‘Well, Jesse,’ he says, ‘you did me a good turn in picking me out of the mud and holding up my head that day. I might have been smothered else, with the old horse atop of me. And now I’m going to see if I can help you a bit—one good turn deserves another, they say. Would you like to come into my stable as helper. I see you can ride, and have better hands than most young brats of your age.’
I told him ‘there was nothing I should like so well.’
‘All right,’ he says. ‘I’ll give you a note to my groom. You’ll have to toe the mark, or else ash plant’s the word, and well laid on too. You English lads get more licking than our boys do, and you’re none the worse of it. Give your master a week’s notice and come to me at the end of it. You’ll have to ride the horses their walking exercise, clean bits and stirrup irons, and do all you’re told to do. As to wages, I’m a little above the market I know; you’ll have to work all the harder.’
I went away as happy as a king, you bet. The very thing of all others that I had been longing for had happened to me. It was a lucky chance that the cow-hurdle was there, and as Mr. Buffray was getting better, no harm was done. I told the farmer I was going to a new place in a week. He said I was right to give him notice, but I could go next day if I liked. Boys were cheap and plenty in those parts, and it was more for the sake of giving me something to do that he hired me at all. So I tied up my things in a handkerchief next day, and went over to tell Jane, who kissed me over and over again, with tears in her eyes, and said she was sure I was in the right way at last. In the afternoon I went over to where Mr. Buffray’s horses stood at livery, and took my share of the work of bedding them down for the night. The boy that was there was a friend of mine, and I thought I would take part of his work and so make it easier, and the groom said I had brought in Bondi cool and comfortable, and showed more sense than boys did mostly, that rode full tilt for the doctor, which was all right—and then rode just as fast back, which was all wrong. So I had a fair start.
I was determined to do my best, and not to lose a good place for want of carefulness. So I worked and slaved, night and day, late and early. I picked up all I could from the groom, who was a very smart one and master of his work; learned how to ride a second horse, and set to at a tired hunter, with many other points of stable management. Master was soon in the saddle again, and rode as straight as ever—there was a deal of the bulldog about him; and as he found I was doing my best, and getting smartened up a bit, he took notice of me, and spoke to me at odd times about all sorts of things, but chiefly about Australia, because I generally managed to edge the talk that way.
‘Yes!’ he said, one day as we rode home when we had had a famous run, for I had come up just at the nick of time with his second horse, and he had been in the first flight all through. ‘England’s the best country in the world when a man has made his money, but there’s no place like Australia for making it. It’s the place for a young fellow to go to that has all the world before him.’
‘Are you ever going back there, sir? I said all of a sudden.
‘Going back?’ he says, quite quick and sharp. ‘Of course I am. I couldn’t live here for more than a year at a time. I didn’t intend to leave just yet, but I’ve had letters, and I shall be off as soon as the season’s over.’
‘Are you going to take any horses out with you?’ says I, rather fishing.
‘Well, yes! None of these, but I shall take a couple or more. What do you say to coming out to take care of them? I suppose you wouldn’t like to leave England for anything, like all you country boys?’
‘I have been thinking of it for years,’ I said. ‘The only thing is, that I don’t like parting with my sister Jane. If she comes, I say yes in a moment. But I must see her first.
‘What’s she like—anything like you?’ he said.
‘She’s the best girl in the world,’ I said, quite hot like, ‘and the best sister that ever was. If she could only go, but I don’t see how it’s to be managed. So we’d better not think of it.’
‘Do they grow much corn out there, sir?’ I went on, as he said nothing, but kept studying.
‘Corn? So much wheat that they send it home here to sell every year,’ says he. ‘Maize—also what we call Indian corn, oats, barley, and hay, any quantity; only we make our hay of green oats, not grass as you do here, and wonderful good hay it is—stronger and more fattening than this meadow grass of yours.’
‘How is that, sir?’
‘Why, it stands to reason,’ he says. ‘There’s the straw and the oats both. A horse will do hard work on it with never a mouthful of corn or beans, and they won’t do that here, will they?’
‘I suppose they must use a lot of it for the winter,’ says I, ‘to feed all the cattle and sheep on.’
He laughed then. ‘It’s a wonderful thing,’ says he, ‘that all you lads grow up as ignorant of the England beyond the seas,—and it’s as much England as this county or Yorkshire,—one would think it was Africa or the West Indies. Why, all the tens and hundreds of thousands of sheep and cattle never get a straw to eat in winter (unless it’s a drought) but what they can pick up.’
‘Then how do they live?’ I says, greatly wondering.
‘Live on the grass. What else? All the country’s covered with grass, and where the trees grow thin it makes very little difference. They don’t shade all the ground as they do here, and you never saw better beef or mutton in your life.’
‘I couldn’t have believed it, sir.’
‘No! I suppose not,’ says he. ‘Because you people won’t go and see for yourselves—only a man like my old father, now and then, that never trusted anybody’s opinion but his own; and so you stay cooped up in this little island, with the rich getting richer, and the poor poorer, every year, and won’t go to a country where there’s land for nothing, and work is well paid, and every man rises in life who has hands to work, and sense enough to keep away from the brandy bottle.’
‘That’s enough for me,’ says I. ‘I’m away as soon as I can find the way, and Jane, she goes when I go. But how are we to find the money? It’s ten thousand miles off. I saw that in a book.’
‘Every month, sometimes oftener, there’s emigrant ships,’ says he, ‘when the passage money is very low; there’s no trouble about getting out. Where’s your sister? If I saw her I might arrange to get her a place when she got out.’
I thanked him, and said I would bring her to see him.
So I went and got Jane to come with me one day, and talk over the notion of emigrating. Jane was dressed very neat, and since she had been up at the Hall she had picked up a way of carrying herself, and behaving, as she hadn’t before she went. A real fresh, rosy, Kentish face had Jane, and Mr. Buffray liked the look of her face from the start. She talked so sensible like, too, asked what he thought it would cost for us to go out in the ship, and whether we’d be sure to get places directly we got out, for she didn’t like the notion of wandering about in a strange land.
‘There’ll be a dozen places for a girl like you, and fine wages, 12s. to 15s. a week, the first day you go into the Immigration Hiring-room in Sydney. But for fear of any mistake, I’ll hire you and your brother and have a friend to meet you. Mrs. Buffray is always wanting a girl like you for housemaid, and half her time can’t get one, so you’re suited, and Jesse here can have charge of one of the horses that I’m taking out with me.’ So we settled it there and then.
‘But I can’t leave Jane, not till she’s fairly out in Australia, and settled,’ I said. ‘I wouldn’t let her go out by herself for any money. You can easy get a man for what you want on the voyage.’
‘Not so easy, youngster,’ says he, looking a bit put out. ‘But I suppose I must let you have your own way, though my opinion is that your sister can take care of herself anywhere.’
And so she could. But I was not going to send her out all alone, whatever happened. So the end of it was, we saved all the money we could out of our wages, and by the time the hunting season was over, and Mr. Buffray was thinking of going away, we managed to get enough. The clergyman and all the gentlefolk of the parish gave us a good character, and made up a few presents for us, and we went away to the ship by the South-Eastern railway, and said good-bye to Old England for good and all.
Mr. Buffray behaved very liberally in the matter of wages. He gave me something over and above, too, besides writing a letter which I was to take with me and deliver to his agent in Sydney. He also wrote word to have us met at the depôt, and to be put in the way of going up the country to where his place was. We would have no trouble after that, he said, and he would be out himself before many months.