Part 4 out of 5
the tucker-bags, took up the billies, and got outside without making
any noise. We held our backs pretty hollow till we got down on to the road.
`That comes of camping in a deserted house,' said Dave, when we were safe
on the track. No Australian Bushman cares to camp in an abandoned homestead,
or even near it -- probably because a deserted home looks ghostlier
in the Australian Bush than anywhere else in the world.
It was blowing hard, but not raining so much.
We went on along the track for a couple of miles and camped
on the sheltered side of a round tussock hill, in a hole
where there had been a landslip. We used all our candle-ends
to get a fire alight, but once we got it started we knocked the wet bark
off `manuka' sticks and logs and piled them on, and soon had a roaring fire.
When the ground got a little drier we rigged a bit of shelter from the showers
with some sticks and the oil-cloth swag-covers; then we made some coffee
and got through the night pretty comfortably. In the morning Dave said,
`I'm going back to that house.'
`What for?' I said.
`I'm going to find out what's the matter with that crimson door.
If I don't I'll never be able to sleep easy within a mile of a door
so long as I live.'
So we went back. It was still blowing. The thing was simple enough
by daylight -- after a little watching and experimenting.
The house was built of odds and ends and badly fitted. It `gave' in the wind
in almost any direction -- not much, not more than an inch or so,
but just enough to throw the door-frame out of plumb and out of square
in such a way as to bring the latch and bolt of the lock clear of the catch
(the door-frame was of scraps joined). Then the door swung open
according to the hang of it; and when the gust was over the house gave back,
and the door swung to -- the frame easing just a little in another direction.
I suppose it would take Edison to invent a thing like that, that came about
by accident. The different strengths and directions of the gusts of wind
must have accounted for the variations of the door's movements --
and maybe the draught of our big fire had helped.
Dave scratched his head a good bit.
`I never lived in a house yet,' he said, as we came away --
`I never lived in a house yet without there was something wrong with it.
Gimme a good tent.'
A Wild Irishman.
About seven years ago I drifted from Out-Back in Australia to Wellington,
the capital of New Zealand, and up country to a little town called Pahiatua,
which meaneth the `home of the gods', and is situated
in the Wairarappa (rippling or sparkling water) district.
They have a pretty little legend to the effect that the name of the district
was not originally suggested by its rivers, streams, and lakes,
but by the tears alleged to have been noticed, by a dusky squire,
in the eyes of a warrior chief who was looking his first, or last --
I don't remember which -- upon the scene. He was the discoverer, I suppose,
now I come to think of it, else the place would have been already named.
Maybe the scene reminded the old cannibal of the home of his childhood.
Pahiatua was not the home of my god; and it rained for five weeks.
While waiting for a remittance, from an Australian newspaper --
which, I anxiously hoped, would arrive in time for enough of it to be left
(after paying board) to take me away somewhere -- I spent many hours
in the little shop of a shoemaker who had been a digger;
and he told me yarns of the old days on the West Coast of Middle Island.
And, ever and anon, he returned to one, a hard-case from the West Coast,
called `The Flour of Wheat', and his cousin, and his mate, Dinny Murphy, dead.
And ever and again the shoemaker (he was large, humorous, and good-natured)
made me promise that, when I dropped across an old West Coast digger --
no matter who or what he was, or whether he was drunk or sober --
I'd ask him if he knew the `Flour of Wheat', and hear what he had to say.
I make no attempt to give any one shade of the Irish brogue --
it can't be done in writing.
`There's the little red Irishman,' said the shoemaker, who was Irish himself,
`who always wants to fight when he has a glass in him; and there's
the big sarcastic dark Irishman who makes more trouble and fights at a spree
than half-a-dozen little red ones put together; and there's the cheerful
easy-going Irishman. Now the Flour was a combination of all three and several
other sorts. He was known from the first amongst the boys at Th' Canary
as the Flour o' Wheat, but no one knew exactly why. Some said
that the right name was the F-l-o-w-e-r, not F-l-o-u-r,
and that he was called that because there was no flower on wheat.
The name might have been a compliment paid to the man's character
by some one who understood and appreciated it -- or appreciated it
without understanding it. Or it might have come of some chance saying
of the Flour himself, or his mates -- or an accident with bags of flour.
He might have worked in a mill. But we've had enough of that. It's the man
-- not the name. He was just a big, dark, blue-eyed Irish digger.
He worked hard, drank hard, fought hard -- and didn't swear.
No man had ever heard him swear (except once); all things were `lovely'
with him. He was always lucky. He got gold and threw it away.
`The Flour was sent out to Australia (by his friends) in connection with
some trouble in Ireland in eighteen-something. The date doesn't matter:
there was mostly trouble in Ireland in those days; and nobody,
that knew the man, could have the slightest doubt that he helped the trouble
-- provided he was there at the time. I heard all this from a man
who knew him in Australia. The relatives that he was sent out to
were soon very anxious to see the end of him. He was as wild
as they made them in Ireland. When he had a few drinks, he'd walk restlessly
to and fro outside the shanty, swinging his right arm across in front of him
with elbow bent and hand closed, as if he had a head in chancery,
and muttering, as though in explanation to himself --
`"Oi must be walkin' or foightin'! -- Oi must be walkin' or foightin'! --
Oi must be walkin' or foightin'!"
`They say that he wanted to eat his Australian relatives before he was done;
and the story goes that one night, while he was on the spree,
they put their belongings into a cart and took to the Bush.
`There's no floury record for several years; then the Flour turned up
on the west coast of New Zealand and was never very far from a pub.
kept by a cousin (that he had tracked, unearthed, or discovered somehow)
at a place called "Th' Canary". I remember the first time I saw the Flour.
`I was on a bit of a spree myself, at Th' Canary, and one evening
I was standing outside Brady's (the Flour's cousin's place)
with Tom Lyons and Dinny Murphy, when I saw a big man coming across the flat
with a swag on his back.
`"B' God, there's the Flour o' Wheat comin' this minute,"
says Dinny Murphy to Tom, "an' no one else."
`"B' God, ye're right!" says Tom.
`There were a lot of new chums in the big room at the back,
drinking and dancing and singing, and Tom says to Dinny --
`"Dinny, I'll bet you a quid an' the Flour'll run against
some of those new chums before he's an hour on the spot."
`But Dinny wouldn't take him up. He knew the Flour.
`"Good day, Tom! Good day, Dinny!"
`"Good day to you, Flour!"
`I was introduced.
`"Well, boys, come along," says the Flour.
`And so we went inside with him. The Flour had a few drinks,
and then he went into the back-room where the new chums were.
One of them was dancing a jig, and so the Flour stood up in front of him
and commenced to dance too. And presently the new chum made a step
that didn't please the Flour, so he hit him between the eyes,
and knocked him down -- fair an' flat on his back.
`"Take that," he says. "Take that, me lovely whipper-snapper, an' lay there!
You can't dance. How dare ye stand up in front of me face to dance
when ye can't dance?"
`He shouted, and drank, and gambled, and danced, and sang,
and fought the new chums all night, and in the morning he said --
`"Well, boys, we had a grand time last night. Come and have a drink with me."
`And of course they went in and had a drink with him.
. . . . .
`Next morning the Flour was walking along the street, when he met a drunken,
disreputable old hag, known among the boys as the "Nipper".
`"Good MORNING, me lovely Flour o' Wheat!" says she.
`"Good MORNING, me lovely Nipper!" says the Flour.
`And with that she outs with a bottle she had in her dress,
and smashed him across the face with it. Broke the bottle to smithereens!
`A policeman saw her do it, and took her up; and they had the Flour
as a witness, whether he liked it or not. And a lovely sight he looked,
with his face all done up in bloody bandages, and only one damaged eye
and a corner of his mouth on duty.
`"It's nothing at all, your Honour," he said to the S.M.;
"only a pin-scratch -- it's nothing at all. Let it pass.
I had no right to speak to the lovely woman at all."
`But they didn't let it pass, -- they fined her a quid.
`And the Flour paid the fine.
`But, alas for human nature! It was pretty much the same even in those days,
and amongst those men, as it is now. A man couldn't do a woman a good turn
without the dirty-minded blackguards taking it for granted there was something
between them. It was a great joke amongst the boys who knew the Flour,
and who also knew the Nipper; but as it was carried too far in some quarters,
it got to be no joke to the Flour -- nor to those who laughed too loud
or grinned too long.
. . . . .
`The Flour's cousin thought he was a sharp man. The Flour got "stiff".
He hadn't any money, and his credit had run out, so he went and got
a blank summons from one of the police he knew. He pretended
that he wanted to frighten a man who owed him some money.
Then he filled it up and took it to his cousin.
`"What d'ye think of that?" he says, handing the summons across the bar.
"What d'ye think of me lovely Dinny Murphy now?"
`"Why, what's this all about?"
`"That's what I want to know. I borrowed a five-pound-note off of him
a fortnight ago when I was drunk, an' now he sends me that."
`"Well, I never would have dream'd that of Dinny," says the cousin,
scratching his head and blinking. "What's come over him at all?"
`"That's what I want to know."
`"What have you been doing to the man?"
`"Divil a thing that I'm aware of."
`The cousin rubbed his chin-tuft between his forefinger and thumb.
`"Well, what am I to do about it?" asked the Flour impatiently.
`"Do? Pay the man, of course?"
`"How can I pay the lovely man when I haven't got the price of a drink
`The cousin scratched his chin.
`"Well -- here, I'll lend you a five-pound-note for a month or two.
Go and pay the man, and get back to work."
`And the Flour went and found Dinny Murphy, and the pair of them
had a howling spree together up at Brady's, the opposition pub.
And the cousin said he thought all the time he was being had.
. . . . .
