[Editor: This is the first part of Chapter Four of the novel Such is Life by Tom Collins (Joseph Furphy). A glossary has been provided to explain various words and phrases that may be unfamiliar to modern readers.]
SUN. DEC. 9. Dead Man’s Bend. Warrigal Alf down. Rescue twice. Enlisted Terrible Tommy.
Now what would your novelist rede you from that record, if he had possession of my diary? Something mysterious and momentous, no doubt, and probably connected with buried treasure. Yet it is only the abstract and brief chronicle of a fair average day; a day happy in having no history worth mentioning; merely a drowsy morning, an idle mid-day, and a stirring afternoon. Life is largely composed of such uneventful days; and these are therefore most worthy of careful analysis.
How easy it is to recall the scene! The Lachlan river, filled by summer rains far away among the mountains, to a width of something like thirty yards, flowing silently past, and going to waste. Irregular areas of lignum, hundreds of acres in extent, and eight or ten feet in height, representing swamps; and long, serpentine reaches of the same, but higher in growth, indicating billabongs of the river. The river itself fringed, and the adjacent low ground dotted, with swamp box, river coolibah, and red-gum — the latter small and stunted in comparison with the giants of its species on the Murray and Lower Goulburn. On both sides of the river, far as the eye can command, extend the level plains of black or light-red soil, broken here and there by clumps and belts of swamp box, now cut off from the line of the horizon by the quivering, glassy stratum of the lower atmosphere.
And where the boundary fence of Mondunbarra and Avondale crosses the plain, is seen a fair example of the mirage — that phenomenon so vaguely apprehended in regions outside its domain, and so little noticed where repetition has made it familiar. But there it is; no smoky-looking film on the plain, no shimmering distortion of objects in middle-distance, but, to all appearance, a fine sheet of silvery water, two hundred yards distant, about the same in average width, and half-a-mile in length from right to left. Both banks are clearly defined; irregular promontories jut far out into the smooth water from each side; and the boundary fence crosses it, post after post, in diminishing perspective, like any fence standing in shallow, sunlit water. The most critical and deliberate examination can no more detect evidence of phantasy in the unreal water than in the real fence.
The mirage is one of Nature’s obscure and cheerless jokes; and in this instance, as in some few others, she is beyond Art. She even assists the illusion by a very slight depression of the plain in the right place. In fact, an artist’s picture of a mirage would be his picture of a level-brimmed, unruffled lake; also, the most skilful word-painter, in attempting to contrast the appearance of water with that of its fac-simile, would become as confused and hazy as any clergyman taxed to differentiate his creed from that of the mollah running the opposition. And Nature, in taking this mirthless rise out of the spectator, never repeats herself in the particulars of distance, area or configuration of her simulacre; it may be a mere stripe across the road — the brown, sinuous track disappearing beneath its surface, to re-appear on the opposing shore — it may be no larger than a good gilgie; or it may be the counterfeit presentment of a sheet of water, miles in extent, though this last is rare.
A hot day is not an imperative condition of the true mirage; but the ground must be open plain, or nearly so; the atmosphere must be clear, and the ground thoroughly dry. It is worthy of notice that horses and cattle are entirely insusceptible to the illusion. Another fact, not so noteworthy in view of the general perversity of inanimate things, is, that you never see a mirage when you are watching for it to decide an argument. It always presents itself when you have no interest in it. In this quality of irredeemable cussedness it resembles the emu’s nest. No one ever found that when he was looking for it; no one ever found it except he was in a raging hurry, with a long stage to go, and no likelihood of coming back by the same route.
To complete the picture — which I want you to carry in your mind’s eye — you will imagine Cleopatra and Bunyip standing under a coolibah — standing heads and points, after the manner of equine mates; each switching the flies and mosquitos off his comrade’s face, and shivering them off such parts of his own body as possessed the requisite faculty. And in the centre of a clear place, a couple of hundred yards away, you may notice a bullock-wagon, apparently deserted; the heavy wool-tarpaulin, dark with dust and grease, thrown across the arched jigger, forming a tent on the body, and falling over the wheels nearly to the ground, yet displaying the outline of the Sydney pattern — which, as every schoolgirl knows, differs from that of Riverina.
In the foreground of this picture, you may fancy the present annalist lying — or, as lying is an ill phrase, and peculiarly inapplicable just here — we’ll say, reclining, pipe in mouth, on a patch of pennyroyal, trying to re-peruse one of Ouida’s novels, and thinking (ah! your worship’s a wanton) what a sweet, spicy, piquant thing it must be to be lured to destruction by a tawny-haired tigress with slumbrous dark eyes. No such romance for the annalist, poor man.
