HotFreeBooks.com
Back To Billabong
by Mary Grant Bruce
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

"Why, of course you will," Norah said, laughing down at the earnest face. "You're the kind of people who must do well, because you are so keen. And Billabong has adopted you, and we're going to see that you make a success of things. You're our very own immigrants!"

"It's nice to be owned by some one who isn't my step-mother," said Tommy happily. "I began to think I was hers, body and soul—when she appeared on that awful moment in Liverpool. I made sure all hope was over. Bob says I shouldn't have panicked, but then Bob had not been a toad under her harrow for two years."

"I'm very glad you panicked, since it sent you straight into our arms," said Norah. "If we had met you in an ordinary, stodgy way—you and Bob presenting your letter of introduction, and we saying 'How do you do?' politely—it would have taken us ages to get to know you properly. And as it was, we jumped into being friends. You did look such a poor, hunted little soul as you came dodging across that street!"

"And you took me on trust, when, for all you know, the police might have been after me," said Tommy. "Well, we won't forget; not that I suppose Bob and I will ever be able to pay you back."

"Good gracious, we don't want paying back!" exclaimed Norah, wrinkling her nose disgustedly. "Don't talk such utter nonsense, Tommy Rainham. And just hurry up and unpack, because tea will be ready at half-past six."

"My goodness!" exclaimed the English girl, to whom dinner at half-past seven was a custom of life not lightly to be altered. "And I haven't half unpacked, and oh, where is my blue frock? I don't believe I've brought it." She sought despairingly in the trunk.

"Yes, you have—I hung it up for you in the wardrobe ages ago," said Norah. "And it doesn't matter if you don't finish before tea. There's lots of time ahead. However, I certainly won't be dressed if I don't hurry, because I've to see Brownie first, and then sew on a button for Jim. You'll find me next door when you're ready." Tommy heard her go, singing downstairs, and she sighed happily. This, for the first time for two years, was a real home.

The education of the new-chums began next morning, and was carried out thoroughly, since Mr. Linton did not believe in showing their immigrants only the pleasanter side of Australian life. Bob was given a few days of riding round the run, spying out the land, and learning something about cattle and their handling as he rode. Luckily for him, he was a good horseman. The stockmen, always on the alert to "pick holes" in a new-chum, had little fault to find with his easy seat and hands, and approved of the way in which he waited for no one's help in saddling up or letting go his horse; a point which always tells with the man of the bush.

"We've had thim on this run," said Murty, "as wanted their horses led gently up to thim, and then they climb into the saddle like a lady. And when they'd come home, all they'd be lookin' for 'ud be some one to casht their reins to, the way they cud strowl off to their tay. Isn't that so, Mick?"

"Yairs," said Mick. He was riding an unbroken three-year-old, and had no time for conversation.

After a few days of "gentle exercise," Bob found himself put on to work. He learned something of cutting out and mustering, both in cleared country and in scrub; helped bring home young cattle to brand, and studied at first hand the peculiar evilness of a scrub cow when separated from her calf. They gave him jobs for himself, which he accomplished fairly well, aided by a stock horse of superhuman intelligence, which naturally knew far more of the work than its rider could hope to do. Bob confided to Tommy that never had he felt so complete a fool as when he rode forth for the first time to cut out a bullock alone under the eyes of the experts.

"Luckily, the old mare did all the work," he said. "But I knew less about it than I did the first time I went up alone at the flying school!"

His teaching went on all the time. Mr. Linton and Jim were tireless in pointing out the points of cattle, and the variations in the value of feed on the different parts of the run, with all the details of bush lore; and the airman's eyes, trained to observe, and backed by keen desire to learn, picked up and retained knowledge quickly. Billabong was, in the main, a cattle run, but Mr. Linton kept as well a flock of high class sheep, with the usual small mob for killing for station use, and through these a certain amount of sheep knowledge was imparted to the new-chum. To their surprise, for all his instructors were heart and soul for cattle, Bob showed a distinct leaning towards mutton.

"They're easier to understand, I think," he said. "Possibly it's because they're not as intelligent as cattle, and I don't think I am, either!"

"Well, I know something about bullocks, but these woolly objects have always been beyond me," said Jim. "Necessary evils, but I can't stand them. I used to think there was nothing more hopeless than an old merino ewe, until I met a battery mule—he's a shade worse!"

"Wait till you've worked with a camel in a bad temper, Mr. Jim," said Dave Boone darkly; he had put in a weary time in Egypt. "For downright wickedness them snake-headed beggars is the fair limit!"

"Yes, I've heard so," said Jim. "Anyhow, we haven't added mules and camels to our worries in Victoria yet; sheep are bad enough for me. Norah says turkey hens are worse, and she's certainly tried both; there isn't much about the run young Norah doesn't know. But you aren't going to make a living out of turkeys."

"No—Tommy can run them as a side line," said Bob. "I fancy sheep will give me all I want in the way of worry."

"And you really think you'll go in for sheep, old man?" asked Jim with pity.

Bob set his lips obstinately.

"I don't think anything yet," he said. "I don't know enough. Wait until I've learned a bit more—if you're not sick of teaching such an idiot."

"Yerra, ye're no ijit," said Murty under his breath.

Education developed as the weeks went on. Wally had gone to Queensland, to visit married brothers who were all the "people" he possessed; and Jim, bereft of his chum, threw himself energetically into the training of the substitute. Bob learned to slaughter a bullock and kill a sheep—being instructed that the job in winter was not a circumstance to what it would be in summer, when flies would abound. He never pretended to like this branch of learning, but stuck to it doggedly, since it was explained to him that the man who could not be his own butcher in the bush was apt to go hungry, and that not one hired hand in twenty could be trusted to kill.

More to Bob's taste were the boundary riding expeditions made with Jim to the furthest corners of the run; taking a pack horse with tucker and blankets, and camping in ancient huts, of which the sole furniture was rough sacking bunks, a big fireplace, and empty kerosene cases for seats and tables. It was unfortunate, from the point of view of Bob's instruction, that the frantic zeal of Murty and the men to have everything in order for "the Boss" had left no yard of the Billabong boundary unvisited not a month before. Still, winter gales were always apt to bring down a tree or two across the wires, laying a few panels flat; the creeks, too, were all in flood, and where a wire fence crossed one, floating brushwood often damaged the barrier, or a landslip in a water-worn bank might carry away a post. So Jim and his pupil found enough occupation to make their trips worth while; and Bob learned to sink post holes, to ram a post home beyond the possibility of moving, and to strain a wire fence scientifically. He was not a novice with an axe, though Jim's mighty chopping made him feel a child; still, when it was necessary to cut away a fallen tree, he could do his share manfully. His hands blistered and grew horny callouses, even as his muscles toughened and his shoulders widened; and all the time the appeal of the wide, free country called to his heart and drew him closer and closer to his new life.

"But he's too comfortable, you know," David Linton said to Jim one night. "He's shaping as well as anyone could expect; but he won't always have Billabong at his back."

Jim nodded wisely.

"I know," he said. "Been thinking of that. If you can spare me for a bit we'll go over and lend ourselves as handy men to old Joe Howard."

His father whistled.

"He'll make you toe the mark," he said, laughing. "He won't have you there as gentlemen boarders, you know."

"Don't want him to," said Jim.

So it came about that early on Monday morning Jim and Bob fixed swags more or less scientifically to their saddles—Jim made his disciple unstrap his three times before he consented to pass it—and rode away from Billabong, amidst derisive good wishes from Norah and Tommy, who kindly promised to feed them up on their return, prophesying that they would certainly need it. They took a westerly direction across country, and after two or three hours' riding came upon a small farm nestling at the foot of a low range of hills.

"That's old Howard's," Jim said. "And there's the old chap himself, fixing up his windmill. You wait a minute, Bob; I'll go over and see him."

He gave Bob his bridle, and went across a small paddock near the house. Howard, a hard-looking old man with a long, grey beard, was wrestling with a home-made windmill—a queer erection, mainly composed of rough spars with sails made from old wheat-sacks. He clambered to the ground as Jim approached, and greeted him civilly.

"I thought you'd have forgotten me, Mr. Howard," said Jim.

"Too like your dad—an', anyhow, I know the horses," was the laconic answer. "So you're back. Like Australia better'n fightin'?"

"Rather!" said Jim. "Fighting's a poor game, I think, when you hardly ever see the other fellow. Want any hands, Mr. Howard?"

"No." The old man shook his head. "They want too much money nowadays, an' they're too darned partickler about their tucker. Meat three times a day, whether you've killed it or not. An' puddin'. Cock 'em up with puddin'—a fat lot of it I ever saw where I was raised. An' off to the township on Saturday afternoon, an' lucky if they get back in time for milkin' nex' mornin'. No—the workin' man ain't what 'e was, an' the new kind'll make precious little of Australia!"

"That's about right, I'm afraid," said Jim, listening sympathetically to this oration. "Well, will you take me and my friend as hands for a few weeks, Mr. Howard?"

"You!" The old man stared at him. "Ain't 'ad a quarrel with yer dad, 'ave yer? You take my tip, if yer 'ave—go back and make it up. Not many men in this districk like yer dad."

"I know that, jolly well," said Jim, laughing. "No—but my friend's a new-chum, and I want to show him something of work on a place like yours. We've been breaking him in on Billabong, but he'll have to take a small place for himself, if he settles, and he'd better see what it's like."

The old man shook his head doubtfully.

"English officer, I suppose?"

"Yes."

"I dunno," said Howard. "Too much of the fine gent about that sort, Mr. Jim. I dunno 'ow I'd get down to orderin' the pair of yous about. An' I ain't got no 'comodation for yous; an' the tucker's not what yous 'ave bin used ter."

