Part 3 out of 5
and she spoke of the `homes' she'd had since she was married.
And that cut me deep.
It was about the worst quarrel we had. When she began to cry
I got my hat and went out and walked up and down by the creek.
I hated anything that looked like injustice -- I was so sensitive about it
that it made me unjust sometimes. I tried to think I was right,
but I couldn't -- it wouldn't have made me feel any better
if I could have thought so. I got thinking of Mary's first year
on the selection and the life she'd had since we were married.
When I went in she'd cried herself to sleep. I bent over and, `Mary,'
She seemed to wake up.
`Joe -- Joe!' she said.
`What is it Mary?' I said.
`I'm pretty well sure that old Spot's calf isn't in the pen.
Make James go at once!'
Old Spot's last calf was two years old now; so Mary was talking in her sleep,
and dreaming she was back in her first year.
We both laughed when I told her about it afterwards; but I didn't feel
like laughing just then.
Later on in the night she called out in her sleep, --
`Joe -- Joe! Put that buggy in the shed, or the sun will blister
I wish I could say that that was the last time I ever spoke unkindly to Mary.
Next morning I got up early and fried the bacon and made the tea,
and took Mary's breakfast in to her -- like I used to do, sometimes,
when we were first married. She didn't say anything --
just pulled my head down and kissed me.
When I was ready to start Mary said, --
`You'd better take the spring-cart in behind the dray and get the tyres
cut and set. They're ready to drop off, and James has been wedging them up
till he's tired of it. The last time I was out with the children
I had to knock one of them back with a stone: there'll be an accident yet.'
So I lashed the shafts of the cart under the tail of the waggon,
and mean and ridiculous enough the cart looked, going along that way.
It suggested a man stooping along handcuffed, with his arms held out and down
in front of him.
It was dull weather, and the scrubs looked extra dreary and endless --
and I got thinking of old things. Everything was going all right with me,
but that didn't keep me from brooding sometimes -- trying to hatch out stones,
like an old hen we had at home. I think, taking it all round,
I used to be happier when I was mostly hard-up -- and more generous.
When I had ten pounds I was more likely to listen to a chap who said,
`Lend me a pound-note, Joe,' than when I had fifty; THEN I fought shy
of careless chaps -- and lost mates that I wanted afterwards --
and got the name of being mean. When I got a good cheque
I'd be as miserable as a miser over the first ten pounds I spent;
but when I got down to the last I'd buy things for the house.
And now that I was getting on, I hated to spend a pound on anything.
But then, the farther I got away from poverty the greater the fear
I had of it -- and, besides, there was always before us all
the thought of the terrible drought, with blazing runs as bare and dusty
as the road, and dead stock rotting every yard, all along the barren creeks.
I had a long yarn with Mary's sister and her husband that night in Gulgong,
and it brightened me up. I had a fancy that that sort of a brother-in-law
made a better mate than a nearer one; Tom Tarrant had one,
and he said it was sympathy. But while we were yarning
I couldn't help thinking of Mary, out there in the hut on the Creek,
with no one to talk to but the children, or James, who was sulky at home,
or Black Mary or Black Jimmy (our black boy's father and mother),
who weren't oversentimental. Or maybe a selector's wife (the nearest
was five miles away), who could talk only of two or three things --
`lambin'' and `shearin'' and `cookin' for the men', and what she said
to her old man, and what he said to her -- and her own ailments --
over and over again.
It's a wonder it didn't drive Mary mad! -- I know I could never listen
to that woman more than an hour. Mary's sister said, --
`Now if Mary had a comfortable buggy, she could drive in
with the children oftener. Then she wouldn't feel the loneliness so much.'
I said `Good night' then and turned in. There was no getting away
from that buggy. Whenever Mary's sister started hinting about a buggy,
I reckoned it was a put-up job between them.
III. The Ghost of Mary's Sacrifice.
When I got to Gudgeegong I stopped at Galletly's coach-shop to leave the cart.
The Galletlys were good fellows: there were two brothers --
one was a saddler and harness-maker. Big brown-bearded men --
the biggest men in the district, 'twas said.
Their old man had died lately and left them some money;
they had men, and only worked in their shops when they felt inclined,
or there was a special work to do; they were both first-class tradesmen.
I went into the painter's shop to have a look at a double buggy
that Galletly had built for a man who couldn't pay cash for it
when it was finished -- and Galletly wouldn't trust him.
There it stood, behind a calico screen that the coach-painters used
to keep out the dust when they were varnishing. It was a first-class
piece of work -- pole, shafts, cushions, whip, lamps, and all complete.
If you only wanted to drive one horse you could take out the pole and put in
the shafts, and there you were. There was a tilt over the front seat;
if you only wanted the buggy to carry two, you could fold down the back seat,
and there you had a handsome, roomy, single buggy. It would go
near fifty pounds.
While I was looking at it, Bill Galletly came in, and slapped me on the back.
`Now, there's a chance for you, Joe!' he said. `I saw you
rubbing your head round that buggy the last time you were in.
You wouldn't get a better one in the colonies, and you won't see
another like it in the district again in a hurry -- for it doesn't pay
to build 'em. Now you're a full-blown squatter, and it's time
you took little Mary for a fly round in her own buggy now and then,
instead of having her stuck out there in the scrub, or jolting
through the dust in a cart like some old Mother Flourbag.'
He called her `little Mary' because the Galletly family had known her
when she was a girl.
I rubbed my head and looked at the buggy again. It was a great temptation.
`Look here, Joe,' said Bill Galletly in a quieter tone.
`I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll let YOU have the buggy.
You can take it out and send along a bit of a cheque
when you feel you can manage it, and the rest later on, --
a year will do, or even two years. You've had a hard pull,
and I'm not likely to be hard up for money in a hurry.'
They were good fellows the Galletlys, but they knew their men.
I happened to know that Bill Galletly wouldn't let the man
he built the buggy for take it out of the shop without cash down,
though he was a big-bug round there. But that didn't make it easier for me.
Just then Robert Galletly came into the shop. He was rather quieter
than his brother, but the two were very much alike.
`Look here, Bob,' said Bill; `here's a chance for you
to get rid of your harness. Joe Wilson's going to take that buggy
off my hands.'
Bob Galletly put his foot up on a saw-stool, took one hand out of his pockets,
rested his elbow on his knee and his chin on the palm of his hand,
and bunched up his big beard with his fingers, as he always did
when he was thinking. Presently he took his foot down,
put his hand back in his pocket, and said to me, `Well, Joe, I've got
a double set of harness made for the man who ordered that damned buggy,
and if you like I'll let you have it. I suppose when Bill there
has squeezed all he can out of you I'll stand a show of getting something.
He's a regular Shylock, he is.'
I pushed my hat forward and rubbed the back of my head and stared
at the buggy.
`Come across to the Royal, Joe,' said Bob.
But I knew that a beer would settle the business, so I said
I'd get the wool up to the station first and think it over,
and have a drink when I came back.
I thought it over on the way to the station, but it didn't seem good enough.
I wanted to get some more sheep, and there was the new run to be fenced in,
and the instalments on the selections. I wanted lots of things
that I couldn't well do without. Then, again, the farther I got away
from debt and hard-upedness the greater the horror I had of it.
I had two horses that would do; but I'd have to get another later on,
and altogether the buggy would run me nearer a hundred than fifty pounds.
Supposing a dry season threw me back with that buggy on my hands.
Besides, I wanted a spell. If I got the buggy it would only mean
an extra turn of hard graft for me. No, I'd take Mary for a trip to Sydney,
and she'd have to be satisfied with that.
I'd got it settled, and was just turning in through the big white gates
to the goods-shed when young Black, the squatter, dashed past the station
in his big new waggonette, with his wife and a driver
and a lot of portmanteaus and rugs and things. They were going
to do the grand in Sydney over Christmas. Now it was young Black
who was so shook after Mary when she was in service with the Blacks
before the old man died, and if I hadn't come along --
and if girls never cared for vagabonds -- Mary would have been
mistress of Haviland homestead, with servants to wait on her;
and she was far better fitted for it than the one that was there.
She would have been going to Sydney every holiday and putting up
at the old Royal, with every comfort that a woman could ask for,
and seeing a play every night. And I'd have been knocking around
amongst the big stations Out-Back, or maybe drinking myself to death
at the shanties.
The Blacks didn't see me as I went by, ragged and dusty,
and with an old, nearly black, cabbage-tree hat drawn over my eyes.
I didn't care a damn for them, or any one else, at most times,
but I had moods when I felt things.
One of Black's big wool teams was just coming away from the shed,
and the driver, a big, dark, rough fellow, with some foreign blood in him,
didn't seem inclined to wheel his team an inch out of the middle of the road.
I stopped my horses and waited. He looked at me and I looked at him -- hard.
Then he wheeled off, scowling, and swearing at his horses.
I'd given him a hiding, six or seven years before, and he hadn't forgotten it.
And I felt then as if I wouldn't mind trying to give some one a hiding.
The goods clerk must have thought that Joe Wilson was pretty grumpy that day.
I was thinking of Mary, out there in the lonely hut on a barren creek
in the Bush -- for it was little better -- with no one to speak to
except a haggard, worn-out Bushwoman or two, that came to see her on Sunday.
I thought of the hardships she went through in the first year --
that I haven't told you about yet; of the time she was ill, and I away,
and no one to understand; of the time she was alone with James and Jim sick;
and of the loneliness she fought through out there. I thought of Mary,
outside in the blazing heat, with an old print dress and a felt hat,
and a pair of 'lastic-siders of mine on, doing the work of a station manager
as well as that of a housewife and mother. And her cheeks were getting thin,
and her colour was going: I thought of the gaunt, brick-brown,
saw-file voiced, hopeless and spiritless Bushwomen I knew -- and some of them
not much older than Mary.
When I went back down into the town, I had a drink with Bill Galletly
at the Royal, and that settled the buggy; then Bob shouted,*
and I took the harness. Then I shouted, to wet the bargain.
When I was going, Bob said, `Send in that young scamp of a brother of Mary's
with the horses: if the collars don't fit I'll fix up a pair of makeshifts,
and alter the others.' I thought they both gripped my hand harder than usual,
but that might have been the beer.
* `Shout', to buy a round of drinks. -- A. L., 1997.
IV. The Buggy Comes Home.
I `whipped the cat' a bit, the first twenty miles or so, but then, I thought,
what did it matter? What was the use of grinding to save money
until we were too old to enjoy it. If we had to go down in the world again,
we might as well fall out of a buggy as out of a dray --
there'd be some talk about it, anyway, and perhaps a little sympathy.
When Mary had the buggy she wouldn't be tied down so much
to that wretched hole in the Bush; and the Sydney trips needn't be off either.
I could drive down to Wallerawang on the main line, where Mary
had some people, and leave the buggy and horses there,
and take the train to Sydney; or go right on, by the old coach-road,
over the Blue Mountains: it would be a grand drive.
