Part 1 out of 2
Three Elephant Power and Other Stories
by Andrew Barton `Banjo' Paterson [Australian Poet, Reporter -- 1864-1941.]
[Note on text: Italicized words or phrases are capitalized.
Some obvious errors have been corrected.]
[This etext is transcribed from the original edition of 1917,
which was published in Sydney.]
Three Elephant Power and Other Stories
By A. B. Paterson, Author of The Man from Snowy River, Rio Grande,
Saltbush Bill, J.P., An Outback Marriage, Etc.
These stories appeared originally in several Australian journals.
Three Elephant Power
The Cast-iron Canvasser
The Merino Sheep
The Downfall of Mulligan's
The Amateur Gardener
Dan Fitzgerald Explains
Sitting in Judgment
The Dog -- as a Sportsman
Concerning a Steeplechase Rider
Concerning a Dog-fight
Done for the Double
Three Elephant Power
"Them things," said Alfred the chauffeur, tapping the speed indicator
with his fingers, "them things are all right for the police. But, Lord,
you can fix 'em up if you want to. Did you ever hear about Henery,
that used to drive for old John Bull -- about Henery and the elephant?"
Alfred was chauffeur to a friend of mine who owned a very powerful car.
Alfred was part of that car. Weirdly intelligent, of poor physique,
he might have been any age from fifteen to eighty. His education had been
somewhat hurried, but there was no doubt as to his mechanical ability.
He took to a car like a young duck to water. He talked motor,
thought motor, and would have accepted -- I won't say with enthusiasm,
for Alfred's motto was `Nil admirari' -- but without hesitation,
an offer to drive in the greatest race in the world.
He could drive really well, too; as for belief in himself,
after six months' apprenticeship in a garage he was prepared
to vivisect a six-cylinder engine with the confidence of
a diplomaed bachelor of engineering.
Barring a tendency to flash driving, and a delight in persecuting slow cars
by driving just in front of them and letting them come up
and enjoy his dust, and then shooting away again,
he was a respectable member of society. When his boss was in the car
he cloaked the natural ferocity of his instincts; but this day,
with only myself on board, and a clear run of a hundred and twenty miles
up to the station before him, he let her loose, confident that
if any trouble occurred I would be held morally responsible.
As we flew past a somnolent bush pub, Alfred, whistling softly,
leant forward and turned on a little more oil.
"You never heard about Henery and the elephant?" he said.
"It was dead funny. Henery was a bushwacker, but clean mad on motorin'.
He was wood and water joey at some squatter's place until he seen
a motor-car go past one day, the first that ever they had in the districk.
"`That's my game,' says Henery; `no more wood and water joey for me.'
"So he comes to town and gets a job off Miles that had that garage
at the back of Allison's. An old cove that they called John Bull
-- I don't know his right name, he was a fat old cove --
he used to come there to hire cars, and Henery used to drive him.
And this old John Bull he had lots of stuff, so at last he reckons
he's going to get a car for himself, and he promises Henery a job
to drive it. A queer cove this Henery was -- half mad, I think,
but the best hand with a car ever I see."
While he had been talking we topped a hill, and opened up a new stretch
of blue-grey granite-like road. Down at the foot of the hill
was a teamster's waggon in camp; the horses in their harness munching at
their nose-bags, while the teamster and a mate were boiling a billy
a little off to the side of the road. There was a turn in the road
just below the waggon which looked a bit sharp, so of course
Alfred bore down on it like a whirlwind. The big stupid team-horses
huddled together and pushed each other awkwardly as we passed.
A dog that had been sleeping in the shade of the waggon sprang out
right in front of the car, and was exterminated without ever knowing
what struck him.
There was just room to clear the tail of the waggon and negotiate the turn.
Alfred, with the calm decision of a Napoleon, swung round the bend
to find that the teamster's hack, fast asleep, was tied to the tail
of the waggon. Nothing but a lightning-like twist of the steering-wheel
prevented our scooping the old animal up, and taking him on board
as a passenger. As it was, we carried off most of his tail as a trophy
on the brass of the lamp. The old steed, thus rudely awakened,
lashed out good and hard, but by that time we were gone,
and he missed the car by a quarter of a mile.
During this strenuous episode Alfred never relaxed
his professional stolidity, and, when we were clear, went on with his story
in the tone of a man who found life wanting in animation.
"Well, at fust, the old man would only buy one of these little
eight-horse rubby-dubbys that go strugglin' up 'ills with a death-rattle
in its throat, and all the people in buggies passin' it.
O' course that didn't suit Henery. He used to get that spiked
when a car passed him, he'd nearly go mad. And one day he nearly
got the sack for dodgin' about up a steep 'ill in front of one o' them
big twenty-four Darracqs, full of 'owlin' toffs, and not lettin' 'em
get a chance to go past till they got to the top. But at last he persuaded
old John Bull to let him go to England and buy a car for him.
He was to do a year in the shops, and pick up all the wrinkles,
and get a car for the old man. Bit better than wood and water joeying,
Our progress here was barred by our rounding a corner right on to a flock
of sheep, that at once packed together into a solid mass in front of us,
blocking the whole road from fence to fence.
"Silly cows o' things, ain't they?" said Alfred, putting on his
emergency brake, and skidding up till the car came softly to rest against
the cushion-like mass -- a much quicker stop than any horse-drawn vehicle
could have made. A few sheep were crushed somewhat, but it is well known
that a sheep is practically indestructible by violence.
Whatever Alfred's faults were, he certainly could drive.
"Well," he went on, lighting a cigarette, unheeding the growls
of the drovers, who were trying to get the sheep to pass the car,
"well, as I was sayin', Henery went to England, and he got a car.
Do you know wot he got?"
"No, I don't."
"'E got a ninety," said Alfred slowly, giving time for the words
to soak in.
"A ninety! What do you mean?"
"'E got a ninety -- a ninety-horse-power racin' engine wot was made
for some American millionaire and wasn't as fast as wot
some other millionaire had, so he sold it for the price of the iron,
and Henery got it, and had a body built for it, and he comes out here
and tells us all it's a twenty mongrel -- you know, one of them cars
that's made part in one place and part in another, the body here
and the engine there, and the radiator another place.
There's lots of cheap cars made like that.
"So Henery he says that this is a twenty mongrel --
only a four-cylinder engine; and nobody drops to what she is
till Henery goes out one Sunday and waits for the big Napier
that Scotty used to drive -- it belonged to the same bloke wot owned
that big racehorse wot won all the races. So Henery and Scotty
they have a fair go round the park while both their bosses is at church,
and Henery beat him out o' sight -- fair lost him -- and so Henery
was reckoned the boss of the road. No one would take him on after that."
A nasty creek-crossing here required Alfred's attention. A little girl,
carrying a billy-can of water, stood by the stepping stones,
and smiled shyly as we passed. Alfred waved her a salute quite as though
he were an ordinary human being. I felt comforted. He had his moments
of relaxation evidently, and his affections like other people.
"What happened to Henry and the ninety-horse machine?" I asked.
"And where does the elephant come in?"
Alfred smiled pityingly.
"Ain't I tellin' yer," he said. "You wouldn't understand if I didn't
tell yer how he got the car and all that. So here's Henery," he went on,
"with old John Bull goin' about in the fastest car in Australia,
and old John, he's a quiet old geezer, that wouldn't drive faster
than the regulations for anything, and that short-sighted he can't see
to the side of the road. So what does Henery do? He fixes up
the speed-indicator -- puts a new face on it, so that when the car
is doing thirty, the indicator only shows fifteen, and twenty for forty,
and so on. So out they'd go, and if Henery knew there was a big car
in front of him, he'd let out to forty-five, and the pace would very near
blow the whiskers off old John; and every now and again he'd look
at the indicator, and it'd be showin' twenty-two and a half, and he'd say:
"`Better be careful, Henery, you're slightly exceedin' the speed limit;
twenty miles an hour, you know, Henery, should be fast enough for anybody,
and you're doing over twenty-two.'
"Well, one day, Henery told me, he was tryin' to catch up a big car
that just came out from France, and it had a half-hour start of him,
and he was just fairly flyin', and there was a lot of cars on the road,
and he flies past 'em so fast the old man says, `It's very strange,
Henery,' he says, `that all the cars that are out to-day are comin'
this way,' he says. You see he was passin' 'em so fast he thought
they were all comin' towards him.
"And Henery sees a mate of his comin', so he lets out a notch or two,
and the two cars flew by each other like chain lightnin'. They were each
doin' about forty, and the old man, he says, `There's a driver
must be travellin' a hundred miles an hour,' he says. `I never see a car
go by so fast in my life,' he says. `If I could find out who he is,
I'd report him,' he says. `Did you know the car, Henery?'
But of course Henery, he doesn't know, so on they goes.
"The owner of the big French car thinks he has the fastest car
in Australia, and when he sees Henery and the old man coming, he tells
his driver to let her out a little; but Henery gives the ninety-horse
the full of the lever, and whips up alongside in one jump. And then
he keeps there just half a length ahead of him, tormentin' him like.
And the owner of the French car he yells out to old John Bull,
`You're going a nice pace for an old 'un,' he says. Old John has a blink
down at the indicator. `We're doing twenty-five,' he yells out.
`Twenty-five grandmothers,' says the bloke; but Henery he put on
his accelerator, and left him. It wouldn't do to let the old man
get wise to it, you know."
We topped a big hill, and Alfred cut off the engine and let the car swoop,
as swiftly and noiselessly as an eagle, down to the flat country below.
"You're a long while coming to the elephant, Alfred," I said.
"Well, now, I'll tell you about the elephant," said Alfred,
letting his clutch in again, and taking up the story to the accompaniment
of the rhythmic throb of the engine.
"One day Henery and the old man were going out a long trip
over the mountain, and down the Kangaroo Valley Road that's all cut out
of the side of the 'ill. And after they's gone a mile or two,
Henery sees a track in the road -- the track of the biggest car
he ever seen or 'eard of. An' the more he looks at it, the more he reckons
he must ketch that car and see what she's made of. So he slows down
passin' two yokels on the road, and he says, `Did you see a big car
"`Yes, we did,' they says.
"`How big is she?' says Henery.
"`Biggest car ever we see,' says the yokels, and they laughed
that silly way these yokels always does.
"`How many horse-power do you think she was?' says Henery.
"`Horse-power,' they says; `elephant-power, you mean!
She was three elephant-power,' they says; and they goes `Haw, haw!'
and Henery drops his clutch in, and off he goes after that car."
Alfred lit another cigarette as a preliminary to the climax.