"You needn't let any of that worry you," said Jim cheerfully. "He isn't a bit of a fine gent, really, and we'll tackle any job that's going. As for accommodation, we've brought our blankets, and, in case you were short of tucker, we've a big piece of corned beef and some bread. I wish you'd try it, Mr. Howard; we don't want pay, and we'll do no end of work. Murty reckons you won't be sorry if you take on Captain Rainham."

"Oh, Murty says that, does 'e?" asked the old man, visibly cheered. "Well, Murty ain't the man to barrack for a useless new-chum."

"Great Scott, do you think I am?" demanded Jim, laughing. "Or my father?"

"Yous cert'nly didn't ought to be," agreed Howard. "All the same"—he pushed his hat back from his worried brow—"I dunno as I quite like it. If I take on a chap I like 'im to step quick an' lively when I tell him anything I want done; an' I don't make no guests of 'em either. They got to do their own cookin', an' keep things clean an' tidy, too."

"We'll take our share," said Jim. "As for stepping quick and lively, we've both been trained to that pretty thoroughly during the last few years. If you're worse than some of the Sergeant-majors I met when I was training, I'll eat my hat."

"I'm told they're 'ard," said Howard. "Well, I s'pose I'd better take yous on, though it's a queer day when the son of Linton of Billabong comes askin' old Joe Howard for a job. But, I say"—and anguish again settled on his brow—"wot am I to call yous? I can't order you about as Mr. Jim. It wouldn't seem to come natural."

"Oh, call us any old thing," said Jim, laughing.

The old man pondered.

"Well, I'll call yous Major an' Captin," he declared, at length. "That'll sound like a pair of workin' bullocks, an' I'll feel more at 'ome."

"Right-o," said Jim, choking slightly. "Where shall we put our horses?"

"Put 'em in the little paddock over there, an' stick yer saddles in the shed," said his employer. "An' then bring in yer beef, an' we'll 'ave a bit o' dinner. I ain't killed for a fortnight."

Then began for Bob Rainham one of the most strenuous fortnights of his existence. Once having agreed to employ them, old Joe speedily became reconciled to the prospect of cheap labour, and worked his willing guests with a devouring energy. Before dawn had reddened the eastern sky a shout of "Hi, Captin! Time the cow was in!" drove him from his blankets, to search in the darkness of a scrub-covered paddock for a cow, who apparently loved a game of hide-and-seek, and to drive her in and milk her by the fitful light of a hurricane lantern. Then came the usual round of morning duties; chopping wood, feeding pigs, cleaning out sheds and outhouses, before the one-time airman had time to think of breakfast. By the time he came in Howard and Jim had generally finished and gone out—the old man took a sly delight in keeping "Major" away from "Captin"—and after cooking his meal, it was his job to wash up and to clean out the kitchen, over which old Joe proved unexpectedly critical. Then came a varied choice of tasks to tackle to while away the day. Sometimes he would be sent to scrub cutting, which he liked best, particularly as Jim was kept at it always; sometimes he slashed mightily at a blackberry-infested paddock, where the brambles would have daunted anyone less stout of heart—or less ignorant. Then came lessons in ploughing on a dry hillside; he managed badly at first, and came in for a good deal of the rough side of old Joe's tongue before he learned to keep to anything approaching a straight line. Ploughing, Bob reflected, was clearly an art which needed long apprenticeship before you learned to appreciate it, and he developed a new comprehension and sympathy for the ploughman described by Gray as "homeward plodding his weary way." He also wondered if Gray's ploughman had to milk and get his own tea after he got home.

Other relaxations of the bush were open to him. Old Joe had a paddock, once a swamp, which he had drained; it was free of water, but abounded in tussocks and sword grass which "Captin" was detailed to grub out whenever no duty more pressing awaited him. And sword grass is a fearsome vegetable, clinging of root and so tough of stem that, if handled unwarily, it can cut a finger almost to the bone; wherefore the unfortunate "Captin" hated it with a mighty hatred, and preferred any other branch of his education. There were stones to pick up and pile in cairns; red stones, half buried in grass and tussocks, and weighing anything from a pound to half a hundredweight. He scarred his hands and broke his fingernails to pieces over them, but, on the whole, considered it not a bad employment, except when old Joe took it into his head to perch on the fence and spur him on to greater efforts by disparaging remarks about England. Whatever his work, there was never any certainty that old Joe would not appear, to sit down, light his short, black pipe, and make caustic remarks about his methods or his country—or both. Bob took it all with a grin. He was a cheerful soul.

They used to meet for dinner—dinner consisting of corned beef and potatoes until the corned beef ran out; then it became potatoes and bread and jam for some days, until Joe amazed them by saddling an ancient grey mare and riding into Cunjee, returning with more corned beef—and more jam. He boiled the beef in a kerosene tin, and Bob thought he had never tasted anything better. Appetites did not need pampering on Howard's Farm. Work in the evening went on until there was barely light enough to get home and find the cow; it was generally quite dark by the time milking was finished, and Bob would come in with his bucket to find Jim just in, and lighting the fire—"Major," not being the milking hand, worked in the paddocks a little longer. Tea required little preparation, since the only menu that occurred to old Joe seemed to be bread and jam. Jim, being a masterful soul, occasionally took the matter into his own hands and, aided by Bob, made "flap-jacks" in the frying-pan; they might have been indigestible for delicately-constituted people, but at least they had the merit of being hot and comforting on a biting winter night. Old Joe growled under his breath at the "softness" of people who required "cocking up with fal-lals." But he ate the flap-jacks.

After tea the "hands" divided the duties of the evening; taking it in turn, one to wash up, while the other "set" bread. Joe's only baking implement was a camp-oven, which resembles a large saucepan on three legs; it could hold just enough for a day's supply, so that it was necessary to set bread every night, and bake every morning. This wounded their employer, who never failed to tell them, with some bitterness, that when alone he had to bake only twice a week. However, he knew all that there was to know about camp-oven baking, and taught them the art thoroughly, as well as that of making yeast from potatoes. "That's an extry," he remarked thoughtfully, "but I won't charge yer for it, yous 'avin' bin soldiers!"

With the bread set, and rising pleasantly before the fire, under a bit of old blanket, and the kitchen tidy, a period of rest ensued, when "Major" and "Captin" were free to draw up chairs—seated with greenhide with the hair left on, and very comfortable—and smoke their pipes. This was the only time of the day when old Joe unbent. At first silent, he would presently shift his pipe to the corner of his mouth and spin them yarns of the early days, told with a queer, dry humour that kept his hearers in a simmer of laughter. It was always a matter of regret to poor "Captin" that he used to be the one to end the telling, since no story on earth could keep him, after a while, from nodding off to sleep. He would drag himself away to his blankets in the next room, hearing, as sleep fully descended upon him, the droning voice still entertaining Jim—whose powers of keeping awake seemed more than human!

Saturday brought no slackening of work. Whatever his previous hired men had done, old Joe was evidently determined that his present "parlour-boarders" should not abate their efforts, and even kept them a little later than usual in the paddocks, remarking that "ter-morrer bein' Sunday, yous might as well cut a bit more scrub." The next morning broke fine and clear, and he looked at them a little doubtfully after breakfast.

"Well, there ain't no work doin' on Sunday, I reckon. I can manage the ol' keow to-night, if yous want to go home."

The guests looked at each other doubtfully.

"What do you say, Bob? Shall we ride over?"

Bob pondered.

"All one to me, o' course," said Joe, getting up and stumping out. He paused at the door. "On'y if yous mean ter stick on 'ere a bit you'll find comin' back a bit 'ard, onced yous see Billabong."

"Just what I was thinking," said Bob, as the old man disappeared. "I'm not going, Jim; I know jolly well I'd hate to come back after—er—fleshpotting at your place. But look here, old chap—why don't you go home and stay there? You've done quite enough of this, especially as you've no earthly need to do it at all. You go home, and I'll stay out my fortnight."

"What, leave you here alone?" queried Jim. "Not much, Bobby."

"But why not? I've Joseph, and we'd become bosom friends. And your father must think it ridiculous for you to be kept over here, slaving—"

"Don't you worry your old head about dad," said Jim cheerfully. "It's a slack time, and he doesn't need me, and he's perfectly satisfied at my being here. Bless you, it's no harm for me to get a bit of this sort of life."

"You'll never have to do it."

"No one can tell that," said Jim. "The bottom has dropped out of land in other countries, and it may happen here. Besides, if you've got to employ labour it's just as well to know from experience what's a fair thing to expect from a man as a day's work. For which reason, I have desired our friend Joseph to take me off scrub-duty, which I feel I know pretty well, and to detail me for assorted fatigues, like yours, next week. And anyhow, my son, having brought you to this savage place, I'm not going to leave you. Finally, we couldn't go anywhere, because this is the day that we must wash."

"I have washed!" said Bob indignantly.

"I didn't mean your person, Bobby, but your clothes. The laundress doesn't call out here."

"Oh!" said Bob, and grinned. "Then I'd better put on a kettle."

So they washed, very cheerfully, taking turns in the one bucket, which was all Joe could offer as laundry equipment. He had an iron, but after brief consultation, "Major" and "Captin" decided that to iron working shirts would be merely painting the lily. Old Joe watched them with a twinkle, saying nothing. But a spirit of festivity and magnificence must have entered into him, for when the washermen went for a walk, after disposing their damp raiment upon bushes, he entered the kitchen hurriedly and dived for the flour-bag; and later, they found unwonted additions to the corned beef and potatoes—the said additions being no less than boiled onions and a jam tart.