I thought best to tell Mary's sister at Gulgong about the buggy;
I told her I'd keep it dark from Mary till the buggy came home.
She entered into the spirit of the thing, and said she'd give the world
to be able to go out with the buggy, if only to see Mary open her eyes
when she saw it; but she couldn't go, on account of a new baby she had.
I was rather glad she couldn't, for it would spoil the surprise a little,
I thought. I wanted that all to myself.
I got home about sunset next day, and, after tea, when I'd finished
telling Mary all the news, and a few lies as to why I didn't
bring the cart back, and one or two other things, I sat with James,
out on a log of the wood-heap, where we generally had
our smokes and interviews, and told him all about the buggy.
He whistled, then he said --
`But what do you want to make it such a Bushranging business for?
Why can't you tell Mary now? It will cheer her up. She's been
pretty miserable since you've been away this trip.'
`I want it to be a surprise,' I said.
`Well, I've got nothing to say against a surprise, out in a hole like this;
but it 'ud take a lot to surprise me. What am I to say to Mary
about taking the two horses in? I'll only want one to bring the cart out,
and she's sure to ask.'
`Tell her you're going to get yours shod.'
`But he had a set of slippers only the other day. She knows as much
about horses as we do. I don't mind telling a lie so long as a chap
has only got to tell a straight lie and be done with it.
But Mary asks so many questions.'
`Well, drive the other horse up the creek early, and pick him up as you go.'
`Yes. And she'll want to know what I want with two bridles.
But I'll fix her -- YOU needn't worry.'
`And, James,' I said, `get a chamois leather and sponge --
we'll want 'em anyway -- and you might give the buggy a wash down
in the creek, coming home. It's sure to be covered with dust.'
`Oh! -- orlright.'
`And if you can, time yourself to get here in the cool of the evening,
or just about sunset.'
I'd thought it would be better to have the buggy there
in the cool of the evening, when Mary would have time
to get excited and get over it -- better than in the blazing hot morning,
when the sun rose as hot as at noon, and we'd have the long broiling day
`What do you want me to come at sunset for?' asked James. `Do you want me
to camp out in the scrub and turn up like a blooming sundowner?'
`Oh well,' I said, `get here at midnight if you like.'
We didn't say anything for a while -- just sat and puffed at our pipes.
Then I said, --
`Well, what are you thinking about?'
I'm thinking it's time you got a new hat, the sun seems to get in
through your old one too much,' and he got out of my reach and went to see
about penning the calves. Before we turned in he said, --
`Well, what am I to get out of the job, Joe?'
He had his eye on a double-barrel gun that Franca the gunsmith
in Cudgeegong had -- one barrel shot, and the other rifle; so I said, --
`How much does Franca want for that gun?'
`Five-ten; but I think he'd take my single barrel off it.
Anyway, I can squeeze a couple of quid out of Phil Lambert
for the single barrel.' (Phil was his bosom chum.)
`All right,' I said. `Make the best bargain you can.'
He got his own breakfast and made an early start next morning,
to get clear of any instructions or messages that Mary might have forgotten
to give him overnight. He took his gun with him.
I'd always thought that a man was a fool who couldn't keep a secret
from his wife -- that there was something womanish about him. I found out.
Those three days waiting for the buggy were about the longest I ever spent
in my life. It made me scotty with every one and everything;
and poor Mary had to suffer for it. I put in the time
patching up the harness and mending the stockyard and the roof,
and, the third morning, I rode up the ridges to look for trees
for fencing-timber. I remember I hurried home that afternoon
because I thought the buggy might get there before me.
At tea-time I got Mary on to the buggy business.
`What's the good of a single buggy to you, Mary?' I asked.
`There's only room for two, and what are you going to do with the children
when we go out together?'
`We can put them on the floor at our feet, like other people do.
I can always fold up a blanket or 'possum rug for them to sit on.'
But she didn't take half so much interest in buggy talk
as she would have taken at any other time, when I didn't want her to.
Women are aggravating that way. But the poor girl was tired
and not very well, and both the children were cross. She did look knocked up.
`We'll give the buggy a rest, Joe,' she said. (I thought I heard it
coming then.) `It seems as far off as ever. I don't know why
you want to harp on it to-day. Now, don't look so cross, Joe --
I didn't mean to hurt you. We'll wait until we can get a double buggy,
since you're so set on it. There'll be plenty of time when we're better off.'
After tea, when the youngsters were in bed, and she'd washed up,
we sat outside on the edge of the verandah floor, Mary sewing,
and I smoking and watching the track up the creek.
`Why don't you talk, Joe?' asked Mary. `You scarcely ever speak to me now:
it's like drawing blood out of a stone to get a word from you.
What makes you so cross, Joe?'
`Well, I've got nothing to say.'
`But you should find something. Think of me -- it's very miserable for me.
Have you anything on your mind? Is there any new trouble?
Better tell me, no matter what it is, and not go worrying and brooding
and making both our lives miserable. If you never tell one anything,
how can you expect me to understand?'
I said there was nothing the matter.
`But there must be, to make you so unbearable. Have you been drinking, Joe --
I asked her what she'd accuse me of next.
`And another thing I want to speak to you about,' she went on.
`Now, don't knit up your forehead like that, Joe, and get impatient ----'
`Well, what is it?'
`I wish you wouldn't swear in the hearing of the children.
Now, little Jim to-day, he was trying to fix his little go-cart
and it wouldn't run right, and -- and ----'
`Well, what did he say?'
`He -- he' (she seemed a little hysterical, trying not to laugh) --
`he said "damn it!"'
I had to laugh. Mary tried to keep serious, but it was no use.
`Never mind, old woman,' I said, putting an arm round her,
for her mouth was trembling, and she was crying more than laughing.
`It won't be always like this. Just wait till we're a bit better off.'
Just then a black boy we had (I must tell you about him some other time)
came sidling along by the wall, as if he were afraid somebody was going
to hit him -- poor little devil! I never did.
`What is it, Harry?' said Mary.
`Buggy comin', I bin thinkit.'
He pointed up the creek.
`Sure it's a buggy?'
`How many horses?'
`One -- two.'
We knew that he could hear and see things long before we could.
Mary went and perched on the wood-heap, and shaded her eyes --
though the sun had gone -- and peered through between
the eternal grey trunks of the stunted trees on the flat across the creek.
Presently she jumped down and came running in.
`There's some one coming in a buggy, Joe!' she cried, excitedly.
`And both my white table-cloths are rough dry. Harry! put two flat-irons
down to the fire, quick, and put on some more wood. It's lucky
I kept those new sheets packed away. Get up out of that, Joe!
What are you sitting grinning like that for? Go and get on another shirt.
Hurry -- Why! It's only James -- by himself.'
She stared at me, and I sat there, grinning like a fool.
`Joe!' she said, `whose buggy is that?'
`Well, I suppose it's yours,' I said.
She caught her breath, and stared at the buggy and then at me again.
James drove down out of sight into the crossing, and came up
close to the house.
`Oh, Joe! what have you done?' cried Mary. `Why, it's a new double buggy!'
Then she rushed at me and hugged my head. `Why didn't you tell me, Joe?
You poor old boy! -- and I've been nagging at you all day!'
and she hugged me again.
James got down and started taking the horses out -- as if it was
an everyday occurrence. I saw the double-barrel gun sticking out
from under the seat. He'd stopped to wash the buggy, and I suppose
that's what made him grumpy. Mary stood on the verandah,
with her eyes twice as big as usual, and breathing hard --
taking the buggy in.
James skimmed the harness off, and the horses shook themselves
and went down to the dam for a drink. `You'd better look under the seats,'
growled James, as he took his gun out with great care.
Mary dived for the buggy. There was a dozen of lemonade and ginger-beer
in a candle-box from Galletly -- James said that Galletly's men
had a gallon of beer, and they cheered him, James (I suppose he meant
they cheered the buggy), as he drove off; there was a `little bit of a ham'
from Pat Murphy, the storekeeper at Home Rule, that he'd `cured himself' --
it was the biggest I ever saw; there were three loaves of baker's bread,
a cake, and a dozen yards of something `to make up for the children',
from Aunt Gertrude at Gulgong; there was a fresh-water cod,
that long Dave Regan had caught the night before in the Macquarie river,
and sent out packed in salt in a box; there was a holland suit
for the black boy, with red braid to trim it; and there was
a jar of preserved ginger, and some lollies (sweets) (`for the lil' boy'),
and a rum-looking Chinese doll and a rattle (`for lil' girl')
from Sun Tong Lee, our storekeeper at Gulgong -- James was chummy
with Sun Tong Lee, and got his powder and shot and caps there on tick
when he was short of money. And James said that the people
would have loaded the buggy with `rubbish' if he'd waited.
They all seemed glad to see Joe Wilson getting on -- and these things
did me good.
We got the things inside, and I don't think either of us knew
what we were saying or doing for the next half-hour.
Then James put his head in and said, in a very injured tone, --
`What about my tea? I ain't had anything to speak of since I left Cudgeegong.
I want some grub.'
Then Mary pulled herself together.
`You'll have your tea directly,' she said. `Pick up that harness at once,
and hang it on the pegs in the skillion; and you, Joe, back that buggy
under the end of the verandah, the dew will be on it presently --
and we'll put wet bags up in front of it to-morrow, to keep the sun off.
And James will have to go back to Cudgeegong for the cart, --
we can't have that buggy to knock about in.'
`All right,' said James -- `anything! Only get me some grub.'
Mary fried the fish, in case it wouldn't keep till the morning,
and rubbed over the tablecloths, now the irons were hot -- James growling
all the time -- and got out some crockery she had packed away
that had belonged to her mother, and set the table in a style
that made James uncomfortable.
`I want some grub -- not a blooming banquet!' he said. And he growled a lot
because Mary wanted him to eat his fish without a knife,
`and that sort of Tommy-rot.' When he'd finished he took his gun,
and the black boy, and the dogs, and went out 'possum-shooting.
When we were alone Mary climbed into the buggy to try the seat, and made me
get up alongside her. We hadn't had such a comfortable seat for years;
but we soon got down, in case any one came by, for we began to feel
like a pair of fools up there.
Then we sat, side by side, on the edge of the verandah, and talked more
than we'd done for years -- and there was a good deal of `Do you remember?'
in it -- and I think we got to understand each other better that night.
And at last Mary said, `Do you know, Joe, why, I feel to-night just --
just like I did the day we were married.'
And somehow I had that strange, shy sort of feeling too.
The Writer Wants to Say a Word.
In writing the first sketch of the Joe Wilson series, which happened to be
`Brighten's Sister-in-law', I had an idea of making Joe Wilson
a strong character. Whether he is or not, the reader must judge.
It seems to me that the man's natural sentimental selfishness, good-nature,
`softness', or weakness -- call it which you like -- developed as I wrote on.
I know Joe Wilson very well. He has been through deep trouble
since the day he brought the double buggy to Lahey's Creek.
