Part 5 out of 5
He drank again with deeper satisfaction, then he shuffled out,
muttering, swearing, and threatening louder every step, and took the track
to Tinned Dog.
Now the man, girl, or woman, who told me this yarn has never quite settled it
in his or her mind as to who really owned the dog. I leave it to you.
Telling Mrs Baker.
Most Bushmen who hadn't `known Bob Baker to speak to',
had `heard tell of him'. He'd been a squatter, not many years before,
on the Macquarie river in New South Wales, and had made money
in the good seasons, and had gone in for horse-racing and racehorse-breeding,
and long trips to Sydney, where he put up at swell hotels and went the pace.
So after a pretty severe drought, when the sheep died by thousands
on his runs, Bob Baker went under, and the bank took over his station
and put a manager in charge.
He'd been a jolly, open-handed, popular man, which means that
he'd been a selfish man as far as his wife and children were concerned,
for they had to suffer for it in the end. Such generosity
is often born of vanity, or moral cowardice, or both mixed. It's very nice
to hear the chaps sing `For he's a jolly good fellow', but you've mostly
got to pay for it twice -- first in company, and afterwards alone.
I once heard the chaps singing that I was a jolly good fellow,
when I was leaving a place and they were giving me a send-off.
It thrilled me, and brought a warm gush to my eyes; but, all the same,
I wished I had half the money I'd lent them, and spent on 'em,
and I wished I'd used the time I'd wasted to be a jolly good fellow.
When I first met Bob Baker he was a boss-drover on the great
north-western route, and his wife lived at the township of Solong
on the Sydney side. He was going north to new country
round by the Gulf of Carpentaria, with a big mob of cattle,
on a two years' trip; and I and my mate, Andy M`Culloch,
engaged to go with him. We wanted to have a look at the Gulf Country.
After we had crossed the Queensland border it seemed to me
that the Boss was too fond of going into wayside shanties and town pubs.
Andy had been with him on another trip, and he told me
that the Boss was only going this way lately. Andy knew Mrs Baker well,
and seemed to think a deal of her. `She's a good little woman,' said Andy.
`One of the right stuff. I worked on their station for a while
when I was a nipper, and I know. She was always a damned sight too good
for the Boss, but she believed in him. When I was coming away this time
she says to me, "Look here, Andy, I'm afraid Robert is drinking again.
Now I want you to look after him for me, as much as you can --
you seem to have as much influence with him as any one.
I want you to promise me that you'll never have a drink with him."
`And I promised,' said Andy, `and I'll keep my word.'
Andy was a chap who could keep his word, and nothing else.
And, no matter how the Boss persuaded, or sneered, or swore at him,
Andy would never drink with him.
It got worse and worse: the Boss would ride on ahead and get drunk at
a shanty, and sometimes he'd be days behind us; and when he'd catch up to us
his temper would be just about as much as we could stand. At last he went
on a howling spree at Mulgatown, about a hundred and fifty miles
north of the border, and, what was worse, he got in tow
with a flash barmaid there -- one of those girls who are engaged,
by the publicans up country, as baits for chequemen.
He went mad over that girl. He drew an advance cheque
from the stock-owner's agent there, and knocked that down;
then he raised some more money somehow, and spent that -- mostly on the girl.
We did all we could. Andy got him along the track for a couple of stages,
and just when we thought he was all right, he slipped us in the night
and went back.
We had two other men with us, but had the devil's own bother
on account of the cattle. It was a mixed-up job all round.
You see it was all big runs round there, and we had to keep the bullocks
moving along the route all the time, or else get into trouble for trespass.
The agent wasn't going to go to the expense of putting the cattle in a paddock
until the Boss sobered up; there was very little grass
on the route or the travelling-stock reserves or camps,
so we had to keep travelling for grass.
The world might wobble and all the banks go bung, but the cattle
have to go through -- that's the law of the stock-routes.
So the agent wired to the owners, and, when he got their reply,
he sacked the Boss and sent the cattle on in charge of another man.
The new Boss was a drover coming south after a trip;
he had his two brothers with him, so he didn't want me and Andy;
but, anyway, we were full up of this trip, so we arranged,
between the agent and the new Boss, to get most of the wages due to us --
the Boss had drawn some of our stuff and spent it.
We could have started on the back track at once, but, drunk or sober,
mad or sane, good or bad, it isn't Bush religion to desert a mate in a hole;
and the Boss was a mate of ours; so we stuck to him.
We camped on the creek, outside the town, and kept him in the camp with us
as much as possible, and did all we could for him.
`How could I face his wife if I went home without him?' asked Andy,
`or any of his old mates?'
The Boss got himself turned out of the pub. where the barmaid was,
and then he'd hang round the other pubs., and get drink somehow,
and fight, and get knocked about. He was an awful object by this time,
wild-eyed and gaunt, and he hadn't washed or shaved for days.
Andy got the constable in charge of the police station
to lock him up for a night, but it only made him worse: we took him back
to the camp next morning and while our eyes were off him for a few minutes
he slipped away into the scrub, stripped himself naked, and started
to hang himself to a leaning tree with a piece of clothes-line rope.
We got to him just in time.
Then Andy wired to the Boss's brother Ned, who was fighting the drought,
the rabbit-pest, and the banks, on a small station back on the border.
Andy reckoned it was about time to do something.
Perhaps the Boss hadn't been quite right in his head before he
started drinking -- he had acted queer some time, now we came to think of it;
maybe he'd got a touch of sunstroke or got brooding over his troubles --
anyway he died in the horrors within the week.
His brother Ned turned up on the last day, and Bob thought
he was the devil, and grappled with him. It took the three of us
to hold the Boss down sometimes.
Sometimes, towards the end, he'd be sensible for a few minutes
and talk about his `poor wife and children'; and immediately afterwards
he'd fall a-cursing me, and Andy, and Ned, and calling us devils.
He cursed everything; he cursed his wife and children,
and yelled that they were dragging him down to hell. He died raving mad.
It was the worst case of death in the horrors of drink
that I ever saw or heard of in the Bush.
Ned saw to the funeral: it was very hot weather, and men have to be
buried quick who die out there in the hot weather -- especially men
who die in the state the Boss was in. Then Ned went to the public-house
where the barmaid was and called the landlord out. It was a desperate fight:
the publican was a big man, and a bit of a fighting man;
but Ned was one of those quiet, simple-minded chaps who
will carry a thing through to death when they make up their minds.
He gave that publican nearly as good a thrashing as he deserved.
The constable in charge of the station backed Ned, while another policeman
picked up the publican. Sounds queer to you city people, doesn't it?
Next morning we three started south. We stayed a couple of days
at Ned Baker's station on the border, and then started
on our three-hundred-mile ride down-country. The weather was still very hot,
so we decided to travel at night for a while, and left Ned's place at dusk.
He parted from us at the homestead gate. He gave Andy a small packet,
done up in canvas, for Mrs Baker, which Andy told me contained
Bob's pocket-book, letters, and papers. We looked back,
after we'd gone a piece along the dusty road, and saw Ned still standing
by the gate; and a very lonely figure he looked. Ned was a bachelor.
`Poor old Ned,' said Andy to me. `He was in love with Mrs Bob Baker
before she got married, but she picked the wrong man -- girls mostly do.
Ned and Bob were together on the Macquarie, but Ned left
when his brother married, and he's been up in these God-forsaken scrubs
ever since. Look, I want to tell you something, Jack:
Ned has written to Mrs Bob to tell her that Bob died of fever,
and everything was done for him that could be done, and that he died easy --
and all that sort of thing. Ned sent her some money,
and she is to think that it was the money due to Bob when he died.