"So they run for miles, and all the time there's the track ahead of 'em,
and Henery keeps lettin' her out, thinkin' that he'll never ketch that car.
They went through a town so fast, the old man he says, `What house was that
we just passed,' he says. At last they come to the top of the big 'ill,
and there's the tracks of the big car goin' straight down ahead of 'em.
"D'you know that road? It's all cut out of the side of the mountain,
and there's places where if she was to side-slip you'd go down
'undreds of thousands of feet. And there's sharp turns, too;
but the surface is good, so Henery he lets her out, and down they go,
whizzin' round the turns and skatin' out near the edge,
and the old cove sittin' there enjoyin' it, never knowin' the danger.
And comin' to one turn Henery gives a toot on the 'orn,
and then he heard somethin' go `toot, toot' right away down the mountain.
"'Bout a mile ahead it seemed to be, and Henery reckoned he'd go
another four miles before he'd ketch it, so he chances them turns
more than ever. And she was pretty hot, too; but he kept her at it,
and he hadn't gone a full mile till he come round a turn
about forty miles an hour, and before he could stop he run right into it,
and wot do you think it was?"
I hadn't the faintest idea.
"A circus. One of them travellin' circuses, goin' down the coast;
and one of the elephants had sore feet, so they put him in a big waggon,
and another elephant pulled in front and one pushed behind.
Three elephant-power it was, right enough. That was the waggon wot made
the big track. Well, it was all done so sudden. Before Henery could stop,
he runs the radiator -- very near boiling she was -- up against the
elephant's tail, and prints the pattern of the latest honeycomb radiator
on the elephant as clear as if you done it with a stencil.
"The elephant, he lets a roar out of him like one of them bulls bellerin',
and he puts out his nose and ketches Henery round the neck,
and yanks him out of the car, and chucks him right clean over the cliff,
'bout a thousand feet. But he never done nothin' to the old bloke."
"Well, it finished Henery, killed him stone dead, of course,
and the old man he was terrible cut up over losin' such a steady,
trustworthy man. `Never get another like him,' he says."
We were nearly at our journey's end, and we turned through a gate
into the home paddocks. Some young stock, both horses and cattle,
came frisking and cantering after the car, and the rough bush track
took all Alfred's attention. We crossed a creek, the water swishing
from the wheels, and began the long pull up to the homestead.
Over the clamour of the little-used second speed, Alfred concluded
"The old bloke advertised," he said, "for another driver, a steady,
reliable man to drive a twenty horse-power, four-cylinder touring car.
Every driver in Sydney put in for it. Nothing like a fast car
to fetch 'em, you know. And Scotty got it. Him wot used to drive
the Napier I was tellin' you about."
"And what did the old man say when he found he'd been running
a racing car?"
"He don't know now. Scotty never told 'im. Why should he?
He's drivin' about the country now, the boss of the roads,
but he won't chance her near a circus. Thinks he might bump
the same elephant. And that elephant, every time he smells a car
passin' in the road, he goes near mad with fright. If he ever sees
that car again, do you think he'd know it?"
Not being used to elephants, I could not offer an opinion.
No tram ever goes to Randwick races without him; he is always fat,
hairy, and assertive; he is generally one of a party,
and takes the centre of the stage all the time --
collects and hands over the fares, adjusts the change,
chaffs the conductor, crushes the thin, apologetic stranger next him
into a pulp, and talks to the whole compartment as if they had asked
for his opinion.
He knows all the trainers and owners, or takes care to give the impression
that he does. He slowly and pompously hauls out his race book,
and one of his satellites opens the ball by saying, in a deferential way:
"What do you like for the 'urdles, Charley?"
The Oracle looks at the book and breathes heavily; no one else
ventures to speak.
"Well," he says, at last, "of course there's only one in it --
if he's wanted. But that's it -- will they spin him? I don't think
they will. They's only a lot o' cuddies, any'ow."
No one likes to expose his own ignorance by asking which horse he refers to
as the "only one in it"; and the Oracle goes on to deal out
some more wisdom in a loud voice.
"Billy K---- told me" (he probably hardly knows Billy K---- by sight)
"Billy K---- told me that that bay 'orse ran the best mile-an'-a-half
ever done on Randwick yesterday; but I don't give him a chance,
for all that; that's the worst of these trainers. They don't know
when their horses are well -- half of 'em."
Then a voice comes from behind him. It is that of the thin man,
who is crushed out of sight by the bulk of the Oracle.
"I think," says the thin man, "that that horse of Flannery's
ought to run well in the Handicap."
The Oracle can't stand this sort of thing at all. He gives a snort,
wheels half-round and looks at the speaker. Then he turns back
to the compartment full of people, and says: "No 'ope."
The thin man makes a last effort. "Well, they backed him last night,
"Who backed 'im?" says the Oracle.
"In Tattersall's," says the thin man.
"I'm sure," says the Oracle; and the thin man collapses.
On arrival at the course, the Oracle is in great form. Attended by his
string of satellites, he plods from stall to stall staring at the horses.
Their names are printed in big letters on the stalls, but the Oracle
doesn't let that stop his display of knowledge.
"'Ere's Blue Fire," he says, stopping at that animal's stall,
and swinging his race book. "Good old Blue Fire!" he goes on loudly,
as a little court collects. "Jimmy B----" (mentioning a popular jockey)
"told me he couldn't have lost on Saturday week if he had only
been ridden different. I had a good stake on him, too, that day.
Lor', the races that has been chucked away on this horse.
They will not ride him right."
A trainer who is standing by, civilly interposes. "This isn't Blue Fire,"
he says. "Blue Fire's out walking about. This is a two-year-old filly
that's in the stall ----"
"Well, I can see that, can't I," says the Oracle, crushingly.
"You don't suppose I thought Blue Fire was a mare, did you?"
and he moves off hurriedly.
"Now, look here, you chaps," he says to his followers at last.
"You wait here. I want to go and see a few of the talent, and it don't do
to have a crowd with you. There's Jimmy M---- over there now"
(pointing to a leading trainer). "I'll get hold of him in a minute.
He couldn't tell me anything with so many about. Just you wait here."
He crushes into a crowd that has gathered round the favourite's stall,
and overhears one hard-faced racing man say to another, "What do you like?"
to which the other answers, "Well, either this or Royal Scot.
I think I'll put a bit on Royal Scot." This is enough for the Oracle.
He doesn't know either of the men from Adam, or either of the horses
from the great original pachyderm, but the information will do
to go on with. He rejoins his followers, and looks very mysterious.
"Well, did you hear anything?" they say.
The Oracle talks low and confidentially.
"The crowd that have got the favourite tell me they're not afraid
of anything but Royal Scot," he says. "I think we'd better put
a bit on both."
"What did the Royal Scot crowd say?" asks an admirer deferentially.
"Oh, they're going to try and win. I saw the stable commissioner,
and he told me they were going to put a hundred on him. Of course,
you needn't say I told you, 'cause I promised him I wouldn't tell."
And the satellites beam with admiration of the Oracle, and think
what a privilege it is to go to the races with such a knowing man.
They contribute their mites to the general fund, some putting in a pound,
others half a sovereign, and the Oracle takes it into the ring to invest,
half on the favourite and half on Royal Scot. He finds that the favourite
is at two to one, and Royal Scot at threes, eight to one being offered
against anything else. As he ploughs through the ring, a Whisperer
(one of those broken-down followers of the turf who get their living
in various mysterious ways, but partly by giving "tips" to backers)
pulls his sleeve.
"What are you backing?" he says.
"Favourite and Royal Scot," says the Oracle.
"Put a pound on Bendemeer," says the tipster. "It's a certainty.
Meet me here if it comes off, and I'll tell you something
for the next race. Don't miss it now. Get on quick!"
The Oracle is humble enough before the hanger-on of the turf.
A bookmaker roars "10 to 1 Bendemeer;" he suddenly fishes out a sovereign
of his own -- and he hasn't money to spare, for all his knowingness --
and puts it on Bendemeer. His friends' money he puts on the favourite
and Royal Scot as arranged. Then they all go round to watch the race.
The horses are at the post; a distant cluster of crowded animals
with little dots of colour on their backs. Green, blue, yellow, purple,
French grey, and old gold, they change about in a bewildering manner,
and though the Oracle has a cheap pair of glasses, he can't make out
where Bendemeer has got to. Royal Scot and the favourite
he has lost interest in, and secretly hopes that they will be
left at the post or break their necks; but he does not confide
his sentiment to his companions.
They're off! The long line of colours across the track
becomes a shapeless clump and then draws out into a long string.
"What's that in front?" yells someone at the rails.
"Oh, that thing of Hart's," says someone else. But the Oracle
hears them not; he is looking in the mass of colour
for a purple cap and grey jacket, with black arm bands.
He cannot see it anywhere, and the confused and confusing mass
swings round the turn into the straight.
Then there is a babel of voices, and suddenly a shout of "Bendemeer!
Bendemeer!" and the Oracle, without knowing which is Bendemeer,
takes up the cry feverishly. "Bendemeer! Bendemeer!" he yells,
waggling his glasses about, trying to see where the animal is.
"Where's Royal Scot, Charley? Where's Royal Scot?" screams one
of his friends, in agony. "'Ow's he doin'?"
"No 'ope!" says the Oracle, with fiendish glee. "Bendemeer! Bendemeer!"
The horses are at the Leger stand now, whips are out, and three horses
seem to be nearly abreast; in fact, to the Oracle there seem to be
a dozen nearly abreast. Then a big chestnut sticks his head in front
of the others, and a small man at the Oracle's side emits
a deafening series of yells right by the Oracle's ear:
"Go on, Jimmy! Rub it into him! Belt him! It's a cake-walk!
A cake-walk! The big chestnut, in a dogged sort of way,
seems to stick his body clear of his opponents, and passes the post
a winner by a length. The Oracle doesn't know what has won, but fumbles
with his book. The number on the saddle-cloth catches his eye -- No. 7;
he looks hurriedly down the page. No. 7 -- Royal Scot. Second is No. 24
-- Bendemeer. Favourite nowhere.
Hardly has he realised it, before his friends are cheering and clapping him
on the back. "By George, Charley, it takes you to pick 'em."
"Come and 'ave a wet!" "You 'ad a quid in, didn't you, Charley?"
The Oracle feels very sick at having missed the winner, but he dies game.
"Yes, rather; I had a quid on," he says. "And" (here he nerves himself
to smile) "I had a saver on the second, too."
His comrades gasp with astonishment. "D'you hear that, eh? Charley backed
first and second. That's pickin' 'em if you like." They have a wet,
and pour fulsome adulation on the Oracle when he collects their money.