`He was nasty sometimes, when he was about half drunk. For instance,
he'd come on the ground when the Orewell sports were in full swing
and walk round, soliloquising just loud enough for you to hear;
and just when a big event was coming off he'd pass within earshot
of some committee men -- who had been bursting themselves for weeks
to work the thing up and make it a success -- saying to himself --
`"Where's the Orewell sports that I hear so much about? I don't see them!
Can any one direct me to the Orewell sports?"
`Or he'd pass a raffle, lottery, lucky-bag, or golden-barrel business
of some sort, --
`"No gamblin' for the Flour. I don't believe in their little shwindles.
It ought to be shtopped. Leadin' young people ashtray."
`Or he'd pass an Englishman he didn't like, --
`"Look at Jinneral Roberts! He's a man! He's an Irishman!
England has to come to Ireland for its Jinnerals! Luk at Jinneral Roberts
in the marshes of Candyhar!"
. . . . .
`They always had sports at Orewell Creek on New Year's Day -- except once --
and old Duncan was always there, -- never missed it till the day he died.
He was a digger, a humorous and good-hearted "hard-case".
They all knew "old Duncan".
`But one New Year's Eve he didn't turn up, and was missed at once.
"Where's old Duncan? Any one seen old Duncan?" "Oh, he'll turn up alright."
They inquired, and argued, and waited, but Duncan didn't come.
`Duncan was working at Duffers. The boys inquired of fellows
who came from Duffers, but they hadn't seen him for two days.
They had fully expected to find him at the creek. He wasn't at
Aliaura nor Notown. They inquired of men who came from Nelson Creek,
but Duncan wasn't there.
`"There's something happened to the lovely man," said the Flour of Wheat
at last. "Some of us had better see about it."
`Pretty soon this was the general opinion, and so a party started out
over the hills to Duffers before daylight in the morning,
headed by the Flour.
`The door of Duncan's "whare" was closed -- BUT NOT PADLOCKED.
The Flour noticed this, gave his head a jerk, opened the door, and went in.
The hut was tidied up and swept out -- even the fireplace.
Duncan had "lifted the boxes" and "cleaned up", and his little bag of gold
stood on a shelf by his side -- all ready for his spree.
On the table lay a clean neckerchief folded ready to tie on.
The blankets had been folded neatly and laid on the bunk, and on them
was stretched Old Duncan, with his arms lying crossed on his chest,
and one foot -- with a boot on -- resting on the ground.
He had his "clean things" on, and was dressed except for one boot,
the necktie, and his hat. Heart disease.
`"Take your hats off and come in quietly, lads," said the Flour.
"Here's the lovely man lying dead in his bunk."
`There were no sports at Orewell that New Year. Some one said
that the crowd from Nelson Creek might object to the sports being postponed
on old Duncan's account, but the Flour said he'd see to that.
`One or two did object, but the Flour reasoned with them
and there were no sports.
`And the Flour used to say, afterwards, "Ah, but it was a grand time
we had at the funeral when Duncan died at Duffers."
. . . . .
`The Flour of Wheat carried his mate, Dinny Murphy, all the way in
from Th' Canary to the hospital on his back. Dinny was very bad --
the man was dying of the dysentery or something. The Flour laid him down
on a spare bunk in the reception-room, and hailed the staff.
`"Inside there -- come out!"
`The doctor and some of the hospital people came to see what was the matter.
The doctor was a heavy swell, with a big cigar, held up in front of him
between two fat, soft, yellow-white fingers, and a dandy little pair
of gold-rimmed eye-glasses nipped onto his nose with a spring.
`"There's me lovely mate lying there dying of the dysentry," says the Flour,
"and you've got to fix him up and bring him round."
`Then he shook his fist in the doctor's face and said --
`"If you let that lovely man die -- look out!"
`The doctor was startled. He backed off at first; then he took
a puff at his cigar, stepped forward, had a careless look at Dinny,
and gave some order to the attendants. The Flour went to the door,
turned half round as he went out, and shook his fist at them again,
and said --
`"If you let that lovely man die -- mind!"
`In about twenty minutes he came back, wheeling a case of whisky in a barrow.
He carried the case inside, and dumped it down on the floor.
`"There," he said, "pour that into the lovely man."
`Then he shook his fist at such members of the staff as were visible,
and said --
`"If you let that lovely man die -- look out!"
`They were used to hard-cases, and didn't take much notice of him,
but he had the hospital in an awful mess; he was there
all hours of the day and night; he would go down town,
have a few drinks and a fight maybe, and then he'd say, "Ah, well,
I'll have to go up and see how me lovely mate's getting on."
`And every time he'd go up he'd shake his fist at the hospital in general
and threaten to murder 'em all if they let Dinny Murphy die.
`Well, Dinny Murphy died one night. The next morning the Flour met the doctor
in the street, and hauled off and hit him between the eyes,
and knocked him down before he had time to see who it was.
`"Stay there, ye little whipper-snapper," said the Flour of Wheat;
"you let that lovely man die!"
`The police happened to be out of town that day, and while they were
waiting for them the Flour got a coffin and carried it up to the hospital,
and stood it on end by the doorway.
`"I've come for me lovely mate!" he said to the scared staff --
or as much of it as he baled up and couldn't escape him.
"Hand him over. He's going back to be buried with his friends at Th' Canary.
Now, don't be sneaking round and sidling off, you there;
you needn't be frightened; I've settled with the doctor."
`But they called in a man who had some influence with the Flour,
and between them -- and with the assistance of the prettiest nurse
on the premises -- they persuaded him to wait. Dinny wasn't ready yet;
there were papers to sign; it wouldn't be decent to the dead;
he had to be prayed over; he had to be washed and shaved, and fixed up
decent and comfortable. Anyway, they'd have him ready in an hour,
or take the consequences.
`The Flour objected on the ground that all this could be done
equally as well and better by the boys at Th' Canary. "However," he said,
"I'll be round in an hour, and if you haven't got me lovely mate ready --
look out!" Then he shook his fist sternly at them once more and said --
`"I know yer dirty tricks and dodges, and if there's e'er
a pin-scratch on me mate's body -- look out! If there's
a pairin' of Dinny's toe-nail missin' -- look out!"
`Then he went out -- taking the coffin with him.
`And when the police came to his lodgings to arrest him, they found the coffin
on the floor by the side of the bed, and the Flour lying in it on his back,
with his arms folded peacefully on his bosom. He was as dead drunk
as any man could get to be and still be alive. They knocked air-holes
in the coffin-lid, screwed it on, and carried the coffin, the Flour, and all
to the local lock-up. They laid their burden down on the bare,
cold floor of the prison-cell, and then went out, locked the door,
and departed several ways to put the "boys" up to it. And about midnight
the "boys" gathered round with a supply of liquor, and waited,
and somewhere along in the small hours there was a howl,
as of a strong Irishman in Purgatory, and presently the voice of the Flour
was heard to plead in changed and awful tones --
`"Pray for me soul, boys -- pray for me soul! Let bygones be bygones
between us, boys, and pray for me lovely soul! The lovely Flour's
`Then silence for a while; and then a sound like a dray-wheel
passing over a packing-case. . . . That was the only time on record
that the Flour was heard to swear. And he swore then.
`They didn't pray for him -- they gave him a month. And, when he came out,
he went half-way across the road to meet the doctor, and he --
to his credit, perhaps -- came the other half. They had a drink together,
and the Flour presented the doctor with a fine specimen of coarse gold
for a pin.
`"It was the will o' God, after all, doctor," said the Flour.
"It was the will o' God. Let bygones be bygones between us;
gimme your hand, doctor. . . . Good-bye."
`Then he left for Th' Canary.'
The Babies in the Bush.
`Oh, tell her a tale of the fairies bright --
That only the Bushmen know --
Who guide the feet of the lost aright,
Or carry them up through the starry night,
Where the Bush-lost babies go.'
He was one of those men who seldom smile. There are many
in the Australian Bush, where drift wrecks and failures
of all stations and professions (and of none), and from all the world.
Or, if they do smile, the smile is either mechanical or bitter
as a rule -- cynical. They seldom talk. The sort of men who, as bosses,
are set down by the majority -- and without reason or evidence --
as being proud, hard, and selfish, -- `too mean to live,
and too big for their boots.'
But when the Boss did smile his expression was very, very gentle,
and very sad. I have seen him smile down on a little child
who persisted in sitting on his knee and prattling to him,
in spite of his silence and gloom. He was tall and gaunt,
with haggard grey eyes -- haunted grey eyes sometimes --
and hair and beard thick and strong, but grey. He was not above forty-five.
He was of the type of men who die in harness, with their hair
thick and strong, but grey or white when it should be brown.
The opposite type, I fancy, would be the soft, dark-haired, blue-eyed men
who grow bald sooner than they grow grey, and fat and contented,
and die respectably in their beds.
His name was Head -- Walter Head. He was a boss drover
on the overland routes. I engaged with him at a place
north of the Queensland border to travel down to Bathurst,
on the Great Western Line in New South Wales, with something over
a thousand head of store bullocks for the Sydney market.
I am an Australian Bushman (with city experience) -- a rover, of course,
and a ne'er-do-well, I suppose. I was born with brains and a thin skin --
worse luck! It was in the days before I was married, and I went by
the name of `Jack Ellis' this trip, -- not because the police were after me,
but because I used to tell yarns about a man named Jack Ellis --
and so the chaps nicknamed me.
The Boss spoke little to the men: he'd sit at tucker or with his pipe
by the camp-fire nearly as silently as he rode his night-watch
round the big, restless, weird-looking mob of bullocks
camped on the dusky starlit plain. I believe that from the first he spoke
oftener and more confidentially to me than to any other of the droving party.
There was a something of sympathy between us -- I can't explain what it was.
It seemed as though it were an understood thing between us
that we understood each other. He sometimes said things to me
which would have needed a deal of explanation -- so I thought --
had he said them to any other of the party. He'd often, after brooding
a long while, start a sentence, and break off with `You know, Jack.'
