‘I must have a nip after that,’ says Burdock. ‘I feel quite down in the mouth, though it serves Jim Roper dashed well right. Here’s a chap that’s well off, saved money and got it in the bank, ain’t married, and got neither chick nor child, and he goes and puts his head in a noose for the value of a few calves! But it ain’t the first time. Many a clearskin he’s nobbled afore now from Westburn, and many a fat beast went down with Buffray’s cattle as he never knowed about.’
‘What sentence will he get,’ says I, ‘if he’s found guilty? They won’t hang him, will they?’
‘They used to do,’ says Burdock, with a queer twist of his face; ‘likewise for sheep-stealing, but that’s past and gone. It was a trifle too hard when you come to think of it. But he’ll get three years’ imprisonment certain—perhaps five—depends upon the judge partly. He won’t see Yugildah this Christmas, or the next either.’
The first day of the great Calyanbone Race Meeting came at last. I’d nearly got tired of waiting, but up got the sun as usual somewhere about half-past four. Not a cloud in the sky—looking as if it wouldn’t rain for a year. It hadn’t been a bad season, so we didn’t mind a spell of dry weather.
I’d been over pretty often to see Cooramen, or Possie—one of the two—and came back with a good notion of the horse and a soft feeling about the girl. He was in first rate trim—fit to run for a man’s life, and I was regularly ‘gone,’ there was no mistake about that. I was going to ride Cooramen for the Town Plate and the Handicap. Whether I won or lost, I was going to ask Possie to be my wife the day after, and marry her if she said ‘yes’ as soon as I had a place to take her to. I’d thought it all over—for and against—a good many times. I knew that Jane wouldn’t like it, and that things might be said about her colour, and all the rest. But no one could say a word against herself—that was the great thing. She was a good girl—a clever girl, and a handsome one, too—if ever there was one. When I thought of going away and leaving her, it seemed as if the thought would drag my heart up by the roots. If she said ‘yes,’ that settled it. It was my fate, as the gipsies say, and I wouldn’t have given her up, if every man, woman, and child in Applegate had asked me to.
Calyanbone was five-and-twenty miles from Wallanbah. Burdock and I started with his buggy and pair of grays about eight o’clock, after an early breakfast, and were there quiet and comfortable before eleven. My word! the town was full. There were a lot of big squatting stations lying to the west and nor’-west of it, where they had improvements going on. Every man-Jack of the dam-sinkers, fencers, and station hands had come in. All the young gentlemen that were on the ‘colonial experience’ lay were there. They didn’t often get such a chance. Only a few of the squatters themselves were in; most of them were in town, or at the seaside—and quite right, too. All the supers and under-overseers had come. If there’d been anything to steal from the stations except sheep, now would have been the time, for there was hardly a soul at home to look after anything.
We drove up to the best hotel, where Burdock had engaged rooms a month ago, or there’d have been very little chance of getting any. I was pretty well turned out—I’d learned to dress myself like the young fellows—and wasn’t a bad-looking chap, though I say it, you boys! Not much for height, but neat made, and wiry. I was stronger than I looked, and as active as a cat. I hadn’t a bad face—as faces go—fair hair and blue-gray eyes, goodish teeth and a firm-set mouth. I’d learned early to hold my tongue and say ‘no’—a deuced good habit, and I kept it up; it’s proved lucky for me many a time. Everybody seemed to know Burdock and shook hands with him, and he always introduced me as his friend, Mr. Claythorpe.
It’s a curious thing—and I’ve often studied over it—how one man is made much of, and spoken of everywhere as Mr. So-and-so, while another never gets beyond Jack or Bill—or Smith or Jones—as the case may be. One man rises, and goes from high to higher; another gets lower day by day.
Newly-come people don’t understand this. Generally they think that money does everything, and that there are no ranks or differences in colonial society.
There they’re quite wrong. There are reasons and rules which help one man to get up, and keep another down, and their families, if they have any, with them. But newly-imported people are seldom sharp enough to see these causes till they’ve got the ‘run of the ropes.’