After the Oracle has collected the winnings for his friends
he meets the Whisperer again.
"It didn't win?" he says to the Whisperer in inquiring tones.
"Didn't win," says the Whisperer, who has determined to brazen
the matter out. "How could he win? Did you see the way he was ridden?
That horse was stiffened just after I seen you, and he never tried a yard.
Did you see the way he was pulled and hauled about at the turn?
It'd make a man sick. What was the stipendiary stewards doing, I wonder?"
This fills the Oracle with a new idea. All that he remembers of the race
at the turn was a jumble of colours, a kaleidoscope of horses and of riders
hanging on to the horses' necks. But it wouldn't do to admit that he
didn't see everything, and didn't know everything; so he plunges in boldly.
"O' course I saw it," he says. "And a blind man could see it.
They ought to rub him out."
"Course they ought," says the Whisperer. "But, look here,
put two quid on Tell-tale; you'll get it all back!"
The Oracle does put on "two quid", and doesn't get it all back.
Neither does he see any more of this race than he did of the last one --
in fact, he cheers wildly when the wrong horse is coming in.
But when the public begin to hoot he hoots as loudly as anybody --
louder if anything; and all the way home in the tram he lays down the law
about stiff running, and wants to know what the stipendiaries are doing.
If you go into any barber's shop, you can hear him at it, and he flourishes
in suburban railway carriages; but he has a tremendous local reputation,
having picked first and second in the handicap, and it would be a bold man
who would venture to question the Oracle's knowledge of racing
and of all matters relating to it.
The Cast-iron Canvasser
The firm of Sloper and Dodge, publishers and printers,
was in great distress. These two enterprising individuals had worked up
an enormous business in time-payment books, which they sold
all over Australia by means of canvassers. They had put
all the money they had into the business; and now, just when everything
was in thorough working order, the public had revolted against them.
Their canvassers were molested by the country folk in divers
strange bush ways. One was made drunk, and then a two-horse harrow
was run over him; another was decoyed into the ranges on pretence
of being shown a gold-mine, and his guide galloped away
and left him to freeze all night in the bush. In mining localities
the inhabitants were called together by beating a camp-oven lid
with a pick, and the canvasser was given ten minutes in which
to get out of the town alive. If he disregarded the hint he would,
as likely as not, fall accidentally down a disused shaft.
The people of one district applied to their M.P. to have canvassers
brought under the "Noxious Animals Act", and demanded that a reward
should be offered for their scalps. Reports appeared in the country press
about strange, gigantic birds that appeared at remote selections
and frightened the inhabitants to death -- these were Sloper and Dodge's
sober and reliable agents, wearing neat, close-fitting suits
of tar and feathers.
In fact, it was altogether too hot for the canvassers,
and they came in from North and West and South, crippled and disheartened,
to tender their resignations. To make matters worse, Sloper and Dodge had
just got out a large Atlas of Australasia, and if they couldn't sell it,
ruin stared them in the face; and how could they sell it
The members of the firm sat in their private office. Sloper was a long,
sanctimonious individual, very religious and very bald.
Dodge was a little, fat American, with bristly, black hair and beard,
and quick, beady eyes. He was eternally smoking a reeking black pipe,
and puffing the smoke through his nose in great whiffs, like a locomotive
on a steep grade. Anybody walking into one of those whiffs
was liable to get paralysis.
Just as things were at their very blackest, something had turned up
that promised to relieve all their difficulties. An inventor had offered
to supply them with a patent cast-iron canvasser -- a figure which
(he said) when wound up would walk, talk, collect orders,
and stand any amount of ill-usage and wear and tear. If this could
indeed be done, they were saved. They had made an appointment
with the genius; but he was half-an-hour late, and the partners
were steeped in gloom.
They had begun to despair of his appearing at all, when a cab rattled up
to the door. Sloper and Dodge rushed unanimously to the window.
A young man, very badly dressed, stepped out of the cab,
holding over his shoulder what looked like the upper half of a man's body.
In his disengaged hand he held a pair of human legs
with boots and trousers on. Thus burdened he turned to ask his fare,
but the cabman gave a yell of terror, whipped up his horse,
and disappeared at a hand-gallop; and a woman who happened to be going by,
ran down the street, howling that Jack the Ripper had come to town.
The man bolted in at the door, and toiled up the dark stairs
tramping heavily, the legs and feet, which he dragged after him,
making an unearthly clatter. He came in and put his burden down
on the sofa.
"There you are, gents," he said; "there's your canvasser."
Sloper and Dodge recoiled in horror. The upper part of the man
had a waxy face, dull, fishy eyes, and dark hair; he lounged on the sofa
like a corpse at ease, while his legs and feet stood by, leaning stiffly
against the wall. The partners gazed at him for a while in silence.
"Fix him together, for God's sake," said Dodge. "He looks awful."
The Genius grinned, and fixed the legs on.
"Now he looks better," said Dodge, poking about the figure --
"looks as much like life as most -- ah, would you, you brute!"
he exclaimed, springing back in alarm, for the figure had made
a violent La Blanche swing at him.
"That's all right," said the Inventor. "It's no good having his face
knocked about, you know -- lot of trouble to make that face.
His head and body are full of springs, and if anybody hits him in the face,
or in the pit of the stomach -- favourite places to hit canvassers,
the pit of the stomach -- it sets a strong spring in motion,
and he fetches his right hand round with a swipe that'll knock them into
the middle of next week. It's an awful hit. Griffo couldn't dodge it,
and Slavin couldn't stand up against it. No fear of any man
hitting HIM twice.
"And he's dog-proof, too. His legs are padded with tar and oakum,
and if a dog bites a bit out of him, it will take that dog weeks
to pick his teeth clean. Never bite anybody again, that dog won't.
And he'll talk, talk, talk, like a suffragist gone mad;
his phonograph can be charged for 100,000 words, and all you've got to do
is to speak into it what you want him to say, and he'll say it.
He'll go on saying it till he talks his man silly, or gets an order.
He has an order-form in his hand, and as soon as anyone signs it
and gives it back to him, that sets another spring in motion,
and he puts the order in his pocket, turns round, and walks away.
Grand idea, isn't he? Lor' bless you, I fairly love him."
He beamed affectionately on his monster.
"What about stairs?" said Dodge.
"No stairs in the bush," said the Inventor, blowing a speck of dust
off his apparition; "all ground-floor houses. Anyhow, if there were stairs
we could carry him up and let him fall down afterwards,
or get flung down like any other canvasser."
"Ha! Let's see him walk," said Dodge.
The figure walked all right, stiff and erect.
"Now let's hear him yabber."
The Genius touched a spring, and instantly, in a queer, tin-whistly voice,
he began to sing, "Little Annie Rooney".
"Good!" said Dodge; "he'll do. We'll give you your price.
Leave him here to-night, and come in to-morrow. We'll send you off
to the back country with him. Ninemile would be a good place to start in.
Have a cigar?"
Mr. Dodge, much elated, sucked at his pipe, and blew through his nose
a cloud of nearly solid smoke, through which the Genius sidled out.
They could hear him sneezing and choking all the way down the stairs.
Ninemile is a quiet little place, sleepy beyond description.
When the mosquitoes in that town settle on anyone,
they usually go to sleep, and forget to bite him. The climate is so hot
that the very grasshoppers crawl into the hotel parlours out of the sun,
climb up the window curtains, and then go to sleep. The Riot Act
never had to be read in Ninemile. The only thing that can arouse
the inhabitants out of their lethargy is the prospect of a drink
at somebody else's expense.
For these reasons it had been decided to start the Cast-iron Canvasser
there, and then move him on to more populous and active localities
if he proved a success. They sent up the Genius, and one of their men
who knew the district well. The Genius was to manage the automaton,
and the other was to lay out the campaign, choose the victims,
and collect the money, geniuses being notoriously unreliable
and loose in their cash. They got through a good deal of whisky
on the way up, and when they arrived at Ninemile were in a cheerful mood,
and disposed to take risks.
"Who'll we begin on?" said the Genius.
"Oh, hang it all," said the other, "let's make a start with Macpherson."
Macpherson was a Land Agent, and the big bug of the place.
He was a gigantic Scotchman, six feet four in his socks,
and freckled all over with freckles as big as half-crowns.
His eyebrows would have made decent-sized moustaches for a cavalryman,
and his moustaches looked like horns. He was a fighter from the ground up,
and had a desperate "down" on canvassers generally,
and on Sloper and Dodge's canvassers in particular.
Sloper and Dodge had published a book called "Remarkable Colonials",
and Macpherson had written out his own biography for it. He was
intensely proud of his pedigree and his relations, and in his narrative
made out that he was descended from the original Fhairshon
who swam round Noah's Ark with his title-deeds in his teeth.
He showed how his people had fought under Alexander the Great and Timour,
and had come over to Scotland some centuries before William the Conqueror
landed in England. He proved that he was related in a general way
to one emperor, fifteen kings, twenty-five dukes, and earls and lords
and viscounts innumerable. And then, after all, the editor
of "Remarkable Colonials" managed to mix him up with some other fellow,
some low-bred Irish McPherson, born in Dublin of poor but honest parents.
It was a terrible outrage. Macpherson became president of
the Western District Branch of the "Remarkable Colonials" Defence League,
a fierce and homicidal association got up to resist, legally and otherwise,
paying for the book. He had further sworn by all he held sacred
that every canvasser who came to harry him in future should die,
and had put up a notice on his office-door, "Canvassers come in
at their own risk."
He had a dog of what he called the Hold'em breed, who could tell
a canvasser by his walk, and would go for him on sight.
The reader will understand, therefore, that, when the Genius and his mate
proposed to start on Macpherson, they were laying out a capacious contract
for the Cast-iron Canvasser, and could only have been inspired by a morbid
craving for excitement, aided by the influence of backblock whisky.
The Inventor wound the figure up in the back parlour of the pub.
There were a frightful lot of screws to tighten before the thing
would work, but at last he said it was ready, and they shambled off
down the street, the figure marching stiffly between them.
It had a book tucked under its arm and an order-form in its hand.
When they arrived opposite Macpherson's office, the Genius started
the phonograph working, pointed the figure straight at Macpherson's door,
and set it going. Then the two conspirators waited, like Guy Fawkes
in his cellar.
The automaton marched across the road and in at the open door,
talking to itself loudly in a hoarse, unnatural voice.
Macpherson was writing at his table, and looked up.