The week that followed was a repetition of the first, save for a day of such rain that even old Joe had to admit that work in the paddocks was out of the question. He consoled himself by making them whitewash the kitchen. Large masses of soot fell down into the fireplace throughout the day, seriously interfering with cooking operations, which suggested to Joe that "Captin" might acquire yet another art—that of bush chimney sweeping—which he accomplished next day, under direction, by the simple process of tugging a great bunch of tea-tree up and down the flue. "Better'n all them brushes they 'ave in towns," said Joe, watching his blackened assistant with satisfaction.

"Well, we're off to-morrow, Mr. Howard," said Jim on Saturday night. They were seated round the fire, smoking.

"I s'pose so. Didn't think yous'd stick it out as long," the old man said.

"We've had a very good time," said Bob; and was astonished to find himself speaking truthfully. "Jolly good of you to have me; I know a new-chum isn't much use."

"Well, I wouldn't say as how you weren't," said old Joe deliberately. "I ain't strong on new-chums, meself—some of them immy-grants they send out are a fair cow to handle; but I will say, Captin, you ain't got no frills, nor you don't mind puttin' your back into a job. I worked you pretty 'ard, too." He chuckled deeply.

"Did you?" asked Bob—and chuckled in his turn.

"Well, I didn't see no points in spoon-feedin' you. If a man's goin' on the land he may as well know wot 'e's likely to strike. There's lots'll tell you you won't strike anythink 'arder than ol' Joe—an' p'raps you won't," he added. "Any'ow, yous asked fer work, an' it was up ter me ter see that yous got it. But don't go imaginin' you've learned all there is ter know about farmin' yet."

"If there's one thing I'm certain of, it's that," said Bob a trifle grimly.

"That's right. I ain't got much of a farm, an' any'ow, it's winter. I on'y showed yous a few of the odd jobs—an' wot it is to 'ave to batch fer yerself, not comin' in like a lord to Billabong ter see wot Mrs. Brown's been cookin' for yous. Nothin' like a bit o' batchin' ter teach a cove. An' you mind, Captin—if you start anywhere on yer own, you batch decent; keep things clean an' don't get into the way o' livin' just any'ow. I ain't much, nor the meenoo ain't excitin'; but things is clean."

"Well—I have a sister," said Bob. "So I'm in luck. But I guess I know a bit more about her side of the job now."

"And that's no bad thing for Tommy," said Jim.

"Oo's 'e?" demanded Joe.

"Oh—that's his sister."

"Rum names gals gets nowadays," said Joe, pondering. "Not on'y gels, neither. 'S a chap on top of the 'ill 'as a new baby, an' 'e's called it 'Aig Wipers Jellicoe. 'Course, 'e did go to the war, but 'e ain't got no need ter rub it into the poor kid like that." He paused to ram the tobacco into the bowl of his pipe with a horny thumb. "One thing—I'd like to pay you chaps somethin'. Never 'ad blokes workin' fer me fer nothin', an' I don't much care about it."

"No, thanks, Mr. Howard," said Jim. "We came for colonial experience."

"You!" said old Joe, and permitted himself the ghost of a grin. "Well, I ain't goin' ter fight yous about it, an' I'm not worryin' a mighty lot about you, Major, 'cause your little bit o' country's ready made for you. But Captin's different. We won't 'ave no fight about cash, Captin; but that last year's calf of the ol' keow's goin' ter be a pretty decent steer, an' when you gets yer farm 'e's goin' on it as yer first bit o' stock. An' 'e'll get the best o' my grass till 'e goes."

"Rubbish!" said Bob, much embarrassed. "Awfully good of you, Mr. Howard, but that wasn't the agreement. I know I'm not worth wages yet."

"Oh, ain't you?" Joe asked. "Well, there's two opinions about that. Any'ow, 'e's yours, an' I've christened 'im Captin, so there ain't no way out of it." He rose, cutting short further protests. "Too much bloomin' argument about this camp; I'm off ter bed."



CHAPTER XII

ON INFLUENZA AND FURNITURE

"So you think he'll do, Jim?"

"Yes, I certainly do," Jim answered. He was sitting with his father in the smoking-room at Billabong, his long legs outstretched before the fire, and his great form half-concealed in the depths of an enormous leather armchair. "Of course he'll want guidance; you couldn't expect him to know much about stock yet, though he's certainly picked up a good bit."

"Yes—so it seems. His great point is his quick eye and his keenness. I haven't found him forget much."

"No, and he's awfully ashamed if he does. He's a tiger for work, and very quick at picking up the way to tackle any new job. That was one of the things that pleased old Joe about him. I fancy the old chap had suffered at the hands of other new-chums who reckoned they could teach him how to do his work. 'Captin ain't orffered me not one bit of advice,' he told me with relief."

Mr. Linton laughed.

"Yes, I've had them here like that," he said. "Full of sublime enthusiasm for reforming Australia and all her ways. I don't say we don't need it, either, but not from a new-chum in his first five minutes."

"Not much," agreed Jim. "Well, there's nothing of that sort about old Bob. He just hoes in at anything that's going, and doesn't talk about it. Joe says he must have been reared sensible. He's all right, dad. I've had a lot of men through my hands in the last few years, and you learn to size 'em up pretty quickly."

David Linton nodded, looking at his big son. Sometimes he had a pang of regret for Jim's lost boyhood, swallowed up in war. Then, when he was privileged to behold him rough-and-tumbling with Wally, singing idiotic choruses with Norah and Tommy, or making himself into what little Babs Archdale ecstatically called "my bucking donkey," it was borne in upon him that there still was plenty of the boy left in Jim—and that there always would be. Nevertheless, he had great confidence in his judgment; and in this instance it happened to coincide with his own.

The door opened, and Bob Rainham came in, hesitating as he caught sight of the father and son.

"Come in, Bob," Mr. Linton said. "I was just wishing you would turn up. We've been talking about you. I understand you've made up your mind to get a place of your own."

"If you don't think I'm insane to tackle it, sir," Bob answered. "Of course, I know I'm awfully ignorant. But I thought I could probably get hold of a good man, and if I can find a place anywhere in this district, Jim says he'll keep an eye on me. Between the two, I oughtn't to make very hopeless mistakes. And I might as well have my money invested."

"Quite so. I think you're wise," the squatter answered. "As it happens, I was in Cunjee yesterday, talking to an agent, and I heard of a little place that might suit you very well—just about the price you ought to pay, and the land's not bad. There's a decent cottage on it—you and Tommy could be very comfortable there. It's four miles from here, so we should feel you hadn't got away from us."

"That sounds jolly," said Bob. "I'd be awfully glad to think Tommy was so near to Norah. Is it sheep country, Mr. Linton?"

"So it's to be sheep, is it? Well, I'd advise you to put some young cattle on to some scrub country at the back, but you could certainly run sheep on the cleared paddocks," Mr. Linton answered. "We could drive over and look at it to-morrow, if you like. The terms are easy; you'd have money over to stock it, or nearly so. And there's plenty to be done in improving the place, if you should buy it; you could easily add a good deal to its value."

"That's what I'd like," Bob answered eagerly. "It doesn't take a whole lot of brains to dig drains and cut scrub. I could be doing that while the sheep turn into wool and mutton!"

"So you could; though there's a bit more to be done to sheep than just to watch them turn," said the squatter, with a twinkle. "I fancy Tommy will be pleased if you get this place."

"Tommy's mad keen to start," Bob said. "She says Norah has taught her more than she ever dreamed that her head could contain, and she wants to work it all off on me. I think she has visions of making me kill a bullock, so that she can demonstrate all she knows about corning and spicing and salting beef. I mentioned it would take two of us quite a little while to work through a whole bullock, but she evidently didn't think much of the objection."

"I'll see you get none fat enough to kill," grinned Jim. "Norah says Tommy's a great pupil, dad."

"Oh, they have worked as if they were possessed," Mr. Linton answered. "I never saw such painfully busy people. But Norah tells me she has had very little to teach Tommy—in fact, I think the teaching has been mutual, and they've simply swapped French and Australian dodges. At all events they and Brownie have lived in each other's pockets, and they all seem very content."

"Are you all talking business, or may we come in?" demanded a cheery voice; and Norah peeped in, with Tommy dimly visible in the background.

"Come in—'twas yourselves we were talking about," Jim said, rising slowly from the armchair; a process which, Norah was accustomed to say, he accomplished yard by yard. "Sit here, Tommy, and let's hear your views on Australia!"

Tommy shook her head.

"Too soon to ask me—and I've only seen Billabong," she said, laughing. "Wait until I've kept house for Bob for a while, and faced life without nice soft buffers like Norah and Mrs. Brown!"

"I'm not a nice soft buffer!" said Norah indignantly. "Do I look like one, Jimmy?"

"Brownie certainly fits the description better," Jim said. "Never mind, old girl, you'll probably grow into one. We'd be awfully proud of you if you got really fat, Norah."

"Then I hope you'll never have cause for pride," retorted his sister. "I couldn't ride Bosun if I did, and that would be too awful to think about. Oh, and Tommy's making a great stock-rider, Bob. She declared she could never ride astride, but she's perceiving the error of her ways."

"I thought I could never stick on without the moral support of the pommels," said Tommy. "When you arrange yourself among pommels and horns and things on a side-saddle, there seems no real reason why you should ever come off, except of your own free will. But a man's saddle doesn't offer any encouragement to a poor scared new-chum. I pictured myself sliding off it whenever the horse side-stepped. However, somehow, it doesn't happen."

"And what happens when your steed slews around after a bullock?" asked Jim.

"Indeed, I hardly know," said Tommy modestly. "I generally shut my eyes, and hold on to the front of the saddle. After a while I open them, and find, to my astonishment, that nothing has occurred, and I'm still there. Then we sail along after Norah, and I hold up my head proudly and look as if that were really the way I have always handled cattle. And she isn't a bit taken in. It's dreadfully difficult to impress Norah."