I met him in Sydney the other day. Tall and straight yet --
rather straighter than he had been -- dressed in a comfortable,
serviceable sac suit of `saddle-tweed', and wearing a new sugar-loaf,
cabbage-tree hat, he looked over the hurrying street people calmly
as though they were sheep of which he was not in charge,
and which were not likely to get `boxed' with his. Not the worst way
in which to regard the world.
He talked deliberately and quietly in all that roar and rush.
He is a young man yet, comparatively speaking, but it would take little Mary
a long while now to pick the grey hairs out of his head,
and the process would leave him pretty bald.
In two or three short sketches in another book I hope to complete
the story of his life.
The Golden Graveyard.
Mother Middleton was an awful woman, an `old hand' (transported convict)
some said. The prefix `mother' in Australia mostly means `old hag',
and is applied in that sense. In early boyhood we understood,
from old diggers, that Mother Middleton -- in common with most other
`old hands' -- had been sent out for `knocking a donkey off a hen-roost.'
We had never seen a donkey. She drank like a fish and swore like a trooper
when the spirit moved her; she went on periodical sprees,
and swore on most occasions. There was a fearsome yarn,
which impressed us greatly as boys, to the effect that once,
in her best (or worst) days, she had pulled a mounted policeman off his horse,
and half-killed him with a heavy pick-handle, which she used
for poking down clothes in her boiler. She said that he had insulted her.
She could still knock down a tree and cut a load of firewood with any Bushman;
she was square and muscular, with arms like a navvy's;
she had often worked shifts, below and on top, with her husband,
when he'd be putting down a prospecting shaft without a mate,
as he often had to do -- because of her mainly. Old diggers said
that it was lovely to see how she'd spin up a heavy green-hide bucket
full of clay and `tailings', and land and empty it with a twist of her wrist.
Most men were afraid of her, and few diggers' wives were strong-minded enough
to seek a second row with Mother Middleton. Her voice could be heard
right across Golden Gully and Specimen Flat, whether raised in argument
or in friendly greeting. She came to the old Pipeclay diggings
with the `rough crowd' (mostly Irish), and when the old and new Pipeclays
were worked out, she went with the rush to Gulgong (about the last
of the great alluvial or `poor-man's' goldfields) and came back to Pipeclay
when the Log Paddock goldfield `broke out', adjacent to the old fields,
and so helped prove the truth of the old digger's saying,
that no matter how thoroughly ground has been worked, there is always room
for a new Ballarat.
Jimmy Middleton died at Log Paddock, and was buried, about the last,
in the little old cemetery -- appertaining to the old farming town
on the river, about four miles away -- which adjoined the district racecourse,
in the Bush, on the far edge of Specimen Flat. She conducted the funeral.
Some said she made the coffin, and there were alleged jokes to the effect
that her tongue had provided the corpse; but this, I think,
was unfair and cruel, for she loved Jimmy Middleton in her awful way,
and was, for all I ever heard to the contrary, a good wife to him.
She then lived in a hut in Log Paddock, on a little money in the bank,
and did sewing and washing for single diggers.
I remember hearing her one morning in neighbourly conversation,
carried on across the gully, with a selector, Peter Olsen,
who was hopelessly slaving to farm a dusty patch in the scrub.
`Why don't you chuck up that dust-hole and go up country and settle
on good land, Peter Olsen? You're only slaving your stomach out here.'
(She didn't say stomach.)
*Peter Olsen* (mild-whiskered little man, afraid of his wife). `But then
you know my wife is so delicate, Mrs Middleton. I wouldn't like to take her
out in the Bush.'
*Mrs Middleton*. `Delicate, be damned! she's only shamming!'
(at her loudest.) `Why don't you kick her off the bed and the book
out of her hand, and make her go to work? She's as delicate as I am.
Are you a man, Peter Olsen, or a ----?'
This for the edification of the wife and of all within half a mile.
Long Paddock was `petering'. There were a few claims still being worked
down at the lowest end, where big, red-and-white waste-heaps
of clay and gravel, rising above the blue-grey gum-bushes,
advertised deep sinking; and little, yellow, clay-stained streams,
running towards the creek over the drought-parched surface, told of trouble
with the water below -- time lost in baling and extra expense in timbering.
And diggers came up with their flannels and moleskins yellow and heavy,
and dripping with wet `mullock'.
Most of the diggers had gone to other fields, but there were
a few prospecting, in parties and singly, out on the flats and amongst
the ridges round Pipeclay. Sinking holes in search of a new Ballarat.
Dave Regan -- lanky, easy-going Bush native; Jim Bently --
a bit of a `Flash Jack'; and Andy Page -- a character like
what `Kit' (in the `Old Curiosity Shop') might have been
after a voyage to Australia and some Colonial experience.
These three were mates from habit and not necessity, for it was all
shallow sinking where they worked. They were poking down pot-holes
in the scrub in the vicinity of the racecourse, where the sinking
was from ten to fifteen feet.
Dave had theories -- `ideers' or `notions' he called them; Jim Bently
laid claim to none -- he ran by sight, not scent, like a kangaroo-dog.
Andy Page -- by the way, great admirer and faithful retainer of Dave Regan --
was simple and trusting, but, on critical occasions,
he was apt to be obstinately, uncomfortably, exasperatingly truthful, honest,
and he had reverence for higher things.
Dave thought hard all one quiet drowsy Sunday afternoon,
and next morning he, as head of the party, started to sink a hole
as close to the cemetery fence as he dared. It was a nice quiet spot
in the thick scrub, about three panels along the fence
from the farthest corner post from the road. They bottomed here at nine feet,
and found encouraging indications. They `drove' (tunnelled) inwards
at right angles to the fence, and at a point immediately beneath it
they were `making tucker'; a few feet farther and they were making wages.
The old alluvial bottom sloped gently that way. The bottom here, by the way,
was shelving, brownish, rotten rock.
Just inside the cemetery fence, and at right angles to Dave's drive,
lay the shell containing all that was left of the late fiercely lamented
James Middleton, with older graves close at each end. A grave was supposed
to be six feet deep, and local gravediggers had been conscientious.
The old alluvial bottom sloped from nine to fifteen feet here.
Dave worked the ground all round from the bottom of his shaft,
timbering -- i.e., putting in a sapling prop -- here and there
where he worked wide; but the `payable dirt' ran in under the cemetery,
and in no other direction.
Dave, Jim, and Andy held a consultation in camp over their pipes after tea,
as a result of which Andy next morning rolled up his swag,
sorrowfully but firmly shook hands with Dave and Jim,
and started to tramp Out-Back to look for work on a sheep-station.
This was Dave's theory -- drawn from a little experience and many long yarns
with old diggers: --
He had bottomed on a slope to an old original water-course,
covered with clay and gravel from the hills by centuries of rains
to the depth of from nine or ten to twenty feet; he had bottomed on a gutter
running into the bed of the old buried creek, and carrying
patches and streaks of `wash' or gold-bearing dirt. If he went on
he might strike it rich at any stroke of his pick; he might strike
the rich `lead' which was supposed to exist round there.
(There was always supposed to be a rich lead round there somewhere.
`There's gold in them ridges yet -- if a man can only git at it,'
says the toothless old relic of the Roaring Days.)
Dave might strike a ledge, `pocket', or `pot-hole' holding wash
rich with gold. He had prospected on the opposite side of the cemetery,
found no gold, and the bottom sloping upwards towards the graveyard.
He had prospected at the back of the cemetery, found a few `colours',
and the bottom sloping downwards towards the point under the cemetery
towards which all indications were now leading him. He had sunk shafts
across the road opposite the cemetery frontage and found the sinking
twenty feet and not a colour of gold. Probably the whole of the ground
under the cemetery was rich -- maybe the richest in the district.
The old gravediggers had not been gold-diggers -- besides,
the graves, being six feet, would, none of them, have touched
the alluvial bottom. There was nothing strange in the fact
that none of the crowd of experienced diggers who rushed the district
had thought of the cemetery and racecourse. Old brick chimneys and houses,
the clay for the bricks of which had been taken from
sites of subsequent goldfields, had been put through the crushing-mill
in subsequent years and had yielded `payable gold'. Fossicking Chinamen
were said to have been the first to detect a case of this kind.
Dave reckoned to strike the `lead', or a shelf or ledge
with a good streak of wash lying along it, at a point about forty feet
within the cemetery. But a theory in alluvial gold-mining
was much like a theory in gambling, in some respects.
The theory might be right enough, but old volcanic disturbances --
`the shrinkage of the earth's surface,' and that sort of old thing --
upset everything. You might follow good gold along a ledge,
just under the grass, till it suddenly broke off and the continuation might be
a hundred feet or so under your nose.
Had the `ground' in the cemetery been `open' Dave would have gone to the point
under which he expected the gold to lie, sunk a shaft there, and worked
the ground. It would have been the quickest and easiest way -- it would have
saved the labour and the time lost in dragging heavy buckets of dirt along
a low lengthy drive to the shaft outside the fence. But it was very doubtful
if the Government could have been moved to open the cemetery
even on the strongest evidence of the existence of a rich goldfield under it,
and backed by the influence of a number of diggers and their backers --
which last was what Dave wished for least of all. He wanted,
above all things, to keep the thing shady. Then, again,
the old clannish local spirit of the old farming town,
rooted in years way back of the goldfields, would have been too strong
for the Government, or even a rush of wild diggers.
`We'll work this thing on the strict Q.T.,' said Dave.
He and Jim had a consultation by the camp fire outside their tent.
Jim grumbled, in conclusion, --
`Well, then, best go under Jimmy Middleton. It's the shortest
and straightest, and Jimmy's the freshest, anyway.'
Then there was another trouble. How were they to account
for the size of the waste-heap of clay on the surface which would be
the result of such an extraordinary length of drive or tunnel
for shallow sinkings? Dave had an idea of carrying some of the dirt
away by night and putting it down a deserted shaft close by;
but that would double the labour, and might lead to detection
sooner than anything else. There were boys 'possum-hunting on those flats
every night. Then Dave got an idea.
There was supposed to exist -- and it has since been proved --
another, a second gold-bearing alluvial bottom on that field,
and several had tried for it. One, the town watchmaker,
had sunk all his money in `duffers', trying for the second bottom.
It was supposed to exist at a depth of from eighty to a hundred feet --
on solid rock, I suppose. This watchmaker, an Italian,
would put men on to sink, and superintend in person, and whenever
he came to a little `colour'-showing shelf, or false bottom,
thirty or forty feet down -- he'd go rooting round and spoil the shaft,
and then start to sink another. It was extraordinary that he hadn't the sense
to sink straight down, thoroughly test the second bottom,
and if he found no gold there, to fill the shaft up to the other bottoms,
or build platforms at the proper level and then explore them.
He was living in a lunatic asylum the last time I heard of him.
