Dad went straightaway to Smith's place, and told Smith he was a dirty, mean, despicable swindler—or something like that. Smith smiled. Dad put one leg through the slip-rails and promised Smith, if he'd only come along, to split palings out of him. But Smith did n't. The instinct of self-preservation must have been deep in that man Smith. Then Dad went home and said he would shoot the —— horse there and then, and went looking for the gun. The horse died in the paddock of old age, but Dad never ploughed with him again.
Dad followed the plough early and late. One day he was giving the horses a spell after some hours' work, when Joe came to say that a policeman was at the house wanting to see him. Dad thought of the roan mare, and Smith, and turned very pale. Joe said: "There's "Q.P." on his saddle-cloth; what's that for, Dad?" But he did n't answer—he was thinking hard. "And," Joe went on, "there's somethin' sticking out of his pocket—Dave thinks it'll be 'ancuffs." Dad shuddered. On the way to the house Joe wished to speak about the policeman, but Dad seemed to have lock-jaw. When he found the officer of the law only wanted to know the number of stock he owned, he talked freely—he was delighted. He said, "Yes, sir," and "No, sir," and "Jusso, sir," to everything the policeman said.
Dad wished to learn some law. He said: "Now, tell me this: supposing a horse gets into my paddock—or into your paddock—and I advertise that horse and nobody claims him, can't I put my brand on him?" The policeman jerked back his head and stared at the shingles long enough to recall all the robberies he had committed, and said: "Ye can—that's so—ye can."
"I knew it," answered Dad; "but a lawyer in town told Maloney, over there, y' could n't."
"COULD N'T?" And the policeman laughed till he nearly had the house down, only stopping to ask, while the tears ran over his well-fed cheeks, "Did he charge him forrit?" and laughed again. He went away laughing, and for all I know the wooden-head may be laughing yet.
Everything was favourable to a good harvest. The rain fell just when it was wanted, and one could almost see the corn growing. How it encouraged Dad, and what new life it seemed to give him! In the cool of the evenings he would walk along the headlands and admire the forming cobs, and listen to the rustling of the rows of drooping blades as they swayed and beat against each other in the breeze. Then he would go home filled with fresh hopes and talk of nothing but the good prospect of that crop.
And how we worked! Joe was the only one who played. I remember him finding something on a chain one day. He had never seen anything like it before. Dad told him it was a steel-trap and explained the working of it. Joe was entranced—an invaluable possession! A treasure, he felt, that the Lord must specially have sent him to catch things with. He caught many things with it—willie-wagtails, laughing-jackasses, fowls, and mostly the dog. Joe was a born naturalist—a perfect McCooey in his way, and a close observer of the habits and customs of animals and living things. He observed that whenever Jacob Lipp came to our place he always, when going home, ran along the fence and touched the top of every post with his hand. The Lipps had newly arrived from Germany, and their selection adjoined ours. Jacob was their "eldest", about fourteen, and a fat, jabbering, jolly-faced youth he was. He often came to our place and followed Joe about. Joe never cared much for the company of anyone younger than himself, and therefore fiercely resented the indignity. Jacob could speak only German—Joe understood only pure unadulterated Australian. Still Jacob insisted on talking and telling Joe his private affairs.
This day, Mrs. Lipp accompanied Jacob. She came to have a "yarn" with Mother. They did n't understand each other either; but it did n't matter much to them—it never does matter much to women whether they understand or not; anyway, they laughed most of the time and seemed to enjoy themselves greatly. Outside Jacob and Joe mixed up in an argument. Jacob shoved his face close to Joe's and gesticulated and talked German at the rate of two hundred words a minute. Joe thought he understood him and said: "You want to fight?" Jacob seemed to have a nightmare in German.
"Orright, then," Joe said, and knocked him down.
Jacob seemed to understand Australian better when he got up, for he ran inside, and Joe put his ear to a crack, but did n't hear him tell Mother.
Joe had an idea. He would set the steel-trap on a wire-post and catch Jacob. He set it. Jacob started home. One, two, three posts he hit. Then he hit the trap. It grabbed him faithfully by three fingers.
Angels of Love! did ever a boy of fourteen yell like it before! He sprang in the air—threw himself on the ground like a roped brumby—jumped up again and ran all he knew, frantically wringing the hand the trap clung to. What Jacob reckoned had hold of him Heaven only can tell. His mother thought he must have gone mad and ran after him. Our Mother fairly tore after her. Dad and Dave left a dray-load of corn and joined in the hunt. Between them they got Jacob down and took him out of the trap. Dad smashed the infernal machine, and then went to look for Joe. But Joe was n't about.
The corn shelled out 100 bags—the best crop we had ever had; but when Dad came to sell it seemed as though every farmer in every farming district on earth had had a heavy crop, for the market was glutted—there was too much corn in Egypt—and he could get no price for it. At last he was offered Ninepence ha'penny per bushel, delivered at the railway station. Ninepence ha'penny per bushel, delivered at the railway station! Oh, my country! and fivepence per bushel out of that to a carrier to take it there! AUSTRALIA, MY MOTHER!
Dad sold—because he could n't afford to await a better market; and when the letter came containing a cheque in payment, he made a calculation, then looked pitifully at Mother, and muttered—"SEVEN POUN'S TEN!"
Our selection was a great place for dancing. We could all dance—from Dan down—and there was n't a figure or a movement we did n't know. We learned young. Mother was a firm believer in early tuition. She used to say it was nice for young people to know how to dance, and be able to take their part when they went out anywhere, and not be awkward and stupid-looking when they went into society. It was awful, she thought, to see young fellows and big lumps of girls like the Bradys stalk into a ballroom and sit the whole night long in a corner, without attempting to get up. She did n't know how mothers COULD bring children up so ignorantly, and did n't wonder at some of them not being able to find husbands for their daughters.
But we had a lot to feel thankful for. Besides a sympathetic mother, every other facility was afforded us to become accomplished. Abundance of freedom; enthusiastic sisters; and no matter how things were going—whether the corn would n't come up, or the wheat had failed, or the pumpkins had given out, or the water-hole run dry—we always had a concertina in the house. It never failed to attract company. Paddy Maloney and the well-sinkers, after belting and blasting all day long, used to drop in at night, and throw the table outside, and take the girls up, and prance about the floor with them till all hours.
Nearly every week Mother gave a ball. It might have been every night only for Dad. He said the jumping about destroyed the ground-floor—wore it away and made the room like a well. And whenever it rained hard and the water rushed in he had to bail it out. Dad always looked on the dark side of things. He had no ear for music either. His want of appreciation of melody often made the home miserable when it might have been the merriest on earth. Sometimes it happened that he had to throw down the plough-reins for half-an-hour or so to run round the wheat-paddock after a horse or an old cow; then, if he found Dave, or Sal, or any of us, sitting inside playing the concertina when he came to get a drink, he would nearly go mad.
"Can't y' find anything better t' do than everlastingly playing at that damn thing?" he would shout. And if we did n't put the instrument down immediately he would tear it from our hands and pitch it outside. If we DID lay it down quietly he would snatch it up and heave it out just as hard. The next evening he would devote all his time to patching the fragments together with sealing-wax.
Still, despite Dad's antagonism, we all turned out good players. It cost us nothing either. We learnt from each other. Kate was the first that learnt. SHE taught Sal. Sal taught Dave, and so on. Sandy Taylor was Kate's tutor. He passed our place every evening going to his selection, where he used to sleep at night (fulfilling conditions), and always stopped at the fence to yarn with Kate about dancing. Sandy was a fine dancer himself, very light on his feet and easy to waltz with—so the girls made out. When the dancing subject was exhausted Sandy would drag some hair out of his horse's mane and say, "How's the concertina?" "It's in there," Kate would answer. Then turning round she would call out, "J—OE, bring the concer'."
In an instant Joe would strut along with it. And Sandy, for the fiftieth time, would examine it and laugh at the kangaroo-skin straps that Dave had tacked to it, and the scraps of brown paper that were plastered over the ribs of it to keep the wind in; and, cocking his left leg over the pommel of his saddle, he would sound a full blast on it as a preliminary. Then he would strike up "The Rocky Road to Dublin", or "The Wind Among the Barley,", or some other beautiful air, and grind away untiringly until it got dark—until mother came and asked him if he would n't come in and have supper. Of course, he always would. After supper he would play some more. Then there would be a dance.
A ball was to be held at Anderson's one Friday night, and only Kate and Dave were asked from our place. Dave was very pleased to be invited; it was the first time he had been asked anywhere, and he began to practise vigorously. The evening before the ball Dad sent him to put the draught horses in the top paddock. He went off merrily with them. The sun was just going down when he let them go, and save the noise of the birds settling to rest the paddock was quiet. Dave was filled with emotion and enthusiastic thoughts about the ball.
He threw the winkers down and looked around. For a moment or two he stood erect, then he bowed gracefully to the saplings on his right, then to the stumps and trees on his left, and humming a tune, ambled across a small patch of ground that was bare and black, and pranced back again. He opened his arms and, clasping some beautiful imaginary form in them, swung round and round like a windmill. Then he paused for breath, embraced his partner again, and "galloped" up and down. And young Johnson, who had been watching him in wonder from behind a fence, bolted for our place.
"Mrs. Rudd! Mrs. Rudd!" he shouted from the verandah. Mother went out.
"Wot's—wot's up with Dave?"
Mother turned pale.
"My God!" Mother exclaimed—"WHATEVER has happened?"
Young Johnson hesitated. He was in doubt.
"Oh! What IS it?" Mother moaned.
"Well" (he drew close to her) "he's—he's MAD!"
"He IS. I seen 'im just now up in your paddick, an' he's clean off he's pannikin."
Just then Dave came down the track whistling. Young Johnson saw him and fled.
For some time Mother regarded Dave with grave suspicion, then she questioned him closely.
"Yairs," he said, grinning hard, "I was goin' through th' FUST SET."