It’s partly this way. If a man gets a start in any position of trust or independence—if he has reasonable manners and self-respect—he has a good chance of getting into the ‘reserved seats.’ The bachelor squatters will take him up first; then some of the others, like Burdock, who are not very particular, having risen themselves. Afterwards people get accustomed to him, and he takes rank with the rest—that is if he behaves himself. If he doesn’t, he gets shown the door and is shunted. A man who does labouring work, like Leighton, isn’t let in, though he may be known to be a gentleman. People say there must be something wrong about him, which there is generally. He gets coarse in his ways too, and always drinks. I never knew one that didn’t anyhow. Of course a steady young fellow might be unlucky. A little work wouldn’t count against him then—rather be in his favour. But he must come out of it. If he doesn’t, it shows that he deserves to stop there, and he is rated according.
So I found myself ticketed as ’a friend of old Burdock’s, of Wallanbah, you know; not long from England. I had taken up those Yantara blocks; was a first-class amateur jock, and was going to ride for the Town Plate and Handicap.’
This was all the information that was wanted. I found myself quite popular, and was asked to ‘take something’ by dozens of young fellows, which I, of course, had to refuse.
Just before twelve o’clock I heard one of these young fellows say, ‘By Jove! Charlie, what a handsome girl! Who is she?’
I looked, and there, sure enough, came Possie, riding the chestnut mare Giráh, wonderful well turned out, with her habit and hat, gloves and silver-mounted riding whip. The mare was in splendid buckle; her golden-coloured skin shone again, and though she reared once and plunged a bit when a horse passed her, she only showed off Possie’s seat and hands by her tricks. Old George Barker was quite spruce, and Kitty rode close by him on the other side, looking half afraid of the crowd and the company.
‘Johnny and Jack Hall came over with Cooramen last night,’ she said, after we had shaken hands. ‘They got a box for him, and won’t show till he’s saddled.’
‘You’ll come and lunch with us, Possie,’ says Mr. Burdock, who’d come up behind us. ‘Barker, you come too. There’ll be some champagne going, I daresay.’
George ‘wasn’t sure. He might, and he mightn’t. Possie would come, and Kit—much obliged to Mr. Burdock.’
I borrowed a horse and rode round the course with Possie, who seemed to be quite at home. She made me tell her everybody’s name. I was amused to see how everybody almost turned and looked at her.
‘They can’t find any fault with my horse or my habit, that’s one thing,’ she said laughing. ‘Giráh’s rash and hot-tempered like her mistress, but she can behave herself when she likes. Why, there’s Nellie Thoresby, of all people. I didn’t know she’d returned from Sydney.’
As the words came out of her mouth I noticed her face change. It lost its happy child’s look and a half frown came instead.
‘Who is Nellie Thoresby, I’ve never seen her?’ I said. Then I recollected that Thoresby had said something about ‘his girl being away in Sydney.’
Just then a party of young men, with two or three of the country girls, on horseback, rode towards us, when one of them, a good-looking girl enough but no beauty (as I thought then), rode forward.
‘Why, Possie dear, I haven’t seen you for ages,’ she said. ‘Didn’t you hear I’d come home? I expected you over a fortnight ago.’
‘But I didn’t know you had returned,’ said Possie, in rather a stately way. ‘If you told any one to tell me, they forgot all about it, thinking of you, I suppose. But I must introduce Mr. Claythorpe—this is Miss Thoresby, of Mindorah. I expect you have both heard of each other, haven’t you now?’ And she looked from one to the other as if she could read our hearts.
The other girl smiled. ‘I certainly have heard about Mr. Claythorpe more than once. Father seemed to think it so good of him to send us word about those calves. He couldn’t get it out of his head.’
‘I don’t wonder,’ says Possie, ‘such a thing was never done before at Yugildah, and never will be again most likely. But I didn’t come here to talk about calves. I must go and have a last look at Cooramen.’