Now I'll have to go and see her when we get to Solong;
there's no getting out of it, I'll have to face her --
and you'll have to come with me.'
`Damned if I will!' I said.
`But you'll have to,' said Andy. `You'll have to stick to me;
you're surely not crawler enough to desert a mate in a case like this?
I'll have to lie like hell -- I'll have to lie as I never lied
to a woman before; and you'll have to back me and corroborate every lie.'
I'd never seen Andy show so much emotion.
`There's plenty of time to fix up a good yarn,' said Andy. He said no more
about Mrs Baker, and we only mentioned the Boss's name casually,
until we were within about a day's ride of Solong; then Andy told me
the yarn he'd made up about the Boss's death.
`And I want you to listen, Jack,' he said, `and remember every word --
and if you can fix up a better yarn you can tell me afterwards.
Now it was like this: the Boss wasn't too well when he crossed the border.
He complained of pains in his back and head and a stinging pain
in the back of his neck, and he had dysentery bad, -- but that doesn't matter;
it's lucky I ain't supposed to tell a woman all the symptoms.
The Boss stuck to the job as long as he could, but we managed the cattle
and made it as easy as we could for him. He'd just take it easy,
and ride on from camp to camp, and rest. One night I rode to a town
off the route (or you did, if you like) and got some medicine for him;
that made him better for a while, but at last, a day or two
this side of Mulgatown, he had to give up. A squatter there
drove him into town in his buggy and put him up at the best hotel.
The publican knew the Boss and did all he could for him --
put him in the best room and wired for another doctor.
We wired for Ned as soon as we saw how bad the Boss was,
and Ned rode night and day and got there three days before the Boss died.
The Boss was a bit off his head some of the time with the fever,
but was calm and quiet towards the end and died easy. He talked a lot
about his wife and children, and told us to tell the wife not to fret
but to cheer up for the children's sake. How does that sound?'
I'd been thinking while I listened, and an idea struck me.
`Why not let her know the truth?' I asked. `She's sure to hear of it
sooner or later; and if she knew he was only a selfish, drunken blackguard
she might get over it all the sooner.'
`You don't know women, Jack,' said Andy quietly. `And, anyway,
even if she is a sensible woman, we've got a dead mate to consider
as well as a living woman.'
`But she's sure to hear the truth sooner or later,' I said,
`the Boss was so well known.'
`And that's just the reason why the truth might be kept from her,' said Andy.
`If he wasn't well known -- and nobody could help liking him,
after all, when he was straight -- if he wasn't so well known
the truth might leak out unawares. She won't know if I can help it,
or at least not yet a while. If I see any chaps that come from the North
I'll put them up to it. I'll tell M`Grath, the publican at Solong, too:
he's a straight man -- he'll keep his ears open and warn chaps.
One of Mrs Baker's sisters is staying with her, and I'll give her a hint
so that she can warn off any women that might get hold of a yarn. Besides,
Mrs Baker is sure to go and live in Sydney, where all her people are --
she was a Sydney girl; and she's not likely to meet any one there
that will tell her the truth. I can tell her that it was
the last wish of the Boss that she should shift to Sydney.'
We smoked and thought a while, and by-and-by Andy had what he called
a `happy thought'. He went to his saddle-bags and got out
the small canvas packet that Ned had given him: it was sewn up
with packing-thread, and Andy ripped it open with his pocket-knife.
`What are you doing, Andy?' I asked.
`Ned's an innocent old fool, as far as sin is concerned,' said Andy.
`I guess he hasn't looked through the Boss's letters, and I'm just going
to see that there's nothing here that will make liars of us.'
He looked through the letters and papers by the light of the fire.
There were some letters from Mrs Baker to her husband,
also a portrait of her and the children; these Andy put aside.
But there were other letters from barmaids and women who were not fit
to be seen in the same street with the Boss's wife; and there were portraits
-- one or two flash ones. There were two letters from other men's wives too.
`And one of those men, at least, was an old mate of his!' said Andy,
in a tone of disgust.
He threw the lot into the fire; then he went through the Boss's pocket-book
and tore out some leaves that had notes and addresses on them,
and burnt them too. Then he sewed up the packet again and put it away
in his saddle-bag.
`Such is life!' said Andy, with a yawn that might have been half a sigh.
We rode into Solong early in the day, turned our horses out in a paddock,
and put up at M`Grath's pub. until such time as we made up our minds
as to what we'd do or where we'd go. We had an idea of waiting
until the shearing season started and then making Out-Back to the big sheds.
Neither of us was in a hurry to go and face Mrs Baker.
`We'll go after dinner,' said Andy at first; then after dinner we had a drink,
and felt sleepy -- we weren't used to big dinners of roast-beef
and vegetables and pudding, and, besides, it was drowsy weather --
so we decided to have a snooze and then go. When we woke up
it was late in the afternoon, so we thought we'd put it off till after tea.
`It wouldn't be manners to walk in while they're at tea,' said Andy --
`it would look as if we only came for some grub.'
But while we were at tea a little girl came with a message
that Mrs Baker wanted to see us, and would be very much obliged
if we'd call up as soon as possible. You see, in those small towns
you can't move without the thing getting round inside of half an hour.
`We'll have to face the music now!' said Andy, `and no get out of it.'
He seemed to hang back more than I did. There was another pub. opposite
where Mrs Baker lived, and when we got up the street a bit I said to Andy --
`Suppose we go and have another drink first, Andy? We might be kept in there
an hour or two.'
`You don't want another drink,' said Andy, rather short.
`Why, you seem to be going the same way as the Boss!' But it was Andy
that edged off towards the pub. when we got near Mrs Baker's place.
`All right!' he said. `Come on! We'll have this other drink,
since you want it so bad.'
We had the drink, then we buttoned up our coats and started across the road --
we'd bought new shirts and collars, and spruced up a bit.
Half-way across Andy grabbed my arm and asked --
`How do you feel now, Jack?'
`Oh, I'M all right,' I said.
`For God's sake!' said Andy, `don't put your foot in it
and make a mess of it.'
`I won't, if you don't.'
Mrs Baker's cottage was a little weather-board box affair back in a garden.
When we went in through the gate Andy gripped my arm again and whispered --
`For God's sake stick to me now, Jack!'
`I'll stick all right,' I said -- `you've been having too much beer, Andy.'
I had seen Mrs Baker before, and remembered her as a cheerful,
contented sort of woman, bustling about the house and getting
the Boss's shirts and things ready when we started North.
Just the sort of woman that is contented with housework and the children,
and with nothing particular about her in the way of brains.
But now she sat by the fire looking like the ghost of herself.
I wouldn't have recognised her at first. I never saw such a change
in a woman, and it came like a shock to me.
Her sister let us in, and after a first glance at Mrs Baker
I had eyes for the sister and no one else. She was a Sydney girl,
about twenty-four or twenty-five, and fresh and fair --
not like the sun-browned women we were used to see. She was a pretty,
bright-eyed girl, and seemed quick to understand, and very sympathetic.
She had been educated, Andy had told me, and wrote stories
for the Sydney `Bulletin' and other Sydney papers. She had her hair done
and was dressed in the city style, and that took us back a bit at first.
`It's very good of you to come,' said Mrs Baker in a weak, weary voice,
when we first went in. `I heard you were in town.'
`We were just coming when we got your message,' said Andy.