And somehow I understood, without being able to explain why.
We had never met before I engaged with him for this trip.
His men respected him, but he was not a popular boss: he was too gloomy,
and never drank a glass nor `shouted' on the trip: he was reckoned
a `mean boss', and rather a nigger-driver.
He was full of Adam Lindsay Gordon, the English-Australian poet
who shot himself, and so was I. I lost an old copy of Gordon's poems
on the route, and the Boss overheard me inquiring about it; later on
he asked me if I liked Gordon. We got to it rather sheepishly at first,
but by-and-by we'd quote Gordon freely in turn when we were alone in camp.
`Those are grand lines about Burke and Wills, the explorers,
aren't they, Jack?' he'd say, after chewing his cud, or rather
the stem of his briar, for a long while without a word.
(He had his pipe in his mouth as often as any of us, but somehow I fancied
he didn't enjoy it: an empty pipe or a stick would have suited him
just as well, it seemed to me.) `Those are great lines,' he'd say --
`"In Collins Street standeth a statue tall --
A statue tall on a pillar of stone --
Telling its story to great and small
Of the dust reclaimed from the sand-waste lone.
. . . . .
Weary and wasted, worn and wan,
Feeble and faint, and languid and low,
He lay on the desert a dying man,
Who has gone, my friends, where we all must go."
That's a grand thing, Jack. How does it go? --
"With a pistol clenched in his failing hand,
And the film of death o'er his fading eyes,
He saw the sun go down on the sand,"' --
The Boss would straighten up with a sigh that might have been half a yawn --
`"And he slept and never saw it rise,"'
-- speaking with a sort of quiet force all the time. Then maybe
he'd stand with his back to the fire roasting his dusty leggings,
with his hands behind his back and looking out over the dusky plain.
`"What mattered the sand or the whit'ning chalk,
The blighted herbage or blackened log,
The crooked beak of the eagle-hawk,
Or the hot red tongue of the native dog?"
They don't matter much, do they, Jack?'
`Damned if I think they do, Boss!' I'd say.
`"The couch was rugged, those sextons rude,
But, in spite of a leaden shroud, we know
That the bravest and fairest are earth-worms' food
Where once they have gone where we all must go."'
Once he repeated the poem containing the lines --
`"Love, when we wandered here together,
Hand in hand through the sparkling weather --
God surely loved us a little then."
Beautiful lines those, Jack.
"Then skies were fairer and shores were firmer,
And the blue sea over the white sand rolled --
Babble and prattle, and prattle and murmur' --
How does it go, Jack?' He stood up and turned his face to the light,
but not before I had a glimpse of it. I think that the saddest eyes on earth
are mostly women's eyes, but I've seen few so sad as the Boss's were
It seemed strange that he, a Bushman, preferred Gordon's sea poems
to his horsey and bushy rhymes; but so he did. I fancy his favourite poem
was that one of Gordon's with the lines --
`I would that with sleepy soft embraces
The sea would fold me, would find me rest
In the luminous depths of its secret places,
Where the wealth of God's marvels is manifest!'
He usually spoke quietly, in a tone as though death were in camp;
but after we'd been on Gordon's poetry for a while he'd end it abruptly with,
`Well, it's time to turn in,' or, `It's time to turn out,'
or he'd give me an order in connection with the cattle.
He had been a well-to-do squatter on the Lachlan river-side,
in New South Wales, and had been ruined by the drought, they said.
One night in camp, and after smoking in silence for nearly an hour,
he asked --
`Do you know Fisher, Jack -- the man that owns these bullocks?'
`I've heard of him,' I said. Fisher was a big squatter,
with stations both in New South Wales and in Queensland.
`Well, he came to my station on the Lachlan years ago
without a penny in his pocket, or decent rag to his back,
or a crust in his tucker-bag, and I gave him a job. He's my boss now.
Ah, well! it's the way of Australia, you know, Jack.'
The Boss had one man who went on every droving trip with him;
he was `bred' on the Boss's station, they said, and had been with him
practically all his life. His name was `Andy'. I forget his other name,
if he really had one. Andy had charge of the `droving-plant' (a tilted
two-horse waggonette, in which we carried the rations and horse-feed),
and he did the cooking and kept accounts. The Boss had no head for figures.
Andy might have been twenty-five or thirty-five, or anything in between.
His hair stuck up like a well-made brush all round, and his big grey eyes
also had an inquiring expression. His weakness was girls, or he theirs,
I don't know which (half-castes not barred). He was, I think,
the most innocent, good-natured, and open-hearted scamp I ever met.
Towards the middle of the trip Andy spoke to me one night alone in camp
about the Boss.
`The Boss seems to have taken to you, Jack, all right.'
`Think so?' I said. I thought I smelt jealousy and detected a sneer.
`I'm sure of it. It's very seldom HE takes to any one.'
I said nothing.
Then after a while Andy said suddenly --
`Look here, Jack, I'm glad of it. I'd like to see him make a chum
of some one, if only for one trip. And don't you make any mistake
about the Boss. He's a white man. There's precious few that know him --
precious few now; but I do, and it'll do him a lot of good
to have some one to yarn with.' And Andy said no more on the subject
for that trip.
The long, hot, dusty miles dragged by across the blazing plains
-- big clearings rather -- and through the sweltering hot scrubs,
and we reached Bathurst at last; and then the hot dusty days and weeks
and months that we'd left behind us to the Great North-West seemed as nothing,
-- as I suppose life will seem when we come to the end of it.
The bullocks were going by rail from Bathurst to Sydney.
We were all one long afternoon getting them into the trucks,
and when we'd finished the boss said to me --
`Look here, Jack, you're going on to Sydney, aren't you?'
`Yes; I'm going down to have a fly round.'
`Well, why not wait and go down with Andy in the morning? He's going down
in charge of the cattle. The cattle-train starts about daylight.
It won't be so comfortable as the passenger; but you'll save your fare,
and you can give Andy a hand with the cattle. You've only got
to have a look at 'em every other station, and poke up any that fall down
in the trucks. You and Andy are mates, aren't you?'
I said it would just suit me. Somehow I fancied that the Boss seemed anxious
to have my company for one more evening, and, to tell the truth,
I felt really sorry to part with him. I'd had to work as hard
as any of the other chaps; but I liked him, and I believed he liked me.
He'd struck me as a man who'd been quietened down by some heavy trouble,
and I felt sorry for him without knowing what the trouble was.
`Come and have a drink, Boss,' I said. The agent had paid us off
during the day.
He turned into a hotel with me.
`I don't drink, Jack,' he said; `but I'll take a glass with you.'
`I didn't know you were a teetotaller, Boss,' I said.
I had not been surprised at his keeping so strictly from the drink
on the trip; but now that it was over it was a different thing.
`I'm not a teetotaller, Jack,' he said. `I can take a glass or leave it.'
And he called for a long beer, and we drank `Here's luck!' to each other.
`Well,' I said, `I wish I could take a glass or leave it.' And I meant it.
Then the Boss spoke as I'd never heard him speak before. I thought
for the moment that the one drink had affected him; but I understood
before the night was over. He laid his hand on my shoulder with a grip
like a man who has suddenly made up his mind to lend you five pounds.
`Jack!' he said, `there's worse things than drinking, and there's worse things
than heavy smoking. When a man who smokes gets such a load of trouble on him
that he can find no comfort in his pipe, then it's a heavy load.
And when a man who drinks gets so deep into trouble that he can find
no comfort in liquor, then it's deep trouble. Take my tip for it, Jack.'
He broke off, and half turned away with a jerk of his head,
as if impatient with himself; then presently he spoke
in his usual quiet tone --
`But you're only a boy yet, Jack. Never mind me. I won't ask you
to take the second drink. You don't want it; and, besides, I know the signs.'
He paused, leaning with both hands on the edge of the counter,
and looking down between his arms at the floor. He stood that way
thinking for a while; then he suddenly straightened up,
like a man who'd made up his mind to something.
`I want you to come along home with me, Jack,' he said;
`we'll fix you a shake-down.'
I forgot to tell you that he was married and lived in Bathurst.
`But won't it put Mrs Head about?'
`Not at all. She's expecting you. Come along; there's nothing to see
in Bathurst, and you'll have plenty of knocking round in Sydney.
Come on, we'll just be in time for tea.'
He lived in a brick cottage on the outskirts of the town --
an old-fashioned cottage, with ivy and climbing roses,
like you see in some of those old settled districts. There was,
I remember, the stump of a tree in front, covered with ivy
till it looked like a giant's club with the thick end up.
When we got to the house the Boss paused a minute with his hand on the gate.
He'd been home a couple of days, having ridden in ahead of the bullocks.
`Jack,' he said, `I must tell you that Mrs Head had a great trouble
at one time. We -- we lost our two children. It does her good
to talk to a stranger now and again -- she's always better afterwards;
but there's very few I care to bring. You -- you needn't notice
anything strange. And agree with her, Jack. You know, Jack.'
`That's all right, Boss,' I said. I'd knocked about the Bush too long,
and run against too many strange characters and things,
to be surprised at anything much.
The door opened, and he took a little woman in his arms.
I saw by the light of a lamp in the room behind that the woman's hair
was grey, and I reckoned that he had his mother living with him.
And -- we do have odd thoughts at odd times in a flash -- and I wondered
how Mrs Head and her mother-in-law got on together. But the next minute
I was in the room, and introduced to `My wife, Mrs Head,'
and staring at her with both eyes.
It was his wife. I don't think I can describe her. For the first
minute or two, coming in out of the dark and before my eyes
got used to the lamp-light, I had an impression as of a little old woman
-- one of those fresh-faced, well-preserved, little old ladies --
who dressed young, wore false teeth, and aped the giddy girl.
But this was because of Mrs Head's impulsive welcome of me, and her grey hair.