She gave the mare an impatient tap with her whip as she said this, hit her harder than she thought perhaps, for Giráh made one jump, going up into the air with all four legs at once, and then gave a straight plunge as she went away which would have shifted most people. But Possie only swayed back in her saddle and let her go her best pace for a hundred yards, and then pulled her up with the greatest ease.
‘Poor old pet, did it get a slap,’ she said, ‘from its naughty mistress. Never mind, she shall have sugar plums by and by,’ and she stroked her mare’s glossy neck, leaning forward like a child stooping for a flower. ‘Now let us go and see Cooramen. When does our race start?’
‘Three o’clock—just after lunch—so we shall have plenty of time to see everything and everybody.’
‘That will be very nice,’ she said.
‘Somebody says something in a book about living an hour in a moment,’ she said, turning suddenly to me. ‘It is quite true. Do you know I feel so excited I can hardly sit in my saddle. It is such a wonderful change from the terrible sameness of our everyday life. I wonder if I shall be doomed to it for evermore.’
‘Who knows?’ I said. ‘I am going to be your neighbour, you know. It is only fifty miles to Yantara; I shall always stop at your place coming in. I have got to make the station first—build huts, yards, paddocks, everything. I wish I was at it now.’
‘That’s not over-polite, is it?’ she said laughing, ‘but I know what you mean. You are quite right. I so often wish I was a man. But I would not be contented to do what they do. Why don’t they work hard for years, spend nothing, and then go away to the beautiful other countries we hear and read of, and enjoy life. This is not life.’
‘Just now you said it pleased you.’
‘From the change only. Think what the other must be, when this appears a sort of heavenly vision to me. Well, I think you have a different notion of happiness. But here is dear old Cooramen. Doesn’t he look a king?’
Jack Hall was leaning against the door of the loose box, smoking, as we rode up. Johnny Barker was just drawing the sheets back over the old horse’s shining back and quarters.
He was standing with the muzzle on in the roomy loose box, first lifting up one leg and then another, as if he was rather tired of doing nothing and wished the fun to begin.
Jack looked first at one and then the other of us. Then he said to Possie: ‘I hope you’re satisfied now,’ and he showed his white teeth in a smile that was more than half good-humoured, though I knew he was vexed.
‘Why should I be satisfied?’ she said haughtily. ‘And what business is it of yours?’
‘Not much, of course,’ he said, looking at her as a man looks at a child that he hasn’t the heart to scold—‘only you’re well off to-day. You’ve got one man to look after your horse, and another to ride about the course with you, and both on the chance of pleasing you, I suppose. You’ll want another while the race is being ridden. You could pick up one at lunch, if you tried.’
She turned her head a little, and looked at him for a moment. A spot of colour came on each cheek. Her eyes flashed again, and her lips parted for a moment before she spoke.
‘Say another word like that, Jack Hall,’ she answered, ‘and I’ll never speak to you again as long as I live. Who are you, to tell me what I’m to do and not to do? I can saddle Cooramen myself if you’re tired of doing what you promised to do. Only say the word.’
She looked so handsome as she said this, not raising her voice, like another woman would have done, but putting a deep low tone into every word that had double the effect. The same feeling, I’m sure, was in both our hearts. We could not help admiring such a pretty creature, though she half frightened us. Like all men, though, we thought we could quieten the temper if we owned the owner of it.
Jack looked savage for a moment. Then he laughed. ‘You’ll start the old horse capering and make him lose the race, if you don’t mind. You can blow me up sky-high when it’s all over, but keep cool, for Cooramen’s sake, till after the start.’
She raised her whip, half in anger, half in play, and then turned away. It was some time before she recovered herself and said: ‘How provoking men are, and how foolish it is to lose one’s temper. I wonder if I shall ever have mine under control. What leaps are those? They are stiff, are they not?’