`We'd have come before, only we had to see to the horses.'
`It's very kind of you, I'm sure,' said Mrs Baker.
They wanted us to have tea, but we said we'd just had it. Then Miss Standish
(the sister) wanted us to have tea and cake; but we didn't feel
as if we could handle cups and saucers and pieces of cake successfully
There was something the matter with one of the children in a back-room,
and the sister went to see to it. Mrs Baker cried a little quietly.
`You mustn't mind me,' she said. `I'll be all right presently,
and then I want you to tell me all about poor Bob. It's seeing you,
that saw the last of him, that set me off.'
Andy and I sat stiff and straight, on two chairs against the wall,
and held our hats tight, and stared at a picture of Wellington meeting Blucher
on the opposite wall. I thought it was lucky that that picture was there.
The child was calling `mumma', and Mrs Baker went in to it,
and her sister came out. `Best tell her all about it and get it over,'
she whispered to Andy. `She'll never be content until she hears
all about poor Bob from some one who was with him when he died.
Let me take your hats. Make yourselves comfortable.'
She took the hats and put them on the sewing-machine.
I wished she'd let us keep them, for now we had nothing to hold on to,
and nothing to do with our hands; and as for being comfortable,
we were just about as comfortable as two cats on wet bricks.
When Mrs Baker came into the room she brought little Bobby Baker,
about four years old; he wanted to see Andy. He ran to Andy at once,
and Andy took him up on his knee. He was a pretty child,
but he reminded me too much of his father.
`I'm so glad you've come, Andy!' said Bobby.
`Are you, Bobby?'
`Yes. I wants to ask you about daddy. You saw him go away, didn't you?'
and he fixed his great wondering eyes on Andy's face.
`Yes,' said Andy.
`He went up among the stars, didn't he?'
`Yes,' said Andy.
`And he isn't coming back to Bobby any more?'
`No,' said Andy. `But Bobby's going to him by-and-by.'
Mrs Baker had been leaning back in her chair, resting her head on her hand,
tears glistening in her eyes; now she began to sob, and her sister took her
out of the room.
Andy looked miserable. `I wish to God I was off this job!'
he whispered to me.
`Is that the girl that writes the stories?' I asked.
`Yes,' he said, staring at me in a hopeless sort of way, `and poems too.'
`Is Bobby going up among the stars?' asked Bobby.
`Yes,' said Andy -- `if Bobby's good.'
`Are you going, Andy?'
`Yes,' said Andy hopelessly.
`Did you see daddy go up amongst the stars, Andy?'
`Yes,' said Andy, `I saw him go up.'
`And he isn't coming down again any more?'
`No,' said Andy.
`Why isn't he?'
`Because he's going to wait up there for you and mumma, Bobby.'
There was a long pause, and then Bobby asked --
`Are you going to give me a shilling, Andy?' with the same expression
of innocent wonder in his eyes.
Andy slipped half-a-crown into his hand. `Auntie' came in and told him
he'd see Andy in the morning and took him away to bed,
after he'd kissed us both solemnly; and presently she and Mrs Baker
settled down to hear Andy's story.
`Brace up now, Jack, and keep your wits about you,' whispered Andy to me
just before they came in.
`Poor Bob's brother Ned wrote to me,' said Mrs Baker,
`but he scarcely told me anything. Ned's a good fellow, but he's very simple,
and never thinks of anything.'
Andy told her about the Boss not being well after he crossed the border.
`I knew he was not well,' said Mrs Baker, `before he left.
I didn't want him to go. I tried hard to persuade him
not to go this trip. I had a feeling that I oughtn't to let him go.
But he'd never think of anything but me and the children. He promised
he'd give up droving after this trip, and get something to do near home.
The life was too much for him -- riding in all weathers and camping out
in the rain, and living like a dog. But he was never content at home.
It was all for the sake of me and the children. He wanted
to make money and start on a station again. I shouldn't have let him go.
He only thought of me and the children! Oh! my poor, dear, kind,
dead husband!' She broke down again and sobbed, and her sister comforted her,
while Andy and I stared at Wellington meeting Blucher
on the field of Waterloo. I thought the artist had heaped up the dead
a bit extra, and I thought that I wouldn't like to be trod on by horses,
even if I was dead.
`Don't you mind,' said Miss Standish, `she'll be all right presently,'
and she handed us the `Illustrated Sydney Journal'. This was a great relief,
-- we bumped our heads over the pictures.
Mrs Baker made Andy go on again, and he told her how the Boss broke down
near Mulgatown. Mrs Baker was opposite him and Miss Standish opposite me.
Both of them kept their eyes on Andy's face: he sat, with his hair
straight up like a brush as usual, and kept his big innocent grey eyes
fixed on Mrs Baker's face all the time he was speaking.
I watched Miss Standish. I thought she was the prettiest girl I'd ever seen;
it was a bad case of love at first sight, but she was far and away above me,
and the case was hopeless. I began to feel pretty miserable,
and to think back into the past: I just heard Andy droning away by my side.
`So we fixed him up comfortable in the waggonette with the blankets
and coats and things,' Andy was saying, `and the squatter started
into Mulgatown. . . . It was about thirty miles, Jack, wasn't it?' he asked,
turning suddenly to me. He always looked so innocent that there were times
when I itched to knock him down.
`More like thirty-five,' I said, waking up.
Miss Standish fixed her eyes on me, and I had another look
at Wellington and Blucher.
`They were all very good and kind to the Boss,' said Andy.
`They thought a lot of him up there. Everybody was fond of him.'
`I know it,' said Mrs Baker. `Nobody could help liking him.
He was one of the kindest men that ever lived.'
`Tanner, the publican, couldn't have been kinder to his own brother,'
said Andy. `The local doctor was a decent chap, but he was only
a young fellow, and Tanner hadn't much faith in him, so he wired
for an older doctor at Mackintyre, and he even sent out fresh horses
to meet the doctor's buggy. Everything was done that could be done,
I assure you, Mrs Baker.'
`I believe it,' said Mrs Baker. `And you don't know how it relieves me
to hear it. And did the publican do all this at his own expense?'
`He wouldn't take a penny, Mrs Baker.'
`He must have been a good true man. I wish I could thank him.'
`Oh, Ned thanked him for you,' said Andy, though without meaning
more than he said.
`I wouldn't have fancied that Ned would have thought of that,' said Mrs Baker.
`When I first heard of my poor husband's death, I thought perhaps
he'd been drinking again -- that worried me a bit.'
`He never touched a drop after he left Solong, I can assure you, Mrs Baker,'
said Andy quickly.
Now I noticed that Miss Standish seemed surprised or puzzled, once or twice,
while Andy was speaking, and leaned forward to listen to him;
then she leaned back in her chair and clasped her hands behind her head
and looked at him, with half-shut eyes, in a way I didn't like.
Once or twice she looked at me as if she was going to ask me a question,
but I always looked away quick and stared at Blucher and Wellington,
or into the empty fireplace, till I felt that her eyes were off me.
Then she asked Andy a question or two, in all innocence I believe now,
but it scared him, and at last he watched his chance and winked at her sharp.
Then she gave a little gasp and shut up like a steel trap.
The sick child in the bedroom coughed and cried again. Mrs Baker went to it.
We three sat like a deaf-and-dumb institution, Andy and I staring
all over the place: presently Miss Standish excused herself,
and went out of the room after her sister. She looked hard at Andy
as she left the room, but he kept his eyes away.
`Brace up now, Jack,' whispered Andy to me, `the worst is coming.'