And the last time I heard from that field, they were boring the ground
like a sieve, with the latest machinery, to find the best place
to put down a deep shaft, and finding gold from the second bottom on the bore.
But I'm right off the line again.
`Old Pinter', Ballarat digger -- his theory on second and other bottoms
ran as follows: --
`Ye see, THIS here grass surface -- this here surface with
trees an' grass on it, that we're livin' on, has got nothin' to do with us.
This here bottom in the shaller sinkin's that we're workin' on
is the slope to the bed of the NEW crick that was on the surface
about the time that men was missin' links. The false bottoms,
thirty or forty feet down, kin be said to have been on the surface
about the time that men was monkeys. The SECON' bottom --
eighty or a hundred feet down -- was on the surface about the time
when men was frogs. Now ----'
But it's with the missing-link surface we have to do,
and had the friends of the local departed known what Dave and Jim were up to
they would have regarded them as something lower than missing-links.
`We'll give out we're tryin' for the second bottom,' said Dave Regan.
`We'll have to rig a fan for air, anyhow, and you don't want air
in shallow sinkings.'
`And some one will come poking round, and look down the hole
and see the bottom,' said Jim Bently.
`We must keep 'em away,' said Dave. `Tar the bottom, or cover it
with tarred canvas, to make it black. Then they won't see it.
There's not many diggers left, and the rest are going;
they're chucking up the claims in Log Paddock. Besides, I could get drunk
and pick rows with the rest and they wouldn't come near me.
The farmers ain't in love with us diggers, so they won't bother us.
No man has a right to come poking round another man's claim:
it ain't ettykit -- I'll root up that old ettykit and stand to it --
it's rather worn out now, but that's no matter. We'll shift the tent
down near the claim and see that no one comes nosing round on Sunday.
They'll think we're only some more second-bottom lunatics,
like Francea [the mining watchmaker]. We're going to get our fortune
out from under that old graveyard, Jim. You leave it all to me
till you're born again with brains.'
Dave's schemes were always elaborate, and that was why they so often
came to the ground. He logged up his windlass platform a little higher,
bent about eighty feet of rope to the bole of the windlass,
which was a new one, and thereafter, whenever a suspicious-looking party
(that is to say, a digger) hove in sight, Dave would let down
about forty feet of rope and then wind, with simulated exertion,
until the slack was taken up and the rope lifted the bucket
from the shallow bottom.
`It would look better to have a whip-pole and a horse,
but we can't afford them just yet,' said Dave.
But I'm a little behind. They drove straight in under the cemetery,
finding good wash all the way. The edge of Jimmy Middleton's box
appeared in the top corner of the `face' (the working end) of the drive.
They went under the butt-end of the grave. They shoved up
the end of the shell with a prop, to prevent the possibility of an accident
which might disturb the mound above; they puddled -- i.e., rammed --
stiff clay up round the edges to keep the loose earth from dribbling down;
and having given the bottom of the coffin a good coat of tar,
they got over, or rather under, an unpleasant matter.
Jim Bently smoked and burnt paper during his shift below,
and grumbled a good deal. `Blowed if I ever thought I'd be rooting for gold
down among the blanky dead men,' he said. But the dirt panned out better
every dish they washed, and Dave worked the `wash' out right and left
as they drove.
But, one fine morning, who should come along but the very last man
whom Dave wished to see round there -- `Old Pinter' (James Poynton),
Californian and Victorian digger of the old school. He'd been prospecting
down the creek, carried his pick over his shoulder -- threaded through the eye
in the heft of his big-bladed, short-handled shovel that hung behind --
and his gold-dish under his arm.
I mightn't get a chance again to explain what a gold-dish
and what gold-washing is. A gold washing-dish is a flat dish --
nearer the shape of a bedroom bath-tub than anything else
I have seen in England, or the dish we used for setting milk --
I don't know whether the same is used here: the gold-dish measures,
say, eighteen inches across the top. You get it full of wash dirt,
squat down at a convenient place at the edge of the water-hole,
where there is a rest for the dish in the water just below its own depth.
You sink the dish and let the clay and gravel soak a while,
then you work and rub it up with your hands, and as the clay dissolves,
dish it off as muddy water or mullock. You are careful
to wash the pebbles in case there is any gold sticking to them.
And so till all the muddy or clayey matter is gone, and there is nothing
but clean gravel in the bottom of the dish. You work this off carefully,
turning the dish about this way and that and swishing the water round in it.
It requires some practice. The gold keeps to the bottom of the dish,
by its own weight. At last there is only a little half-moon
of sand or fine gravel in the bottom lower edge of the dish --
you work the dish slanting from you. Presently the gold,
if there was any in the dirt, appears in `colours', grains, or little nuggets
along the base of the half-moon of sand. The more gold there is in the dirt,
or the coarser the gold is, the sooner it appears. A practised digger
can work off the last speck of gravel, without losing a `colour',
by just working the water round and off in the dish. Also a careful digger
could throw a handful of gold in a tub of dirt, and, washing it off
in dishfuls, recover practically every colour.
The gold-washing `cradle' is a box, shaped something like a boot,
and the size of a travelling trunk, with rockers on, like a baby's cradle,
and a stick up behind for a handle; on top, where you'll put your foot
into the boot, is a tray with a perforated iron bottom;
the clay and gravel is thrown on the tray, water thrown on it,
and the cradle rocked smartly. The finer gravel and the mullock
goes through and down over a sloping board covered with blanket,
and with ledges on it to catch the gold. The dish was mostly used
for prospecting; large quantities of wash dirt was put through
the horse-power `puddling-machine', which there isn't room to describe here.
`'Ello, Dave!' said Pinter, after looking with mild surprise
at the size of Dave's waste-heap. `Tryin' for the second bottom?'
`Yes,' said Dave, guttural.
Pinter dropped his tools with a clatter at the foot of the waste-heap
and scratched under his ear like an old cockatoo, which bird he resembled.
Then he went to the windlass, and resting his hands on his knees,
he peered down, while Dave stood by helpless and hopeless.
Pinter straightened himself, blinking like an owl, and looked carelessly
over the graveyard.
`Tryin' for a secon' bottom,' he reflected absently. `Eh, Dave?'
Dave only stood and looked black.
Pinter tilted back his head and scratched the roots of his chin-feathers,
which stuck out all round like a dirty, ragged fan held horizontally.
`Kullers is safe,' reflected Pinter.
`All right?' snapped Dave. `I suppose we must let him into it.'
`Kullers' was a big American buck nigger, and had been Pinter's mate
for some time -- Pinter was a man of odd mates; and what Pinter meant
was that Kullers was safe to hold his tongue.
Next morning Pinter and his coloured mate appeared on the ground early,
Pinter with some tools and the nigger with a windlass-bole on his shoulders.
Pinter chose a spot about three panels or thirty feet along the other fence,
the back fence of the cemetery, and started his hole. He lost no time
for the sake of appearances, he sunk his shaft and started to drive
straight for the point under the cemetery for which Dave was making;
he gave out that he had bottomed on good `indications'
running in the other direction, and would work the ground outside the fence.
Meanwhile Dave rigged a fan -- partly for the sake of appearances,
but mainly because his and Jim's lively imaginations made the air
in the drive worse than it really was. A `fan' is a thing
like a paddle-wheel rigged in a box, about the size of a cradle,
and something the shape of a shoe, but rounded over the top.
There is a small grooved wheel on the axle of the fan outside,
and an endless line, like a clothes-line, is carried over this wheel
and a groove in the edge of a high light wooden driving-wheel
rigged between two uprights in the rear and with a handle to turn.
That's how the thing is driven. A wind-chute, like an endless pillow-slip,
made of calico, with the mouth tacked over the open toe of the fan-box,
and the end taken down the shaft and along the drive --
this carries the fresh air into the workings.
Dave was working the ground on each side as he went, when one morning
a thought struck him that should have struck him the day Pinter went to work.
He felt mad that it hadn't struck him sooner.
Pinter and Kullers had also shifted their tent down into a nice quiet place
in the Bush close handy; so, early next Sunday morning,
while Pinter and Kullers were asleep, Dave posted Jim Bently
to watch their tent, and whistle an alarm if they stirred,
and then dropped down into Pinter's hole and saw at a glance
what he was up to.
After that Dave lost no time: he drove straight on,
encouraged by the thuds of Pinter's and Kullers' picks drawing nearer.
They would strike his tunnel at right angles. Both parties worked long hours,
only knocking off to fry a bit of steak in the pan, boil the billy,
and throw themselves dressed on their bunks to get a few hours' sleep.
Pinter had practical experience and a line clear of graves,
and he made good time. The two parties now found it more comfortable
to be not on speaking terms. Individually they grew furtive,
and began to feel criminal like -- at least Dave and Jim did.
They'd start if a horse stumbled through the Bush, and expected to see
a mounted policeman ride up at any moment and hear him ask questions.
They had driven about thirty-five feet when, one Saturday afternoon,
the strain became too great, and Dave and Jim got drunk.
The spree lasted over Sunday, and on Monday morning they felt too shaky
to come to work and had more drink. On Monday afternoon, Kullers,
whose shift it was below, stuck his pick through the face of his drive
into the wall of Dave's, about four feet from the end of it:
the clay flaked away, leaving a hole as big as a wash-hand basin.
They knocked off for the day and decided to let the other party
take the offensive.
Tuesday morning Dave and Jim came to work, still feeling shaky.
Jim went below, crawled along the drive, lit his candle, and stuck it
in the spiked iron socket and the spike in the wall of the drive, quite close
to the hole, without noticing either the hole or the increased freshness
in the air. He started picking away at the `face' and scraping the clay
back from under his feet, and didn't hear Kullers come to work.
Kullers came in softly and decided to try a bit of cheerful bluff.
He stuck his great round black face through the hole, the whites of his eyes
rolling horribly in the candle-light, and said, with a deep guffaw --
`'Ullo! you dar'?'
No bandicoot ever went into his hole with the dogs after him
quicker than Jim came out of his. He scrambled up the shaft
by the foot-holes, and sat on the edge of the waste-heap, looking very pale.
`What's the matter?' asked Dave. `Have you seen a ghost?'
`I've seen the -- the devil!' gasped Jim. `I'm -- I'm done with this here
The parties got on speaking terms again. Dave was very warm,
but Jim's language was worse. Pinter scratched his chin-feathers reflectively
till the other party cooled. There was no appealing to the Commissioner
for goldfields; they were outside all law, whether of the goldfields
or otherwise -- so they did the only thing possible and sensible,
they joined forces and became `Poynton, Regan, & Party'.
They agreed to work the ground from the separate shafts,
and decided to go ahead, irrespective of appearances, and get as much dirt
out and cradled as possible before the inevitable exposure came along.
They found plenty of `payable dirt', and soon the drive ended in
a cluster of roomy chambers. They timbered up many coffins of various ages,
burnt tarred canvas and brown paper, and kept the fan going.
Outside they paid the storekeeper with difficulty and talked of hard times.