‘The steeple-chase jumps,’ I said, ‘to be run to-morrow. The stewards have had them made strong on purpose. They are safer that way, they think. The men won’t try to gallop over them.’
‘What’s that one that seems higher than the others?’
‘It is four feet six, good measure,’ I said. ‘A big jump.’
‘I believe Giráh could do it,’ she said, riding over and reining up the mare’s head till she put her nose on the stout rail. ‘I rode her over our paddock fence last week, and she flew it like a bird. It is quite as high, though I don’t think it is as stiff.’
‘Giráh can jump well enough,’ I said, ‘but she is too hot to be safe. She takes her fences flying too, and some day will take off too near or too far off, and come down a smash.’
‘Not she—will you, old lady?’ she said, stroking the mare’s neck. ‘She knows my hand, and though she will race at her leaps, she picks herself up just at the right moment. I wish there was a jumping prize for us girls to-day, as they had at Bathurst.’
‘I am very glad there is nothing of the sort,’ I said. ‘I’m always afraid of an accident happening.’
‘That bay horse of Nellie Thoresby’s can jump a little, they say. I should like to see her follow me and Giráh over these leaps.’
‘What does it matter whether her horse can jump or not?’ I said. ‘She can’t ride as well, though she hasn’t a bad seat, I’ll say that for her. I never saw the woman yet that could hold a candle to you in that line.’
‘I like to hear you say so,’ she said, looking at me as if she’d suddenly changed into another woman. ‘All the same I should like to ride against her for once in a way.’
After the small events came off we had a first-rate lunch at Mr. Burdock’s buggy. He’d got a case of champagne, and invited all the people he knew, the young swells and others, to take pot-luck, as he called it. We’d brought a famous big basket in the buggy with us, and had kept the old woman cutting sandwiches for I don’t know how long the day before. There was a cold turkey and chickens, a capital ham, and, as I said before, plenty of champagne.
Everybody laughed and talked; Possie looked her best and came in for plenty of attention. I was surprised to see how cool and easy she took it, holding her own well, as if she’d been used to these kind of people all her life.
‘What a nice mare that is of yours, Miss Barker,’ said one of the back-block youngsters. ‘Somebody said she would jump any fence on the course.’
‘She is hard to beat over timber,’ says Possie, quite composed like. ‘I think she could take anything here.’
‘That bay horse, Wallaroo, of Nellie Thoresby’s, can jump well, too,’ said another young fellow. ‘Weston said she could win the steeple-chase, he knew, if she entered for it.’
‘Not if Giráh was in it,’ said Possie. ‘I’d back her against the bay for all I’m worth in the world.’
‘Suppose we had a trial for a new side-saddle and bridle,’ said the first man who had spoken. ‘Not a race, but a hunter’s trial, after the handicap. It would be most interesting. What do you say, Miss Barker?’
‘I’m ready if Nellie will ride,’ says she. ‘I’m not sure that her mother will let her, but you may try.’
‘It’s a splendid idea,’ says the first man, whose name was Charleston. ‘I’d give all the world to see it. I back Miss Barker here of course.’
‘The jumps are high, and stiff too. It’s a little dangerous,’ I said. ‘Perhaps some of you gentlemen will ride over them first.’
‘I don’t mind putting my old horse over after his race is run,’ says Charleston. ‘But we’ll see about it by and by. Isn’t time nearly up?’
We all went down to see Cooramen saddled. I had my jacket on underneath a light silk coat, so there was no dressing wanted. The old horse came out looking fit to run for the Melbourne Cup, and when I got a leg-up and felt him move away something like spring steel and velvet mixed, I knew he was bound to win.
‘If he don’t win to-day he’ll never win,’ says Jack Hall. ‘You’re carrying all the big money from here to the Macquarie, Mr. Claythorpe, so do your best. I’ll cut the turf if you throw me over.’
‘What one man can I’ll do to-day, Jack,’ I said. ‘If there isn’t a dark horse and Cooramen stands up we must win.’