Every one laughed, and looked at the new-chum affectionately. This small English girl, so ready to laugh at her own mistakes, had twined herself wonderfully about their hearts. Even Brownie, jealous to the point of prickliness for her adored Norah, and at first inclined to turn up a scornful nose at "Miss Tommy's" pink and white daintiness, had been forced to admit that she "could 'andle things like a workman." And that was high praise from Brownie.

The telephone bell whirred in the hall, and Jim went out to answer it. In a few minutes they heard his voice.

"Norah, just come here a moment." He came back presently, leaving Norah at the telephone.

"It's Dr. Anderson," he said. "They're in trouble in Cunjee—there's a pretty bad outbreak of influenza. Some returned men came up with it, and now it's spreading everywhere, Anderson says. Mrs. Anderson has been nursing in the hospital, but now two of her own kiddies have got it, so she has had to go home, and they're awfully shorthanded. Nurses seem to be scarce everywhere; they could only get one from Melbourne, and she's badly overworked."

"Norah will go, I suppose," said David Linton, with a half-sigh—the sigh of a man who has looked forward to peace and security, and finds it again slipping from his grasp.

"Oh, yes, I'm sure she will. They have a certain number of volunteers, not nearly enough."

"I'm going," said Tommy, and David Linton nodded at her kindly.

"What about you and me, Jim?" Bob asked.

"Well, Anderson says they have a number of men volunteers. Such a lot of returned fellows about with nothing to do yet. I told him to count on us for anything he wanted, but the need seems chiefly for women."

"Must they go to-night? It's pretty late," said Mr. Linton.

"No, not to-night," Norah answered, entering. "It would be eight o'clock before I could get in, and Dr. Anderson says I'm to get a good sleep and come in early in the morning. Tommy, darling, will you mind if I leave you for a few days?"

"Horribly," said Tommy drily. "It would be unpardonably rude for a hostess. So I 'm coming too."

Norah laughed down at her.

"Somehow, I thought you would," she said. "Well, Jimmy, you'll take us in after breakfast, won't you? We'll have it early." She perched on the arm of her father's chair, letting her fingers rest for a moment on his close-cropped grey hair. "And I've never asked you if I could go, daddy."

"No," said David Linton; "you haven't." He put his arm gently round her.

"But then I knew that you'd kick me out if I didn't. So that simplifies matters. You'll take care of yourself while I'm away, won't you, dad? No wild rides by yourself into the ranges, or anything of that sort?"

"Certainly not," said her father. "I'll sit quietly at home, and let Brownie give me nourishment at short intervals."

"Nothing she'd like better." Norah laughed. "I don't believe Brownie will really feel that she owns us again until one of us is considerate enough to fall ill and give her a real chance of nursing and feeding us. Then the only thing to do is to forget you ever had a will of your own, and just to open your mouth and be fed like a young magpie, and Brownie's perfectly happy."

"She won't be happy when she hears of this new plan," Mr. Linton said. "Poor old soul, I'm sorry she should have any worry, when she has just got you home."

"Yes; I'm sorry," Norah answered. "But it can't be helped. I'll go and talk to her now, and arrange things—early breakfast among them."

"You might make it a shade earlier than you meant to, while you're at it, Nor," Jim observed. "Then we could turn off the track as we go in to-morrow to let Tommy have a look at the place that has been offered Bob—you know that place of Henderson's, off the main road. Bob can go over the land with us when we're coming back. But once you and Tommy get swallowed up in Cunjee, there's no knowing when we could get you out; and Tommy ought to inspect the house."

"Oh, I'd love to," said Tommy enthusiastically. "No mere man can be trusted to buy a house."

"Don't go to look at it with any large ideas of up-to-date improvements floating in your mind," Jim warned her. "It's sure to be pretty primitive, and probably there isn't even a bathroom."

"Don't you worry, Tommy; we'll build you one," said Mr. Linton.

"I'm not going to worry about anything; there are always washtubs," spoke Tommy cheerfully—"and thank you, all the same, Mr. Linton. I didn't expect much when I came out to Australia, but I'm getting so much more than I expected that I'm in a state of bewilderment all the time. Someday I feel that I shall come down with a bump, and I shall be thankful if it's only over a bathroom."

"Distressing picture of the valiant pioneer looking for discomforts and failing to find them," said Bob, laughing. "It's so difficult to feel really pioneerish in a place where there are taps, and electric light, and motors, and no one appears to wear a red shirt, like every Australian bushman I ever saw on the stage."

"Did you bring any out with you?" demanded Norah wickedly.

"I didn't. But honest, it was only because I had so many khaki ones, and I thought they'd do. Otherwise I'd certainly have thought that scarlet shirts were part of the ordinary outfit for the Colonies. And if you believed all the things they tell you in outfitting shops, you would bring a gorgeous assortment. We'd have even arrived here with tinware. It was lucky I knew some Australians—they delicately hinted that you really had a shop or two in the principal cities."

"I've often marvelled at the queer collection people seem to bring out," said Mr. Linton. "It's not so bad of late years, but ten years ago a jackeroo would arrive here with about a lorry-load of stuff, most of which he could have bought much more cheaply in Melbourne or Sydney—and he'd certainly never use the greater part of it. Apparently a London shop will sell you the same kind of outfit for a Melbourne suburb as if you were going into the wilds of West Africa. They haven't any conscience."

"They just never learn geography," said Norah. "And 'the Colonies' to them mean exactly the same thing, no matter in what continent the colony may be. If they can sell pioneers tinware to take out to Melbourne, so much the better for them. Well, I must see Brownie, or there may not be early breakfast for pioneers or any one else."

Brownie rose to the occasion—there had never been any known occasion to which Brownie did not rise—and the hospital at Cunjee was still grappling with early morning problems next day when the Billabong motor pulled up at the door, after a flying visit to the new home—which Tommy, regarding with the large eye of faith, had declared to be full of boundless possibilities. Dr. Anderson came out to meet the new-comers, Norah and Tommy, neat and workmanlike; Jim, bearing their luggage; and Mr. Linton and Bob sharing a large humper, into which Brownie had packed everything eatable she could find—and Brownie's capacity for finding things eatable at short notice was one of her most astonishing traits. The little doctor, harassed as he was, greeted them with a twinkle.

"You Lintons generally appear bearing your sheaves with you," he said. "Well, you're very welcome. How many of you do I keep?"

"Tommy and Norah, for certain," said Mr. Linton. "And as many more of us as you please. Want us all, doctor?"

"Well, I really don't; there are a good many men volunteers. But if I might commandeer the car and a driver for a few hours, I should be glad," the doctor went on. "There are some cases to be brought in from Mardale and Clinthorpe. I heard of them only this morning, on the telephone, and I was wondering how to get them in."

"We're at your disposal, and you've only to telephone for us or the car whenever you want it," said Mr. Linton. "How are things this morning?"

"Oh—bad enough. We have several very troublesome cases; people simply won't give in soon enough. My youngsters are very ill, but I'm not really worried about them as long as my wife keeps up. Our biggest trouble is that our cook here went down this morning. She told me she couldn't sleep a wink all night, and when she woke up in the morning her tongue was sticking to the roof of her head!—and certainly she has temperature enough for any strange symptoms. But we feel rather as if the bottom had dropped out of the universe, for none of our volunteers are equal to the job."

"I can cook," said Norah and Tommy together.

"Can you?" said the little doctor, staring at them as though the heavens had opened and rained down angels on his head. "Are you sure? You don't look like it!"

"I can guarantee them," said Mr. Linton, laughing. "Only you'll have to watch Norah, for the spell of the war is heavy upon her, and she'll boil your soup bones thirteen times, and feed you all on haricot beans and lentils if nobody checks her!"

"Dad, you haven't any manners," said Norah severely. "May I cook, Doctor?"

"You can share the job," said Dr. Anderson thankfully. "I really think it's more than enough for one of you. This place is getting pretty full. Of course, I've wired to town for a cook, but goodness knows if we'll get one; it's unlikely. Come on, now, and I'll introduce you to Sister."

Sister proved to be a tall, capable, quiet woman, with war decorations. She greeted the volunteers thankfully, and unhesitatingly pronounced their place to be cooks, rather than nurses.

"I can get girls who will do well enough in the wards," she said, "where I can direct them. But I can't be in the kitchen too. If you two can carry on without supervision it will be a godsend."

So the kitchen swallowed up Norah and Tommy, and there they worked during the weeks that followed, while the influenza scourge raged round Victoria. The little cottage-hospital became full almost to bursting-point. Even the rooms for the staff had to be appropriated, and nurses and helpers slept in a cottage close by. Luckily for the cooks, Cunjee now boasted a gas supply and its citizens supplied them with gas-stoves, as Norah said, "in clutches," so that they worked in comfort. It was hard work, with little time to spare, but the girls had learned method, and they soon mapped out a routine that prevented their ever being rushed or flurried. And they blessed the cold weather that saved constant watching lest supplies should go bad.

From Billabong came daily hampers that greatly relieved their labours. It was a matter of some amazement to the Lintons that Brownie did not volunteer for the hospital, and indeed, it had been the first thought of Brownie herself. But she repressed it firmly, though by no means feeling comfortable. To Murty she confided her views, and was relieved by his approval.

"I know I did ought to go," she said, almost tearfully. "There's those two blessed lambs in the kitchen, doing wot I'd ought to be doing; and I know Mrs. Archdale 'ud come up an' run things 'ere for me. But wot 'ud 'appen if I did go, I ask you, Murty? Simply they'd take the two blessed lambs out of the kitchen an' put 'em to nursing in the wards, an' next thing you knew they'd both be down with the beastly flu' themselves. They're safer among the pots and pans, Murty. But when the master looks at me I don't feel comferable."