But one fine sunny morning, after about a week of partnership,
they got a bad scare. Jim and Kullers were below, getting out dirt
for all they were worth, and Pinter and Dave at their windlasses, when who
should march down from the cemetery gate but Mother Middleton herself.
She was a hard woman to look at. She still wore the old-fashioned crinoline
and her hair in a greasy net; and on this as on most other sober occasions,
she wore the expression of a rough Irish navvy who has just enough drink
to make him nasty and is looking out for an excuse for a row.
She had a stride like a grenadier. A digger had once measured her step
by her footprints in the mud where she had stepped across a gutter:
it measured three feet from toe to heel.
She marched to the grave of Jimmy Middleton, laid a dingy
bunch of flowers thereon, with the gesture of an angry man
banging his fist down on the table, turned on her heel, and marched out.
The diggers were dirt beneath her feet. Presently they heard her drive on
in her spring-cart on her way into town, and they drew breaths of relief.
It was afternoon. Dave and Pinter were feeling tired,
and were just deciding to knock off work for that day
when they heard a scuffling in the direction of the different shafts,
and both Jim and Kullers dropped down and bundled in in a great hurry.
Jim chuckled in a silly way, as if there was something funny,
and Kullers guffawed in sympathy.
`What's up now?' demanded Dave apprehensively.
`Mother Middleton,' said Jim; `she's blind mad drunk,
and she's got a bottle in one hand and a new pitchfork in the other,
that she's bringing out for some one.'
`How the hell did she drop to it?' exclaimed Pinter.
`Dunno,' said Jim. `Anyway she's coming for us. Listen to her!'
They didn't have to listen hard. The language which came down the shaft --
they weren't sure which one -- and along the drives was enough
to scare up the dead and make them take to the Bush.
`Why didn't you fools make off into the Bush and give us a chance,
instead of giving her a lead here?' asked Dave.
Jim and Kullers began to wish they had done so.
Mrs Middleton began to throw stones down the shaft -- it was Pinter's --
and they, even the oldest and most anxious, began to grin
in spite of themselves, for they knew she couldn't hurt them from the surface,
and that, though she had been a working digger herself,
she couldn't fill both shafts before the fumes of liquor overtook her.
`I wonder which shaf' she'll come down,' asked Kullers
in a tone befitting the place and occasion.
`You'd better go and watch your shaft, Pinter,' said Dave,
`and Jim and I'll watch mine.'
`I -- I won't,' said Pinter hurriedly. `I'm -- I'm a modest man.'
Then they heard a clang in the direction of Pinter's shaft.
`She's thrown her bottle down,' said Dave.
Jim crawled along the drive a piece, urged by curiosity,
and returned hurriedly.
`She's broke the pitchfork off short, to use in the drive,
and I believe she's coming down.'
`Her crinoline'll handicap her,' said Pinter vacantly, `that's a comfort.'
`She's took it off!' said Dave excitedly; and peering along Pinter's drive,
they saw first an elastic-sided boot, then a red-striped stocking,
then a section of scarlet petticoat.
`Lemme out!' roared Pinter, lurching forward and making
a swimming motion with his hands in the direction of Dave's drive.
Kullers was already gone, and Jim well on the way. Dave, lanky and awkward,
scrambled up the shaft last. Mrs Middleton made good time,
considering she had the darkness to face and didn't know the workings,
and when Dave reached the top he had a tear in the leg of his moleskins,
and the blood ran from a nasty scratch. But he didn't wait to argue
over the price of a new pair of trousers. He made off through the Bush
in the direction of an encouraging whistle thrown back by Jim.
`She's too drunk to get her story listened to to-night,' said Dave.
`But to-morrow she'll bring the neighbourhood down on us.'
`And she's enough, without the neighbourhood,' reflected Pinter.
Some time after dark they returned cautiously, reconnoitred their camp,
and after hiding in a hollow log such things as they couldn't carry,
they rolled up their tents like the Arabs, and silently stole away.
The Chinaman's Ghost.
`Simple as striking matches,' said Dave Regan, Bushman;
`but it gave me the biggest scare I ever had -- except, perhaps,
the time I stumbled in the dark into a six-feet digger's hole,
which might have been eighty feet deep for all I knew when I was falling.
(There was an eighty-feet shaft left open close by.)
`It was the night of the day after the Queen's birthday.
I was sinking a shaft with Jim Bently and Andy Page
on the old Redclay goldfield, and we camped in a tent on the creek.
Jim and me went to some races that was held at Peter Anderson's pub.,
about four miles across the ridges, on Queen's birthday.
Andy was a quiet sort of chap, a teetotaller, and we'd disgusted him
the last time he was out for a holiday with us, so he stayed at home
and washed and mended his clothes, and read an arithmetic book.
(He used to keep the accounts, and it took him most of his spare time.)
`Jim and me had a pretty high time. We all got pretty tight after the races,
and I wanted to fight Jim, or Jim wanted to fight me --
I don't remember which. We were old chums, and we nearly always
wanted to fight each other when we got a bit on, and we'd fight
if we weren't stopped. I remember once Jim got maudlin drunk
and begged and prayed of me to fight him, as if he was praying for his life.
Tom Tarrant, the coach-driver, used to say that Jim and me must be related,
else we wouldn't hate each other so much when we were tight and truthful.
`Anyway, this day, Jim got the sulks, and caught his horse and went home
early in the evening. My dog went home with him too; I must have been
carrying on pretty bad to disgust the dog.
`Next evening I got disgusted with myself, and started to walk home.
I'd lost my hat, so Peter Anderson lent me an old one of his,
that he'd worn on Ballarat he said: it was a hard, straw, flat,
broad-brimmed affair, and fitted my headache pretty tight.
Peter gave me a small flask of whisky to help me home. I had to go
across some flats and up a long dark gully called Murderer's Gully,
and over a gap called Dead Man's Gap, and down the ridge and gullies
to Redclay Creek. The lonely flats were covered with blue-grey gum bush,
and looked ghostly enough in the moonlight, and I was pretty shaky,
but I had a pull at the flask and a mouthful of water at a creek and felt
right enough. I began to whistle, and then to sing: I never used to sing
unless I thought I was a couple of miles out of earshot of any one.
`Murderer's Gully was deep and pretty dark most times, and of course
it was haunted. Women and children wouldn't go through it after dark;
and even me, when I'd grown up, I'd hold my back pretty holler, and whistle,
and walk quick going along there at night-time. We're all afraid of ghosts,
but we won't let on.
`Some one had skinned a dead calf during the day and left it on the track,
and it gave me a jump, I promise you. It looked like two corpses
laid out naked. I finished the whisky and started up over the gap.
All of a sudden a great `old man' kangaroo went across the track
with a thud-thud, and up the siding, and that startled me.
Then the naked, white glistening trunk of a stringy-bark tree,
where some one had stripped off a sheet of bark, started out
from a bend in the track in a shaft of moonlight, and that gave me a jerk.
I was pretty shaky before I started. There was a Chinaman's grave
close by the track on the top of the gap. An old chow had lived
in a hut there for many years, and fossicked on the old diggings,
and one day he was found dead in the hut, and the Government
gave some one a pound to bury him. When I was a nipper
we reckoned that his ghost haunted the gap, and cursed in Chinese
because the bones hadn't been sent home to China. It was a lonely,
ghostly place enough.
`It had been a smotheringly hot day and very close coming across the flats
and up the gully -- not a breath of air; but now as I got higher
I saw signs of the thunderstorm we'd expected all day, and felt the breath
of a warm breeze on my face. When I got into the top of the gap
the first thing I saw was something white amongst the dark bushes
over the spot where the Chinaman's grave was, and I stood staring at it
with both eyes. It moved out of the shadow presently, and I saw that it
was a white bullock, and I felt relieved. I'd hardly felt relieved when,
all at once, there came a "pat-pat-pat" of running feet close behind me!
I jumped round quick, but there was nothing there, and while I stood
staring all ways for Sunday, there came a "pat-pat", then a pause,
and then "pat-pat-pat-pat" behind me again: it was like some one
dodging and running off that time. I started to walk down the track
pretty fast, but hadn't gone a dozen yards when "pat-pat-pat",
it was close behind me again. I jerked my eyes over my shoulder
but kept my legs going. There was nothing behind, but I fancied I saw
something slip into the Bush to the right. It must have been the moonlight
on the moving boughs; there was a good breeze blowing now. I got down
to a more level track, and was making across a spur to the main road,
when "pat-pat!" "pat-pat-pat, pat-pat-pat!" it was after me again.
Then I began to run -- and it began to run too! "pat-pat-pat" after me
all the time. I hadn't time to look round. Over the spur and down the siding
and across the flat to the road I went as fast as I could split my legs apart.
I had a scared idea that I was getting a touch of the "jim-jams",
and that frightened me more than any outside ghost could have done.
I stumbled a few times, and saved myself, but, just before I reached the road,
I fell slithering on to my hands on the grass and gravel.
I thought I'd broken both my wrists. I stayed for a moment
on my hands and knees, quaking and listening, squinting round
like a great gohana; I couldn't hear nor see anything. I picked myself up,
and had hardly got on one end, when "pat-pat!" it was after me again.
I must have run a mile and a half altogether that night.
It was still about three-quarters of a mile to the camp,
and I ran till my heart beat in my head and my lungs choked up in my throat.
I saw our tent-fire and took off my hat to run faster. The footsteps stopped,
then something about the hat touched my fingers, and I stared at it --
and the thing dawned on me. I hadn't noticed at Peter Anderson's --
my head was too swimmy to notice anything. It was an old hat of the style
that the first diggers used to wear, with a couple of loose ribbon ends,
three or four inches long, from the band behind. As long as I walked quietly
through the gully, and there was no wind, the tails didn't flap,
but when I got up into the breeze, they flapped or were still
according to how the wind lifted them or pressed them down flat on the brim.
And when I ran they tapped all the time; and the hat being tight on my head,
the tapping of the ribbon ends against the straw sounded loud of course.
`I sat down on a log for a while to get some of my wind back and cool down,
and then I went to the camp as quietly as I could, and had
a long drink of water.
`"You seem to be a bit winded, Dave," said Jim Bently, "and mighty thirsty.
Did the Chinaman's ghost chase you?"
`I told him not to talk rot, and went into the tent, and lay down on my bunk,
and had a good rest.'
The Loaded Dog.
Dave Regan, Jim Bently, and Andy Page were sinking a shaft at Stony Creek
in search of a rich gold quartz reef which was supposed to exist
in the vicinity. There is always a rich reef supposed to exist
in the vicinity; the only questions are whether it is ten feet or hundreds
beneath the surface, and in which direction. They had struck
some pretty solid rock, also water which kept them baling.
They used the old-fashioned blasting-powder and time-fuse.