It was a good race and a better finish, though I say it. The first favourite was a black horse, long and low set, with four white legs, Dolo by name. I was afraid of him from the first. He was queer on the near fore leg, but he’d run well in good company and had a name as a stayer. A professional had come up to ride him, and he was backed by most of the squatters round about, and the few bookmakers that had found their way up. There was a very fast gray mare known to be a good one, I doubted whether she could carry the weight; her name was Modesty. There was five others altogether, all pretty fair goers, but it was generally supposed the race lay between one of us three. Dolo came out of the stable of a big squatter who had half-a-dozen stations northward of Calyanbone. All the colonial experience young gentlemen and most of the working hands from the station, who’d got away to the race for a holiday, put all the money they could afford on him.
The saddling bell rang, and I walked quietly down to the stand, opposite which we were to start. Jack Hall led him and Possie rode a little way off inside of the ropes, looking at the old horse as he moved along, arching his neck, and playing with his bit, every inch a race-horse. I didn’t think there were so many people on the course before. The two or three four-in-hand drags were crowded, and all the excitement of the crowd seemed to have been kept bottled up for this race.
I was fit, and the horse was fit. ‘They shall have a run for their money,’ I said to myself.
We got off to a middling good start. I sailed away a bit on the outside, and let the youngsters make the running. I never felt a horse go better under me than Cooramen did that morning. I steadied him, and only kept my place, knowing some of the leaders would come back to me before long; and they did. I drew up a bit as we passed into the straight opposite the stand, and couldn’t find that he had half extended himself as yet.
The gray mare shot into the lead here, followed by the black horse, Dolo, the rider going pretty patient like myself, but beginning to waken up. The mare began to stretch away from us at such a rate of speed that we had to begin to ride not to be left behind. Just then a bright chestnut horse with a blaze down his face came up through the ruck on the inside, and challenged the gray mare. We let them go at each other, keeping well up, and of course reserving our final effort till we passed the turn.
The chestnut and the mare had a desperate rally, which ended in the horse drawing ahead. When we were about three parts of the way round for the second time, I set Cooramen going, and we four went at it. Dolo was a lazy horse, and his jock gave him the whip, which made him shoot ahead as if the others had been standing still. He passed the gray mare, then the chestnut, and the mob began to yell ‘Dolo; Dolo wins,’ and so on. I kept creeping up, doing all I knew, but not lifting the whip. I sat quiet, and let the old horse have his own way till the last fifty yards. Then I made the rush I had practised many a time before. I let him have whip and spurs both. Dolo’s rider made a rattling fight for it; but Cooramen had the foot of him, and a turn better in point of condition. He answered the whip as if he hadn’t gone a yard. I won cleverly, with a length to the good.
What a roar and storm of cheers there was all over the course! I didn’t think it was so popular a win. But everybody knew he was George Barker’s horse—a poor man’s (comparatively) against a big squatter’s. Jack Hall had a good many friends; and of course Possie had her share of well-wishers.
Possie rode up to the weighing yard with me, side by side, her eyes sparkling, and her face full of joy and triumph. Mr. Burdock had another case of champagne sent down to his buggy, and made everybody come and drink my health. He fell across Thoresby and his daughter, and would have no denial. They must come too.
‘It’s no use talking,’ he said. ‘I know every girl on the course is in love with my young friend at the present time. A good-looking young jock as has just won a big race, and rode it with judgment from end to end, is a man a young woman can’t help admiring. So fill up, ladies and gentlemen, and here’s Mr. Claythorpe’s jolly good health, as is a rising man in the district, and will be heard of yet, take my word for it.’
Of course this was all very nice and pleasant, and as I stood there with the men drinking towards me, and the girls smiling and blushing and making believe to be angry with old Burdock, I could hardly believe I was Jesse Claythorpe at all. Not so long ago a farmer’s boy, and in great doubt now and then where the next dinner was to come from. Wasn’t this another world—a new world in every way?—a sort of heaven, only that we were not dead; where we had all kinds of pleasures and feelings and surroundings that we never dreamed of before!