Such, then, was my benevolent and creditable allotment, such my unworthy vagary, at the time this record opens. I had camped in the Dead Man’s Bend late on the previous evening, had wakened-up a little after sunrise, and turned out a little after eleven. Then a dip in the river, to clear away the cobwebs, and a breakfast which, if not high-toned in its accessories, was at least enjoyed at a fashionable hour, had made me feel as if I wanted a quiet smoke out of the gigantic meerschaum which I unpack only on special occasions, and something demoralising to read.
But the austere pipe resented this unworthy alliance so strongly that, for peace sake, I had to lay aside the literary Dead-Sea-apple. Then I remembered the official letter I had received on the previous day. I had merely glanced over it before acting on the orders it contained; now I re-opened the document, and pharisaically contemplated the child-like penmanship and Chaucer-like orthography of my superior officer: —
Mr T Collins
Haveing got 3 months leave of Abscence you are hereby requested to be extra atentive to the Interests of the Dept not haveing me to reffer to in Cases of difeculty or to recieve instructions from me which is not practicacable on account of me being in the other Colonys. I write this principaly to aquaint you Communication from Mr Donaldson Mr Strong Mr Jeffrey representives will meet you at Poondoo on monday 10 prox re matter in dispute. Keep this apointment without fail comunnicate with central Office pending further Orders from me.
I was now on my way to keep the “apointment.” I was still about twenty miles from Poondoo; and the next day would be “monday 10 prox.” I intended to start again at about two o’clock; so I had still a couple of hours to spend in what civilians call rest, and soldiers, fatigue; whilst studying such problems as might present themselves for solution. Pup was safe by my side, and I had nothing to trouble myself about. A thought of the transitoriness and uncertainty of life did occur to me, as it has done to thinkers and non-thinkers of all ages; but I deftly applied the reflection to my superior officer, and so turned everything to commodity.
The unfortunate young fellow, I thought, is a confirmed invalid, sure enough. A trip round the colonies may liven him up a bit, or, on the other hand, it may not; and, if he returns, it is to be hoped that kind hands will soothe his pillow, and so forth; and when, with dirges due, in sad array, they have performed the last melancholy offices, I trust that some one will be found to dress, with simple hands, his rural tomb. I would do it myself, for, as the poet says, “Ah, surely nothing dies but something mourns.” A sweet fancy, but not so filling as the cognate reflection ——
Somebody calling from the other side of the river; probably some forlorn and shipwreck’d brother, looking for his mates —— The cognate reflection, namely, that nothing withdraws but it leaves room for a successor. And this successor — thus favoured by a Providence which has kindly supervised the fall of the antecedent sparrow — will be entitled to live in a four-roomed weatherboard house, with the water laid-on, and a flower-garden up to the footpath, and a few silver-pencilled Hamburgs in the back yard, and everything comfortable. Ah, me! it is the thought of the dove ——
Peace! peace! Orestes — like, I breathe this prayer. Thy comrades are sleeping; go sleep thou with them. ——The thought of the dove that has suggested this fairy picture of the dovecote. And something tells me that Jim Quarterman is not likely to forget a certain cavalier who called one day about a dog. Doubtless her memory holds him enshrined as a person of scientific attainments and courtly address; offering a contrast, I trust, to the uninteresting hayseeds who have come under her purview. And will he not come again? Yea, Jim, mystery and revelation as thou art! he will come again, to lay at thy shapely and substantial feet the trophy of an ——
Ay, lay thee down and roar —— Of an Assistant-Sub-Inspectorship. Ah, Jim! tentatively beloved (so to speak) by this solitary, but by no means desolate, heart! — setting aside the rises I would take out of thy artlessness, and the way I would whip thy simplicity with my fine wit till thou wert as crestfallen as a dried pear — I confess a spontaneous thought associated with the mental carte-de-visite of thy wholesome avoirdupois. No less, indeed, than the psychological recognition of an angel-influence ——
In vain! in vain! strike other chords! You can call spirits from the vasty deep; but will they come when you do call for them? — An angel-influence, tangible, visible, audible, which would make Jordan the easiest of all roads to travel by thy side. Peerless Jim! crowning triumph of Darwinian Evolution from the inert mineral, through countless hairy and uninviting types! how precious the inexplicable vital spark which, nevertheless, robs thy sculptured form of all cash Gallery-value; and how easy to read in that gentle personality a satisfying comment on the concluding lines of Faust:—
The Woman-Soul leadeth us
Upward and on.