They'd make a sausage or cartridge of blasting-powder
in a skin of strong calico or canvas, the mouth sewn and bound
round the end of the fuse; they'd dip the cartridge in melted tallow
to make it water-tight, get the drill-hole as dry as possible,
drop in the cartridge with some dry dust, and wad and ram
with stiff clay and broken brick. Then they'd light the fuse
and get out of the hole and wait. The result was usually an ugly pot-hole
in the bottom of the shaft and half a barrow-load of broken rock.
There was plenty of fish in the creek, fresh-water bream, cod, cat-fish,
and tailers. The party were fond of fish, and Andy and Dave of fishing.
Andy would fish for three hours at a stretch if encouraged
by a `nibble' or a `bite' now and then -- say once in twenty minutes.
The butcher was always willing to give meat in exchange for fish
when they caught more than they could eat; but now it was winter,
and these fish wouldn't bite. However, the creek was low,
just a chain of muddy water-holes, from the hole with a few bucketfuls in it
to the sizable pool with an average depth of six or seven feet,
and they could get fish by baling out the smaller holes or muddying up
the water in the larger ones till the fish rose to the surface.
There was the cat-fish, with spikes growing out of the sides of its head,
and if you got pricked you'd know it, as Dave said. Andy took off his boots,
tucked up his trousers, and went into a hole one day to stir up the mud
with his feet, and he knew it. Dave scooped one out with his hand
and got pricked, and he knew it too; his arm swelled, and the pain throbbed
up into his shoulder, and down into his stomach too, he said,
like a toothache he had once, and kept him awake for two nights --
only the toothache pain had a `burred edge', Dave said.
Dave got an idea.
`Why not blow the fish up in the big water-hole with a cartridge?' he said.
`I'll try it.'
He thought the thing out and Andy Page worked it out.
Andy usually put Dave's theories into practice if they were practicable,
or bore the blame for the failure and the chaffing of his mates
if they weren't.
He made a cartridge about three times the size of those they used in the rock.
Jim Bently said it was big enough to blow the bottom out of the river.
The inner skin was of stout calico; Andy stuck the end of a six-foot
piece of fuse well down in the powder and bound the mouth of the bag
firmly to it with whipcord. The idea was to sink the cartridge in the water
with the open end of the fuse attached to a float on the surface,
ready for lighting. Andy dipped the cartridge in melted bees'-wax
to make it water-tight. `We'll have to leave it some time
before we light it,' said Dave, `to give the fish time
to get over their scare when we put it in, and come nosing round again;
so we'll want it well water-tight.'
Round the cartridge Andy, at Dave's suggestion, bound a strip
of sail canvas -- that they used for making water-bags --
to increase the force of the explosion, and round that he pasted
layers of stiff brown paper -- on the plan of the sort of fireworks
we called `gun-crackers'. He let the paper dry in the sun,
then he sewed a covering of two thicknesses of canvas over it,
and bound the thing from end to end with stout fishing-line. Dave's schemes
were elaborate, and he often worked his inventions out to nothing.
The cartridge was rigid and solid enough now -- a formidable bomb;
but Andy and Dave wanted to be sure. Andy sewed on another layer of canvas,
dipped the cartridge in melted tallow, twisted a length of fencing-wire
round it as an afterthought, dipped it in tallow again,
and stood it carefully against a tent-peg, where he'd know where to find it,
and wound the fuse loosely round it. Then he went to the camp-fire
to try some potatoes which were boiling in their jackets in a billy,
and to see about frying some chops for dinner. Dave and Jim were at work
in the claim that morning.
They had a big black young retriever dog -- or rather an overgrown pup,
a big, foolish, four-footed mate, who was always slobbering round them
and lashing their legs with his heavy tail that swung round like a stock-whip.
Most of his head was usually a red, idiotic, slobbering grin of appreciation
of his own silliness. He seemed to take life, the world,
his two-legged mates, and his own instinct as a huge joke.
He'd retrieve anything: he carted back most of the camp rubbish
that Andy threw away. They had a cat that died in hot weather,
and Andy threw it a good distance away in the scrub; and early one morning
the dog found the cat, after it had been dead a week or so,
and carried it back to camp, and laid it just inside the tent-flaps,
where it could best make its presence known when the mates should rise
and begin to sniff suspiciously in the sickly smothering atmosphere
of the summer sunrise. He used to retrieve them when they went in swimming;
he'd jump in after them, and take their hands in his mouth,
and try to swim out with them, and scratch their naked bodies with his paws.
They loved him for his good-heartedness and his foolishness,
but when they wished to enjoy a swim they had to tie him up in camp.
He watched Andy with great interest all the morning making the cartridge,
and hindered him considerably, trying to help; but about noon
he went off to the claim to see how Dave and Jim were getting on,
and to come home to dinner with them. Andy saw them coming,
and put a panful of mutton-chops on the fire. Andy was cook to-day;
Dave and Jim stood with their backs to the fire, as Bushmen do
in all weathers, waiting till dinner should be ready.
The retriever went nosing round after something he seemed to have missed.
Andy's brain still worked on the cartridge; his eye was caught
by the glare of an empty kerosene-tin lying in the bushes,
and it struck him that it wouldn't be a bad idea to sink the cartridge
packed with clay, sand, or stones in the tin, to increase
the force of the explosion. He may have been all out,
from a scientific point of view, but the notion looked all right to him.
Jim Bently, by the way, wasn't interested in their `damned silliness'.
Andy noticed an empty treacle-tin -- the sort with the little
tin neck or spout soldered on to the top for the convenience of pouring out
the treacle -- and it struck him that this would have made
the best kind of cartridge-case: he would only have had
to pour in the powder, stick the fuse in through the neck,
and cork and seal it with bees'-wax. He was turning to suggest this to Dave,
when Dave glanced over his shoulder to see how the chops were doing --
and bolted. He explained afterwards that he thought he heard the pan
spluttering extra, and looked to see if the chops were burning.
Jim Bently looked behind and bolted after Dave. Andy stood stock-still,
staring after them.
`Run, Andy! run!' they shouted back at him. `Run!!! Look behind you,
you fool!' Andy turned slowly and looked, and there, close behind him,
was the retriever with the cartridge in his mouth -- wedged into
his broadest and silliest grin. And that wasn't all.
The dog had come round the fire to Andy, and the loose end of the fuse
had trailed and waggled over the burning sticks into the blaze;
Andy had slit and nicked the firing end of the fuse well,
and now it was hissing and spitting properly.
Andy's legs started with a jolt; his legs started before his brain did,
and he made after Dave and Jim. And the dog followed Andy.
Dave and Jim were good runners -- Jim the best -- for a short distance;
Andy was slow and heavy, but he had the strength and the wind and could last.
The dog leapt and capered round him, delighted as a dog could be
to find his mates, as he thought, on for a frolic. Dave and Jim
kept shouting back, `Don't foller us! don't foller us, you coloured fool!'
but Andy kept on, no matter how they dodged. They could never explain,
any more than the dog, why they followed each other, but so they ran,
Dave keeping in Jim's track in all its turnings, Andy after Dave,
and the dog circling round Andy -- the live fuse swishing in all directions
and hissing and spluttering and stinking. Jim yelling to Dave
not to follow him, Dave shouting to Andy to go in another direction --
to `spread out', and Andy roaring at the dog to go home.
Then Andy's brain began to work, stimulated by the crisis:
he tried to get a running kick at the dog, but the dog dodged;
he snatched up sticks and stones and threw them at the dog and ran on again.
The retriever saw that he'd made a mistake about Andy,
and left him and bounded after Dave. Dave, who had the presence of mind
to think that the fuse's time wasn't up yet, made a dive and a grab
for the dog, caught him by the tail, and as he swung round
snatched the cartridge out of his mouth and flung it as far as he could:
the dog immediately bounded after it and retrieved it.
Dave roared and cursed at the dog, who seeing that Dave was offended,
left him and went after Jim, who was well ahead. Jim swung to a sapling
and went up it like a native bear; it was a young sapling,
and Jim couldn't safely get more than ten or twelve feet from the ground.
The dog laid the cartridge, as carefully as if it was a kitten,
at the foot of the sapling, and capered and leaped and whooped joyously round
under Jim. The big pup reckoned that this was part of the lark --
he was all right now -- it was Jim who was out for a spree.
The fuse sounded as if it were going a mile a minute.
Jim tried to climb higher and the sapling bent and cracked.
Jim fell on his feet and ran. The dog swooped on the cartridge and followed.
It all took but a very few moments. Jim ran to a digger's hole,
about ten feet deep, and dropped down into it -- landing on soft mud --
and was safe. The dog grinned sardonically down on him, over the edge,
for a moment, as if he thought it would be a good lark
to drop the cartridge down on Jim.
`Go away, Tommy,' said Jim feebly, `go away.'
The dog bounded off after Dave, who was the only one in sight now;
Andy had dropped behind a log, where he lay flat on his face,
having suddenly remembered a picture of the Russo-Turkish war
with a circle of Turks lying flat on their faces (as if they were ashamed)
round a newly-arrived shell.
There was a small hotel or shanty on the creek, on the main road,
not far from the claim. Dave was desperate, the time flew much faster
in his stimulated imagination than it did in reality,
so he made for the shanty. There were several casual Bushmen
on the verandah and in the bar; Dave rushed into the bar,
banging the door to behind him. `My dog!' he gasped,
in reply to the astonished stare of the publican, `the blanky retriever --
he's got a live cartridge in his mouth ----'
The retriever, finding the front door shut against him,
had bounded round and in by the back way, and now stood smiling
in the doorway leading from the passage, the cartridge still in his mouth
and the fuse spluttering. They burst out of that bar.
Tommy bounded first after one and then after another, for, being a young dog,
he tried to make friends with everybody.
The Bushmen ran round corners, and some shut themselves in the stable.
There was a new weather-board and corrugated-iron kitchen and wash-house
on piles in the back-yard, with some women washing clothes inside.
Dave and the publican bundled in there and shut the door --
the publican cursing Dave and calling him a crimson fool, in hurried tones,
and wanting to know what the hell he came here for.
The retriever went in under the kitchen, amongst the piles,
but, luckily for those inside, there was a vicious yellow mongrel cattle-dog
sulking and nursing his nastiness under there -- a sneaking, fighting,
thieving canine, whom neighbours had tried for years to shoot or poison.
Tommy saw his danger -- he'd had experience from this dog --
and started out and across the yard, still sticking to the cartridge.
Half-way across the yard the yellow dog caught him and nipped him.
Tommy dropped the cartridge, gave one terrified yell, and took to the Bush.
The yellow dog followed him to the fence and then ran back
to see what he had dropped.
Nearly a dozen other dogs came from round all the corners
and under the buildings -- spidery, thievish, cold-blooded kangaroo-dogs,
mongrel sheep- and cattle-dogs, vicious black and yellow dogs --
that slip after you in the dark, nip your heels, and vanish
without explaining -- and yapping, yelping small fry.
