On Our Selection
Steele Rudd (Arthur Hoey Davis)
Part 3 out of 3
Dad rushed "Dummy." "Three poun' ten," he said, eagerly.
The auctioneer rushed Dad. "YOURS," he said, bringing his hammer down
with a bang; "you deserve her, old man!" And the station-manager chuckled
and took Dad's name--and Dad's money.
Dad was very pleased, and eager to start home. He went and found Dave,
who was asleep in a hay-stack, and along with Steven Burton they drove the
cow home, and yarded her in the dark.
Mother and Sal heard the noise, and came with a light to see Dad's
purchase, but as they approached "Dummy" threatened to carry the yard away
on her back, and Dad ordered them off.
Dad secured the rails by placing logs and the harrow against them, then
went inside and told Mother what a bargain he'd made.
In the morning Dad took a bucket and went to milk "Dummy." All of us
accompanied him. He crawled through the rails while "Dummy" tore the
earth with her fore-feet and threw lumps of it over the yard. But she
was n't so wild as she seemed, and when Dad went to work on her with a big
stick she walked into the bail quietly enough. Then he sat to milk her,
and when he took hold of her teats she broke the leg-rope and kicked him
clean off the block and tangled her leg in the bucket and made a great
noise with it. Then she bellowed and reared in the bail and fell down,
her head screwed the wrong way, and lay with her tongue out moaning.
Dad rose and spat out dirt.
"Dear me!" Mother said. "it's a WILD cow y' bought."
"Not at all," Dad answered; "she's a bit touchy, that's all."
"She tut-tut--TUTCHED YOU orright, Dad," Joe said from the top of the yard.
Dad looked up. "Get down outer THAT!" he yelled. "No wonder the damn
Joe got down.
Dad brought "Dummy" to her senses with a few heavy kicks on her nose, and
proceeded to milk her again. "Dummy" kicked and kicked. Dad tugged and
tugged at her teats, but no milk came. Dad could n't understand it.
"Must be frettin'," he said.
Joe owned a pet calf about a week old which lived on water and a long rope.
Dad told him to fetch it to see if it would suck. Joe fetched it, and it
sucked ravenously at "Dummy's" flank, and joyfully wagged its tail.
"Dummy" resented it. She plunged until the leg-rope parted again, when
the calf got mixed up in her legs, and she trampled it in the ground. Joe
took it away. Dad turned "Dummy" out and bailed her up the next day--and
every day for a week--with the same result. Then he sent for Larry
O'Laughlin, who posed as a cow doctor.
"She never give a drop in her life," Larry said. "Them's BLIND tits she
Dad one day sold "Dummy" for ten shillings and bought a goat, which
Johnson shot on his cultivation and made Dad drag away.
The Parson and the Scone.
It was dinner-time. And were n't we hungry!--particularly Joe! He was
kept from school that day to fork up hay-work hard enough for a man--too
hard for some men--but in many things Joe was more than a man's equal.
Eating was one of them. We were all silent. Joe ate ravenously. The
meat and pumpkin disappeared, and the pile of hot scones grew rapidly
less. Joe regarded it with anxiety. He stole sly glances at Dad and at
Dave and made a mental calculation. Then he fixed his eyes longingly on
the one remaining scone, and ate faster and faster....Still silence.
Joe glanced again at Dad.
The dogs outside barked. Those inside, lying full-stretch beneath the
table, instantly darted up and rushed out. One of them carried off little
Bill--who was standing at the table with his legs spread out and a pint
of tea in his hand--as far as the door on its back, and there scraped him
off and spilled tea over him. Dad spoke. He said, "Damn the dogs!" Then
he rose and looked out the window. We all rose--all except Joe. Joe
reached for the last scone.
A horseman dismounted at the slip-rails.
"Some stranger," Dad muttered, turning to re-seat himself.
"Why, it's--it's the minister!" Sal cried--"the minister that married
Dad nearly fell over. "Good God!" was all he said, and stared hopelessly
at Mother. The minister--for sure enough it was the Rev. Daniel
Macpherson--was coming in. There was commotion. Dave finished his tea at
a gulp, put on his hat, and left by the back-door. Dad would have
followed, but hesitated, and so was lost. Mother was restless--"on pins
"And there ain't a bite to offer him," she cried, dancing hysterically
about the table--"not a bite; nor a plate, nor a knife, nor a fork to eat
it with!" There was humour in Mother at times. It came from the father's
side. He was a dentist.
Only Joe was unconcerned. He was employed on the last scone. He commenced
it slowly. He wished it to last till night. His mouth opened and received
it fondly. He buried his teeth in it and lingered lovingly over it.
Mother's eyes happened to rest on him. Her face brightened. She flew at
Joe and cried:
"Give me that scone!--put it back on the table this minute!"
Joe became concerned. He was about to protest. Mother seized him by the
hair (which had n't been cut since Dan went shearing) and hissed:
"Put--it--back--sir!" Joe put it back.
The minister came in. Dad said he was pleased to see him--poor Dad!--and
enquired if he had had dinner. The parson had not, but said he did n't
want any, and implored Mother not to put herself about on his account.
He only required a cup of tea--nothing else whatever. Mother was
delighted, and got the tea gladly. Still she was not satisfied. She
would be hospitable. She said:
"Won't you try a scone with it, Mr. Macpherson?" And the parson said he
Mother passed the rescued scone along, and awkwardly apologised for the
absence of plates. She explained that the Andersons were threshing their
wheat, and had borrowed all our crockery and cutlery--everybody's, in
fact, in the neighbourhood--for the use of the men. Such was the custom
round our way. But the minister did n't mind. On the contrary, he
commended everybody for fellowship and good-feeling, and felt sure that
the district would be rewarded.