A double meaning there, by my faith! Alas! poor little Jim! go thy ways, die when thou wilt; for Maud Beaudesart comes ——
“H a-a — a-a-a-a-a y!”
Rest, rest, perturbed spirit. By thy long grey beard and glittering eye, now wherefore stop’st thou me? — For Maud Beaudesart comes o’er my memory as doth the raven o’er the infected house. Get thee to a nunnery, Jim. The chalk-mark is on my door; for Mrs. B. has no less than three consecutive husbands in heaven — so potently has her woman-soul proved its capacity for leading people upward and on. Methinks I perceive a new and sinister meaning in the Shakespearean love-song:—
Come away, come away, death;
And in sad cypress let me be laid.
Fly away, fly away, breath;
I am slain by a fair, cruel maid.
Nicely put, no doubt; but the importance of a departure depends very much on the ——
No appearance, your worship. Call for Enobarbus; he will not hear thee, or, from Caesar’s camp, say ‘I am none of thine.’ —— On the value of the departed. For instance, when a man of property departs, he leaves his possessions behind — a fact noticed by many poets — and the man himself is replaced without cost. When a well-salaried official departs — such as a Royal Falconer, or a Master of the Buckhounds, or an Assistant-Sub-Inspector he perforce leaves his billet behind; and we wish him bon voyage to whichever port he may be bound. But when a philosopher departs in this untimely fashion, he leaves nothing ——
And echo answers, ‘Ha-a-a-a-ay!’ Authority melts from you, apparently. —— Leaves nothing but a few rudimentary theories, of no use to anyone except the owner, inasmuch as no one else can develop them properly; just a few evanescent footprints on the sands of Time, which would require only a certain combination of age and facilities for cohesion to mature into Mammoth-tracks on the sandstone of Progress. All on the debit side of Civilisation’s ledger, you observe. Consequently, he doesn’t long to leave these fading scenes, that glide so quickly by. And when the poet holds it truth that men may rise on stepping-stones of their dead selves to higher things, he is simply talking when he ought to be sleeping it off in seclusion. I understand how a man may rise on the stepping-stone of his defunct superior officer to higher things; but his dead self — it won’t do, Alfred; it won’t do. But hark! that heavy sound breaks in once more, as if the clouds its echo would repeat. ——
Who is he whose grief bears such an emphasis? whose phrase of sorrow makes the very lignum quiver in sympathy? It may not be amiss to look round and see.
So I turned my head, and saw, on the opposite side of the river, about eighty yards away, a man on a grey horse. I rose, and advanced toward the bank.
“Why, Mosey,” said I, “is that you? How does your honour for this many a day?
Where are you camped?”
“Across here. Tell Warrigal Alf his carrion’s on the road for Yoongoolee yards, horse an’ all; an’ from there they’ll go to Booligal pound if he ain’t smart. I met them just now.”
“Where shall I find Alf?”
“Ain’t his wagon bitin’ you — there in the clear? You ain’t a bad hand at sleepin’ — no, I ’m beggared if you are. I bin bellerin’ at you for two hours, dash near.”
“Who has got the bullocks, Mosey?”
“Couldn’t you get them from him yourself?”
“I did n’t try. I was glad to see them goin’; on’y I begun to think after, thinks I, it ’s a pity o’ the poor misforchunate carrion walkin’ all that way, free gracious for nothin’; an’ p’r’aps a trip to Booligal pound on top of it; an’ them none too fat. But I ’m glad for Alf. I hate that beggar. I would n’t len’ him my knife to cut up a pipe o’ tobacker, not if his tongue was stickin’ out as long as yer arm. I was n’t goin’ to demean myself to tell him about his carrion, nyther; on’y I knowed your horses when I seen them; an’ by-’n’-by I spotted you where you was layin’ down, sleepin’ fit to break yer neck; an’ I bin hollerin’ at you till I ’m black in the face. I begun to think you was drunk, or dead, or somethin’ — bust you.” And with this address, which I give in bowdlerised form, the young fellow turned his horse, and disappeared through a belt of lignum.
I walked across to the bullock-wagon. The camp had a strangely desolate and deserted appearance. Three yokes lay around, with the bows and keys scattered about; and there was no sign of a camp-fire. Under the wagon lay a saddle and bridle, and beside them the swollen and distorted body of Alf’s black cattle-dog — probably the only thing on earth that had loved the gloomy misanthrope. I lifted the edge of the hot, greasy tarpaulin, and looked on the flooring of the wagon, partly covered with heavy coils of wool-rope, and the spare yokes and chains.