The hair was not so grey as I thought at first, seeing it with the lamp-light
behind it: it was like dull-brown hair lightly dusted with flour.
She wore it short, and it became her that way. There was something
aristocratic about her face -- her nose and chin -- I fancied,
and something that you couldn't describe. She had big dark eyes --
dark-brown, I thought, though they might have been hazel:
they were a bit too big and bright for me, and now and again,
when she got excited, the white showed all round the pupils -- just a little,
but a little was enough.
She seemed extra glad to see me. I thought at first
that she was a bit of a gusher.
`Oh, I'm so glad you've come, Mr Ellis,' she said, giving my hand a grip.
`Walter -- Mr Head -- has been speaking to me about you.
I've been expecting you. Sit down by the fire, Mr Ellis;
tea will be ready presently. Don't you find it a bit chilly?'
She shivered. It was a bit chilly now at night on the Bathurst plains.
The table was set for tea, and set rather in swell style.
The cottage was too well furnished even for a lucky boss drover's home;
the furniture looked as if it had belonged to a tony homestead at one time.
I felt a bit strange at first, sitting down to tea, and almost wished that
I was having a comfortable tuck-in at a restaurant or in a pub. dining-room.
But she knew a lot about the Bush, and chatted away,
and asked questions about the trip, and soon put me at my ease.
You see, for the last year or two I'd taken my tucker in my hands, --
hunk of damper and meat and a clasp-knife mostly, -- sitting on my heel
in the dust, or on a log or a tucker-box.
There was a hard, brown, wrinkled old woman that the Heads called `Auntie'.
She waited at the table; but Mrs Head kept bustling round herself
most of the time, helping us. Andy came in to tea.
Mrs Head bustled round like a girl of twenty instead of
a woman of thirty-seven, as Andy afterwards told me she was.
She had the figure and movements of a girl, and the impulsiveness
and expression too -- a womanly girl; but sometimes I fancied
there was something very childish about her face and talk. After tea
she and the Boss sat on one side of the fire and Andy and I on the other --
Andy a little behind me at the corner of the table.
`Walter -- Mr Head -- tells me you've been out on the Lachlan river,
Mr Ellis?' she said as soon as she'd settled down, and she leaned forward,
as if eager to hear that I'd been there.
`Yes, Mrs Head. I've knocked round all about out there.'
She sat up straight, and put the tips of her fingers to the side
of her forehead and knitted her brows. This was a trick she had --
she often did it during the evening. And when she did that
she seemed to forget what she'd said last.
She smoothed her forehead, and clasped her hands in her lap.
`Oh, I'm so glad to meet somebody from the back country, Mr Ellis,' she said.
`Walter so seldom brings a stranger here, and I get tired of talking
to the same people about the same things, and seeing the same faces.
You don't know what a relief it is, Mr Ellis, to see a new face
and talk to a stranger.'
`I can quite understand that, Mrs Head,' I said. And so I could.
I never stayed more than three months in one place if I could help it.
She looked into the fire and seemed to try to think. The Boss straightened up
and stroked her head with his big sun-browned hand, and then put his arm
round her shoulders. This brought her back.
`You know we had a station out on the Lachlan, Mr Ellis.
Did Walter ever tell you about the time we lived there?'
`No,' I said, glancing at the Boss. `I know you had a station there;
but, you know, the Boss doesn't talk much.'
`Tell Jack, Maggie,' said the Boss; `I don't mind.'
She smiled. `You know Walter, Mr Ellis,' she said. `You won't mind him.
He doesn't like me to talk about the children; he thinks it upsets me,
but that's foolish: it always relieves me to talk to a stranger.'
She leaned forward, eagerly it seemed, and went on quickly:
`I've been wanting to tell you about the children ever since Walter
spoke to me about you. I knew you would understand directly I saw your face.
These town people don't understand. I like to talk to a Bushman.
You know we lost our children out on the station. The fairies took them.
Did Walter ever tell you about the fairies taking the children away?'
This was a facer. `I -- I beg pardon,' I commenced, when Andy gave me
a dig in the back. Then I saw it all.
`No, Mrs Head. The Boss didn't tell me about that.'
`You surely know about the Bush Fairies, Mr Ellis,' she said,
her big eyes fixed on my face -- `the Bush Fairies that look after
the little ones that are lost in the Bush, and take them away from the Bush
if they are not found? You've surely heard of them, Mr Ellis?
Most Bushmen have that I've spoken to. Maybe you've seen them?
Andy there has?' Andy gave me another dig.
`Of course I've heard of them, Mrs Head,' I said; `but I can't swear
that I've seen one.'
`Andy has. Haven't you, Andy?'
`Of course I have, Mrs Head. Didn't I tell you all about it
the last time we were home?'
`And didn't you ever tell Mr Ellis, Andy?'
`Of course he did!' I said, coming to Andy's rescue; `I remember it now.
You told me that night we camped on the Bogan river, Andy.'
`Of course!' said Andy.
`Did he tell you about finding a lost child and the fairy with it?'
`Yes,' said Andy; `I told him all about that.'
`And the fairy was just going to take the child away when Andy found it,
and when the fairy saw Andy she flew away.'
`Yes,' I said; `that's what Andy told me.'
`And what did you say the fairy was like, Andy?' asked Mrs Head,
fixing her eyes on his face.
`Like. It was like one of them angels you see in Bible pictures, Mrs Head,'
said Andy promptly, sitting bolt upright, and keeping his big
innocent grey eyes fixed on hers lest she might think he was telling lies.
`It was just like the angel in that Christ-in-the-stable picture
we had at home on the station -- the right-hand one in blue.'
She smiled. You couldn't call it an idiotic smile,
nor the foolish smile you see sometimes in melancholy mad people.
It was more of a happy childish smile.
`I was so foolish at first, and gave poor Walter and the doctors
a lot of trouble,' she said. `Of course it never struck me, until afterwards,
that the fairies had taken the children.'
She pressed the tips of the fingers of both hands to her forehead,
and sat so for a while; then she roused herself again --
`But what am I thinking about? I haven't started to tell you
about the children at all yet. Auntie! bring the children's portraits,
will you, please? You'll find them on my dressing-table.'
The old woman seemed to hesitate.
`Go on, Auntie, and do what I ask you,' said Mrs Head. `Don't be foolish.
You know I'm all right now.'
`You mustn't take any notice of Auntie, Mr Ellis,' she said with a smile,
while the old woman's back was turned. `Poor old body,
she's a bit crotchety at times, as old women are. She doesn't like me to get
talking about the children. She's got an idea that if I do
I'll start talking nonsense, as I used to do the first year
after the children were lost. I was very foolish then, wasn't I, Walter?'
`You were, Maggie,' said the Boss. `But that's all past.
You mustn't think of that time any more.'
`You see,' said Mrs Head, in explanation to me, `at first
nothing would drive it out of my head that the children had wandered about
until they perished of hunger and thirst in the Bush. As if the Bush Fairies
would let them do that.'
`You were very foolish, Maggie,' said the Boss; `but don't think about that.'
The old woman brought the portraits, a little boy and a little girl:
they must have been very pretty children.
`You see,' said Mrs Head, taking the portraits eagerly, and giving them to me
one by one, `we had these taken in Sydney some years before the children
were lost; they were much younger then. Wally's is not a good portrait;
he was teething then, and very thin. That's him standing on the chair.
Isn't the pose good? See, he's got one hand and one little foot forward,
and an eager look in his eyes. The portrait is very dark,
and you've got to look close to see the foot. He wants a toy rabbit
that the photographer is tossing up to make him laugh. In the next portrait
he's sitting on the chair -- he's just settled himself to enjoy the fun.
But see how happy little Maggie looks! You can see my arm
where I was holding her in the chair. She was six months old then,
and little Wally had just turned two.'
She put the portraits up on the mantel-shelf.
`Let me see; Wally (that's little Walter, you know) --
Wally was five and little Maggie three and a half when we lost them.
Weren't they, Walter?'
`Yes, Maggie,' said the Boss.
`You were away, Walter, when it happened.'
`Yes, Maggie,' said the Boss -- cheerfully, it seemed to me -- `I was away.'
`And we couldn't find you, Walter. You see,' she said to me,
`Walter -- Mr Head -- was away in Sydney on business, and we couldn't find
his address. It was a beautiful morning, though rather warm,
and just after the break-up of the drought. The grass was knee-high
all over the run. It was a lonely place; there wasn't much bush cleared
round the homestead, just a hundred yards or so, and the great awful scrubs
ran back from the edges of the clearing all round for miles and miles --
fifty or a hundred miles in some directions without a break;
didn't they, Walter?'
`I was alone at the house except for Mary, a half-caste girl we had,
who used to help me with the housework and the children.
Andy was out on the run with the men, mustering sheep; weren't you, Andy?'
`Yes, Mrs Head.'
`I used to watch the children close as they got to run about,
because if they once got into the edge of the scrub they'd be lost;
but this morning little Wally begged hard to be let take his little sister
down under a clump of blue-gums in a corner of the home paddock
to gather buttercups. You remember that clump of gums, Walter?'
`I remember, Maggie.'
`"I won't go through the fence a step, mumma," little Wally said.
I could see Old Peter -- an old shepherd and station-hand we had --
I could see him working on a dam we were making across a creek
that ran down there. You remember Old Peter, Walter?'
`Of course I do, Maggie.'
`I knew that Old Peter would keep an eye to the children;
so I told little Wally to keep tight hold of his sister's hand
and go straight down to Old Peter and tell him I sent them.'
She was leaning forward with her hands clasping her knee,
and telling me all this with a strange sort of eagerness.
`The little ones toddled off hand in hand, with their other hands holding fast
their straw hats. "In case a bad wind blowed," as little Maggie said.
I saw them stoop under the first fence, and that was the last
that any one saw of them.'