When they came in again Mrs Baker made Andy go on with his story.
`He -- he died very quietly,' said Andy, hitching round, and resting
his elbows on his knees, and looking into the fireplace so as to have his face
away from the light. Miss Standish put her arm round her sister.
`He died very easy,' said Andy. `He was a bit off his head at times,
but that was while the fever was on him. He didn't suffer much
towards the end -- I don't think he suffered at all. . . . He talked a lot
about you and the children.' (Andy was speaking very softly now.) `He said
that you were not to fret, but to cheer up for the children's sake. . . .
It was the biggest funeral ever seen round there.'
Mrs Baker was crying softly. Andy got the packet half out of his pocket,
but shoved it back again.
`The only thing that hurts me now,' says Mrs Baker presently,
`is to think of my poor husband buried out there in the lonely Bush,
so far from home. It's -- cruel!' and she was sobbing again.
`Oh, that's all right, Mrs Baker,' said Andy, losing his head a little.
`Ned will see to that. Ned is going to arrange to have him
brought down and buried in Sydney.' Which was about the first thing
Andy had told her that evening that wasn't a lie. Ned had said he would do it
as soon as he sold his wool.
`It's very kind indeed of Ned,' sobbed Mrs Baker. `I'd never have dreamed
he was so kind-hearted and thoughtful. I misjudged him all along.
And that is all you have to tell me about poor Robert?'
`Yes,' said Andy -- then one of his `happy thoughts' struck him.
`Except that he hoped you'd shift to Sydney, Mrs Baker,
where you've got friends and relations. He thought it would be better
for you and the children. He told me to tell you that.'
`He was thoughtful up to the end,' said Mrs Baker. `It was just like
poor Robert -- always thinking of me and the children. We are going to Sydney
Andy looked relieved. We talked a little more, and Miss Standish
wanted to make coffee for us, but we had to go and see to our horses.
We got up and bumped against each other, and got each other's hats,
and promised Mrs Baker we'd come again.
`Thank you very much for coming,' she said, shaking hands with us.
`I feel much better now. You don't know how much you have relieved me.
Now, mind, you have promised to come and see me again for the last time.'
Andy caught her sister's eye and jerked his head towards the door
to let her know he wanted to speak to her outside.
`Good-bye, Mrs Baker,' he said, holding on to her hand. `And don't you fret.
You've -- you've got the children yet. It's -- it's all for the best;
and, besides, the Boss said you wasn't to fret.' And he blundered out
after me and Miss Standish.
She came out to the gate with us, and Andy gave her the packet.
`I want you to give that to her,' he said; `it's his letters and papers.
I hadn't the heart to give it to her, somehow.'
`Tell me, Mr M`Culloch,' she said. `You've kept something back --
you haven't told her the truth. It would be better and safer for me to know.
Was it an accident -- or the drink?'
`It was the drink,' said Andy. `I was going to tell you --
I thought it would be best to tell you. I had made up my mind to do it,
but, somehow, I couldn't have done it if you hadn't asked me.'
`Tell me all,' she said. `It would be better for me to know.'
`Come a little farther away from the house,' said Andy.
She came along the fence a piece with us, and Andy told her
as much of the truth as he could.
`I'll hurry her off to Sydney,' she said. `We can get away this week
as well as next.' Then she stood for a minute before us, breathing quickly,
her hands behind her back and her eyes shining in the moonlight.
She looked splendid.
`I want to thank you for her sake,' she said quickly. `You are good men!
I like the Bushmen! They are grand men -- they are noble!
I'll probably never see either of you again, so it doesn't matter,'
and she put her white hand on Andy's shoulder and kissed him fair and square
on the mouth. `And you, too!' she said to me. I was taller than Andy,
and had to stoop. `Good-bye!' she said, and ran to the gate and in,
waving her hand to us. We lifted our hats again and turned down the road.
I don't think it did either of us any harm.
A Hero in Dingo-Scrubs.
This is a story -- about the only one -- of Job Falconer,
Boss of the Talbragar sheep-station up country in New South Wales
in the early Eighties -- when there were still runs in the Dingo-Scrubs
out of the hands of the banks, and yet squatters who lived on their stations.
Job would never tell the story himself, at least not complete,
and as his family grew up he would become as angry as it was
in his easy-going nature to become if reference were made to the incident
in his presence. But his wife -- little, plump, bright-eyed Gerty Falconer --
often told the story (in the mysterious voice which women use
in speaking of private matters amongst themselves -- but with
brightening eyes) to women friends over tea; and always to a new woman friend.
And on such occasions she would be particularly tender
towards the unconscious Job, and ruffle his thin, sandy hair in a way
that embarrassed him in company -- made him look as sheepish
as an old big-horned ram that has just been shorn and turned amongst the ewes.
And the woman friend on parting would give Job's hand a squeeze
which would surprise him mildly, and look at him as if she could love him.
According to a theory of mine, Job, to fit the story, should have been tall,
and dark, and stern, or gloomy and quick-tempered. But he wasn't.
He was fairly tall, but he was fresh-complexioned and sandy
(his skin was pink to scarlet in some weathers, with blotches of umber),
and his eyes were pale-grey; his big forehead loomed babyishly,
his arms were short, and his legs bowed to the saddle.
Altogether he was an awkward, unlovely Bush bird -- on foot;
in the saddle it was different. He hadn't even a `temper'.
The impression on Job's mind which many years afterwards
brought about the incident was strong enough. When Job was a boy of fourteen
he saw his father's horse come home riderless -- circling and snorting
up by the stockyard, head jerked down whenever the hoof trod on
one of the snapped ends of the bridle-reins, and saddle twisted over the side
with bruised pommel and knee-pad broken off.
Job's father wasn't hurt much, but Job's mother, an emotional woman,
and then in a delicate state of health, survived the shock
for three months only. `She wasn't quite right in her head,' they said,
`from the day the horse came home till the last hour before she died.'
And, strange to say, Job's father (from whom Job inherited
his seemingly placid nature) died three months later.
The doctor from the town was of the opinion that he must have
`sustained internal injuries' when the horse threw him.
`Doc. Wild' (eccentric Bush doctor) reckoned that Job's father was hurt inside
when his wife died, and hurt so badly that he couldn't pull round.
But doctors differ all over the world.
Well, the story of Job himself came about in this way.
He had been married a year, and had lately started wool-raising
on a pastoral lease he had taken up at Talbragar: it was a new run,
with new slab-and-bark huts on the creek for a homestead,
new shearing-shed, yards -- wife and everything new, and he was
expecting a baby. Job felt brand-new himself at the time, so he said.
It was a lonely place for a young woman; but Gerty was a settler's daughter.
The newness took away some of the loneliness, she said, and there was truth
in that: a Bush home in the scrubs looks lonelier the older it gets,
and ghostlier in the twilight, as the bark and slabs whiten,
or rather grow grey, in fierce summers. And there's nothing under God's sky
so weird, so aggressively lonely, as a deserted old home in the Bush.
Job's wife had a half-caste gin for company when Job was away on the run,
and the nearest white woman (a hard but honest Lancashire woman
from within the kicking radius in Lancashire -- wife of a selector)
was only seven miles away. She promised to be on hand,
and came over two or three times a-week; but Job grew restless
as Gerty's time drew near, and wished that he had insisted on sending her
to the nearest town (thirty miles away), as originally proposed.
