Part 6 out of 9
the bullocks just before daylight, to lay in a fresh supply. In the meantime,
I settled myself down for a sleep."
"Where was the (adj.) dog?" asked Baxter.
"Rolled up in the blanket with me, I tell you; and we both slept
like the dead"----
"Owing to having no fleas on you?" suggested Stevenson.
"Don't know what was the cause; but the thing that woke me was the jingle
of a Barwell horse-bell on one side, and the rattle of a bridle on the other.
Sure enough, there was the sun half-an-hour high, and Old Sollicker
about thirty yards off, and here on the other side was his two horses
dodging away from him; and me in a belt of lignum, half-way between;
and my twenty bullocks, as bold as brass, all feeding together in the open,
a bit to the left of the horses. It was plain to be seen that the old fellow
hadn't caught sight of the bullocks on account of the belt of lignum
where I was planted; but he was making for an openish place, not twenty yards
ahead of him, and when he got there it would be all up. So I grabbed hold
of Monkey, and fired him at the horses. He was there! He went like
a boomerang when I let him rip, and in two seconds he had the blood flying
out of those horses' heels; and, of course, they streaked for the clear ground
near the hut. As soon as I let the dog go, I turned my attention to Sollicker.
At the first alarm, he stopped to consider; then, when the horses shot
past him, with the dog eating their heels, he rubbed his chin for about
two minutes--and me trusting Providence all I was able--then he gave a sort
of snort, and said, 'Well, I be dang!' and with that he turned round
and went toward his hut. That was the signal for me to clear; and in
fifteen minutes I had all my stock in safety-bar poor Monkey; and I never
saw him from that day to this."
"You (adj.) fool! why did n't you hunt for him?" asked Donovan.
"And did n't I hunt for him till I was sick and tired? I spent half that day
hunting for him; and next morning I went back seven mile, and called
at the hut to ask Mrs. Sollicker if her old man had seen a magpie steer,
with a bugle horn, anywhere among the lignum; and when I got clear of the hut,
I whistled till I was black in the face; and still no dog. I hunted
everywhere; and still no dog. Vanished out of the land of the living.
That dog would never leave me while he had breath in his body; and when
he did n't come back, after he had chivied the horses, I might have"----
"Sh-sh-sh!" whispered Stevenson. And, following the direction of his look,
we discerned the approaching figure of a man on horseback.
"Ben Cartwright," observed Baxter, after a pause. "Anybody else comin',
I wonder? Seems like as if people couldn't fine a bit o' grass without
the whole (adj.) country jumpin' it."
"I move that all trespassers ought to be prosecuted with the utmost vigour
o' the (adj.) law," remarked Donovan aloud, as the new-comer dismounted
and liberated his horse, a few yards away.
"We should certainly be justified in taking the opinion of the Court
on a test case," added Stevenson. "Suppose we make an example of Cartwright?
Oh, I beg your pardon!" For the intended sacrifice was just collapsing
into an easy position beside the speaker.
"Been scoutin' for you (fellows) this last half-hour," he remarked sociably,
but in the suppressed tone befitting time and place. "Seen samples
o' your workin' plant, an' know'd who to expect. Heard the dog barkin'
jis' now. Soft collar we got here--ain't it?"
"How did you find it?" asked Thompson.
"Know Jack Ling--at the Boree Paddick, about four mile out there? Well,
I worked on his horse-paddick las' night, an' he follered me up this mornin',
an' talked summons. But I ain't very fiery-tempered, the way things is
jis' now; an' I got at the soft side o' the (adj.) idolator; an' he laid me
on here. Reckoned I'd mos' likely fine company."
"One good point about a Chow boundary man," observed Thompson. "So long as
you don't interfere with his own paddock, he never makes himself nasty."
My own experience of the morning led me to endorse this judgment; wherefore,
if John didn't exactly rise in the estimation of the camp, he certainly
reduced his soundings in its destestation.
"Comin' down with wool?" asked Baxter.
"Comin' down without wool, or wagon, or any (adj.) thing," replied Cartwright.
"Jist loafin' loose. Bullocks dead-beat. Left the wagon tarpolined
at the Jumpin' Sandhill, a fortnit ago. Five gone out o' eighteen since then,
an' three more dead if they on'y know'd it. Good for trade, I s'pose."
"Had any supper?" asked Thompson.
"Well, no. Run out o' tucker to-day, an' reckoned I'd do till I foun' time
to go to Booligal to-morrow."
While three or four of the fellows placed their eatables before Cartwright,
"You gave me a bit of a start. When I saw you coming, it reminded me
of one time I got snapped by Barefooted Bob, on Wo-Winya, while M'Gregor
owned the station. For all the world such a night as this-smoky moonlight,
and as good as day. I'd had a fearful perisher coming down with the last wool,
and I was making for the Murray, by myself; stealing a bite of grass
every night, and getting caught, altogether, five times between Hay and Barmah.
Well, I knew there was rough feed in the Tin Hut Paddock; so I crawled along
quietly, and loosed-out after dark, in that timber where the coolaman hole is.
Then I sneaked the bullocks through the fence, and out past that bit
of a swamp; and they had just settled down to feed, when I saw some one
riding toward me.
"'I've got possession of some bullocks close handy here,' says he
'Do you own them?'
"'Yes,' says I; 'and, by the same token, I have possession.'
"'Right you are,' says he. 'Court job, if you like. Your name's
Stephen Thompson. Good night.'
"'Hold-on!' says I. 'On second thoughts, I haven't possession.
But I think I know your voice. Are n't you Barefooted Bob? Where's Bat?'
"'Laying for Potter's horse-teams to-night,' says Bob. 'He'll get them,
"'Come over to the wagon, and have a drink of tea,' says I.
"'No, no,' says he; 'none of your toe-rag business. I'll just stop with these
bullocks till it's light enough to count them out of the paddock.'
"So we stayed there yarning all night, and in the morning we settled-up,
and he saw me out of the paddock. Nicest, civilest fellow you'd meet;
but no more conscience than that kangaroo-dog of Tom's. He and Bat had been
four or five years away north toward the Gulf, and had just come down.
M'Gregor used to keep them up to their work. Sent them away somewhere
about the Diamantina, shortly after this affair; and now Bob"----
"Speak o' the divil," growled Baxter. "You done it, you blatherin' fool!
Look behine you! Now there's a bob a-head, or a summons, for every (individual)
of us. Might 'a' had more sense!"
Thompson (as you will remember) had heard of Bob's decease, but had since
learned the fallacy of the report. I was therefore, probably, the only person
present who took for granted that M'Gregor's obnoxious familiar was so removed
from further opportunity of mischief as to leave him a safe subject
of conversation among people situated as we were. Hence the well-concealed
disquietude of the company was nothing in comparison with my own perplexity--
which, I trust, was no less successfully disguised. For it was Bob himself
who had just ridden round a contiguous cape of lignum, and now, dismounting
and throwing his reins on the ground, joined our unappreciative group.
After folding his interminable legs in two places, and clasping his hands
round his shins, this excrescence on society remarked, in basso profundo:
"Evenin'," came in sullen, but general, response. Then Baxter queried
"Same ole lay?"
"Not me," replied the deep, low voice. "Every man to his work. My work's
mullockin' in a reservoy, with a new-chum weaver from Leeds for a mate,
an' a scoop that's nyther make nor form, an' the ten worst bullocks
ever was yoked."
"Well, Bob," said I; "though you gave me a fright, I must congratulate you.
I heard you were dead."
"Would n't mind if I was dead, Collins."
"Where's Bat?" I asked.
"Gone to a better billet"--and the leonine voice deepened to hoarseness.
"Restin' in the shadder of a lonely rock, as the Bible says. I buried him
by my own self, way out back, eight or ten months ago. Many's the time
I wish I was with him, for I'm dog-tired of everything goin'.
Best-hearted feller ever broke bread, Bat was; an' the prittiest rider
ever I seen on a horse. Yes; pore ole chap's gone. You'd 'a' thought
he was on'y asleep when "----
No further word was spoken for a couple of minutes. Then Stevenson asked:
"How long since you came down?"
"Five months since I left the Diamantinar. Grand grass there, an' most
o' the road down. I come with some fats as fur as Wilcannia; an' a drover
took charge o' them there; an' my orders was to come on to Mondunbarra.
I been here goin' on for three weeks, rasslin' with that reservoy,
an' cursin' M'Gregor an' Smythe for bein' man-eaters, an' myself for bein'
a born fool."
"Then why don't you leave?" asked Thompson.
"How can I leave without a settlin'-up?"
"An' why the (sheol) don't you git a settlin'-up?" asked Donovan.
"How'm I goin' to git a settlin'-up, when M'Gregor don't know me from a crow,
an' says Smythe'll represent him in the meantime; an' Smythe says his hands
is tied on account o' M'Gregor, or else he'd dem soon give me the run.
Nice way for a man to be fixed, after me breakin' my neck since I was fifteen,
to make M'Gregor what he is. Eighteen solid years clean throwed away!"
"How did you fine us here, unless you was (adv.) well after somebody?"
asked Baxter, still suspicious of the dog with a bad name.
"Well, I am after somebody. I'm after ole M'Gregor--at least, I'll be
after him as soon 's I git this reservoy off o' my mind. Daresay I'll git you
to understand by-'n'-by. See: Jist when Smythe wanted this job fixed-up,
he got a slant o' fourteen bullocks, sold at a gift, for debt; an' he thought
that would be the cheapest way to git the work done; for he did n't want
to engage any o' your sort, knowin' you'd loaf on the grass, an' most likely
make a song about it, an' be the instigation of no end o' trouble watchin'
the place. Well, them fourteen was put in Sling Ho's paddick for a fortnit
before I come; an' I could on'y muster ten; an' me an' this mate o' mine
we made a start with that lot--not knowin' which was nearsiders,
nor off-siders, nor leaders, nor nothing. Nice contract. Anyway,
jist before dark this evenin', I seen two o' the missin' ones in the
'joinin' paddock, so I rooted-up one o' my horses, an' fetched them in here.
Then I heard a dog barkin' out this way, an' I thought I'd come across
to kill time, an' then I happened to hear a lot o' laughin'
where them other blokes is camped"----
"Which other blokes?" asked Saunders.
"Dan Lister an' three Vic. chaps. Be about half-a-mile out there.
Dan's as sulky as a pig with these coves for foxin' him; an' they're laughin'
at him like three overgrown kids. They got twelve bullocks each.
Dan tells me he dropped two out of his eighteen, comin' down from Mooltunya.
Says one o' the Chinks laid him on to this bit o' grass. Two other fellers
I met in the plain-strangers to me--they had the very same yarn.
Them heathens think I'm in charge here; an' they're workin' a point
to make me nasty with the chaps on the track. An' if I was in charge,
that's jist the sort o' thing would put a hump on me. Sort o' off-sider
for a gang o' Chinks! My word!"
"Bin many people workin' on this paddick lately?" asked Saunders innocently.
"Well, besides your three horses, there's been an odd team now an' agen
for the fortnit or three weeks I been here. Good many last night.
Rallyin'-up to-night. No business o' mine. Too busy shiftin' mullock
to know what's goin' on. Way o' the world, I s'pose. Anyway, Smythe's
gittin' a slant to come to an understandin' with M'Gregor about me;
an' if it ain't satisfactory, there'll be bad feelin' between us.
I want to be kep' at my own proper work, or else sacked an' squared-up with--
not shoved into a job like this the minit I show my face; with that young pup
cheekin' me for callin' him 'Bert.' 'Mr. Smythe, if you please,' says he!
Hope I'll live to see him with bluey on his back."
"Well-matched pair--M'Gregor an' Smythe," remarked Donovan thoughtfully.
"Wonder which of the two (individuals) is worst in the sight o' God?"
"Toss-up," replied Bob. "Same time, there's a lot o' difference in people,
accordin' to the shape o' their head. There's Stewart of Kooltopa;
he don't demean his self with little things; he goes in for big things,
an' gits there; an' he's got the heart to make a proper use o' what money
travels his road. Comes-out a Christian. Then there's Smythe: his mind's so
much took-up with the tuppenny-thruppenny things that he can't see
the big thing when it's starin' him in the face. Can't afford to come-out
anything but a pis-ant. Then there's M'Gregor: he goes-in for big things
an' little things, an' he goes-in to win, an' he wins; an' all he wins
is Donal' M'Gregor's. Comes-out a bow constructor."
"Do you think he'll shift Smythe from Mondunbarra, as he did Pratt
from Boolka?" I asked.
"Ain't he doin' it all the time?" replied Bob. "He's got Smythe frightened
of him now, an' beginnin' to hate him like fury, besides. That's M'Gregor's
lay. By-'n'-by, Smythe'll be dreamin' about him all night, an' wishin'
he was game to poison him all day; an' when he feels enough haunted,
M'Gregor'll make him an offer, an' he'll sell-out like a bird."
"I should be inclined to reverse the situation," remarked Stevenson.
"I should make him glad to sell-out to me."
"My word, you'd do a lot," replied Bob. "I seen smarter men nor you
took-down through tryin' to work points on the same ole M'Gregor.
Tell you what I seen on Wo-Winya, about three year ago--jist before me
an' pore Bat was put on the Diamantinar Feller name o' Tregarvis,
from Bendigo, he selected a lot o' land on Wo-Winya, an' made-up his mind
he'd straighten M'Gregor. Bit of a Berryite, he was. Well-off for a selector,
too; an' he done a big business back an' forrid to Vic. with cattle.
Mixed lots, of course, with stags an' ole cows that no fence would hold.
North of Ireland feller, name o' Moore, was managin' Wo-Winya at the time;
an' M'Gregor was a good deal about the station, takin' a sort o' interest
in this Tregarvis. Well, things was so arranged that the Cousin Jack's cattle
was always gittin' into our paddicks; an' the rule was that his people
had to come to the home-station to get leaf to hunt 'em; an' a man was
sent along o' them as a percaution. An' generally, by the time they foun'
the cattle, there was one or two o' the fattest o' them short."
"Remedy for that game," remarked Stevenson. "I should have laid a trap."
"Jist what Tregarvis done," rejoined Bob. "One day there was a stranger
among our cattle--a fine big white bullock, an' Tregarvis's brand on him.
We run this mob into the yard before dinner, to git a beast to kill,
an' turned 'em all out agen, bar the white one; but he was in the killin'-yard
all the afternoon. Dusk in the evenin', the white bullock was shot;
an' jist in the nick o' time, when the head was slung in the pigsty,
an' the hide was hangin' on the fence, raw side up, who should pounce on us
but ole Tregarvis, an' Young Tregarvis, an' a trooper. No mistake,
Moore looked a bit gallied on it; an' he hum'd an' ha'd, an' threatened
to brain Tregarvis if he laid a hand on the hide. Anyhow, the trooper
took charge o' the hide; an' both the Tregarvises struck matches an' examined
the head in the pig-sty. Next mornin', a warrant was served on Moore;
but, of course, he was bailed. Then the Court-day come on; an' Tregarvis
swore to a knowledge that a white bullock of his was among the Wo-Winya cattle;
an' he give evidence about the findin' o' the skin, an' swore to the head
he seen in the pig-sty. An' young Tregarvis, he swore he was watchin'
with a telescope, an' seen a white bullock o' theirs yarded with some more,
an' all the rest turnedout; an' he kep' his eye on that white bullock
all the afternoon; an' he heard the shot, an' went up with his ole man
an' the trooper; an' he seen the raw hide hangin' on the fence, an' the head
in the pig-sty, an' a couple o' fellers hoistin' the carkidge on the gallus.
When the magistrate asked Moore if he wanted to make a statement,
he said he was quite bewildered about it. He allowed he had picked
the white bullock for killin', an' he had give the order; but he'd swear
the beast belonged to the station. So the hide was spread out on a bit
o' tarpolin in the floor o' the Court; an' there was on'y one brand on it,
an' that brand was M'Gregor's--DMG off-rump. Mind you, this is on'y what
I was told. My orders was to keep clear till the case was over; an'
it was on'y a day or two follerin' that me an' pore Bat got our orders
for the Diamantinar. Anyhow, Moore whanged it on to Tregarvis for malicious
prosecution; an' it cost the Cousin Jack a good many hundred before
he was done with it. As for young Dick Tregarvis, he got four years
for perjury; so they'll be jist about lettin' him out now, if he's got
the good-conduct remission.
"Beast changed?" suggested Thompson.
"Yes. That was the idear. Some different dodge next time. Changed
jist at dusk, an' shot the minit after. I had the station bullock all ready,
before ever Tregarvis's one was yarded. Dead spit o' one another,
down to the shape o' their horns--bar the brands, of course; Treganis's beast
havin' NT near-shoulder, an' JH conjoined under halfcircle off-ribs.
I had him half-ways back to the paddick agen when Tregarvis thought
he was identifyin' him in the killin'-yard. So he fell-in, simple enough.
An' between one thing an' another, an' bein' follered-up like the last dingo
on a sheep station, ole Tregarvis was glad to sell-out to M'Gregor,
before all was over. Yes, Stevenson; Lord 'a' mercy on M'Gregor if you got
a holt of him! My word! "
"Where the (adj. sheol) do you reckon on bein' shoved into when you croak,
Bob?" asked Donovan, with a touch of human solicitude.
"Well," replied Bob pointedly, as he unfolded his long angles to a
perpendicular right line--"I got good hopes o' goin' to a place where there's
no admittance for swearers. Ain't ashamed to say I repented eight or ten
months ago. Guarantee you fellers ain't heard no language out o' my mouth
since I set down here. Nor 'on't--never again. Well, take care o' yourselves,
chaps." And, without further farewell, Bob removed his lonely individuality
from our convention.
"Anointed (adj.) savage," remarked Donovan, as the subject of his comment
receded into the hazy half-light of the plain, where his horse was feeding.
"Uncivilised (person)," added Baxter.
"Well--yes," conceded Thompson. "Same time, he's got the profit
of his unprofitableness, so to speak. Hard to beat him in the back country.
You'd have to be more uncivilised than he is. And I saw that very thing happen
to him, four or five weeks ago, out on Goolumbulla." Thompson paused
experimentally, then continued, "Yes, I saw him put-through, till he must have
felt a lot too tall in proportion to his cleverness." Another tentative pause.
"But it took the very pick of uncivilisation to do it." A prolonged pause,
while Thompson languidly filled and lit his pipe. Still the dignified
indifference of the camp remained unruffled. Thompson might tell his yarn,
or keep it to himself. Once already during the evening his tongue had run
too freely. "What I'm thinking about," he continued, in a tone
of audible musing, "is that I forgot to tell Bob, when he was here,
that I had a long pitch with Dan O'Connell, three or four nights ago."
"Boundary man on Goolumbulla," I suggested apathetically. "Got acquainted
with Bob years ago, when he was making himself useful on Moogoojinna,
and Bob was making himself obnoxious on Wo-Winya, or Boolka."
"No; they never met till four or five weeks ago," replied Thompson,
with inimitable indifference, though now licensed to proceed without damage
to his own dignity. "Dan's an old acquaintance of yours--is n't he?
I heard your name mentioned over the finding of a dead man--George something--
had been fencing on Mooltunya--George Murdock. Yes."
Thompson told a story well. I verily believe he used to practise
the accomplishment mentally, as he sauntered along beside his team.
He knew his own superiority here; his acquaintances knew it too, and they
also knew that he knew it. Hence they were reluctant to minister occasion
to his egotism.
"Speaking of Bob," he continued listlessly; "I met him in the hut, at Kulkaroo,
on the evening I got there with the load. He was on his way down from
that new place of M'Gregor's, where he's been; and he had come round
by Kulkaroo to see one of the very few friends he has in the world; but he lost
his labour, for this cove had left the station more than a year before.
"However, we had been yarning for hours, and the station chaps were about
turning-in, when we heard someone coming in a hurry. No less than Webster
himself--first time he had been in the hut since it was built, the chaps told
me afterward. He had a leaf of a memorandum-book in his hand; and says he:
"'Child lost in the scrub on Goolumbulla. Dan O'Connell's little girl--five
or six years old. Anybody know where there's any blackfellows?'
"'Well, raise horses wherever you can, and clear at once,' says he.
'One man, for the next couple of days, will be worth a regiment very shortly.
As for you, Thompson,' says he; 'you're your own master.'
"Of course, I was only too glad of any chance to help in such a case,
so I went for my horse at once. Bob had duffed his two horses into
the ration paddock, on his way to the hut, and had put them along with my mare,
so that he could find them at daylight by the sound of her bell.
This started me and him together. He lent his second horse to one of the
station chaps; and the three of us got to Goolumbulla just after sunrise--
first of the crowd. Twenty-five mile. There was tucker on the table,
and chaff for our horses; and, during the twenty minutes or so that we stayed,
they gave us the outline of the mishap.
"Seems that, for some reason or other--valuation for mortgage, I'm thinking--
the classer had come round a few days before; and Spanker had called in
every man on the station, to muster the ewes. You know how thick the scrub is
on Goolumbulla? Dan came in along with the rest, leaving his own place
before daylight on the first morning. They swept the paddock the first day
for about three parts of the ewes; the second day they got most of what
was left; but Spanker wanted every hoof, if possible, and he kept all hands on
for the third day.
"Seems, the little girl did n't trouble herself the first day, though
she had n't seen Dan in the morning; but the second day there was something
peculiar about her--not fretful, but dreaming, and asking her mother strange
questions. It appears that, up to this time, she had never said a word about
the man that was found dead near their place, a couple of months before.
She saw that her parents did n't want to tell her anything about it,
so she had never showed any curiosity; but now her mother was startled
to find that she knew all the particulars.
"It appears that she was very fond of her father; and this affair of the man
perishing in the scrub was working on her mind. All the second day
she did nothing but watch; and during the night she got up several times
to ask her mother questions that frightened the woman. The child did n't
understand her father going away before she was awake, and not coming back.
Still, the curious thing was that she never took her mother into
her confidence, and never seemed to fret.
"Anyway, on the third morning, after breakfast, her mother went out to milk
the goats, leaving her in the house. When the woman came back, she found
the child gone. She looked round the place, and called, and listened,
and prospected everywhere, for an hour; then she went into the house,
and examined. She found that the little girl had taken about a pint of milk,
in a small billy with a lid, and half a loaf of bread. Then, putting
everything together, the mother decided that she had gone into the scrub
to look for her father. There was no help to be had nearer than
the home-station, for the only other boundary man on that part of the run
was away at the muster. So she cleared for the station--twelve mile--and got
there about three in the afternoon, not able to stand. There was nobody about
the station but Mrs. Spanker, and the servant-girl, and the cook,
and the Chow slushy; and Mrs. Spanker was the only one that knew the track
to the ewe-paddock. However, they got a horse in, and off went Mrs. Spanker
to give the alarm. Fine woman. Daughter of old Walsh, storekeeper
at Moogoojinna, on the Deniliquin side.
"It would be about five when Mrs. Spanker struck the ewe-paddock,
and met Broome and another fellow. Then the three split out to catch
whoever they could, and pass the word round. Dan got the news just before
sundown. He only remarked that she might have found her own way back;
then he went for home as hard as his horse could lick.
"As the fellows turned-up, one after another, Spanker sent the smartest
of them--one to Kulkaroo, and one to Mulppa, and two or three others
to different fencers' and tank-sinkers' camps. But the main thing
was blackfellows. Did anybody know where to find a blackfellow,
now that he was wanted?
"Seems, there had been about a dozen of them camped near the tank
in the cattle-paddock for a month past, but they were just gone,
nobody knew where. And there had been an old lubra and a young one camped
within a mile of the station, and an old fellow and his lubra near one of
the boundary men's places; but they all happened to have shifted; and no one
had the slightest idea where they could be found. However, in a sense,
everyone was after them.
"But, as I was telling you, we had some breakfast at the station, and,
then started for Dan's place. Seven of us by this time, for another
of the Kulkaroo men had come up, and there were three well-sinkers in a buggy.
This was on a Thursday morning; and the little girl had been out
"Well, we had gone about seven mile, with crowds of fresh horsetracks
to guide us; and we happened to be going at a fast shog, and Bob riding
a couple or three yards to the right, when he suddenly wheeled his horse round,
and jumped off.
"'How far is it yet to Dan's place?' says he.
"'Five mile,' says one of the well-sinkers. 'We're just on the corner
of his paddock. Got tracks?'
"'Yes,' says Bob. 'I'll run them up, while you fetch the other fellows.
Somebody look after my horse.' And by the time the last word was out
of his mouth, he was twenty yards away along the little track. No trouble
in following it, for she was running the track of somebody that had rode
out that way a few days before--thinking it was her father's horse,
poor little thing!
"Apparently she had kept along the inside of Dan's fence--the way she had
generally seen him going out--till she came to the corner, where there was
a gate. Then she had noticed this solitary horse's track striking away
from the gate, out to the left; and she had followed it. However,
half-a-mile brought us to a patch of hardish ground, where she had lost
the horse's track; and there Bob lost hers. Presently he picked it up again;
but now there was only her little bootmarks to follow."
"A goot dog would be wort vivty men dere, I tink," suggested Helsmok.
"Same thought struck several of us, but it did n't strike Bob," replied
Thompson. "Fact, the well-sinkers had brought a retriever with them
in the buggy; a dog that would follow the scent of any game you could
lay him on; but they could n't get him to take any notice of the little girl's
track. Never been trained to track children--and how were they going to make
him understand that a child was lost? However, while two of the well-sinkers
were persevering with their retriever, the other fellow drove off like fury
to fetch Dan's sheep-dog; making sure that we would only have to follow him
along the scent. In the meantime, I walked behind Bob,
leading both our horses.
"Give him his due, he's a great tracker. I compare tracking to reading
a letter written in a good business hand. You must'nt look at what's
under your eye; you must see a lot at once, and keep a general grasp
of what's on ahead, besides spotting each track you pass. Otherwise,
you'll be always turning back for a fresh race at it. And you must no more
confine yourself to actual tracks than you would expect to find each letter
correctly formed. You must just lift the general meaning as you go.
Of course, our everyday tracking is not tracking at all.
"However, Bob run this little track full walk, mile after mile,
in places where I would 'n't see a mark for fifty yards at a stretch,
on account of rough grass, and dead leaves, and so forth. One thing in favour
of Bob was that she kept a fairly straight course, except when she was blocked
by porcupine or supple-jack; then she would swerve off, and keep another
middling straight line. At last Bob stopped.
"'Here's where she slept last night,' says he; and we could trace the marks
right enough. We even found some crumbs of bread on the ground, and others
that the ants were carrying away. She had made twelve or fourteen mile
in the day's walk.
"By this time, several chaps had come from about Dan's place; and they were
still joining us in twos and threes. As fast as they came, they scattered out
in front, right and left, and one cove walked a bit behind Bob,
with a frog-bell, shaking it now and then, to give the fellows their latitude.
This would be about two in the afternoon, or half-past; and we pushed along
the tracks she had made only a few hours before, with good hopes of overtaking
her before dark. The thing that made us most uneasy was the weather.
It was threatening for a thunderstorm. At this time we were in that
unstocked country south-east of the station. Suddenly Bob rose up
from his stoop, and looked round at me with a face on him like a ghost.
"'God help us now, if we don't get a blackfellow quick!' says he, pointing
at the ground before him. And, sure enough, there lay the child's
little coppertoed boots, where she had taken them off when her feet got sore,
and walked on in her socks. It was just then that a tank-sinker drove up,
with Dan and his dog in the buggy."
"Poor old Rory!" I interposed. "Much excited?"
"Well--no. But there was a look of suspense in his face that was worse.
And his dog--a dog that had run the scent of his horse for hundreds of miles,
all put together--that dog would smell any plain track of the little
stocking-foot, only a few hours old, and would wag his tail, and bark,
to show that he knew whose track it was; and all the time showing the greatest
distress to see Dan in trouble; but it was no use trying to start him
on the scent. They tried three or four other dogs. with just the same
success. But Bob never lost half-a-second over these attempts. He knew.
"Anyway, it was fearful work after that; with the thunderstorm hanging over us.
Bob was continually losing the track; and us circling round and round in front,
sometimes picking it up a little further ahead. But we only made another
half-mile or three-quarters, at the outside--before night was on.
I daresay there might be about twenty-five of us by this time, and eighteen
or twenty horses, and two or three buggies and wagonettes. Some of the chaps
took all the horses to a tank six or eight mile away, and some cleared-off
in desperation to hunt for blackfellows, and the rest of us scattered out
a mile or two ahead of the last track, to listen.
"They had been sending lots of tucker from the station; and before the morning
was grey everyone had breakfast, and was out again. But, do what we would,
it was slow, slow work; and Bob was the only one that could make any show
at all in running the track. Friday morning, of course; and by this time
the little girl had been out for forty-eight hours.
"At nine or ten in the forenoon, when Bob had made about half-amile,
one of the Kulkaroo men came galloping through the scrub from the right,
making for the sound of the bell.
"'Here, Bob!' says he. 'We've found the little girl's billy at the fence
of Peter's paddock, where she crossed. Take this horse. About two mile--
straight out there.'
"I had my horse with me at the time, and I tailed-up Bob to the fence.
He went full tilt, keeping the track that the horse had come, and this fetched
us to where a couple of chaps were standing over a little billy, with a lump
of bread beside it. She had laid them down to get through the fence,
and then went on without them. The lid was still on the billy,
and there was a drop of milk left. The ants had eaten the bread
out of all shape.
"But Bob was through the fence, and bowling down a dusty sheeptrack,
where a couple of fellows had gone before him, and where we could all see
the marks of the little bare feet--for the stockings were off by this time.
But in sixty or eighty yards this pad run into another, covered with
fresh sheep-tracks since the little girl had passed. Nothing for it
but to spread out, and examine the network of pads scattered over the country.
All this time, the weather was holding-up, but there was a grumble of thunder
now and then, and the air was fearfully close.
"At last there was a coo-ee out to the left. Young Broome had found three
plain tracks, about half-a-mile away. We took these for a base, but we didn't
get beyond them. We were circling round for miles, without making
any headway; and so the time passed till about three in the afternoon.
Then up comes Spanker, with his hat lost, and his face cut and bleeding
from the scrub, and his horses in a white lather, and a black lubra sitting
in the back of the buggy, and the Mulppa stock-keeper tearing along in front,
giving him our tracks.
"She was an old, grey-haired lubra, blind of one eye; but she knew
her business, and she was on the job for life or death. She picked-up
the track at a glance, and run it like a bloodhound. We found that
the little girl had n't kept the sheep-pads as we expected. Generally
she went straight till something blocked her; then she'd go straight again,
at another angle. Very rarely--hardly ever--we could see what signs
the lubra was following; but she was all right. Uncivilised, even for
an old lubra. Nobody could yabber with her but Bob; and he kept close to her
all the time. She began to get uneasy as night came on, but there was no help
for it. She went slower and slower, and at last she sat down where she was.
We judged that the little girl had made about seventeen mile to the place
where the lubra got on her track, and we had added something like four to that.
Though, mind you, at this time we were only about twelve or fourteen mile
from Dan's place, and eight or ten mile from the home-station.
"Longest night I ever passed, though it was one of the shortest in the year.
Eyes burning for want of sleep, and could n't bear to lie down for a minute.
Wandering about for miles; listening; hearing something in the scrub;
and finding it was only one of the other chaps, or some sheep. Thunder
and lightning, on and off, all night; even two or three drops of rain,
toward morning. Once I heard the howl of a dingo, and I thought of
the little girl, lying worn-out, half-asleep and half-fainting--far more
helpless than a sheep--and I made up my mind that if she came out safe
I would lead a better life for the future.
"However, between daylight and sunrise--being then about a mile,
or a mile and a half, from the bell--I was riding at a slow walk, listening
and dozing in the saddle, when I heard a far-away call that sounded like
'Dad-dee!'. It seemed to be straight in front of me; and I went for it
like mad. Had n't gone far when Williamson, the narangy, was alongside me.
"'Hear anything?' says I.
"'Yes,' says he. 'Sounded like 'Daddy!' I think it was out here.'
"'I think it was more this way,' says I; and each of us went his own way.
"When I got to where I thought was about the place, I listened again,
and searched round everywhere. The bell was coming that way, and presently
I went to meet it, leading my horse, and still listening. Then another call
came through the stillness of the scrub, faint, but beyond mistake,
'Dad-de-e-e!'. There was n't a trace of terror in the tone; it was just
the voice of a worn-out child, deliberately calling with all her might.
Seemed to be something less than half-a-mile away, but I could n't fix
on the direction; and the scrub was very thick.
"I hurried down to the bell. Everyone there had heard the call,
or fancied they had; but it was out to their right--not in front.
Of course, the lubra would n't leave the track, nor Bob, nor the chap
with the bell; but everyone else was gone--Dan among the rest.
The lubra said something to Bob.
"'Picaninny tumble down here again,' says Bob. 'Getting very weak
on her feet.'
"By-and-by, 'Picaninny plenty tumble down.' It was pitiful; but we knew
that we were close on her at last. By this time, of course, she had been
out for seventy-two hours.
"I stuck to the track, with the lubra and Bob. We could hear some of the chaps
coo-eeing now and again, and calling 'Mary!'"----
"Bad line--bad line," muttered Saunders impatiently.
"Seemed to confuse things, anyway," replied Thompson. "And it was
very doubtful whether the little girl was likely to answer a strange voice.
At last, however, the lubra stopped, and pointed to a sun-bonnet, all dusty,
lying under a spreading hop-bush. She spoke to Bob again.
"'Picaninny sleep here last night,' says Bob. And that was within
a hundred yards of the spot I had made-for after hearing the first call.
I knew it by three or four tall pines, among a mass of pine scrub.
However, the lubra turned off at an angle to the right, and run the track--
not an hour old--toward where we had heard the second call. We were crossing
fresh horse-tracks every few yards; and never two minutes but what somebody
turned-up to ask the news. But to show how little use anything was
except fair tracking, the lubra herself never saw the child till she went
right up to where she was lying between two thick, soft bushes that met
over her, and hid her from sight "----
"Asleep?" I suggested, with a sinking heart.
"No. She had been walking along--less than half-an-hour before--and she had
brushed through between these bushes, to avoid some prickly scrub
on both sides; but there happened to be a bilby-hole close in front,
and she fell in the sort of trough, with her head down the slope; and that was
the end of her long journey. It would have taken a child in fair strength
to get out of the place she was in; and she was played-out to the last ounce.
So her face had sunk down on the loose mould, and she had died
without a struggle.
"Bob snatched her up the instant he caught sight of her, but we all saw
that it was too late. We coo-eed, and the chap with the bell kept it
going steady. Then all hands reckoned that the search was over, and they were
soon collected round the spot.
"Now, that little girl was only five years old; and she had walked nothing less
than twenty-two miles--might be nearer twenty-five."
There was a minute's silence. Personal observation, or trustworthy report,
had made every one of Thompson's audience familiar with such episodes
of new settlement; and, for that very reason, his last remark came
as a confirmation rather than as an over-statement. Nothing is more
astonishing than the distances lost children have been known to traverse.
"How did poor Rory take it?" I asked.
"Dan? Well he took it bad. When he saw her face, he gave one little cry,
like a wounded animal; then he sat down on the bilby-heap, with her
on his knees, wiping the mould out of her mouth, and talking baby to her.
"Not one of us could find a word to say; but in a few minutes we were brought
to ourselves by thunder and lightning in earnest, and the storm was on us
with a roar. And just at this moment Webster of Kulkaroo came up
with the smartest blackfellow in that district.
"We cleared out one of the wagonettes, and filled it with pine leaves,
and laid a blanket over it. And Spanker gently took the child from Dan,
and laid her there, spreading the other half of the blanket over her.
Then he thanked all hands, and made them welcome at the station,
if they liked to come. I went, for one; but Bob went back to Kulkaroo direct,
so I saw no more of him till to-night.
"Poor Dan! He walked behind the wagonette all the way, crying softly,
like a child, and never taking his eyes from the little shape under
the soaking wet blanket. Hard lines for him! He had heard her voice
calling him, not an hour before; and now, if he lived till he was a hundred,
he would never hear it again.
"As soon as we reached the station, I helped Andrews, the storekeeper,
to make the little coffin. Dan would n't have her buried in the station
cemetery; she must be buried in consecrated ground, at Hay. So we boiled
a pot of gas-tar to the quality of pitch, and dipped long strips of wool-bale
in it, and wrapped them tight round the coffin, after the lid was on,
till it was two ply all over, and as hard and close as sheet-iron.
Ay, and by this time more than a dozen blackfellows had rallied-up
to the station.
"Spanker arranged to send a man with the wagonette, to look after the horses
for Dan. The child's mother wanted to go with them, but Dan refused
to allow it, and did so with a harshness that surprised me. In the end,
Spanker sent Ward, one of the narangies. I happened to camp with them
four nights ago, when I was coming down from Kulkaroo, and they were
getting back to Goolumbulla. However," added Thompson, with sublime lowliness
of manner, "that's what I meant by saying that, in some cases, a person's
all the better for being uncivilised. You see, we were nowhere beside Bob,
and Bob was nowhere beside the old lubra."
"Had you much of a yarn with the poor fellow when you met him?" I asked.
"Evening and morning only," replied Thompson, maintaining the fine apathy
due to himself under the circumstances. "I was away all night with
the bullocks, in a certain paddock. Did n't recognise me; but I told him
I had been there; and then he would talk about nothing but the little girl.
Catholic priest in Hay sympathised very strongly with him, he told me,
but could n't read the service over the child, on account of her not being
baptised. So Ward read the service. His people are English Catholics.
Most likely Spanker thought of this when he sent Ward. Dan didn't seem
to be as much cut-up as you'd expect. He was getting uneasy about his paddock;
and he thought Spanker might be at some inconvenience. But that black beard
of his is more than half white already. And--something like me--I never
thought of mentioning this to Bob when he was here. Absence of mind.
"This Dan has much to be thankful for," remarked Stevenson, with strong feeling
in his voice. "Suppose that thunderstorm had come on a few hours sooner--
There was a silence for some minutes.
"Tell you what made me interrupt you, Thompson, when I foun' fault with
singin'-out after lost kids," observed Saunders, at length. "Instigation
o' many a pore little (child) perishin' unknownst. Seen one instance
when I was puttin' up a bit o' fence on Grundle--hundred an' thirty-four
chain an' some links--forty-odd links, if I don't disremember. Top rail
an' six wires. Jist cuttin' off a bend o' the river, to make a handy
cattle-paddick. They'd had it fenced-off with dead-wood, twelve or fifteen
years before; but when they got it purchased they naterally went-in for
a proper fence. An' you can't lick a top rail an' six wires,
with nine-foot panels "----
"You're a bit of an authority on fencin'," remarked Baxter drily.
"Well, as I was sayin'," continued Saunders; "this kid belonged to
a married man, name o' Tom Bracy, that was workin' mates with me. One night
when his missus drafted the lot she made one short; an' she hunted roun',
an' called, an' got excited; an' you couldn't blame the woman. Well,
we hunted all night-me, an' Tom, an' Cunningham, the cove that was engaged
to cart the stuff on-to the line. Decent, straight-forrid chap, Cunningham is,
but a (sheol) of a liar when it shoots him. Course, some o' you fellers
knows him. Meejum-size man, but one o' them hard, wiry, deepchested,
deceivin' fellers. See him slingin' that heavy red-gum stuff about,
as if it was broad palin'. Course, he was on'y three-an' twenty; an' fellers
o' that age don't know their own strenth. His bullocks was fearful low
at the time, on account of a trip he had out to Wilcanniar with flour;
an' that's how he come to take this job "
"Never mind Cunningham; he's dead now," observed Donovan indifferently.
"Well as I was tellin' you," pursued Saunders, "we walked that bend the whole
(adj.) night, singin' out 'Hen-ree! Hen-ree!' an' in the mornin' we was jist
as fur as when we started. Tom, he clears-off to the station before daylight,
to git help; an' by this time I'd come to the conclusion that the kid
must be in the river, or out on the plains. I favoured the river a lot;
but I bethought me o' where this dead-wood fence had bin burnt, to git it out
o' our road, before the grass got dry. So I starts at one end to examine
the line o' soft ashes that divided the bend off o' the plain--an' har'ly
a sign o' traffic across it yet. Had n't went, not fifteen chain,
before I bumps up agen the kid's tracks, plain as A B C, crossin' out towards
the plain. Coo-ees for Cunningham; shows him the tracks; an' the two of us
follers the line o' ashes right to the other end, to see if the tracks
come back. No (adj.) tracks. So we tells the missus; an' she clears-out
for the plain, an' me after her. Cunningham, he collars his horse,
an' out for the plain too. Station chaps turns-up, in ones an' twos;
an' when they seen the tracks, they scattered for the plain too.
Mostly young fellers, on good horses--some o' them good enough to be worth
enterin' for a saddle, or the like o' that. Curious how horses was better
an' cheaper them days nor what they are now. I had a brown mare that time;
got her off of a traveller for three notes; an' you'd pass her by without
lookin' at her; but of all the deceivin' goers you ever come across"----
"No odds about the mare; she's dead long ago," interposed Thompson.
"About two o'clock," continued Saunders cheerfully, "I was dead-beat
an' leg-tired; an' I went back to the tent, to git a bite to eat; an',
comin' back agen, I went roun' to have another look at the tracks.
Now, thinks I, what road would that little (wanderer) be likeliest to head
from here? An' I hitches myself up on a big ole black log that was layin'
about a chain past the tracks, an' I set there for a minit, thinkin'
like (sheol). You would n't call it a big log for the Murray,
or the Lower Goulb'n, but it was a fair-size log for the Murrumbidgee.
I seen some whoppin' redgums in Gippsland too; but the biggest one I ever seen
was on the Goulb'n. Course, when I say 'big,' I mean measurement;
I ain't thinkin' about holler shells, with no timber in 'em. This tree
I'm speakin' about had eleven thousand two hundred an' some odd feet o' timber
in her; an' Jack Hargrave, the feller that cut her"----
"His troubles is over too," murmured Baxter.
"Well, as I was tellin' you, I begun to fancy I could hear the whimper
of a kid, far away. 'Magination, thinks I. Lis'ns fit to break my (adj.)
neck. Hears it agen. Seemed to come from the bank o' the river. Away I goes;
hunts roun'; lis'ns; calls 'Hen-ree!'; lis'ns agen. Not a sound. Couple o'
the station hands happened to come roun', an' I told 'em. Well, after an hour
o' searchin' an' lis'nin', the three of us went back to where I heard
the sound. I hitches myself up on-to the log agen, an' says I:
"'This is the very spot I was,' says I, 'when I heard it.' An' before the word
was out o' my mouth, (verb) me if I did n't hear it agen!
"'There you are!' says I.
"'What the (sheol) are you blatherin' about?' says they.
"'Don't you hear the (adj.) kid?' says I.
"'Oh, that ain't the kid, you (adj.) fool!' says they, lookin' as wise
as Solomon, an' not lettin'-on they could n't hear it. But for an' all,
they parted, an' rode roun' an' roun', as slow as they could crawl,
stoppin' every now an' agen, an' listening for all they was worth; an' me
settin' on the log, puzzlin' my brains. At last I hears another whimper.
"'There you are again!' says I.
"An' one cove, he was stopped close in front o' the butt end o' the log
at the time; an' he jumps off his horse, an' sticks his head in the holler
o' the log, an' lets a oath out of him. Fearful feller to swear, he was.
I disremember his name jis' now; but he'd bin on Grundle ever since he bolted
from his ole man's place, in Bullarook Forest, on account of a lickin'
he got; an' it was hard to best him among sheep; an' now I rec'lect his name
was Dick--Dick--it's jist on the tip o' my (adj.) tongue"----
"No matter hees name," interposed Helsmok; "he have yoined
der graat mayority too."
"Well, as I was sayin'," continued the patient Saunders, "we lis'ned
at the mouth o' the holler, an' heard the kid whinin' inside; an' when we
sung-out to him, he was as quiet as a mouse. An' we struck matches,
an' tried to see him, but he was too fur along, an' the log was a bit crooked;
an' when you got in a couple o' yards, the hole was so small you 'd wonder
how he done it. Anyhow, the two station blokes rode out to pass the word;
an' the most o' the crowd was there in half-an-hour. The kid was a good
thirty foot up the log; an' there was no satisfaction to be got out of him.
He would n't shift; an' by-'n'-by we come to the impression that he could n't
shift; an' at long an' at last we had to chop him out, like a bees' nest.
Turned out after, that the little (stray) had foun' himself out of his
latitude when night come on; an' he'd got gumption enough to set down
where he was, an' wait for mornin'. He'd always bin told to do that,
if he got lost. But by-'n'-by he heard 'Hen-ree! Hen-ree!' boomin' an'
bellerin' back an' forrid across the bend in the dark; an' he thought
the boody-man, an' the bunyip, an' the banshee, an' (sheol) knows what all,
was after him. So he foun' this holler log, an' he thought he could nt git
fur enough into it. He was about seven year old then; an' that was in '71--
the year after the big flood--an' the shearin' was jist about over.
How old would that make him now? Nineteen or twenty. He left his ole man
three year ago, to travel with a sheep-drover, name o' Sep Halliday,
an' he's bin with the same bloke ever since. Mos' likely some o' you chaps
knows this Sep? Stout butt of a feller, with a red baird. Used to mostly take
flocks for truckin' at Deniliquin; but that got too many at it--like
everything else--an' he went out back, Cooper's Creek way, with three thousand
Gunbar yowes, the beginnin' o' las' winter, an' I ain't heard of him since
he crossed at Wilcanniar"----
"No wonder," I observed; "he's gone aloft, like the rest."
There was a pause, broken by Stevenson, in a voice that brought constraint
on us all:
"Bad enough to lose a youngster for a day or two, and find him alive and well;
worse, beyond comparison, when he's found dead; but the most fearful thing
of all is for a youngster to be lost in the bush, and never found, alive
or dead. That's what happened to my brother Eddie, when he was about
eight year old. You must remember it, Thompson?"
"Was n't my father out on the search?" replied Thompson. "Tom's father, too.
You were living on the Upper Campaspe."
"Yes," continued Stevenson, clearing his throat; "I've been thinking over it
every night for these five-and-twenty years, and it seems to me the most likely
thing that could have happened to him was to get jammed in a log,
like that other little chap. Then after five years, or ten years,
or twenty years, the log gets burned, and nobody notices a few little bones,
crumbled among the ashes.
"I was three or four years older than Eddie," he resumed hoarsely "and he
just worshipped me. I had been staying with my uncle in Kyneton for three
months, going to school; and Eddie was lost the day after I came home.
We were out, gathering gum--four of us altogether--about a mile and a half
from home; and I got cross with the poor little fellow, and gave him two
or three hits; and he started home by himself, crying. He turned round
and looked at me, just before he got out of sight among the trees;
and that was the last that was ever seen of him alive or dead. My God!
When I think of that look, it makes me thankful to remember that every day
brings me nearer to the end. The spot where he turned round is in the middle
of a cultivation-paddock now, but I could walk straight to it
in the middle of the darkest night.
"Yes; he started off home, crying. We all went the same way so soon afterward
that I expected every minute to see him on ahead. At last we thought
we must have passed him on the way. No alarm yet, of course; but I was choking
with grief, to think how I'd treated the little chap; so I gave Maggie
and Billy the slip, and went back to meet him. I knew from experience
how glad he would be.
"Ah well! the time that followed is like some horrible dream. He was lost
at about four in the afternoon; and there would be about a dozen people
looking for him, and calling his name, all night. Next day, I daresay
there would be about thirty. Next morning, my father offered £100 reward
for him, dead or alive; and five other men guaranteed £10 each. Next day,
my father's reward was doubled; and five other men put down their names
for another £50. Next day, Government offered £200. So between
genuine sympathy and the chance of making £500, the bush was fairly alive
with people; and everyone within thirty miles was keeping a look-out.
"No use. The search was gradually dropped, till no one was left but my father.
Month after month, he was out every day, wet or dry, and my mother waiting
at home, with a look on her face that frightened us--waiting for the news
he might bring. And, time after time, he took stray bones to the doctor;
but they always turned out to belong to sheep, or kangaroos, or some
other animal. Of course, he neglected the place altogether, and it went
to wreck; and our cattle got lost; and he was always meeting with people
that sympathised with him, and asked him to have a drink--and you can hardly
call him responsible for the rest.
However, on the anniversary of the day that Eddie got lost, my mother
took a dose of laudanum; and that brought things to a head. My father
had borrowed every shilling that the place would carry, to keep up the search;
and there was neither interest nor principal forthcoming, so the mortgagee--
Wesleyan minister, I'm sorry to say--had to sell us off to get his money.
We had three uncles; each of them took one of us youngsters; but they could
do nothing for my father. He hung about the public-houses, getting lower
and lower, till he was found dead in a stable, one cold winter morning.
That was about four years after Eddie was lost."
Stevenson paused, and restlessly changed his position, then muttered,
in evident torture of mind:
"Think of it! While he was going away, crying, he looked back over
his shoulder at me, without a word of anger; and he walked up against
a sapling, and staggered--and I laughed!--Great God!--I laughed!"
That was the end of the tank-sinker's story; and silence fell on our camp.
Doubtless each one of us recalled actions of petty tyranny toward leal,
loving, helpless dependents, or inferiors in strength--actions which now
seemed to rise from the irrevocable past, proclaiming their exemption
from that moral statute of limitations which brings self-forgiveness in course
of time. For an innate Jehovah sets His mark upon the Cain guilty merely
of bullying or terrifying any brother whose keeper he is by virtue
of superior strength; and that brand will burn while life endures.
(Conversely--does such remorse ever follow disdain of authority, or defiance
of power? I, for one, have never experienced it).
Soon a disquietude from another source set my mind at work in troubled
calculation of probabilities. At last I said:
"Would you suppose, Steve, that the finding of George Murdoch's body
was a necessary incitement among the causes that led to the little girl's
"Domson's ascleep," murmured Helsmok. "I tink dey all ascleep. I wass yoos
dropp'n off mineself."
And in two minutes, his relaxed pose and regular breathing affirmed a kind of
fellowship with the rest, in spite of his alien birth and objectionable name.
But I could n't sleep. Dear innocent, angel-faced Mary! perishing alone
in the bush! Nature's precious link between a squalid Past and a nobler
Future, broken, snatched away from her allotted place in the long chain
of the ages! Heiress of infinite hope, and dowered with latent fitness
to fulfil her part, now so suddenly fallen by the wayside! That quaint dialect
silent so soon! and for ever vanished from this earth that keen,
eager perception, that fathomless love and devotion! But such is life.
Yet it is well with her. And it is well with her father, since he,
throughout her transitory life, spoke no word to hurt or grieve her.
Poor old Rory! Reaching Goolumbulla, after his sorrowful journey,
his soft heart would be stabbed afresh by the sight of two picture-books,
which I had posted a fortnight before. And how many memories and associations
would confront him when he returned to his daily round of life! How many
reminders that the irremediable loss is a reality, from which there can be
no awakening! How many relics to be contemplated with that morbid fascination
for the re-quickening of a slumbering and intolerable sense of bereavement!
But the saddest and most precious of memorials will be those little
copper-toed boots that she left along the way. Deepest pathos lies only in
homely things, since the frailness of mortality is the pathetic centre,
and mortality is nothing but homely.
Hence, no relic is so affecting as the half-worn boots of the dead.
Thus in the funeral of that gold-escort trooper, when I was but little older
than poor Mary. The armed procession--the Dead March--the cap and sword
on the coffin--seemed so imposing that I forthwith resolved to be a trooper
myself. That ambition passed away; but the pathos of the empty boots,
reversed in the stirrups of the led horse, has remained with me ever since.
From sad reflections, I seemed to be thus drifting into philosophic musing,
when Helsmok shook me gently by the shoulder. A glance at the setting moon
showed that I had been asleep, and that it was long past midnight. Here,
therefore, ends the record of December the 9th; and you might imagine
this chapter of life fitly concluded.
But sometimes an under-current of plot, running parallel with the main action,
emerges from its murky depths, and causes a transient eddy in the interminable
stream of events. Something of this kind occurred on the morning of the 10th.
"Collince," said the Dutchman softly. "Don' wake op der odder vellers--do no
goot yoos now. I gone 'way roun' der liknum, und der bullock und der horse
not dere. Notteen cronk, I hope. Mi's well com anodder trip?"
I left my lair, and we walked out across the plain, followed by the faithful
Pup. When we had ranged for an hour, in half-mile zig-zags, day began
to break; and nothing had turned-up, except four of Stevenson's horses.
But we heard, through the stillness of the dawn, a faint, far-away trampling
of hoofs. We headed for the sound, and presently found ourselves meeting
three or four dozen of mixed bullocks and horses convoyed by five mounted
Chinamen. We stood aside to let them pass. By this time, an advancing
daylight enabled me to recognise the roan horse of Sam Young
(also called Paul) with a rider who was more likely to be that proselyte
than anyone else. At all events, he turned upon me the light of a countenance,
broad, yellow, and effulgent as the harvest moon of pastoral poetry; and,
like a silver clarion, rung the accents of that unknown tongue:
"Ah-pang-sen-lo! Missa Collin! sen-lo! Tlee-po' week, me plully liah,
all li; nek time, you plully liah, all li! Missa Smyte talkee you bimeby!
Hak-i-long-see-ho! You lescue Walligal Alp bullock--eh? You killee me,
by cli! Whe' you holse? Ling-tang-hon-me! My wuld, Tlinidad plully goo'
glass, no feah! Hi-lung-sing-i-lo-i-lo!"
"Goo' molnin', Missa Helsmok!" chanted another yellow agony. "Nicee molnin',
Missa Helsmok! Whaffoh you tellee me lah wintel you sclew my plully neck?
Lak-no-ha-long-lee! Missa Smyte wakee you up--tyillin'-a-head you holse!
"Donder und blitzen!" retorted the Dutchman, striding toward the escort,
which scattered at his approach. "Yomp off dem olt crocks, every man
yack of you, und swelp mine Gott! I weel ponch der het of der vive of you
altogedder mit, ef so moch der yudge seegs mons pot me into der yail bot!"
"Helsmok," said I, restraining him; "upon the heat and flame of thy distemper
sprinkle cool patience. Let us accept the situation with dignity. Let us pit
the honest frankness of the played-out Caucasian against the cunning
of the successful Mongol." Then, addressing the Turanian horde,
and adapting my speech to the understanding of our lowest types: "My word!"
I exclaimed admiringly, "you take-um budgeree rise out-a whitepeller,
John! Merrijig you! Borak you shift-um that peller bullock; borak you
shift-um that peller yarraman. Whitepeller gib-it you fi' bob, buy-it opium.
You savvy? Bale whitepeller tell-um boss. Bimeby whitepeller yabber like-it,
'Chinaman berry good'-yabber likeit, 'Comenavadrink, John'--yabber like-it,
'Chinaman brother b'long-a whitepeller.' You savvy, John?"
"Lak-hi-lo-hen-slung!" carolled a third Chow disdainfully. "You go hellee
shut up! Eulopean allee sem plully whool! Lum-la-no-sunhi-me!"
And the raiders went on their way, warbling remarks to each other
in their native tongue, while the discomfited foreign devils hurried toward
their camp, to give the alarm.
But Baxter, Donovan, Thompson, and Saunders had already gone out to feast
their eyes on the change which such a night would make in the appearance
of their stock. Stevenson was just getting on his feet, and feeling
for his pipe. Cartwright was still asleep. It seemed a pity to disturb him.
Sharply whetted to this form of self-indulgence by hardship that would have
finished any civilised man, he had gently dozed off as the last bite
of a copious and indigestible supper reached his emu-stomach,
and had never moved since.
"Now who'd'a'thought them Chinks was so suddent?" he mused, as I woke him
with the tidings. "Trapped! Gosh, what a slant I'd 'a' had at that (fellow)'s
horsepaddick, if I'd on'y knowed! Cut-an'-dried, I be boun'. No good chewin'
over it now, anyhow. After you with them matches, Stevenson; mine's all done."
"Barefooted Bob's mixed-up in this," remarked Stevenson, handing the matches.
"Now, who would have suspected it, from his manner last night? But no one
is to be trusted. Better take our saddles and bridles with us."
"In respect of imbecility and ignorance, I grant you," I replied.
"But in respect of deliberate deceit, most men are to be trusted. By-the-way,
there's four of your frames left--out near those coolibahs."
"Stake the question on Bob," he suggested. "May as well catch them, and ride."
"So be it--to both proposals."
The sun was now above the indefinable horizon, looming blood-red through
the smoky haze. All objects, even in the middle distance, showed vague
and shadowy; but, knowing which way the marauders had taken their prey,
we went after them, making a slight detour to secure the four horses.
But we were just in time to discern a Chinese patrol tailing the same beasts
toward a larger detachment, which was moving in the direction taken
by the earlier draft. We followed; and, for my own part, even if I had
not been personally interested, I should have judged it well worth going
a mile to witness the strong situation which supplied a sequel
to our homely little drama.
Precise and faithful execution, co-operating with masterly strategy
had realised one of the most magnificent hauls of assorted trespassers
that I have been privileged to survey. I jotted down a memo. of the numbers.
There were 254 head of overworked and underfed beasts--173 bullocks
and 81 horses. These were in the custody of nine Mongolians,
two Young-Australians, and two gentlemen--the latter being Mr. Smythe and Bert.
Also, 7 bullocks and 3 horses left their bones in the paddock, as evidence
of the bitter necessity which had prompted this illegal invasion
of pastoral leasehold. There were (including myself) 23 claimants,
present in person, or arriving by twos or threes. A few of these were
ludicrously abashed; others were insolent; but the large majority observed
a fine nonchalance, shading down to apathy. And Mr. Smythe, true to his order
of mind, treated the first with outrageous contumely, the second with
silent contempt, and the third with a respect born of vague disquietude
and anxiety for the morrow. A squatter--just or unjust, generous
or avaricious, hearty or exclusive, debonair or harsh--should be a strong man;
this was a weakling; and my soul went forth in genuine compassion for him.
The three hours occupied in sorting-out and settling-up, furnished, perhaps,
as varied and interesting experiences to me as to anyone else in the cast:
first, a thrill of dismay, altogether apart from the drama; and afterward,
the fortuitous cognisance of a bit of by-play in the main action.
My horses, of course, were among the captives; each of them with both
hobble-straps buckled round the same leg. Early in the reception,
whilst treating for them, I was fairly disconcerting Mr. Smythe with my
affability, when that sudden consternation came over me. Where was Pup?
I put the two pairs of hobbles round Bunyip's neck, and saddled Cleopatra
without delay. The gallant beast, as if he knew the need for despatch,
bucked straight ahead till he merged into an easy gallop. A few minutes
brought me to the camp; and my anxiety was dispelled. The chaps had hung
their tucker-bags on some adjacent lignum, out of reach of the wild pigs,
but at a height accessible to Pup. The absence of the owners,
though desirable, would not have been absolutely necessary to the performance
which followed, for a kangaroo-dog can abstract food with a motion
more silent--and certainly more swift--than that of a gnomon's shadow
on a sun-dial.
So I returned to the scene of interest, accompanied by Bunyip and Pup.
Twelve or fifteen of the outlaws, having secured their saddle-horses,
were sternly ordering the Chinamen to refrain from crowding the stock.
The grass in this corner of the paddock was especially good; and these
unshamed delinquents rode slowly through and through the mob, each vainly
trying to identify and count his own; while now and then one would pass out
to overbear some encroaching pagan by loud-spoken interrogations respecting
a bay mare with a switch tail, or a strawberry bullock with wide horns--such
ostentatious inquiry being accompanied by a furtive and vicious jabbing
of evidence's horse, or evidence himself, with some suitable instrument.
Yet batch after batch was withdrawn and paid for; while the red sun
rose higher, and Mr. Smythe became impatient and crusty, by reason
of the transparent dallying.
Helsmok, after protracted and patient sorting, brought out nineteen
of his horses, and paid for twenty, besides his hack. He said he would have
to borrow a whip from someone, to "dost der yacket" of the impracticable animal
that remained in the mob. Relevantly, one of the Chows had a stockwhip,
the handle of which represented about six months' untiring work
on a well-selected piece of myall. Helsmok had all along been pained
by the incongruity of such a gem in such keeping; and now having discharged
his trespass-liability, the iron-wristed Hollander politely borrowed
this jewel from its clinging owner, and so recovered his horse
without difficulty. Then, when the bereaved boundary man followed him across
the plain, intoning psalms of remonstrance, Helsmok, making a playful clip
at a locust, awkwardly allowed the lash to curl once-and-a-half round
the body of John's horse; close in front of the hind-legs. The cheap and
reliable rider saved himself by the mane; but he let the stockwhip go at that.
Smythe--high-strung and delicate, in spite of his stockkeeper's rig-out--
was taking little interest in anything except the shillings he collected.
At last, with a heart-drawn sigh, he beckoned to his brother.
"You must meet me with the buggy, Bert, when this is over. I have
a splitting headache. We can do without you now." Alas! what doth
a station manager with splitting headaches? Answer, ye pastoralists!
Stevenson had just drafted and paid for his batch, when Barefooted Bob
stalked up, bearing an unmistakable scowl on his frank face, and a saddle
on his shoulder.
"Did you receive my message last night, Bob?" demanded Smythe.
"Well," drawled Bob, "I couldn't say whether it was las' night or
this mornin'--but I got your message right enough."
"And why didn't you turn-up?"
"Why did n't I turn-up," repeated Bob thoughtfully. "P'r'aps you'll be so good
as to inform me if my work's cleanin' out reservoys or mindin' paddicks?"
"But you should be loyal to your employ," replied Smythe severely.
"Meanin' I shouldn't turn dog?" conjectured Bob. "No more I don't.
I ain't turnin' dog on anybody when I stick to my own work, an' keep off
of goin' partners with opium an' leprosy. Same time, mind you, I'd be turnin'
dog on the station if I took advantage o' your message, to go round warnin'
the chaps that was workin' on the paddick. Way I was situated, the clean thing
was to stand out. An' that's what I done."
Meanwhile, Stevenson had lingered to feel his pockets, sort his papers,
examine his horse's legs, and so forth, while his draft spread out
over the grass.
"You were right, and I was wrong," he remarked, aside to me.
"Bob is trustworthy--ruthlessly so."
"Only in respect of conscience, which is mere moral punctilio, and may co-exist
with any degree of ignorance or error," I replied. "I would n't chance
sixpence on his moral sense--nor on yours, either."
"Thank-you, both for the lesson and the compliment. Don't forget to call round
at my camp, any time you're crossing Koolybooka. Goodbye."
"Are your bullocks here, Bob?" demanded Smythe.
"Horses too," replied Bob. "Ain't you lookin' at 'em?" But Smythe
did n't know half-a-dozen beasts on the station; and Bob
(as he afterward told me) was aware of his boss's weakness in Individuality.
"Take them and get to work then," retorted Smythe. "How many bullocks
are you working?" he added, with sudden suspicion--his idea evidently being
that Bob might wish to do a good turn to some of the bullock drivers.
"Well, I'm workin' ten, but"----
"'But!'----I'll have no 'but' about it!" snapped Smythe. "Take your ten,
"Right," drawled Bob, and he slowly strode toward one of his own horses.
"And look-sharp, you fellows!" vociferated Smythe. "This paddock must be
cleared within fifteen minutes, or I shall proceed to more extreme measures."
Whereupon Thompson withdrew his lot, deliberately followed by four
other culprits, whose names are immaterial. Meanwhile, Bob had some trouble
in sorting out his ten--often slowly crossing and re-crossing the paths
of Donovan and Baxter, in their still more arduous and long-drawn task.
At last the eagle-eye of the squatter counted Bob's ten, accompanied by
his spare horse, as he tailed the lot toward his camp; and the same
aquiline optic tallied-off an aggregate of thirty-six to Baxter and Donovan--
who, to my own private knowledge, had entered the paddock with thirty-four.
This disposed of the whole muster.
Months afterward, when the two Mondunbarra bullocks had been swapped-away
into a team from the Sydney side, I camped one night with Baxter and Donovan,
who discussed, in the most matter-of-fact way, their own tranquil appropriation
of the beasts. Each of these useful scoundrels had the answer of
a good conscience touching the transaction. They maintained, with manifest
sincerity, that Smythe's repudiation of the bullocks, and his subsequent levy
of damages upon them as strangers and trespassers, gave themselves
a certain right of trover, which prerogative they had duly developed
into a title containing nine points of the law. Not equal to a pound-receipt,
of course; but good enough for the track. And throughout the discussion,
Bob's name was never mentioned, nor his complicity hinted at. Such is life.
SAT. FEB. 9. Runnymede. To Alf Jones's.
Not much in that bill of fare, you think? Perhaps not. Nor was
Count Federigo degli Alberighi's falcon much of a banquet for
the Lady Giovanna, though that meagre catering cost a considerable jar
to the sensibilities of the impoverished aristocrat--accurately represented,
in this instance, by the writer of these memoirs. Of course, I am committed to
any narration imposed by my random election of dates; but just notice
that perversity, that untowardness, that cussedness in the affairs of men,
which brings me back to Runnymede, above all places in the spacious
south-western quarter of the Mother Province. The unforeseen sequences
of that original option are masters of the situation, till they run
their course--and most tyrannical masters they are. They have tied me
to a stake; I cannot fly, but, bear-like, I must fight the course.
Ay! your first-person-singular novelist delights in relating his love-story,
simply because he can invent something to pamper his own romantic notions;
whereas, a similar undertaking makes the faithful chronicler squirm
inasmuch as Oh!----you'll find out soon enough.
Five days before the date of this entry, I had received orders to proceed
at once to Runnymede, and there to complete an M-form, which would
in the meantime be forwarded from our Central Office to Mr. Montgomery.
Twelve hours' riding had brought me to the station, but the document
had not arrived, so there was nothing for it but to wait till the next mail
came in. That would be on the 9th.
Being a little too exalted for the men's hut, and a great deal too vile
for the boss's house, I was quartered in the narangies' barracks.
Social status, apart from all consideration of mind, manners, or even money,
is more accurately weighed on a right-thinking Australian station than anywhere
else in the world.
The folk-lore of Riverina is rich in variations of a mythus, pointing to
the David-and-Goliath combat between a quiet wage-slave and a domineering
squatter, in the brave days of old. With one solitary exception, each station
from the Murray to the Darling claims and holds this legend as its own.
On Kooltopa alone, the tables are turned, and the amiable Stewart makes
a holy show of the truculent rouse-about. But on no station, not even
on Kooltopa, has imagination bodied forth, or tradition handed down,
any such vagary as might imply that a wage-slave saw the inside of the house
or the barracks. And a narangy will always avoid your eye as he relates how,
on some momentous occasion, the boss invited him to step in and take a seat.
In the accurately-graded society of a proper station, you have a reproduction
of the Temple economy under the old Jewish ritual. The manager's house
is a Sanctum Sanctorum, wherein no one but the high priest enters;
the barracks is an Inner Court, accessible to the priests only; the men's hut
is an Outer Court, for the accommodation of lay worshippers; and the nearest
pine-ridge, or perhaps one of the empty huts at the wool-shed, is
the Court of the Gentiles. And the restrictions of the Temple were never
more rigid than those of a self-respecting station. This usage, of course,
bears fruit after its kind.
It was more than a mere custom with the mediaeval baron--it was a large part
of the religion which guided his rascally life--to wolf his half-raw pork
in fellowship with his rouse-abouts; hence he could bash the latter about
at pleasure; and they, in return, were prepared to die in his service.
A good solid social system, in its own brutal and non-progressive way.
The squatter, of course, cannot get back to the long table with the dogs
underneath; but he ought to think-out some practicable equivalent
to the baron's crude and lop-sided camaraderie--this having been a necessary
condition of vassal loyalty in olden time. Without vassal loyalty,
or abject vassal fear, the monopolist's sleep can never be secure.
Domination, to be unassailable, must have overwhelming force in reserve--
moral force, as in the feudal system, or physical force, as in
our police system. The labour-leader, of accredited integrity and capability,
though (so to speak) ducally weedy, has moral force in reserve; and we all know
how he controls the many-headed. Also, the man glaringly destitute
of integrity or capacity, but noticed as having a bullet-head, a square jaw,
countersunk eyes, and the rest in proportion, is suspected of having
the other kind of force in reserve; and we know how he escapes anything
like wanton personal indignity in his intercourse with gentle or simple.
Now, the only reserve-force adherent to station aristocracy resides
in the manager's power to "sack."
The squatter of half-a-century ago dominated his immigrant servants by
moral force--no difficult matter, with a 'gentleman' on one side and a squad
of hereditary grovellers on the other. He dominated his convict servants
by physical force--an equally easy task. But now the old squatter has gone
to the mansions above; the immigrant and old hand to the kitchen below;
and between the self-valuation of the latter-day squatter and that
of his contemporary wage-slave, there is very little to choose. Hence the toe
of the blucher treads on the heel of the tan boot, and galls its stitches.
The average share of that knowledge which is power is undoubtedly in favour
of the tan boot; but the preponderant moiety is just as surely held
by the blucher. In our democracy, the sum of cultivated intelligence,
and corresponding sensitiveness to affront, is dangerously high,
and becoming higher. On the other hand, the squatter, even if pliant
by disposition, cannot spring to the strain; social usage being territorial
rather than personal; so here, you see, we have the two factors which should
blend together in harmony--namely, the stubborn tradition of the soil,
and the elastic genius of the 'masses'--divorced by an ever-widening breach.
There are two remedies, and only two, available; failing one of these,
something must, soon or later, give way with a crash. Either the anachronistic
tradition must make suicidal concessions, or the better-class people
must drown all plebeian Australian males in infancy, and fill the vacancy
My acquaintance with Runnymede dated from about seven years before.
Tracking three stray steers, I had reached the station at sunset. I had come
more than sixty miles--nearly all unstocked country--in two days, and with
only one chance meal. My horse was provokingly fagged . I was ragged
by reason of the scrub, and dirty for lack of water: whilst an ill-spelled
and ungrammatical order on Naylor of Koolybooka, for £28, was the nearest
approach to money in my possession. I had left my cattle-tracks,
and was approaching the home-station, when I met Mr. Montgomery himself.
I told him my story. 'Oh, well; go to the store and get your rations,'
said he disgustedly. 'And, see--if those steers of yours are on the run,
get them off as quick as possible. Fence-breakers, no doubt. Come! hurry-up,
or the store will be closed!' The storekeeper measured me out a pannikin
of dust into a newspaper, and directed me to the left-hand corner
of the ram-paddock, as the best place for my horse. There, in the spacious
Court of the Gentiles, I made a fire, worked up my johnny-cake on the flat top
of the corner post, ate it hot off the coals, then lay down
in swino-philosophic contentment, and read the newspaper till I could smell
my hair scorching, and so to sleep.
My next visit to Runnymede took place about three years later. I had timed
myself to draw-up to the station on a Saturday afternoon, with
five-ton-seventeen of wire. Montgomery met me, as before. 'You're Collins,
aren't you? I've got the duplicate. We won't disturb your load till Monday.
Shove your trespassers in the ration-paddock, and go and stop in the hut.'
I was rising in the world.
Next time I called at Runnymede, it was to inspect and verify the register
which Montgomery was supposed to keep for my Department. Being now worthy
of the Inner Court, I was told-off to sleep in the spare bed in Moriarty's
room, and to sit at meat with the narangies, where we were waited on by
a menial. If my social evolution had continued--if I had expanded,
for instance, into a literary tourist, of sound Conservative principles--
I would have seen the inside of the boss's house before I had done. But,
as it happened, I withered and contracted from that point--simultaneously,
mind you, with a perceptible diminution of my inherent ignorance
and correlative uselessness. Such, however, is life.
But on the present occasion I had been quartered in the barracks for four
whole days, as idle as a freshly-painted ship upon an ocean made iridescent
by the unavoidable dripping and sprinkling of the pigment used.
(A clumsy metaphor, but happily not my own). This lethargy was inexcusable.
I had three note-books filled with valuable memoranda for a
Series of Shakespearean Studies; and O, how I longed for a few days'
untroubled leisure, just to break ground on the work. Those notes had been
written in noisy huts, or by flickering firelight, or on horseback--written
in eager activity of mind, and in hope of such an opportunity for amplification
as I was now letting slip. But I have one besetting sin; and this Delilah,
scissors in hand, had dogged me to Runnymede, and polled me by the skull.
Nor could I plead inadvertence when I gravitated into the old familiar vice;
but I left the consequences for an after-consideration. The opportunity
was there, like an uncorked bottle under a dipsomaniac's nose, and that
was enough. 'One more,' I kept saying to myself; 'one more, and that's
the last; so sweet was ne'er so fatal.'
According to the unhappy custom of besetting sins, this evil thing came upon me
the moment I woke on the morning of the 9th. I slipped into my clothes,
and started off along the horse-paddock fence toward a natural hollow,
a mile from the station. Here twelve or fifteen years' continuous trampling
by the worst-smelling of ruminants (bar the billygoat) on ground theretofore
untrodden except by blackfellows, birds, and marsupials, had developed a pond,
sometimes a couple of acres in area, and eight feet deep in the middle,
and sometimes dry. Full or dry, fresh or rotten, the pond was known as
the 'swimming-hole.' At the time I speak of, the water was about half-gone,
in both senses, and evaporating at the rate of an inch a day.
With a good supple stem of old-man saltbush I dispersed three snakes
that lay around the margin, waiting for frogs; then I noticed my empty clothes
lying on the bank, and found myself sliding through the lukewarm water,
recklessly and wickedly discounting the prospective virility of another day;
and there I remained till I thought it was time to go to breakfast.
Nothing but that integrity which springs from the certainty of being
ultimately found-out, prompts me to the foregoing confession--a confession
which I cannot but regard as damaging, from the literary, as well as from
the moral, point of view. And for this reason.
During the last twenty or thirty years, the foremost humorist of our language
has, from time to time, casually touched on the removal of natural
and acquired dirt by means of bathing; but however lightly and racily
this subject might leave his pen, it has been degraded into repulsiveness
by the clumsy handling of imitators. Some things look best when merely implied
in the dim background, and recent literature certainly proves this to be
one of them. There is nothing dainty or picturesque in the presentment
of a naked character washing himself; yet how few of our later novels
or notes of travel are without that bit of description; generally set-off
by an ungainly reflection on the dirt of some other person, class,
or community. The noxious affectation is everywhere. Even the Salvation
officer cannot now write his contribution to the War Cry without a detailed
account of the bath he took on this or that occasion--a thing which has
no interest whatever for anyone but himself. It would be much more becoming
to wash our dirty skins, as well as our dirty calico, in private.
We might advantageously copy women-writers here. Woman, in the nature
of things, must accumulate dirt, as we do; and she must now and then wash
that dirt off, or it would be there still. (Like St. Paul, I speak as a man.)
But the scribess never parades her ablutions on the printed page. If,
for instance, you could prevail upon the whole galaxy of Australian authoresses
and pen-women to attend a Northern Victoria Agricultural Show,
in their literary capacity, you would see proof of this. Each would write
her catalogue of aristocratic visitors, her unfavourable impressions re quality
of refreshments, her sarcastic notice of other women's attire, and her
fragmentary observations on the floral exhibits; but not one would wind-up
her memoir with an account of the 'tubbing' she gave herself in the seclusion
of her lodgings when the turmoil was over. Woman must be more than
figuratively a poem if she can promenade a dusty show-yard for a long,
hot afternoon without increasing in weight by exogenous accretion;
but her soulfulness, however powerless to disallow dirt, silently asserts
itself when that dirt comes to be shifted.
However, mere fidelity to fact brings me into the swim--in the figurative
sense, as well as in the literal--and the sad consciousness of fellowship
with men who 'tub' themselves on paper is added to the humiliation
of the disclosure itself. In a word, just as I lost my vigour
in the swimming-hole, I lose my individuality in the confession. But I don't
lose my discrimination, nor my veracity. I don't call my evil good.
In Physical Science, or in Pure Ethics--whoop! I am Antony yet!
Nature, by a kind of Monroe Doctrine, has allotted the dry land to man,
and various other animals; the water to fish, leeches, etc.; the air to birds,
bats, flies, etc.; the fire to salamanders, imps, unbaptised babies, etc.;
and she strictly penalises the trespass of each class on the domain
of any other. Naturally then, about sixteen raids, within four days,
on an alien element, had stewed every atom of vigour out of my system,
and quenched every spark of heroism.
Consider the child. He is the creature of instinct; and instinct--according to
my late relative, Wilkie Collins--never errs, though reason often does so,
as we know to our cost. Now, the picaninny knows what is good for him.
Place him in promixity to a dust-hole or an ash-heap, and observe
what takes place. He approaches it with that droll, yet pathetic, method
of locomotion peculiar to his period of life--travelling on both hands
and one knee, whilst with the big toe of the other hind-foot he propels
himself along. In the very centre of the dirt, he deftly whirls into
a sitting position, and proceeds to redeem the time, maintaining, meanwhile,
that silence which is the perfectest herald of joy. Ormuzd the Good
has inspired him with this inclination. But the Minister of Ahriman the Evil
is not far off. The able-bodied mother seizes the mite of a bambino
by the wrist, and carries him at arm's-length to the kitchen. It is
to no purpose that he becomes alternately rigid and flaccid, lifting up
his voice in clamorous protest, and making himself as heavy as a bag of shot.
That misguided woman denudes him, washes him, rubs soap into his eyes,
spanks him, re-arrays him, and sets him in a clean place, giving him a teaspoon
to play with. Then she resumes her household work; whereupon Ormuzd whispers
in the pledge's projecting ear, and that heaven-directed bimbo straightway
turns his head toward the dust-hole, and, again illustrating the first clause
of the Sphynx's not very complicated riddle, keeps the strictly noiseless tenor
of his way, till Ahriman's priestess looks round to see the metaphors
fulfilled, of the pup turning again to his ashheap, and the papoose
that was washed wallowing in the dust-hole. And so the pull-devil-pull-baker
strife goes on to the last syllable of recorded time--not between
mother and child, as you are prone to imagine, but between the two great
principles of Good and Evil, so widely allegorised and personified,
yet so uncertainly grasped, and so loosely defined. The result is sad enough:
physically, not one in ten of us is what the doctor ordered, and, of course,
brought; mentally, we are mostly fools; morally, we are, in a sense,
little better than we ought to be. And such is life.
At breakfast, I remember, there occurred a slight misunderstanding
between Mrs. Beaudesart, the housekeeper, and Ida, the white trash
whose vocation was to wait on the narangies.
Mrs. Beaudesart was well-born. Don't study that expression too closely,
or you'll get puzzled. Her father, Hungry Buckley, of Baroona--a gentleman
addicted to high living and extremely plain thinking--had been snuffed-out
by apoplexy, and abundantly filled a premature grave, some time
in the early 'sixties, after seeing Baroona pass, by foreclosure,
into the hands of a brainy and nosey financier. People who had known
the poor gentleman when he was very emphatically in the flesh, and had listened
to his palaver, and noticed his feckless way of going about things,
were not surprised at the misfortune that had struck Buckley. Mrs. B. had
then taken a small villa, near Sydney, where, in course of time, her son
and daughter took positions of vantage, such as their circumstances allowed;
each being prepared to stake his or her gentility (an objectionable word,
but it has no synonym; and nasty things have nasty names) against any amount
of filth that could be planked down by an aspiring representative
of the opposite sex.
But young Mr. Buckley, who was something indefinite in a bank,
presently ventured on a bit of blacksmith work, and being, by reason
of hopeless impecuniosity, not worth lenient treatment, got a tenner hard.
About the same time, Miss Buckley--then a singularly handsome young lady--
became a veritable heroine of romance. A German prince, whose name I forget
at the present moment, visited these provinces; and our Beatrix Esmond----
Well, perhaps a reflected greatness is better than no greatness at all.
So, at all events, thought Mr. Lionel Fysshe-Jhonson, who married Miss Buckley
on the strength of her celebrity. This young man in less than two years
went to his reward; and his widow, after a seemly interval, reinforced
her financial position by accepting the hand and heart of old Mr. Tidy,
an aitchless property-owner, whose hobby was to collect his own rents.
Bottoming on gold this time, she buried the old man within eighteen months,
and paid probate duty on £25,000. After three years of something like life,
she accepted the addresses of the Hon. Henry Beaudesart, a social refugee
from Belgravia (wherever that may be). This was a gentleman of such
refined tastes that it took over £10,000 a year to satisfy his soul-yearnings;
so, when she buried him, after two years' trial it was in the sure
and certain hope that he would stay where he was put. This brought her
to about the year '78. And the tide had turned.
For the next two years, the poor gentlewoman hung round the scene
of her former glories, wearing garments that were out of fashion, and otherwise
drinking to its very dregs the cup of bitterness which a heartless society
holds to the lips of its deposed queen. The elegancies of life
were necessities to her; but those elegancies would cost--to put it tangibly--
the balance of profit accruing from the continuous labour of at least
fifty average industrious women. And when the industrious women were not
to the fore, where were the elegancies to come from? Where, indeed! It is
a question which has broken many a gentler heart than Maud Beaudesart's,
and will break many more. It is a cruel question; but not to put it
would be more cruel still. For while this or that gentlewoman is in danger,
no gentlewoman is safe. And the basest type of mind is that which gloats
on the adversity of the world's spoiled child; the next basest is that which
concentrates its sympathy on the same adversity; the least base, I think,
is that which, goaded by a human compassion for all human distress,
longs to get a lever under the order of things which necessitates the spoiling
of any particular child.
Two or three years before the date of this record, Mrs. Montgomery,
a distant relation and boarding-school friend of Mrs. Beaudesart, had met
the latter in Sydney, and had brought her out to Runnymede. Montgomery,
viewing the tenacious widow as a fixture, had insisted upon her having
some definite status on the place, and she was therefore installed
as housekeeper. Little wonder that the poor gentlewoman, remembering her own
departed greatness, and chafing under the mild yoke of Mrs. Montgomery,
used to make the handmaidens of the household wish themselves in Gehenna.
Dionysius the Younger, shifted from his throne, opened a school,
so that he might take it out of the boys. Such is life.
Levites, tribesmen, and Gentiles alike, used to poke fun at me
over Mrs. Beaudesart; but the fact that they thought they knew my real
standing, whereas they did n't, seemed to weigh so much in my favour
as to make their banter anything but provoking. Yet my relations
with the gentlewoman were painful enough. I'll tell you exactly how we stood.
On my first official visit to Runnymede, whilst Montgomery and I stood
talking in front of the store, Mrs. Beaudesart passed by. He detained her
a moment to speak of my sleeping-accommodation, but first, with grave
courtliness, introduced me to her as the last lineal descendant
of Commander David Collins, R.N. Situated as I was, what could I say?--
what would you have said? I had to fall in with the thing at the time;
and having done so, of course, I had to live up to it; moreover this meant
a good deal when I had to beat time with a woman like Maud. In spite of
my chivalrous disinclination to flaunt superior descent in the face of a lady,
our shuddersome intimacy deepened; and the necessity for keeping up
my accompaniment seemed to grow more imperative as it became more difficult.
But even at this distance of time, it soothes me to remember that I went
through the ordeal without any sacrifice of veracity--partly by modest
reticence touching my forbears, and the rest by a little diplomacy.
For instance, in remarking that my grandfather, Sir Timothy Collins,
had been well known in connection with the turf, I omitted to explain
that he was allowed to obtain it only from a specified bog, and that his custom
was to sell it at the stump for so much per donkey-load, to be taken out
in spuds or oatmeal. Altogether, I got on better than you might expect.
Meanwhile, some unhappy hitch in the Order of Things, as well as that
strange fascination which accompanies danger of detection, kept dragging me
to Runnymede on every pretext.
Another thing. Mrs. Beaudesart possessed a vast store of Debrett--information
touching those early gentlemen-colonists whose enterprise is hymned by
loftier harps than mine, but whose sordid greed and unspeakable arrogance
has yet to be said or sung. Socially, she knew something fie-fie about
most of our old nobility; and her class-sympathy, supported by
the quasi-sacredness which invests aristocratic giddiness, lent tenderness
of colour and accuracy of detail to some queer revelations. She could make me
fancy myself in ancient Corinth.
And such was her hypnotic power, or my adaptability, that in the atmosphere
of Runnymede I became a Conservative of the good old type, and actually
enjoyed the communion of soul necessarily subsisting between a pedigreed lady
and a pedigreed gentleman. We habitually spoke of the Montgomerys
as of the wealthy lower orders, people of yesterday, and so forth; and because
we took especial care to let nobody hear us, the jealousy of our inferiors
manifested itself in that badinage so dear to the middle-class mind.
'Inferiors,' I say advisedly, for there was an indescribable something
about us two when we got together, a something too subtle for expression
in the vulgar tongue, which made us feel the station aristocracy to be
a mere bourgeoisie, and ourselves the real Mackay. Of course, Montgomery
had forgotten my high descent as soon as the words of introduction were out
of his mouth; and I had begged the lady to conceal my gentilesse
for the present; family pride causing me to be extremely sensitive
on the subject of my low position. This was the only witchcraft I had used.
Ida, the handmaid of the barracks, was a common person. She certainly belonged
to the same mammiferous division of vertebrata as Mrs. Beaudesart,
but there the affinity ended with a jerk. In a word, she was the low-born
daughter of a late poverty-stricken Victorian selector. Her father,
after twelve years' manful struggle with a bad selection, had hanged himself
in the stable; whereupon the storekeeper had sold the movables,
and the mortgagee the farm. Runnymede was Ida's first situation. Her wages,
month by month, went to the support of her broken-down mother, then living
frugally in a country township, taking care of Ida's remaining brother,
who had been knocked out of shape through getting run-over, in a painfully
protracted way, by a heavy set of harrows. Her other brother had unfortunately
sat down to eat his lunch on the wrong side of a partly grubbed tree.
Altogether, poor Ida had very little to be thankful for. Personally, she was,
without any exception, the ugliest white girl I ever saw. She measured
about twice as long from the chin to Self-Esteem as from Benevolence
to Amativeness; not one feature of her face was even middling; her skin
was of a neutral creamy tint; and she had a straggly goatee of dirty white,
with woolly side-boards of the same colour, in lieu of the short,
silky moustache which is the piquant trade-mark of our country-women.
Besides this, she was lame, on account of the back-sinew of one of her ankles
having been cut through by a reaping-machine; and in addition to all this,
the fingers of her left hand had been snipped to a uniform length,
through getting into the feed of a chaff-cutter. Montgomery had picked her
purposely for the barracks--so, at least, he told Mrs. Montgomery;
so she told Mrs. Beaudesart, and so the latter told me. For myself,
I often felt an impulse to marry the poor mortal; partly from compassion;
partly from the idea that such an action would redound largely to my honour;
and partly from the impression that such an unattractive woman
would idolise a fellow like me.
The daughter of an unlucky selector is not taught to spare herself;
and Ida was an untiring and conscientious worker. For the rest, she was
a generous, patient, self-denying girl, transparently honest in word and deed;
the gentle soul shining through its homely mask, like a candle in a bottle.
Upon the whole, ugly, illiterate--and, above all, ill-starred, lowly,
and defenceless--as she was, she would have made an admirable butt
for the flea-power of your illustrated comic journal.
Mrs. Beaudesart abhorred Ida for her ugliness, for her vulgarity,
for her simplicity, but chiefly for her name. (I can sympathise with
the gentlewoman here--remembering how rancorously I once hated another boy
because he came from the Isle of Wight.) Yet the two mammals' chronic state
of friction was partly chargeable on Ida, who would answer back,
in her own milk-and-water way. And, to add to the aggravation,
she could n't answer back without crying.
Something had gone wrong, as usual, this morning; and Mrs. Beaudesart remained
in the narangies' breakfast-room, mildly glowering into Ida's tear-stained
face, and noting with polite deprecation the convulsive sobs which
the sensitive girl vainly tried to repress before the young fellows.
Beauty in distress is a favorite theme of your shallow romancists; but,
to the philosophic mind, its pathos is nothing to that of ugliness in distress.
At the best of times, poor Ida was heart-breaking; her sunniest smile
wrung my soul with commiseration; and when the sympathy naturally accorded
to helpless anguish was superimposed upon that which she claimed
as her birthright, the pressure became intolerable. It had always been
my consolation to think that she would yet be a bright and beautiful angel;
and now I fell back for solace upon that thought--though how the thing was
to be accomplished seemed a problem too vast for the grasp of a water-worn
and partially dissolved understanding like mine.
"Remember, Mary, I reprimand you for your own good," murmured the lady.
"Of course, brought up as you have been, you can't be expected to have
the manners we look for in the servants of a well-conducted household;
so when I consider it my duty to instruct you in the decencies of life,
you mustn't take it ill. People have to suffer for their ignorance, Mary,
as well as for their faults. I know how you must feel it; but parents
in the position that yours were in should send their children to service
before they are too old for the necessary training."
"My parents done the best they could to keep their home together,"
protested the girl, in a choking voice.
"Speak grammatically, my dear. No doubt your parents did as you say,
but my point is, that they forgot their position. Instead of accepting
the fair wages and abundant food which society offers to their class,
they joined the hungry horde that has cut up those fine Victorian stations.
Part of the retribution justly falls on their children; part, of course,
on themselves. Your father, I venture to say, often envied the life
of the domestic animals on the station where he had selected. But he aimed
at independence--independence! A fine word, Mary, but a poor reality.
This idea of independence is much too common amongst people who, however poorly
they may fare, are nevertheless better fed than taught. I'm afraid
you wilfully overlook the religious side of the question, Mary;
the divine command to do our duty in that state of life in which it has
pleased God to call us. Service is honourable"----
Here Ida sobbed out something that sounded like a rejoinder; and there was
a harder ring in the lady's voice as she continued, without pausing:
"Yes, my dear; if your parents had known themselves, and had cheerfully
remained in the position for which their birth and education fitted them,
you would have been spared many humiliations, and it would have been better
for your father, both in time and in eternity."
"O, can't you let him rest in his grave?" sobbed the girl.
"I have no wish to condemn him, Mary," replied the lady soothingly.
"I assure you it is dreadful to me to realise the fate of that poor man,
where the worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. I was only wishing
to show you what a tempting of Providence it is for people of the lower classes
to have notions above what their Maker intends for them. And you know
how prone you are to forget your place--as you did this morning. Susan has
the same fault, I'm sorry to say; but I condone it to some extent in her.
She has the advantage of good looks, and naturally expects to better
her condition by marriage; but surely, Mary, one glance at yourself
in the glass ought to show you the impropriety of counting upon
any endowment of nature."
"Indeed, I know I'm no beauty," blubbered Ida; and her tears rained hot
and fast on the back of my neck, as she replaced my coffee-cup.
"Of course, you didn't make yourself," pursued the lady blandly; "but in view
of your lack of personal attractions, you should endeavour to cultivate
the modest and respectful demeanour which befits a sphere of life that you
are likely to occupy permanently. No doubt it was good policy to transport
yourself to a locality where the males of your own class are in such
large majority; but the movement is still attended by certain disadvantages.
A female whose looks approach repulsiveness should, at least, have a character
beyond suspicion; and for any woman to run away from the neighbourhood
where her doings are known, is not the way to inspire confidence. And though
it has pleased God, for your own good, to remove the snare of beauty
far from you, yet----Well, we must believe what we hear on good authority.
Your master, before engaging you, should have made some inquiry regarding
your antecedents, and not have left these things to leak-out. I wish I could
hold you guiltless, Mary. Ask your own conscience whether you were justified
in obtaining entry to an establishment like this. It places me in
a very difficult"----
Here Ida turned, and, with blazing, tearless eyes, fearlessly fronted her
fellow-mammal. The latter faltered, and paused. She had gone a step too far,
and had trod on the lion's tail.
"What's that you say, you wicked woman?" demanded Ida, in a calm voice,
yet breathing heavily. "Ain't I miserable enough without you lyin' away my
character? I'll make you prove your words, as sure as you're standin' there."
"You're forgetting yourself!" replied the housekeeper haughtily, though still
quailing before the girl's terrible plainness of speech and person.
"Am I, indeed? Well, we'll both go straight to Mrs. Montgomery--she's your
missus as well as mine, she is--an' we'll git her to write to a dozen people
that knows me since I wasn't as high as that windy-sill. I'll make it hot
for you, Mrs. Bodyzart, so I will."
"What impertinence!" ejaculated the lady, moistening her lips. "Leave
the apartment, this instant, Mary; and send"----
"How dare you call me out o' my name?--for two pins, I'd slap your face!"
replied Ida, her voice rising to a hysterical scream. "You know what
my proper name is, so you do! An' I won't leave the apartment to please you,
so I won't! Think God made me for the likes o' you to wipe your feet on?
Think I bin behavin' myself decent all my life, for you to put a slur on me?
If I wanted to bemean myself, could n't I cast up somethin' you would n't like
to be minded of? Ain't you ashamed o' yourself, you ole she-devil?"
"Gentlemen, I must apologise for my servant," said the housekeeper,
with quiet dignity. "She seems to have taken leave of her senses. I trust
you will overlook her rudeness. She knows no better."
"They can't help doin' me justice; an' that's all I ask from anybody,"
rejoined Ida, looking appealingly round the table. "An' look here,
Mrs. Bodyzart: I bin full up o' your nag-nag ever since I come to this house:
an' I put up with it for the sake o' other people; but now you've put a slur
on my character; an' it's me an' you for it. I ain't goin' to let this drop."
"I must withdraw, gentlemen," said the lady forbearingly. "Pray forget
the unhappy scene you have been forced to witness; and let me beg of you,
for this poor woman's sake, to leave all further pursuit of the matter
entirely in my hands. Whilst she remains in this establishment,
I must continue to shield her from the penalties to which she insists
upon exposing herself. Come, Mary; dry your eyes, and attend to your duties.
The time is coming when you will thank me for the discipline to which you are
now subjected." And Mrs. Beaudesart retired, greater in defeat than in victory.
"I never expected anybody to put a slur on me," faltered Ida apologetically,
after a minute's silence.
"Haud yir toang, lassie, fir Gode-sak," snarled the sheep-overseer,
who was the senior of our company. "Be ma saul, an A hid ony say intil't,
A'd whang the de'il oot o' ye baith wi' a stokewhup."
"By George! you better not include Mrs. Beaudesart in your goodwill,"
remarked young Mooney gravely. "You'll have Collins in your wool."
"Keep your temper, Collins," murmured Nelson. "I can imagine your feelings;
but M'Murdo didn't think of you being here when he spoke."
"The de'il haet A care fir Collins, ony mair nir A dae fir yir ain sel',
Nelson!" replied Mac defiantly. "Od! air ye no din greetin' the yet,
lassie?" he continued, turning to Ida. "No anither pegh oot o' yir heed,
ir bagode A'll tak' ye in han'."
Ida dried her eyes, and with the more alacrity forasmuch as an approaching
step crunched the gravel outside. It was Priestley, a bullock driver
who had drawn up to the store on the previous-evening; a decent sort
of vulgarian, but altogether too industrious to get any further forward
than the extreme tail-end of his profession.
Some carriers never learn the great lesson, that to everything there is a time
and a season--a time for work, and a time for repose--hence you find
the industrious man's inveterately leg-weary set of frames in hopeless
competition with the judiciously lazy man's string of daisies. The contrast
is sickening. Moreover, the same rule holds fairly well throughout
the whole region of industry. But the Scotch-navigator can't see it.
He is too furiously busy for eighteen hours out of the twenty-four to notice
that, even in the most literal sense, loafing has a more intimate connection
with bread-winning than working can possibly have. Such a man finds himself
born unto trouble, as the sparks fly in all directions; but he is merely aware
of undergoing a chastening process, just as the tethered calf is aware
that he always turns a flying somersault when he impetuously charges
in any direction away from his peg; and this simply because the man knows
as much about the Order of Things as the calf knows about Euclid's definition
of a radial line. The fact is, that the Order of Things--rightly understood--
is not susceptible of any coercion whatever, and must be humoured in every
possible way. In the race of life, my son, you must run cunning, reserving
your sprint for the tactical moment. Priestley ran bull-headed.
In consequence of being always at work, he could get very little work done;
and, being pursuantly in a chronic state of debt and destitution, he got only
the work that intermittently slothful men would n't take at the price.
It is scarcely necessary to add that he had a wife and about thirteen
small children, mostly girls.
"Mornin', chaps," said this plebeian, standing between the wind and
our nobility, with a hand on each door-post. "Hope you're enjoyin' yourselves.
Say, Moriarty; I'm waitin' to git that bit o' loadin' off."
"I'll be with you in two minutes," replied the young storekeeper. "I know
you always want to get away."
"Say, chaps," continued the bullock driver, advancing into the room,
and glancing confidentially round the table, "think there's any use o' me
stickin' up the boss for leaf to take the buggy-track to Nalrookar? See,
I could make the Fog-a-bolla Tank to-night; an' there's boun' to be a bit
o' blue-bush, if not crows-foot, on them sand-hills. Then I'd fetch Nalrookar
to-morrow, easy. I got two-ton-five for there; an' I'm thinkin' I'll have a
job to deliver it, if I can't git through your run. What do you think, chaps?"
"Why didn't you take this into consideration when you loaded?"
demanded young Arblaster.
"Well, beggars ain't choosers," replied the apostle of brute force
and ignorance. "Fact was, Arblaster, I bethought me what a lot o' work
I'd done for Magomery, one time or another, an' what good friends me an' him
always was; an' I says to myself, 'Well, I'll chance her--make a spoon,
or spoil a horn.' That's the way I reasoned it out. See, if I got to
turn roun', an' foller the main track back agen to the Cane-grass Swamp,
an' take the Nalrookar track from there, I won't fetch the station much short
o' fifty mile; an' there ain't a middlin' camp the whole road. Everythin'
et right into the ground. Starve a locust. 'Sides, I'm jubious about
the Convincer Sand-hill, even with half a load. Bullocks too weak."
"Well, it's hardly likely the boss would let you cross the run," replied
Arblaster. "He'd be a d----d fool if he did."
"I'm afraid there's no use asking him, Priestley," added Nelson. "He won't
make a thoroughfare of the run, at any price. For instance, when Baxter
and Donovan delivered that well-timber in the Quondong Paddock, the other day,
they were n't five mile from the main road--and a gate to go through--but he
made them come right back by the station; thirty mile of a roundabout;
and their cheques were n't forthcoming till they did it. No, Priestley;
to ask Montgomery is simply to get a refusal; and to argue with him is simply
to get insulted."
"Well, I s'pose I must worry through, some road," said the bullock driver
resignedly, as he turned and went out.
"Fifty miles instead of twenty-two," remarked Mooney. "Hard enough case."
"And yet it's necessary, in a sense," replied Nelson. "Same time,
anybody except the like of Montgomery would spring a bit in a season like this.
I couldn't crush a poor, decent, hard-working devil like that. I'd give him
a thorough good blackguarding for calculating upon crossing the run; and then,
as a matter of form, I'd send a man with him, to see him across. Well,
I suppose we must go and get our mot d' ordre, boys."
So we left the breakfast-room to Ida. The four narangies, with the practical
M'Murdo, went to the veranda of the boss's house for their day's orders;
Moriarty, with a ring of keys in his hand, sauntered across to the store;
and I managed to drag myself out to a seat built against the south side
of the barracks, whence I torpidly surveyed the scene around, whilst listening
to my vitality whistling out through four million yawning pores.
In an open shed, near the store--where two tribesmen were now assisting
Priestley to unload--a travelling saddler and Salvationist, named
(without a word of a lie) Joey Possum, was at work on the horse-furniture
of the station; his tilted wagonette, blazoned with his name and title,
JOSEPH PAWSOME, SADDLER, standing close by. Watching these lewd fellows
of the baser sort at their sordid toil, my mind reverted to certain incidents
of the preceding night, and so drifted into a speculation on the peculiar kind
of difficulties which at certain times beset certain sojourners on the rind
of this third primary orb. The incidents, of course, have nothing to do
with my story.
But as the mere mention of them may have whetted the reader's curiosity,
I suppose it is only fair to satisfy him.
The night in question seemed, from an astrological point of view, to be
peculiarly favourable to the ascendancy of baleful influences. The moon hung
above the western horizon, in her most formidable phase--just past
the semicircle, with her gibbous edge malignantly feathered. Being now
in the House of Taurus, she had overborne the benignant sway of Aldebaran,
and was pressing hard on Castor and Pollux (in the House of Gemini). Also,
her horizontal attitude was so full of menace that Rigel and Betelgeux
(in Orion) seemed to wilt under her sinister supremacy. Sirius
(in Canis Major), strongest and most malevolent of the astral powers,