Like most people when they’re young, it seemed to me as if hardly anybody died. Poor mother was gone; but that was in England, and it seemed so long ago—so far off. My head began to feel dizzy with these thoughts, though of course I had never drank anything (I wasn’t going to break my rule for anybody), and for that matter, nobody tried to make me. They never do in this country, once a man says ‘no,’ and means to stick to it. People talk about temptation, but they tempt themselves, it’s my opinion.
Possie and Nellie Thoresby were standing next to Mr. Burdock, with an Honourable Mr. Berkeley on the other side, who was talking nineteen to the dozen to Possie, and she laughing and chaffing away with him, as if she’d known lords and swells all her life. She looked her best that day, and certainly took the shine out of Nellie Thoresby, who was a quiet steady-going girl, though she had something to say for herself too. She was not so tall as Possie, but well set in figure, and with a nice good-humoured face, as if nothing could put her out of temper. Everybody liked her about there, and respected her, which was more. However, the quietest girls can be roused up a bit at times, I’ve noticed, especially when there’s another woman in the way. So when, after a deal of chaff with Mr. Burdock, Mr. Berkeley said he’d back Miss Barker for all he was worth to take the highest leap on the course; when I heard Nellie Thoresby say she’d ride her horse Wallaroo over the steeple-chase jumps against any other horse ridden by a lady, the best of three trials to win, I wasn’t so much astonished as I should have been the week before the races.
‘That’s the very thing I wanted,’ said Possie, ‘you’re the best girl I know, Nellie. I was dying for a little bit of real riding, and I know Wallaroo can jump like a flying buck.’
‘I’m afraid it’s a silly affair, Possie; but as I’ve said so, I won’t draw back.’
We went down and saw Cooramen, who was comfortable in his box, and none the worse for his race.
‘When I saw you all coming up the straight,’ Possie said, ‘I thought I should have fainted with excitement. I saw the dear old horse was well up, but I wasn’t sure you could land him. Ah yes! You rode splendidly. Everybody says so.’
‘And what did you say?’ I said. ‘It was to please you I rode the race at all, and now I’ve won it, I suppose I’ve kept my word.’
‘I’ll tell you some day how pleased I was, and what I thought, though I didn’t say it. But not just yet.’
She looked at me in a curious sorrowful sort of way, I thought. Though I didn’t take much notice of it at the time, I often thought of it afterwards.
‘I wish you were not going to ride over those jumps,’ I said. ‘I call that sort of thing foolishness, and I’m always afraid of a girl getting hurt.’
‘I should have been killed long enough ago,’ she said, ‘if riding and falls would do it. I have had plenty of them in my time.’
‘You may have one too many, but I’ll see your saddle’s properly girthed, at any rate. Jack Hall is just saddling the mare.’
It certainly was a pretty sight to see the two girls ride up the course till they came to within about fifty yards from the first steeple-chase leap. Giráh was ready to jump out of her skin, and she sidled and danced, and reared and plunged as if she was never going to steady down to her work. And through it all Possie sat quiet and as firm as a rock, with her hands down, and just yielding a little every time the mare rose from the ground, as if it was the easiest thing in the world. Wallaroo, a fine, solid, but active-looking horse, with a grand shoulder and capital legs, came stepping along quietly, but to my mind, looking more of a workman over timber than the other.
Two of the race stewards were chosen to start them and act as judges. Possie drew the winning lot. They were easy started. As she touched her rein the mare dashed off and raced at her first jump. She didn’t attempt to hold her, but just steadied her. She went at the jump at an awful pace, but rose two lengths from the fence and made a splendid fly over it, clearing it with a foot to spare. As she went over Possie threw up her whip hand, sitting square, without the slightest waver or tremble in her saddle. I never saw a finer piece of riding in my life, and so thought the couple of thousand people at the races, or they wouldn’t have cheered and shouted and thrown up their hats like a mob of schoolboys. The mare went on at full speed till she came to the next jump, clearing that and the one after in the same splendid style.