Gerty's mother, who lived in town, was coming to see her over her trouble;
Job had made arrangements with the town doctor, but prompt attendance
could hardly be expected of a doctor who was very busy,
who was too fat to ride, and who lived thirty miles away.
Job, in common with most Bushmen and their families round there,
had more faith in Doc. Wild, a weird Yankee who made medicine in a saucepan,
and worked more cures on Bushmen than did the other three doctors
of the district together -- maybe because the Bushmen had faith in him,
or he knew the Bush and Bush constitutions -- or, perhaps,
because he'd do things which no `respectable practitioner' dared do.
I've described him in another story. Some said he was a quack,
and some said he wasn't. There are scores of wrecks and mysteries like him
in the Bush. He drank fearfully, and `on his own', but was seldom incapable
of performing an operation. Experienced Bushmen preferred him
three-quarters drunk: when perfectly sober he was apt to be a bit shaky.
He was tall, gaunt, had a pointed black moustache, bushy eyebrows,
and piercing black eyes. His movements were eccentric. He lived
where he happened to be -- in a town hotel, in the best room of a homestead,
in the skillion of a sly-grog shanty, in a shearer's, digger's, shepherd's,
or boundary-rider's hut; in a surveyor's camp or a black-fellows' camp --
or, when the horrors were on him, by a log in the lonely Bush.
It seemed all one to him. He lost all his things sometimes --
even his clothes; but he never lost a pigskin bag which contained
his surgical instruments and papers. Except once; then he gave the blacks
5 Pounds to find it for him.
His patients included all, from the big squatter to Black Jimmy;
and he rode as far and fast to a squatter's home as to a swagman's camp.
When nothing was to be expected from a poor selector or a station hand,
and the doctor was hard up, he went to the squatter for a few pounds.
He had on occasions been offered cheques of 50 Pounds and 100 Pounds
by squatters for `pulling round' their wives or children;
but such offers always angered him. When he asked for 5 Pounds
he resented being offered a 10 Pound cheque. He once sued a doctor
for alleging that he held no diploma; but the magistrate, on reading
certain papers, suggested a settlement out of court, which both doctors
agreed to -- the other doctor apologising briefly in the local paper.
It was noticed thereafter that the magistrate and town doctors
treated Doc. Wild with great respect -- even at his worst.
The thing was never explained, and the case deepened the mystery
which surrounded Doc. Wild.
As Job Falconer's crisis approached Doc. Wild was located at a shanty
on the main road, about half-way between Job's station and the town.
(Township of Come-by-Chance -- expressive name; and the shanty was
the `Dead Dingo Hotel', kept by James Myles -- known as `Poisonous Jimmy',
perhaps as a compliment to, or a libel on, the liquor he sold.)
Job's brother Mac. was stationed at the Dead Dingo Hotel
with instructions to hang round on some pretence, see that the doctor
didn't either drink himself into the `D.T.'s' or get sober enough
to become restless; to prevent his going away, or to follow him if he did;
and to bring him to the station in about a week's time.
Mac. (rather more careless, brighter, and more energetic than his brother)
was carrying out these instructions while pretending,
with rather great success, to be himself on the spree at the shanty.
But one morning, early in the specified week, Job's uneasiness
was suddenly greatly increased by certain symptoms, so he sent the black boy
for the neighbour's wife and decided to ride to Come-by-Chance
to hurry out Gerty's mother, and see, by the way, how Doc. Wild and Mac.
were getting on. On the arrival of the neighbour's wife, who drove over
in a spring-cart, Job mounted his horse (a freshly broken filly) and started.
`Don't be anxious, Job,' said Gerty, as he bent down to kiss her.
`We'll be all right. Wait! you'd better take the gun --
you might see those dingoes again. I'll get it for you.'
The dingoes (native dogs) were very bad amongst the sheep;
and Job and Gerty had started three together close to the track
the last time they were out in company -- without the gun, of course.
Gerty took the loaded gun carefully down from its straps on the bedroom wall,
carried it out, and handed it up to Job, who bent and kissed her again
and then rode off.
It was a hot day -- the beginning of a long drought, as Job found
to his bitter cost. He followed the track for five or six miles
through the thick, monotonous scrub, and then turned off
to make a short cut to the main road across a big ring-barked flat.
The tall gum-trees had been ring-barked (a ring of bark taken out
round the butts), or rather `sapped' -- that is, a ring cut in through the sap
-- in order to kill them, so that the little strength in the `poor' soil
should not be drawn out by the living roots, and the natural grass
(on which Australian stock depends) should have a better show. The hard,
dead trees raised their barkless and whitened trunks and leafless branches
for three or four miles, and the grey and brown grass stood tall between,
dying in the first breaths of the coming drought. All was becoming
grey and ashen here, the heat blazing and dancing across objects,
and the pale brassy dome of the sky cloudless over all,
the sun a glaring white disc with its edges almost melting into the sky.
Job held his gun carelessly ready (it was a double-barrelled muzzle-loader,
one barrel choke-bore for shot, and the other rifled),
and he kept an eye out for dingoes. He was saving his horse for a long ride,
jogging along in the careless Bush fashion, hitched a little to one side --
and I'm not sure that he didn't have a leg thrown up and across
in front of the pommel of the saddle -- he was riding along
in the careless Bush fashion, and thinking fatherly thoughts in advance,
perhaps, when suddenly a great black, greasy-looking iguana
scuttled off from the side of the track amongst the dry tufts of grass
and shreds of dead bark, and started up a sapling. `It was a whopper,'
Job said afterwards; `must have been over six feet, and a foot
across the body. It scared me nearly as much as the filly.'
The filly shied off like a rocket. Job kept his seat instinctively,
as was natural to him; but before he could more than grab at the rein --
lying loosely on the pommel -- the filly `fetched up' against a dead box-tree,
hard as cast-iron, and Job's left leg was jammed from stirrup to pocket.
`I felt the blood flare up,' he said, `and I knowed that that'
-- (Job swore now and then in an easy-going way) -- `I knowed
that that blanky leg was broken alright. I threw the gun from me
and freed my left foot from the stirrup with my hand, and managed to fall
to the right, as the filly started off again.'
What follows comes from the statements of Doc. Wild and Mac. Falconer,
and Job's own `wanderings in his mind', as he called them.
`They took a blanky mean advantage of me,' he said, `when they had me down
and I couldn't talk sense.'
The filly circled off a bit, and then stood staring -- as a mob of brumbies,
when fired at, will sometimes stand watching the smoke.
Job's leg was smashed badly, and the pain must have been terrible.
But he thought then with a flash, as men do in a fix.
No doubt the scene at the lonely Bush home of his boyhood
started up before him: his father's horse appeared riderless,
and he saw the look in his mother's eyes.
Now a Bushman's first, best, and quickest chance in a fix like this
is that his horse go home riderless, the home be alarmed,
and the horse's tracks followed back to him; otherwise he might lie there
for days, for weeks -- till the growing grass buries his mouldering bones.
Job was on an old sheep-track across a flat where few might have occasion
to come for months, but he did not consider this. He crawled to his gun,
then to a log, dragging gun and smashed leg after him. How he did it
he doesn't know. Half-lying on one side, he rested the barrel on the log,
took aim at the filly, pulled both triggers, and then fell over
and lay with his head against the log; and the gun-barrel, sliding down,
rested on his neck. He had fainted. The crows were interested,
and the ants would come by-and-by.