“A drink of water, for God’s sake!” said a scarcely intelligible whisper, from the suffocating gloom of the almost air-tight tent.
I threw the tarpaulin back off the end of the wagon, and ran to the river for a billy of water. Then, vaulting on the platform, I saw Alf lying on his blankets, apparently helpless, and breathing heavily, his face drawn and haggard with pain. I raised his head, and held the billy to his lips; but, being in too great a hurry, I let his head slip off my hand, and most of the water spilled over his throat and chest. He shrank and shivered as the cool deluge seemed to fizz on his burning skin, but drank what was left, to the last drop.
“Now turn me over on the other side, or I’ll go mad,” he whispered.
He shuddered and groaned as I touched him, but, with one hand under his shoulders, and the other under his bent and rigid knees, I slowly turned him on the other side.
“Would n’t you like to lie on your back for a change?” I asked.
“No, no,” he whispered excitedly; “my heels might slip, and straighten my knees. Another drink of water, please.”
I brought a second billy of water, but he turned from it with disgust.
“If you could make a sort of an effort, Alf,” I suggested.
He treated me to a half-angry, half-reproachful look, and turned away his face. I rose to my feet, and rolled back the tarpaulin half-way along the jigger, for the heat was still suffocating.
“Is there anything more I can do for you just now, Alf?” I asked presently.
“More water.” I gave him a drink out of a pannikin; and, as I laid his head down again, he continued, in the same painful whisper, and with frequent pauses, “Have you any idea where my bullocks are? — I was trying to keep them here — in this corner of Mondunbarra — and they’re reasonably safe unless — unless the Chinaman knows the state I’m in — but if they cross the boundary into Avondale — Tommy will hunt them over the river, and — Sollicker will get them.”
It must be remembered that Alf was camped at the junction of three runs; Yoongoolee lay along the opposite side of the river, whilst on our side, Mondunbarra and Avondale were separated by a boundary fence which ran into the water a few yards beyond where the wagon stood. The fence, much damaged by floods, was repaired merely to the sheep-proof standard. The wagon was in Mondunbarra.
“They’re across the river now, Alf. Mosey Price told me so, not twenty minutes ago.”
“Across the river!” hissed Alf, half-rising and then falling heavily back, whilst a low moan mingled with the furious grinding of his teeth. “They ’ve got into Avondale, and Tommy has hunted them across! May the holy” —— &c., &c. “Never mind. Let them go. I’ve had enough of it. If other people are satisfied, I’m sure I am.”
“Who is she?” I thought; and I was just lapsing into my Hamlet-mood ——
“Would you be kind enough to lift my dog into the wagon? I have n’t been able to call him lately, but he won’t be far off.”
“Bad news for you, Alf. The poor fellow got a bait somewhere, and came home to die. He ’s lying under the wagon, beside your saddle.”
The outlaw turned away his face. ‘Short of being Swift,’ says Taine; ‘one must love something.’ (Ay, and short of being too morally slow to catch grubs, one must hate something. See, then, that you hate prayerfully and judiciously).
While I was thinking that every minute’s delay would make my journey after the bullocks a little longer, Alf suddenly looked round.
“You need n’t stay here,” said he sharply — thin blades of articulation shooting here and there through his laboured whisper, as the water he had drunk took effect on his swollen tongue. “If you would come again in an hour, and give me another turn-over, you would be doing more for me than I would do for you. What day is this?”
“Sunday, December the ninth.”
He pondered awhile. “I ’ve lost count of the days. What time is it?”
“Between one and two, I should think. My watch is at the bottom of the Murray.”
“Afternoon, of course. I think I ought to be dead by this time to-morrow.
What’s keeping you here? I want to be alone.”
“Don’t talk nonsense, Alf. I’ll pull you through, if I can only hit the complaint. Have you any symptoms?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know. I was gradually getting worse and worse for a week, or more; but still able to yoke up a few quiet bullocks to shift the wagon every day; till at last, one night, I just managed to climb in here, to get away from the mosquitos. I don’t know what night it was, or how the time has passed since then. Just look at my arms, if you have any curiosity; but don’t dare to prescribe for me. I had enough of your doctoring at the Yellow Tank — blast you!”