"Yerra, let him look," said Murty stoutly. "'Tis the great head ye have on ye; I'd never have thought of it. Don't go worryin', now. Are ye not sendin' them in the heighth of good livin' every day?"

"That's the least I can do," said Brownie, brightening a little. "Only I'd like to think Miss Norah and Miss Tommy got some of it, and not just them patients, gethered up from goodness knows where."

"Yerra, Miss Norah wouldn't want to know their addresses before she'd feed 'em," said the bewildered Murty. But there came a suspicious smell from the kitchen, as of something burning, and Mrs. Brown fled with a swiftness that was surprising, considering her circumference.

Jim lived a moving existence in those days, flying between Billabong and Cunjee in the car, bringing supplies, always on hand for a job if wanted, and insisting that on their daily "time off" Norah and Tommy should come out for a spin into the country. Sometimes they managed to take Sister, too, or some of the other helpers. The car never went out with any empty seats. Presently they were recovering patients to be given fresh air or taken home; white-faced mothers, longing to be back to the house and children left in the care of "dad," and whatever kindly neighbours might drop in; or "dads" themselves, much bewildered at the amazing illness that had left them feeling as if neither their legs nor their heads belonged to them. Occasionally, after dropping one of these convalescents, Jim would find jobs waiting to his hand about the bush homestead; cows to milk, a fence to be mended, wood waiting to be chopped. He used to do them vigorously, while in the house "mum" fussed over her restored man and tried to keep him from going out to run the farm immediately. There were generally two or three astonished children to show him where tools were kept—milk buckets, being always up-ended on a fence post, needed no introduction, and the pump, for a sluice afterwards, was not hard of discovery. The big Rolls-Royce used to purr gently away through the bush paddock afterwards, often with a bewildered "mum" looking amazedly at the tall young man who drove it.

Meanwhile Bob Rainham, left alone with his host, set about the business of his new farm in earnest, since there seemed nothing else for him to do; and David Linton, possibly glad of the occupation, threw himself into the work. The farm was bought on terms that seemed to Bob very easy—he did not know that Mr. Linton stood security for his payments—and then began the task of stocking it and of planning just what was best to do with each paddock. The house, left bare and clean by the last owners, was in good repair, save that the dingy white painting of the exterior, and the varnished pine walls and ceilings within were depressing and shabby. Mr. Linton decided that his house-warming present to Tommy should be a coat of paint for her mansion, and soon it looked new—dark red, with a gleaming white roof, while the rooms were painted in pretty fresh colours. "Won't Tommy get a shock!" chuckled Bob gleefully. The dinginess of the house had not escaped him on the morning that they had made their first inspection, but Tommy, who loved freshness and colours, had made no sign. Had you probed the matter, Tommy would probably have remarked, with some annoyance, that it was not her job to begin by grumbling.

Wally came hurtling back from Queensland at the first hint of the influenza outbreak, and was considerably depressed at finding his twin souls, Jim and Norah, engaged in jobs that for once he could not share. Therefore he, too, fell back on the new farm, and found Bob knitting his brow one evening over the question of furniture.

"I don't want to buy much," he said. "Tommy doesn't, either; we talked it over. We'd rather do with next to nothing, and buy decent stuff by degrees if we get on well. Tommy says she doesn't want footling little gimcracky tables and whatnots and things, nor dressing-tables full of drawers that won't pull out. But I've been looking at the cheap stuff in Cunjee, and, my word, it's nasty! Still, I can't afford good things now, and Tommy wouldn't like it if I tried to get 'em. Tommy's death on the simple life."

"How are you on tools?" queried Wally.

"Using tools? Pretty fair," admitted Bob. "I took up carpentering at school; it was always a bit of a hobby of mine. I'm no cabinet-maker, if that's what you mean."

"You don't need to be," Wally answered. "Up where I come from—we were pretty far back in Queensland—we hardly ever saw real furniture, the stuff you buy in shops. It was all made out of packing-cases and odd bits of wood. Jolly decent, too; you paint 'em up to match the rooms, or stain 'em dark colours, and the girls put sort of petticoats round some of the things."

"We began that way," said David Linton, with a half-sigh. "There was surprisingly little proper furniture in our first house, and we were very comfortable."

"Couldn't we begin, sir?" asked Wally eagerly. "This wet weather looks like setting in. Bob can't do much on the farm. If we could get out a few odd lengths of timber and some old packing cases from the township—"

"Heavens, you don't need to do that!" exclaimed their host. "The place is full of both; packing-cases have been arriving at Billabong since Jim was a baby, and very few of them have gone away again. There's plenty of timber knocking about, too. We'll go over to the farm if you like, Bob, and plan out measurements."

"I think it's a splendid idea, thanks, sir," said Bob slowly. "Only I don't quite see why I should bother you—"

"Oh, don't talk rubbish!" said David Linton, getting up. "I believe I'm glad of the job—the place seems queer without Jim and Norah."

"My word!" said Wally. "Let's all turn carpenters, and give Tommy the surprise of her life!"

They flung themselves at the work with energy. A visit to the new house, and a careful study of each room, revealed unsuspected possibilities to Bob, whose English brain, "brought up," as Wally said, "on a stodgy diet of bedroom suites," had failed to grasp what might be done by handy people with a soul above mere fashion in the matter of furniture. They came back with a notebook bulging with measurements and heads seething with ideas. First, they dealt with the bedrooms, and made for each a set of long shelves and a dressing-table-cupboard—the latter a noble piece of furniture, which was merely a packing-case, smoothed, planed and fitted with shelves; the whole to be completed with a seemly petticoat when Tommy should be able to detach her mind from influenza patients. They made her, too, a little work-table, which was simply a wide, low shelf, at which she could write or sew—planned to catch a good light from her window, so that as she sat near it, she could see the line of willows that marked the creek and the rolling plains that ended in the ranges behind Billabong. Tommy's room was painted in pale green; and when they had stained all these exciting additions dark green, Bob heaved a great sigh, and yearned audibly for the swift recovery of the influenza patients, so that Tommy could return and behold her new possessions.

"We could make washstands," said Mr. Linton, when they had fitted out the two remaining bedrooms. "But washstands are depressing things, and would take up a good deal of space in these little rooms. You have a good water supply, Bob; why not have built-in basins with taps, and lay on water through the bedrooms?"

Bob whistled.

"My aunt! Is that really possible?"

"Quite, I should say. It wouldn't take elaborate plumbing, and the pipes could discharge into an irrigation drain for your vegetable garden. It would save Tommy ever so much work in carrying water, too. There's a fearsome amount of water carried in and out of bedrooms, and I can't see why pipes shouldn't do the work. It need not cost you much—just a shelf across a corner, with an enamelled basin let in."

"Save you buying jugs and basins," said Wally. "Great money-saving idea!"

"Rather," said Bob. "Is there anyone in Cunjee who can plumb?"

"Oh, yes; there's a handy man who can do the whole thing. We'll get Jim to go and see him tomorrow."

They left this job to the handy man, who proved equal to all demands, and went on themselves to higher flights. Kitchen and pantry were already fitted with shelves, but they built in a dresser, and found a spare corner, where they erected a linen press warranted to bring tears of joy to the eye of any housewife. Round the little dining-room and sitting-room they ran a very narrow shelf, just wide enough to carry flowers and ornaments, and they made wide, low window seats in each room. Then, becoming bold by success, they turned to cabinet making, and built into the dining-room a sideboard, which was only a glorified edition of the kitchen dresser, but looked amazingly like walnut, aided by a little stain; and for both sitting-rooms made low cupboards, with tops wide enough to serve as little tables. Even the verandah was furnished with wide shelf tables and a cupboard, and with low and broad seats.

"And it's all done by kindness—and packing cases!" said Jim, surveying the result with admiration.

"Indeed, I'm afraid a lot of your father's good timber has gone into it," said Bob half ruefully. "He was awfully good about it, and the supply of just-what-you-want timber on Billabong seemed inexhaustible."

"No, you really used very little good stuff," David Linton said. "It's chiefly packing cases, truly, Jim. But we had plenty of time to plane it up and make it look decent. Bob ran an electric light into the workshop and we worked every night. I believe it's kept us from getting influenza from sheer boredom, with all you people away."

"They'll soon be home," Jim said cheerfully. "Influenza's dying out, I believe. No fresh cases for three days, and all the patients are getting better. The little Andersons are up and about. By the way, Dad, couldn't we bring those kiddies out to Billabong for a change?"

"Why, of course," his father answered. "Tell Mrs. Anderson to come too, or, if she won't leave her husband, Brownie will be delighted at the chance of getting two children to look after again. Are the cooks quite cheery, Jim?"

"As cheery as possible," Jim answered. "They got off early to-day, and I took them and Sister and the Anderson youngsters out for a run. Did 'em all good. I'm coming home to-night, and they don't want me to-morrow, because they're going to afternoon tea with some one or other. Flighty young things, those cooks! So I can help you carpenters or do any odd jobs."

"We've lots," said Wally, who was putting a finishing coat of dark green enamel to a rod destined as a towel rail for Tommy's room. "Simple jobs, suitable for your understanding. Take care, Jimmy, I've a wet paint brush, and you have a good suit on! I want to put shelves from floor to ceiling of the bathroom, because the walls are rough and unlined, and nothing on earth will make it a beautiful room. So Tommy may as well store there all the things she doesn't want anywhere else. And you can make her a medicine cupboard. I shan't have time to look at any of you unskilled labourers, for I'm going to build her a draining-rack for plates and things over the kitchen sink. And I can tell you, that takes brains!"

"Then it's not your job!" said Jim definitely.

