. I ain't much, nor the
meenoo ain't excitin'; but things is clean."
"Well--I have a sister," said Bob. "So I'm in luck. But I guess I
know a bit more about her side of the job now."
"And that's no bad thing for Tommy," said Jim.
"Oo's 'e?" demanded Joe.
"Oh--that's his sister."
"Rum names gals gets nowadays," said Joe, pondering. "Not on'y
gels, neither. 'S a chap on top of the 'ill 'as a new baby, an'
'e's called it 'Aig Wipers Jellicoe. 'Course, 'e did go to the
war, but 'e ain't got no need ter rub it into the poor kid like
that." He paused to ram the tobacco into the bowl of his pipe with
a horny thumb. "One thing--I'd like to pay you chaps somethin'.
Never 'ad blokes workin' fer me fer nothin', an' I don't much care
"No, thanks, Mr. Howard," said Jim. "We came for colonial
"You!" said old Joe, and permitted himself the ghost of a grin.
"Well, I ain't goin' ter fight yous about it, an' I'm not worryin'
a mighty lot about you, Major, 'cause your little bit o' country's
ready made for you. But Captin's different. We won't 'ave no
fight about cash, Captin; but that last year's calf of the ol'
keow's goin' ter be a pretty decent steer, an' when you gets yer
farm 'e's goin' on it as yer first bit o' stock. An' 'e'll get the
best o' my grass till 'e goes."
"Rubbish!" said Bob, much embarrassed. "Awfully good of you, Mr.
Howard, but that wasn't the agreement. I know I'm not worth wages
"Oh, ain't you?" Joe asked. "Well, there's two opinions about
that. Any'ow, 'e's yours, an' I've christened 'im Captin, so there
ain't no way out of it." He rose, cutting short further protests.
"Too much bloomin' argument about this camp; I'm off ter bed."
ON INFLUENZA AND FURNITURE
"So you think he'll do, Jim?"
"Yes, I certainly do," Jim answered. He was sitting with his
father in the smoking-room at Billabong, his long legs outstretched
before the fire, and his great form half-concealed in the depths of
an enormous leather armchair. "Of course he'll want guidance; you
couldn't expect him to know much about stock yet, though he's
certainly picked up a good bit."
"Yes--so it seems. His great point is his quick eye and his
keenness. I haven't found him forget much."
"No, and he's awfully ashamed if he does. He's a tiger for work,
and very quick at picking up the way to tackle any new job. That
was one of the things that pleased old Joe about him. I fancy the
old chap had suffered at the hands of other new-chums who reckoned
they could teach him how to do his work. 'Captin ain't orffered me
not one bit of advice,' he told me with relief."
Mr. Linton laughed.
"Yes, I've had them here like that," he said. "Full of sublime
enthusiasm for reforming Australia and all her ways. I don't say
we don't need it, either, but not from a new-chum in his first five
"Not much," agreed Jim. "Well, there's nothing of that sort about
old Bob. He just hoes in at anything that's going, and doesn't
talk about it. Joe says he must have been reared sensible. He's
all right, dad. I've had a lot of men through my hands in the last
few years, and you learn to size 'em up pretty quickly."
David Linton nodded, looking at his big son. Sometimes he had a
pang of regret for Jim's lost boyhood, swallowed up in war. Then,
when he was privileged to behold him rough-and-tumbling with Wally,
singing idiotic choruses with Norah and Tommy, or making himself
into what little Babs Archdale ecstatically called "my bucking
donkey," it was borne in upon him that there still was plenty of
the boy left in Jim--and that there always would be. Nevertheless,
he had great confidence in his judgment; and in this instance it
happened to coincide with his own.
The door opened, and Bob Rainham came in, hesitating as he caught
sight of the father and son.
"Come in, Bob," Mr. Linton said. "I was just wishing you would
turn up. We've been talking about you. I understand you've made
up your mind to get a place of your own."
"If you don't think I'm insane to tackle it, sir," Bob answered.
"Of course, I know I'm awfully ignorant. But I thought I could
probably get hold of a good man, and if I can find a place anywhere
in this district, Jim says he'll keep an eye on me. Between the
two, I oughtn't to make very hopeless mistakes. And I might as
well have my money invested."
"Quite so. I think you're wise," the squatter answered. "As it
happens, I was in Cunjee yesterday, talking to an agent, and I
heard of a little place that might suit you very well--just about
the price you ought to pay, and the land's not bad. There's a
decent cottage on it--you and Tommy could be very comfortable
there. It's four miles from here, so we should feel you hadn't got
away from us."
"That sounds jolly," said Bob. "I'd be awfully glad to think Tommy
was so near to Norah. Is it sheep country, Mr. Linton?"
"So it's to be sheep, is it? Well, I'd advise you to put some
young cattle on to some scrub country at the back, but you could
certainly run sheep on the cleared paddocks," Mr. Linton answered.
"We could drive over and look at it to-morrow, if you like. The
terms are easy; you'd have money over to stock it, or nearly so.
And there's plenty to be done in improving the place, if you should
buy it; you could easily add a good deal to its value."
"That's what I'd like," Bob answered eagerly. "It doesn't take a
whole lot of brains to dig drains and cut scrub. I could be doing
that while the sheep turn into wool and mutton!"
"So you could; though there's a bit more to be done to sheep than
just to watch them turn," said the squatter, with a twinkle. "I
fancy Tommy will be pleased if you get this place."
"Tommy's mad keen to start," Bob said. "She says Norah has taught
her more than she ever dreamed that her head could contain, and she
wants to work it all off on me. I think she has visions of making
me kill a bullock, so that she can demonstrate all she knows about
corning and spicing and salting beef. I mentioned it would take
two of us quite a little while to work through a whole bullock, but
she evidently didn't think much of the objection."
"I'll see you get none fat enough to kill," grinned Jim. "Norah
says Tommy's a great pupil, dad."
"Oh, they have worked as if they were possessed," Mr. Linton
answered. "I never saw such painfully busy people. But Norah
tells me she has had very little to teach Tommy--in fact, I think
the teaching has been mutual, and they've simply swapped French and
Australian dodges. At all events they and Brownie have lived in
each other's pockets, and they all seem very content."
"Are you all talking business, or may we come in?" demanded a
cheery voice; and Norah peeped in, with Tommy dimly visible in the
"Come in--'twas yourselves we were talking about," Jim said, rising
slowly from the armchair; a process which, Norah was accustomed to
say, he accomplished yard by yard. "Sit here, Tommy, and let's
hear your views on Australia!"
Tommy shook her head.
"Too soon to ask me--and I've only seen Billabong," she said,
laughing. "Wait until I've kept house for Bob for a while, and
faced life without nice soft buffers like Norah and Mrs. Brown!"
"I'm not a nice soft buffer!" said Norah indignantly. "Do I look
like one, Jimmy?"
"Brownie certainly fits the description better," Jim said. "Never
mind, old girl, you'll probably grow into one. We'd be awfully
proud of you if you got really fat, Norah."
"Then I hope you'll never have cause for pride," retorted his
sister. "I couldn't ride Bosun if I did, and that would be too
awful to think about. Oh, and Tommy's making a great stock-rider,
Bob. She declared she could never ride astride, but she's
perceiving the error of her ways."
"I thought I could never stick on without the moral support of the
pommels," said Tommy. "When you arrange yourself among pommels and
horns and things on a side-saddle, there seems no real reason why
you should ever come off, except of your own free will. But a
man's saddle doesn't offer any encouragement to a poor scared new-
chum. I pictured myself sliding off it whenever the horse side-
stepped. However, somehow, it doesn't happen."
"And what happens when your steed slews around after a bullock?"
"Indeed, I hardly know," said Tommy modestly. "I generally shut my
eyes, and hold on to the front of the saddle. After a while I open
them, and find, to my astonishment, that nothing has occurred, and
I'm still there. Then we sail along after Norah, and I hold up my
head proudly and look as if that were really the way I have always
handled cattle. And she isn't a bit taken in. It's dreadfully
difficult to impress Norah."
Every one laughed, and looked at the new-chum affectionately. This
small English girl, so ready to laugh at her own mistakes, had
twined herself wonderfully about their hearts. Even Brownie,
jealous to the point of prickliness for her adored Norah, and at
first inclined to turn up a scornful nose at "Miss Tommy's" pink
and white daintiness, had been forced to admit that she "could
'andle things like a workman." And that was high praise from
The telephone bell whirred in the hall, and Jim went out to answer
it. In a few minutes they heard his voice.
"Norah, just come here a moment." He came back presently, leaving
Norah at the telephone.
"It's Dr. Anderson," he said. "They're in trouble in Cunjee--
there's a pretty bad outbreak of influenza. Some returned men came
up with it, and now it's spreading everywhere, Anderson says. Mrs.
Anderson has been nursing in the hospital, but now two of her own
kiddies have got it, so she has had to go home, and they're awfully
shorthanded. Nurses seem to be scarce everywhere; they could only
get one from Melbourne, and she's badly overworked."
"Norah will go, I suppose," said David Linton, with a half-sigh--
the sigh of a man who has looked forward to peace and security, and
finds it again slipping from his grasp.
"Oh, yes, I'm sure she will. They have a certain number of
volunteers, not nearly enough."
"I'm going," said Tommy, and David Linton nodded at her kindly.
"What about you and me, Jim?" Bob asked.
"Well, Anderson says they have a number of men volunteers. Such a
lot of returned fellows about with nothing to do yet. I told him
to count on us for anything he wanted, but the need seems chiefly
"Must they go to-night? It's pretty late," said Mr. Linton.
"No, not to-night," Norah answered, entering. "It would be eight
o'clock before I could get in, and Dr. Anderson says I'm to get a
good sleep and come in early in the morning. Tommy, darling, will
you mind if I leave you for a few days?"
"Horribly," said Tommy drily. "It would be unpardonably rude for a
hostess. So I 'm coming too."
Norah laughed down at her.
"Somehow, I thought you would," she said. "Well, Jimmy, you'll
take us in after breakfast, won't you? We'll have it early." She
perched on the arm of her father's chair, letting her fingers rest
for a moment on his close-cropped grey hair. "And I've never asked
you if I could go, daddy."