They kept at a respectable distance round the nasty yellow dog,
for it was dangerous to go near him when he thought he had found something
which might be good for a dog to eat. He sniffed at the cartridge twice,
and was just taking a third cautious sniff when ----
It was very good blasting powder -- a new brand that Dave had recently got
up from Sydney; and the cartridge had been excellently well made.
Andy was very patient and painstaking in all he did, and nearly as handy
as the average sailor with needles, twine, canvas, and rope.
Bushmen say that that kitchen jumped off its piles and on again.
When the smoke and dust cleared away, the remains of the nasty yellow dog
were lying against the paling fence of the yard looking as if
he had been kicked into a fire by a horse and afterwards rolled in the dust
under a barrow, and finally thrown against the fence from a distance.
Several saddle-horses, which had been `hanging-up' round the verandah,
were galloping wildly down the road in clouds of dust,
with broken bridle-reins flying; and from a circle round the outskirts,
from every point of the compass in the scrub, came the yelping of dogs.
Two of them went home, to the place where they were born,
thirty miles away, and reached it the same night and stayed there;
it was not till towards evening that the rest came back cautiously
to make inquiries. One was trying to walk on two legs, and most of 'em
looked more or less singed; and a little, singed, stumpy-tailed dog,
who had been in the habit of hopping the back half of him along on one leg,
had reason to be glad that he'd saved up the other leg all those years,
for he needed it now. There was one old one-eyed cattle-dog round that shanty
for years afterwards, who couldn't stand the smell of a gun being cleaned.
He it was who had taken an interest, only second to that of the yellow dog,
in the cartridge. Bushmen said that it was amusing
to slip up on his blind side and stick a dirty ramrod under his nose:
he wouldn't wait to bring his solitary eye to bear --
he'd take to the Bush and stay out all night.
For half an hour or so after the explosion there were several Bushmen
round behind the stable who crouched, doubled up, against the wall,
or rolled gently on the dust, trying to laugh without shrieking.
There were two white women in hysterics at the house,
and a half-caste rushing aimlessly round with a dipper of cold water.
The publican was holding his wife tight and begging her between her squawks,
to `hold up for my sake, Mary, or I'll lam the life out of ye.'
Dave decided to apologise later on, `when things had settled a bit,'
and went back to camp. And the dog that had done it all,
`Tommy', the great, idiotic mongrel retriever, came slobbering round Dave
and lashing his legs with his tail, and trotted home after him,
smiling his broadest, longest, and reddest smile of amiability,
and apparently satisfied for one afternoon with the fun he'd had.
Andy chained the dog up securely, and cooked some more chops,
while Dave went to help Jim out of the hole.
And most of this is why, for years afterwards, lanky, easy-going Bushmen,
riding lazily past Dave's camp, would cry, in a lazy drawl
and with just a hint of the nasal twang --
`'El-lo, Da-a-ve! How's the fishin' getting on, Da-a-ve?'
Poisonous Jimmy Gets Left.
I. Dave Regan's Yarn.
`When we got tired of digging about Mudgee-Budgee, and getting no gold,'
said Dave Regan, Bushman, `me and my mate, Jim Bently,
decided to take a turn at droving; so we went with Bob Baker, the drover,
overland with a big mob of cattle, way up into Northern Queensland.
`We couldn't get a job on the home track, and we spent most of our money,
like a pair of fools, at a pub. at a town way up over the border, where they
had a flash barmaid from Brisbane. We sold our pack-horses and pack-saddles,
and rode out of that town with our swags on our riding-horses in front of us.
We had another spree at another place, and by the time we got
near New South Wales we were pretty well stumped.
`Just the other side of Mulgatown, near the border, we came on
a big mob of cattle in a paddock, and a party of drovers camped on the creek.
They had brought the cattle down from the north and were going no farther
with them; their boss had ridden on into Mulgatown to get the cheques
to pay them off, and they were waiting for him.
`"And Poisonous Jimmy is waiting for us," said one of them.
`Poisonous Jimmy kept a shanty a piece along the road from their camp
towards Mulgatown. He was called "Poisonous Jimmy" perhaps
on account of his liquor, or perhaps because he had a job of poisoning dingoes
on a station in the Bogan scrubs at one time. He was a sharp publican.
He had a girl, and they said that whenever a shearing-shed cut-out on his side
and he saw the shearers coming along the road, he'd say to the girl,
"Run and get your best frock on, Mary! Here's the shearers comin'."
And if a chequeman wouldn't drink he'd try to get him into his bar
and shout for him till he was too drunk to keep his hands out of his pockets.
`"But he won't get us," said another of the drovers. "I'm going to ride
straight into Mulgatown and send my money home by the post
as soon as I get it."
`"You've always said that, Jack," said the first drover.
`We yarned a while, and had some tea, and then me and Jim
got on our horses and rode on. We were burned to bricks
and ragged and dusty and parched up enough, and so were our horses.
We only had a few shillings to carry us four or five hundred miles home,
but it was mighty hot and dusty, and we felt that we must have a drink
at the shanty. This was west of the sixpenny-line at that time --
all drinks were a shilling along here.
`Just before we reached the shanty I got an idea.
`"We'll plant our swags in the scrub," I said to Jim.
`"What for?" said Jim.
`"Never mind -- you'll see," I said.
`So we unstrapped our swags and hid them in the mulga scrub
by the side of the road; then we rode on to the shanty, got down,
and hung our horses to the verandah posts.
`"Poisonous" came out at once, with a smile on him that would have made
`He was a short nuggety man, and could use his hands, they said;
he looked as if he'd be a nasty, vicious, cool customer in a fight --
he wasn't the sort of man you'd care to try and swindle a second time.
He had a monkey shave when he shaved, but now it was all frill and stubble --
like a bush fence round a stubble-field. He had a broken nose,
and a cunning, sharp, suspicious eye that squinted, and a cold stony eye
that seemed fixed. If you didn't know him well you might talk to him
for five minutes, looking at him in the cold stony eye, and then discover
that it was the sharp cunning little eye that was watching you all the time.
It was awful embarrassing. It must have made him awkward to deal with
in a fight.
`"Good day, mates," he said.
`"Good day," we said.
`We went into the bar, and Poisonous got behind the counter.
`"What are you going to have?" he asked, rubbing up his glasses with a rag.
`We had two long-beers.
`"Never mind that," said Poisonous, seeing me put my hand in my pocket;
"it's my shout. I don't suppose your boss is back yet?
I saw him go in to Mulgatown this morning."
`"No, he ain't back," I said; "I wish he was. We're getting tired
of waiting for him. We'll give him another hour, and then some of us
will have to ride in to see whether he's got on the boose,
and get hold of him if he has."
`"I suppose you're waiting for your cheques?" he said, turning to fix
some bottles on the shelf.
`"Yes," I said, "we are;" and I winked at Jim, and Jim winked back
as solemn as an owl.
`Poisonous asked us all about the trip, and how long we'd been on the track,
and what sort of a boss we had, dropping the questions offhand now an' then,
as for the sake of conversation. We could see that he was trying to get
at the size of our supposed cheques, so we answered accordingly.
`"Have another drink," he said, and he filled the pewters up again.
"It's up to me," and he set to work boring out the glasses with his rag,
as if he was short-handed and the bar was crowded with customers,
and screwing up his face into what I suppose he considered
an innocent or unconscious expression. The girl began to sidle in and out
with a smart frock and a see-you-after-dark smirk on.
`"Have you had dinner?" she asked. We could have done with a good meal,
but it was too risky -- the drovers' boss might come along
while we were at dinner and get into conversation with Poisonous.
So we said we'd had dinner.
`Poisonous filled our pewters again in an offhand way.
`"I wish the boss would come," said Jim with a yawn. "I want to get
into Mulgatown to-night, and I want to get some shirts and things
before I go in. I ain't got a decent rag to me back. I don't suppose
there's ten bob amongst the lot of us."
`There was a general store back on the creek, near the drovers' camp.
`"Oh, go to the store and get what you want," said Poisonous,
taking a sovereign from the till and tossing it on to the counter.
"You can fix it up with me when your boss comes. Bring your mates along."
`"Thank you," said Jim, taking up the sovereign carelessly and dropping it
into his pocket.
`"Well, Jim," I said, "suppose we get back to camp and see how the chaps
are getting on?"
`"All right," said Jim.
`"Tell them to come down and get a drink," said Poisonous;
"or, wait, you can take some beer along to them if you like,"
and he gave us half a gallon of beer in a billy-can. He knew
what the first drink meant with Bushmen back from a long dry trip.
`We got on our horses, I holding the billy very carefully, and rode back
to where our swags were.
`"I say," said Jim, when we'd strapped the swags to the saddles,
"suppose we take the beer back to those chaps: it's meant for them,
and it's only a fair thing, anyway -- we've got as much as we can hold
till we get into Mulgatown."
`"It might get them into a row," I said, "and they seem decent chaps.
Let's hang the billy on a twig, and that old swagman that's coming along
will think there's angels in the Bush."
`"Oh! what's a row?" said Jim. "They can take care of themselves;
they'll have the beer anyway and a lark with Poisonous
when they take the can back and it comes to explanations.
I'll ride back to them."
`So Jim rode back to the drovers' camp with the beer,
and when he came back to me he said that the drovers seemed surprised,
but they drank good luck to him.
`We rode round through the mulga behind the shanty and came out
on the road again on the Mulgatown side: we only stayed at Mulgatown
to buy some tucker and tobacco, then we pushed on and camped for the night
about seven miles on the safe side of the town.'
II. Told by One of the Other Drovers.
`Talkin' o' Poisonous Jimmy, I can tell you a yarn about him.
We'd brought a mob of cattle down for a squatter the other side of Mulgatown.
We camped about seven miles the other side of the town,
waitin' for the station hands to come and take charge of the stock,
while the boss rode on into town to draw our money. Some of us
was goin' back, though in the end we all went into Mulgatown
and had a boose up with the boss. But while we was waitin'
there come along two fellers that had been drovin' up north.
They yarned a while, an' then went on to Poisonous Jimmy's place,
an' in about an hour one on 'em come ridin' back with a can of beer
that he said Poisonous had sent for us. We all knew Jimmy's little games --
the beer was a bait to get us on the drunk at his place;
but we drunk the beer, and reckoned to have a lark with him afterwards.
When the boss come back, an' the station hands to take the bullocks,
we started into Mulgatown. We stopped outside Poisonous's place
an' handed the can to the girl that was grinnin' on the verandah.
Poisonous come out with a grin on him like a parson with a broken nose.
`"Good day, boys!" he says.
`"Good day, Poisonous," we says.
`"It's hot," he says.
`"It's blanky hot," I says.
`He seemed to expect us to get down. "Where are you off to?" he says.
`"Mulgatown," I says. "It will be cooler there," and we sung out,
"So-long, Poisonous!" and rode on.
`He stood starin' for a minute; then he started shoutin', "Hi! hi there!"
after us, but we took no notice, an' rode on. When we looked back last
he was runnin' into the scrub with a bridle in his hand.