It was when Kate was married to Sandy Taylor that we realised what a blessing it is to be able to dance. How we looked forward to that wedding! We were always talking about it, and were very pleased it would be held in our own house, because all of us could go then. None of us could work for thinking of it—even Dad seemed to forget his troubles about the corn and Mick Brennan's threat to summon him for half the fence. Mother said we would want plenty of water for the people to drink, so Sandy yoked his horse to the slide, and he, Dad, and Joe started for the springs.
The slide was the fork of a tree, alias a wheel-less water-trolly. The horse was hitched to the butt end, and a batten nailed across the prongs kept the cask from slipping off going uphill. Sandy led the way and carried the bucket; Dad went ahead to clear the track of stones; and Joe straddled the cask to keep her steady.
It always took three to work the slide.
The water they brought was a little thick—old Anderson had been down and stirred it up pulling a bullock out; but Dad put plenty ashes in the cask to clear it.
Each of us had his own work to do. Sandy knocked the partition down and decorated the place with boughs; Mother and the girls cooked and covered the walls with newspapers, and Dad gathered cow-dung and did the floor.
Two days before the wedding. All of us were still working hard. Dad was up to his armpits in a bucket of mixture, with a stack of cow-dung on one side, and a heap of sand and the shovel on the other. Dave and Joe were burning a cow that had died just in front of the house, and Sandy had gone to town for his tweed trousers.
A man in a long, black coat, white collar, and new leggings rode up, spoke to Dad, and got off. Dad straightened up and looked awkward, with his arms hanging wide and the mixture dripping from them. Mother came out. The cove shook hands with her, but he did n't with Dad. They went inside—not Dad, who washed himself first.
Dave sent Joe to ask Dad who the cove was. Dad spoke in a whisper and said he was Mr. Macpherson, the clergyman who was to marry Kate and Sandy. Dave whistled and piled more wood on the dead cow. Mother came out and called Dave and Joe. Dave would n't go, but sent Joe.
Dave threw another log on the cow, then thought he would see what was going on inside.
He stood at the window and looked in. He could n't believe his eyes at first, and put his head right in. There were Dad, Joe, and the lot of them down on their marrow-bones saying something after the parson. Dave was glad that he did n't go in.
How the parson prayed! Just when he said "Lead us not into temptation" the big kangaroo-dog slipped in and grabbed all the fresh meat on the table; but Dave managed to kick him in the ribs at the door. Dad groaned and seemed very restless.
When the parson had gone Dad said that what he had read about "reaping the same as you sow" was all rot, and spoke about the time when we sowed two bushels of barley in the lower paddock and got a big stack of rye from it.
The wedding was on a Wednesday, and at three o'clock in the afternoon. Most of the people came before dinner; the Hamiltons arrived just after breakfast. Talk of drays!—the little paddock could n't hold them.
Jim Mullins was the only one who came in to dinner; the others mostly sat on their heels in a row and waited in the shade of the wire-fence. The parson was the last to come, and as he passed in he knocked his head against the kangaroo-leg hanging under the verandah. Dad saw it swinging, and said angrily to Joe: "Did n't I tell you to take that down this morning?"
Joe unhooked it and said: "But if I hang it anywhere else the dog'll get it."
Dad tried to laugh at Joe, and said, loudly, "And what else is it for?" Then he bustled Joe off before he could answer him again.
Joe did n't understand.
Then Dad said (putting the leg in a bag): "Do you want everyone to know we eat it, —— you?"
The ceremony commenced. Those who could squeeze inside did so—the others looked in at the window and through the cracks in the chimney.
Mrs. M'Doolan led Kate out of the back-room; then Sandy rose from the fire-place and stood beside her. Everyone thought Kate looked very nice——and orange blossoms! You'd think she was an orange-tree with a new bed-curtain thrown over it. Sandy looked well, too, in his snake-belt and new tweeds; but he seemed uncomfortable when the pin that Dave put in the back of his collar came out.
The parson did n't take long; and how they scrambled and tumbled over each other at the finish! Charley Mace said that he got the first kiss; Big George said HE did; and Mrs. M'Doolan was certain she would have got it only for the baby.
Fun! there WAS fun! The room was cleared and they promenaded for a dance—Sandy and Kate in the lead. They continued promenading until one of the well-sinkers called for the concertina—ours had been repaired till you could get only three notes out of it; but Jim Burke jumped on his horse and went home for his accordion.
Dance! they did dance!—until sun-rise. But unless you were dancing you could n't stay inside, because the floor broke up, and talk about dust!—before morning the room was like a drafting-yard.
It was a great wedding; and though years have since passed, all the neighbours say still it was the best they were ever at.
The Summer Old Bob Died.
It was a real scorcher. A soft, sweltering summer's day. The air quivered; the heat drove the fowls under the dray and sent the old dog to sleep upon the floor inside the house. The iron on the skillion cracked and sweated—so did Dad and Dave down the paddock, grubbing—grubbing, in 130 degrees of sunshine. They were clearing a piece of new land—a heavily-timbered box-tree flat. They had been at it a fortnight, and if any music was in the ring of the axe or the rattle of the pick when commencing, there was none now.
Dad wished to be cheerful and complacent. He said (putting the pick down and dragging his flannel off to wring it): "It's a good thing to sweat well." Dave did n't say anything. I don't know what he thought, but he looked up at Dad—just looked up at him—while the perspiration filled his eyes and ran down over his nose like rain off a shingle; then he hitched up his pants and "wired in" again.
Dave was a philosopher. He worked away until the axe flew off the handle with a ring and a bound, and might have been lost in the long grass for ever only Dad stopped it with his shin. I fancy he did n't mean to stop it when I think how he jumped—it was the only piece of excitement there had been the whole of that relentlessly solemn fortnight. Dad got vexed—he was in a hurry with the grubbing—and said he never could get anything done without something going wrong. Dave was n't sorry the axe came off—he knew it meant half-an-hour in the shade fixing it on again. "Anyway," Dad went on, "we'll go to dinner now."
On the way to the house he several times looked at the sky—that cloudless, burning sky—and said—to no one in particular, "I wish to God it would rain!" It sounded like an aggravated prayer. Dave did n't speak, and I don't think Dad expected he would.
Joe was the last to sit down to dinner, and he came in steaming hot. He had chased out of sight a cow that had poked into the cultivation. Joe mostly went about with green bushes in his hat, to keep his head cool, and a few gum-leaves were now sticking in his moist and matted hair.
"I put her out, Dad!" he said, casting an eager glare at everything on the table. "She tried to jump and got stuck on the fence, and broke it all down. On'y I could n't get anything, I'd er broke 'er head—there was n't a thing, on'y dead cornstalks and cow-dung about." Then he lunged his fork desperately at a blowfly that persistently hovered about his plate, and commenced.
Joe had a healthy appetite. He had charged his mouth with a load of cold meat, when his jaws ceased work, and, opening his mouth as though he were sleepy, he leaned forward and calmly returned it all to the plate. Dad got suspicious and asked Joe what was up; but Joe only wiped his mouth, looked sideways at his plate, and pushed it away.
All of us stopped eating then, and stared at each other. Mother said, "Well, I—I wrapped a cloth round it so nothing could get in, and put it in the safe—I don't know where on earth to put the meat, I'm sure; if I put it in a bag and hang it up that thief of a dog gets it."
"Yes," Dad observed, "I believe he'd stick his nose into hell itself, Ellen, if he thought there was a bone there—and there ought to be lots by this time." Then he turned over the remains of that cold meat, and, considering we had all witnessed the last kick of the slaughtered beast, it was surprising what animation this part of him yet retained. In vain did Dad explore for a really dead piece—there was life in all of it.
Joe was n't satisfied. He said he knew where there was a lot of eggs, and disappeared down the yard. Eggs were not plentiful on our selection, because we too often had to eat the hens when there was no meat—three or four were as many as we ever saw at one time. So on this day, when Joe appeared with a hatful, there was excitement. He felt himself a hero. We thought him a little saviour.
"My!" said Mother, "where did you get all those?"
"Get 'em! I've had these planted for three munce—they're a nest I found long ago; I thought I would n't say anythink till we really wanted 'em."
Just then one of the eggs fell out of the hat and went off "pop" on the floor.
Dave nearly upset the table, he rose so suddenly; and covering his nose with one hand he made for the door; then he scowled back over his shoulder at Joe. He utterly scorned his brother Joe. All of us deserted the table except Dad—he stuck to his place manfully; it took a lot to shift HIM.
Joe must have had a fine nerve. "That's on'y one bad 'n'," he said, taking the rest to the fireplace where the kettle stood. Then Dad, who had remained calm and majestic, broke out. "Damn y', boy!" he yelled, "take th' awful things outside—YOU tinker!" Joe took them out and tried them all, but I forget if he found a good one.
Dad peered into the almost-empty water-cask and again muttered a short prayer for rain. He decided to do no more grubbing that day, but to run wire around the new land instead. The posts had been in the ground some time, and were bored. Dave and Sarah bored them. Sarah was as good as any man—so Dad reckoned. She could turn her hand to anything, from sewing a shirt to sinking a post-hole. She could give Dave inches in arm measurements, and talk about a leg! She HAD a leg—a beauty! It was as thick at the ankle as Dad's was at the thigh, nearly.
Anyone who would know what real amusement is should try wiring posts. What was to have been the top wire (the No. 8 stuff) Dad commenced to put in the bottom holes, and we ran it through some twelve or fifteen posts before he saw the mistake—then we dragged it out slowly and savagely; Dad swearing adequately all the time.