The figure walked bang through a small collection of flower-pots,
sent a chair flying, tramped heavily in the spittoon, and then brought up
against the table with a loud crash and stood still. It was talking
all the time.
"I have here," it said, "a most valuable work, an Atlas of Australia,
which I desire to submit to your notice. The large and increasing demand
of bush residents for time-payment works has induced the publishers
of this ----"
"My God!" said Macpherson, "it's a canvasser. Here, Tom Sayers,
Tom Sayers!" and he whistled and called for his dog. "Now," he said,
"will you go out of this office quietly, or will you be thrown out?
It's for yourself to decide, but you've only got while a duck wags his tail
to decide in. Which'll it be?"
"---- works of modern ages," said the canvasser. "Every person
subscribing to this invaluable work will receive, in addition,
a flat-iron, a railway pass for a year, and a pocket-compass.
If you will please sign this order ----"
Just here Tom Sayers came tearing through the office,
and without waiting for orders hitched straight on to the canvasser's calf.
To Macpherson's amazement the piece came clear away, and Tom Sayers
rolled about on the floor with his mouth full of a sticky substance
which seemed to surprise him badly.
The long Scotchman paused awhile before this mystery, but at last
he fancied he had got the solution. "Got a cork leg, have you?" said he --
"Well, let's see if your ribs are cork too," and he struck the canvasser
an awful blow on the fifth button of the waistcoat.
Quicker than lightning came that terrific right-hand cross-counter.
Macpherson never even knew what happened to him. The canvasser's
right hand, which had been adjusted by his inventor for a high blow,
had landed on the butt of Macpherson's ear and dropped him like a fowl.
The gasping, terrified bull-dog fled the scene, and the canvasser
stood over his fallen foe, still intoning the virtues of his publication.
He had come there merely as a friend, he said, to give the inhabitants
of Ninemile a chance to buy a book which had recently earned the approval
of King O'Malley and His Excellency the Governor-General.
The Genius and his mate watched this extraordinary drama
through the window. The stimulant habitually consumed by the Ninemilers
had induced in them a state of superlative Dutch courage,
and they looked upon the whole affair as a wildly hilarious joke.
"By Gad! he's done him," said the Genius, as Macpherson went down,
"done him in one hit. If he don't pay as a canvasser I'll take him to town
and back him to fight Les Darcy. Look out for yourself;
don't you handle him!" he continued as the other approached the figure.
"Leave him to me. As like as not, if you get fooling about him,
he'll give you a clout that'll paralyse you."
So saying, he guided the automaton out of the office and into the street,
and walked straight into a policeman.
By a common impulse the Genius and his mate ran rapidly away
in different directions, leaving the figure alone with the officer.
He was a fully-ordained sergeant -- by name Aloysius O'Grady; a squat,
rosy little Irishman. He hated violent arrests and all that sort of thing,
and had a faculty of persuading drunks and disorderlies and other
fractious persons to "go quietly along wid him," that was little short
of marvellous. Excited revellers, who were being carried by their mates,
struggling violently, would break away to prance gaily along to the lock-up
with the sergeant. Obstinate drunks who had done nothing
but lie on the ground and kick their feet in the air,
would get up like birds, serpent-charmed, to go with him to durance vile.
As soon as he saw the canvasser, and noted his fixed, unearthly stare,
and listened to his hoarse, unnatural voice, the sergeant knew
what was the matter; it was a man in the horrors, a common enough spectacle
at Ninemile. He resolved to decoy him into the lock-up, and accosted him
in a friendly, free-and-easy way.
"Good day t'ye," he said.
"---- most magnificent volume ever published, jewelled in fourteen holes,
working on a ruby roller, and in a glass case," said the book-canvasser.
"The likenesses of the historical personages are so natural
that the book must not be left open on the table, or the mosquitoes
will ruin it by stinging the portraits."
It then dawned on the sergeant that this was no mere case of the horrors --
he was dealing with a book-canvasser.
"Ah, sure," he said, "fwhat's the use uv tryin' to sell books at all,
at all; folks does be peltin' them out into the street, and the nanny-goats
lives on them these times. Oi send the childer out to pick 'em up,
and we have 'em at me place in barrow-loads. Come along wid me now,
and Oi'll make you nice and comfortable for the night,"
and he laid his hand on the outstretched palm of the figure.
It was a fatal mistake. He had set in motion the machinery which operated
the figure's left arm, and it moved that limb in towards its body,
and hugged the sergeant to its breast, with a vice-like grip.
Then it started in a faltering and uneven, but dogged, way
to walk towards the river.
"Immortial Saints!" gasped the sergeant, "he's squazin' the livin' breath
out uv me. Lave go now loike a dacent sowl, lave go. And oh,
for the love uv God, don't be shpakin' into me ear that way;"
for the figure's mouth was pressed tight against the sergeant's ear,
and its awful voice went through and through the little man's head,
as it held forth about the volume. The sergeant struggled violently,
and by so doing set some more springs in motion, and the figure's right arm
made terrific swipes in the air. A following of boys and loafers
had collected by this time. "Blimey, how does he lash out!" was the remark
they made. But they didn't interfere, notwithstanding the sergeant's
frantic appeals, and things were going hard with him when his subordinate,
Constable Dooley, appeared on the scene.
Dooley, better known as The Wombat because of his sleepy disposition,
was a man of great strength. He had originally been quartered at Sydney,
and had fought many bitter battles with the notorious "pushes" of Bondi,
Surry Hills and The Rocks. After that, duty at Ninemile was child's play,
and he never ran in fewer than two drunks at a time;
it was beneath his dignity to be seen capturing a solitary inebriate.
If they wouldn't come any other way, he would take them by the ankles
and drag them after him. When the Wombat saw the sergeant in the grasp
of an inebriate he bore down on the fray full of fight.
"I'll soon make him lave go, sergeant," he said, and he caught hold
of the figure's right arm, to put on the "police twist". Unfortunately,
at that exact moment the sergeant touched one of the springs in
the creature's breast. With the suddenness and severity of a horse-kick,
it lashed out with its right hand, catching the redoubtable Dooley
a thud on the jaw, and sending him to grass as if he had been shot.
For a few minutes he "lay as only dead men lie". Then he got up
bit by bit, wandered off home to the police-barracks,
and mentioned casually to his wife that John L. Sullivan had come to town,
and had taken the sergeant away to drown him. After which,
having given orders that anybody who called was to be told
that he had gone fifteen miles out of town to serve a summons on a man
for not registering a dog, he locked himself up in a cell
for the rest of the day.
Meanwhile, the Cast-iron Canvasser, still holding the sergeant
tightly clutched to its breast, was marching straight towards the river.
Something had disorganised its vocal arrangements, and it was now
positively shrieking in the sergeant's ear, and, as it yelled,
the little man yelled still louder.
"Oi don't want yer accursed book. Lave go uv me, Oi say!"
He beat with his fists on its face, and kicked its shins without avail.
A short, staggering rush, a wild shriek from the officer,
and they both toppled over the steep bank and went souse into the depths
of Ninemile Creek.
That was the end of the matter. The Genius and his mate
returned to town hurriedly, and lay low, expecting to be indicted
for murder. Constable Dooley drew up a report for the Chief of Police
which contained so many strange statements that the Police department
concluded the sergeant must have got drunk and drowned himself,
and that Dooley saw him do it, but was too drunk to pull him out.
Anyone unacquainted with Ninemile might expect that a report
of the occurrence would have reached the Sydney papers.
As a matter of fact the storekeeper did think of writing one,
but decided that it was too much trouble. There was some idea
of asking the Government to fish the two bodies out of the river;
but about that time an agitation was started in Ninemile
to have the Federal Capital located there, and nothing else mattered.
The Genius discovered a pub in Sydney that kept the Ninemile brand
of whisky, and drank himself to death; the Wombat became
a Sub-Inspector of Police; Sloper entered the Christian ministry;
Dodge was elected to the Federal Parliament; and a vague tradition about
"a bloke who came up here in the horrors, and drownded poor old O'Grady,"
is the only memory that remains of that wonderful creation,
the Cast-iron Canvasser.
The Merino Sheep
People have got the impression that the merino is a gentle, bleating animal
that gets its living without trouble to anybody, and comes up every year
to be shorn with a pleased smile upon its amiable face.
It is my purpose here to exhibit the merino sheep in its true light.
First let us give him his due. No one can accuse him of being
a ferocious animal. No one could ever say that a sheep attacked him
without provocation; although there is an old bush story of a man
who was discovered in the act of killing a neighbour's wether.
"Hello!" said the neighbour, "What's this? Killing my sheep!
What have you got to say for yourself?"
"Yes," said the man, with an air of virtuous indignation.
"I AM killing your sheep. I'll kill ANY man's sheep that bites ME!"
But as a rule the merino refrains from using his teeth on people.
He goes to work in another way.
The truth is that he is a dangerous monomaniac, and his one idea
is to ruin the man who owns him. With this object in view
he will display a talent for getting into trouble and a genius for dying
that are almost incredible.
If a mob of sheep see a bush fire closing round them, do they run away
out of danger? Not at all, they rush round and round in a ring
till the fire burns them up. If they are in a river-bed,
with a howling flood coming down, they will stubbornly refuse
to cross three inches of water to save themselves. Dogs may bark
and men may shriek, but the sheep won't move. They will wait there
till the flood comes and drowns them all, and then their corpses
go down the river on their backs with their feet in the air.
A mob will crawl along a road slowly enough to exasperate a snail,
but let a lamb get away in a bit of rough country,
and a racehorse can't head him back again. If sheep are put into
a big paddock with water in three corners of it, they will resolutely
crowd into the fourth, and die of thirst.
When being counted out at a gate, if a scrap of bark be left on the ground
in the gateway, they will refuse to step over it until dogs and men
have sweated and toiled and sworn and "heeled 'em up", and "spoke to 'em",
and fairly jammed them at it. At last one will gather courage,
rush at the fancied obstacle, spring over it about six feet in the air,
and dart away. The next does exactly the same, but jumps a bit higher.
Then comes a rush of them following one another in wild bounds
like antelopes, until one overjumps himself and alights on his head.
This frightens those still in the yard, and they stop running out.
Then the dogging and shrieking and hustling and tearing have to be
gone through all over again. (This on a red-hot day, mind you,
with clouds of blinding dust about, the yolk of wool irritating your eyes,
and, perhaps, three or four thousand sheep to put through).
The delay throws out the man who is counting, and he forgets whether
he left off at 45 or 95. The dogs, meanwhile, have taken the first chance
to slip over the fence and hide in the shade somewhere, and then
there are loud whistlings and oaths, and calls for Rover and Bluey.