It took the Rev. Macpherson no time to polish off the scone. When the
last of it was disappearing Mother became uneasy again. So did Dad. He
stared through the window at the parson's sleepy-looking horse, fastened
to the fence. Dad wished to heaven it would break away, or drop dead, or
do anything to provide him with an excuse to run out. But it was a
faithful steed. It stood there leaning on its forehead against a post.
There was a brief silence.
Then the minister joked about his appetite--at which only Joe could afford
to smile--and asked, "May I trouble you for just another scone?"
Mother muttered something like "Yes, of course," and went out to the
kitchen just as if there had been some there. Dad was very uncomfortable.
He patted the floor with the flat of his foot and wondered what would
happen next. Nothing happened for a good while. The minister sipped and
sipped his tea till none was left...
Dad said: "I'll see what's keeping her," and rose--glad if ever man was
glad--to get away. He found Mother seated on the ironbark table in the
kitchen. They did n't speak. They looked at each other sympathisingly.
"Well?" Dad whispered at last; "what are you going to do?" Mother shook
her head. She did n't know.
"Tell him straight there ain't any, an' be done with it," was Dad's
cheerful advice. Mother several times approached the door, but hesitated
and returned again.
"What are you afraid of?" Dad would ask; "he won't eat y'." Finally she
Then Dad tiptoed to the door and listened. He was listening eagerly when
a lump of earth--a piece of the cultivation paddock--fell dangerously near
his feet. It broke and scattered round him, and rattled inside against
the papered wall. Dad jumped round. A row of jackasses on a tree near by
laughed merrily. Dad looked up. They stopped. Another one laughed
clearly from the edge of the tall corn. Dad turned his head. It was
Dave. Dad joined him, and they watched the parson mount his horse and
Dad drew a deep and grateful breath. "Thank God!" he said.
It was the year we put the bottom paddock under potatoes. Dad was
standing contemplating the tops, which were withering for want of rain.
He shifted his gaze to the ten acres sown with corn. A dozen stalks or so
were looking well; a few more, ten or twelve inches high, were coming in
cob; the rest had n't made an appearance.
Dad sighed and turned away from the awful prospect. He went and looked
into the water-cask. Two butterflies, a frog or two, and some charcoal
were at the bottom. No water. He sighed again, took the yoke and two
kerosene-tins, and went off to the springs.
About an hour and a half after he returned with two half-tins of muddy,
milky-looking water--the balance had been splashed out as he got through
the fences--and said to Mother (wiping the sweat off his face with his
"Don't know, I'm SURE, what things are going t' come t';...no use doing
anything...there's no rain...no si----" he lifted his foot and with cool
exactness took a place-kick at the dog, which was trying to fall into one
of the kerosene-tins, head first, and sent it and the water flying.
"Oh you ----!" The rest is omitted in the interests of Poetry.
Day after. Fearful heat; not a breath of air; fowl and beast sought the
shade; everything silent; the great Bush slept. In the west a stray cloud
or two that had been hanging about gathered, thickened, darkened.
The air changed. Fowl and beast left the shade; tree-tops began to
stir--to bend--to sway violently. Small branches flew down and rolled
before the wind. Presently it thundered afar off. Mother and Sal ran out
and gathered the clothes, and fixed the spout, and looked cheerfully up at
Joe sat in the chimney-corner thumping the ribs of a cattle-pup, and
pinching its ears to make it savage. He had been training the pup ever
since its arrival that morning.
The plough-horses, yoked to the plough, stood in the middle of the paddock,
beating the flies off with their tails and leaning against each other.
Dad stood at the stock-yard--his brown arms and bearded chin resting on a
middle-rail--passively watching Dave and Paddy Maloney breaking-in a colt
for Callaghan--a weedy, wild, herring-gutted brute that might have been
worth fifteen shillings. Dave was to have him to hack about for six
months in return for the breaking-in. Dave was acquiring a local
reputation for his skill in handling colts.
They had been at "Callaghan"--as they christened the colt--since daylight,
pretty well; and had crippled old Moll and lamed Maloney's Dandy, and
knocked up two they borrowed from Anderson--yarding the rubbish; and there
was n't a fence within miles of the place that he had n't tumbled over and
smashed. But, when they did get him in, they lost no time commencing to
quieten him. They cursed eloquently, and threw the bridle at him, and
used up all the missiles and bits of hard mud and sticks about the yard,
pelting him because he would n't stand.
Dave essayed to rope him "the first shot," and nearly poked his eye out
with the pole; and Paddy Maloney, in attempting to persuade the affrighted
beast to come out of the cow-bail, knocked the cap of its hip down with
the milking-block. They caught him then and put the saddle on. Callaghan
trembled. When the girths were tightened they put the reins under the
leathers, and threw their hats at him, and shouted, and "hooshed" him
round the yard, expecting he would buck with the saddle. But Callaghan
only trotted into a corner and snorted. Usually, a horse that won't buck
with a saddle is a "snag." Dave knew it. The chestnut he tackled for
Brown did nothing with the saddle. HE was a snag. Dave remembered him
and reflected. Callaghan walked boldly up to Dave, with his head high in
the air, and snorted at him. He was a sorry-looking animal--cuts and
scars all over him; hip down; patches and streaks of skin and hair missing
from his head. "No buck in him!" unctuously observed Dad, without lifting
his chin off the rail. "Ain't there?" said Paddy Maloney, grinning
cynically. "Just you wait!"
It seemed to take the heart out of Dave, but he said nothing. He hitched
his pants and made a brave effort to spit--several efforts. And he turned
Paddy was now holding Callaghan's head at arms'-length by the bridle and
one ear, for Dave to mount.
A sharp crack of thunder went off right overhead. Dave did n't hear it.
"Hello!" Dad said, "We're going to have it--hurry up!"
Dave did n't hear him. He approached the horse's side and nervously tried
the surcingle--a greenhide one of Dad's workmanship. "Think that'll hold?"
he mumbled meekly.
"Pshaw!" Dad blurted through the rails--" Hold! Of course it'll hold--hold
a team o' bullocks, boy."
"'S all right, Dave; 's all right--git on!" From Paddy Maloney, impatiently.
Paddy, an out-and-out cur amongst horses himself, was anxious to be
relieved of the colt's head. Young horses sometimes knock down the man
who is holding them. Paddy was aware of it.
Dave took the reins carefully, and was about to place his foot in the
stirrup when his restless eye settled on a wire-splice in the crupper--also
Dad's handiwork. He hesitated and commenced a remark. But Dad was
restless; Paddy Maloney anxious (as regarded himself); besides, the storm
Dad said: "Damn it, what are y' 'FRAID o', boy? THAT'll hold--jump on."
Paddy said: "NOW, Dave, while I've 'is 'ead round."
Joe (just arrived with the cattle-pup) chipped in.
He said: "Wot, is he fuf-fuf-fuf-f-rikent of him, Dad?"
Dave heard them. A tear like a hailstone dropped out of his eye.
"It's all damn well t' TALK," he fired off; "come in and RIDE th'----horse
then, if y' s'----GAME!"
A dead silence.
The cattle-pup broke away from Joe and strolled into the yard. It barked
feebly at Callaghan, then proceeded to worry his heels. It seemed to take
Callaghan for a calf. Callaghan kicked it up against the rails. It must
have taken him for a cow then.
Dave's blood was up. He was desperate. He grabbed the reins roughly, put
his foot in the stirrup, gripped the side of the pommel, and was on before
you could say "Woolloongabba."
With equal alacrity, Paddy let the colt's head go and made tracks,
chuckling. The turn things had taken delighted him. Excitement (and
pumpkin) was all that kept Paddy alive. But Callaghan did n't budge--at
least not until Dave dug both heels into him. Then he made a blind rush
and knocked out a panel of the yard--and got away with Dave. Off he went,
plunging, galloping, pig-jumping, breaking loose limbs and bark off trees
with Dave's legs. A wire-fence was in his way. It parted like the Red
Sea when he came to it--he crashed into it and rolled over. The saddle
was dangling under his belly when he got up; Dave and the bridle were
under the fence. But the storm had come, and such a storm! Hailstones as
big as apples nearly--first one here and there, and next moment in
Paddy Maloney and Joe ran for the house; Dave, with an injured ankle and a
cut head, limped painfully in the same direction; but Dad saw the
plough-horses turning and twisting about in their chains and set out for
them. He might as well have started off the cross the continent. A
hailstone, large enough to kill a cow, fell with a thud a yard or two in
advance of him, and he slewed like a hare and made for the house also. He
was getting it hot. Now and again his hands would go up to protect his
head, but he could n't run that way--he could n't run much any way.
The others reached the house and watched Dad make from the back-door.
Mother called to him to "Run, run!" Poor Dad! He was running. Paddy
Maloney was joyful. He danced about and laughed vociferously at the hail
bouncing off Dad. Once Dad staggered--a hail-boulder had struck him
behind the ear--and he looked like dropping. Paddy hit himself on the
leg, and vehemently invited Dave to "Look, LOOK at him!" But Dad battled
along to the haystack, buried his head in it, and stayed there till the
storm was over--wriggling and moving his feet as though he were tramping
Shingles were dislodged from the roof of the house, and huge hailstones
pelted in and put the fire out, and split the table, and fell on the sofa
and the beds.
Rain fell also, but we did n't catch any in the cask--the wind blew the
spout away. It was a curled piece of bark. Nevertheless, the storm did
good. We did n't lose ALL the potatoes. We got SOME out of them. We had
them for dinner one Sunday.
The Agricultural Reporter.
It had been a dull, miserable day, and a cold westerly was blowing. Dave
and Joe were at the barn finishing up for the day.
Dad was inside grunting and groaning with toothache. He had had it a week,
and was nearly mad. For a while he sat by the fire, prodding the tooth
with his pocket-knife; then he covered his jaw with his hand and went out
and walked about the yard.
Joe asked him if he had seen Nell's foal anywhere that day. He did n't
"Did y' see the brown foal any place ter-day, Dad?"
"Damn the brown foal!"--and Dad went inside again.
He walked round and round the table and in and out the back room till
Mother nearly cried with pity.
"Is n't it any easier at all, Father?" she said commiseratingly.
"How the devil can it be easier?...Oh-h!"
The kangaroo-dog had coiled himself snugly on a bag before the fire. Dad
kicked him savagely and told him to get out. The dog slunk sulkily to the
door, his tail between his legs, and his back humped as if expecting
another kick. He got it. Dad sat in the ashes then, and groaned
lamentably. The dog walked in at the back door and dropped on the bag
Joe came in to say that "Two coves out there wants somethink."
Dad paid no attention.
The two "coves"--a pressman, in new leggings, and Canty, the
storekeeper--came in. Mother brought a light. Dad moaned, but did n't
"Well, Mr. Rudd," the pressman commenced (he was young and fresh-looking),
"I'm from the (something-or-other) office. I'm--er--after information
about the crops round here. I suppose--er----"
"Oh-h-h!" Dad groaned, opening his mouth over the fire, and pressing the
tooth hard with his thumb.
The pressman stared at him for awhile; then grinned at the storekeeper,
and made a derisive face at Dad's back. Then--"What have you got in this
season, Mr. Rudd? Wheat?"
"I don't know....Oh-h--it's awful!"
"Did n't think toothache so bad as THAT," said the man of news, airily,
addressing Mother. "Never had it much myself, you see!"
He looked at Dad again; then winked slyly at Canty, and said to Dad, in an
altered tone: "Whisky's a good thing for it, old man, if you've got any."
Nothing but a groan came from Dad, but Mother shook her head sadly in the
"Any oil of tar?"
Mother brightened up. "There's a little oil in the house," she said,
"but I don't know if we've any tar. Is there, Joe--in that old drum?"
The Press looked out the window. Dad commenced to butcher his gums with
the pocket-knife, and threatened to put the fire out with blood and saliva.
"Let's have a look at the tooth, old man," the pressman said,
"Pooh!--I'll take that out in one act!"...To Joe--"Got a good strong piece
Joe could n't find a piece of string, but produced a kangaroo-tail sinew
that had been tied round a calf's neck.
The pressman was enthusiastic. He buzzed about and talked dentistry in a
most learned manner. Then he had another squint at Dad's tooth.
"Sit on the floor here," he said, "and I won't be a second. You'll feel
next to no pain."
Dad complied like a lamb.
"Hold the light down here, missis--a little lower. You gentlemen" (to
Canty and Dave) "look after his legs and arms. Now, let your head come
back--right back, and open your mouth--wide as you can." Dad obeyed,
groaning the whole time. It was a bottom-tooth, and the dentist stood
behind Dad and bent over him to fasten the sinew round it. Then, twisting
it on his wrist, he began to "hang on" with both hands. Dad struggled and
groaned--then broke into a bellow and roared like a wild beast. But the
dentist only said, "Keep him down!" and the others kept him down.
Dad's neck was stretching like a gander's, and it looked as if his head
would come off. The dentist threw his shoulders into it like a crack
oarsman--there was a crack, a rip, a tear, and, like a young tree leaving
the ground, two huge, ugly old teeth left Dad's jaw on the end of that
"Holy!" cried the dentist, surprised, and we stared. Little Bill made for
the teeth; so did Joe, and there was a fight under the table.
Dad sat in a lump on the floor propping himself up with his hands; his
head dropped forward, and he spat feebly on the floor.
The pressman laughed and slapped Dad on the back, and asked "How do you
feel, old boy?" Dad shook his head and spat and spat. But presently he
wiped his eyes with his shirt-sleeve and looked up. The pressman told
Mother she ought to be proud of Dad. Dad struggled to his feet then, pale
but smiling. The pressman shook hands with him, and in no time Dad was
laughing and joking over the operation. A pleased look was in Mother's
face; happiness filled the home again, and we grew quite fond of that
pressman--he was so jolly and affable, and made himself so much at home,
"Now, sit over, and we'll have supper," said Dad, proud of having some
fried steak to offer the visitors. We had killed a cow the evening
before--one that was always getting bogged in the dam and taking up much
of Dad's time dragging her out and cutting greenstuff to keep her alive.
The visitors enjoyed her. The pressman wanted salt. None was on the
table. Dad told Joe to run and get some--to be quick. Joe went out, but
in a while returned. He stood at the door with the hammer in his hand
"Did you shift the r-r-r-rock-salt from where S-Spotty was lickin' it this
Dave reached for the bread.
"Don't bother--don't bother about it," said the pressman. "Sit down,
youngster, and finish your supper."
"No bother at all," Dad said; but Joe sat down, and Dad scowled at him.
Then Dad got talking about wheat and wallabies--when, all at once, the
pressman gave a jump that rattled the things on the table.
"Oh-h-h!...I'VE got it now!" he said, dropping his knife and fork and
clapping his hands over his mouth. "Ooh!"
We looked at him. "Got what?" Dad asked, a gleam of satisfaction
appearing in his eyes.
"The toothache!--the d----d toothache!...Oh-h!"
"Ha! ha! Hoo! hoo! hoo!" Dad roared. In fact, we all roared--all but the
pressman. "OH-H!" he said, and went to the fire. Dad laughed some more.
We ate on. The pressman continued to moan.
Dad turned on his seat. "What paper, mister, do you say you come from?"
"Well, let me see; I'll have in altogether, I daresay, this year, about
thirty-five acres of wheat--I suppose as good a wheat----"
"Damn the wheat!...OOH!"
"Eh!" said Dad, "why, I never thought toothache was THET bad! You reminds
me of this old cow we be eatin'. SHE moaned just like thet all the time
she was layin' in the gully, afore I knocked 'er on the head."
Canty, the storekeeper, looked up quickly, and the pressman looked round
slowly--both at Dad.
"Here," continued Dad--"let's have a look at yer tooth, old man!"
The pressman rose. His face was flushed and wild-looking. "Come on out
of this--for God's sake!" he said to Canty--"if you're ready."
"What," said Dad, hospitably, "y're not going, surely!" But they were.
"Well, then--thirty-five acres of wheat, I have, and" (putting his head
out the door and calling after them) "NEXT year--next year, all being
well, please God, I'll have SIXTY!"
A Lady at Shingle Hut.
Miss Ribbone had just arrived.
She was the mistress of the local school, and had come to board with us a
month. The parents of the score of more of youngsters attending the
school had arranged to accommodate her, month about, and it was our turn.
And did n't Mother just load us up how we were to behave--particularly Joe.
Dad lumbered in the usual log for the fire, and we all helped him throw it
on--all except the schoolmistress. Poor thing! She would have injured
her long, miserable, putty-looking fingers! Such a contrast between her
and Sal! Then we sat down to supper--that old familiar repast, hot meat
Somehow we did n't feel quite at home; but Dad got on well. He talked
away learnedly to Miss Ribbone about everything. Told her, without
swearing once, how, when at school in the old country, he fought the
schoolmaster and leathered him well. A pure lie, but an old favourite of
Dad's, and one that never failed to make Joe laugh. He laughed now. And
such a laugh!--a loud, mirthless, merciless noise. No one else joined in,
though Miss Ribbone smiled a little. When Joe recovered he held out
"More pumpkin, Dad."
"If--what, sir?" Dad was prompting him in manners.
"IF?" and Joe laughed again. "Who said 'if'?--I never."
Just then Miss Ribbone sprang to her feet, knocking over the box she had
been sitting on, and stood for a time as though she had seen a ghost. We
stared at her. "Oh," she murmured at last, "it was the dog! It gave me
such a fright!"
Mother sympathised with her and seated her again, and Dad fixed his eye
"Did n't I tell you," he said, "to keep that useless damned mongrel of a
dog outside the house altogether--eh?--did n't I? Go this moment and tie
the brute up, you vagabond!"
"I did tie him up, but he chewed the greenhide."
"Be off with you, you--" (Dad coughed suddenly and scattered fragments of
meat and munched pumpkin about the table) "at once, and do as I tell you,
"That'll do, Father--that'll do," Mother said gently, and Joe took Stump
out to the barn and kicked him, and hit him against the corn-sheller, and
threatened to put him through it if he did n't stop squealing.
He was a small dog, a dog that was always on the watch--for meat; a
shrewd, intelligent beast that never barked at anyone until he got inside
and well under the bed. Anyway, he had taken a fancy to Miss Ribbone's
stocking, which had fallen down while he was lying under the table, and
commenced to worry it. Then he discovered she had a calf, and started to
eat THAT. She did n't tell US though--she told Mrs. Macpherson, who
imparted the secret to mother. I suppose Stump did n't understand
stockings, because neither Mother nor Sal ever wore any, except to a
picnic or somebody's funeral; and that was very seldom. The Creek was n't
much of a place for sport.
"I hope as you'll be comfortable, my dear," Mother observed as she showed
the young lady the back-room where she was to sleep. "It ain't s' nice as
we should like to have it f' y'; we had n't enough spare bags to line it
all with, but the cracks is pretty well stuffed up with husks an' one
thing an' 'nother, and I don't think you'll find any wind kin get in.
Here's a bear-skin f' your feet, an' I've nailed a bag up so no one kin
see-in in the morning. S' now, I think you'll be pretty snug."
The schoolmistress cast a distressed look at the waving bag-door and said:
"Th-h-ank you-very much."
What a voice! I've heard kittens that had n't their eyes open make a
Mother must have put all the blessed blankets in the house on the
school-teacher's bed. I don't know what she had on her own, but we only
had the old bag-quilt and a stack of old skirts, and other remnants of the
family wardrobe, on ours. In the middle of the night, the whole confounded
pile of them rolled off, and we nearly froze. Do what we boys would--tie
ourselves in knots and coil into each other like ropes--we could n't get
warm. We sat up in the bed in turns, and glared into the darkness towards
the schoolmistress's room, which was n't more than three yards away; then
we would lie back again and shiver. We were having a time. But at last
we heard a noise from the young lady's room. We listened--all we knew.
Miss Ribbone was up and dressing. We could hear her teeth chattering and
her knees knocking together. Then we heard her sneak back to bed again
and felt disappointed and colder than ever, for we had hoped she was
getting up early, and would n't want the bed any longer that night. Then
we too crawled out and dressed and tried it that way.
In answer to Mother at breakfast, next morning, Miss Ribbone said she had
"slept very well indeed."
We did n't say anything.
She was n't much of an eater. School-teachers are n't as a rule. They
pick, and paw, and fiddle round a meal in a way that gives a
healthy-appetited person the jim-jams. She did n't touch the fried
pumpkin. And the way she sat there at the table in her watch-chain and
ribbons made poor old Dave, who sat opposite her in a ragged shirt without
a shirt-button, feel quite miserable and awkward.
For a whole week she did n't take anything but bread and tea--though there
was always plenty good pumpkin and all that. Mother used to speak to Dad
about it, and wonder if she ate the little pumpkin-tarts she put up for
her lunch. Dad could n't understand anyone not eating pumpkin, and said
HE'D tackle GRASS before he'd starve.
"And did ever y' see such a object?" Mother went on. "The hands an' arms
on her! Dear me! Why, I do believe if our Sal was to give her one
squeeze she'd kill her. Oh, but the finery and clothes! Y' never see the
like! Just look at her!" And Dad, the great oaf, with Joe at his heels,
followed her into the young lady's bedroom.
"Look at that!" said Mother, pointing to a couple of dresses hanging on a
nail--"she wears THEM on week-days, no less; and here" (raising the lid of
a trunk and exposing a pile of clean and neatly-folded clothing that might
have been anything, and drawing the articles forth one by one)--"look at
them! There's that--and that--and this--and----"
"I say, what's this, Mother?" interrupted Joe, holding up something he had
"Don't bother me, boy, it's her tooth-brush," and Mother pitched the
clothes back into the trunk and glared round. Meanwhile, Joe was hard at
his teeth with the brush.
"Oh, here!" and she dived at the bed and drew a night-gown from beneath
the pillow, unfolded it, and held it up by the neck for inspection.
Dad, with his huge, ungainly, hairy paws behind him, stood mute, like the
great pitiful elephant he was, and looked at the tucks and the
rest--stupidly. "Where before did y'ever see such tucks and frills and
lace on a night-shirt? Why, you'd think 't were for goin' to picnics in,
'stead o' goin' to bed with. Here, too! here's a pair of brand new stays,
besides the ones she's on her back. Clothes!--she's nothin' else but
Then they came out, and Joe began to spit and said he thought there must
have been something on that brush.
Miss Ribbone did n't stay the full month--she left at the end of the
second week; and Mother often used to wonder afterwards why the creature
never came to see us.
The Man with the Bear-Skin Cap.
One evening a raggedly-dressed man, with a swag on his back, a bear-skin
cap on his head, and a sheath-knife in his belt, came to our place and
took possession of the barn. Dad ordered him off. The man offered to
fight Dad for the barn. Dad ran in and got the gun. Then the man picked
up his swag and went away. The incident caused much talk for a few days,
but we soon forgot all about it; and the man with the bear-skin cap passed
from our minds.
Church service was to be held at our selection. It was the first occasion,
in fact, that the Gospel had come to disturb the contentedly irreligious
mind of our neighbourhood. Service was to open at 3 p.m.; at break-of-day
we had begun to get ready.
Nothing but bustle and hurry. Buttons to be sewn on Dave's shirt; Dad's
pants--washed the night before and left on the clothes-line all night to
bleach--lost; Little Bill's to be patched up generally; Mother trotting
out to the clothes-line every minute to see if Joe's coat was dry. And,
what was unusual, Dave, the easy-going, took a notion to spruce himself
up. He wandered restlessly from one room to another, robed in a white
shirt which was n't starched or ironed, trying hard to fix a collar to it.
He had n't worn the turn-out for a couple of years, and, of course, had
grown out of it, but this did n't seem to strike him. He tugged and
fumbled till he lost patience; then he sat on the bed and railed at the
women, and wished that the shirt and the collar, and the church-service
and the parson, were in Heaven. Mother offered to fasten the collar, but
when she took hold of it--forgetting that her hands were covered with
dough and things--Dave flew clean off the handle! And when Sal advised
him to wear his coloured shirt, same as Dad was going to do, and reminded
him that Mary Anderson might n't come at all, he aimed a pillow at her and
knocked Little Bill under the table, and scattered husks all over the
floor. Then he fled to the barn and refused dinner.
Mid-day, and Dad's pants not found. We searched inside and outside and
round about the pig-sty, and the hay-stack, and the cow-yard; and eyed the
cows, and the pet kangaroo, and the draught-horses with suspicion; but saw
nothing of the pants. Dad was angry, but had to make the most of an old
pair of Dave's through the legs of which Dad thrust himself a lot too far.
Mother and Sal said he looked well enough in them, but laughed when he
The people commenced to arrive on horseback and in drays. The women went
on to the verandah with their babies; the men hung round outside and
waited. Some sat under the peach-tree and nibbled sticks and killed
green-heads; others leant against the fence; while a number gathered round
the pig-sty and talked about curing bacon.
The parson came along. All of them stared at him; watched him unsaddle
his horse and hunt round for a place to fasten the beast. They regarded
the man in the long black coat with awe and wonder.
Everything was now ready, and, when Dad carried in the side-boards of the
dray and placed them on boxes for seat accommodation, the clergyman
awaited his congregation, which had collected at the back-door. Anderson
stepped in; the rest followed, timid-looking, and stood round the room
till the clergyman motioned them to sit. They sat and watched him closely.
"We'll now join in singing hymn 499," said the parson, commencing to sing
himself. The congregation listened attentively, but did n't join in.
The parson jerked his arms encouragingly at them, which only made them the
more uneasy. They did n't understand. He snapped his arms harder, as he
lifted his voice to the rafters; still they only stared. At last Dad
thought he saw through him. He bravely stood up and looked hard at the
others. They took the hint and rose clumsily to their feet, but just then
the hymn closed, and, as no one seemed to know when to sit again, they
They were standing when a loud whip-crack sounded close to the house, and
a lusty voice roared:
"Wah Tumbler! Wah Tumbler! Gee back, Brandy! Gee back,
People smiled. Then a team of bullocks appeared on the road. The driver
drawled, "Wa-a-a-y!" and the team stopped right in front of the door.
The driver lifted something weighty from the dray and struggled to the
verandah with it and dropped it down. It was a man. The bullock-driver,
of course, did n't know that a religious service was being conducted
inside, and the chances are he did n't much care. He only saw a number of
faces looking out, and talked at them.
"I've a ---- cove here," he said, "that I found lying on the ---- plain.
Gawd knows what's up with him--I don't. A good square feed is about what
he wants, I reckon." Then he went back for the man's swag.
Dad, after hesitating, rose and went out. The others followed like a
flock of sheep; and the "shepherd" brought up the rear. Church was out.
It gathered around the seeming corpse, and stared hard at it. Dad and
Dave spoke at the same time.
"Why," they said, "it's the cove with the bear-skin cap!" Sure enough it
was. The clergyman knelt down and felt the man's pulse; then went and
brought a bottle from his valise--he always carried the bottle, he said,
in case of snake-bite and things like that--and poured some of the contents
down the man's throat. The colour began to come to the man's face. The
clergyman gave him some more, and in a while the man opened his eyes.
They rested on Dad, who was bending benignly over him. He seemed to
recognise Dad. He stared for some time at him, then said something in a
feeble whisper, which the clergyman interpreted--"He wishes you--" looking
at Dad--"to get what's in his swag if he dies." Dad nodded, and his
thoughts went sadly back to the day he turned the poor devil out of
They carried the man inside and placed him on the sofa. But soon he took
a turn. He sank quickly, and in a few moments he was dead. In a few
moments more nearly everyone had gone.
"While you are here," Dad said to the clergyman, in a soft voice, "I'll
open the swag." He commenced to unroll it--it was a big blanket--and when
he got to the end there were his own trousers--the lost ones, nothing
more. Dad's eyes met Mother's; Dave's met Sal's; none of them spoke. But
the clergyman drew his own conclusions; and on the following Sunday, at
Nobby-Nobby, he preached a stirring sermon on that touching bequest of the
man with the bear-skin cap.
Three days to Christmas; and how pleased we were! For months we had
looked forward to it. Kate and Sandy, whom we had only seen once since
they went on their selection, were to be home. Dave, who was away
shearing for the first time, was coming home too. Norah, who had been
away for a year teaching school, was home already. Mother said she looked
quite the lady, and Sal envied the fashionable cut of her dresses.
Things were in a fair way at Shingle Hut; rain had fallen and everything
looked its best. The grass along the headlands was almost as tall as the
corn; the Bathurst-burr, the Scotch-thistles, and the "stinking Roger"
were taller. Grow! Dad never saw the like. Why, the cultivation was n't
large enough to hold the melon and pumpkin vines--they travelled into the
horse-paddock and climbed up trees and over logs and stumps, and they
would have fastened on the horses only the horses were fat and fresh and
often galloped about. And the stock! Blest if the old cows did n't carry
udders like camp-ovens, and had so much milk that one could track them
everywhere they went--they leaked so. The old plough-horses, too--only a
few months before dug out of the dam with a spade, and slung up between
heaven and earth for a week, and fed and prayed for regularly by
Dad--actually bolted one day with the dray because Joe rattled a dish of
corn behind them. Even the pet kangaroo was nearly jumping out of its
skin; and it took the big black "goanna" that used to come after eggs all
its time to beat Dad from the barn to the nearest tree, so fat was it.
And such a season for butterflies and grasshoppers, and grubs and snakes,
and native bears! Given an ass, an elephant, and an empty wine-bottle or
two, and one might have thought Noah's ark had been emptied at our
Two days to Christmas. The sun getting low. An old cow and a heifer in
the stock-yard. Dad in, admiring them; Mother and Sal squinting through
the rails; little Bill perched on one of the round posts, nursing the
steel and a long knife; Joe running hard from the barn with a plough-rein.
Dad was wondering which beast to kill, and expressed a preference for the
heifer. Mother said, "No, kill the cow." Dad inspected the cow again,
and shook his head.
"Well, if you don't she'll only die, if the winter's a hard one; then
you'll have neither." That settled it. Dad took the rope from Joe, who
arrived aglow with heat and excitement, and fixed a running noose on one
end of it. Then--
"Hunt 'em round!" he cried.
Joe threw his hat at them, and chased them round and round the yard.
Dad turned slowly in the centre, like a ring-master, his eye on the cow;
a coil of rope was in this left hand, and with the right he measuredly
swung the loop over and over his head for some time. At last the cow gave
him a chance at her horns, and he let fly. The rope whizzed across the
yard, caught little Bill round the neck, and brought him down off the post.
Dad could hardly believe it. He first stared at Bill as he rolled in the
yard, then at the cow. Mother wished to know if he wanted to kill the
boy, and Joe giggled and, with a deal of courage, assured Dad it was "a
fine shot." The cow and the heifer ran into a corner, and switched their
tails, and raked skin and hair off each other with their horns.
"What do you want to be always stuck in the road for?" Dad growled, taking
the rope off little Bill's neck. "Go away from here altogether!" Little
Bill went away; so did Mother and Sal--until Dad had roped the cow, which
was n't before he twice lassoed the heifer--once by the fore-leg and once
round the flanks. The cow thereupon carried a panel of the yard away,
and got out and careered down the lane, bucking and bellowing till all the
cattle of the country gathered about her.
Dad's blood was up. He was hanging on to the rope, his heels ploughing
the dust, and the cow pulling him about as she liked. The sun was
setting; a beautiful sunset, too, and Mother and Sal were admiring it.
"Did y' never see th' blasted sun go--go down be----" Dad did n't finish.