`Except the fairies, Maggie,' said the Boss quickly.
`Of course, Walter, except the fairies.'
She pressed her fingers to her temples again for a minute.
`It seems that Old Peter was going to ride out to the musterers' camp
that morning with bread for the men, and he left his work at the dam
and started into the Bush after his horse just as I turned back
into the house, and before the children got near him. They either
followed him for some distance or wandered into the Bush
after flowers or butterflies ----' She broke off, and then suddenly asked me,
`Do you think the Bush Fairies would entice children away, Mr Ellis?'
The Boss caught my eye, and frowned and shook his head slightly.
`No. I'm sure they wouldn't, Mrs Head,' I said -- `at least
not from what I know of them.'
She thought, or tried to think, again for a while, in her helpless
puzzled way. Then she went on, speaking rapidly, and rather mechanically,
it seemed to me --
`The first I knew of it was when Peter came to the house
about an hour afterwards, leading his horse, and without the children.
I said -- I said, "O my God! where's the children?"' Her fingers
fluttered up to her temples.
`Don't mind about that, Maggie,' said the Boss, hurriedly, stroking her head.
`Tell Jack about the fairies.'
`You were away at the time, Walter?'
`And we couldn't find you, Walter?'
`No, Maggie,' very gently. He rested his elbow on his knee and his chin
on his hand, and looked into the fire.
`It wasn't your fault, Walter; but if you had been at home
do you think the fairies would have taken the children?'
`Of course they would, Maggie. They had to: the children were lost.'
`And they're bringing the children home next year?'
`Yes, Maggie -- next year.'
She lifted her hands to her head in a startled way, and it was some time
before she went on again. There was no need to tell me
about the lost children. I could see it all. She and the half-caste
rushing towards where the children were seen last, with Old Peter after them.
The hurried search in the nearer scrub. The mother calling all the time
for Maggie and Wally, and growing wilder as the minutes flew past.
Old Peter's ride to the musterers' camp. Horsemen seeming to turn up
in no time and from nowhere, as they do in a case like this,
and no matter how lonely the district. Bushmen galloping through the scrub
in all directions. The hurried search the first day, and the mother
mad with anxiety as night came on. Her long, hopeless, wild-eyed watch
through the night; starting up at every sound of a horse's hoof,
and reading the worst in one glance at the rider's face.
The systematic work of the search-parties next day and the days following.
How those days do fly past. The women from the next run or selection,
and some from the town, driving from ten or twenty miles, perhaps,
to stay with and try to comfort the mother. (`Put the horse to the cart, Jim:
I must go to that poor woman!') Comforting her with improbable stories
of children who had been lost for days, and were none the worse for it
when they were found. The mounted policemen out with the black trackers.
Search-parties cooeeing to each other about the Bush,
and lighting signal-fires. The reckless break-neck rides
for news or more help. And the Boss himself, wild-eyed and haggard,
riding about the Bush with Andy and one or two others perhaps,
and searching hopelessly, days after the rest had given up
all hope of finding the children alive. All this passed before me
as Mrs Head talked, her voice sounding the while as if she were
in another room; and when I roused myself to listen,
she was on to the fairies again.
`It was very foolish of me, Mr Ellis. Weeks after -- months after, I think --
I'd insist on going out on the verandah at dusk and calling for the children.
I'd stand there and call "Maggie!" and "Wally!" until Walter took me inside;
sometimes he had to force me inside. Poor Walter! But of course
I didn't know about the fairies then, Mr Ellis. I was really out of my mind
for a time.'
`No wonder you were, Mrs Head,' I said. `It was terrible trouble.'
`Yes, and I made it worse. I was so selfish in my trouble.
But it's all right now, Walter,' she said, rumpling the Boss's hair.
`I'll never be so foolish again.'
`Of course you won't, Maggie.'
`We're very happy now, aren't we, Walter?'
`Of course we are, Maggie.'
`And the children are coming back next year.'
`Next year, Maggie.'
He leaned over the fire and stirred it up.
`You mustn't take any notice of us, Mr Ellis,' she went on.
`Poor Walter is away so much that I'm afraid I make a little too much of him
when he does come home.'
She paused and pressed her fingers to her temples again.
Then she said quickly --
`They used to tell me that it was all nonsense about the fairies,
but they were no friends of mine. I shouldn't have listened to them, Walter.
You told me not to. But then I was really not in my right mind.'
`Who used to tell you that, Mrs Head?' I asked.
`The Voices,' she said; `you know about the Voices, Walter?'
`Yes, Maggie. But you don't hear the Voices now, Maggie?' he asked anxiously.
`You haven't heard them since I've been away this time, have you, Maggie?'
`No, Walter. They've gone away a long time. I hear voices now sometimes,
but they're the Bush Fairies' voices. I hear them calling Maggie and Wally
to come with them.' She paused again. `And sometimes I think
I hear them call me. But of course I couldn't go away without you, Walter.
But I'm foolish again. I was going to ask you about the other voices,
Mr Ellis. They used to say that it was madness about the fairies;
but then, if the fairies hadn't taken the children, Black Jimmy,
or the black trackers with the police, could have tracked and found them
`Of course they could, Mrs Head,' I said.
`They said that the trackers couldn't track them because there was rain
a few hours after the children were lost. But that was ridiculous.
It was only a thunderstorm.'
`Why!' I said, `I've known the blacks to track a man
after a week's heavy rain.'
She had her head between her fingers again, and when she looked up
it was in a scared way.
`Oh, Walter!' she said, clutching the Boss's arm; `whatever have I been
talking about? What must Mr Ellis think of me? Oh! why did you let me
talk like that?'
He put his arm round her. Andy nudged me and got up.
`Where are you going, Mr Ellis?' she asked hurriedly.
`You're not going to-night. Auntie's made a bed for you in Andy's room.
You mustn't mind me.'
`Jack and Andy are going out for a little while,' said the Boss.
`They'll be in to supper. We'll have a yarn, Maggie.'
`Be sure you come back to supper, Mr Ellis,' she said. `I really don't know
what you must think of me, -- I've been talking all the time.'
`Oh, I've enjoyed myself, Mrs Head,' I said; and Andy hooked me out.
`She'll have a good cry and be better now,' said Andy when we got away
from the house. `She might be better for months. She has been
fairly reasonable for over a year, but the Boss found her pretty bad
when he came back this time. It upset him a lot, I can tell you.
She has turns now and again, and always ends up like she did just now.
She gets a longing to talk about it to a Bushman and a stranger;
it seems to do her good. The doctor's against it, but doctors
don't know everything.'
`It's all true about the children, then?' I asked.
`It's cruel true,' said Andy.
`And were the bodies never found?'
`Yes;' then, after a long pause, `I found them.'
`Yes; in the scrub, and not so very far from home either --
and in a fairly clear space. It's a wonder the search-parties missed it;
but it often happens that way. Perhaps the little ones
wandered a long way and came round in a circle. I found them
about two months after they were lost. They had to be found,
if only for the Boss's sake. You see, in a case like this,
and when the bodies aren't found, the parents never quite lose the idea
that the little ones are wandering about the Bush to-night
(it might be years after) and perishing from hunger, thirst, or cold.
That mad idea haunts 'em all their lives. It's the same, I believe,
with friends drowned at sea. Friends ashore are haunted for a long while
with the idea of the white sodden corpse tossing about and drifting round
in the water.'
`And you never told Mrs Head about the children being found?'
`Not for a long time. It wouldn't have done any good.
She was raving mad for months. He took her to Sydney and then to Melbourne --
to the best doctors he could find in Australia. They could do no good,
so he sold the station -- sacrificed everything, and took her to England.'
`Yes; and then to Germany to a big German doctor there.
He'd offer a thousand pounds where they only wanted fifty. It was no good.
She got worse in England, and raved to go back to Australia
and find the children. The doctors advised him to take her back, and he did.
He spent all his money, travelling saloon, and with reserved cabins,
and a nurse, and trying to get her cured; that's why he's droving now.
She was restless in Sydney. She wanted to go back to the station
and wait there till the fairies brought the children home.
She'd been getting the fairy idea into her head slowly all the time.
The Boss encouraged it. But the station was sold, and he couldn't
have lived there anyway without going mad himself. He'd married her
from Bathurst. Both of them have got friends and relations here,
so he thought best to bring her here. He persuaded her that the fairies
were going to bring the children here. Everybody's very kind to them.
I think it's a mistake to run away from a town where you're known,
in a case like this, though most people do it. It was years before
he gave up hope. I think he has hopes yet -- after she's been fairly well
for a longish time.'
`And you never tried telling her that the children were found?'
`Yes; the Boss did. The little ones were buried on the Lachlan river
at first; but the Boss got a horror of having them buried in the Bush,
so he had them brought to Sydney and buried in the Waverley Cemetery
near the sea. He bought the ground, and room for himself and Maggie
when they go out. It's all the ground he owns in wide Australia,
and once he had thousands of acres. He took her to the grave one day.
The doctors were against it; but he couldn't rest till he tried it.
He took her out, and explained it all to her. She scarcely seemed interested.
She read the names on the stone, and said it was a nice stone,
and asked questions about how the children were found and brought here.
She seemed quite sensible, and very cool about it. But when he got her home
she was back on the fairy idea again. He tried another day,
but it was no use; so then he let it be. I think it's better as it is.
Now and again, at her best, she seems to understand that the children
were found dead, and buried, and she'll talk sensibly about it,
and ask questions in a quiet way, and make him promise to take her to Sydney
to see the grave next time he's down. But it doesn't last long,
and she's always worse afterwards.'
We turned into a bar and had a beer. It was a very quiet drink.
Andy `shouted' in his turn, and while I was drinking the second beer
a thought struck me.
`The Boss was away when the children were lost?'
`Yes,' said Andy.
`Strange you couldn't find him.'