Without heeding his reminiscence, which has no connection with the present memoir, I untied an old boot-lace which fastened one of his wristbands, and drew up the sleeve. The long, sinewy arm, now wet and clammy from the effect of the water he had drunk, was helpless and shapeless, round and rigid; the elbow-joint set at a right-angle, and extremely sensitive to pain.
“There,” said he, with a quivering groan; “the other arm is just the same, and so are my knees and ankles; and my head’s fit to burst; and I’m one mass of pains all over. It’s all up with me, Collins. Now I only ask one favour of you — and that is to get out of my sight.”
“I’ll be back in two or three hours, Alf,” said I, rising. “Keep your mind as easy as possible, and see if you can doze off to sleep.”
So I returned to my own camp, and, with all speed, caught and equipped Cleopatra. Then, after chaining Pup in a shady place, I stowed some smoking-tackle in the crown of the soft hat I wore; then shed apparel till I was like the photo. of some champion athlete; finally, I stuck the spare clothes, with the rest of my riches, among the branches of a coolibah, out of the way of the wild pigs. The next moment, I was in the saddle, and Cleopatra, after perfunctorily illustrating Demosthenes’ three rules of oratory: — the first, Action; the second, ditto, the third, ibid. — turned obediently toward the river, and was soon breasting the cool current, while, with one arm across the saddle, I steered him for the most promising landing-place on the opposite bank.
(Let me remark here, that the man who knows no better than to remain in the saddle after his horse has lost bottom, ought never to go out of sight of a bridge. He is the sort of adventurer that is brought to light, a week afterward, per medium of a grappling-hook in the hollow of his eye. Perhaps the best plan of all — though no hero of romance could do such a thing — is to hang on to the horse’s tail. Also, never wait for an emergency to make sure that your mount can swim. Many a man has lost his life through the helpless floundering of a horse bewildered by first and sudden experience of deep water).
My landing-place happened to be none of the best. After clearing the water, it required all Cleopatra’s strength and activity to climb the bank. Having slipped into the saddle as he regained footing, I was lying flat against the side of his neck, to help his centre of gravity and give him a hold with his front feet, when he brushed under a low coolibah, and the spur of a broken branch or something started at the neck of the undergarment which I cannot bring myself to name, and ripped it to the very tail, nearly dragging me off the saddle. When we reached level ground, the vestment alluded to was hanging, wet and sticky, on my arms, like a child’s pinny unfastened behind, or, to use a more elegant simile, like the front half of a herald’s tabard. What I should have done was to have reversed the thing, and put it on like a jacket; but, being in a desperate hurry, and slightly annoyed by the accident, and not feeling the sun after just leaving the water, I whipped the rag off altogether, and threw it aside. In two seconds more, Cleopatra was stretching away, with his long, eager, untiring stride, towards Yoongoolee home-station, distant about sixteen miles.
Slackening speed now and then to cross creeks and rough places, I found myself following a pad, and noticed the fresh tracks of the bullocks, mile after mile. At last I heard across the lignum the jangle of a brass bell, and the ‘plock, plock’ of an iron frog, and presently my quarry appeared in sight a couple of hundred yards ahead.
To do the boundary-rider justice, he was driving the cattle quietly and considerately. He looked round on hearing the clatter of horse’s feet, but my Mazeppa aspect seemed neither to surprise nor disconcert him. He was n’t altogether a stranger to me. For several years I had known him by sight as a solid, phlegmatic man, on a solid, phlegmatic cob; and I suppose he had his own crude estimate of me, though we had never had occasion to exchange civilities.
But now, after a five miles’ chase, the sight of the man acted on my moral nature as vinegar is erroneously supposed to act on nitre. I reined-up beside him. The Irresistible was about to encounter the Immovable; and, even in the excitement of the time, I awaited the result with scientific interest. When a collision of this kind takes place, it sometimes happens that the Irresistible bounces off in a more or less damaged state; at other times, the Immovable is scattered to the four winds of heaven in the form of scrap, while the Irresistible, slightly checked, perhaps, in speed, sails on its way. But you can never tell.
“Where are you taking these bullocks?” I demanded in a tone which, I am sorry to say, reflected as little credit on my politeness as on my philosophy.
“Steation yaads,” he replied indifferently, and with a strong English accent.
“Did you take them off purchased land?” I asked, eyeing him keenly.
“Oi teuk ’e (animals) horf of ’e run,” he remarked, rather than replied, without condescending to look at me.
“Do you know what day this is?” I inquired magisterially.
“Zabbath,” he replied kindly.