"Isn't it? I'll show you, you old Bond Street fashion plate!" Wally stretched his long form, simply attired in a khaki shirt and dungaree trousers, much be-splashed by paint, and looked scornfully at his neatly dressed friend. "You needn't think, because you come here dressed like the lilies of the field and fresh from motoring girls round the country, that—"

"My hat!" said Jim justly incensed. "And I after cleaning out and whitewashing the hospital fowl-houses all the morning! Young Wally, you need some one to sit on your head." He took off his coat slowly.

"Ten to one," said Wally hastily, "if we had time to look into the matter we'd find you'd whitewashed the fowls as well! These Army Johnnies are so beastly impractical!" He gathered up his brushes and fled, pursued by his chum. Sounds of warfare came faintly from the distance.

"It's a good thing some of us are sane," said Mr. Linton laughing. "Nearly finished, Bob?"

He was painting a shelf-table, screwed to the wall within a space at the end of the verandah, which they had completely enclosed with wire mosquito netting. Bob was hanging the door of this open-air room in position, a task requiring judgment, as the floor of the verandah was old and uneven.

"Nearly, sir," he mumbled, his utterance made difficult by the fact of having several screws in his mouth. He worked vigorously for a few moments, and then stood back to survey his job. "This is going to be a great little room—though it's hard just now to imagine that it will ever be warm enough for it."

"Just you wait a few months until we get a touch of hot weather, and the mosquitoes come out!" said David Linton. "Then you and Tommy will thankfully entrench yourselves in here at dusk, and listen to the singing hordes dashing themselves against the netting in the effort to get at you!"

"That's the kind of thing they used to tell me on the Nauru," Bob said laughing; "but I didn't quite expect it from you, Mr. Linton!"

The squatter chuckled.

"Well, indeed, it's no great exaggeration in some years," he said. "They can be bad enough for anything, though it isn't always they are. But an open-air room is never amiss, for if there aren't mosquitoes a lamp will attract myriads of other insects on a hot night. That looks all right, Bob; you've managed that door very well."

"First rate!" said Jim and Wally approvingly, returning arm in arm.

"You're great judges!" David Linton rejoined, looking at the pair. "Have you returned to work, may I ask, or are you still imitating the lilies of the field?"

"Jim is; he couldn't help it," said Wally. "But I have been studying that oak tree out in the front, Mr. Linton. It seems to me that a seat built round it would be very comforting to weary bones on warm evenings—"

Bob gathered up his tools with decision in each movement.

"Wally has come to that state of mind in which he can't look at anything on the place without wanting to build something out of a packing case in it, or round it, or on top of it!" he said. "When the sheep come I'll have to keep you from them, or you'll be building shelves round them!"

"Why, you're nearly as bad yourself!" grinned Wally.

"I know I am, and that's why I've got to stop. I'm going to leave nice little chisels and spokeshaves and smoothing planes, and mend up the pigsty; it needs it badly, and so does the cow-shed. And then I've got to think of ploughing, and cutting that drain across the flat, and generally earning my living."

"Don't you worry," said David Linton. "You couldn't have done much outside in this wet weather, and at least your house is half-furnished. And we'll help you through with the other things."

"You're all just bricks," said Bob, his fair skin flushing—"only I begin to feel as if I were fed with a spoon. I can't always expect to have my work done for me."

"You haven't shown much wish to leave it for anyone else," Jim said drily. "Neither you nor Tommy strikes this district as a loafer. Just stop talking bosh, old man, and think what Tommy's going to say to her mansion."

"Say?" queried Mr. Linton. "Why, she'll point out to us all the places where she wants shelves!"

"Shelves?" yelled the three as one man.

"Yes, certainly. There was never a woman born who had enough. Don't lose sight of your tools, Bob, for you'll go on putting up shelves as long as you've an inch of wall to put them on. Come along, boys, and we'll go home."



CHAPTER XIII

THE HOME ON THE CREEK

"I think it's the loveliest home that ever was!" said Tommy solemnly.

"Well, indeed, it takes some beating," Wally agreed.

"Creek Cottage"—the name was of Tommy's choosing—was ready for occupation, and they had just finished a tour of it. There was nothing in it that was not fresh and bright and dainty—like Tommy herself. The rooms were small, but they had good windows, where the crisp, short curtains were not allowed to obscure the view. There were fresh mattings and linoleums on the floors, and the home-made furniture now boasted, where necessary, curtains of chintz or cretonne, that matched its colouring. Norah and Tommy had spent cheery hours over those draperies. The curtains for Tommy's "suite" had been Norah's gift—of dark-green linen, embroidered in dull blue silks; and in the corner there was a little sofa with cushions of the same. Tommy had purred—was, in fact, still purring—over that home-made furniture, and declared it superior to any that money could buy. She had also suggested new ideas for shelves.

They had not troubled furniture shops much. Save for a few comfortable arm-chairs, there was nothing solid and heavy in the house; but it was all pleasant and home-like, and the little rooms, bright with books and pictures and flowers, had about them the touch of welcome and restfulness that makes the difference between a home and a mere house. The kitchen was Tommy's especial pride—it was cool and spotless, with fresh-painted walls and ceilings, and shining white tiles round the white sink—over which Wally's draining-rack sat in glory. Dazzling tin-ware decorated the walls, and the dresser held fresh and pretty china. For weeks it had been a point of honour for no one to visit Cunjee without bringing Tommy a gift for the kitchen—meat fork, a set of skewers, a tin pepper castor; offerings wrapped in many coverings of tissue paper, and presented with great solemnity, generally at dinner. The last parcel had been from Mr. Linton, and had eclipsed all the others—an alarum clock, warranted to drive the soundest sleeper from her bed. Bob declared it specially designed to ensure his getting fed at something approaching a reasonable hour.

A wide verandah ran round the whole house, and rush lounges and deck chairs stood about invitingly—Tommy had insisted that there should be plenty of seating accommodation on the verandah for all the Linton party, since they filled the little rooms to an alarming extent. Near where they stood the drawing-room opened out by a French window. Something caught Tommy's eye, and she dived into the room—to return, laughing with new treasure-trove—a sink brush and saucepan-scrubber, tied up with blue ribbon.

"Your doing?" she asked, brandishing them.

"Not mine." Wally shook his head. "I don't do frivolous things like that. But I heard Jim wheedling blue ribbon out of Norah this morning, and I don't fancy he has much use for it ordinarily. You'd better ask him."

"It's like both of you—you nice stupids!" she said.

"What?—the pot-scrub! That's not polite of you, Miss Rainham; and so untrue, where I'm concerned." Wally sat down on the arm of a lounge and regarded her with a twinkle. "What's old Bob doing?"

Tommy laughed happily.

"I think whenever we don't know where Bob is, he's safe to be out looking at either the sheep or the pigs," she said. "He just loves them; and he says he can see them growing."

There was a hint of Spring in the air, and more than a hint of good grass in the green paddocks stretching away from the house. By the creek the willows were putting out long, tender shoots that would soon be a thick curtain. The lucerne patch that stretched along its bank was dense and high. The Rainhams had been delayed in taking possession of Creek Cottage; a severe cold had smitten Tommy just at the end of her labours in the hospital, and, being thoroughly tired out, it had been some time before she could shake off its effects. Mr. Linton and Norah had put down their feet with joint firmness, declaring that in no circumstances should she begin housekeeping until she was thoroughly fit; so the Rainhams had remained at Billabong. Tommy was petted and nursed in a way she had not known since Aunt Margaret had died, while Bob worked feverishly at his farm, riding over every day from Billabong, with a package of Brownie's sandwiches in his pocket, and returning at dusk, dirty and happy. Bob was responding to Australian conditions delightfully, and was only discontented because he could not make his farm all that he wanted it to be within the first week.

Therein, however, he had unexpected help. The Cunjee district was a friendly one; station owners and farmers alike looked kindly on the young immigrant who turned so readily to work after four years' fighting. Moreover, Tommy's work in the hospital was well known; the general opinion being that "anything might be expected from young Norah Linton, but you wouldn't think a bit of a new-chum kid like Bob Rainham's sister would turn to and cook for a crowd, and she hardly off the ship!" So the district laid its heads together and consulted Mr. Linton; with the result that one morning Bob found himself unexpectedly accompanied to work by his host. It was nothing unusual for Jim or Wally, or both, to go with him. He was cutting a drain, which they declared to be a job for which they had a particular fancy. But to-day he found Monarch saddled with the other horses, and Mr. Linton, not only ready to start, but hurrying them off; and there was no lunch to carry, Norah airily declaring that since she and Tommy were to be deserted they declined to be downtrodden, and would motor over with a hamper and picnic at Creek Cottage. There was a mysterious twinkle in Norah's eye; Bob scented something afoot, and tried—in vain—to pump her on the matter. He rode away, his curiosity unsatisfied.

But when they rode up the homestead paddock at his farm, he gave a long whistle.

"What on earth—?" he began amazedly.

There were men in sight everywhere, and all working. Eight or nine ploughs were moving across the paddocks destined for cultivation; already wide strips of freshly turned earth showed that they had been some time at work. On the flat where Bob had begun his drain was a line of men, and some teams with earth-scoops, cutting a deep channel. There were even men digging in the garden; and the sound of axes came faintly from a belt of scrub that Bob was planning to clear—some day. He gaped at them.

"What does it mean?"

"It's a bee," said Wally kindly. "A busy bee, improving each shining hour."

Bob turned a puzzled, half-distressed face to Mr. Linton.

"I say, sir—what is it?"

"It's just that, my boy," said David Linton. "The district had a fancy to help you—Cunjee thinks a heap of soldiers, you see. So a lot of the fellows got together and planned to put in a day on the creek, doing odd jobs."