At last a dirt-begrimed man jumps over the fence, unearths Bluey,
and hauls him back by the ear. Bluey sets to work barking
and heeling-'em up again, and pretends that he thoroughly enjoys it;
but all the while he is looking out for another chance to "clear".
And THIS time he won't be discovered in a hurry.
There is a well-authenticated story of a ship-load of sheep that was lost
because an old ram jumped overboard, and all the rest followed him.
No doubt they did, and were proud to do it. A sheep won't go through
an open gate on his own responsibility, but he would gladly and proudly
"follow the leader" through the red-hot portals of Hades:
and it makes no difference whether the lead goes voluntarily,
or is hauled struggling and kicking and fighting every inch of the way.
For pure, sodden stupidity there is no animal like the merino.
A lamb will follow a bullock-dray, drawn by sixteen bullocks
and driven by a profane person with a whip, under the impression
that the aggregate monstrosity is his mother. A ewe never knows
her own lamb by sight, and apparently has no sense of colour.
She can recognise its voice half a mile off among a thousand other voices
apparently exactly similar; but when she gets within five yards of it
she starts to smell all the other lambs within reach,
including the black ones -- though her own may be white.
The fiendish resemblance which one sheep bears to another
is a great advantage to them in their struggles with their owners.
It makes it more difficult to draft them out of a strange flock,
and much harder to tell when any are missing.
Concerning this resemblance between sheep, there is a story told
of a fat old Murrumbidgee squatter who gave a big price for a famous ram
called Sir Oliver. He took a friend out one day to inspect Sir Oliver,
and overhauled that animal with a most impressive air of sheep-wisdom.
"Look here," he said, "at the fineness of the wool. See the serrations
in each thread of it. See the density of it. Look at the way
his legs and belly are clothed -- he's wool all over, that sheep.
Grand animal, grand animal!"
Then they went and had a drink, and the old squatter said, "Now,
I'll show you the difference between a champion ram and a second-rater."
So he caught a ram and pointed out his defects. "See here -- not half
the serrations that other sheep had. No density of fleece to speak of.
Bare-bellied as a pig, compared with Sir Oliver. Not that this isn't
a fair sheep, but he'd be dear at one-tenth Sir Oliver's price.
By the way, Johnson" (to his overseer), "what ram IS this?"
"That, sir," replied the astounded functionary -- "that IS Sir Oliver,
There is another kind of sheep in Australia, as great a curse
in his own way as the merino -- namely, the cross-bred,
or half-merino-half-Leicester animal. The cross-bred will get through,
under, or over any fence you like to put in front of him.
He is never satisfied with his owner's run, but always thinks
other people's runs must be better, so he sets off to explore.
He will strike a course, say, south-east, and so long as the fit takes him
he will keep going south-east through all obstacles -- rivers, fences,
growing crops, anything. The merino relies on passive resistance
for his success; the cross-bred carries the war into the enemy's camp,
and becomes a living curse to his owner day and night.
Once there was a man who was induced in a weak moment to buy
twenty cross-bred rams. From that hour the hand of Fate was upon him.
They got into all the paddocks they shouldn't have been in.
They scattered themselves over the run promiscuously.
They visited the cultivation paddock and the vegetable-garden
at their own sweet will. And then they took to roving. In a body
they visited the neighbouring stations, and played havoc with the sheep
all over the district.
The wretched owner was constantly getting fiery letters
from his neighbours: "Your blanky rams are here. Come and take them away
at once," and he would have to go nine or ten miles to drive them home.
Any man who has tried to drive rams on a hot day knows what purgatory is.
He was threatened every week with actions for trespass.
He tried shutting them up in the sheep-yard. They got out and went back
to the garden. Then he gaoled them in the calf-pen.
Out again and into a growing crop. Then he set a boy to watch them;
but the boy went to sleep, and they were four miles away across country
before he got on to their tracks.
At length, when they happened accidentally to be at home
on their owner's run, there came a big flood. His sheep, mostly merinos,
had plenty of time to get on to high ground and save their lives;
but, of course, they didn't, and were almost all drowned. The owner sat
on a rise above the waste of waters and watched the dead animals go by.
He was a ruined man. But he said, "Thank God, those cross-bred rams
are drowned, anyhow." Just as he spoke there was a splashing in the water,
and the twenty rams solemnly swam ashore and ranged themselves in front
of him. They were the only survivors of his twenty thousand sheep.
He broke down, and was taken to an asylum for insane paupers.
The cross-breds had fulfilled their destiny.
The cross-bred drives his owner out of his mind, but the merino
ruins his man with greater celerity. Nothing on earth
will kill cross-breds; nothing will keep merinos alive.
If they are put on dry salt-bush country they die of drought.
If they are put on damp, well-watered country they die of worms, fluke,
and foot-rot. They die in the wet seasons and they die in the dry ones.
The hard, resentful look on the faces of all bushmen comes from
a long course of dealing with merino sheep. The merino dominates the bush,
and gives to Australian literature its melancholy tinge,
its despairing pathos. The poems about dying boundary-riders,
and lonely graves under mournful she-oaks, are the direct outcome
of the poet's too close association with that soul-destroying animal.
A man who could write anything cheerful after a day in the drafting-yards
would be a freak of nature.
The typical Australian bullock -- long-horned, sullen-eyed, stupid,
and vindictive -- is bred away out in Queensland, on remote stations
in the Never Never land, where men live on damper and beef,
and occasionally eat a whole bottle of hot pickles at a sitting,
simply to satisfy their craving for vegetable food. Here,
under the blazing tropic sun, among flies and dust and loneliness,
they struggle with the bullock from year's end to year's end.
It is not to be supposed that they take up this kind of thing for fun.
The man who worked cattle for sport would wheel bricks for amusement.
At periodical intervals a boom in cattle-country arises in the cities,
and syndicates are formed to take up country and stock it.
It looks so beautifully simple -- ON PAPER.
You get your country, thousands of miles of it, for next to nothing.
You buy your breeding herd for a ridiculously small sum,
on long-dated bills. Your staff consists of a manager,
who toils for a share of the profits, a couple of half-civilized
white stockmen at low wages, and a handful of blacks,
who work harder for a little opium ash than they would for much money.
Plant costs nothing, improvements nothing -- no woolshed is needed,
there are no shearers to pay, and no carriage to market, for the bullock
walks himself down to his doom. Granted that prices are low,
still it is obvious that there must be huge profits in the business.
So the cattle start away out to "the country", where they are supposed
to increase and multiply, and enrich their owners. Alas! for such hopes.
There is a curse on cattle.
No one has ever been able to explain exactly how the deficit arises.
Put the figures before the oldest and most experienced cattleman,
and he will fail to show why they don't work out right.
And yet they never do. It is not the fault of the cattle themselves.
Sheep would rather die than live -- and when one comes to think of
the life they lead, one can easily understand their preference for death;
but cattle, if given half a chance, will do their best to prolong
If they are running on low-lying country and are driven off
when a flood comes, they will probably walk back into the flood-water
and get drowned as soon as their owner turns his back. But, as a rule,
cattle are not suicidal. They sort themselves into mobs,
they pick out the best bits of country, they find their way to the water,
they breed habitually; but it always ends in the same way.
The hand of Fate is against them.
If a drought comes, they eat off the grass near the water
and have to travel far out for a feed. Then they fall away and get weak,
and when they come down to drink they get bogged in the muddy waterholes
and die there.
Or Providence sends the pleuro, and big strong beasts slink away
by themselves, and stand under trees glaring savagely till death comes.
Or else the tick attacks them, and soon a fine, strong beast becomes
a miserable, shrunken, tottering wreck. Once cattle get really low
in condition they are done for. Sheep can be shifted when their
pasture fails, but you can't shift cattle. They die quicker on the roads
than on the run. The only thing is to watch and pray for rain.
It always comes -- after the cattle are dead.
As for describing the animals themselves, it would take volumes.
Sheep are all alike, but cattle are all different. The drovers on the road
get to know the habits and tendencies of each particular bullock --
the one-eyed bullock that pokes out to the side of the mob,
the inquisitive bullock that is always walking over towards the drover
as if he were going to speak to him, the agitator bullock who is always
trying to get up a stampede and prodding the others with his horns.
In poor Boake's "Where the Dead Men Lie" he says:
Only the hand of Night can free them --
That's when the dead men fly!
Only the frightened cattle see them --
See the dead men go by!
Cloven hoofs beating out one measure,
Bidding the stockman know no leisure --
That's when the dead men take their pleasure!
That's when the dead men fly!
Cattle on a camp see ghosts, sure enough -- else, why is it that,
when hundreds are in camp at night -- some standing, some lying asleep,
all facing different ways -- in an instant, at some invisible
cause of alarm, the whole mob are on their feet and all racing
IN THE SAME DIRECTION, away from some unseen terror?
It doesn't do to sneak round cattle at night; it is better
to whistle and sing than to surprise them by a noiseless appearance.
Anyone sneaking about frightens them, and then they will charge
right over the top of somebody on the opposite side,
and away into the darkness, becoming more and more frightened as they go,
smashing against trees and stumps, breaking legs and ribs,
and playing the dickens with themselves generally. Cattle "on the road"
are unaccountable animals; one cannot say for certain what they will do.
In this respect they differ from sheep, whose movements can be predicted
with absolute certainty.
All the cussedness of the bovine race is centred in the cow. In Australia
the most opprobious epithet one can apply to a man or other object
is "cow". In the whole range of a bullock-driver's vocabulary
there is no word that expresses his blistering scorn so well as "cow".
To an exaggerated feminine perversity the cow adds a fiendish ingenuity
in making trouble.
A quiet milking-cow will "plant" her calf with such skill that ten stockmen
cannot find him in a one-mile paddock. While the search goes on
she grazes unconcernedly, as if she never had a calf in her life.
If by chance he be discovered, then one notices a curious thing.
The very youngest calf, the merest staggering-Bob two days old,
will not move till the old lady gives him orders to do so.
One may pull him about without getting a move out of him.
If sufficiently persecuted he will at last sing out for help, and then
his mother will arrive full-gallop, charge men and horses indiscriminately,
and clear out with him to the thickest timber in the most rugged part
of the creek-bed, defying man to get her to the yard.
While in his mother's company he seconds her efforts with great judgment.
But, if he be separated from her, he will follow a horse and rider
up to the yard thinking he is following his mother, though she bellow
instructions to him from the rear. Then the guileless agriculturist,
having penned him up, sets a dog on him, and his cries soon fetch
the old cow full-run to his assistance. Once in the yard she is roped,
hauled into the bail, propped up to prevent her throwing herself down,
and milked by sheer brute-force. After a while she steadies down
and will walk into the bail, knowing her turn and behaving like
a respectable female.