“And do you know there’s a new act passed — ‘Parkes’s Act,’ they call it — that makes the removing of working-bullocks from pastoral leasehold, on Sundays, a misdemeanour, punishable by a term of imprisonment not exceeding twelve months, with or without hard labour?”
“Granny!” he remarked.
Driven back in disorder, I hurried up my second line. ——
“Do you know who these bullocks belong to?” I inquired ominously.
Something akin to a smile flickered round the shaven lips of the descendant of Hengist as, contemplating the lop ears of his horse, he observedly contentedly,
“Ees, shure; an’ ’hat’s f’r w’y Oi be a-teakin’ of ’em.”
“Well, Alf’s laid-up; not able to look after them” ——
“Oi ’ve ’eard ’at yaan afoor.”
—— “so I’ve come to take them back, and leave them at his camp on Mondunbarra.”
“Horrite. Oi wants wun-an’-twenty bob horf o’ you afoor ’em (bullocks) tehns reaoun’.”
“Will you have it now, or wait till you get it?” I asked, betrayed by the annoyance of the moment into a species of vulgarity unbecoming an officer and gentleman. “I don’t mind paying you the money, provided it clears the bullocks for the future — not otherwise. In the meantime I’m going to take them back-pay or no pay.”
“Be ’e a-gwean to resky ’em?” he inquired, slightly reining his hippopotamus, and looking me frankly in the face, whilst an almost merry twinkle animated his small blue eyes.
“By no means,” I replied suavely; and we rode together for a few minutes in silence.
I had wakened the wrong man. The Immovable had scored, simply because he was a person of one idea, and that idea panoplied in impenetrable ignorance. A compound idea, by the way: namely, that Alf’s bullocks were going to the station yards, and that he, Fitz-Hengist, was taking them there. All this was apparent to me as I regarded him out of the comer of my eye.
“Foak bea n’t a-gwean ter walk on hutheh foak,” he remarked calmly.
“A gentleman against the world for bull-headedness,” I sneered, aiming, in desperation, at the heel by which mother Nature had held him during his baptism in the thick, slab bath of undiluted oxy-obstinacy (scientific symbol, Jn Bl).
“Hordehs is hordehs,” he argued, as the good arrow-point penetrated his epidermis, fair in the vulnerable spot.
I laughed contemptuously. “Fat lot you care for orders! A man in your position talking about orders! Get out!”
“Wot’s a (person) to diew?” The point was forcing its way through the sensitive second-skin, or cutis.
“Do!” I repeated, with increasing scorn. “Strikes me, you can do pretty well as you like on this station.”
“Bea n’t Oi a-diewin’ my diewty?” he asked in wavering expostulation — the point now settling in the vascular tissues.
“It’s in the blood, right enough,” I retorted, with insolent frankness, and still regarding him out of the comer of my eye. “I believe you’re Viscount Canterbury’s brother, on the wrong side of the blanket.”
“Keep ’e tempeh; keep ’e tempeh,” said he deprecatingly, as the poison filtered through his system. “Zpeak ’e moind feear atwixt man an’ man. Bea n’t Oi a-diewin’ wot Oi be a-peead f’r diewin’? Coomh!”
“Well, you are a rum character,” I remarked, judiciously assisting the action of the virus. “I’m surprised at a gentleman in your position making excuses like that. Do you know” — and my tones became soft and confidential — “something struck me that you were an Englishman.” (Even this was n’t too strong). “I wish you were, both for my sake and your own. However, that can’t be helped. Now, for the future, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you had your own way, and that you walked a man’s bullocks off to the yard while he was helpless. Yes, sir; I ’m glad you’re not an Englishman. But the sun’s too hot for my bare skin, so I must be getting back; and if I’ve said anything to offend you, I ’m sorry for it, and I beg your pardon.” Then, still regarding him out of the comer of my eye, I turned Cleopatra slowly round.
“’Ole ’aad!” he snorted. “Oi calls ’e a (adj.) feul!”
With this sop to his own dignity, the boundary man slapped his Episcopalian charger round the barrel — not round the flank, for the animal had none — with his doubled cart-whip, and turned off the track at a right-angle, beckoning me to follow. When he had gone twenty yards, he pulled steadily on one rein and, so to speak, wore his ship of the plains round till we faced the cattle again — for I had simultaneously pirouetted Cleopatra on one hind foot.
“Fetch ’em back, Jack,” said he authoritatively. “Put ’em weare ’e got ’em, an’ leab’m boide. Iggerant (people) we be; dunno nuffik; carnt diew noffik roight.”