"I say," said poor Bob flushing scarlet, "I never heard such a thing—and I hardly know any of them. Whatever am I to say to them, sir?"

"I wouldn't say much at all," said David Linton laughing. "You'll only embarrass them if you do. Just take a hand in any job you like, and carry on—as we're all going to do."

"There's one man you know, anyhow," said Jim grinning. He pointed out old Joe Howard, the nearest to them among the ploughmen.

"Heavens!" ejaculated Bob. "You don't mean to tell me old Joe has come of his own accord!"

"Couldn't keep him away," Jim said. "He remarked that you were a very decent young feller, and he'd taught you how to work, so he might as well lend an 'and. It's like old Joe's cheek, but he'll claim for ever that he made you a worker."

"Oh, let him," said Bob. "It doesn't hurt me, and it may amuse him." His gaze travelled across the busy paddocks. "Well—I'm just staggered," he said. "The least I can do is to get to work quickly."

They turned the horses out and scattered; Bob to cutting scrub—it was the job he liked least, so it seemed to him the decent thing to tackle it—Jim to the drain construction, while Wally joined the band of workers in the garden, since he knew Tommy's plans concerning it; and Mr. Linton attacked a fence that needed repairs. In the middle of the morning came the Billabong motor, driven by Norah, with Brownie and a maid in the tonneau with Tommy, and hampers packed wherever possible. A cart with other supplies had been driven over by Evans in the very early morning, since Billabong had undertaken the feeding of the workers for the day. The Rolls-Royce picked its way delicately round the paddocks, while the girls carried drinks and huge slabs of cake to the different bands of workers—this being the time for "smoke-oh." Then they hurried back to the cottage, where Brownie and Maria were busy unpacking hampers on the verandah, and Brownie was preparing to carve great joints of beef and mutton and pork in readiness for the hungry horde that would descend on them at dinner time.

It was all ready when the men trooped up from the paddocks—squatters and stockmen, farmers, horse breakers, bush workers of every degree; all dirty and cheery, and filled with a mighty hunger. Soap and water awaited them at the back; then they came round to sit on the edge of the long verandahs, balancing heaped plates on their knees, and making short work of Brownie's provisions. Jokes and cheery talk filled the air. Tommy, carrying plates shyly at first, found herself the object of much friendly interest. "Little Miss Immigrant," they called her, and vied with each other in making her feel that they were all welcoming her. But they did not waste much time over dinner—soon one after another got up and sauntered away, lighting his pipe, and presently there were straggling lines of figures going back to work across the paddocks. After which Norah and Tommy bullied Bob into eating something—he had been far too anxious to wait on his hungry "bee" to think of feeding himself, and then the ladies of the party lunched with the ardour of the long-delayed, and fell upon the colossal business of dish-washing.

Afternoon tea came early, by which time nearly all the ploughing was done, and the brown ribbon of the new drain stretched, wide and deep, across the flat. The girls took the meal round the paddocks, this time with Bob to carry the steaming billies of tea; it gave him a chance to thank his helpers, when it was difficult to say whether the thanker or the thanked were the more embarrassed. Soon after "cow time" loomed for some of the workers, and whatever waits in Australia, it must not be the cow; so that here and there a man shouldered his tools, and, leaving them at the shed, caught his horse and rode away—apologizing to Bob, if he happened to meet him, for going so early, with the brief apology of the dairy farmer, "Gotter get home an' milk." But the majority worked on until dusk came down and put an end to their efforts, and then came up for their horses, singing and laughing.

Bob stood at the gate, bareheaded, as they rode away. By this time he had no words at all. He wished from the bottom of his heart that he could tell them what good fellows he thought them; but he could only stand, holding the gate for them with Tommy by his side; and it may be that the look on each tired young face moved "the bee" more than eloquence would have done. They shouted cheery good-byes as they went. "Good luck, Miss Immigrant! Good luck, Captain!" And the dusk swallowed them up, leaving only the sound of the cantering hoofs.

Thanks to "the bee," the little farm on the creek looked very flourishing on the great day when the lady of the house came down in state to take possession of her domain. Bob had worked hard in the garden, where already rows of vegetables showed well; Jim and Wally had aided Norah and Tommy in the making of a flower garden, laying heavy toll on Hogg's stores for the purpose; to-day it was golden and white with daffodils and narcissi and snowdrops. The cultivation paddocks, no longer brown, rippled with green oats; and cattle were grazing on the rough grass of the flats, once a swamp, but already showing the influence of the big drain. Bob had great plans for ploughing all his flats next year. Dairy cows pastured in the creek paddock near the house; beyond, Bob's beloved sheep were steadily engrossed in the fascinating pursuit of "turning into wool and mutton." He never grew tired of watching the process.

The ever-present problem of labour, too, had solved itself pleasantly enough. Sarah, for many years housemaid at Billabong, had married a man on a farm near Cunjee, whose first attempt at renting a place for himself had been brought to an untimely end by the drought; and Sarah had returned to Billabong, to help in preparing for the home-coming of the long-absent family, while her husband secured a temporary job in Cunjee and looked about for another chance. There Jim had found him, while helping at the hospital; the end of the matter being that Sarah and Bill and their baby were installed at Creek Cottage, Bill to be general utility man on the farm, and to have a share of profits, while Sarah helped Tommy in the house. Every one was satisfied, and already there were indications that Tommy would be daft over the baby.

Sarah came out now to say that tea was ready—she had insisted on being responsible for everything on this first day. Not that there was much to do, for Brownie had sent over a colossal hamper, declaring that Miss Tommy shouldn't be bothered with thinking about food when she wasn't 'ardly settled. So they packed into the little dining-room; where, indeed, it took no small ingenuity to stow so large a party, when three of the six happened to be of the size of David Linton and Jim and Wally; and Tommy did the honours of her own table for the first time.

"And to think," she said presently, "that six months ago there was only Lancaster Gate! Of course, there was always Bob"—she flashed him a quick smile—"but Bob was—"

"In the air," put in Norah.

"Very much so. And it didn't seem a bit certain that I could ever get him out of it; or, if I did, that I could ever escape from Lancaster Gate."

"And you wouldn't, if the she-dragon had had her way," Bob said.

"No. There was nothing to do but run. But even when I dreamed of running, I never thought of more than a workman's cottage, with you earning wages and me trying to make both ends meet. And now—look at us! Bloated capitalists and station owners."

"Well, you were a cook not so long ago. I wouldn't be too proud," Wally gibed.

"All the more reason for me to be proud—I've risen in the world," declared Tommy. "Left my situation to better myself—isn't that the right way to put it? And we've got the jolliest home in Australia—thanks to all of you. Do have some more cake, Mr. Linton; I'd love to say I made it myself, but Brownie did—still, all the same, it's mine."

"Don't you worry," he told her. "I'm coming here plenty of times for cake of your own baking."

"That's what I want." She beamed at him. "All of you. Bob and I will feel lost and lonesome if we don't see you all—oh, often."

"But you're going to," Norah said. "We'll be over goodness knows how many times a week, and you two are always coming to dinner on Sunday, and ever so many other days as well."

"Was it in your plans that any work should be done on this estate?" queried Bob solemnly.

"Why, yes, in your spare time," Wally answered. "Any time you're not on the road between here and Billabong, or catching a horse to go there, or letting one go after coming back, or minding the Billabong horde when it comes over, you can do a little towards improving the creek. I say, Bob, it sounds the sort of life I'd love. Can't you give me a job, old man?"

"Seeing that you've done little but work on this place since you came back from Queensland, I shouldn't think you'd need to ask for a job," retorted Bob. "However, I'll take you on as milker if you like—it's about the only thing you haven't sampled."

"No," said Wally, "you won't. Whatever beast I finally take to by way of earning my living, it won't be the cow—if I can help it. I'd sooner graze giraffes!"

"Oh, do try!" Norah begged. "I'd love to see you trying to put a bridle on one in a hurry!"

"Wonder what would happen if one rode a giraffe and he reared?" pondered Jim.

"You'd have to swarm up his neck and hang on to his little horns," Wally said. "But they're nice, silent beasts, giraffes, and I think they'd be very restful to deal with."

Every one laughed unsympathetically. Restfulness was the last quality to be associated with Wally, who had been remarkable throughout his life for total inability to keep still.

"It's always the way," said Wally, in tones of melancholy. "Every fortune teller I ever saw told me that no one understood me."

"All fortune tellers say that, and that's why people think them so clever," said Tommy. "It's so soothing to think one is misunderstood. My stepmother always thought so. Did Bob tell you, Mr. Linton, that we had had letters from home?"

"No—from your people?"

"From Papa. The she-dragon didn't write. I think her words would have been too burning to put on paper. But Papa wrote a pretty decent letter—for him. He didn't speak of our letters from Liverpool—the notes we wrote from the hotel, saying we were leaving for Australia. But he acknowledged Bob's letter from Melbourne, saying we were going up country under your wing, and actually wished us luck! Amazing, from Papa!"

"I think he's jolly glad we got away," Bob said.

"I think that's highly probable," said David Linton. "You'll write to him occasionally, won't you?"

"Oh, yes, I suppose so," Bob answered. "Sometimes I'm a bit sorry for him; it must be pretty awful to be always under the heel of a she-dragon. Oh, and there was a really fatherly sort of letter from old Mr. Clinton. He's an old brick; and he's quite pleased about our finding you—or you finding us. He was always a bit worried lest Tommy should feel lonesome in Australia."

"And not you?" Norah asked laughing.

"No, he didn't worry a bit about me; he merely hoped I'd be working too hard to notice lonesomeness. I think the old chap always was a bit doubtful that any fellow would get down to solid work after flying; he used to say the two things wouldn't agree. But you sent him a decent report of me, didn't you, sir?"