At last everything went splendidly. We dragged the wire through panel after panel, and at intervals Dad would examine the blistering sky for signs of rain. Once when he looked up a red bullock was reaching for his waistcoat, which hung on a branch of a low tree. Dad sang out. The bullock poked out his tongue and reached higher. Then Dad told Joe to run. Joe ran—so did the bullock, but faster, and with the waistcoat that once was a part of Mother's shawl half-way down his throat. Had the shreds and ribbons that dangled to it been a little longer, he might have trodden on them and pulled it back, but he did n't. Joe deemed it his duty to follow that red bullock till it dropped the waistcoat, so he hammered along full split behind. Dad and Dave stood watching until pursued and pursuer vanished down the gully; then Dad said something about Joe being a fool, and they pulled at the wire again. They were nearing a corner post, and Dad was hauling the wire through the last panel, when there came the devil's own noise of galloping hoofs. Fifty or more cattle came careering along straight for the fence, bellowing and kicking up their heels in the air, as cattle do sometimes after a shower of rain. Joe was behind them—considerably—still at full speed and yelping like a dog. Joe loved excitement.
For weeks those cattle had been accustomed to go in and out between the posts; and they did n't seem to have any thoughts of wire as they bounded along. Dave stood with gaping mouth. Dad groaned, and the wire's-end he was holding in his hand flew up with a whiz and took a scrap of his ear away. The cattle got mixed up in the wires. Some toppled over; some were caught by the legs; some by the horns. They dragged the wire twenty and thirty yards away, twisted it round logs, and left a lot of the posts pointing to sunset.
Oh, Dad's language then! He swung his arms about and foamed at the mouth. Dave edged away from him.
Joe came up waving triumphantly a chewed piece of the waistcoat. "D-d-did it g-give them a buster, Dad?" he said, the sweat running over his face as though a spring had broken out on top of his head. Dad jumped a log and tried to unbuckle his strap and reach for Joe at the same time, but Joe fled.
That threw a painful pall over everything. Dad declared he was sick and tired of the whole thing, and would n't do another hand's-turn. Dave meditated and walked along the fence, plucking off scraps of skin and hair that here and there clung to the bent and battered wire.
We had just finished supper when old Bob Wren, a bachelor who farmed about two miles from us, arrived. He used to come over every mail-night and bring his newspaper with him. Bob could n't read a word, so he always got Dad to spell over the paper to him. WE did n't take a newspaper.
Bob said there were clouds gathering behind Flat Top when he came in, and Dad went out and looked, and for the fiftieth time that day prayed in his own way for rain. Then he took the paper, and we gathered at the table to listen. "Hello," he commenced, "this is M'Doolan's paper you've got, Bob."
Bob rather thought it was n't.
"Yes, yes, man, it IS," Dad put in; "see, it's addressed to him."
Bob leaned over and LOOKED at the address, and said: "No, no, that's mine; it always comes like that." Dad laughed. We all laughed. He opened it, anyway. He had n't read for five minutes when the light flickered nearly out. Sarah reckoned the oil was about done, and poured water in the lamp to raise the kerosene to the wick, but that did n't last long, and, as there was no fat in the house, Dad squatted on the floor and read by the firelight.
He plodded through the paper tediously from end to end, reading the murders and robberies a second time. The clouds that old Bob said were gathering when he came in were now developing to a storm, for the wind began to rise, and the giant iron-bark tree that grew close behind the house swayed and creaked weirdly, and threw out those strange sobs and moans that on wild nights bring terror to the hearts of bush children. A glimmer of lightning appeared through the cracks in the slabs. Old Bob said he would go before it came on, and started into the inky darkness.
"It's coming!" Dad said, as he shut the door and put the peg in after seeing old Bob out. And it came—in no time. A fierce wind struck the house. Then a vivid flash of lightning lit up every crack and hole, and a clap of thunder followed that nearly shook the place down.
Dad ran to the back door and put his shoulder against it; Dave stood to the front one; and Sarah sat on the sofa with her arms around Mother, telling her not to be afraid. The wind blew furiously—its one aim seemed the shifting of the house. Gust after gust struck the walls and left them quivering. The children screamed. Dad called and shouted, but no one could catch a word he said. Then there was one tremendous crack—we understood it—the iron-bark tree had gone over. At last, the shingled roof commenced to give. Several times the ends rose (and our hair too) and fell back into place again with a clap. Then it went clean away in one piece, with a rip like splitting a ribbon, and there we stood, affrighted and shelterless, inside the walls. Then the wind went down and it rained—rained on us all night.
Next morning Joe had been to the new fence for the axe for Dad, and was off again as fast as he could run, when he remembered something and called out, "Dad, old B-B-Bob's just over there, lyin' down in the gully."
Dad started up. "It's 'im all right—I w-w-would n'ter noticed, only Prince s-s-smelt him."
"Quick and show me where!" Dad said.
Joe showed him.
"My God!" and Dad stood and stared. Old Bob it was—dead. Dead as Moses.
"Poor old Bob!" Dad said. "Poor-old-fellow!" Joe asked what could have killed him? "Poor-old-Bob!"
Dave brought the dray, and we took him to the house—or what remained of it.
Dad could n't make out the cause of death—perhaps it was lightning. He held a POST-MORTEM, and, after thinking hard for a long while, told Mother he was certain, anyway, that old Bob would never get up again. It was a change to have a dead man about the place, and we were very pleased to be first to tell anyone who did n't know the news about old Bob.
We planted him on his own selection beneath a gum-tree, where for years and years a family of jackasses nightly roosted, Dad remarking: "As there MIGHT be a chance of his hearin', it'll be company for the poor old cove."
When Dan Came Home.
One night after the threshing. Dad lying on the sofa, thinking; the rest of us sitting at the table. Dad spoke to Joe.
"How much," he said, "is seven hundred bushels of wheat at six shillings?"
Joe, who was looked upon as the brainy one of our family, took down his slate with a hint of scholarly ostentation.
"What did y' say, Dad—seven 'undred BAGS?"
"Seven 'un-dered bush-els-of wheat—WHEAT was it, Dad?"
"Wheat at...At WHAT, Dad?"
"Six shillings a bushel."
"Six shil-lings-a.... A, Dad? We've not done any at A; she's on'y showed us PER!"
"PER bushel, then!"
"Per bush-el. That's seven 'undered bushels of wheat at six shillin's per bushel. An' y' wants ter know, Dad—?"
"How much it'll be, of course."
"In money, Dad, or—er——?"
"Dammit, yes; MONEY!" Dad raised his voice.
For a while, Joe thought hard, then set to work figuring and rubbing out, figuring and rubbing out. The rest of us eyed him, envious of his learning.
Joe finished the sum.
"Well?" from Dad.
Joe cleared his throat. We listened.
"Nine thousan' poun'."
Dave laughed loud. Dad said, "Pshaw!" and turned his face to the wall. Joe looked at the slate again.
"Oh! I see," he said, "I did n't divide by twelve t' bring t' pounds," and laughed himself.
More figuring and rubbing out.
Finally Joe, in loud, decisive tones, announced, "FOUR thousand, NO 'undered an' twenty poun', fourteen shillin's an'—"
"Bah! YOU blockhead!" Dad blurted out, and jumped off the sofa and went to bed.
We all turned in.
We were not in bed long when the dog barked and a horse entered the yard. There was a clink of girth-buckles; a saddle thrown down; then a thump, as though with a lump of blue-metal, set the dog yelping lustily. We lay listening till a voice called out at the door—"All in bed?" Then we knew it was Dan, and Dad and Dave sprang out in their shirts to let him in. All of us jumped up to see Dan. This time he had been away a long while, and when the slush-lamp was lit and fairly going, how we stared and wondered at his altered looks! He had grown a long whisker, and must have stood inches higher than Dad.
Dad was delighted. He put a fire on, made tea, and he and Dan talked till near daybreak—Dad of the harvest, and the Government dam that was promised, and the splendid grass growing in the paddock; Dan of the great dry plains, and the shearing-sheds out back, and the chaps he had met there. And he related in a way that made Dad's eyes glisten and Joe's mouth open, how, with a knocked-up wrist, he shore beside Proctor and big Andy Purcell, at Welltown, and rung the shed by half a sheep.
Dad ardently admired Dan.
Dan was only going to stay a short while at home, he said, then was off West again. Dad tried to persuade him to change his mind; he would have him remain and help to work the selection. But Dan only shook his head and laughed.
Dan accompanied Dad to the plough every morning, and walked cheerfully up and down the furrows all day, talking to him. Sometimes he took a turn at the plough, and Dad did the talking. Dad just loved Dan's company.
A few days went by. Dan still accompanied Dad to the plough; but did n't walk up and down with him. He selected a shade close by, and talked to Dad from there as he passed on his rounds. Sometimes Dan used to forget to talk at all—he would be asleep—and Dad would wonder if he was unwell. Once he advised him to go up to the house and have a good camp. Dan went. He stretched himself on the sofa, and smoked and spat on the floor and played the concertina—an old one he won in a raffle.
Dan did n't go near the plough any more. He stayed inside every day, and drank the yeast, and provided music for the women. Sometimes he would leave the sofa, and go to the back-door and look out, and watch Dad tearing up and down the paddock after the plough; then he'd yawn, and wonder aloud what the diggins it was the old man saw in a game like that on a hot day; and return to the sofa, tired. But every evening when Dad knocked off and brought the horses to the barn Dan went out and watched him unharnessing them.
A month passed. Dad was n't so fond of Dan now, and Dan never talked of going away. One day Anderson's cows wandered into our yard and surrounded the hay-stack. Dad saw them from the paddock and cooeed, and shouted for those at the house to drive them away. They did n't hear him. Dad left the plough and ran up and pelted Anderson's cows with stones and glass-bottles, and pursued them with a pitch-fork till, in a mad rush to get out, half the brutes fell over the fence and made havoc with the wire. Dad spent an hour mending it; then went to the verandah and savagely asked Mother if she had lost her ears. Mother said she had n't. "Then why the devil could n't y' hear me singin' out?" Mother thought it must have been because Dan was playing the concertina. "Oh, DAMN his concertina!" Dad squealed, and kicked Joe's little kitten, that was rubbing itself fondly against his leg, clean through the house.
Dan found the selection pretty slow—so he told Mother—and thought he would knock about a bit. He went to the store and bought a supply of ammunition, which he booked to Dad, and started shooting. He stood at the door and put twenty bullets into the barn; then he shot two bears near the stock-yard with twenty more bullets, and dragged both bears down to the house and left them at the back-door. They stayed at the back-door until they went very bad; then Dad hooked himself to them and dragged them down the gully.
Somehow, Dad began to hate Dan! He scarcely ever spoke to him now, and at meal-times never spoke to any of us. Dad was a hard man to understand. We could n't understand him. "And with DAN at home, too!" Sal used to whine. Sal verily idolised Dan. Hero-worship was strong in Sal.
One night Dad came in for supper rather later than usual. He'd had a hard day, and was done up. To make matters worse, when he was taking the collar off Captain the brute tramped heavily on his toe, and took the nail off. Supper was n't ready. The dining-room was engaged. Dan was showing Sal how the Prince of Wales schottische was danced in the huts Out Back. For music, Sal was humming, and the two were flying about the room. Dad stood at the door and looked on, with blood in his eye.
"Look here!" he thundered suddenly, interrupting Dan—"I've had enough of you!" The couple stopped, astonished, and Sal cried, "DAD!" But Dad was hot. "Out of this!" (placing his hand on Dan, and shoving him). "You've loafed long enough on me! Off y' go t' th' devil!"
Dan went over to Anderson's and Anderson took him in and kept him a week. Then Dan took Anderson down at a new game of cards, and went away West again.
Dave had been to town and came home full of circus. He sat on the ground beside the tubs while Mother and Sal were washing, and raved about the riding and the tumbling he had seen. He talked enthusiastically to Joe about it every day for three weeks. Dave rose very high in Joe's estimation.
Raining. All of us inside. Sal on the sofa playing the concertina; Dad squatting on the edge of a flat stone at the corner of the fireplace; Dave on another opposite; both gazing into the fire, which was almost out, and listening intently to the music; the dog, dripping wet, coiled at their feet, shivering; Mother sitting dreamily at the table, her palm pressed against her cheek, also enjoying the music.
Sal played on until the concertina broke. Then there was a silence.
For a while Dave played with a piece of charcoal. At last he spoke.
"Well," he said, looking at Dad, "what about this circus?"
"But what d' y' THINK?"
"Well" (Dad paused), "yes" (chuckled again)—"very well."
"A CIRCUS!" Sal put in—"a PRETTY circus YOUS'D have!"
Dave fired up.
"YOU go and ride the red heifer, strad-legs, same as y' did yesterday," he snarled, "an' let all the country see y'."
Then to Dad:
"I'm certain, with Paddy Maloney in it, we could do it right enough, and make it pay, too."
"Very well, then," said Dad, "very well. There's th' tarpaulin there, and plenty bales and old bags whenever you're ready."
Dave was delighted, and he and Dad and Joe ran out to see where the tent could be pitched, and ran in again wetter than the dog.
One day a circus-tent went up in our yard. It attracted a lot of notice. Two of the Johnsons and old Anderson and others rode in on draught-horses and inspected it. And Smith's spring-cart horse, that used to be driven by every day, stopped in the middle of the lane and stared at it; and, when Smith stood up and belted him with the double of the reins, he bolted and upset the cart over a stump. It was n't a very white tent. It was made of bags and green bushes, and Dad and Dave and Paddy Maloney were two days putting it up.
We all assisted in the preparations for the circus. Dad built seats out of forked sticks and slabs, and Joe gathered jam-tins which Mother filled with fat and moleskin wicks to light up with.
Everyone in the district knew about our circus, and longed for the opening night. It came. A large fire near the slip-rails, shining across the lane and lighting up a corner of the wheat-paddock, showed the way in.
Dad stood at the door to take the money. The Andersons—eleven of them—arrived first. They did n't walk straight in. They hung about for a while. Then Anderson sidled up to Dad and talked into his ear. "Oh! that's all right," Dad said, and passed them all in without taking any money.
Next came the Maloneys, and, as Paddy belonged to the circus, they also walked in without paying, and secured front seats.
Then Jim Brown and Sam Holmes, and Walter Nutt, and Steve Burton, and eight others strolled along. Dad owed all of them money for binding, which they happened to remember. "In yous go," Dad said, and in the lot went. The tent filled quickly, and the crowd awaited the opening act.
Paddy Maloney came forward with his hair oiled and combed, and rang the cow-bell.
Dave, bare-footed and bare-headed, in snow-white moles and red shirt, entered standing majestically upon old Ned's back. He got a great reception. But Ned was tired and refused to canter. He jogged lazily round the ring. Dave shouted at him and rocked about. He was very unsteady. Paddy Maloney flogged Ned with the leg-rope. But Ned had been flogged often before. He got slower and slower. Suddenly, he stood and cocked his tail, and to prevent himself falling, Dave jumped off. Then the audience yelled while Dave dragged Ned into the dressing-room and punched him on the nose.
Paddy Maloney made a speech. He said: "Well, the next item on the programme'll knock y' bandy. Keep quiet, you fellows, now, an' y'll see somethin'."
They saw Joe. He stepped backwards into the ring, pulling at a string. There was something on the string. "Come on!" Joe said, tugging. The "something" would n't come. "Chuck 'im in!" Joe called out. Then the pet kangaroo was heaved in through the doorway, and fell on its head and raised the dust. A great many ugly dogs rushed for it savagely. The kangaroo jumped up and bounded round the ring. The dogs pursued him noisily. "GERROUT!" Joe shouted, and the crowd stood up and became very enthusiastic. The dogs caught the kangaroo, and were dragging him to earth when Dad rushed in and kicked them in twos to the top of the tent. Then, while Johnson expostulated with Dad for laming his brindle slut, the kangaroo dived through a hole in the tent and rushed into the house and into the bedroom, and sprang on the bed among a lot of babies and women's hats.
When the commotion subsided Paddy Maloney rang the cow-bell again, and Dave and "Podgy," the pet sheep, rode out on Nugget. Podgy sat with hind-legs astride the horse and his head leaning back against Dave's chest. Dave (standing up) bent over him with a pair of shears in his hand. He was to shear Podgy as the horse cantered round.
Paddy Maloney touched Nugget with the whip, and off he went—"rump-ti-dee, dump-ti-dee." Dave rolled about a lot the first time round, but soon got his equilibrium. He brandished the shears and plunged the points of them into Podgy's belly-wool—also into Podgy's skin. "Bur-UR-R!" Podgy blurted and struggled violently. Dave began to topple about. He dropped the shears. The audience guffawed. Then Dave jumped; but Podgy's horns got caught in his clothes and made trouble. Dave hung on one side of the horse and the sheep dangled on the other. Dave sang out, so did Podgy. And the horse stopped and snorted, then swung furiously round and round until five or six pairs of hands seized his head and held him.
Dave did n't repeat the act. He ran away holding his clothes together.
It was a very successful circus. Everyone enjoyed it and wished to see it again—everyone but the Maloneys. They said it was a swindle, and ran Dad down because he did n't divide with Paddy the 3s. 6d. he took at the door.
When Joe Was In Charge.
Joe was a naturalist. He spent a lot of time—time that Dad considered should have been employed cutting burr or digging potatoes—in ear-marking bears and bandicoots, and catching goannas and letting them go without their tails, or coupled in pairs with pieces of greenhide. The paddock was full of goannas in harness and slit-eared bears. THEY belonged to Joe.
Joe also took an interest in snakes, and used to poke amongst logs and brush-fences in search of rare specimens. Whenever he secured a good one he put it in a cage and left it there until it died or got out, or Dad threw it, cage and all, right out of the parish.
One day, while Mother and Sal were out with Dad, Joe came home with a four-foot black snake in his hand. It was a beauty. So sleek and lithe and lively! He carried it by the tail, its head swinging close to his bare leg, and the thing yearning for a grab at him. But Joe understood the ways of a reptile.
There was no cage—Dad had burnt the last one—so Joe walked round the room wondering where to put his prize. The cat came out of the bedroom and mewed and followed him for the snake. He told her to go away. She did n't go. She reached for the snake with her paw. It bit her. She spat and sprang in the air and rushed outside with her back up. Joe giggled and wondered how long the cat would live.
The Rev. Macpherson, on his way to christen M'Kenzie's baby, called in for a drink, and smilingly asked after Joe's health.
"Hold this kuk-kuk-cove, then," Joe said, handing the parson the reptile, which was wriggling and biting at space, "an' I'll gug-gug-get y' one." But when Mr. Macpherson saw the thing was alive he jumped back and fell over the dog which was lying behind him in the shade. Bluey grabbed him by the leg, and the parson jumped up in haste and made for his horse—followed by Bluey. Joe cried, "KUM 'ere!"—then turned inside.
Mother and Sal entered. They had come to make Dad and themselves a cup of tea. They quarrelled with Joe, and he went out and started playing with the snake. He let it go, and went to catch it by the tail again, but the snake caught HIM—by the finger.
"He's bit me!" Joe cried, turning pale. Mother screeched, and Sal bolted off for Dad, while the snake glided silently up the yard.
Anderson, passing on his old bay mare, heard the noise, and came in. He examined Joe's finger, bled the wound, and was bandaging the arm when Dad rushed in.
"Where is he?" he said. "Oh, you d—d whelp! You wretch of a boy! MY God!"
"'Twasn' MY fault." And Joe began to blubber.
But Anderson protested. There was no time, he said, to be lost barneying; and he told Dad to take his old mare Jean and go at once for Sweeney. Sweeney was the publican at Kangaroo Creek, with a reputation for curing snake-bite. Dad ran out, mounted Jean and turned her head for Sweeney's. But, at the slip-rails, Jean stuck him up, and would n't go further. Dad hit her between the ears with his fist, and got down and ran back.
"The boy'll be dead, Anderson," he cried, rushing inside again.
"Come on then," Anderson said, "we'll take off his finger."
Joe was looking drowsy. But, when Anderson took hold of him and placed the wounded finger on a block, and Dad faced him with the hammer and a blunt, rusty old chisel, he livened up.
"No, Dad, NO!" he squealed, straining and kicking like an old man kangaroo. Anderson stuck to him, though, and with Sal's assistance held his finger on the block till Dad carefully rested the chisel on it and brought the hammer down. It did n't sever the finger—it only scraped the nail off—but it did make Joe buck. He struggled desperately and got away.
Anderson could n't run at all; Dad was little faster; Sal could run like a greyhound in her bare feet, but, before she could pull her boots off, Joe had disappeared in the corn.
"Quick!" Dad shouted, and the trio followed the patient. They hunted through the corn from end to end, but found no trace of him. Night came. The search continued. They called, and called, but nothing answered save the ghostly echoes, the rustling of leaves, the slow, sonorous notes of a distant bear, or the neighing of a horse in the grass-paddock.
At midnight they gave up, and went home, and sat inside and listened, and looked distracted.
While they sat, "Whisky," a blackfellow from Billson's station, dropped in. He was taking a horse down to town for his boss, and asked Dad if he could stay till morning. Dad said he could. He slept in Dave's bed; Dave slept on the sofa.
"If Joe ain't dead, and wuz t' come in before mornin'," Dave said, "there won't be room for us all."
And before morning Joe DID come in. He entered stealthily by the back-door, and crawled quietly into bed.
At daybreak Joe awoke, and nudged his bed-mate and said:
"Dave, the cocks has crowed!" No answer. He nudged him again.
"Dave, the hens is all off the roost!" Still no reply.
Daylight streamed in through the cracks. Joe sat up—he was at the back—and stared about. He glanced at the face of his bed-mate and chuckled and said:
"Who's been blackenin' y', Dave?"
He sat grinning awhile, then stood up, and started pulling on his trousers, which he drew from under his pillow. He had put one leg into them when his eyes rested on a pair of black feet uncovered at the foot of the bed. He stared at them and the black face again—then plunged for the door and fell. Whisky was awake and grinned over the side of the bed at him.
"Wot makit you so fritent like that?" he said, grinning more.
Joe ran into Mother's room and dived in behind her and Dad. Dad swore, and kicked Joe and jammed him against the slabs with his heels, saying:
"My GAWD! You DEVIL of a feller, how (KICK) dare you (KICK) run (KICK) run (KICK, KICK, KICK) away yesterday, eh?" (KICK).
But he was very glad to see Joe all the same; we all felt that Shingle Hut would not have been the same place at all without Joe.
It was when Dad and Dave were away after kangaroo-scalps that Joe was most appreciated. Mother and Sal felt it such a comfort to have a man in the house—even if it was only Joe.
Joe was proud of his male prerogatives. He looked after the selection, minded the corn, kept Anderson's and Dwyer's and Brown's and old Mother Murphy's cows out of it, and chased goannas away from the front door the same as Dad used to do—for Joe felt that he was in Dad's place, and postponed his customary familiarities with the goannas.
It was while Joe was in charge that Casey came to our place. A starved-looking, toothless little old man with a restless eye, talkative, ragged and grey; he walked with a bend in his back (not a hump), and carried his chin in the air. We never saw a man like him before. He spoke rapidly, too, and watched us all as he talked. Not exactly a "traveller;" he carried no swag or billycan, and wore a pair of boots much too large. He seemed to have been "well brought up"—he took off his hat at the door and bowed low to Mother and Sal, who were sitting inside, sewing. They gave a start and stared. The dog, lying at Mother's feet, rose and growled. Bluey was n't used to the ways of people well brought up.
The world had dealt harshly with Casey, and his story went to Mother's heart. "God buless y'," he said when she told him he could have some dinner; "but I'll cut y' wood for it; oh, I'll cut y' wood!" And he went to the wood-heap and started work. A big heap and a blunt axe; but it did n't matter to Casey. He worked hard, and did n't stare about, and did n't reduce the heap much, either; and when Sal called him to dinner he could n't hear—he was too busy. Joe had to go and bring him away.
Casey sat at the table and looked up at the holes in the roof, through which the sun was shining.
"Ought t' be a cool house," he remarked.
Mother said it was.
"Quite a bush house."
"Oh, yes," Mother said—"we're right in the bush here."
He began to eat and, as he ate, talked cheerfully of selections and crops and old times and bad times and wire fences and dead cattle. Casey was a versatile ancient. When he was finished he shifted to the sofa and asked Mother how many children she had. Mother considered and said, "Twelve." He thought a dozen enough for anyone, and, said that HIS mother, when he left home, had twenty-one—all girls but him. That was forty years ago, and he did n't know how many she had since. Mother and Sal smiled. They began to like old Casey.
Casey took up his hat and went outside, and did n't say "Good-day" or "Thanks" or anything. He did n't go away, either. He looked about the yard. A panel in the fence was broken. It had been broken for five years. Casey seemed to know it. He started mending that panel. He was mending it all the evening.
Mother called to Joe to bring in some wood. Casey left the fence, hurried to the wood-heap, carried in an armful, and asked Mother if she wanted more. Then he returned to the fence.
"J-OE," Mother screeched a little later, "look at those cows tryin' to eat the corn."
Casey left the fence again and drove the cows away, and mended the wire on his way back.
At sundown Casey was cutting more wood, and when we were at supper he brought it in and put some on the fire, and went out again slowly.
Mother and Sal talked about him.
"Better give him his supper," Sal said, and Mother sent Joe to invite him in. He did n't come in at once. Casey was n't a forward man. He stayed to throw some pumpkin to the pigs.
Casey slept in the barn that night. He slept in it the next night, too. He did n't believe in shifting from place to place, so he stayed with us altogether. He took a lively interest in the selection. The house, he said, was in the wrong place, and he showed Mother where it ought to have been built. He suggested shifting it, and setting a hedge and ornamental trees in front and fruit trees at the back, and making a nice place of it. Little things like that pleased Mother. "Anyway," she would sometimes say to Sal, "he's a useful old man, and knows how to look after things about the place." Casey did. Whenever any watermelons were ripe, he looked after THEM and hid the skins in the ground. And if a goanna or a crow came and frightened a hen from her nest Casey always got the egg, and when he had gobbled it up he would chase that crow or goanna for its life and shout lustily.
Every day saw Casey more at home at our place. He was a very kind man, and most obliging. If a traveller called for a drink of water, Casey would give him a cup of milk and ask him to wait and have dinner. If Maloney, or old Anderson, or anybody, wished to borrow a horse, or a dray, or anything about the place, Casey would let them have it with pleasure, and tell them not to be in a hurry about returning it.
Joe got on well with Casey. Casey's views on hard work were the same as Joe's. Hard work, Joe thought, was n't necessary on a selection.
Casey knew a thing or two—so he said. One fine morning, when all the sky was blue and the butcher-birds whistling strong, Dwyer's cows smashed down a lot of the fence and dragged it into the corn. Casey, assisted by Joe, put them all in the yard, and hammered them with sticks. Dwyer came along.
"Those cattle belong to me," he said angrily.
"They belongs t' ME," Casey answered, "until you pay damages." Then he put his back to the slip-rails and looked up aggressively into Dwyer's face. Dwyer was a giant beside Casey. Dwyer did n't say anything—he was n't a man of words—but started throwing the rails down to let the cows out. Casey flew at him. Dwyer quietly shoved him away with his long, brown arm. Casey came again and fastened on to Dwyer. Joe mounted the stockyard. Dwyer seized Casey with both hands; then there was a struggle—on Casey's part. Dwyer lifted him up and carried him away and set him down on his back, then hastened to the rails. But before he could throw them down Casey was upon him again. Casey never knew when he was beaten. Dwyer was getting annoyed. He took Casey by the back of the neck and squeezed him. Casey humped his shoulders and gasped. Dwyer stared about. A plough-rein hung on the yard. Dwyer reached for it. Casey yelled, "Murder!" Dwyer fastened one end of the rope round Casey's body—under the arms—and stared about again. And again "Murder!" from Casey. Joe jumped off the yard to get further away. A tree, with a high horizontal limb, stood near. Dad once used it as a butcher's gallows. Dwyer gathered the loose rein into a coil and heaved it over the limb, and hauled Casey up. Then he tied the end of the rope to the yard and drove out the cows.
"When y' want 'im down," Dwyer said to Joe as he walked away, "cut the rope."
Casey groaned, and one of his boots dropped off. Then he began to spin round—to wind up and unwind and wind up again. Joe came near and eyed the twirling form with joy.
Mother and Sal arrived, breathless and excited. They screeched at Joe.
"Undo th' r-r-rope," Joe said, "an' he'll come w-w—WOP."
Sal ran away and procured a sheet, and Mother and she held it under Casey, and told Joe to unfasten the rope and lower him as steadily as he could. Joe unfastened the rope, but somehow it pinched his fingers and he let go, and Casey fell through the sheet. For three weeks Casey was an invalid at our place. He would have been invalided there for the rest of his days only old Dad came home and induced him to leave. Casey did n't want to go; but Dad had a persuasive way with him that generally proved effectual.
Singularly enough, Dad complained that kangaroos were getting scarce where he was camped; while our paddocks were full of them. Joe started a mob nearly every day, as he walked round overseeing things; and he pondered. Suddenly he had an original inspiration—originality was Joe's strong point. He turned the barn into a workshop, and buried himself there for two days. For two whole days he was never "at home,", except when he stepped out to throw the hammer at the dog for yelping for a drink. The greedy brute! it was n't a week since he'd had a billyful—Joe told him. On the morning of the third day the barn-door swung open, and forth came a kangaroo, with the sharpened carving knife in its paws. It hopped across the yard and sat up, bold and erect, near the dog-kennel. Bluey nearly broke his neck trying to get at it. The kangaroo said: "Lay down, you useless hound!" and started across the cultivation!, heading for the grass-paddock in long, erratic jumps. Half-way across the cultivation it spotted a mob of other kangaroos, and took a firmer grip of the carver.
Bluey howled and plunged until Mother came out to see what was the matter. She was in time to see a solitary kangaroo hop in a drunken manner towards the fence, so she let the dog go and cried, "Sool him, Bluey! Sool him!" Bluey sooled him, and Mother followed with the axe to get the scalp. As the dog came racing up, the kangaroo turned and hissed, "G' home, y' mongrel!" Bluey took no notice, and only when he had nailed the kangaroo dextrously by the thigh and got him down did it dawn upon the marsupial that Bluey was n't in the secret. Joe tore off his head-gear, called the dog affectionately by name, and yelled for help; but Bluey had not had anything substantial to eat for over a week, and he worried away vigorously.
Then the kangaroo slashed out with the carving-knife, and hacked a junk off Bluey's nose. Bluey shook his head, relaxed his thigh-grip, and grabbed the kangaroo by the ribs. How that kangaroo did squeal! Mother arrived. She dropped the axe, threw up both hands, and shrieked. "Pull him off! he's eating me!" gasped the kangaroo. Mother shrieked louder, and wrung her hands; but it had no effect on Bluey. He was a good dog, was Bluey!
At last, Mother got him by the tail and dragged him off, but he took a mouthful of kangaroo with him as he went.
Then the kangaroo raised itself slowly on to its hands and knees. It was very white and sick-looking, and Mother threw her arms round it and cried, "Oh, Joe! My child! my child!"
It was several days before Joe felt better. When he did, Bluey and he went down the gully together, and, after a while, Joe came back—like Butler—alone.
Dad used to say that Shingle Hut was the finest selection on Darling Downs; but WE never could see anything fine about it—except the weather in drought time, or Dad's old saddle mare. SHE was very fine. The house was built in a gully so that the bailiffs (I suppose) or the blacks—who were mostly dead—could n't locate it. An old wire-fence, slanting all directions, staggered past the front door. At the rear, its foot almost in the back door, sloped a barren ridge, formerly a squatter's sheep-yard. For the rest there were sky, wallaby-scrub, gum-trees, and some acres of cultivation. But Dad must have seen something in it, or he would n't have stood feasting his eyes on the wooded waste after he had knocked off work of an evening. In all his wanderings—and Dad had been almost everywhere; swimming flooded creeks and rivers, humping his swag from one end of Australia to the other; at all games going except bank-managing and bushranging—he had seen no place timbered like Shingle Hut.
"Why," he used to say, "it's a fortune in itself. Hold on till the country gets populated, and firewood is scarce, there'll be money in it then—mark my words!"
Poor Dad! I wonder how long he expected to live?
At the back of Shingle Hut was a tract of Government land—mostly mountains—marked on the map as the Great Dividing Range. Splendid country, Dad considered it—BEAUTIFUL country—and part of a grand scheme he had in his head. I defy you to find a man more full of schemes than Dad was.
The day had been hot. Inside, the mosquitoes were bad; and, after supper, Dad and Dave were outside, lying on some bags. They had been grubbing that day, and were tired. The night was nearly dark. Dad lay upon his back, watching the stars; Dave upon his stomach, his head resting on his arms. Both silent. One of the draught-horses cropped the couch-grass round about them. Now and again a flying-fox circled noiselessly overhead, and "MOPOKE!—MOPOKE!" came dismally from the ridge and from out the lonely-looking gully. A star fell, lighting up a portion of the sky, but Dad did not remark it. In a while he said:
"How old are you, Dave?" Dave made a mental calculation before answering.
"S'pose I must be eighteen now ...Why?"
"I've been thinking of that land at the back—if we had that I believe we could make money."
"Yairs—if we HAD."
"Well, I mean to have it, and that before very long."
Dave raised his head, and looked towards Dad.
"There's four of you old enough to take up land, and where could you get better country than that out there for cattle? Why" (turning on his side and facing Dave) "with a thousand acres of that stocked with cattle and this kept under cultivation we'd make money—we'd be RICH in a very few years."
Dave raised himself on his elbow.
"Yairs—with CATTLE," he said.
"Just so" (Dad sat up with enthusiasm), "but to get the LAND is the first thing, and that's easy enough ONLY" (lowering his voice) "it'll have to be done QUIETLY and without letting everyone 'round know we're going in for it." ("Oh! yairs, o' course," from Dave.) "THEN" (and Dad lifted his voice and leaned over) "run a couple of wires round it, put every cow we've here on it straight away; get another one or two when the barley's sold, and let them breed."
"'Bout how many'd that be t' start 'n?"
"Well, EIGHT good cows at the least—plenty, too. It's simply WONDERFUL how cattle breed if they're let alone. Look at Murphy, for instance. Started on that place with two young heifers—those two old red cows that you see knocking about now. THEY'RE the mothers of all his cattle. Anderson just the same...Why, God bless my soul! we would have a better start than any one of them ever had—by a long way."
Dave sat up. He began to share Dad's enthusiasm.
"Once get it STOCKED, and all that is to be done then is simply to look after the fence, ride about among the cattle every day, see they're right, brand the calves, and every year muster the mob, draft out the fat bullocks, whip them into town, and get our seven and eight pounds a head for them."
"That'd suit me down to the ground, ridin' about after cattle," Dave said.
"Yes, get our seven and eight pounds, maybe nine or ten pounds a-piece. And could ever we do that pottering about on the place?" Dad leaned over further and pressed Dave's knee with his hand.
"Mind you!" (in a very confidential tone) "I'm not at all satisfied the way we're dragging along here. It's utter nonsense, and, to speak the truth" (lowering his voice again) "I'VE BEEN SICK OF THE WHOLE DAMN THING LONG AGO."
A minute or two passed.
"It would n't matter," Dad continued, "if there was no way of doing better; but there IS. The thing only requires to be DONE, and why not DO it?" He paused for an answer.
"Well," Dave said, "let us commence it straight off—t'morror. It's the life that'd suit ME."
"Of course it WOULD...and there's money in it...no mistake about it!"
A few minutes passed. Then they went inside, and Dad took Mother into his confidence, and they sat up half the night discussing the scheme.
Twelve months later. The storekeeper was at the house wanting to see Dad. Dad was n't at home. He never was when the storekeeper came; he generally contrived to be away, up the paddock somewhere or amongst the corn—if any was growing. The storekeeper waited an hour or so, but Dad did n't turn up. When he was gone, though, Dad walked in and asked Mother what he had said. Mother was seated on the sofa, troubled-looking.
"He must be paid by next week," she said, bursting into tears, "or the place'll be sold over our heads."
Dad stood with his back to the fire-place, his hand locked behind him, watching the flies swarming on the table.
Dave came in. He understood the situation at a glance. The scene was not new to him. He sat down, leant forward, picked a straw off the flor and twisted it round and round his finger, reflecting.
Little Bill put his head on Mother's lap, and asked for a piece of bread...He asked a second time.
"There IS no bread, child," she said.
"But me wants some, mumma."
Dad went outside and Dave followed. They sat on their heels, their backs to the barn, thoughtfully studying the earth.
"It's the same thing"—Dad said, reproachfully—"from one year's end to the other...alwuz a BILL!"
"Thought last year we'd be over all this by now!" from Dave.
"So we COULD...Can NOW...It only wants that land to be taken up; and, as I've said often and often, these cows taken——"
Dad caught sight of the storekeeper coming back, and ran into the barn.
Six months later. Dinner about ready. "Take up a thousand acres," Dad was saying; "take it up——"
He was interrupted by a visitor.
"Are you Mister Rudd?" Dad said he was.
"Well, er—I've a FI. FA. against y'."
Dad didn't understand.
The Sheriff's officer drew a document from his inside breast-pocket and proceeded to read:
"To Mister James Williams, my bailiff. Greeting: By virtue of Her Majesty's writ of FIERI FACIAS, to me directed, I command you that of the goods and chattels, money, bank-note or notes or other property of Murtagh Joseph Rudd, of Shingle Hut, in my bailiwick, you cause to be made the sum of forty pounds ten shillings, with interest thereon," &c.
Then the bailiff's man rounded up the cows and the horses, and Dad and the lot of us leant against the fence and in sadness watched Polly and old Poley and the rest for the last time pass out the slip-rails.
"That puts an end to the land business!" Dave said gloomily.
But Dad never spoke.
We Embark in the Bear Industry.
When the bailiff came and took away the cows and horses, and completely knocked the bottom out of Dad's land scheme, Dad did n't sit in the ashes and sulk. He was n't that kind of person. He DID at times say he was tired of it all, and often he wished it far enough, too! But, then, that was all mere talk on Dad's part. He LOVED the selection. To every inch—every stick of it—he was devoted. 'T was his creed. He felt certain there was money in it—that out of it would come his independence. Therefore, he did n't rollup and, with Mother by the hand and little Bill on his back, stalk into town to hang round and abuse the bush. He walked up and down the yard thinking and thinking. Dad was a man with a head.
He consulted Mother and Dave, and together they thought more.
"The thing is," Dad said, "to get another horse to finish the bit of ploughing. We've got ONE; Anderson will lend the grey mare, I know."
He walked round the room a few times.
"When that's done, I think I see my way clear; but THAT'S the trouble."
He looked at Dave. Dave seemed as though he had a solution. But Joe spoke.
"Kuk-kuk-could n't y' b-reak in some kang'roos, Dad? There's pul-lenty in th' pup-paddick."
"Could n't you shut up and hold your tongue and clear out of this, you brat?" Dad roared. And Joe hung his head and shut up.
"Well, y' know"—Dave drawled—"there's that colt wot Maloney offered us before to quieten. Could get 'im. 'E's a big lump of a 'orse if y' could do anythin' with 'im. THEY gave 'im best themselves."
Dad's eyes shone.
"That's th' horse," he cried. "GET him! To-morrow first thing go for him! I'LL make something of him!"
"Don't know"—Dave chuckled—"he's a——"
"Tut, tut; you fetch him."