The black collie was sitting where he had stopped on the instant that we had turned off; sitting with his head slightly canted to one side; one ear limp and pendant, the other partly erect, and with something like a smile on his expectant face. On hearing the order, he made a wide circuit round the cattle, and quietly turned them back along the track, where he followed them as before. Meanwhile, Sollicker sullenly slipped off his linen coat, and handed it to me with a low growl. I thanked him with great sincerity, and put it on.
But his glance at me as we fell-in behind the cattle seemed to demand further appreciation; and I was not slow to respond — partly from a sense of obligation, but principally from a broadening hope of extended concession. I had already selected him as a singularly eligible guardian for Alf’s bullocks; and I knew that if I could once get him to accept the trust, nothing short of dynamite would shift him. But the seduction of a direct-action, single-cylinder purpose is a contract not to be taken by any of your mushroom mental firms; and this was a large order. Of course, the diplomatic flunkey-touch of nature has served as a letter of introduction to the man; now I would follow up the national phase of this delicate point of contact.
“No use,” I remarked doggedly. “I give it up. I can’t find words. This is not a personal favour. It’s an evidence of the principle that makes an Englishman respected all over the world. All over the world, sir; for, you know, the sun follows the English drum-beat right round the earth. Now, I can’t flatter you; I’d see you in the bottomless pit first; I’m above anything of that kind; it sort of sticks in my throat; but I can assure you that, in all my experience” ——
“’Ees, ’ees; ’at ’s horrite; ’at ’s horrite. What d’y’ think o’ thet (collie) f’r a dorg?”
There was impatience in the first half of the speech, and arrogance in the last. I eased off, and took the branch track.
“He just knocks spots off any dog I’ve seen working cattle!” I burst-out. “But you can’t beat the Scotch collie” ——
“Scotch coolie be dang! Doan’ ’e know a Smiffiel’ coolie? Chork an’ cheese, Oi calls ’em.”
“Smithfield collie, of course! Did I say Scotch collie? Of course, the Smithfield collie has been in good hands for hundreds of years; and when you get the pure breed — Just look at that dog! How did you get such a dog as that? Bred him yourself, I suppose?”
“Noa,” he replied good-naturedly. “Oi g’e ’e foor moor troys. Coomh!”
“Bought him a pup?”
“Got him a present?”
“Not dezackly. Troy ageean.”
I shook my head hopelessly, though I could have suggested another title to the ownership of dogs — a very common one, too, and good enough till the proper person comes interfering. Boys’ dogs are generally held under this tenure. My companion, seeing me at fault, remarked with elephantine waggishness,
“‘At (dog) coomed deaoun t’ me f’m ebm!”
I assumed the look of a man who conceals staggering bewilderment under the transparent disguise of incredulity; and Sollicker, looking, like Thurlow, wiser than any man ever was, enjoyed my discomfiture as much as he was capable of enjoying anything. Then he proceeded with great deliberation to interpret his oracular utterance; but first, with a powerful facial exertion, he wrenched his mouth and nose to one side, inhaling vigorously through the lee nostril, then cleared his throat with the sound of a strongly-driven wood-rasp catching on an old nail, and sent the result whirling from his mouth at a butterfly on a stem of lignum — sent it with such accurate calculation of the distance of his object, the trajectory of his missile, and the pace of his horse, that the mucous disc smote the ornamental insect fair on the back, laying it out, never to rise again. This was but a ceremonious prologue, intended to deepen the impression of the coming revelation.
“Useter ’ev a ’oss Oi’d ketch hanyweares. ‘Wo, Bob! ’n’ ’ud stan’ loike a statoot t’ Oi’d ketch ’e (animal), ’n’ git onter ’im ’n’ shove me hutheh ’osses in ’e yaad, ’n’ ketch wich (one) Oi want. B’t ’e doid hautumn afoor las’ — leas’ways, ’e got ’ees ’oine leg deaoun a crack, an’ cou’n’t recoverate, loike; f’r ’e (beast) wur moo’n twenty y’r ole, ’n’ stun blin’, ’e wur. Ahterwahs, by gully! Oi got pepper-follerin’ ahteh me ’osses hevery mo’nin’ afoot. Wet ’n’ droy; day hin, day heaout; tiew, three, foor heaours runnin’; ’n’ ’ey (horses) spankin’ abeaout, kickin’ oop ’er ’eels loike wun o’clock. ’Ed ter wark ’em deaoun afoot, loike.”