Now Doc. Wild had inspirations; anyway, he did things which seemed,
after they were done, to have been suggested by inspiration and in no other
possible way. He often turned up where and when he was wanted above all men,
and at no other time. He had gipsy blood, they said;
but, anyway, being the mystery he was, and having the face he had,
and living the life he lived -- and doing the things he did --
it was quite probable that he was more nearly in touch than we
with that awful invisible world all round and between us,
of which we only see distorted faces and hear disjointed utterances
when we are `suffering a recovery' -- or going mad.
On the morning of Job's accident, and after a long brooding silence,
Doc. Wild suddenly said to Mac. Falconer --
`Git the hosses, Mac. We'll go to the station.'
Mac., used to the doctor's eccentricities, went to see about the horses.
And then who should drive up but Mrs Spencer -- Job's mother-in-law --
on her way from the town to the station. She stayed to have a cup of tea
and give her horses a feed. She was square-faced, and considered
a rather hard and practical woman, but she had plenty of solid flesh,
good sympathetic common-sense, and deep-set humorous blue eyes.
She lived in the town comfortably on the interest of some money
which her husband left in the bank. She drove an American waggonette
with a good width and length of `tray' behind, and on this occasion she had
a pole and two horses. In the trap were a new flock mattress and pillows,
a generous pair of new white blankets, and boxes containing necessaries,
delicacies, and luxuries. All round she was an excellent mother-in-law
for a man to have on hand at a critical time.
And, speaking of mother-in-law, I would like to put in a word for her
right here. She is universally considered a nuisance
in times of peace and comfort; but when illness or serious trouble comes home!
Then it's `Write to Mother! Wire for Mother! Send some one to fetch Mother!
I'll go and bring Mother!' and if she is not near: `Oh, I wish Mother
were here! If Mother were only near!' And when she is on the spot,
the anxious son-in-law: `Don't YOU go, Mother! You'll stay,
won't you, Mother? -- till we're all right? I'll get some one
to look after your house, Mother, while you're here.' But Job Falconer
was fond of his mother-in-law, all times.
Mac. had some trouble in finding and catching one of the horses.
Mrs Spencer drove on, and Mac. and the doctor caught up to her
about a mile before she reached the homestead track, which turned in
through the scrubs at the corner of the big ring-barked flat.
Doc. Wild and Mac. followed the cart-road, and as they jogged along
in the edge of the scrub the doctor glanced once or twice across the flat
through the dead, naked branches. Mac. looked that way.
The crows were hopping about the branches of a tree way out
in the middle of the flat, flopping down from branch to branch to the grass,
then rising hurriedly and circling.
`Dead beast there!' said Mac. out of his Bushcraft.
`No -- dying,' said Doc. Wild, with less Bush experience but more intellect.
`There's some steers of Job's out there somewhere,' muttered Mac.
Then suddenly, `It ain't drought -- it's the ploorer at last! or I'm blanked!'
Mac. feared the advent of that cattle-plague, pleuro-pneumonia,
which was raging on some other stations, but had been hitherto
kept clear of Job's run.
`We'll go and see, if you like,' suggested Doc. Wild.
They turned out across the flat, the horses picking their way
amongst the dried tufts and fallen branches.
`Theer ain't no sign o' cattle theer,' said the doctor;
`more likely a ewe in trouble about her lamb.'
`Oh, the blanky dingoes at the sheep,' said Mac. `I wish we had a gun --
might get a shot at them.'
Doc. Wild hitched the skirt of a long China silk coat he wore,
free of a hip-pocket. He always carried a revolver. `In case I feel obliged
to shoot a first person singular one of these hot days,' he explained once,
whereat Bushmen scratched the backs of their heads and thought feebly,
`We'd never git near enough for a shot,' said the doctor; then he commenced
to hum fragments from a Bush song about the finding of a lost Bushman
in the last stages of death by thirst, --
`"The crows kept flyin' up, boys!
The crows kept flyin' up!
The dog, he seen and whimpered, boys,
Though he was but a pup."'
`It must be something or other,' muttered Mac. `Look at them blanky crows!'
`"The lost was found, we brought him round,
And took him from the place,
While the ants was swarmin' on the ground,
And the crows was sayin' grace!"'
`My God! what's that?' cried Mac., who was a little in advance
and rode a tall horse.
It was Job's filly, lying saddled and bridled, with a rifle-bullet
(as they found on subsequent examination) through shoulders and chest,
and her head full of kangaroo-shot. She was feebly rocking her head
against the ground, and marking the dust with her hoof,
as if trying to write the reason of it there.
The doctor drew his revolver, took a cartridge from his waistcoat pocket,
and put the filly out of her misery in a very scientific manner;
then something -- professional instinct or the something supernatural
about the doctor -- led him straight to the log, hidden in the grass,
where Job lay as we left him, and about fifty yards from the dead filly,
which must have staggered off some little way after being shot.
Mac. followed the doctor, shaking violently.
`Oh, my God!' he cried, with the woman in his voice -- and his face so pale
that his freckles stood out like buttons, as Doc. Wild said -- `oh, my God!
he's shot himself!'
`No, he hasn't,' said the doctor, deftly turning Job into a healthier position
with his head from under the log and his mouth to the air:
then he ran his eyes and hands over him, and Job moaned.
`He's got a broken leg,' said the doctor. Even then he couldn't resist
making a characteristic remark, half to himself: `A man doesn't shoot himself
when he's going to be made a lawful father for the first time,
unless he can see a long way into the future.' Then he took out
his whisky-flask and said briskly to Mac., `Leave me your water-bag'
(Mac. carried a canvas water-bag slung under his horse's neck),
`ride back to the track, stop Mrs Spencer, and bring the waggonette here.
Tell her it's only a broken leg.'
Mac. mounted and rode off at a break-neck pace.
As he worked the doctor muttered: `He shot his horse. That's what gits me.
The fool might have lain there for a week. I'd never have suspected spite
in that carcass, and I ought to know men.'
But as Job came round a little Doc. Wild was enlightened.
`Where's the filly?' cried Job suddenly between groans.
`She's all right,' said the doctor.
`Stop her!' cried Job, struggling to rise -- `stop her! -- oh God! my leg.'
`Keep quiet, you fool!'
`Stop her!' yelled Job.
`Why stop her?' asked the doctor. `She won't go fur,' he added.
`She'll go home to Gerty,' shouted Job. `For God's sake stop her!'
`O--h!' drawled the doctor to himself. `I might have guessed that.
And I ought to know men.'
`Don't take me home!' demanded Job in a semi-sensible interval.
`Take me to Poisonous Jimmy's and tell Gerty I'm on the spree.'
When Mac. and Mrs Spencer arrived with the waggonette Doc. Wild was
in his shirt-sleeves, his Chinese silk coat having gone for bandages.
The lower half of Job's trouser-leg and his 'lastic-side boot
lay on the ground, neatly cut off, and his bandaged leg was sandwiched
between two strips of bark, with grass stuffed in the hollows,
and bound by saddle-straps.
`That's all I kin do for him for the present.'
Mrs Spencer was a strong woman mentally, but she arrived
rather pale and a little shaky: nevertheless she called out,
as soon as she got within earshot of the doctor --
`What's Job been doing now?' (Job, by the way, had never been remarkable
for doing anything.)
`He's got his leg broke and shot his horse,' replied the doctor.
`But,' he added, `whether he's been a hero or a fool I dunno.
Anyway, it's a mess all round.'
They unrolled the bed, blankets, and pillows in the bottom of the trap,
backed it against the log, to have a step, and got Job in. It was
a ticklish job, but they had to manage it: Job, maddened by pain and heat,
only kept from fainting by whisky, groaning and raving and yelling to them
to stop his horse.