`Yes, it was strange; but HE'LL have to tell you about that.
Very likely he will; it's either all or nothing with him.'
`I feel damned sorry for the Boss,' I said.
`You'd be sorrier if you knew all,' said Andy. `It's the worst trouble
that can happen to a man. It's like living with the dead.
It's -- it's like a man living with his dead wife.'
When we went home supper was ready. We found Mrs Head, bright and cheerful,
bustling round. You'd have thought her one of the happiest and brightest
little women in Australia. Not a word about children or the fairies.
She knew the Bush, and asked me all about my trips.
She told some good Bush stories too. It was the pleasantest hour I'd spent
for a long time.
`Good night, Mr Ellis,' she said brightly, shaking hands with me
when Andy and I were going to turn in. `And don't forget your pipe.
Here it is! I know that Bushmen like to have a whiff or two
when they turn in. Walter smokes in bed. I don't mind.
You can smoke all night if you like.'
`She seems all right,' I said to Andy when we were in our room.
He shook his head mournfully. We'd left the door ajar,
and we could hear the Boss talking to her quietly. Then we heard her speak;
she had a very clear voice.
`Yes, I'll tell you the truth, Walter. I've been deceiving you, Walter,
all the time, but I did it for the best. Don't be angry with me, Walter!
The Voices did come back while you were away. Oh, how I longed
for you to come back! They haven't come since you've been home, Walter.
You must stay with me a while now. Those awful Voices kept calling me,
and telling me lies about the children, Walter! They told me to kill myself;
they told me it was all my own fault -- that I killed the children.
They said I was a drag on you, and they'd laugh -- Ha! ha! ha! -- like that.
They'd say, "Come on, Maggie; come on, Maggie." They told me
to come to the river, Walter.'
Andy closed the door. His face was very miserable.
We turned in, and I can tell you I enjoyed a soft white bed
after months and months of sleeping out at night, between watches,
on the hard ground or the sand, or at best on a few boughs
when I wasn't too tired to pull them down, and my saddle for a pillow.
But the story of the children haunted me for an hour or two.
I've never since quite made up my mind as to why the Boss took me home.
Probably he really did think it would do his wife good to talk to a stranger;
perhaps he wanted me to understand -- maybe he was weakening as he grew older,
and craved for a new word or hand-grip of sympathy now and then.
When I did get to sleep I could have slept for three or four days, but Andy
roused me out about four o'clock. The old woman that they called Auntie
was up and had a good breakfast of eggs and bacon and coffee ready
in the detached kitchen at the back. We moved about on tiptoe
and had our breakfast quietly.
`The wife made me promise to wake her to see to our breakfast
and say Good-bye to you; but I want her to sleep this morning, Jack,'
said the Boss. `I'm going to walk down as far as the station with you.
She made up a parcel of fruit and sandwiches for you and Andy.
Don't forget it.'
Andy went on ahead. The Boss and I walked down the wide silent street,
which was also the main road; and we walked two or three hundred yards
without speaking. He didn't seem sociable this morning,
or any way sentimental; when he did speak it was something about the cattle.
But I had to speak; I felt a swelling and rising up in my chest,
and at last I made a swallow and blurted out --
`Look here, Boss, old chap! I'm damned sorry!'
Our hands came together and gripped. The ghostly Australian daybreak
was over the Bathurst plains.
We went on another hundred yards or so, and then the Boss said quietly --
`I was away when the children were lost, Jack. I used to go
on a howling spree every six or nine months. Maggie never knew. I'd tell her
I had to go to Sydney on business, or Out-Back to look after some stock.
When the children were lost, and for nearly a fortnight after,
I was beastly drunk in an out-of-the-way shanty in the Bush --
a sly grog-shop. The old brute that kept it was too true to me.
He thought that the story of the lost children was a trick to get me home,
and he swore that he hadn't seen me. He never told me.
I could have found those children, Jack. They were mostly new chums and fools
about the run, and not one of the three policemen was a Bushman.
I knew those scrubs better than any man in the country.'
I reached for his hand again, and gave it a grip. That was all I could do
`Good-bye, Jack!' he said at the door of the brake-van. `Good-bye, Andy! --
keep those bullocks on their feet.'
The cattle-train went on towards the Blue Mountains. Andy and I sat silent
for a while, watching the guard fry three eggs on a plate over a coal-stove
in the centre of the van.
`Does the boss never go to Sydney?' I asked.
`Very seldom,' said Andy, `and then only when he has to, on business.
When he finishes his business with the stock agents, he takes a run
out to Waverley Cemetery perhaps, and comes home by the next train.'
After a while I said, `He told me about the drink, Andy --
about his being on the spree when the children were lost.'
`Well, Jack,' said Andy, `that's the thing that's been killing him ever since,
and it happened over ten years ago.'
A Bush Dance.
`Tap, tap, tap, tap.'
The little schoolhouse and residence in the scrub was lighted brightly
in the midst of the `close', solid blackness of that moonless December night,
when the sky and stars were smothered and suffocated by drought haze.
It was the evening of the school children's `Feast'. That is to say
that the children had been sent, and `let go', and the younger ones `fetched'
through the blazing heat to the school, one day early in the holidays,
and raced -- sometimes in couples tied together by the legs -- and caked,
and bunned, and finally improved upon by the local Chadband, and got rid of.
The schoolroom had been cleared for dancing, the maps rolled and tied,
the desks and blackboards stacked against the wall outside.
Tea was over, and the trestles and boards, whereon had been spread
better things than had been provided for the unfortunate youngsters,
had been taken outside to keep the desks and blackboards company.
On stools running end to end along one side of the room sat about twenty
more or less blooming country girls of from fifteen to twenty odd.
On the rest of the stools, running end to end along the other wall,
sat about twenty more or less blooming chaps.
It was evident that something was seriously wrong. None of the girls
spoke above a hushed whisper. None of the men spoke above a hushed oath.
Now and again two or three sidled out, and if you had followed them
you would have found that they went outside to listen hard into the darkness
and to swear.
`Tap, tap, tap.'
The rows moved uneasily, and some of the girls turned pale faces nervously
towards the side-door, in the direction of the sound.
`Tap -- tap.'
The tapping came from the kitchen at the rear of the teacher's residence,
and was uncomfortably suggestive of a coffin being made:
it was also accompanied by a sickly, indescribable odour --
more like that of warm cheap glue than anything else.
In the schoolroom was a painful scene of strained listening.
Whenever one of the men returned from outside, or put his head in at the door,
all eyes were fastened on him in the flash of a single eye,
and then withdrawn hopelessly. At the sound of a horse's step
all eyes and ears were on the door, till some one muttered,
`It's only the horses in the paddock.'
Some of the girls' eyes began to glisten suspiciously,
and at last the belle of the party -- a great, dark-haired,
pink-and-white Blue Mountain girl, who had been sitting for a full minute
staring before her, with blue eyes unnaturally bright, suddenly covered
her face with her hands, rose, and started blindly from the room,
from which she was steered in a hurry by two sympathetic and rather `upset'
girl friends, and as she passed out she was heard sobbing hysterically --
`Oh, I can't help it! I did want to dance! It's a sh-shame!
I can't help it! I -- I want to dance! I rode twenty miles to dance --
and -- and I want to dance!'
A tall, strapping young Bushman rose, without disguise, and followed
the girl out. The rest began to talk loudly of stock, dogs, and horses,
and other Bush things; but above their voices rang out that of the girl
from the outside -- being man comforted --
`I can't help it, Jack! I did want to dance! I -- I had such --
such -- a job -- to get mother -- and -- and father to let me come --
and -- and now!'
The two girl friends came back. `He sez to leave her to him,' they whispered,
in reply to an interrogatory glance from the schoolmistress.
`It's -- it's no use, Jack!' came the voice of grief. `You don't know what --
what father and mother -- is. I -- I won't -- be able -- to ge-get away --
again -- for -- for -- not till I'm married, perhaps.'
The schoolmistress glanced uneasily along the row of girls. `I'll take her
into my room and make her lie down,' she whispered to her sister,
who was staying with her. `She'll start some of the other girls presently --
it's just the weather for it,' and she passed out quietly.
That schoolmistress was a woman of penetration.
A final `tap-tap' from the kitchen; then a sound like the squawk
of a hurt or frightened child, and the faces in the room
turned quickly in that direction and brightened. But there came a bang
and a sound like `damn!' and hopelessness settled down.
A shout from the outer darkness, and most of the men and some of the girls
rose and hurried out. Fragments of conversation heard in the darkness --
`It's two horses, I tell you!'
`It's three, you ----!'
`Lay you ----!'
`Put the stuff up!'
A clack of gate thrown open.
`Who is it, Tom?'
Voices from gatewards, yelling, `Johnny Mears! They've got Johnny Mears!'
Then rose yells, and a cheer such as is seldom heard in scrub-lands.
Out in the kitchen long Dave Regan grabbed, from the far side of the table,
where he had thrown it, a burst and battered concertina,
which he had been for the last hour vainly trying to patch and make air-tight;
and, holding it out towards the back-door, between his palms,
as a football is held, he let it drop, and fetched it neatly
on the toe of his riding-boot. It was a beautiful kick,
the concertina shot out into the blackness, from which was projected,
in return, first a short, sudden howl, then a face with one eye glaring
and the other covered by an enormous brick-coloured hand,
and a voice that wanted to know who shot `that lurid loaf of bread?'
But from the schoolroom was heard the loud, free voice
of Joe Matthews, M.C., --
`Take yer partners! Hurry up! Take yer partners! They've got Johnny Mears
with his fiddle!'
There were about a dozen Bush natives, from anywhere, most of them
lanky and easy-going, hanging about the little slab-and-bark hotel
on the edge of the scrub at Capertee Camp (a teamster's camp)
when Cob & Co.'s mail-coach and six came dashing down the siding
from round Crown Ridge, in all its glory, to the end of the twelve-mile stage.