"No," said David Linton; "you haven't." He put his arm gently
"But then I knew that you'd kick me out if I didn't. So that
simplifies matters. You'll take care of yourself while I'm away,
won't you, dad? No wild rides by yourself into the ranges, or
anything of that sort?"
"Certainly not," said her father. I'll sit quietly at home, and
let Brownie give me nourishment at short intervals."
"Nothing she'd like better." Norah laughed. "I don't believe
Brownie will really feel that she owns us again until one of us is
considerate enough to fall ill and give her a real chance of
nursing and feeding us. Then the only thing to do is to forget you
ever had a will of your own, and just to open your mouth and be fed
like a young magpie, and Brownie's perfectly happy."
"She won't be happy when she hears of this new plan," Mr. Linton
said. "Poor old soul, I'm sorry she should have any worry, when
she has just got you home."
"Yes; I'm sorry," Norah answered. "But it can't be helped. I'll
go and talk to her now, and arrange things--early breakfast among
"You might make it a shade earlier than you meant to, while you're
at it, Nor," Jim observed. "Then we could turn off the track as we
go in to-morrow to let Tommy have a look at the place that has been
offered Bob--you know that place of Henderson's, off the main road.
Bob can go over the land with us when we're coming back. But once
you and Tommy get swallowed up in Cunjee, there's no knowing when
we could get you out; and Tommy ought to inspect the house."
"Oh, I'd love to," said Tommy enthusiastically. "No mere man can
be trusted to buy a house."
"Don't go to look at it with any large ideas of up-to-date
improvements floating in your mind," Jim warned her. "It's sure to
be pretty primitive, and probably there isn't even a bathroom."
"Don't you worry, Tommy; we'll build you one," said Mr. Linton.
"I'm not going to worry about anything; there are always washtubs,"
spoke Tommy cheerfully--"and thank you, all the same, Mr. Linton.
I didn't expect much when I came out to Australia, but I'm getting
so much more than I expected that I'm in a state of bewilderment
all the time. Someday I feel that I shall come down with a bump,
and I shall be thankful if it's only over a bathroom."
"Distressing picture of the valiant pioneer looking for discomforts
and failing to find them," said Bob, laughing. "It's so difficult
to feel really pioneerish in a place where there are taps, and
electric light, and motors, and no one appears to wear a red shirt,
like every Australian bushman I ever saw on the stage."
"Did you bring any out with you?" demanded Norah wickedly.
"I didn't. But honest, it was only because I had so many khaki
ones, and I thought they'd do. Otherwise I'd certainly have
thought that scarlet shirts were part of the ordinary outfit for
the Colonies. And if you believed all the things they tell you in
outfitting shops, you would bring a gorgeous assortment. We'd have
even arrived here with tinware. It was lucky I knew some
Australians--they delicately hinted that you really had a shop or
two in the principal cities."
"I've often marvelled at the queer collection people seem to bring
out," said Mr. Linton. "It's not so bad of late years, but ten
years ago a jackeroo would arrive here with about a lorry-load of
stuff, most of which he could have bought much more cheaply in
Melbourne or Sydney--and he'd certainly never use the greater part
of it. Apparently a London shop will sell you the same kind of
outfit for a Melbourne suburb as if you were going into the wilds
of West Africa. They haven't any conscience."
"They just never learn geography," said Norah. "And 'the Colonies'
to them mean exactly the same thing, no matter in what continent
the colony may be. If they can sell pioneers tinware to take out
to Melbourne, so much the better for them. Well, I must see
Brownie, or there may not be early breakfast for pioneers or any
Brownie rose to the occasion--there had never been any known
occasion to which Brownie did not rise--and the hospital at Cunjee
was still grappling with early morning problems next day when the
Billabong motor pulled up at the door, after a flying visit to the
new home--which Tommy, regarding with the large eye of faith, had
declared to be full of boundless possibilities. Dr. Anderson came
out to meet the new-comers, Norah and Tommy, neat and workmanlike;
Jim, bearing their luggage; and Mr. Linton and Bob sharing a large
humper, into which Brownie had packed everything eatable she could
find--and Brownie's capacity for finding things eatable at short
notice was one of her most astonishing traits. The little doctor,
harassed as he was, greeted them with a twinkle.
"You Lintons generally appear bearing your sheaves with you," he
said. "Well, you're very welcome. How many of you do I keep?"
"Tommy and Norah, for certain," said Mr. Linton. "And as many more
of us as you please. Want us all, doctor?"
"Well, I really don't; there are a good many men volunteers. But
if I might commandeer the car and a driver for a few hours, I
should be glad," the doctor went on. "There are some cases to be
brought in from Mardale and Clinthorpe. I heard of them only this
morning, on the telephone, and I was wondering how to get them in."
"We're at your disposal, and you've only to telephone for us or the
car whenever you want it," said Mr. Linton. "How are things this
"Oh--bad enough. We have several very troublesome cases; people
simply won't give in soon enough. My youngsters are very ill, but
I'm not really worried about them as long as my wife keeps up. Our
biggest trouble is that our cook here went down this morning. She
told me she couldn't sleep a wink all night, and when she woke up
in the morning her tongue was sticking to the roof of her head!--
and certainly she has temperature enough for any strange symptoms.
But we feel rather as if the bottom had dropped out of the
universe, for none of our volunteers are equal to the job."
"I can cook," said Norah and Tommy together.
"Can you?" said the little doctor, staring at them as though the
heavens had opened and rained down angels on his head. "Are you
sure? You don't look like it!"
"I can guarantee them," said Mr. Linton, laughing. "Only you'll
have to watch Norah, for the spell of the war is heavy upon her,
and she'll boil your soup bones thirteen times, and feed you all on
haricot beans and lentils if nobody checks her!"
"Dad, you haven't any manners," said Norah severely. "May I cook,
"You can share the job," said Dr. Anderson thankfully. "I really
think it's more than enough for one of you. This place is getting
pretty full. Of course, I've wired to town for a cook, but
goodness knows if we'll get one; it's unlikely. Come on, now, and
I'll introduce you to Sister."
Sister proved to be a tall, capable, quiet woman, with war
decorations. She greeted the volunteers thankfully, and
unhesitatingly pronounced their place to be cooks, rather than
"I can get girls who will do well enough in the wards," she said,
"where I can direct them. But I can't be in the kitchen too. If
you two can carry on without supervision it will be a godsend."
So the kitchen swallowed up Norah and Tommy, and there they worked
during the weeks that followed, while the influenza scourge raged
round Victoria. The little cottage-hospital became full almost
to bursting-point. Even the rooms for the staff had to be
appropriated, and nurses and helpers slept in a cottage close by.
Luckily for the cooks, Cunjee now boasted a gas supply and its
citizens supplied them with gas-stoves, as Norah said, "in
clutches," so that they worked in comfort. It was hard work, with
little time to spare, but the girls had learned method, and they
soon mapped out a routine that prevented their ever being rushed or
flurried. And they blessed the cold weather that saved constant
watching lest supplies should go bad.
From Billabong came daily hampers that greatly relieved their
labours. It was a matter of some amazement to the Lintons that
Brownie did not volunteer for the hospital, and indeed, it had been
the first thought of Brownie herself. But she repressed it firmly,
though by no means feeling comfortable. To Murty she confided her
views, and was relieved by his approval.
"I know I did ought to go," she said, almost tearfully. "There's
those two blessed lambs in the kitchen, doing wot I'd ought to be
doing; and I know Mrs. Archdale 'ud come up an' run things 'ere for
me. But wot 'ud 'appen if I did go, I ask you, Murty? Simply
they'd take the two blessed lambs out of the kitchen an' put 'em to
nursing in the wards, an' next thing you knew they'd both be down
with the beastly flu' themselves. They're safer among the pots and
pans, Murty. But when the master looks at me I don't feel
"Yerra, let him look," said Murty stoutly. "'Tis the great head ye
have on ye; I'd never have thought of it. Don't go worryin', now.
Are ye not sendin' them in the heighth of good livin' every day?"
"That's the least I can do," said Brownie, brightening a little.
"Only I'd like to think Miss Norah and Miss Tommy got some of it,
and not just them patients, gethered up from goodness knows where."
"Yerra, Miss Norah wouldn't want to know their addresses before
she'd feed 'em," said the bewildered Murty. But there came a
suspicious smell from the kitchen, as of something burning, and
Mrs. Brown fled with a swiftness that was surprising, considering
Jim lived a moving existence in those days, flying between
Billabong and Cunjee in the car, bringing supplies, always on hand
for a job if wanted, and insisting that on their daily "time off"
Norah and Tommy should come out for a spin into the country.
Sometimes they managed to take Sister, too, or some of the other
helpers. The car never went out with any empty seats. Presently
they were recovering patients to be given fresh air or taken home;
white-faced mothers, longing to be back to the house and children
left in the care of "dad," and whatever kindly neighbours might
drop in; or "dads" themselves, much bewildered at the amazing
illness that had left them feeling as if neither their legs nor
their heads belonged to them. Occasionally, after dropping one of
these convalescents, Jim would find jobs waiting to his hand about
the bush homestead; cows to milk, a fence to be mended, wood
waiting to be chopped. He used to do them vigorously, while in the
house "mum" fussed over her restored man and tried to keep him from
going out to run the farm immediately. There were generally two or
three astonished children to show him where tools were kept--milk
buckets, being always up-ended on a fence post, needed no
introduction, and the pump, for a sluice afterwards, was not hard
of discovery. The big Rolls-Royce used to purr gently away through
the bush paddock afterwards, often with a bewildered "mum" looking
amazedly at the tall young man who drove it.
Meanwhile Bob Rainham, left alone with his host, set about the
business of his new farm in earnest, since there seemed nothing
else for him to do; and David Linton, possibly glad of the
occupation, threw himself into the work. The farm was bought on
terms that seemed to Bob very easy--he did not know that Mr. Linton
stood security for his payments--and then began the task of
stocking it and of planning just what was best to do with each
paddock. The house, left bare and clean by the last owners, was in
good repair, save that the dingy white painting of the exterior,
and the varnished pine walls and ceilings within were depressing
and shabby. Mr. Linton decided that his house-warming present to
Tommy should be a coat of paint for her mansion, and soon it looked
new--dark red, with a gleaming white roof, while the rooms were
painted in pretty fresh colours. "Won't Tommy get a shock!"
chuckled Bob gleefully. The dinginess of the house had not escaped
him on the morning that they had made their first inspection, but
Tommy, who loved freshness and colours, had made no sign. Had you
probed the matter, Tommy would probably have remarked, with some
annoyance, that it was not her job to begin by grumbling.