`Lucky we got him before the ants did,' muttered the doctor.
Then he had an inspiration --
`You bring him on to the shepherd's hut this side the station.
We must leave him there. Drive carefully, and pour brandy into him
now and then; when the brandy's done pour whisky, then gin -- keep the rum
till the last' (the doctor had put a supply of spirits in the waggonette
at Poisonous Jimmy's). `I'll take Mac.'s horse and ride on and send Peter'
(the station hand) `back to the hut to meet you. I'll be back myself
if I can. THIS BUSINESS WILL HURRY UP THINGS AT THE STATION.'
Which last was one of those apparently insane remarks of the doctor's
which no sane nor sober man could fathom or see a reason for --
except in Doc. Wild's madness.
He rode off at a gallop. The burden of Job's raving, all the way,
rested on the dead filly --
`Stop her! She must not go home to Gerty! . . . God help me shoot! . . .
Whoa! -- whoa, there! . . . "Cope -- cope -- cope" -- Steady, Jessie,
old girl. . . . Aim straight -- aim straight! Aim for me, God! --
I've missed! . . . Stop her!' &c.
`I never met a character like that,' commented the doctor afterwards,
`inside a man that looked like Job on the outside. I've met men
behind revolvers and big mustarshes in Califo'nia; but I've met
a derned sight more men behind nothing but a good-natured grin,
here in Australia. These lanky sawney Bushmen will do things
in an easy-going way some day that'll make the old world
sit up and think hard.'
He reached the station in time, and twenty minutes or half an hour later
he left the case in the hands of the Lancashire woman --
whom he saw reason to admire -- and rode back to the hut to help Job,
whom they soon fixed up as comfortably as possible.
They humbugged Mrs Falconer first with a yarn of Job's alleged
phenomenal shyness, and gradually, as she grew stronger,
and the truth less important, they told it to her. And so, instead of Job
being pushed, scarlet-faced, into the bedroom to see his first-born,
Gerty Falconer herself took the child down to the hut,
and so presented Uncle Job with my first and favourite cousin and Bush chum.
Doc. Wild stayed round until he saw Job comfortably moved to the homestead,
then he prepared to depart.
`I'm sorry,' said Job, who was still weak -- `I'm sorry for that there filly.
I was breaking her in to side-saddle for Gerty when she should get about.
I wouldn't have lost her for twenty quid.'
`Never mind, Job,' said the doctor. `I, too, once shot an animal
I was fond of -- and for the sake of a woman -- but that animal
walked on two legs and wore trousers. Good-bye, Job.'
And he left for Poisonous Jimmy's.
The Little World Left Behind.
I lately revisited a western agricultural district in Australia
after many years. The railway had reached it, but otherwise
things were drearily, hopelessly, depressingly unchanged.
There was the same old grant, comprising several thousands of acres
of the richest land in the district, lying idle still,
except for a few horses allowed to run there for a shilling a-head per week.
There were the same old selections -- about as far off as ever
from becoming freeholds -- shoved back among the barren ridges;
dusty little patches in the scrub, full of stones and stumps,
and called farms, deserted every few years, and tackled again by some little
dried-up family, or some old hatter, and then given best once more. There was
the cluster of farms on the flat, and in the foot of the gully, owned by
Australians of Irish or English descent, with the same number of stumps
in the wheat-paddock, the same broken fences and tumble-down huts and yards,
and the same weak, sleepy attempt made every season to scratch up the ground
and raise a crop. And along the creek the German farmers --
the only people there worthy of the name -- toiling (men, women, and children)
from daylight till dark, like slaves, just as they always had done;
the elder sons stoop-shouldered old men at thirty.
The row about the boundary fence between the Sweeneys and the Joneses
was unfinished still, and the old feud between the Dunderblitzens
and the Blitzendunders was more deadly than ever -- it started
three generations ago over a stray bull. The O'Dunn was still fighting
for his great object in life, which was not to be `onneighborly',
as he put it. `I DON'T want to be onneighborly,' he said,
`but I'll be aven wid some of 'em yit. It's almost impossible
for a dacent man to live in sich a neighborhood and not be onneighborly,
thry how he will. But I'll be aven wid some of 'em yit, marruk my wurrud.'
Jones's red steer -- it couldn't have been the same red steer --
was continually breaking into Rooney's `whate an' bringin'
ivery head av the other cattle afther him, and ruinin' him intirely.'
The Rooneys and M`Kenzies were at daggers drawn, even to the youngest child,
over the impounding of a horse belonging to Pat Rooney's brother-in-law,
by a distant relation of the M`Kenzies, which had happened nine years ago.
The same sun-burned, masculine women went past to market twice a-week
in the same old carts and driving much the same quality of carrion.
The string of overloaded spring-carts, buggies, and sweating horses went
whirling into town, to `service', through clouds of dust and broiling heat,
on Sunday morning, and came driving cruelly out again at noon.
The neighbours' sons rode over in the afternoon, as of old,
and hung up their poor, ill-used little horses to bake in the sun,
and sat on their heels about the verandah, and drawled drearily
concerning crops, fruit, trees, and vines, and horses and cattle;
the drought and `smut' and `rust' in wheat, and the `ploorer'
(pleuro-pneumonia) in cattle, and other cheerful things; that there
colt or filly, or that there cattle-dog (pup or bitch) o' mine (or `Jim's').
They always talked most of farming there, where no farming worthy of the name
was possible -- except by Germans and Chinamen. Towards evening
the old local relic of the golden days dropped in and announced
that he intended to `put down a shaft' next week, in a spot where
he'd been going to put it down twenty years ago -- and every week since.
It was nearly time that somebody sunk a hole and buried him there.
An old local body named Mrs Witherly still went into town twice a-week
with her `bit av prodjuce', as O'Dunn called it. She still drove
a long, bony, blind horse in a long rickety dray, with a stout sapling
for a whip, and about twenty yards of clothes-line reins.
The floor of the dray covered part of an acre, and one wheel was always
ahead of the other -- or behind, according to which shaft was pulled.
She wore, to all appearances, the same short frock, faded shawl,
men's 'lastic sides, and white hood that she had on when the world was made.
She still stopped just twenty minutes at old Mrs Leatherly's on the way in
for a yarn and a cup of tea -- as she had always done, on the same days
and at the same time within the memory of the hoariest local liar.
However, she had a new clothes-line bent on to the old horse's front end --
and we fancy that was the reason she didn't recognise us at first.
She had never looked younger than a hard hundred within the memory of man.
Her shrivelled face was the colour of leather, and crossed and recrossed
with lines till there wasn't room for any more. But her eyes were bright yet,
and twinkled with humour at times.
She had been in the Bush for fifty years, and had fought fires, droughts,
hunger and thirst, floods, cattle and crop diseases, and all the things
that God curses Australian settlers with. She had had two husbands,
and it could be said of neither that he had ever done an honest day's work,
or any good for himself or any one else. She had reared something under
fifteen children, her own and others; and there was scarcely one of them
that had not given her trouble. Her sons had brought disgrace on her old head
over and over again, but she held up that same old head through it all,
and looked her narrow, ignorant world in the face -- and `lived it down'.
She had worked like a slave for fifty years; yet she had more
energy and endurance than many modern city women in her shrivelled old body.
She was a daughter of English aristocrats.
And we who live our weak lives of fifty years or so in the cities --
we grow maudlin over our sorrows (and beer), and ask whether life
is worth living or not.