"Oh, yes—I wrote when you asked me, just after you bought this place," David Linton said. "Told him you were working like a cart-horse, which was no more than the truth, and that Tommy was serving her adopted country as a cook; and that I considered your prospects good. He'll have had that letter before now—and I suppose others from you."

"We wrote a few weeks ago—sent him a photograph of the house, and of Tommy on a horse, and Tommy told him all about our furniture," Bob chuckled. "I don't quite know how a staid old London lawyer will regard the furniture; he won't understand its beauty a bit. But he ought to be impressed with our stern regard for economy."

"He should," said Mr. Linton with a twinkle. "And I presume you mentioned the sheep?"

"As a matter of fact," said Tommy confidentially, "his letter was little but mutton. He described all his ewes in detail—"

"Colour of their eyes?" queried Wally.

"And their hair," nodded Tommy. "I never read anything so poetical. And any enthusiasm he had over went to the pigs and the Kelpie pup!"

"But what about the cows?" laughed Norah. "And the young bullocks?"

"Oh, he mentioned them. But cattle are just four-legged animals to Bob; they don't stir his soul like sheep and pigs. He couldn't write beautiful things about them. But when it comes to sheep, he just naturally turns into a poet!"

The object of these remarks helped himself serenely to cake.

"Go on," he nodded at his sister cheerfully. "Wait until my wool cheque comes in, and you want a new frock—then you'll speak respectfully of my little merinoes. And if you don't, you won't get the frock!"

"Why, I wouldn't disrespect them for anything," Tommy said. "I think they're lovely beasts. So graceful and agile. Will any of them come yet when you whistle, Bobby?"

"Are you going to put up with this sort of thing, Bob?" demanded Jim.

Bob smiled sweetly.

"I'm letting her have her head," he said confidently. "It's badly swelled just now, because she's got a house of her own—but you wait until she wants a new set of shelves, or a horse caught in a hurry so that she can tear over and find out from Norah how to cook something—then she'll come to heel. It's something in your climate, I think, because she was never so cheeky at home—meek was more the word to describe her."

"Meek!" said his sister indignantly. "Indeed, I never was meek in my life!"

"Indeed you were, and it was very becoming," Bob assured her. "Now you're more like a suffragette—" He stopped, staring. "Why, that's it! It must be in the air! She knows she'll have the vote pretty soon!" He broke into laughter. "Glory! Fancy little Tommy with a vote!"

Tommy joined in the general mirth.

"I hadn't realized it," she said, "and I needn't bother for over eighteen months, anyhow. And I don't believe that any of you have ever voted, even if you are twenty-one—except Mr. Linton, of course; and you don't know a bit more about it than I do."

"Hear, hear!" said Wally. "I certainly don't, and neither does Jim. But when we do vote, it's going to be for the chap who'll let us go and dig our own coal out if there's a strike. That's sense; and it seems to me the only sensible thing I've ever heard of in politics!" A speech which manifested so unusual an amount of reflection in Wally that every one was spellbound, and professed inability to eat any more.

Bob and Tommy stood on the verandah to watch their visitors go; Mr. Linton and Norah in the motor, while Jim and Wally rode. The merry shouts of farewell echoed through the gathering dusk.

"Bless them," said Tommy—"the dears. I don't believe we'd have a home now but for them, Bob."

"We certainly wouldn't," Bob answered. "And sometimes I feel as if they'd spoon-fed us. Look at all they've done for us—these months at Billabong and all they've taught us, and all the things that they've showered on us. We couldn't pay them back in twenty years."

"And they talk as if the favour were on their side," his sister said. "There's the buggy they've lent us—Mr. Linton spent quite a long time in pointing out to me how desirable it was for them that we should use it, now that they have the car and don't need it. And the horses that apparently would have gone to rack and ruin from idleness if we hadn't come."

"And the cows that don't seem to have had any reason for existence except to supply us with milk," Bob said laughing; "and the farm machinery that never was really appreciated until immigrants came along—at least, you'd think so to hear Jim talk, only its condition belies him. Oh, they're bricks, all right. Only I don't seem as if I were standing squarely on my own feet."

"I don't think we could expect to, just yet," said Tommy pondering. "And if they have helped us, Bobby, you can see they have loved doing it. It would be ungracious for us not to take such help—given as it has been."

"Yes, of course," Bob answered and squared his shoulders. "Well, I'm going to work like fury. The only thing I can do now is not to disappoint them. I feel an awful new-chum, Tommy, but I've got to make good."

"Why, of course you're going to," she said, slipping a hand through his arm. "Jim wouldn't let you make mistakes; and the land is good, and even if we strike a bad season, there's always the creek—we'll never be without water, Jim says. And we're going to have the jolliest home—it's that now, and we're going to make it better."

"It's certainly that now," Bob said. "I just can't believe it's ours. Come and prowl round, old girl."

They prowled round in the dusk; up and down the garden paths by the nodding daffodils, out round the sheds and the pigsties, and so down to where the creek rippled and murmured in the gloom, flowing through paddocks that, on either side, were their own. Memories of war and of gloomy London fell away from them; only the bright present and a future yet more bright filled them; and there was no loneliness, since all the big new country had smiled to them and stretched out hands of friendliness. They came back slowly to their house, arm in arm; two young things, like shadows in the gloom, but certain in their own minds that they could conquer Australia.

Bob lit the hanging lamp in the little sitting-room, and looked round him proudly. A photograph caught his eye; a large group at his Surrey Aerodrome, young officers clustered round a bi-plane that had just landed.

"Poor chaps," he said, and stared at them. "Most of 'em don't know yet that there's anything better in the world than flying."

"But they've never met merino sheep," said Tommy solemnly.



CHAPTER XIV

THE CUNJEE RACES

"Who's going to the races?" demanded Jim.

He had ridden over to the creek alone, and Tommy had come to the garden gate to greet him, since the young horse he was riding firmly declined to be tied up. It was a very hot morning in Christmas week. Tommy was in a blue print overall, and her face was flushed, her hair lying in little damp rings on her forehead. Jim, provokingly cool in riding breeches and white silk shirt, smiled down at her across the gate.

"Races!" said Tommy. "But what frivolity. Why, I'm bottling apricots."

"No wonder you look warm, you poor little soul," said Jim. "You oughtn't to choose a scorcher like this for bottling. Anyhow, the races aren't to-day, but New Year's day—Cunjee Picnic meeting. We're all going, so you and Bob have got to come. Orders from Norah."

"Oh, New Year's day. I'd love to come," Tommy said. "I've never seen races."

"Never seen races!" ejaculated young Australia in sheer amazement. "Where were you dragged up?" They laughed at each other.

"Aunt Margaret wasn't what you'd call a racing woman," Tommy said. "I don't fancy Bob has seen any, either. Bill and Sarah, to say nothing of the baby, are going. I offered to mind the baby, but Sarah didn't seem to think the picnic would be complete without her."

"People have queer tastes," Jim said. "I wouldn't choose a long day at races as the ideal thing for a baby; but Sarah seems to think differently. Wonder what Bill thinks? Still, I'm glad she didn't take you at your word, because we'd have had to dispose of the baby somewhere if she had. I suppose we could put it under the seat of the car!"

"Oh, do you?" Tommy regarded him with a glint in her eye. "No; we'd have made you nurse her—she isn't 'it.' She's the nicest baby ever, and I won't have her insulted."

"Bless you, I wouldn't insult the baby for worlds," grinned Jim. "I'll look forward to meeting her at the races—especially as you won't be minding her. Then it's settled, is it, Tommy? We thought of riding; will it be too far for you?"

"Not a bit," Tommy said. "Bob and I rode in and out of Cunjee the other day, and I wasn't tired—and it was dreadfully hot."

"Then you'll be all right on New Year's day, because the racecourse is two miles this side of the township," Jim said. "But Norah said I was to tell you some of us could easily go in the car if you'd rather drive."

"Oh, no, thanks; I know you always ride, and I should love it," Tommy answered. "Is Mr. Linton going?"

"Oh, yes. Indeed, as far as I can tell, the whole station's going," Jim said. "All except Brownie, of course; she scorns races. She says she can't imagine why anyone should make anything run fast in the 'eat if they don't want to."

"Does Brownie ever leave Billabong?"

"Hardly ever," Jim answered, laughing—"and it's getting more and more difficult to make her. I think in a year or two it will need a charge of dynamite. Oh, but, Tommy, we got her out in the car the other evening—had to do it almost by main force. It was a hot evening, and we took her for a spin along the road. She trembled like a jelly when we started, and all the time she gripped the side with one hand and Norah's knee with the other—quite unconsciously."

"Do you think she enjoyed it at all?" Tommy smiled.

"No, I'm jolly well sure she didn't," Jim responded. "Brownie's much too well mannered to criticize anyone else's property, but when she got out she merely said, 'You have great courage, my dear.' And wild horses wouldn't get her into it again, unless we promised to 'make it walk,' like we did the day we brought her over to help at your working bee. The funny part of it is that Norah believes she was just as frightened that morning, only she had a job on, and so was too busy to think of it. But as for going in a car for mere pleasure—not for Brownie!"

"Brownie's a dear," said Tommy irrelevantly. "Jim, can't you put that fierce animal in the stable or the horse paddock, or somewhere, and come in for some tea? I simply must get back to my apricots."

"And I've certainly no business to be keeping you standing here in the heat," Jim said. "No, I can't stay, thanks, Tommy—I promised dad I'd meet him at the Far Plain gate at eleven o'clock, and it's nearly that now. You run in to your apricots, and don't kill your little self over them; it's no day for cooking if you can avoid it."

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse