His colonial oath [short story by Henry Lawson]

[Editor: This story by Henry Lawson was published in While the Billy Boils (1896).]

His colonial oath

I lately met an old schoolmate of mine up-country. He was much changed. He was tall and lank, and had the most hideous bristly red beard I ever saw. He was working on his father’s farm. He shook hands, looked anywhere but in my face — and said nothing. Presently I remarked at a venture:

‘So poor old Mr. B., the schoolmaster, is dead.’

‘My oath!’ he replied.

‘He was a good old sort.’

‘My oath!’

‘Time goes by pretty quick, doesn’t it?’

His oath (colonial).

‘Poor old Mr. B. died awfully sudden, didn’t he?’

He looked up the hill, and said: ‘My oath!’

Then he added: ‘My blooming oath!’

I thought, perhaps, my city rig or manner embarrassed him, so I stuck my hands in my pockets, spat, and said, to set him at his ease: ‘It’s blanky hot to-day — I don’t know how you blanky blanks stand such blank weather! It’s blanky well hot enough to roast a crimson carnal bullock; ain’t it?’ Then I took out a cake of tobacco, bit off a quarter, and pretended to chew. He replied:

‘My oath!’

The conversation flagged here. But presently, to my great surprise, he came to the rescue with:

‘He finished me, yer know.’

‘Finished? How? Who?’

He looked down towards the river, thought (if he did think) and said: ‘Finished me edyercation, yer know.’

‘Oh! you mean Mr. B.?’

‘My oath — he finished me first-rate.’

‘He turned out a good many scholars, didn’t he?’

‘My oath! I’m thinkin’ about going down to the trainin’-school.’

‘You ought to — I would if I were you.’

‘My oath!’

‘Those were good old times,’ I hazarded, ‘you remember the old bark school?’

He looked away across the siding and was evidently getting uneasy. He shifted about, and said:

‘Well, I must be goin’.’

‘I suppose you’re pretty busy now?’

‘My oath! So long.’

‘Well, good-bye. We must have a yarn some day.’

‘My oath!’

He got away as quickly as he could.

I wonder whether he was changed after all — or, was it I? A man does seem to get out of touch with the bush after living in cities for eight or ten years.

Henry Lawson, While the Billy Boils, Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1896, pages 203-204

Editor’s notes:
blank = substitution for a swear word; “blank” was often used as a way to infer a swear word, without actually swearing; commonly used as a replacement for words such as “damn” or “bastard”

blanky = substitution for a swear word (such as “bloody”)

colonial = colonial oath, i.e. “bloody oath”

Vernacular spelling in the original text:
edyercation (education)
yer (you)

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