`We jogged along easily till we got within a mile of Mulgatown,
when we heard somebody gallopin' after us, an' lookin' back
we saw it was Poisonous.
`He was too mad and too winded to speak at first, so he rode
along with us a bit gasping: then he burst out.
`"Where's them other two carnal blanks?" he shouted.
`"What other two?" I asked. "We're all here. What's the matter
with you anyway?"
`"All here!" he yelled. "You're a lurid liar! What the flamin' sheol
do you mean by swiggin' my beer an' flingin' the coloured can in me face?
without as much as thank yer! D'yer think I'm a flamin' ----!"
`Oh, but Poisonous Jimmy was wild.
`"Well, we'll pay for your dirty beer," says one of the chaps,
puttin' his hand in his pocket. "We didn't want yer slush.
It tasted as if it had been used before."
`"Pay for it!" yelled Jimmy. "I'll ---- well take it
out of one of yer bleedin' hides!"
`We stopped at once, and I got down an' obliged Jimmy for a few rounds.
He was a nasty customer to fight; he could use his hands,
and was cool as a cucumber as soon as he took his coat off:
besides, he had one squirmy little business eye, and a big wall-eye,
an', even if you knowed him well, you couldn't help watchin' the stony eye --
it was no good watchin' his eyes, you had to watch his hands,
and he might have managed me if the boss hadn't stopped the fight.
The boss was a big, quiet-voiced man, that didn't swear.
`"Now, look here, Myles," said the boss (Jimmy's name was Myles) --
"Now, look here, Myles," sez the boss, "what's all this about?"
`"What's all this about?" says Jimmy, gettin' excited agen.
"Why, two fellers that belonged to your party come along to my place
an' put up half-a-dozen drinks, an' borrered a sovereign,
an' got a can o' beer on the strength of their cheques.
They sez they was waitin' for you -- an' I want my crimson money
out o' some one!"
`"What was they like?" asks the boss.
`"Like?" shouted Poisonous, swearin' all the time. "One was a blanky long,
sandy, sawny feller, and the other was a short, slim feller with black hair.
Your blanky men knows all about them because they had
the blanky billy o' beer."
`"Now, what's this all about, you chaps?" sez the boss to us.
`So we told him as much as we knowed about them two fellers.
`I've heard men swear that could swear in a rough shearin'-shed,
but I never heard a man swear like Poisonous Jimmy when he saw
how he'd been left. It was enough to split stumps. He said he wanted
to see those fellers, just once, before he died.
`He rode with us into Mulgatown, got mad drunk, an' started out along the road
with a tomahawk after the long sandy feller and the slim dark feller;
but two mounted police went after him an' fetched him back. He said
he only wanted justice; he said he only wanted to stun them two fellers
till he could give 'em in charge.
`They fined him ten bob.'
The Ghostly Door.
Told by one of Dave's mates.
Dave and I were tramping on a lonely Bush track in New Zealand,
making for a sawmill where we expected to get work, and we were caught
in one of those three-days' gales, with rain and hail in it and cold enough
to cut off a man's legs. Camping out was not to be thought of,
so we just tramped on in silence, with the stinging pain coming between
our shoulder-blades -- from cold, weariness, and the weight of our swags --
and our boots, full of water, going splosh, splosh, splosh along the track.
We were settled to it -- to drag on like wet, weary, muddy working bullocks
till we came to somewhere -- when, just before darkness settled down,
we saw the loom of a humpy of some sort on the slope of a tussock hill,
back from the road, and we made for it, without holding a consultation.
It was a two-roomed hut built of waste timber from a sawmill,
and was either a deserted settler's home or a hut attached
to an abandoned sawmill round there somewhere. The windows were boarded up.
We dumped our swags under the little verandah and banged at the door,
to make sure; then Dave pulled a couple of boards off a window and looked in:
there was light enough to see that the place was empty.
Dave pulled off some more boards, put his arm in through a broken pane,
clicked the catch back, and then pushed up the window and got in.
I handed in the swags to him. The room was very draughty;
the wind came in through the broken window and the cracks between the slabs,
so we tried the partitioned-off room -- the bedroom -- and that was better.
It had been lined with chaff-bags, and there were two stretchers left
by some timber-getters or other Bush contractors who'd camped there last;
and there were a box and a couple of three-legged stools.
We carried the remnant of the wood-heap inside, made a fire,
and put the billy on. We unrolled our swags and spread the blankets
on the stretchers; and then we stripped and hung our clothes about the fire
to dry. There was plenty in our tucker-bags, so we had a good feed.
I hadn't shaved for days, and Dave had a coarse red beard with a twist in it
like an ill-used fibre brush -- a beard that got redder the longer it grew;
he had a hooked nose, and his hair stood straight up (I never saw a man
so easy-going about the expression and so scared about the head),
and he was very tall, with long, thin, hairy legs. We must have looked
a weird pair as we sat there, naked, on the low three-legged stools,
with the billy and the tucker on the box between us,
and ate our bread and meat with clasp-knives.
`I shouldn't wonder,' says Dave, `but this is the "whare"*
where the murder was that we heard about along the road.
I suppose if any one was to come along now and look in he'd get scared.'
Then after a while he looked down at the flooring-boards close to my feet,
and scratched his ear, and said, `That looks very much like a blood-stain
under your stool, doesn't it, Jim?'
* `Whare', `whorrie', Maori name for house.
I shifted my feet and presently moved the stool farther away from the fire --
it was too hot.
I wouldn't have liked to camp there by myself, but I don't think Dave
would have minded -- he'd knocked round too much in the Australian Bush
to mind anything much, or to be surprised at anything;
besides, he was more than half murdered once by a man who said afterwards
that he'd mistook him for some one else: he must have been
a very short-sighted murderer.
Presently we put tobacco, matches, and bits of candle we had,
on the two stools by the heads of our bunks, turned in,
and filled up and smoked comfortably, dropping in a lazy word now and again
about nothing in particular. Once I happened to look across at Dave,
and saw him sitting up a bit and watching the door. The door opened
very slowly, wide, and a black cat walked in, looked first at me,
then at Dave, and walked out again; and the door closed behind it.
Dave scratched his ear. `That's rum,' he said. `I could have sworn
I fastened that door. They must have left the cat behind.'
`It looks like it,' I said. `Neither of us has been on the boose lately.'
He got out of bed and up on his long hairy spindle-shanks.
The door had the ordinary, common black oblong lock with a brass knob.
Dave tried the latch and found it fast; he turned the knob, opened the door,
and called, `Puss -- puss -- puss!' but the cat wouldn't come.
He shut the door, tried the knob to see that the catch had caught,
and got into bed again.
He'd scarcely settled down when the door opened slowly, the black cat
walked in, stared hard at Dave, and suddenly turned and darted out
as the door closed smartly.
I looked at Dave and he looked at me -- hard; then he scratched
the back of his head. I never saw a man look so puzzled in the face
and scared about the head.
He got out of bed very cautiously, took a stick of firewood in his hand,
sneaked up to the door, and snatched it open. There was no one there.
Dave took the candle and went into the next room, but couldn't see the cat.
He came back and sat down by the fire and meowed, and presently the cat
answered him and came in from somewhere -- she'd been outside the window,
I suppose; he kept on meowing and she sidled up and rubbed against
his hairy shin. Dave could generally bring a cat that way. He had a weakness
for cats. I'd seen him kick a dog, and hammer a horse -- brutally,
I thought -- but I never saw him hurt a cat or let any one else do it.
Dave was good to cats: if a cat had a family where Dave was round,
he'd see her all right and comfortable, and only drown a fair surplus.
He said once to me, `I can understand a man kicking a dog,
or hammering a horse when it plays up, but I can't understand a man
hurting a cat.'
He gave this cat something to eat. Then he went and held the light
close to the lock of the door, but could see nothing wrong with it.
He found a key on the mantel-shelf and locked the door.
He got into bed again, and the cat jumped up and curled down at the foot
and started her old drum going, like shot in a sieve.
Dave bent down and patted her, to tell her he'd meant no harm
when he stretched out his legs, and then he settled down again.
We had some books of the `Deadwood Dick' school. Dave was reading
`The Grisly Ghost of the Haunted Gulch', and I had `The Dismembered Hand',
or `The Disembowelled Corpse', or some such names. They were first-class
preparation for a ghost.
I was reading away, and getting drowsy, when I noticed a movement
and saw Dave's frightened head rising, with the terrified shadow of it
on the wall. He was staring at the door, over his book, with both eyes.
And that door was opening again -- slowly -- and Dave had locked it!
I never felt anything so creepy: the foot of my bunk was behind the door,
and I drew up my feet as it came open; it opened wide, and stood so.
We waited, for five minutes it seemed, hearing each other breathe,
watching for the door to close; then Dave got out, very gingerly,
and up on one end, and went to the door like a cat on wet bricks.
`You shot the bolt OUTSIDE the catch,' I said, as he caught hold of the door
-- like one grabs a craw-fish.
`I'll swear I didn't,' said Dave. But he'd already turned the key
a couple of times, so he couldn't be sure. He shut and locked the door again.
`Now, get out and see for yourself,' he said.
I got out, and tried the door a couple of times and found it all right.
Then we both tried, and agreed that it was locked.
I got back into bed, and Dave was about half in when a thought struck him.
He got the heaviest piece of firewood and stood it against the door.
`What are you doing that for?' I asked.
`If there's a broken-down burglar camped round here, and trying
any of his funny business, we'll hear him if he tries to come in while
we're asleep,' says Dave. Then he got back into bed. We composed our nerves
with the `Haunted Gulch' and `The Disembowelled Corpse',
and after a while I heard Dave snore, and was just dropping off
when the stick fell from the door against my big toe and then to the ground
with tremendous clatter. I snatched up my feet and sat up with a jerk,
and so did Dave -- the cat went over the partition. That door opened,
only a little way this time, paused, and shut suddenly. Dave got out,
grabbed a stick, skipped to the door, and clutched at the knob
as if it were a nettle, and the door wouldn't come! -- it was fast and locked!
Then Dave's face began to look as frightened as his hair.
He lit his candle at the fire, and asked me to come with him;
he unlocked the door and we went into the other room,
Dave shading his candle very carefully and feeling his way slow with his feet.
The room was empty; we tried the outer door and found it locked.
`It muster gone by the winder,' whispered Dave. I noticed that he said `it'
instead of `he'. I saw that he himself was shook up, and it only needed that
to scare me bad.
We went back to the bedroom, had a drink of cold tea, and lit our pipes.
Then Dave took the waterproof cover off his bunk, spread it on the floor,
laid his blankets on top of it, his spare clothes, &c., on top of them,
and started to roll up his swag.
`What are you going to do, Dave?' I asked.
`I'm going to take the track,' says Dave, `and camp somewhere farther on.
You can stay here, if you like, and come on in the morning.'
I started to roll up my swag at once. We dressed and fastened on