“But why did n’t you hobble them?”
His face reddened slightly. “Me ’obble my ’osses! Tell ’e wot, lad: ’at ’s f’r w’y ’e C’lonian ’osses bea n’t no good, aside o’ Hinglish ’osses. Ain’t got n’ moor g-ts ’n a snoipe. G-ts shooked outen ’em a-gallerpin’ in ’obbles. Tell ’e, Oi seed my (horses) a-gallerpin’ foor good heaours, ’n’ me ahteh ’em all ’e toime. Noo ’osses ’ud dure sich gallerpin’ in ’obbles. Doan’ ’e preach ’obbles ter me, lad. Oi got good ’osses; noo man betteh; ’osses fit f’r a gentleman; on’y C’lonian ’osses ’es C’lonian fau’ts — ahd ter ketch — ’ell ter ketch. Fifteen monce — hevery day on it — wet ’n’ droy; day hin, day heaout; tiew, three, foor heaours runnin’; ’n’ ’ey (horses) spankin’ abeaout, kickin’ oop ’er ’eels loike wun o’clock, ’n’ gittin’ wuss ’n’ wuss, steed o’ betteh ’n’ betteh. Toimes, Oi see me a’moos’ losin’ tempeh.”
I turned away my face to conceal my emotion. Sollicker went on ——
“Accohdbl’, wun mo’nin’ las’ winteh, heaout Oi goos, o’ course; ’n’ my ’osses ’ed n’t n’ moo ’rn stahted trampin’ loike; ’n’ heverythink quiet ’s zabbath, ’n’ nubbody abeout f’r moiles; ’n’ horf goos ’em ’osses loike billy-o; horf ’ey goos ’arf-ways reaoun’ ’he paddick, ’n’ inter ’e stockyaad ’n’ ’ere ’ey boides; ’n’ ’at dorg a-settin’ in ’e panel, a-watchin’ of ’em, loike Neaow, ’ow d’ye ceaount f’r ’at, lad? Doan’ ’at nonpulse ’e? Coomh!”
“It does, indeed! You did n’t put him on the horses?”
“Noa, s’elp me bob. Neveh clapped heyes honter ’im, not t’ Oi seed ’im hahteh my ’osses, a-yaadin’ of ’em f’r me. My Missus, she ’lows a hangel fetched ’e (dog) deaown f’m ebm! At ’s w’y Oi calls ’m ‘Jack’.”
“I see!” said I admiringly. Which, the censorious reader will not fail to notice, marked a slight deflection from my moral code. “And he stayed with you, sir?”
“Follered hahteh me ’oss’s ’eels heveh since. (Dog) dews heverythink loike a Christian — heverythink b’t tork. Hevery mo’nin’, hit ’s ‘Cyows, Jack; we’s y’ cyows?’ An’ horf goos Jack, ’ees hown self, ’n’ fetches ’e cyows. Hahteh breakfas’ hit ’s ‘’Osses, Jack; fetch y’ ’osses’. An’ horf trots Jack, ’n’ presinkly ’e ’osses be in ’e yaad, ’n’ ’e (dog) a-settin’ in ’e panel, a-watchin’ of ’em.”
“Beats all!” I murmured, thinking how the Munchausens run in all shapes; then, desiring to minister occasion to this somewhat clumsy practitioner, I continued, “I suppose you drop across some whoppers of snakes in your rounds, sir?”
“Sceace none. Hain’t seed b’t wun f’r tiew year pas’; ’n’ ’e (reptile) wah n’t noo biggeh ’n me w’ip-an’l.”
“Grand horse you’re riding,” I remarked, after a pause.
This neatly-placed comment opened afresh Solicker’s well of English undefiled; and another hour passed pleasantly enough, except that Alf’s bullocks preyed on my mind, and I wanted them to prey on Yoongoolee instead. I therefore modestly opened my mouth in parable, recounting some half-dozen noteworthy reminiscences, as they occurred to my imagination, and always slightly or scornfully referring to the magnanimous and indomitable hero of my yarn as ‘one of these open-hearted English fools,’ or as ‘an ass of a John Bull that had n’t sense enough to mind his own business.’ These apologues all seemed to point toward chivalrous succour of the helpless and afflicted as a conspicuous weakness of the English character; and Sollicker listened with a stolid approbation unfortunately altogether objective in character.
Tom Collins [Joseph Furphy]. Such is Life, The Bulletin Newspaper Company, Sydney, 1903