I sought in the farming town relief from the general and particular
sameness of things, but there was none. The railway station
was about the only new building in town. The old signs even
were as badly in need of retouching as of old. I picked up
a copy of the local `Advertiser', which newspaper had been started
in the early days by a brilliant drunkard, who drank himself to death
just as the fathers of our nation were beginning to get educated up
to his style. He might have made Australian journalism very different
from what it is. There was nothing new in the `Advertiser' -- there had been
nothing new since the last time the drunkard had been sober enough
to hold a pen. There was the same old `enjoyable trip' to Drybone
(whereof the editor was the hero), and something about an on-the-whole
very enjoyable evening in some place that was tastefully decorated,
and where the visitors did justice to the good things provided,
and the small hours, and dancing, and our host and hostess,
and respected fellow-townsmen; also divers young ladies sang very nicely,
and a young Mr Somebody favoured the company with a comic song.
There was the same trespassing on the valuable space by the old subscriber,
who said that `he had said before and would say again',
and he proceeded to say the same things which he said in the same paper
when we first heard our father reading it to our mother.
Farther on the old subscriber proceeded to `maintain',
and recalled attention to the fact that it was just exactly as he had said.
After which he made a few abstract, incoherent remarks
about the `surrounding district', and concluded by stating
that he `must now conclude', and thanking the editor for trespassing on
the aforesaid valuable space.
There was the usual leader on the Government; and an agitation
was still carried on, by means of horribly-constructed correspondence
to both papers, for a bridge over Dry-Hole Creek at Dustbin --
a place where no sane man ever had occasion to go.
I took up the `unreliable contemporary', but found nothing there
except a letter from `Parent', another from `Ratepayer',
a leader on the Government, and `A Trip to Limeburn', which latter I suppose
was made in opposition to the trip to Drybone.
There was nothing new in the town. Even the almost inevitable
gang of city spoilers hadn't arrived with the railway.
They would have been a relief. There was the monotonous aldermanic row,
and the worse than hopeless little herd of aldermen,
the weird agricultural portion of whom came in on council days
in white starched and ironed coats, as we had always remembered them.
They were aggressively barren of ideas; but on this occasion they had risen
above themselves, for one of them had remembered something his grandfather
(old time English alderman) had told him, and they were stirring up
all the old local quarrels and family spite of the district over a motion,
or an amendment on a motion, that a letter -- from another enlightened body
and bearing on an equally important matter (which letter had been
sent through the post sufficiently stamped, delivered to the secretary,
handed to the chairman, read aloud in council, and passed round several times
for private perusal) -- over a motion that such letter be received.
There was a maintenance case coming on -- to the usual well-ventilated disgust
of the local religious crank, who was on the jury; but the case differed
in no essential point from other cases which were always coming on
and going off in my time. It was not at all romantic. The local youth
was not even brilliant in adultery.
After I had been a week in that town the Governor decided to visit it,
and preparations were made to welcome him and present him with an address.
Then I thought that it was time to go, and slipped away unnoticed
in the general lunacy.
The Never-Never Country.
By homestead, hut, and shearing-shed,
By railroad, coach, and track --
By lonely graves of our brave dead,
Up-Country and Out-Back:
To where 'neath glorious clustered stars
The dreamy plains expand --
My home lies wide a thousand miles
In the Never-Never Land.
It lies beyond the farming belt,
Wide wastes of scrub and plain,
A blazing desert in the drought,
A lake-land after rain;
To the sky-line sweeps the waving grass,
Or whirls the scorching sand --
A phantom land, a mystic land!
The Never-Never Land.
Where lone Mount Desolation lies,
Mounts Dreadful and Despair --
'Tis lost beneath the rainless skies
In hopeless deserts there;
It spreads nor'-west by No-Man's Land --
Where clouds are seldom seen --
To where the cattle-stations lie
Three hundred miles between.
The drovers of the Great Stock Routes
The strange Gulf country know --
Where, travelling from the southern droughts,
The big lean bullocks go;
And camped by night where plains lie wide,
Like some old ocean's bed,
The watchmen in the starlight ride
Round fifteen hundred head.
And west of named and numbered days
The shearers walk and ride --
Jack Cornstalk and the Ne'er-do-well,
And the grey-beard side by side;
They veil their eyes from moon and stars,
And slumber on the sand --
Sad memories sleep as years go round
In Never-Never Land.
By lonely huts north-west of Bourke,
Through years of flood and drought,
The best of English black-sheep work
Their own salvation out:
Wild fresh-faced boys grown gaunt and brown --
Stiff-lipped and haggard-eyed --
They live the Dead Past grimly down!
Where boundary-riders ride.
The College Wreck who sunk beneath,
Then rose above his shame,
Tramps West in mateship with the man
Who cannot write his name.
'Tis there where on the barren track
No last half-crust's begrudged --
Where saint and sinner, side by side,
Judge not, and are not judged.
Oh rebels to society!
The Outcasts of the West --
Oh hopeless eyes that smile for me,
And broken hearts that jest!
The pluck to face a thousand miles --
The grit to see it through!
The communism perfected! --
And -- I am proud of you!
The Arab to true desert sand,
The Finn to fields of snow;
The Flax-stick turns to Maoriland,
Where the seasons come and go;
And this old fact comes home to me --
And will not let me rest --
However barren it may be,
Your own land is the best!
And, lest at ease I should forget
True mateship after all,
My water-bag and billy yet
Are hanging on the wall;
And if my fate should show the sign,
I'd tramp to sunsets grand
With gaunt and stern-eyed mates of mine
In Never-Never Land.
[End of original text.]
A Note on the Author and the Text:
Henry Lawson was born near Grenfell, New South Wales, Australia
on 17 June 1867. Although he has since become the most acclaimed
Australian writer, in his own lifetime his writing was often "on the side" --
his "real" work was whatever he could find, often painting houses,
or doing rough carpentry. His writing was often taken
from memories of his childhood, especially at Pipeclay/Eurunderee.
In his autobiography, he states that many of his characters
were taken from the better class of diggers and bushmen he knew there.
His experiences at this time deeply influenced his work,
for it is interesting to note a number of descriptions and phrases
that are identical in his autobiography and in his stories and poems.
He died in Sydney, 2 September 1922. Much of his writing was for periodicals,
and even his regular publications were so varied, including books
originally released as one volume being reprinted as two, and vice versa,
that the multitude of permutations cannot be listed here.
However, the following should give a basic outline of his major works.
Books of Short Stories:
While the Billy Boils (1896)
On the Track (1900)
Over the Sliprails (1900)
The Country I Come From (1901) | These works were first published
Joe Wilson and His Mates (1901) | in England, during or shortly after
Children of the Bush (1902) | Lawson's stay there.
Send Round the Hat (1907) | These two books were first published
The Romance of the Swag (1907) | as "Children of the Bush".
The Rising of the Court (1910)
In the Days When the World Was Wide (1896)
Verses Popular and Humorous (1900)
When I Was King and Other Verses (1905)
The Skyline Riders (1910)
Selected Poems of Henry Lawson (1918)
Joe Wilson and His Mates was later published as two separate volumes,
"Joe Wilson" and "Joe Wilson's Mates", which correspond to Parts I & II
in Joe Wilson and His Mates. This work was first published in England,
which may be evident from some of Lawson's comments in the text
which are directed at English readers. For example, Lawson writes
in `The Golden Graveyard': "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. . . ."
Alan Light, Monroe, North Carolina, June 1997.