Then came Nellie Thoresby. She rode quietly at the first leap, which her horse cleared as easily as a cat jumping a footstool. The jump was exactly four feet high, made perfectly stiff, with heavy split-gum timber; so that they were no child’s play. However, the bay horse hopped over them all as comfortable as a circus pony, measuring his distance and not touching a rail.
The next round was like the first; neither horse touched or baulked. Possie’s mare had the most showy style of jumping; but the bay horse took his leaps in an easy well-mannered sort of way, and Nellie appeared so much at home in the saddle that not a word could be said against either.
The judges then called them up and told them to go over the leaps side by side, and to ride pretty fast, like a real steeple-chase.
So they went off, but as they got close to the first fence, Giráh went away, and racing at it, went up in the air as if she was never coming down again. I never saw a finer jump; and there was Possie as quiet and composed, with her hands before her, as if she was riding along a road. Wallaroo was close beside her, and being roused up a bit, made a grand jump, every bit as good in its way.
As the girls went at the next leap together, both horses put on a spurt, and the pace they made was a caution. All of a sudden I saw Possie pull her mare to the off-side, and send her at the ‘wing.’ This was fully six inches higher than the other part of the leap, made so purposely, to edge the horses into the regular panels. Giráh went at it as if a foot was no matter one way or the other, and every one held their breath, when all of a sudden a dog ran out of the crowd just in front of her fore legs. Now the mare was an awfully timid animal. I’d seen her shy and plunge when a bird flew up. The dog startled her, and I saw her change her leg. At the pace she was going there was no stopping or pulling off. Whether it was that, or half looking at the brute as she rose—it came to the same thing. She took off too far from the leap, and hitting the top rail an awful clout, came down on her head, rolled over poor Possie, and making a half turn over again from the way she had on, lay as still as a log. Her neck was broken, and she never stirred again.
Nellie Thoresby took the leap lower down, clear and well. Why couldn’t poor rash Possie have done the same thing? Pulling her horse up short before she came to the next leap, she slipped off, let him go, and was round holding up poor Possie’s head almost before any one else had got up to her. She was terribly crushed, and one arm was broken. She was not insensible, and as I lifted her up she tried to smile, and whispered: ‘Poor Giráh; it’s our last ride. All my own fault, too. Mind you win the Town Plate, Jesse. If I can sit up, I’ll come to the window to see it.’
We carried her into the nearest hotel, where she was laid on a bed and attended to. There was a doctor at the meeting, of course, so everything was done for her that could be. He set her arm and collar bone; but said he was afraid of internal injuries.
I can’t bear to think about it, even now all these years have past. It seems like yesterday, and I can see her pale face as we lifted her up, and the pitiful smile she gave when she saw me and Nellie Thoresby by her.
She died that night. Nothing could have saved her, the doctor said. She was brought home and buried at Boree by the side of her mother. George Barker said she couldn’t rest anywhere else, he knew. She’d always said she’d like to be buried there, down by the creek, and under a spreading wilga tree. She always had an idea she’d die young, too, and told me so more than once.
Mr. Burdock and I went back to Wallanbah next morning, and a lot of the people cleared out, though I suppose the races were run somehow or other. I found that Leighton had come back there, and a lot of men with him that had just been paid off a big fencing contract. They were steady fellows, and Leighton said he’d taken the pledge for five years, and intended to keep it this time.
I found a letter there waiting for me from Mr. Buffray, offering me the management of Yugildah. He said he could see now where the trouble had been between me and Roper. It was partly his own fault, he said, as he had been too careless and easy-going, though he had heard stories from time to time. He would give me two hundred a year to manage the place, with, of course, a house to live in, and everything paid. If I couldn’t go there myself, I was to get a good stockman and put him on as working-overseer. I could keep an eye on him from Yantara, and see that the accounts, etc., were right. He had too much to do to come up himself. From what he heard, Roper was safe to be convicted, and serve him right, too.