"Oh, I'll FETCH 'im." And Dave, on the strength of having made a valuable suggestion, dragged Joe off the sofa and stretched himself upon it.
Dad went on thinking awhile. "How much," he at last asked, "did Johnson get for those skins?"
"Which?" Dave answered. "Bears or kangaroos?"
"Five bob, was n't it? Six for some."
"Why, God bless my soul, what have we been thinking about? FIVE SHILLINGS? Are you sure?"
"What, bear-skins worth that and the paddock here and the lanes and the country over-run with them—FULL of the damn things—HUNDREDS of them—and we, all this time—all these years—working and slaving and scraping and-and" (he almost shouted), "DAMN me! What asses we HAVE been, to be sure." (Dave stared at him.) "Bear-skins FIVE SHILLINGS each, and——"
"That's all right enough," Dave interrupted, "but——"
"Of COURSE it's all right enough NOW," Dad yelled, "now when we see it."
"But look!" and Dave sat up and assumed an arbitrary attitude. He was growing suspicious of Dad's ideas. "To begin with, how many bears do you reckon on getting in a day?"
"In a day"—reflectively—"twenty at the least."
"Twenty. Well, say we only got HALF that, how much d' y' make?"
"MAKE?" (considering). "Two pounds ten a day...fifteen or twenty pounds a week...yes, TWENTY POUNDS, reckoning at THAT even. And do you mean to tell ME that we would n't get more than TEN bears a day? Why we'd get more than that in the lane—get more up ONE tree."
"Can't you SEE? DAMN it, boy, are you so DENSE?"
Dave saw. He became enthusiastic. He wondered why it had never struck us before. Then Dad smiled, and we sat to supper and talked about bears.
"We'll not bother with that horse NOW," said Dad; "the ploughing can go; I'm DONE with it. We've had enough poking and puddling about. We'll start this business straightaway." And the following morning, headed by the dog and Dad, armed with a tomahawk, we started up the paddock.
How free we felt! To think we were finished for ever with the raking and carting of hay—finished tramping up and down beside Dad, with the plough-reins in our hands, flies in our eyes and burr in our feet—finished being the target for Dad's blasphemy when the plough or the horses or the harness went wrong—was delightful! And the adventure and excitement which this new industry promised operated strongly upon us. We rioted and careered like hunted brumbies through the trees, till warned by Dad to "keep our eyes about;" then we settled down, and Joe found the first bear. It was on an ironbark tree, around the base of which we soon were clamouring.
"Up y' go!" Dad said, cheerfully helping Dave and the tomahawk into the first fork.
Dave ascended and crawled cautiously along the limb the bear was on and began to chop. WE armed ourselves with heavy sticks and waited. The dog sat on his tail and stared and whined at the bear. The limb cracked, and Dave ceased chopping and shouted "Look out!" We shouldered arms. The dog was in a hurry. He sprang in the air and landed on his back. But Dave had to make another nick or two. Then with a loud crack the limb parted and came sweeping down. The dog jumped to meet it. He met it, and was laid out on the grass. The bear scrambled to its feet and made off towards Bill. Bill squealed and fell backwards over a log. Dad rushed in and kicked the bear up like a football. It landed near Joe. Joe's eyes shone with the hunter's lust of blood. He swung his stick for a tremendous blow—swung it mightily and high—and nearly knocked his parent's head off. When Dad had spat blood enough to make sure that he had only lost one tooth, he hunted Joe; but Joe was too fleet, as usual.
Meanwhile, the bear had run up another tree—about the tallest old gum in the paddock. Dad snapped his fingers angrily and cried: "Where the devil was the DOG?"
"Oh, where the devil wuz the DORG?" Dave growled, sliding down the tree—"where th' devil wuz YOU? Where wuz the lot o' y'?"
"Ah, well!" Dad said "—there's plenty more we can get. Come along." And off we went. The dog pulled himself together and limped after us.
Bears were plentiful enough, but we wandered far before we found another on a tree that Dave could climb, and, when we DID, somehow or other the limb broke when he put his weight on it, and down he came, bear and all. Of course we were not ready, and that bear, like the other, got up another tree. But Dave did n't. He lay till Dad ran about two miles down a gully to a dam and filled his hat with muddy water and came tearing back with it empty—till Anderson and Mother came and helped to carry him home.
We did n't go out any more after bears. Dave, when he was able, went and got Maloney's colt and put him in the plough. And, after he had kicked Dad and smashed all the swingle-trees about the place, and got right out of his harness a couple of times and sulked for two days, he went well enough beside Anderson's old grey mare.
And that season, when everyone else's wheat was red with rust—when Anderson and Maloney cut theirs for hay—when Johnson put a firestick in his—ours was good to see. It ripened; and the rain kept off, and we reaped 200 bags. Salvation!
Nell and Ned.
That harvest of two hundred bags of wheat was the turning-point in the history of our selection. Things somehow seemed to go better; and Dad's faith was gradually justified—to some extent. We accumulated out-buildings and added two new rooms to the hut, and Dad was able to lend old Anderson five pounds in return for a promise to pay seven pounds ten shillings in six months' time. We increased the stock, too, by degrees; and—crowning joy!—we got a horse or two you could ride to the township.
With Nell and Ned we reckoned we had two saddle-horses—those were their names, Nell and Ned, a mare and a colt. Fine hacks they were, too! Anybody could ride them, they were so quiet. Dad reckoned Ned was the better of the two. He was well-bred, and had a pedigree and a gentle disposition, and a bald-face, and a bumble-foot, and a raw wither, and a sore back that gave him a habit of "flinching"—a habit that discounted his uselessness a great deal, because, when we were n't at home, the women could n't saddle him to run the cows in. Whenever he saw the saddle or heard the girth-buckles rattle he would start to flinch. Put the cloth on his back—folded or otherwise—and, no matter how smart you might be, it would be off before you could cover it with the saddle, and he would n't have flicked it with his tail, or pulled it off with his teeth, or done anything to it. He just flinched—made the skin on his back—where there was any—QUIVER. Throw on the saddle without a cloth, and he would "give" in the middle like a broken rail—bend till his belly almost touched the ground, and remain bent till mounted; then he'd crawl off and gradually straighten up as he became used to you. Were you tender-hearted enough to feel compunction in sitting down hard on a six-year-old sore, or if you had an aversion to kicking the suffering brute with both heels and belting his hide with a yard or two of fencing-wire to get him to show signs of animation, you would dismount and walk—perhaps, weep. WE always rode him right out, though.
As a two-year-old Ned was Dad's hope. Pointing proudly to the long-legged, big-headed, ugly moke mooching by the door, smelling the dust, he would say: "Be a fine horse in another year! Little sleepy-looking yet; that's nothing!"
"Stir him up a bit, till we see how he canters," he said to Joe one day. And when Joe stirred him up—rattled a piece of rock on his jaw that nearly knocked his head off—Dad took after Joe and chased him through the potatoes, and out into the grass-paddock, and across towards Anderson's; then returned and yarded the colt, and knocked a patch of skin off him with a rail because he would n't stand in a corner till he looked at his eye. "Would n't have anything happen to that colt for a fortune!" he said to himself. Then went away, forgetting to throw the rails down. Dave threw them down a couple of days after.
WE preferred Nell to Ned, but Dad always voted for the colt. "You can trust him; he'll stand anywhere," he used to say. Ned WOULD! Once, when the grass-paddock was burning, he stood until he took fire. Then he stood while we hammered him with boughs to put the blaze out. It took a lot to frighten Ned. His presence of mind rarely deserted him. Once, though, he got a start. He was standing in the shade of a tree in the paddock when Dad went to catch him. He seemed to be watching Dad, but was n't. He was ASLEEP. "Well, old chap," said Dad, "how ARE y'?" and proceeded to bridle him. Ned opened his mouth and received the bit as usual, only some of his tongue came out and stayed out. "Wot's up w' y'?" and Dad tried to poke it in with his finger, but it came out further, and some chewed grass dropped into his hand. Dad started to lead him then, or rather to PULL him, and at the first tug he have the reins Ned woke with a snort and broke away. And when the other horses saw him looking at Dad with his tail cocked, and his head up, and the bridle-reins hanging, they went for their lives through the trees, and Blossom's foal got staked.
Another day Dad was out on Ned, looking for the red heifer, and came across two men fencing—a tall, powerful-looking man with a beard, and a slim young fellow with a smooth face. Also a kangaroo-pup. As Dad slowly approached, Ned swaying from side to side with his nose to the ground, the elder man drove the crowbar into the earth and stared as if he had never seen a man on horseback before. The young fellow sat on a log and stared too. The pup ran behind a tree and growled.
"Seen any cattle round here?" Dad asked.
"No," the man said, and grinned.
"Did n't notice a red heifer?"
"No," grinning more.
The kangaroo-pup left the tree and sniffed at Ned's heels.
"Won't kick, will he?" said the man.
The young fellow broke into a loud laugh and fell off the log.
"No," Dad replied—"he's PERFECTLY quiet."
"He LOOKS quiet."
The young fellow took a fit of coughing.
After a pause. "Well, you did n't see any about, then?" and Dad wheeled Ned round to go away.
"No, I DID N'T, old man," the other answered, and snatched hold of Ned's tail and hung back with all his might. Ned grunted and strained and tore the ground up with his toes; Dad spurred and leathered him with a strap, looking straight ahead. The man hung on. "Come 'long," Dad said. The pup barked. "COME 'long with YER!" Dad said. The young fellow fell off the log again. Ned's tail cracked. Dad hit him between the ears. The tail cracked again. A piece of it came off; then Ned stumbled and went on his head. "What the DEVIL——!" Dad said, looking round. But only the young fellow was laughing.
Nell was different from Ned. She was a bay, with yellow flanks and a lump under her belly; a bright eye, lop ears, and heavy, hairy legs. She was a very wise mare. It was wonderful how much she know. She knew when she was wanted; and she would go away the night before and get lost. And she knew when she was n't wanted; then she'd hang about the back-door licking a hole in the ground where the dish-water was thrown, or fossicking at the barn for the corn Dad had hidden, or scratching her neck or her rump against the cultivation paddock slip-rails. She always scratched herself against those slip-rails—sometimes for hours—always until they fell down. Then she'd walk in and eat. And how she COULD eat!