Some wiry, ill-used hacks were hanging to the fence and to saplings
about the place. The fresh coach-horses stood ready in a stock-yard
close to the shanty. As the coach climbed the nearer bank of the creek
at the foot of the ridge, six of the Bushmen detached themselves
from verandah posts, from their heels, from the clay floor of the verandah
and the rough slab wall against which they'd been resting,
and joined a group of four or five who stood round one.
He stood with his back to the corner post of the stock-yard,
his feet well braced out in front of him, and contemplated
the toes of his tight new 'lastic-side boots and whistled softly.
He was a clean-limbed, handsome fellow, with riding-cords,
leggings, and a blue sash; he was Graeco-Roman-nosed, blue-eyed,
and his glossy, curly black hair bunched up in front of the brim
of a new cabbage-tree hat, set well back on his head.
`Do it for a quid, Jack?' asked one.
`Damned if I will, Jim!' said the young man at the post.
`I'll do it for a fiver -- not a blanky sprat less.'
Jim took off his hat and `shoved' it round, and `bobs' were `chucked' into it.
The result was about thirty shillings.
Jack glanced contemptuously into the crown of the hat.
`Not me!' he said, showing some emotion for the first time.
`D'yer think I'm going to risk me blanky neck for your blanky amusement
for thirty blanky bob. I'll ride the blanky horse for a fiver,
and I'll feel the blanky quids in my pocket before I get on.'
Meanwhile the coach had dashed up to the door of the shanty.
There were about twenty passengers aboard -- inside, on the box-seat,
on the tail-board, and hanging on to the roof -- most of them Sydney men
going up to the Mudgee races. They got down and went inside
with the driver for a drink, while the stablemen changed horses.
The Bushmen raised their voices a little and argued.
One of the passengers was a big, stout, hearty man --
a good-hearted, sporting man and a racehorse-owner, according to his brands.
He had a round red face and a white cork hat. `What's those chaps
got on outside?' he asked the publican.
`Oh, it's a bet they've got on about riding a horse,' replied the publican.
`The flash-looking chap with the sash is Flash Jack, the horse-breaker;
and they reckon they've got the champion outlaw in the district out there --
that chestnut horse in the yard.'
The sporting man was interested at once, and went out and joined the Bushmen.
`Well, chaps! what have you got on here?' he asked cheerily.
`Oh,' said Jim carelessly, `it's only a bit of a bet about ridin'
that blanky chestnut in the corner of the yard there.' He indicated
an ungroomed chestnut horse, fenced off by a couple of long sapling poles
in a corner of the stock-yard. `Flash Jack there -- he reckons
he's the champion horse-breaker round here -- Flash Jack reckons
he can take it out of that horse first try.'
`What's up with the horse?' inquired the big, red-faced man.
`It looks quiet enough. Why, I'd ride it myself.'
`Would yer?' said Jim, who had hair that stood straight up,
and an innocent, inquiring expression. `Looks quiet, does he?
YOU ought to know more about horses than to go by the looks of 'em.
He's quiet enough just now, when there's no one near him;
but you should have been here an hour ago. That horse has killed two men
and put another chap's shoulder out -- besides breaking a cove's leg.
It took six of us all the morning to run him in and get the saddle on him;
and now Flash Jack wants to back out of it.'
`Euraliar!' remarked Flash Jack cheerfully. `I said I'd ride
that blanky horse out of the yard for a fiver. I ain't goin' to risk
my blanky neck for nothing and only to amuse you blanks.'
`He said he'd ride the horse inside the yard for a quid,' said Jim.
`And get smashed against the rails!' said Flash Jack. `I would be a fool.
I'd rather take my chance outside in the scrub -- and it's rough country
`Well, how much do you want?' asked the man in the mushroom hat.
`A fiver, I said,' replied Jack indifferently. `And the blanky stuff
in my pocket before I get on the blanky horse.'
`Are you frightened of us running away without paying you?'
inquired one of the passengers who had gathered round.
`I'm frightened of the horse bolting with me without me being paid,'
said Flash Jack. `I know that horse; he's got a mouth like iron.
I might be at the bottom of the cliff on Crown Ridge road in twenty minutes
with my head caved in, and then what chance for the quids?'
`You wouldn't want 'em then,' suggested a passenger. `Or, say! --
we'd leave the fiver with the publican to bury you.'
Flash Jack ignored that passenger. He eyed his boots and softly whistled
`All right!' said the man in the cork hat, putting his hand in his pocket.
`I'll start with a quid; stump up, you chaps.'
The five pounds were got together.
`I'll lay a quid to half a quid he don't stick on ten minutes!'
shouted Jim to his mates as soon as he saw that the event was to come off.
The passengers also betted amongst themselves. Flash Jack,
after putting the money in his breeches-pocket, let down the rails
and led the horse into the middle of the yard.
`Quiet as an old cow!' snorted a passenger in disgust.
`I believe it's a sell!'
`Wait a bit,' said Jim to the passenger, `wait a bit and you'll see.'
They waited and saw.
Flash Jack leisurely mounted the horse, rode slowly out of the yard,
and trotted briskly round the corner of the shanty and into the scrub,
which swallowed him more completely than the sea might have done.
Most of the other Bushmen mounted their horses and followed Flash Jack
to a clearing in the scrub, at a safe distance from the shanty;
then they dismounted and hung on to saplings, or leaned against their horses,
while they laughed.
At the hotel there was just time for another drink. The driver
climbed to his seat and shouted, `All aboard!' in his usual tone.
The passengers climbed to their places, thinking hard.
A mile or so along the road the man with the cork hat remarked,
with much truth --
`Those blanky Bushmen have got too much time to think.'
. . . . .
The Bushmen returned to the shanty as soon as the coach was out of sight,
and proceeded to `knock down' the fiver.
Jimmy Grimshaw's Wooing.
The Half-way House at Tinned Dog (Out-Back in Australia)
kept Daniel Myers -- licensed to retail spirituous and fermented liquors --
in drink and the horrors for upward of five years, at the end of which time
he lay hidden for weeks in a back skillion, an object which no decent man
would care to see -- or hear when it gave forth sound. `Good accommodation
for man and beast'; but few shanties save his own might, for a consideration,
have accommodated the sort of beast which the man Myers had become
towards the end of his career. But at last the eccentric Bush doctor,
`Doc' Wild' (who perhaps could drink as much as Myers without its having
any further effect upon his temperament than to keep him awake and cynical),
pronounced the publican dead enough to be buried legally;
so the widow buried him, had the skillion cleaned out,
and the sign altered to read, `Margaret Myers, licensed, &c.',
and continued to conduct the pub. just as she had run it for over five years,
with the joyful and blessed exception that there was no longer
a human pig and pigstye attached, and that the atmosphere was calm.
Most of the regular patrons of the Half-way House could have
their horrors decently, and, comparatively, quietly -- or otherwise
have them privately -- in the Big Scrub adjacent; but Myers had not been
one of that sort.
Mrs Myers settled herself to enjoy life comfortably and happily,
at the fixed age of thirty-nine, for the next seven years or so.
She was a pleasant-faced dumpling, who had been baked solid
in the droughts of Out-Back without losing her good looks,
and had put up with a hard life, and Myers, all those years
without losing her good humour and nature. Probably, had her husband been
the opposite kind of man, she would have been different --
haggard, bad-tempered, and altogether impossible -- for of such is woman.
But then it might be taken into consideration that she had been practically
a widow during at least the last five years of her husband's alleged life.
Mrs Myers was reckoned a good catch in the district, but it soon seemed
that she was not to be caught.
`It would be a grand thing,' one of the periodical boozers of Tinned Dog
would say to his mates, `for one of us to have his name up on a pub.;
it would save a lot of money.'
`It wouldn't save you anything, Bill, if I got it,' was the retort.
`You needn't come round chewing my lug then. I'd give you one drink
and no more.'
The publican at Dead Camel, station managers, professional shearers,
even one or two solvent squatters and promising cockatoos,
tried their luck in vain. In answer to the suggestion
that she ought to have a man to knock round and look after things,
she retorted that she had had one, and was perfectly satisfied.
Few trav'lers on those tracks but tried `a bit of bear-up' in that direction,
but all to no purpose. Chequemen knocked down their cheques manfully
at the Half-way House -- to get courage and goodwill and `put it off' till,
at the last moment, they offered themselves abjectly to the landlady;
which was worse than bad judgment on their part -- it was very silly,
and she told them so.
One or two swore off, and swore to keep straight; but she had no faith
in them, and when they found that out, it hurt their feelings so much
that they `broke out' and went on record-breaking sprees.
About the end of each shearing the sign was touched up, with an extra
coat of paint on the `Margaret', whereat suitors looked hopeless.
One or two of the rejected died of love in the horrors in the Big Scrub --
anyway, the verdict was that they died of love aggravated by the horrors.
But the climax was reached when a Queensland shearer, seizing the opportunity
when the mate, whose turn it was to watch him, fell asleep,
went down to the yard and hanged himself on the butcher's gallows --
having first removed his clothes, with some drink-lurid idea
of leaving the world as naked as he came into it. He climbed the pole,
sat astride on top, fixed the rope to neck and bar, but gave a yell --
a yell of drunken triumph -- before he dropped, and woke his mates.
They cut him down and brought him to. Next day he apologised to Mrs Myers,
said, `Ah, well! So long!' to the rest, and departed --
cured of drink and love apparently. The verdict was that the blanky fool
should have dropped before he yelled; but she was upset and annoyed,
and it began to look as though, if she wished to continue
to live on happily and comfortably for a few years longer
at the fixed age of thirty-nine, she would either have to
give up the pub. or get married.
Her fame was carried far and wide, and she became a woman
whose name was mentioned with respect in rough shearing-sheds and huts,
and round the camp-fire.