Cows and calves have no idea of sound or distance. If a cow is on
the opposite side of the fence, and wishes to communicate with her calf,
she will put her head through the fence, place her mouth against his ear
as if she were going to whisper, and then utter a roar that can be heard
two miles off. It would stun a human being; but the calf thinks it over
for a moment, and then answers with a prolonged yell in the old cow's ear.
So the dialogue goes on for hours without either party dropping dead.
There is an element of danger in dealing with cattle that makes men
smart and self-reliant and independent. Men who deal with sheep
get gloomy and morbid, and are for ever going on strike. Nobody ever heard
of a stockman's strike. The true stockrider thinks himself just as good
a man as his boss, and inasmuch as "the boss" never makes any money,
while the stockman gets his wages, the stockman may be considered as having
the better position of the two.
Sheepmen like to think that they know all about cattle, and could work them
if they chose. A Queensland drover once took a big mob from the Gulf
right down through New South Wales, selling various lots as he went.
He had to deliver some to a small sheep-man, near Braidwood,
who was buying a few hundred cattle as a spec. By the time they arrived,
the cattle had been on the road eight months, and were quiet as milkers.
But the sheep-man and his satellites came out, riding stable-fed horses and
brandishing twenty-foot whips, all determined to sell their lives dearly.
They galloped round the astonished cattle and spurred their horses
and cracked their whips, till they roused the weary mob. Then they started
to cut out the beasts they wanted. The horses rushed and pulled,
and the whips maddened the cattle, and all was turmoil and confusion.
The Queensland drovers looked on amazed, sitting their patient
leg-weary horses they had ridden almost continuously for eight months.
At last, seeing the hash the sheep-men were making of it,
the drovers set to work, and in a little while, without a shout,
or crack of a whip, had cut out the required number.
These the head drover delivered to the buyer, simply remarking,
"Many's the time YOU never cut-out cattle."
As I write, there rises a vision of a cattle-camp on an open plain,
the blue sky overhead, the long grass rustling below,
the great mob of parti-coloured cattle eddying restlessly about,
thrusting at each other with their horns; and in among
the sullen half-savage animals go the light, wiry stock-riders,
horse and man working together, watchful, quick, and resolute.
A white steer is wanted that is right in the throng. Way! -- make way!
and horse and rider edge into the restless sea of cattle,
the man with his eye fixed on the selected animal, the horse,
glancing eagerly about him, trying to discover which is the wanted one.
The press divides and the white steer scuttles along the edge of the mob
trying to force his way in again. Suddenly he and two or three others
are momentarily eddied out to the outskirts of the mob, and in that second
the stockman dashes his horse between them and the main body.
The lumbering beasts rush hither and thither in a vain attempt
to return to their comrades. Those not wanted are allowed to return,
but the white steer finds, to his dismay, that wherever he turns that horse
and man and dreaded whip are confronting him. He doubles and dodges
and makes feints to charge, but the horse anticipates every movement
and wheels quicker than the bullock. At last the white steer sees
the outlying mob he is required to join, and trots off to them quite happy,
while horse and rider return to cut out another.
It is a pretty exhibition of skill and intelligence, doubly pleasant
to watch because of the undoubted interest that the horses take in it.
Big, stupid creatures that they are, cursed with highly-strung nerves,
and blessed with little sense, they are pathetically anxious to do
such work as they can understand. So they go into the cutting-out camp
with a zest, and toil all day edging lumbering bullocks out of the mob,
but as soon as a bad rider gets on them and begins
to haul their mouths about, their nerves overcome them,
and they get awkward and frightened. A horse that is a crack camp-horse
in one man's hands may be a hopeless brute in the hands of another.
Buckalong was a big freehold of some 80,000 acres, belonging to
an absentee syndicate, and therefore run in most niggardly style.
There was a manager on 200 pounds a year, Sandy M'Gregor to wit --
a hard-headed old Scotchman known as "four-eyed M'Gregor",
because he wore spectacles. For assistants, he had half-a-dozen of us --
jackaroos and colonial-experiencers -- who got nothing a year,
and earned it.
We had, in most instances, paid premiums to learn the noble art
of squatting -- which now appears to me hardly worth studying,
for so much depends on luck that a man with a head as long as a horse's
has little better chance than the fool just imported.
Besides the manager and the jackaroos, there were a few boundary riders
to prowl round the fences of the vast paddocks. This constituted
the whole station staff.
Buckalong was on one of the main routes by which stock were taken
to market, or from the plains to the tablelands, and vice versa.
Great mobs of travelling sheep constantly passed through the run,
eating up the grass and vexing the soul of the manager. By law,
sheep must travel six miles per day, and they must be kept to within
half-a-mile of the road. Of course we kept all the grass near the road
eaten bare, to discourage travellers from coming that way.
Such hapless wretches as did venture through Buckalong used to try hard
to stray from the road and pick up a feed, but old Sandy was always
ready for them, and would have them dogged right through the run.
This bred feuds, and bad language, and personal combats between us
and the drovers, whom we looked upon as natural enemies.
The men who came through with mobs of cattle used to pull down
the paddock fences at night, and slip the cattle in for refreshments,
but old Sandy often turned out at 2 or 3 a.m. to catch a mob of bullocks
in the horse-paddock, and then off they went to Buckalong pound.
The drovers, as in duty bound, attributed the trespass to accident --
broken rails, and so on -- and sometimes they tried to rescue the cattle,
which again bred strife and police-court summonses.
Besides having a particular aversion to drovers, old M'Gregor had
a general "down" on the young Australians whom he comprehensively described
as a "feckless, horrse-dealin', horrse-stealin', crawlin' lot o' wretches."
According to him, a native-born would sooner work a horse to death
than work for a living any day. He hated any man who wanted
to sell him a horse.
"As aw walk the street," he used to say, "the fouk disna stawp me
to buy claes nor shoon, an' wheerfore should they stawp me to buy horrses?
It's `Mister M'Gregor, will ye purrchase a horrse?' Let them wait
till I ask them to come wi' their horrses."
Such being his views on horseflesh and drovers, we felt
no little excitement when one Sunday, at dinner, the cook came in to say
there was "a drover-chap outside wanted the boss to come and have a look
at a horse." M'Gregor simmered a while, and muttered something about
the "Sawbath day"; but at last he went out, and we filed after him
to see the fun.
The drover stood by the side of his horse, beneath the acacia trees
in the yard. He had a big scar on his face, apparently the result
of collision with a fence; he looked thin and sickly and seemed
poverty-stricken enough to disarm hostility. Obviously, he was down
on his luck. Had it not been for that indefinable self-reliant look
which drovers -- the Ishmaels of the bush -- always acquire, one might
have taken him for a swagman. His horse was in much the same plight.
It was a ragged, unkempt pony, pitifully poor and very footsore,
at first sight, an absolute "moke"; but a second glance showed
colossal round ribs, square hips, and a great length of rein,
the rest hidden beneath a wealth of loose hair. He looked like
"a good journey horse", possibly something better.
We gathered round while M'Gregor questioned the drover.
The man was monosyllabic to a degree, as the real bushmen generally are.
It is only the rowdy and the town-bushy that are fluent of speech.
"Guid mornin'," said M'Gregor.
"Mornin', boss," said the drover, shortly.
"Is this the horrse ye hae for sale?"
"Ay," and M'Gregor looked at the pony with a businesslike
don't-think-much-of-him air, ran his hand lightly over the hard legs,
and opened the passive creature's mouth. "H'm," he said.
Then he turned to the drover. "Ye seem a bit oot o' luck.
Ye're thin like. What's been the matter?"
"Been sick with fever -- Queensland fever. Just come through
from the North. Been out on the Diamantina last."
"Ay. I was there mysel'," said M'Gregor. "Hae ye the fever on ye still?"
"Yes -- goin' home to get rid of it."
A man can only get Queensland fever in a malarial district, but he can
carry it with him wherever he goes. If he stays, it will sap his strength
and pull him to pieces; if he moves to a better climate, the malady moves
with him, leaving him by degrees, and coming back at regular intervals
to rack, shake, burn, and sweat its victim. Gradually it wears itself out,
often wearing its patient out at the same time. M'Gregor had been through
the experience, and there was a slight change in his voice as he went on
with his palaver.
"Whaur are ye makin' for the noo?"
"Monaro -- my people live in Monaro."
"Hoo will ye get to Monaro gin ye sell the horrse?"
"Coach and rail. Too sick to care about ridin'," said the drover,
while a wan smile flitted over his yellow-grey features.
"I've rode him far enough. I've rode that horse a thousand miles.
I wouldn't sell him, only I'm a bit hard up. Sellin' him now
to get the money to go home."
"Hoo auld is he?"
"Is he a guid horrse on a camp?" asked M'Gregor.
"No better camp-horse in Queensland," said the drover. "You can chuck
the reins on his neck, an' he'll cut out a beast by himself."
M'Gregor's action in this matter puzzled us. We spent our time
crawling after sheep, and a camp-horse would be about as much use to us
as side-pockets to a pig. We had expected Sandy to rush the fellow
off the place at once, and we couldn't understand how it was that he took
so much interest in him. Perhaps the fever-racked drover
and the old camp-horse appealed to him in a way incomprehensible to us.
We had never been on the Queensland cattle-camps, nor shaken and shivered
with the fever, nor lived the roving life of the overlanders.
M'Gregor had done all this, and his heart (I can see it all now) went out
to the man who brought the old days back to him.
"Ah, weel," he said, "we hae'na muckle use for a camp-horrse here,
ye ken; wi'oot some of these lads wad like to try theer han'
cuttin' oot the milkers' cawves frae their mithers." And the old man
laughed contemptuously, while we felt humbled in the sight of the man
from far back. "An' what'll ye be wantin' for him?" asked M'Gregor.
"Reckon he's worth fifteen notes," said the drover.
This fairly staggered us. Our estimates had varied between
thirty shillings and a fiver. We thought the negotiations
would close abruptly; but M'Gregor, after a little more examination,
agreed to give the price, provided the saddle and bridle,
both grand specimens of ancient art, were given in. This was agreed to,
and the drover was sent off to get his meals in the hut before leaving
by the coach.
"The mon is verra harrd up, an' it's a sair thing that Queensland fever,"
was the only remark M'Gregor made. But we knew now that there was
a soft spot in his heart somewhere.