Wally came hurtling back from Queensland at the first hint of the
influenza outbreak, and was considerably depressed at finding his
twin souls, Jim and Norah, engaged in jobs that for once he could
not share. Therefore he, too, fell back on the new farm, and found
Bob knitting his brow one evening over the question of furniture.
"I don't want to buy much," he said. "Tommy doesn't, either; we
talked it over. We'd rather do with next to nothing, and buy
decent stuff by degrees if we get on well. Tommy says she doesn't
want footling little gimcracky tables and whatnots and things, nor
dressing-tables full of drawers that won't pull out. But I've been
looking at the cheap stuff in Cunjee, and, my word, it's nasty!
Still, I can't afford good things now, and Tommy wouldn't like it
if I tried to get 'em. Tommy's death on the simple life."
"How are you on tools?" queried Wally.
"Using tools? Pretty fair," admitted Bob. "I took up carpentering
at school; it was always a bit of a hobby of mine. I'm no cabinet-
maker, if that's what you mean."
"You don't need to be," Wally answered. "Up where I come from--we
were pretty far back in Queensland--we hardly ever saw real
furniture, the stuff you buy in shops. It was all made out of
packing-cases and odd bits of wood. Jolly decent, too; you paint
'em up to match the rooms, or stain 'em dark colours, and the girls
put sort of petticoats round some of the things."
"We began that way," said David Linton, with a half-sigh. "There
was surprisingly little proper furniture in our first house, and we
were very comfortable."
"Couldn't we begin, sir?" asked Wally eagerly. "This wet weather
looks like setting in. Bob can't do much on the farm. If we could
get out a few odd lengths of timber and some old packing cases from
"Heavens, you don't need to do that!" exclaimed their host. "The
place is full of both; packing-cases have been arriving at
Billabong since Jim was a baby, and very few of them have gone away
again. There's plenty of timber knocking about, too. We'll go
over to the farm if you like, Bob, and plan out measurements."
"I think it's a splendid idea, thanks, sir," said Bob slowly.
"Only I don't quite see why I should bother you--"
"Oh, don't talk rubbish!" said David Linton, getting up. "I
believe I'm glad of the job--the place seems queer without Jim and
"My word!" said Wally. "Let's all turn carpenters, and give Tommy
the surprise of her life!"
They flung themselves at the work with energy. A visit to the new
house, and a careful study of each room, revealed unsuspected
possibilities to Bob, whose English brain, "brought up," as Wally
said, "on a stodgy diet of bedroom suites," had failed to grasp
what might be done by handy people with a soul above mere fashion
in the matter of furniture. They came back with a notebook bulging
with measurements and heads seething with ideas. First, they dealt
with the bedrooms, and made for each a set of long shelves and a
dressing-table-cupboard--the latter a noble piece of furniture,
which was merely a packing-case, smoothed, planed and fitted with
shelves; the whole to be completed with a seemly petticoat when
Tommy should be able to detach her mind from influenza patients.
They made her, too, a little work-table, which was simply a wide,
low shelf, at which she could write or sew--planned to catch a good
light from her window, so that as she sat near it, she could see
the line of willows that marked the creek and the rolling plains
that ended in the ranges behind Billabong. Tommy's room was
painted in pale green; and when they had stained all these exciting
additions dark green, Bob heaved a great sigh, and yearned audibly
for the swift recovery of the influenza patients, so that Tommy
could return and behold her new possessions.
"We could make washstands," said Mr. Linton, when they had fitted
out the two remaining bedrooms. "But washstands are depressing
things, and would take up a good deal of space in these little
rooms. You have a good water supply, Bob; why not have built-in
basins with taps, and lay on water through the bedrooms?"
"My aunt! Is that really possible?"
"Quite, I should say. It wouldn't take elaborate plumbing, and the
pipes could discharge into an irrigation drain for your vegetable
garden. It would save Tommy ever so much work in carrying water,
too. There's a fearsome amount of water carried in and out of
bedrooms, and I can't see why pipes shouldn't do the work. It need
not cost you much--just a shelf across a corner, with an enamelled
basin let in."
"Save you buying jugs and basins," said Wally. "Great money-saving
"Rather," said Bob. "Is there anyone in Cunjee who can plumb?"
"Oh, yes; there's a handy man who can do the whole thing. We'll
get Jim to go and see him tomorrow."
They left this job to the handy man, who proved equal to all
demands, and went on themselves to higher flights. Kitchen and
pantry were already fitted with shelves, but they built in a
dresser, and found a spare corner, where they erected a linen press
warranted to bring tears of joy to the eye of any housewife. Round
the little dining-room and sitting-room they ran a very narrow
shelf, just wide enough to carry flowers and ornaments, and they
made wide, low window seats in each room. Then, becoming bold by
success, they turned to cabinet making, and built into the dining-
room a sideboard, which was only a glorified edition of the kitchen
dresser, but looked amazingly like walnut, aided by a little stain;
and for both sitting-rooms made low cupboards, with tops wide
enough to serve as little tables. Even the verandah was furnished
with wide shelf tables and a cupboard, and with low and broad
"And it's all done by kindness--and packing cases!" said Jim,
surveying the result with admiration.
"Indeed, I'm afraid a lot of your father's good timber has gone
into it," said Bob half ruefully. "He was awfully good about it,
and the supply of just-what-you-want timber on Billabong seemed
"No, you really used very little good stuff," David Linton said.
"It's chiefly packing cases, truly, Jim. But we had plenty of time
to plane it up and make it look decent. Bob ran an electric light
into the workshop and we worked every night. I believe it's kept
us from getting influenza from sheer boredom, with all you people
"They'll soon be home," Jim said cheerfully. "Influenza's dying
out, I believe. No fresh cases for three days, and all the
patients are getting better. The little Andersons are up and
about. By the way, Dad, couldn't we bring those kiddies out to
Billabong for a change?"
"Why, of course," his father answered. "Tell Mrs. Anderson to come
too, or, if she won't leave her husband, Brownie will be delighted
at the chance of getting two children to look after again. Are the
cooks quite cheery, Jim?"
"As cheery as possible," Jim answered. "They got off early to-day,
and I took them and Sister and the Anderson youngsters out for a
run. Did 'em all good. I'm coming home to-night, and they don't
want me to-morrow, because they're going to afternoon tea with some
one or other. Flighty young things, those cooks! So I can help
you carpenters or do any odd jobs."
"We've lots," said Wally, who was putting a finishing coat of dark
green enamel to a rod destined as a towel rail for Tommy's room.
"Simple jobs, suitable for your understanding. Take care, Jimmy,
I've a wet paint brush, and you have a good suit on! I want to put
shelves from floor to ceiling of the bathroom, because the walls
are rough and unlined, and nothing on earth will make it a
beautiful room. So Tommy may as well store there all the things
she doesn't want anywhere else. And you can make her a medicine
cupboard. I shan't have time to look at any of you unskilled
labourers, for I'm going to build her a draining-rack for plates
and things over the kitchen sink. And I can tell you, that takes
"Then it's not your job!" said Jim definitely.
"Isn't it? I'll show you, you old Bond Street fashion plate!"
Wally stretched his long form, simply attired in a khaki shirt and
dungaree trousers, much be-splashed by paint, and looked scornfully
at his neatly dressed friend. "You needn't think, because you come
here dressed like the lilies of the field and fresh from motoring
girls round the country, that--"
"My hat!" said Jim justly incensed. "And I after cleaning out and
whitewashing the hospital fowl-houses all the morning! Young
Wally, you need some one to sit on your head." He took off his
"Ten to one," said Wally hastily, "if we had time to look into the
matter we'd find you'd whitewashed the fowls as well! These Army
Johnnies are so beastly impractical!" He gathered up his brushes
and fled, pursued by his chum. Sounds of warfare came faintly from
"It's a good thing some of us are sane," said Mr. Linton laughing.
"Nearly finished, Bob?"
He was painting a shelf-table, screwed to the wall within a space
at the end of the verandah, which they had completely enclosed with
wire mosquito netting. Bob was hanging the door of this open-air
room in position, a task requiring judgment, as the floor of the
verandah was old and uneven.
"Nearly, sir," he mumbled, his utterance made difficult by the fact
of having several screws in his mouth. He worked vigorously for a
few moments, and then stood back to survey his job. "This is going
to be a great little room--though it's hard just now to imagine
that it will ever be warm enough for it."
"Just you wait a few months until we get a touch of hot weather,
and the mosquitoes come out!" said David Linton. "Then you and
Tommy will thankfully entrench yourselves in here at dusk, and
listen to the singing hordes dashing themselves against the netting
in the effort to get at you!"
"That's the kind of thing they used to tell me on the Nauru," Bob
said laughing; "but I didn't quite expect it from you, Mr. Linton!"
The squatter chuckled.
"Well, indeed, it's no great exaggeration in some years," he said.
"They can be bad enough for anything, though it isn't always they
are. But an open-air room is never amiss, for if there aren't
mosquitoes a lamp will attract myriads of other insects on a hot
night. That looks all right, Bob; you've managed that door very
"First rate!" said Jim and Wally approvingly, returning arm in arm.
"You're great judges!" David Linton rejoined, looking at the pair.
"Have you returned to work, may I ask, or are you still imitating
the lilies of the field?"
"Jim is; he couldn't help it," said Wally. "But I have been
studying that oak tree out in the front, Mr. Linton. It seems to
me that a seat built round it would be very comforting to weary
bones on warm evenings--"
Bob gathered up his tools with decision in each movement.
"Wally has come to that state of mind in which he can't look at
anything on the place without wanting to build something out of a
packing case in it, or round it, or on top of it!" he said. "When
the sheep come I'll have to keep you from them, or you'll be
building shelves round them!"
"Why, you're nearly as bad yourself!" grinned Wally.
"I know I am, and that's why I've got to stop. I'm going to leave
nice little chisels and spokeshaves and smoothing planes, and mend
up the pigsty; it needs it badly, and so does the cow-shed. And
then I've got to think of ploughing, and cutting that drain across
the flat, and generally earning my living."