About thirty miles south of Tinned Dog one James Grimshaw, widower --
otherwise known as `Old Jimmy', though he was little past middle age --
had a small selection which he had worked, let, given up, and tackled afresh
(with sinews of war drawn from fencing contracts) ever since
the death of his young wife some fifteen years agone. He was a practical,
square-faced, clean-shaven, clean, and tidy man, with a certain `cleanness'
about the shape of his limbs which suggested the old jockey or hostler.
There were two strong theories in connection with Jimmy -- one was that
he had had a university education, and the other that he couldn't write
his own name. Not nearly such a ridiculous nor simple case Out-Back
as it might seem.
Jimmy smoked and listened without comment to the `heard tells'
in connection with Mrs Myers, till at last one night,
at the end of his contract and over a last pipe, he said quietly,
`I'll go up to Tinned Dog next week and try my luck.'
His mates and the casual Jims and Bills were taken too suddenly to laugh,
and the laugh having been lost, as Bland Holt, the Australian actor
would put it in a professional sense, the audience had time to think,
with the result that the joker swung his hand down through an imaginary table
and exclaimed --
`By God! Jimmy'll do it.' (Applause.)
. . . . .
So one drowsy afternoon at the time of the year when the breathless day
runs on past 7 P.M., Mrs Myers sat sewing in the bar parlour,
when a clean-shaved, clean-shirted, clean-neckerchiefed, clean-moleskinned,
greased-bluchered -- altogether a model or stage swagman came up,
was served in the bar by the half-caste female cook, and took his way
to the river-bank, where he rigged a small tent and made a model camp.
A couple of hours later he sat on a stool on the verandah,
smoking a clean clay pipe. Just before the sunset meal Mrs Myers asked,
`Is that trav'ler there yet, Mary?'
`Yes, missus. Clean pfellar that.'
The landlady knitted her forehead over her sewing, as women do
when limited for `stuff' or wondering whether a section has been cut wrong --
or perhaps she thought of that other who hadn't been a `clean pfellar'.
She put her work aside, and stood in the doorway, looking out
across the clearing.
`Good-day, mister,' she said, seeming to become aware of him
for the first time.
`No, not particular!'
She waited for him to explain. Myers was always explaining
when he wasn't raving. But the swagman smoked on.
`Have a drink?' she suggested, to keep her end up.
`No, thank you, missus. I had one an hour or so ago. I never take
more than two a-day -- one before breakfast, if I can get it,
and a night-cap.'
What a contrast to Myers! she thought.
`Come and have some tea; it's ready.'
`Thank you. I don't mind if I do.'
They got on very slowly, but comfortably. She got little out of him
except the facts that he had a selection, had finished a contract,
and was `just having a look at the country.' He politely declined
a `shake-down', saying he had a comfortable camp, and preferred being out
this weather. She got his name with a `by-the-way', as he rose to leave,
and he went back to camp.
He caught a cod, and they had it for breakfast next morning,
and got along so comfortable over breakfast that he put in the forenoon
pottering about the gates and stable with a hammer, a saw, and a box of nails.
And, well -- to make it short -- when the big Tinned Dog shed had cut-out,
and the shearers struck the Half-way House, they were greatly impressed
by a brand-new sign whereon glistened the words --
HALF-WAY HOUSE HOTEL,
The last time I saw Mrs Grimshaw she looked about thirty-five.
At Dead Dingo.
It was blazing hot outside and smothering hot inside
the weather-board and iron shanty at Dead Dingo, a place on the Cleared Road,
where there was a pub. and a police-station, and which was sometimes
called `Roasted', and other times `Potted Dingo' -- nicknames suggested
by the everlasting drought and the vicinity of the one-pub. township
of Tinned Dog.
From the front verandah the scene was straight-cleared road,
running right and left to Out-Back, and to Bourke (and ankle-deep
in the red sand dust for perhaps a hundred miles); the rest
blue-grey bush, dust, and the heat-wave blazing across every object.
There were only four in the bar-room, though it was New Year's Day.
There weren't many more in the county. The girl sat behind the bar
-- the coolest place in the shanty -- reading `Deadwood Dick'.
On a worn and torn and battered horse-hair sofa, which had seen
cooler places and better days, lay an awful and healthy example,
a bearded swagman, with his arms twisted over his head and his face
to the wall, sleeping off the death of the dead drunk. Bill and Jim
-- shearer and rouseabout -- sat at a table playing cards.
It was about three o'clock in the afternoon, and they had been gambling
since nine -- and the greater part of the night before -- so they were,
probably, in a worse condition morally (and perhaps physically)
than the drunken swagman on the sofa.
Close under the bar, in a dangerous place for his legs and tail,
lay a sheep-dog with a chain attached to his collar and wound round his neck.
Presently a thump on the table, and Bill, unlucky gambler, rose with an oath
that would have been savage if it hadn't been drawled.
`Stumped?' inquired Jim.
`Not a blanky, lurid deener!' drawled Bill.
Jim drew his reluctant hands from the cards, his eyes went
slowly and hopelessly round the room and out the door.
There was something in the eyes of both, except when on the card-table,
of the look of a man waking in a strange place.
`Got anything?' asked Jim, fingering the cards again.
Bill sucked in his cheeks, collecting the saliva with difficulty,
and spat out on to the verandah floor.
`That's all I got,' he drawled. `It's gone now.'
Jim leaned back in his chair, twisted, yawned, and caught sight of the dog.
`That there dog yours?' he asked, brightening.
They had evidently been strangers the day before, or as strange to each other
as Bushmen can be.
Bill scratched behind his ear, and blinked at the dog.
The dog woke suddenly to a flea fact.
`Yes,' drawled Bill, `he's mine.'
`Well, I'm going Out-Back, and I want a dog,' said Jim,
gathering the cards briskly. `Half a quid agin the dog?'
`Half a quid be ----!' drawled Bill. `Call it a quid?'
`Half a blanky quid!'
`A gory, lurid quid!' drawled Bill desperately, and he stooped over his swag.
But Jim's hands were itching in a ghastly way over the cards.
`Alright. Call it a ---- quid.'
The drunkard on the sofa stirred, showed signs of waking, but died again.
Remember this, it might come in useful.
Bill sat down to the table once more.
Jim rose first, winner of the dog. He stretched, yawned `Ah, well!'
and shouted drinks. Then he shouldered his swag, stirred the dog up
with his foot, unwound the chain, said `Ah, well -- so long!'
and drifted out and along the road toward Out-Back, the dog following
with head and tail down.
Bill scored another drink on account of girl-pity for bad luck,
shouldered his swag, said, `So long, Mary!' and drifted out and along the road
towards Tinned Dog, on the Bourke side.
. . . . .
A long, drowsy, half hour passed -- the sort of half hour
that is as long as an hour in the places where days are as long as years,
and years hold about as much as days do in other places.
The man on the sofa woke with a start, and looked scared and wild
for a moment; then he brought his dusty broken boots to the floor,
rested his elbows on his knees, took his unfortunate head between his hands,
and came back to life gradually.
He lifted his head, looked at the girl across the top of the bar,
and formed with his lips, rather than spoke, the words --
`Put up a drink?'*
* `Put up a drink' -- i.e., `Give me a drink on credit', or `Chalk it up'.
She shook her head tightly and went on reading.
He staggered up, and, leaning on the bar, made desperate distress signals
with hand, eyes, and mouth.
`No!' she snapped. `I means no when I says no! You've had too many
last drinks already, and the boss says you ain't to have another.
If you swear again, or bother me, I'll call him.'
He hung sullenly on the counter for a while, then lurched to his swag,
and shouldered it hopelessly and wearily. Then he blinked round,
whistled, waited a moment, went on to the front verandah, peered round,
through the heat, with bloodshot eyes, and whistled again.
He turned and started through to the back-door.
`What the devil do you want now?' demanded the girl,
interrupted in her reading for the third time by him.
`Stampin' all over the house. You can't go through there!
It's privit! I do wish to goodness you'd git!'
`Where the blazes is that there dog o' mine got to?' he muttered.
`Did you see a dog?'
`No! What do I want with your dog?'
He whistled out in front again, and round each corner. Then he came back
with a decided step and tone.
`Look here! that there dog was lyin' there agin the wall when I went to sleep.
He wouldn't stir from me, or my swag, in a year, if he wasn't dragged.
He's been blanky well touched [stolen], and I wouldn'ter lost him for a fiver.
Are you sure you ain't seen a dog?' then suddenly, as the thought struck him:
`Where's them two chaps that was playin' cards when I wenter sleep?'
`Why!' exclaimed the girl, without thinking, `there was a dog,
now I come to think of it, but I thought it belonged to one of them chaps.
Anyway, they played for it, and the other chap won it and took it away.'
He stared at her blankly, with thunder gathering in the blankness.
`What sort of a dog was it?'
Dog described; the chain round the neck settled it.
He scowled at her darkly.
`Now, look here,' he said; `you've allowed gamblin' in this bar --
your boss has. You've got no right to let spielers gamble away a man's dog.
Is a customer to lose his dog every time he has a doze to suit your boss?
I'll go straight across to the police camp and put you away,
and I don't care if you lose your licence. I ain't goin' to lose my dog.
I wouldn'ter taken a ten-pound note for that blanky dog! I ----'
She was filling a pewter hastily.
`Here! for God's sake have a drink an' stop yer row.'
He drank with satisfaction. Then he hung on the bar with one elbow
and scowled out the door.
`Which blanky way did them chaps go?' he growled.
`The one that took the dog went towards Tinned Dog.'
`And I'll haveter go all the blanky way back after him, and most likely
lose me shed! Here!' jerking the empty pewter across the bar,
`fill that up again; I'm narked properly, I am, and I'll take
twenty-four blanky hours to cool down now. I wouldn'ter lost that dog
for twenty quid.'