He feet slid under a rail, causing him to relax his grip of the rope and
sprawl in the dust. But when he rose!
"Are y' going t' stand staring there all night?" They were beside the
rails in an instant, took the end of the rope which he passed to them,
put it once round the gallows-post, and pulled-pulled like sailors. Dad
hung on close to the cow's head, while Joe kicked her with his bare foot
and screwed her tail.
"Steady!" said Dad, "that'll about do." Then, turning to the women as he
mounted a rail and held the axe above the cow's head: "Hang on there
now!" They closed their eyes and sat back. The cow was very patient.
Dad extended himself for a great effort, but hesitated. Joe called out:
"L-l-ook out th' axe dud-dud-don't fly and gug-gug-get me, Dad!" Dad
glanced quickly at it, and took aim again. Down it came, whish! But the
cow moved, and he only grazed her cheek. She bellowed and pulled back,
and Mother and Sal groaned and let the rope go. The cow swung round and
charged Joe, who was standing with his mouth open. But only a charge of
shot could catch Joe; he mounted the rails like a cat and shook his hat at
the beast below.
After Dad had nearly brained her with a rail the cow was dragged to the
post again; and this time Dad made no mistake. Down she dropped, and,
before she could give her last kick, all of us entered the yard and
approached her boldly. Dad danced about excitedly, asking for the long
knife. Nobody knew where it was. "DAMN it, where is it?" he cried,
impatiently. Everyone flew round in search of it but Joe. HE was curious
to know if the cow was in milk. Dad noticed him; sprang upon him; seized
him by the shirt collar and swung him round and trailed him through the
yard, saying: "Find me th' knife; d' y' HEAR?" It seemed to sharpen
Joe's memory, for he suddenly remembered having stuck it in one of the
Dad bled the beast, but it was late before he had it skinned and dressed.
When the carcase was hoisted to the gallows--and it seemed gruesome enough
as it hung there in the pallid light of the moon, with the night birds
dismally wailing like mourners from the lonely trees--we went home and
Christmas Eve. Mother and Sal had just finished papering the walls, and
we were busy decorating the place with green boughs, when Sandy and Kate,
in their best clothes--Kate seated behind a well-filled pillow-slip
strapped on the front of her saddle; Sandy with the baby in front of
him--came jogging along the lane. There was commotion! Everything was
thrown aside to receive them. They were surrounded at the slip-rails,
and when they got down--talk about kissing! Dad was the only one who
escaped. When the hugging commenced he poked his head under the flap of
Kate's saddle and commenced unbuckling the girth. Dad had been at such
receptions before. But Sandy took it all meekly. And the baby! (the
dear little thing) they scrimmaged about it, and mugged it, and fought for
possession of it until Sandy became alarmed and asked them to "Mind!"
Inside they sat and drank tea and talked about things that had happened
and things that had n't happened. Then they got back to the baby and
disagreed on the question of family likeness. Kate thought the youngster
was the dead image of Sandy about the mouth and eyes. Sal said it had
Dad's nose; while Mother was reminded of her dear old grandmother every
time the infant smiled. Joe ventured to think it resembled Paddy Maloney
far more than it did Sandy, and was told to run away and put the calves
in. The child was n't yet christened, and the rest of the evening was
spent selecting a name for it. Almost every appellation under the sun was
suggested and promptly rejected. They could n't hit on a suitable one,
and Kate would n't have anything that was n't nice, till at last Dad
thought of one that pleased everybody--"Jim!"
After supper, Kate started playing the concertina, and the Andersons and
Maloneys and several others dropped in. Dad was pleased to see them; he
wished them all a merry Christmas, and they wished him the same and many
of them. Then the table was put outside, and the room cleared for a
dance. The young people took the floor and waltzed, I dare say, for
miles--their heads as they whirled around tossing the green bushes that
dangled from the rafters; while the old people, with beaming faces,
sat admiring them, and swaying their heads about and beating time to the
music by patting the floor with their feet. Someone called out "Faster!"
Kate gave it faster. Then to see them and to hear the rattle of the boots
upon the floor! You'd think they were being carried away in a whirlwind.
All but Sal and Paddy Maloney gave up and leant against the wall, and
puffed and mopped their faces and their necks with their
Faster still went the music; faster whirled Sal and Paddy Maloney. And
Paddy was on his mettle. He was lifting Sal off her feet. But Kate was
showing signs of distress. She leaned forward, jerked her head about,
and tugged desperately at the concertina till both handles left it. That
ended the tussle; and Paddy spread himself on the floor, his back to the
wall, his legs extending to the centre of the room, his chin on his chest,
Then enjoyment at high tide; another dance proposed; Sal trying hard to
persuade Dad to take Mother or Mrs. Maloney up; Dad saying "Tut, tut,
tut!"--when in popped Dave, and stood near the door. He had n't changed
his clothes, and was grease from top to toe. A saddle-strap was in one
hand, his Sunday clothes, tied up in a handkerchief, in the other, and his
presence made the room smell just like a woolshed.
"Hello, Dave!" shouted everyone. He said "Well!" and dropped his hat in a
corner. No fuss, no kissing, no nothing about Dave. Mother asked if he
did n't see Kate and Sandy (both were smiling across the room at him),
and he said "Yairs"; then went out to have a wash.
All night they danced--until the cocks crew--until the darkness gave way to
the dawn--until the fowls left the roost and came round the door--until it
was Christmas Day!
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