"Don't you worry," said David Linton. "You couldn't have done much
outside in this wet weather, and at least your house is half-
furnished. And we'll help you through with the other things."
"You're all just bricks," said Bob, his fair skin flushing--"only I
begin to feel as if I were fed with a spoon. I can't always expect
to have my work done for me."
"You haven't shown much wish to leave it for anyone else," Jim said
drily. "Neither you nor Tommy strikes this district as a loafer.
Just stop talking bosh, old man, and think what Tommy's going to
say to her mansion."
"Say?" queried Mr. Linton. "Why, she'll point out to us all the
places where she wants shelves!"
"Shelves?" yelled the three as one man.
"Yes, certainly. There was never a woman born who had enough.
Don't lose sight of your tools, Bob, for you'll go on putting up
shelves as long as you've an inch of wall to put them on. Come
along, boys, and we'll go home."
THE HOME ON THE CREEK
"I think it's the loveliest home that ever was!" said Tommy
"Well, indeed, it takes some beating," Wally agreed.
"Creek Cottage"--the name was of Tommy's choosing--was ready for
occupation, and they had just finished a tour of it. There was
nothing in it that was not fresh and bright and dainty--like Tommy
herself. The rooms were small, but they had good windows, where
the crisp, short curtains were not allowed to obscure the view.
There were fresh mattings and linoleums on the floors, and the
home-made furniture now boasted, where necessary, curtains of
chintz or cretonne, that matched its colouring. Norah and Tommy
had spent cheery hours over those draperies. The curtains for
Tommy's "suite" had been Norah's gift--of dark-green linen,
embroidered in dull blue silks; and in the corner there was a
little sofa with cushions of the same. Tommy had purred--was, in
fact, still purring--over that home-made furniture, and declared it
superior to any that money could buy. She had also suggested new
ideas for shelves.
They had not troubled furniture shops much. Save for a few
comfortable arm-chairs, there was nothing solid and heavy in the
house; but it was all pleasant and home-like, and the little rooms,
bright with books and pictures and flowers, had about them the
touch of welcome and restfulness that makes the difference between
a home and a mere house. The kitchen was Tommy's especial pride--
it was cool and spotless, with fresh-painted walls and ceilings,
and shining white tiles round the white sink--over which Wally's
draining-rack sat in glory. Dazzling tin-ware decorated the walls,
and the dresser held fresh and pretty china. For weeks it had been
a point of honour for no one to visit Cunjee without bringing Tommy
a gift for the kitchen--meat fork, a set of skewers, a tin pepper
castor; offerings wrapped in many coverings of tissue paper, and
presented with great solemnity, generally at dinner. The last
parcel had been from Mr. Linton, and had eclipsed all the others--
an alarum clock, warranted to drive the soundest sleeper from her
bed. Bob declared it specially designed to ensure his getting fed
at something approaching a reasonable hour.
A wide verandah ran round the whole house, and rush lounges and
deck chairs stood about invitingly--Tommy had insisted that there
should be plenty of seating accommodation on the verandah for all
the Linton party, since they filled the little rooms to an alarming
extent. Near where they stood the drawing-room opened out by a
French window. Something caught Tommy's eye, and she dived into
the room--to return, laughing with new treasure-trove--a sink brush
and saucepan-scrubber, tied up with blue ribbon.
"Your doing?" she asked, brandishing them.
"Not mine." Wally shook his head. "I don't do frivolous things
like that. But I heard Jim wheedling blue ribbon out of Norah this
morning, and I don't fancy he has much use for it ordinarily.
You'd better ask him."
"It's like both of you--you nice stupids!" she said.
"What?--the pot-scrub! That's not polite of you, Miss Rainham; and
so untrue, where I'm concerned." Wally sat down on the arm of a
lounge and regarded her with a twinkle. "What's old Bob doing?"
Tommy laughed happily.
"I think whenever we don't know where Bob is, he's safe to be out
looking at either the sheep or the pigs," she said. "He just loves
them; and he says he can see them growing."
There was a hint of Spring in the air, and more than a hint of good
grass in the green paddocks stretching away from the house. By the
creek the willows were putting out long, tender shoots that would
soon be a thick curtain. The lucerne patch that stretched along
its bank was dense and high. The Rainhams had been delayed in
taking possession of Creek Cottage; a severe cold had smitten Tommy
just at the end of her labours in the hospital, and, being
thoroughly tired out, it had been some time before she could shake
off its effects. Mr. Linton and Norah had put down their feet with
joint firmness, declaring that in no circumstances should she begin
housekeeping until she was thoroughly fit; so the Rainhams had
remained at Billabong. Tommy was petted and nursed in a way she
had not known since Aunt Margaret had died, while Bob worked
feverishly at his farm, riding over every day from Billabong, with
a package of Brownie's sandwiches in his pocket, and returning at
dusk, dirty and happy. Bob was responding to Australian conditions
delightfully, and was only discontented because he could not make
his farm all that he wanted it to be within the first week.
Therein, however, he had unexpected help. The Cunjee district was
a friendly one; station owners and farmers alike looked kindly on
the young immigrant who turned so readily to work after four years'
fighting. Moreover, Tommy's work in the hospital was well known;
the general opinion being that "anything might be expected from
young Norah Linton, but you wouldn't think a bit of a new-chum kid
like Bob Rainham's sister would turn to and cook for a crowd, and
she hardly off the ship!" So the district laid its heads together
and consulted Mr. Linton; with the result that one morning Bob
found himself unexpectedly accompanied to work by his host. It was
nothing unusual for Jim or Wally, or both, to go with him. He was
cutting a drain, which they declared to be a job for which they had
a particular fancy. But to-day he found Monarch saddled with the
other horses, and Mr. Linton, not only ready to start, but hurrying
them off; and there was no lunch to carry, Norah airily declaring
that since she and Tommy were to be deserted they declined to be
downtrodden, and would motor over with a hamper and picnic at Creek
Cottage. There was a mysterious twinkle in Norah's eye; Bob
scented something afoot, and tried--in vain--to pump her on the
matter. He rode away, his curiosity unsatisfied.
But when they rode up the homestead paddock at his farm, he gave a
"What on earth--?" he began amazedly.
There were men in sight everywhere, and all working. Eight or nine
ploughs were moving across the paddocks destined for cultivation;
already wide strips of freshly turned earth showed that they had
been some time at work. On the flat where Bob had begun his drain
was a line of men, and some teams with earth-scoops, cutting a deep
channel. There were even men digging in the garden; and the sound
of axes came faintly from a belt of scrub that Bob was planning to
clear--some day. He gaped at them.
"What does it mean?"
"It's a bee," said Wally kindly. "A busy bee, improving each
Bob turned a puzzled, half-distressed face to Mr. Linton.
"I say, sir--what is it?"
"It's just that, my boy," said David Linton. "The district had a
fancy to help you--Cunjee thinks a heap of soldiers, you see. So a
lot of the fellows got together and planned to put in a day on the
creek, doing odd jobs."
"I say," said poor Bob flushing scarlet, "I never heard such a
thing--and I hardly know any of them. Whatever am I to say to
"I wouldn't say much at all," said David Linton laughing. "You'll
only embarrass them if you do. Just take a hand in any job you
like, and carry on--as we're all going to do."
"There's one man you know, anyhow," said Jim grinning. He pointed
out old Joe Howard, the nearest to them among the ploughmen.
"Heavens!" ejaculated Bob. "You don't mean to tell me old Joe has
come of his own accord!"
"Couldn't keep him away," Jim said. "He remarked that you were a
very decent young feller, and he'd taught you how to work, so he
might as well lend an 'and. It's like old Joe's cheek, but he'll
claim for ever that he made you a worker."
"Oh, let him," said Bob. "It doesn't hurt me, and it may amuse
him." His gaze travelled across the busy paddocks. "Well--I'm
just staggered," he said. "The least I can do is to get to work
They turned the horses out and scattered; Bob to cutting scrub--it
was the job he liked least, so it seemed to him the decent thing to
tackle it--Jim to the drain construction, while Wally joined the
band of workers in the garden, since he knew Tommy's plans
concerning it; and Mr. Linton attacked a fence that needed repairs.
In the middle of the morning came the Billabong motor, driven by
Norah, with Brownie and a maid in the tonneau with Tommy, and
hampers packed wherever possible. A cart with other supplies had
been driven over by Evans in the very early morning, since
Billabong had undertaken the feeding of the workers for the day.
The Rolls-Royce picked its way delicately round the paddocks, while
the girls carried drinks and huge slabs of cake to the different
bands of workers--this being the time for "smoke-oh." Then they
hurried back to the cottage, where Brownie and Maria were busy
unpacking hampers on the verandah, and Brownie was preparing to
carve great joints of beef and mutton and pork in readiness for the
hungry horde that would descend on them at dinner time.
It was all ready when the men trooped up from the paddocks--
squatters and stockmen, farmers, horse breakers, bush workers of
every degree; all dirty and cheery, and filled with a mighty
hunger. Soap and water awaited them at the back; then they came
round to sit on the edge of the long verandahs, balancing heaped
plates on their knees, and making short work of Brownie's
provisions. Jokes and cheery talk filled the air. Tommy, carrying
plates shyly at first, found herself the object of much friendly
interest. "Little Miss Immigrant," they called her, and vied with
each other in making her feel that they were all welcoming her.
But they did not waste much time over dinner--soon one after
another got up and sauntered away, lighting his pipe, and presently
there were straggling lines of figures going back to work across
the paddocks. After which Norah and Tommy bullied Bob into eating
something--he had been far too anxious to wait on his hungry "bee"
to think of feeding himself, and then the ladies of the party
lunched with the ardour of the long-delayed, and fell upon the
colossal business of dish-washing.
Afternoon tea came early, by which time nearly all the ploughing
was done, and the brown ribbon of the new drain stretched, wide and
deep, across the flat. The girls took the meal round the paddocks,
this time with Bob to carry the steaming billies of tea; it gave
him a chance to thank his helpers, when it was difficult to say
whether the thanker or the thanked were the more embarrassed. Soon
after "cow time" loomed for some of the workers, and whatever waits
in Australia, it must not be the cow; so that here and there a man
shouldered his tools, and, leaving them at the shed, caught his
horse and rode away--apologizing to Bob, if he happened to meet
him, for going so early, with the brief apology of the dairy
farmer, "Gotter get home an' milk." But the majority worked on
until dusk came down and put an end to their efforts, and then came
up for their horses, singing and laughing.
Bob stood at the gate, bareheaded, as they rode away. By this time
he had no words at all. He wished from the bottom of his heart
that he could tell them what good fellows he thought them; but he
could only stand, holding the gate for them with Tommy by his side;
and it may be that the look on each tired young face moved "the
bee" more than eloquence would have done. They shouted cheery
good-byes as they went. "Good luck, Miss Immigrant! Good luck,
Captain!" And the dusk swallowed them up, leaving only the sound
of the cantering hoofs.
Thanks to "the bee," the little farm on the creek looked very
flourishing on the great day when the lady of the house came down
in state to take possession of her domain. Bob had worked hard in
the garden, where already rows of vegetables showed well; Jim and
Wally had aided Norah and Tommy in the making of a flower garden,
laying heavy toll on Hogg's stores for the purpose; to-day it was
golden and white with daffodils and narcissi and snowdrops. The
cultivation paddocks, no longer brown, rippled with green oats; and
cattle were grazing on the rough grass of the flats, once a swamp,
but already showing the influence of the big drain. Bob had great
plans for ploughing all his flats next year. Dairy cows pastured
in the creek paddock near the house; beyond, Bob's beloved sheep
were steadily engrossed in the fascinating pursuit of "turning into
wool and mutton." He never grew tired of watching the process.
The ever-present problem of labour, too, had solved itself
pleasantly enough. Sarah, for many years housemaid at Billabong,
had married a man on a farm near Cunjee, whose first attempt at
renting a place for himself had been brought to an untimely end by
the drought; and Sarah had returned to Billabong, to help in
preparing for the home-coming of the long-absent family, while her
husband secured a temporary job in Cunjee and looked about for
another chance. There Jim had found him, while helping at the
hospital; the end of the matter being that Sarah and Bill and their
baby were installed at Creek Cottage, Bill to be general utility
man on the farm, and to have a share of profits, while Sarah helped
Tommy in the house. Every one was satisfied, and already there
were indications that Tommy would be daft over the baby.
Sarah came out now to say that tea was ready--she had insisted on
being responsible for everything on this first day. Not that there
was much to do, for Brownie had sent over a colossal hamper,
declaring that Miss Tommy shouldn't be bothered with thinking about
food when she wasn't 'ardly settled. So they packed into the
little dining-room; where, indeed, it took no small ingenuity to
stow so large a party, when three of the six happened to be of the
size of David Linton and Jim and Wally; and Tommy did the honours
of her own table for the first time.
"And to think," she said presently, "that six months ago there was
only Lancaster Gate! Of course, there was always Bob"--she flashed
him a quick smile--"but Bob was--"
"In the air," put in Norah.
"Very much so. And it didn't seem a bit certain that I could ever
get him out of it; or, if I did, that I could ever escape from
"And you wouldn't, if the she-dragon had had her way," Bob said.
"No. There was nothing to do but run. But even when I dreamed of
running, I never thought of more than a workman's cottage, with you
earning wages and me trying to make both ends meet. And now--look
at us! Bloated capitalists and station owners."
"Well, you were a cook not so long ago. I wouldn't be too proud,"
"All the more reason for me to be proud--I've risen in the world,"
declared Tommy. "Left my situation to better myself--isn't that
the right way to put it? And we've got the jolliest home in
Australia--thanks to all of you. Do have some more cake, Mr.
Linton; I'd love to say I made it myself, but Brownie did--still,
all the same, it's mine."
"Don't you worry," he told her. "I'm coming here plenty of times
for cake of your own baking."
"That's what I want." She beamed at him. "All of you. Bob and I
will feel lost and lonesome if we don't see you all--oh, often."
"But you're going to," Norah said. "We'll be over goodness knows
how many times a week, and you two are always coming to dinner on
Sunday, and ever so many other days as well."
"Was it in your plans that any work should be done on this estate?"
queried Bob solemnly.
"Why, yes, in your spare time," Wally answered. "Any time you're
not on the road between here and Billabong, or catching a horse to
go there, or letting one go after coming back, or minding the
Billabong horde when it comes over, you can do a little towards
improving the creek. I say, Bob, it sounds the sort of life I'd
love. Can't you give me a job, old man?"
"Seeing that you've done little but work on this place since you
came back from Queensland, I shouldn't think you'd need to ask for
a job," retorted Bob. "However, I'll take you on as milker if you
like--it's about the only thing you haven't sampled."
"No," said Wally, "you won't. Whatever beast I finally take to by
way of earning my living, it won't be the cow--if I can help it.
I'd sooner graze giraffes!"
"Oh, do try!" Norah begged. "I'd love to see you trying to put a
bridle on one in a hurry!"
"Wonder what would happen if one rode a giraffe and he reared?"
"You'd have to swarm up his neck and hang on to his little horns,"
Wally said. "But they're nice, silent beasts, giraffes, and I
think they'd be very restful to deal with."
Every one laughed unsympathetically. Restfulness was the last
quality to be associated with Wally, who had been remarkable
throughout his life for total inability to keep still.
"It's always the way," said Wally, in tones of melancholy. "Every
fortune teller I ever saw told me that no one understood me."
"All fortune tellers say that, and that's why people think them
so clever," said Tommy. "It's so soothing to think one is
misunderstood. My stepmother always thought so. Did Bob tell you,
Mr. Linton, that we had had letters from home?"
"No--from your people?"
"From Papa. The she-dragon didn't write. I think her words would
have been too burning to put on paper. But Papa wrote a pretty
decent letter--for him. He didn't speak of our letters from
Liverpool--the notes we wrote from the hotel, saying we were
leaving for Australia. But he acknowledged Bob's letter from
Melbourne, saying we were going up country under your wing, and
actually wished us luck! Amazing, from Papa!"
"I think he's jolly glad we got away," Bob said.
"I think that's highly probable," said David Linton. "You'll write
to him occasionally, won't you?"
"Oh, yes, I suppose so," Bob answered. "Sometimes I'm a bit sorry
for him; it must be pretty awful to be always under the heel of a
she-dragon. Oh, and there was a really fatherly sort of letter
from old Mr. Clinton. He's an old brick; and he's quite pleased
about our finding you--or you finding us. He was always a bit
worried lest Tommy should feel lonesome in Australia."
"And not you?" Norah asked laughing.
"No, he didn't worry a bit about me; he merely hoped I'd be working
too hard to notice lonesomeness. I think the old chap always was a
bit doubtful that any fellow would get down to solid work after
flying; he used to say the two things wouldn't agree. But you sent
him a decent report of me, didn't you, sir?"
"Oh, yes--I wrote when you asked me, just after you bought this
place," David Linton said. "Told him you were working like a cart-
horse, which was no more than the truth, and that Tommy was serving
her adopted country as a cook; and that I considered your prospects
good. He'll have had that letter before now--and I suppose others
"We wrote a few weeks ago--sent him a photograph of the house, and
of Tommy on a horse, and Tommy told him all about our furniture,"
Bob chuckled. "I don't quite know how a staid old London lawyer
will regard the furniture; he won't understand its beauty a bit.
But he ought to be impressed with our stern regard for economy."
"He should," said Mr. Linton with a twinkle. "And I presume you
mentioned the sheep?"
"As a matter of fact," said Tommy confidentially, "his letter was
little but mutton. He described all his ewes in detail--"
"Colour of their eyes?" queried Wally.
"And their hair," nodded Tommy. "I never read anything so
poetical. And any enthusiasm he had over went to the pigs and the
"But what about the cows?" laughed Norah. "And the young
"Oh, he mentioned them. But cattle are just four-legged animals to
Bob; they don't stir his soul like sheep and pigs. He couldn't
write beautiful things about them. But when it comes to sheep, he
just naturally turns into a poet!"
The object of these remarks helped himself serenely to cake.
"Go on," he nodded at his sister cheerfully. "Wait until my wool
cheque comes in, and you want a new frock--then you'll speak
respectfully of my little merinoes. And if you don't, you won't
get the frock!"
"Why, I wouldn't disrespect them for anything," Tommy said. "I
think they're lovely beasts. So graceful and agile. Will any of
them come yet when you whistle, Bobby?"
"Are you going to put up with this sort of thing, Bob?" demanded
Bob smiled sweetly.
"I'm letting her have her head," he said confidently. "It's badly
swelled just now, because she's got a house of her own--but you
wait until she wants a new set of shelves, or a horse caught in a
hurry so that she can tear over and find out from Norah how to cook
something--then she'll come to heel. It's something in your
climate, I think, because she was never so cheeky at home--meek was
more the word to describe her."
"Meek!" said his sister indignantly. "Indeed, I never was meek in
"Indeed you were, and it was very becoming," Bob assured her. "Now
you're more like a suffragette--" He stopped, staring. "Why,
that's it! It must be in the air! She knows she'll have the vote
pretty soon!" He broke into laughter. "Glory! Fancy little Tommy
with a vote!"
Tommy joined in the general mirth.
"I hadn't realized it," she said, "and I needn't bother for over
eighteen months, anyhow. And I don't believe that any of you have
ever voted, even if you are twenty-one--except Mr. Linton, of
course; and you don't know a bit more about it than I do."
"Hear, hear!" said Wally. "I certainly don't, and neither does
Jim. But when we do vote, it's going to be for the chap who'll let
us go and dig our own coal out if there's a strike. That's sense;
and it seems to me the only sensible thing I've ever heard of in
politics!" A speech which manifested so unusual an amount of
reflection in Wally that every one was spellbound, and professed
inability to eat any more.
Bob and Tommy stood on the verandah to watch their visitors go; Mr.
Linton and Norah in the motor, while Jim and Wally rode. The merry
shouts of farewell echoed through the gathering dusk.
"Bless them," said Tommy--"the dears. I don't believe we'd have a
home now but for them, Bob."
"We certainly wouldn't," Bob answered. "And sometimes I feel as if
they'd spoon-fed us. Look at all they've done for us--these months
at Billabong and all they've taught us, and all the things that
they've showered on us. We couldn't pay them back in twenty
"And they talk as if the favour were on their side," his sister
said. "There's the buggy they've lent us--Mr. Linton spent quite a
long time in pointing out to me how desirable it was for them that
we should use it, now that they have the car and don't need it.
And the horses that apparently would have gone to rack and ruin
from idleness if we hadn't come."
"And the cows that don't seem to have had any reason for existence
except to supply us with milk," Bob said laughing; "and the farm
machinery that never was really appreciated until immigrants came
along--at least, you'd think so to hear Jim talk, only its
condition belies him. Oh, they're bricks, all right. Only I don't
seem as if I were standing squarely on my own feet."
"I don't think we could expect to, just yet," said Tommy pondering.
"And if they have helped us, Bobby, you can see they have loved
doing it. It would be ungracious for us not to take such help--
given as it has been."
"Yes, of course," Bob answered and squared his shoulders. "Well,
I'm going to work like fury. The only thing I can do now is not to
disappoint them. I feel an awful new-chum, Tommy, but I've got to
"Why, of course you're going to," she said, slipping a hand through
his arm. "Jim wouldn't let you make mistakes; and the land is
good, and even if we strike a bad season, there's always the creek--
we'll never be without water, Jim says. And we're going to have
the jolliest home--it's that now, and we're going to make it
"It's certainly that now," Bob said. "I just can't believe it's
ours. Come and prowl round, old girl."
They prowled round in the dusk; up and down the garden paths by the
nodding daffodils, out round the sheds and the pigsties, and so
down to where the creek rippled and murmured in the gloom, flowing
through paddocks that, on either side, were their own. Memories of
war and of gloomy London fell away from them; only the bright
present and a future yet more bright filled them; and there was no
loneliness, since all the big new country had smiled to them and
stretched out hands of friendliness. They came back slowly to
their house, arm in arm; two young things, like shadows in the
gloom, but certain in their own minds that they could conquer
Bob lit the hanging lamp in the little sitting-room, and looked
round him proudly. A photograph caught his eye; a large group at
his Surrey Aerodrome, young officers clustered round a bi-plane
that had just landed.
"Poor chaps," he said, and stared at them. "Most of 'em don't know
yet that there's anything better in the world than flying."
"But they've never met merino sheep," said Tommy solemnly.
THE CUNJEE RACES
"Who's going to the races?" demanded Jim.
He had ridden over to the creek alone, and Tommy had come to the
garden gate to greet him, since the young horse he was riding
firmly declined to be tied up. It was a very hot morning in
Christmas week. Tommy was in a blue print overall, and her face
was flushed, her hair lying in little damp rings on her forehead.
Jim, provokingly cool in riding breeches and white silk shirt,
smiled down at her across the gate.
"Races!" said Tommy. "But what frivolity. Why, I'm bottling
"No wonder you look warm, you poor little soul," said Jim. "You
oughtn't to choose a scorcher like this for bottling. Anyhow, the
races aren't to-day, but New Year's day--Cunjee Picnic meeting.
We're all going, so you and Bob have got to come. Orders from
"Oh, New Year's day. I'd love to come," Tommy said. "I've never
"Never seen races!" ejaculated young Australia in sheer amazement.
"Where were you dragged up?" They laughed at each other.
"Aunt Margaret wasn't what you'd call a racing woman," Tommy said.
"I don't fancy Bob has seen any, either. Bill and Sarah, to say
nothing of the baby, are going. I offered to mind the baby, but
Sarah didn't seem to think the picnic would be complete without
"People have queer tastes," Jim said. "I wouldn't choose a long
day at races as the ideal thing for a baby; but Sarah seems to
think differently. Wonder what Bill thinks? Still, I'm glad she
didn't take you at your word, because we'd have had to dispose of
the baby somewhere if she had. I suppose we could put it under the
seat of the car!"
"Oh, do you?" Tommy regarded him with a glint in her eye. "No;
we'd have made you nurse her--she isn't 'it.' She's the nicest
baby ever, and I won't have her insulted."
"Bless you, I wouldn't insult the baby for worlds," grinned Jim.
"I'll look forward to meeting her at the races--especially as you
won't be minding her. Then it's settled, is it, Tommy? We thought
of riding; will it be too far for you?"
"Not a bit," Tommy said. "Bob and I rode in and out of Cunjee the
other day, and I wasn't tired--and it was dreadfully hot."
"Then you'll be all right on New Year's day, because the racecourse
is two miles this side of the township," Jim said. "But Norah said
I was to tell you some of us could easily go in the car if you'd
"Oh, no, thanks; I know you always ride, and I should love it,"
Tommy answered. "Is Mr. Linton going?"
"Oh, yes. Indeed, as far as I can tell, the whole station's
going," Jim said. "All except Brownie, of course; she scorns
races. She says she can't imagine why anyone should make anything
run fast in the 'eat if they don't want to."
"Does Brownie ever leave Billabong?"
"Hardly ever," Jim answered, laughing--"and it's getting more and
more difficult to make her. I think in a year or two it will need
a charge of dynamite. Oh, but, Tommy, we got her out in the car
the other evening--had to do it almost by main force. It was a hot
evening, and we took her for a spin along the road. She trembled
like a jelly when we started, and all the time she gripped the side
with one hand and Norah's knee with the other--quite unconsciously."
"Do you think she enjoyed it at all?" Tommy smiled.
"No, I'm jolly well sure she didn't," Jim responded. "Brownie's
much too well mannered to criticize anyone else's property, but
when she got out she merely said, 'You have great courage, my
dear.' And wild horses wouldn't get her into it again, unless we
promised to 'make it walk,' like we did the day we brought her over
to help at your working bee. The funny part of it is that Norah
believes she was just as frightened that morning, only she had a
job on, and so was too busy to think of it. But as for going in a
car for mere pleasure--not for Brownie!"
"Brownie's a dear," said Tommy irrelevantly. "Jim, can't you put
that fierce animal in the stable or the horse paddock, or
somewhere, and come in for some tea? I simply must get back to my
"And I've certainly no business to be keeping you standing here in
the heat," Jim said. "No, I can't stay, thanks, Tommy--I promised
dad I'd meet him at the Far Plain gate at eleven o'clock, and it's
nearly that now. You run in to your apricots, and don't kill your
little self over them; it's no day for cooking if you can avoid
"Oh, but I couldn't," Tommy answered. "They were just right for
bottling; the sun to-day would have made them a bit too soft. And
it's better to get them done; to-morrow may be just as hot, or
"That's true enough," Jim said. "Feeling the heat much, little
"Oh, not enough to grumble at," she answered, smiling. "And the
bathing-hole in the creek is a joy; it's almost worth a hot day to
get a swim at the end of it. Bob has built me a bathing-box out of
a tree, and it's a huge success; he's very pleased with himself as
"That's good business," approved Jim. "You two never grumble, no
matter what comes along."
"Well, but nothing has come along but good luck," Tommy said.
"What have we had to grumble at, I should like to know?"
"Oh, some people find cause for grousing, no matter how good their
luck is," Jim answered. "I believe you and old Bob would decline
to recognize bad luck even if it did come your way."
"It's not coming," Tommy said, laughing. "So don't talk about it--
I don't believe it exists." She stood watching him for a moment as
he tried to mount; his big young thoroughbred resented the idea of
anyone on his back, and Jim had to hop beside him, with one foot in
the stirrup, while he danced round in a circle, trying to get away.
Jim seized an opportunity, and was in the saddle with a lithe
swing; whereupon the horse tried to get his head down to buck, and,
being checked in that ambition, progressed down the paddock in a
succession of short, staccato bounds.
"I think I should have to recognize bad luck coming if I had to
ride him instead of Jim," remarked Tommy quaintly. She turned and
ran in to her neglected apricots.
New Year's day broke clear and hot, like all the week before it.
Norah, arriving at the Creek about ten o'clock, looked a little
anxiously at her friend.
"We're used to riding in the heat, Tommy, dear," she said. "But
you're not--are you sure you feel up to it?"
"Why, I'm going to love it," Tommy said. She looked cool and
workman-like in a linen habit and white pith helmet--Norah's
Christmas present. "I hadn't these nice things to wear when Bob
and I brought the sheep out from Cunjee three weeks ago; and it was
just as hot, and so dusty. And that didn't kill me. I liked it,
only I never got so dirty in my life."
"Well, we shall only have a hot ride one way," said Norah
philosophically. "There's a concert in Cunjee, and the boys want
to stay for it. The concert won't be much, but the ride home in
the moonlight will be lovely. You and Bob can stay, of course?"
"Oh, yes. Bill must bring Sarah and the baby home in good time, so
he will milk the cows," Tommy answered. "He wanted them to stay
for the concert, but Sarah had an amazing attack of common sense,
and said it was no place for a baby. I didn't think she considered
any place unfit for a baby, and certainly Bill doesn't."
"Bush people don't," said Norah, laughing. "If they did, they
would never go anywhere, because the babies must go too, no matter
what happens. And the babies get accustomed to it, and don't cry
nearly as much as pampered ones that are always in the nursery."
"Bush kiddies grow a stock of common sense quite early," said
Wally's voice from the door. "It leaves them in later life, and
they stay gossiping with immigrants in new riding-kit, leaving
their unfortunate fathers grilling in the sun. Which he says--"
But at this point Norah and Tommy brushed the orator from their
path, and hastened out to the horses--finding all the men
comfortably smoking under a huge pepper tree, and apparently in no
hurry to start.
Bob bewailed his yellow paddocks as they rode down to the gate.
"They were so beautifully green a few weeks ago," he said. "Now
look at them--why, they're like a crop. The sun has burnt every
bit of moisture out of them."
"Don't let that worry you, my boy," David Linton said. "The stock
are doing all right; as long as they have plenty of good water at
this time of the year they won't ask you for green grass." He gave
a low chuckle. "You wouldn't think this was bad feed if you had
seen the country in the drought years--why, the paddocks were as
bare as the palm of your hand. Now you've grass, as you say
yourself, like a crop." He looked at it critically. "I could wish
you hadn't as much; fires will be a bit of an anxiety later on."
"Grass fires?" queried Bob.
"Yes. There's not enough timber here to have a real bush fire.
But this grass is dry enough now, and by February it will go like
tinder if any fool swagman drops a match carelessly. However,
you'll just have to keep your eyes open. Luckily, your creek can't
burn--you'll always have so much safeguard, because your stock
could take to it; and that row of willows along the bank would
check any grass fire."
"My word, wouldn't a fire race across the Billabong plains this
year!" said Wally.
"Yes, it would certainly travel," agreed Mr. Linton. "Well, we've
ploughed fire-breaks, and burned round the house, and we can only
hope for good luck. You'd better burn a break round your house
"Bill was saying so only this morning," Bob answered. "I nearly
chucked the races and stayed at home to do it--only I was afraid it
might get away from me single-handed, and I couldn't very well keep
Bill at home."
"Oh, time enough," the squatter said lightly. "You're not so dry
as we are, and we only burned last week."
"We'll come over and help you to-morrow, if you like," Jim said.
"Wally wants work; he's getting too fat. A little gentle exercise
with a racing fire on a hot day would be the very thing for him.
We'll come and burn off with you, and then have a bathing party in
the creek, and then you and Tommy must come back to tea with us."
Which was a sample of the way much of the work was done on the
Creek Farm. It had never occurred to the two Rainhams that life in
Australia was lonely.
The road to Cunjee was usually bare of much traffic, but on the one
race day of the year an amazing number of vehicles were dotted
along it, light buggies, farm wagonettes, spring carts and the
universal two-wheeled jinker, all crammed with farmers and settlers
and their families. Wives, a little red-faced and anxious,
resplendent in their Sunday finery, kept a watchful eye on small
boys and girls; the boys in thick suits, the girls with white
frocks, their well-crimped hair bearing evidence of intense
plaiting overnight. Hampers peeped from under the seats, and in
most cases a baby completed the outfit. Now and then a motor
whizzed by, leaving a long trail of dust-cloud in its wake, and
earning hearty remarks from every slower wayfarer. There were
riders everywhere, men and women--most of the latter with riding-
skirts slipped on over light dresses that would do duty that night
at the concert and the dance that was to follow. Sometimes a
motor-cycle chugged along, always with a girl perched on the
carrier at the back, clinging affectionately to her escort. As
Cunjee drew nearer and the farms closer together the crowd on the
road increased, and the dust mounted in a solid cloud.
The Billabong people drew to one side, as close as possible to the
fence, cantering over the short, dusty grass. It was with a sigh
of relief that Jim at last pointed out a paddock across which
buggies and horsemen were making their way.
"There's the racecourse," he said.
"Racecourse!" Tommy ejaculated. "But it just looks like an
"That's all it is," said Jim, laughing. "You didn't expect a
grand-stand and a lawn, did you? Cunjee is very proud of itself
for having a turf club at all, and nobody minds anything as long as
they get an occasional glimpse of the horses."
"But where do they run?"
"Oh, the track goes in and out among the trees. There's some talk
of clearing it before the next meeting by means of a working bee.
But they won't worry if it doesn't get done--every one will come
and have a picnic just the same. You see, there are only two days
in the year when a bush place can really let itself go--Show day
and Race day. Show day is more serious and business-like, but Race
day is a really light-hearted affair, and the horses don't matter
to most of the people."
They turned into a gate where two men were busily collecting
shillings and keeping a wary eye lest foot passengers should dodge
in through the fence without paying. There were no buildings at
all in the bush paddock in which they found themselves. It lay
before them, flat, save for a rise towards the southern boundary,
where already the crowd was thickening, and sparsely timbered. As
they cantered across it they came to a rough track, marked out more
or less effectively by pink calico flags nailed to the trees.
"That's the racing track," Wally said. "Let's ride round it, and
we'll have a faint idea of what the horses are doing later on."
They turned along the track, where the grass had been worn by
horses training for the races during the few weeks preceding the
great day. The trees had been cleared from it, so that it was good
going. In shape it was roughly circular, with an occasional dint
or bulge where a big red gum had been too tough a proposition to
clear, and the track had had to swing aside to avoid it--a practice
which must, as Jim remarked, make interesting moments in riding a
race, if the field were larger than usual and the pace at all hot.
Presently they emerged from the timber and came into the straight
run that marked the finish--running along the foot of the southern
rise, so that, whatever happened in the mysterious moments in the
earlier parts of a race, the end was within full view of the crowd.
The winning-post was a sawed-off sapling, painted half-black and
half-white; opposite to it was the judge's box, a huge log which
made a natural grand-stand, capable of accommodating the racing
committee as well. Behind, a rough wire fence enclosed a small
space known as the saddling paddock. The crowd picked out its own
accommodation--it was necessary to come early if you wanted a good
place on the rise. Already it was dotted with picnic parties,
preparing luncheon, and a procession of men and boys, bearing
teapots and billies, came and went about a huge copper, steaming
over a fire, where the racing club dispensed hot water free of
charge, a generosity chiefly intended to prevent the casual
lighting of fires by the picnickers. All over the paddock people
were hastening through the business of the midday meal; the men
anxious to get it over before the real excitement of the day began
with the racing, the women equally keen to feed their hungry
belongings and then settle down to a comfortable gossip with
friends perhaps only seen once or twice in the twelve months.
Children tore about wildly, got in the way of buggies and motors,
climbed trees and clustered thickly round any horse suspected of
taking part in the racing. More than one candidate for a race
appeared on the course drawing a jinker; and, being released from
the shafts, was being vigorously groomed by his shirt-sleeved
"There's an awful lot to see!" ejaculated Tommy, gazing about her.
"That is if you've eyes," Jim said. "But most of it can be seen on
foot, so I vote Wally and Bob and I take the horses and tie them up
while there's still a decent patch of shade left for them to stand
in--every tree in the paddock will have horses tied to it before
long. Do you know where Evans was to leave the buggy, Dad?"
"Yes--it's under a tree over there," said his father, nodding
towards a bushy clump of wattles. "I told him to pick out a good
shady place for lunch. We'll go on and get ready, boys. I'll take
the teapot for hot water."
"Not you!" said Jim. "We'll be back in a few minutes and can
easily get it. Just help the girls with the things, Dad, and we'll
get lunch over; I'm as hungry as a hawk."
"I'm not hungry," said Norah. "But I want, oh! gallons of tea."
Tea seemed the main requirement of everybody. It was almost too
hot to eat, even in the deep shade of the wattles. The boys,
taught by the war to feed wherever and whenever possible, did some
justice to Brownie's hamper; but Mr. Linton soon drew aside and lit
his pipe at a little distance, while Tommy and Norah nibbled tomato
and lettuce sandwiches, kept fresh and cool by being packed in huge
nasturtium leaves, and drank many cups of tea. Then they lay under
the trees until a bell, ringing from the saddling paddock, hinted
that the first race was at hand. There was a surge of people
towards the rise.
"Come on," Jim said, jumping up. "Help me to stow these things in
the buggy, Wally--we'll want most of them for afternoon tea later
on. Then we might as well go and see the fun. You girls rested?"
They were, they declared; and presently they set off towards the
rise. Already the horses were appearing on the track, most of the
jockeys wearing silk jackets and caps, although a few were content
with doffing coat and waistcoat, and riding in blue and pink
shirts--occasionally, but not always, complete with collar and tie.
The horses were a mixed lot; some bore traces of birth and
breeding, but the majority were just grass-fed horses from the
neighbouring farms and stations, groomed and polished in a way that
only happened to them once a year. The well-bred performers were
handicapped with heavy weights, while the others had been let off
lightly, so that all had a chance.
"Billabong has a horse running to-day--did you know?" Jim inquired.
"No!" Tommy looked up, dimpling with interest. "But how exciting,
Jim. Is it yours?"
"No." Jim shook his head. "I won't enter a horse if I can't ride
him myself, and of course I'm too heavy. He belongs to the
station, but he's always looked upon as Murty's, and black Billy's
going to ride him. He's in the Hurdle Race."
"Do you think he has any chance?"
"Well, he can gallop and jump all right," Jim said. "But he hasn't
had much training, and whether he'll jump in company is open to
doubt. But I don't think he'll disgrace us. You've seen Murty
riding him--a big chestnut with a white blaze."
"Oh, yes--he calls him Shannon, doesn't he?" said Tommy. "I saw
him jump three fences on him last time we were out mustering with
your people. He's a beauty, Jim."
"Yes, he's pretty good. Murty thinks he's better than Garryowen,
but I don't," Jim observed.
"If the Archangel Gabriel turned into a horse you wouldn't think he
was up to Garryowen!" said Wally.
"No, and he probably wouldn't be," said Jim, laughing. "If you
begin life as an archangel, how would you settle down to being a
"I suppose it needs practice," Wally admitted. "Look out--here
The horses were coming down the straight in their preliminary
canter, and the crowd abandoned the business of picnicking and
turned its attention to the first race. The riders, mostly local
boys, looked desperately serious, and, as they pulled up after
their canter, and turning, trotted slowly back past the rise,
shouts of warning and encouragement and instruction came to them--
from the owners of their mounts--which had the effect of making the
boys look yet more unhappy. A bookmaker, the sole representative
of his profession, yelled steadily from under a lightwood tree;
those who were venturesome enough to do business with him were
warned solemnly by more experienced men to keep a sharp look-out
that he did not get away with their money before the end of the
"That happened in Cunjee some years ago," said Mr. Linton. "A
bookmaker appeared from goodness knows where, and struck a very
solid patch of bad luck. All the district seemed to know how to
pick winners that day, and he lost solidly on every race. He
plunged a bit on the fourth race, hoping to get his money back; but
that was worse still, and when he saw the favourite winning, he
knew he had no hope of settling up. So he quietly collected his
horse, which he had tied up in a convenient place, in case it was
wanted in a hurry, and made tracks before the race finished."
"What happened to him?" asked Bob.
Mr. Linton chuckled.
"Well, he added considerably to the excitement of the day. Some
one saw him going, and passed the word round, and every man to whom
he owed money--and they were many--ran for his horse and went after
him. He had a good start, and no one knew what road he would take,
so it was quite a cheery hunt. I think it was Dave Boone who
tracked him at last, and he paused at a cross-roads, and coo-eed
steadily until he had a number of followers. Then they set sail
after the poor bookie, and caught him about seven or eight miles
away. They found he had practically no money--not nearly enough to
divide up; so they took what he had and presented it to the Cunjee
Hospital, and finished up the day happily by tarring and feathering
the bookie, and riding him on a fence rail round Cunjee that
"What do your police do in a case like that?" Bob asked.
"Well, there's only one policeman in Cunjee, and, being a wise man,
he went to the concert, and probably enjoyed himself very much,"
said Mr. Linton, laughing.
"And what happened to the bookie?"
"Just what you might expect--the boys got sorry for him, made a
collection for him, bought him some cheap clothes--I believe they
didn't err on the side of beauty!--and shipped him off to Melbourne
by the first train in the morning. I don't think he'll try his
artful dodges on this section of the bush again; and it has made
all the boys very watchful about betting, so it wasn't a bad thing,
on the whole. They think they know all about the ways of the world
now. Look, Tommy--the horses are off! Watch through the trees,
and you'll get a glimpse presently."
The gay jackets flashed into view in a gap in the timber, and then
were lost again. Soon they came in sight once more and rounded the
last curve into the straight, amid shouts from the crowd. They
came up the straight, most of the jockeys flogging desperately,
while everyone rushed to get as near the winning-post as possible.
Hats were flung in the air and yells rose joyfully, as a Cunjee
boy, riding a desperate finish, got his horse's nose in front in
the last couple of lengths and won cleverly.
"She's excited!" said Wally, looking down at Tommy's flushed face.
"I should think so," said Tommy. "Why, it was dreadfully exciting.
I'd love to have been riding myself." At which everyone laughed
extremely, and a tall young stockman from a neighbouring station,
overhearing, was so impressed that he hovered as near as possible
to Tommy for the rest of the day.
The next event was the Hurdle Race, and interest for the Linton
party centred in the candidate described on the race-card as Mr. M.
O'Toole's Shannon. Nothing further could be done for Shannon--he
was groomed until the last hair on his tail gleamed; but black
Billy, resplendent in a bright green jacket and cap, the latter
bearing an embroidered white shamrock, became the object of advice
and warning from every man from Billabong, until anyone except
Billy would probably have turned in wrath upon the multitude of his
counsellors. Billy, however, had one refuge denied to most of his
white brothers. He hardly ever spoke; and if some reply was
absolutely forced upon him, he merely murmured "Plenty!" in a vague
way, which, as Wally said, left you guessing as to his meaning.
"Yerra, lave off badgerin' the boy," said Murty at last, brushing
aside Dave Boone and Mick Shanahan, and the other Billabong
enthusiasts. "If he listens to the lot of ye anny longer he won't
know whether he's ridin' a horse or an airyplane. There's only wan
insthruction to be kapin' in your head, Billy--get to the front an'
stay there. Ridin' a waitin' race is all very well on the flat,
but whin it comes to jumpin', anything that's in front of ye is apt
to turn a somersault an' bring ye down in a heap."
"Plenty!" agreed Billy; and lit a cigarette.
"Shannon don't like anny other horse in front of him at all," went
on Murty. "He's that full of pride he never tuk kindly to bein'
behind, not since he was bruk in. He'll gallop like a machine an'
lep like a deer if he gets his head."
"I don't b'lieve you've much show, anyhow," Dave Boone said.
"There's that horse from the hotel at Mulgoa--Blazer, they call
him. He's done no end of racin', and won, too."
"Well, an' if he has, hasn't he the great weight itself to be
carryin'?" demanded Murty.
"Why, he's top weight, of course; but you're carryin' ever so much
over weight," responded Mr. Boone. "If you'd put up a boy instead
of Billy, you could be pounds lighter."
"Ah, git away with your advisin'," replied Murty. "Billy knows the
horse--an' where'd a shlip of a boy be if Shannon cleared out with
him? I'd rather carry too much weight, an' know I'd put a man up
as could hold the horse." His anxious eye fell on the girls.
"Miss Norah and Miss Tommy!--come here an' wish him luck without
offerin' me any advice, or I'll lose me life over the ould race!
They have desthroyed me with all the things they're afther tellin'
me to do."
"We won't tell you a thing, Murty--except that he's looking
splendid," Norah said, stroking Shannon's nose, to which the horse
responded by nuzzling round her pocket in search of an apple. "No,
I can't give you one, old man--I wouldn't dare. But you shall have
one after the race, whether you win or not, can't he, Murty?"
"He can so," said Murty. "Wance he's gone round that thrack he can
live on the fat of the land--an' Billy, too. It's a dale aisier to
get the condition off a horse than off Billy. No man on this earth
'ud make a black fellow see why he shouldn't have a good blow-out
whenever it came his way. Only that Providence made him skinny by
nature, he'd be fat as a porpoise this day. I've been watchin'
over his meals like a mother with a delicate baby these three weeks
back; but what hope 'ud I have with Christmas comin' in the way?
He got away on me at Christmas dinner, an' what he didn't ate in
the way of turkey an puddin' wouldn't be worth mentioning--an' him
booked to ride to-day! 'Plenty' always did be his motter, an' he
lives up to it. So he's pounds overweight, an' no help for it."
"Never mind, Murty," Jim said. "He knows the horse, and Shannon's
able to stand a few pounds extra. He'll give us a good run."
"I believe ye, Masther Jim," said Murty, beaming. "He'll not
disgrace us, an' if he don't win itself, then he'll not be far
behind. There you are, Billy--that's the bell for weighin'. Hurry
up now, and get over to the scales."
The black boy's lean figure, saddle and bridle on arm, threaded its
way through the crowd round the weighing enclosure--a little space
fenced off by barbed wire. Presently they saw him coming back
"That pfeller sayin' I plenty too much pounds," he said in an
unusual burst of eloquence.
"Ah, don't be rubbin' it in--don't I know it?" quoth Murty, taking
the saddle and slipping it deftly on Shannon's back. "I dunno, did
he think he was givin' me a pleasant surprise with the information
by way of a New Year's gift. Does he think we've never a scales on
Billabong, did ye ask him? There now, he's ready. Get on him,
Billy, an' shove out into the track for a canter. I'll get nothing
but chat from every one as long as you're here. Take him for a
look at some of the hurdles, the way he'll know all about them when
he comes to jump." He stood with a frown on his good-humoured face
as Shannon and his rider made off.
Norah laid a hand on his arm.
"There's not a horse on the course better turned out, Murty," she
said. "No one can say the Billabong representative doesn't look
Murty turned on her, beaming again.
"Well, indeed, he'll not be doin' the station any discredit, Miss
Norah," he said happily, "an' if he don't win, well, we can't all
be winnin', can we? Only we did win a race last year, whin none of
ye were here to be watchin' us an' make it worth while. I'd like
to score to-day, now that ye're all here to see--an' Miss Tommy
too, that's never seen racin'." He smiled down at the English
girl's pink face.
"I'm going to see you win to-day, Murty--I feel it in my bones,"
said Tommy promptly. "I've always loved Shannon, ever since I saw
you jump those big fences with him when we put up the hare out
"Yerra, that one'd make a steeplechaser if he got the trainin',"
declared Murty, all his troubles forgotten. "Come a little higher
up, won't ye, Miss Norah; we can see every jump from the top of the
rise, barrin' the wan that's in the timber."
They followed him up the little hill until he declared himself
satisfied with his position; and he spent the time until the flag
fell in pointing out to Tommy the exact places where the hurdles
were erected--pausing only for a proud look when Shannon thundered
past below them in his preliminary canter, the green jacket bright
in the sun, and every muscle in the horse's gleaming body rippling
as he moved. He was reefing and plunging in his gallop, trying to
get his head; but Billy soon steadied him, and presently brought
him up the straight again at a quiet trot. The other horses went
out, one by one, until at length a field of eight faced the
starter; and presently they were off, and over the first jump in a
body. They came down the straight on the first time round, packed
closely, a glittering mass of shining horses and bright colours.
One dropped at the jump near the judge's box, and as the other
horses raced away round the turn the riderless horse followed,
while his jockey lay still for a moment, a little scarlet blur upon
the turf. Eager helpers ran forward to pick him up, but he was on
his feet before they could reach him, and came limping up the hill,
a little bruised and infinitely disgusted.
"He's all right," Murty said. "Yerra, Mr. Jim, did ye see the ould
horse jump! He wint ahead at his fences like a deer!"
The horses were in the timber; they peered anxiously at the bright
patch of colour that showed from time to time, trying to see the
familiar green jacket. Then, as the field came into view Murty
uttered an irrepressible yell, for his horse shot ahead at the next
jump and came into the straight in the lead. Murty gripped at the
nearest object, which happened to be Norah's shoulder, and clenched
it tightly, muttering, in his excitement, words in his native
Irish. They thundered up the straight, Billy crouching on
Shannon's neck, very still. Then behind him the Mulgoa horse drew
out from the ruck and came in chase. Nearer and nearer he came,
while the shouts from the crowd grew louder. Up, up, till his nose
was at Shannon's quarter--at his girth--at his shoulder, and the
winning-post was very near. Then suddenly Billy lifted his whip
and brought it down once, and Shannon shot forward with a last wild
bound. Murty's hat went up in the air--and Wally's with it.
"He's done it!" Murty babbled. "Yerra, what about Billabong now?"
He suddenly found himself gripping Norah's shoulder wildly, and
would have apologized but that Norah herself was dancing with
delight, and looking for his hand to grasp. And the crowd was
shouting "Shannon! Shannon! Billabong!"--since all of these
Cunjee folk loved Billabong and were steadily jealous of Mulgoa.
Jim and Wally were thumping Murty on the back. Bob and Mr. Linton
stood beaming at him. Below them Billy came trotting back on his
victorious steed, sitting with a grave face, as expressionless as
if he had not just accomplished his heart's desire. But his dark,
mysterious eyes scanned the crowd as he turned from weighing in,
and only grew satisfied when he saw the Billabong party hurrying to
greet him. They shook his hand, and smote him on the back, Dave
Boone and Mick Shanahan prancing with joy. And Shannon, his glossy
coat dark with sweat, nuzzled again at Norah's pocket for an apple--
and this time got it.
This glorious event over, interest became focused on a trotting
race, which brought out a queer assortment of competitors, ranging
from King Lightfoot, a horse well known in Melbourne, to Poddy, an