As a hack, Nell was unreliable. You could n't reckon with certainty on getting her to start. All depended on the humour she was in and the direction you wished to take—mostly the direction. If towards the grass-paddock or the dam, she was off helter-skelter. If it was n't, she'd go on strike—put her head down and chew the bit. Then, when you'd get to work on her with a waddy—which we always did—she'd walk backwards into the house and frighten Mother, or into the waterhole and dirty the water. Dad said it was the fault of the cove who broke her in. Dad was a just man. The "cove" was a union shearer—did it for four shillings and six pence. Wanted five bob, but Dad beat him down. Anybody else would have asked a pound.
When Nell DID make up her mind to go, it was with a rush, and, if the slip-rails were on the ground, she'd refuse to take them. She'd stand and look out into the lane. You'd have to get off and drag the rails aside (about twenty, counting broken ones). Then she'd fancy they were up, and would shake her head and mark time until you dug your heels into her; then she'd gather herself together and jump high enough for a show—over nothing!
Dave was to ride Nell to town one Christmas to see the sports. He had n't seen any sports before, and went to bed excited and rose in the middle of the night to start. He dressed in the dark, and we heard him going out, because he fell over Sandy and Kate. They had come on a visit, and were sleeping on the floor in the front room. We also heard him throw the slip-rails down.
There was a heavy fog that morning. At breakfast we talked about Dave, and Dad "s'posed" he would just about be getting in; but an hour or two after breakfast the fog cleared, and we saw Dave in the lane hammering Nell with a stick. Nell had her rump to the fence and was trying hard to kick it down. Dad went to him. "Take her gently; take her GENTLY, boy," he shouted. "PSHAW! take her GENTLY!" Dave shouted back. "Here"—he jumped off her and handed Dad the reins—"take her away and cut her throat." Then he cried, and then he picked up a big stone and rushed at Nell's head. But Dad interfered.
But the day Dad mounted Nell to bring a doctor to Anderson! She started away smartly—the wrong road. Dad jerked her mouth and pulled her round roughly. He was in a hurry—Nell was n't. She stood and shook her head and switched her tail. Dad rattled a waddy on her and jammed his heels hard against her ribs. She dropped her head and cow-kicked. Then he coaxed her. "Come on, old girl," he said; "come on,"—and patted her on the neck. She liked being patted. That exasperated Dad. He hit her on the head with his fist. Joe ran out with a long stick. He poked her in the flank. Nell kicked the stick out of his hands and bolted towards the dam. Dad pulled and swore as she bore him along. And when he did haul her in, he was two hundred yards further from the doctor. Dad turned her round and once more used the waddy. Nell was obdurate, Dad exhausted. Joe joined them, out of breath. He poked Nell with the stick again. She "kicked up." Dad lost his balance. Joe laughed. Dad said, "St-o-op!" Joe was energetic. So was Nell. She kicked up again—strong—and Dad fell off.
"Wot, could'n' y' s-s-s-stick to 'er, Dad?" Joe asked.
"STICK BE DAMNED—run—CATCH her!—D——N y'!"
Dad made another start, and this time Nell went willingly. Dad was leading her!
Those two old horses are dead now. They died in the summer when there was lots of grass and water—just when Dad had broken them into harness—just when he was getting a good team together to draw logs for the new railway line!
The Cow We Bought.
When Dad received two hundred pounds for the wheat he saw nothing but success and happiness ahead. His faith in the farm and farming swelled. Dad was not a pessimist—when he had two hundred pounds.
"Say what they like," he held forth to Anderson and two other men across the rails one evening—"talk how they will about it, there's money to be made at farming. Let a man WORK and use his HEAD and know what to sow and when to sow it, and he MUST do well." (Anderson stroked his beard in grave silence; HE had had no wheat). "Why, once a farmer gets on at all he's the most independent man in the whole country."
"Yes! Once he DOES!" drawled one of the men,—a weird, withered fellow with a scraggy beard and a reflective turn of mind.
"Jusso," Dad went on, "but he must use his HEAD; it's all in th' head." (He tapped his own skull with his finger). "Where would I be now if I had n't used me head this last season?"
He paused for an answer. None came.
"I say," he continued, "it's a mistake to think nothing's to be made at farming, and any man" ("Come to supper, D—AD!"—'t was Sal's voice) "ought t' get on where there's land like this."
"LAND!" said the same man—"where IS it?"
"Where IS it?" Dad warmed up—"where IS N'T it? Is n't this land?" (Looking all round.) "Is n't the whole country land from one end to the other? And is there another country like it anywhere?"
"There is n't!" said the man.
"Is there any other country in th' WORLD" (Dad lifted his voice) "where a man, if he likes, can live" ("Dad, tea!") "without a shilling in his pocket and without doing a tap of work from one year's end to the other?"
Anderson did n't quite understand, and the weird man asked Dad if he meant "in gaol."
"I mean," Dad said, "that no man should starve in this country when there's kangaroos and bears and"—(Joe came and stood beside Dad and asked him if he was DEAF)—"and goannas and snakes in thousands. Look here!" (still to the weird man), "you say that farming"—(Mother, bare-headed, came out and stood beside Joe, and asked Anderson if Mrs. Anderson had got a nurse yet, and Anderson smiled and said he believed another son had just arrived, but he had n't seen it)—"that farming don't pay"—(Sal came along and stood near Mother and asked Anderson who the baby was like)—"don't pay in this country?"
The man nodded.
"It will pay any man who——"
Anderson's big dog had wandered to the house, and came back with nearly all that was for supper in his mouth.
"DROP IT—DROP IT, Bob!" Anderson shouted, giving chase. Bob dropped it on the road.
"DAMN IT!" said Dad, glaring at Mother, "wot d' y' ALL want out 'ere?...Y-YOU brute!" (to the dog, calmly licking its lips).
Then Anderson and the two men went away.
But when we had paid sixty pounds to the storekeeper and thirty pounds in interest; and paid for the seed and the reaping and threshing of the wheat; and bought three plough-horses, and a hack for Dave; and a corn-sheller, and a tank, and clothes for us all; and put rations in the house; and lent Anderson five pounds; and improved Shingle Hut; and so on; very little of the two hundred pounds was left.
Mother spoke of getting a cow. The children, she said, could n't live without milk and when Dad heard from Johnson and Dwyer that Eastbrook dairy cattle were to be sold at auction, he said he would go down and buy one.
Very early. The stars had scarcely left the sky. There was a lot of groping and stumbling about the room. Dad and Dave had risen and were preparing to go to the sale.
I don't remember if the sky was golden or gorgeous at all, or if the mountain was clothed in mist, or if any fragrance came from the wattle-trees when they were leaving; but Johnson, without hat or boots, was picking splinters off the slabs of his hut to start his fire with, and a mile further on Smith's dog was barking furiously. He was a famous barker. Smith trained him to it to keep the wallabies off. Smith used to chain him to a tree in the paddock and hang a piece of meat to the branches, and leave him there all night.
Dad and Dave rode steadily along and arrived at Eastbrook before mid-day. The old station was on its last legs. "The flags were flying half-mast high." A crowd of people were there. Cart-horses with harness on, and a lot of tired-looking saddle-hacks, covered with dry sweat, were fastened to cart-wheels, and to every available post and place. Heaps of old iron, broken-down drays and buggies and wheel-barrows, pumps and pieces of machinery, which Dad reckoned were worth a lot of money, were scattered about. Dad yearned to gather them all up and cart them home. Rows of unshaven men were seated high on the rails of the yards. The yards were filled with cattle—cows, heifers, bulls, and calves, all separate—bellowing, and, in a friendly way, raking skins and hair off each other with their horns.
The station-manager, with a handful of papers and a pencil behind his ear, hurried here and there, followed by some of the crowd, who asked him questions which he did n't answer. Dad asked him if this was the place where the sale was to be. He looked all over Dad.
A man rang a bell violently, shouting, "This way for the dairy cows!" Dad went that way, closely followed by Dave, who was silent and strange. A boy put a printed catalogue into Dad's hand, which he was doubtful about keeping until he saw Andy Percil with one. Most of the men seated on the rails jumped down into an empty yard and stood round in a ring. In one corner the auctioneer mounted a box, and read the conditions of sale, and talked hard about the breed of the cattle. Then:
"How much for the imported cow, Silky? No.1 on the catalogue. How much to start her, gentlemen?"
Silky rushed into the yard with a shower of sticks flying after her and glared about, finally fixing her gaze on Dad, who was trying to find her number in the catalogue.
"A pure-bred 'Heereford,' four years old, by The Duke out of Dolly, to calve on the eighth of next month," said the auctioneer. "How much to start her?"
All silent. Buyers looked thoughtful. The auctioneer ran his restless eyes over them.
Dad and Dave held a whispered consultation; then Dad made a movement. The auctioneer caught his eye and leant forward.
"FIVE BOB!" Dad shouted. There was a loud laugh. The auctioneer frowned. "We're selling COWS, old man," he said, "not running a shilling-table."
More laughter. It reached Dave's heart, and he wished he had n't come with Dad.
Someone bid five pounds, someone else six; seven-eight-nine went round quickly, and Silky was sold for ten pounds.
"Beauty" rushed in.
Two station-hands passed among the crowd, each with a bucket of beer and some glasses. Dad hesitated when they came to him, and said he did n't care about it. Dave the same.
Dad ran "Beauty" to three pound ten shillings (all the money he had), and she was knocked down at twelve pounds.
Bidding became lively.
Dave had his eye on the men with the beer—he was thirsty. He noticed no one paid for what was drunk, and whispered his discovery to Dad. When the beer came again, Dad reached out and took a glass. Dave took one also.