Next morning the drover got a crisp-looking cheque. He said no word
while the cheque was being written, but, as he was going away,
the horse happened to be in the yard, and he went over to the old comrade
that had carried him so many miles, and laid a hand on his neck.
"He ain't much to look at," said the drover, speaking slowly and awkwardly,
"but he's white when he's wanted." And just before the coach rattled off,
the man of few words leant down from the box and nodded impressively,
and repeated, "Yes, he's white when he's wanted."
We didn't trouble to give the new horse a name. Station horses
are generally called after the man from whom they are bought.
"Tom Devine", "The Regan mare", "Black M'Carthy" and "Bay M'Carthy"
were among the appellations of our horses at that time. As we didn't know
the drover's name, we simply called the animal "The new horse"
until a still newer horse was one day acquired. Then, one of the hands
being told to take the new horse, said, "D'yer mean the NEW new horse
or the OLD new horse?"
"Naw," said the boss, "not the new horrse -- that bay horrse we bought
frae the drover. The ane he said was white when he's wanted."
And so, by degrees, the animal came to be referred to as the horse
that's white when he's wanted, and at last settled down
to the definite name of "White-when-he's-wanted".
White-when-he's-wanted didn't seem much of an acquisition. He was sent out
to do slavery for Greenhide Billy, a boundary-rider who plumed himself
on having once been a cattle-man. After a week's experience of "White",
Billy came in to the homestead disgusted. The pony was so lazy
that he had to build a fire under him to get him to move, and so rough
that it made a man's nose bleed to ride him more than a mile. "The boss
must have been off his head to give fifteen notes for such a cow."
M'Gregor heard this complaint. "Verra weel, Mr. Billy," said he, hotly,
"ye can juist tak' ane of the young horrses in yon paddock,
an' if he bucks wi' ye an' kills ye, it's yer ain fault.
Ye're a cattleman -- so ye say -- dommed if ah believe it.
Ah believe ye're a dairy-farmin' body frae Illawarra. Ye ken neither
horrse nor cattle. Mony's the time ye never rode buckjumpers, Mr. Billy"
-- and with this parting-shot the old man turned into the house,
and White-when-he's-wanted came back to the head station.
For a while he was a sort of pariah. He used to yard the horses,
fetch up the cows, and hunt travelling sheep through the run.
He really was lazy and rough, and we all decided that Billy's opinion
of him was correct, until the day came to make one of our periodical raids
on the wild horses in the hills at the back of the run.
Every now and again we formed parties to run in some of these animals,
and, after nearly galloping to death half-a-dozen good horses,
we would capture three or four brumbies, and bring them in triumph
to the homestead to be broken in. By the time they had thrown
half the crack riders on the station, broken all the bridles,
rolled on all the saddles, and kicked all the dogs, they would be
marketable (and no great bargains) at about thirty shillings a head.
Yet there is no sport in the world to be mentioned in the same volume
as "running horses", and we were very keen on it. All the crack nags
were got as fit as possible, and fed up beforehand;
and on this particular occasion White-when-he's-wanted, being in good trim,
was given a week's hard feed and lent to a harum-scarum fellow from
the Upper Murray, who happened to be working in a survey camp on the run.
How he did open our eyes!
He ran the mob from hill to hill, from range to range,
across open country and back again to the hills, over flats and gullies,
through hop-scrub and stringybark ridges; and all the time
White-when-he's-wanted was on the wing of the mob, pulling double.
The mares and foals dropped out, the colts and young stock pulled up
dead beat, and only the seasoned veterans were left. Most of our horses
caved in altogether; one or two were kept in the hunt by judicious nursing
and shirking the work; but White-when-he's-wanted was with the quarry
from end to end of the run, doing double his share; and at the finish,
when a chance offered to wheel them into the trapyard, he simply
smothered them for pace, and slewed them into the wings before they knew
where they were. Such a capture had not fallen to our lot for many a day,
and the fame of White-when-he's-wanted was speedily noised abroad.
He was always fit for work, always hungry, always ready
to lie down and roll, and always lazy. But when he heard the rush
of the brumbies' feet in the scrub he became frantic with excitement.
He could race over the roughest ground without misplacing a hoof
or altering his stride, and he could sail over fallen timber
and across gullies like a kangaroo. Nearly every Sunday
we were after the brumbies, until they got as lean as greyhounds
and as cunning as policemen. We were always ready
to back White-when-he's-wanted to run-down, single-handed,
any animal in the bush that we liked to put him after -- wild horses,
wild cattle, kangaroos, emus, dingoes, kangaroo-rats -- we barred nothing,
for, if he couldn't beat them for pace, he would outlast them.
And then one day he disappeared from the paddock, and we never
saw him again. We knew there were plenty of men in the district
who would steal him; but, as we knew also of many more who would "inform"
for a pound or two, we were sure that it could not have been local "talent"
that had taken him. We offered good rewards and set some of the right sort
to work, but heard nothing of him for about a year.
Then the surveyor's assistant turned up again, after a trip
to the interior. He told us the usual string of back-block lies,
and wound up by saying that out on the very fringe of settlement
he had met an old acquaintance.
"Who was that?"
"Why, that little bay horse that I rode after the brumbies that time.
The one you called White-when-he's-wanted."
"The deuce you did! Are you sure? Who had him?"
"Sure! I'd swear to him anywhere. A little drover fellow had him.
A little fellow, with a big scar across his forehead. Came from Monaro way
somewhere. He said he bought the horse from you for fifteen notes."
The King's warrant doesn't run much out west of Boulia,
and it is not likely that any of us will ever see the drover again,
or will ever again cross the back of "White-when-he's-wanted".
The Downfall of Mulligan's
The sporting men of Mulligan's were an exceedingly knowing lot;
in fact, they had obtained the name amongst their neighbours
of being a little bit too knowing. They had "taken down"
the adjoining town in a variety of ways. They were always winning
maiden plates with horses which were shrewdly suspected to be old
and well-tried performers in disguise.
When the sports of Paddy's Flat unearthed a phenomenal runner in the shape
of a blackfellow called Frying-pan Joe, the Mulligan contingent
immediately took the trouble to discover a blackfellow of their own,
and they made a match and won all the Paddy's Flat money
with ridiculous ease; then their blackfellow turned out to be
a well-known Sydney performer. They had a man who could fight,
a man who could be backed to jump five-feet-ten, a man who could
kill eight pigeons out of nine at thirty yards, a man who could make
a break of fifty or so at billiards if he tried; they could all drink,
and they all had that indefinite look of infinite wisdom
and conscious superiority which belongs only to those who know something
They knew a great many things never learnt at Sunday-school.
They were experts at cards and dice. They would go to immense trouble
to work off any small swindle in the sporting line.
In short the general consensus of opinion was that they were
a very "fly" crowd at Mulligan's, and if you went there you wanted to
"keep your eyes skinned" or they'd "have" you over a threepenny-bit.
There were races at Sydney one Christmas, and a select band of
the Mulligan sportsmen were going down to them. They were in high feather,
having just won a lot of money from a young Englishman at pigeon-shooting,
by the simple method of slipping blank cartridges into his gun
when he wasn't looking, and then backing the bird.
They intended to make a fortune out of the Sydney people,
and admirers who came to see them off only asked them as a favour
to leave money enough in Sydney to make it worth while
for another detachment to go down later on. Just as the train
was departing a priest came running on to the platform,
and was bundled into the carriage where our Mulligan friends were;
the door was slammed to, and away they went. His Reverence was hot
and perspiring, and for a few minutes mopped himself with a handkerchief,
while the silence was unbroken except by the rattle of the train.
After a while one of the Mulligan fraternity got out a pack of cards
and proposed a game to while away the time. There was a young squatter
in the carriage who looked as if he might be induced to lose a few pounds,
and the sportsmen thought they would be neglecting their opportunities
if they did not try to "get a bit to go on with" from him.
He agreed to play, and, just as a matter of courtesy, they asked the priest
whether he would take a hand.
"What game d'ye play?" he asked, in a melodious brogue.
They explained that any game was equally acceptable to them,
but they thought it right to add that they generally played for money.
"Sure an' it don't matter for wanst in a way," said he --
"Oi'll take a hand bedad -- Oi'm only going about fifty miles,
so Oi can't lose a fortune."
They lifted a light portmanteau on to their knees to make a table,
and five of them -- three of the Mulligan crowd and the two strangers --
started to have a little game of poker. Things looked rosy
for the Mulligan boys, who chuckled as they thought how soon
they were making a beginning, and what a magnificent yarn they would have
to tell about how they rooked a priest on the way down.
Nothing sensational resulted from the first few deals, and the priest began
to ask questions.
"Be ye going to the races?"
They said they were.
"Ah! and Oi suppose ye'll be betting wid thim bookmakers --
betting on the horses, will yez? They do be terrible knowing men,
thim bookmakers, they tell me. I wouldn't bet much if Oi was ye," he said,
with an affable smile. "If ye go bettin' ye will be took in
wid thim bookmakers."
The boys listened with a bored air and reckoned that by the time
they parted the priest would have learnt that they were well able
to look after themselves. They went steadily on with the game,
and the priest and the young squatter won slightly; this was part
of the plan to lead them on to plunge. They neared the station
where the priest was to get out. He had won rather more than they liked,
so the signal was passed round to "put the cross on". Poker is a game
at which a man need not risk much unless he feels inclined,
and on this deal the priest stood out. Consequently,
when they drew up at his station he was still a few pounds in.
"Bedad," he said, "Oi don't loike goin' away wid yer money.
Oi'll go on to the next station so as ye can have revinge."
Then he sat down again, and play went on in earnest.
The man of religion seemed to have the Devil's own luck. When he was dealt
a good hand he invariably backed it well, and if he had a bad one
he would not risk anything. The sports grew painfully anxious
as they saw him getting further and further ahead of them,
prattling away all the time like a big schoolboy. The squatter was
the biggest loser so far, but the priest was the only winner.
All the others were out of pocket. His reverence played with great dash,
and seemed to know a lot about the game, so that on arrival
at the second station he was a good round sum in pocket.
He rose to leave them with many expressions of regret, and laughingly
promised full revenge next time. Just as he was opening the carriage door,
one of the Mulligan fraternity said in a stage-whisper:
"He's a blanky sink-pocket. If he can come this far,
let him come on to Sydney and play for double the stakes."
Like a shot the priest turned on him.
"Bedad, an' if THAT'S yer talk, Oi'll play ye fer double stakes
from here to the other side of glory. Do yez think men are mice
because they eat cheese? It isn't one of the Ryans would be fearing
to give any man his revinge!"
He snorted defiance at them, grabbed his cards and waded in.
The others felt that a crisis was at hand and settled down to play
in a dead silence. But the priest kept on winning steadily,
and the "old man" of the Mulligan push saw that something decisive
must be done, and decided on a big plunge to get all the money back
on one hand. By a dexterous manipulation of the cards
he dealt himself four kings, almost the best hand at poker.
Then he began with assumed hesitation to bet on his hand,
raising the stake little by little.
"Sure ye're trying to bluff, so ye are!" said the priest,
and immediately raised it.
The others had dropped out of the game and watched with painful interest
the stake grow and grow. The Mulligan fraternity felt a cheerful certainty
that the "old man" had made things safe, and regarded themselves
as mercifully delivered from an unpleasant situation. The priest went on
doggedly raising the stake in response to his antagonist's challenges
until it had attained huge dimensions.
"Sure that's high enough," said he, putting into the pool
sufficient to entitle him to see his opponent's hand.
The "old man" with great gravity laid down his four kings,
whereat the Mulligan boys let a big sigh of relief escape them.
Then the priest laid down four aces and scooped the pool.
The sportsmen of Mulligan's never quite knew how they got out to Randwick.
They borrowed a bit of money in Sydney, and found themselves
in the saddling-paddock in a half-dazed condition, trying to realize
what had happened to them. During the afternoon they were up at the end
of the lawn near the Leger stand and could hear the babel of tongues,
small bookmakers, thimble riggers, confidence men, and so on,
plying their trades outside. In the tumult of voices they heard one
that sounded familiar. Soon suspicion grew into certainty,
and they knew that it was the voice of "Father" Ryan.
They walked to the fence and looked over. This is what he was saying: --
"Pop it down, gents! Pop it down! If you don't put down a brick
you can't pick up a castle! I'll bet no one here can pick
the knave of hearts out of these three cards. I'll bet half-a-sovereign
no one here can find the knave!"
Then the crowd parted a little, and through the opening
they could see him distinctly, doing a great business
and showing wonderful dexterity with the pasteboard.
There is still enough money in Sydney to make it worth while
for another detachment to come down from Mulligan's; but the next lot
will hesitate about playing poker with priests in the train.
The Amateur Gardener
The first step in amateur gardening is to sit down and consider what good
you are going to get by it. If you are only a tenant by the month,
as most people are, it is obviously not of much use for you to plant
a fruit orchard or an avenue of oak trees. What you want is something
that will grow quickly, and will stand transplanting, for when you move
it would be a sin to leave behind you the plants on which you have spent
so much labour and so much patent manure.
We knew a man once who was a bookmaker by trade --
and a Leger bookmaker at that -- but had a passion for horses and flowers.
When he "had a big win", as he occasionally did, it was his custom
to have movable wooden stables, built on skids, put up in the yard,
and to have tons of the best soil that money could buy
carted into the garden of the premises which he was occupying.
Then he would keep splendid horses, and grow rare roses
and show-bench chrysanthemums. His landlord passing by
would see the garden in a blaze of colour, and promise himself
to raise the bookmaker's rent next quarter day.
However, when the bookmaker "took the knock", as he invariably did at least
twice a year, it was his pleasing custom to move without giving notice.
He would hitch two cart-horses to the stables, and haul them right away
at night. He would not only dig up the roses, trees, and chrysanthemums
he had planted, but would also cart away the soil he had brought in;
in fact, he used to shift the garden bodily. He had one garden
that he shifted to nearly every suburb in Sydney; and he always argued
that the change of air was invaluable for chrysanthemums.
Being determined, then, to go in for gardening on common-sense principles,
and having decided on the shrubs you mean to grow, the next consideration
is your chance of growing them.
If your neighbour keeps game fowls, it may be taken for granted
that before long they will pay you a visit, and you will see the rooster
scratching your pot plants out by the roots as if they were so much straw,
just to make a nice place to lie down and fluff the dust over himself.
Goats will also stray in from the street, and bite the young shoots off,
selecting the most valuable plants with a discrimination
that would do credit to a professional gardener.
It is therefore useless to think of growing delicate or squeamish plants.
Most amateur gardeners maintain a lifelong struggle against
the devices of Nature; but when the forces of man and the forces of Nature
come into conflict Nature wins every time. Nature has decreed
that certain plants shall be hardy, and therefore suitable to suburban
amateur gardeners; the suburban amateur gardener persists in trying to grow
quite other plants, and in despising those marked out by Nature
for his use. It is to correct this tendency that this article is written.
The greatest standby to the amateur gardener should undoubtedly be
the blue-flowered shrub known as "plumbago". This homely but hardy plant
will grow anywhere. It naturally prefers a good soil,
and a sufficient rainfall, but if need be it will worry along
without either. Fowls cannot scratch it up, and even the goat
turns away dismayed from its hard-featured branches.
The flower is not strikingly beautiful nor ravishingly scented,
but it flowers nine months out of the year; smothered with street dust
and scorched by the summer sun, you will find that faithful old plumbago
plugging along undismayed. A plant like this should be encouraged --
but the misguided amateur gardener as a rule despises it.
The plant known as the churchyard geranium is also one marked out
by Providence for the amateur; so is Cosmea, which comes up year after year
where once planted. In creepers, bignonia and lantana will hold their own
under difficulties perhaps as well as any that can be found.
In trees the Port Jackson fig is a patriotic one to grow.
It is a fine plant to provide exercise, as it sheds its leaves unsparingly,
and requires the whole garden to be swept up every day.
Your aim as a student of Nature should be to encourage
the survival of the fittest. There is a grass called nut grass,
and another called Parramatta grass, either of which holds its own
against anything living or dead. The average gardening manual
gives you recipes for destroying these. Why should you destroy them
in favour of a sickly plant that needs constant attention? No.
The Parramatta grass is the selected of Nature, and who are you
to interfere with Nature?
Having decided to go in for strong, simple plants that will hold their own,
and a bit over, you must get your implements of husbandry.
The spade is the first thing, but the average ironmonger will show you
an unwieldy weapon only meant to be used by navvies. Don't buy it.
Get a small spade, about half-size -- it is nice and light and doesn't
tire the wrist, and with it you can make a good display of enthusiasm,
and earn the hypocritical admiration of your wife. After digging
for half-an-hour or so, get her to rub your back with any
of the backache cures. From that moment you will have no further need
for the spade.
A barrow is about the only other thing needed; anyhow,
it is almost a necessity for wheeling cases of whisky up to the house.
A rake is useful when your terrier dog has bailed up a cat,
and will not attack it until the cat is made to run.
Talking of terrier dogs, an acquaintance of ours has a dog that does all
his gardening. The dog is a small elderly terrier with a failing memory.
As soon as the terrier has planted a bone in the garden
the owner slips over, digs it up and takes it away. When that terrier
goes back and finds the bone gone, he distrusts his memory,
and begins to think that perhaps he has made a mistake,
and has dug in the wrong place; so he sets to work, and digs patiently
all over the garden, turning over acres of soil in the course of
his search. This saves his master a lot of backache.
The sensible amateur gardener, then, will not attempt to fight with Nature
but will fall in with her views. What more pleasant than to get out of bed
at 11.30 on a Sunday morning; to look out of your window at a lawn
waving with the feathery plumes of Parramatta grass, and to see beyond it
the churchyard geranium flourishing side by side with the plumbago
and the Port Jackson fig?
The garden gate blows open, and the local commando of goats,
headed by an aged and fragrant patriarch, locally known as De Wet,
rushes in; but their teeth will barely bite through the wiry stalks
of the Parramatta grass, and the plumbago and the figtree fail
to attract them, and before long they stand on one another's shoulders,
scale the fence, and disappear into the next-door garden,
where a fanatic is trying to grow show roses.
After the last goat has scaled your neighbour's fence, and only De Wet
is left, your little dog discovers him. De Wet beats a hurried retreat,
apparently at full speed, with the dog exactly one foot behind him
in frantic pursuit. We say apparently at full speed, because experience
has taught that De Wet can run as fast as a greyhound when he likes;
but he never exerts himself to go faster than is necessary
to keep just in front of whatever dog is after him.
Hearing the scrimmage, your neighbour comes on to his verandah,
and sees the chase going down the street.
"Ha! that wretched old De Wet again!" he says. "Small hope your dog has
of catching him! Why don't you get a garden gate like mine,
so that he won't get in?"
"No; he can't get in at your gate," is the reply; "but I think his commando
are in your back garden now."
Then follows a frantic rush. Your neighbour falls downstairs in his haste,
and the commando, after stopping to bite some priceless pot plants
of your neighbour's as they come out, skips easily back over the fence
and through your gate into the street again.
If a horse gets in his hoofs make no impression on the firm turf
of the Parramatta grass, and you get quite a hearty laugh
by dropping a chair on him from the first-floor window.
The game fowls of your other neighbour come fluttering into your garden,
and scratch and chuckle and fluff themselves under your plumbago bush;
but you don't worry. Why should you? They can't hurt it; and, besides,
you know that the small black hen and the big yellow one,
who have disappeared from the throng, are even now laying their daily egg
for you behind the thickest bush.
Your little dog rushes frantically up and down the front bed
of your garden, barking and racing, and tearing up the ground,
because his rival little dog, who lives down the street, is going past
with his master, and each pretends that he wants to be at the other --
as they have pretended every day for the past three years. The performance
he is going through doesn't disturb you. Why should it? By following
the directions in this article you have selected plants he cannot hurt.
After breakfasting at noon, you stroll out, and, perhaps,
smooth with your foot, or with your spade, the inequalities
made by the hens; you gather up casually the eggs they have laid;
you whistle to your little dog, and go out for a stroll with a light heart.
Travellers approaching a bush township are sure to find some distance
from the town a lonely public-house waiting by the roadside
to give them welcome. Thirsty (miscalled Thursday) Island
is the outlying pub of Australia.
When the China and British-India steamers arrive from the North
the first place they come to is Thirsty Island, the sentinel at the gate
of Torres Straits. New chums on the steamers see a fleet
of white-sailed pearling luggers, a long pier clustered with a hybrid crowd
of every colour, caste and creed under Heaven, and at the back of it all
a little galvanized-iron town shining in the sun.
For nine months of the year a crisp, cool south-east wind blows,
the snow-white beach is splashed with spray and dotted with
the picturesque figures of Japanese divers and South Sea Island boatmen.
Coco-nut palms line the roads by the beach, and back of the town
are the barracks and a fort nestling among the trees on the hillside.
Thirsty Island is a nice place -- to look at.