I had a long talk with Mr. Burdock, the end of which was that I offered Jack Hall the place at £70 a year and his rations. Burdock said he was getting rid of the cattle, and wouldn’t want a smart man like Hall, and he wouldn’t stand in the way of his bettering himself. So I went over with Jack and put him in charge. He knew the run like a book, and I knew I could trust him. I agreed with Leighton and some of the best men of the lot to go back with me to Yantara.
I was sick and tired of doing nothing, and mad to get at hard work and hard living for a while to knock poor Possie’s miserable end out of my head—or help to, anyway. Day and night she was before me for months and months afterwards. However, work must be done, so we drafted the sheep, and away we went. The weather was hot, but we were too tired and hard-worked, what with watching and one thing and another, to think whether it was hot or cold.
After a bit I left the sheep to come on, and took Leighton and a couple of men with me to put up huts and yards. By the time they came up we were ready for them, and all went on well. The season was good—plenty of grass and water, that makes everything go well—not like some seasons we’ve had since. As for Leighton, there couldn’t be a better man. He was like lots of people in this country that I’ve met, high and low. He had only one fault. But he kept right this time, and he put me up to everything I didn’t know about stock and station life, and helped me in other ways, as a man brought up like him could.
When we got to Yantara we all worked double tides, in a manner of speaking. The season helped us along. We had a grand lambing, and I bought some more sheep on bills before shearing, and did well out of them too.
There’s not much more to tell after this. Everything I touched did well, and I was able in a couple of years to pay off my debt to Mr. Burdock. I got as much credit as I wanted on my own account. I kept breeding up at Yantara, and sold one of the blocks for more money afterwards than the whole thing cost me.
As soon as everything was fairly started I left Leighton to manage by himself, and cameover to Yugildah to live. I made myself fairly comfortable; had a decent cottage, a garden and plenty of vegetables. No man need live like a blackfellow in the bush unless he wants to.
After about two years, though I hadn’t got poor Possie clear out of my head, I thought it was no use living solitary all my life, so, as I used to go to Thoresby’s a good deal, and Nellie, curious to say, hadn’t married, I asked her one day if she thought she could live at Yugildah and help me keep house, for there had come to be a deal of visitors and neighbours that called there now. She asked me why I didn’t make up to one of the Miss Burdocks. I said they were too grand for me altogether.
So she said she’d consider about it. And the end of it was we were married, and no man ever had a better wife.
If I prospered before, be sure I didn’t go back when I had a sensible prudent wife, with as good a head as she had heart, and a little more colonial experience than I had.
I was as happy as the day was long. Yugildah paid well, and we didn’t find it necessary to take other people’s calves. Roper got three years’ imprisonment when he was tried at the Quarter Sessions, and the Judge told him he had a great mind to give him five.
Yugildah was a pleasanter place than Yantara, so we made our home there, and I went over there every now and then to see how things got on. Leighton kept his word and never touched a drop after he took the pledge, which of course made a different man of him. He dressed well and respected himself, and as the manager of Yantara, and being always a gentleman, with first-rate manners when he liked, he was received at the squatters’ houses on equal terms.
After this Mr. Buffray took it into his head to sell Yugildah, and offered it to me on long credit. I saw my way to make it pay for itself in five years—and so it did.
Shortly after Nellie Thoresby and I were married, sister Jane came up to see us. She and Nellie made great friends, and she was astonished to see how much I’d done. ‘You’ve been helped greatly, Jesse,’ she says, ‘and you’ve had wonderful good friends—few men better—but they wouldn’t have been so true to you if you hadn’t been true to yourself. It was a lucky day when we sailed away from old England, wasn’t it?’
While we were there, who should come over but Mr. Leighton. He dressed well now, and except that he was tanned and weather-beaten, couldn’t have looked more like a swell in England. He and Jane had such long talks about Applegate and the old home, until Nellie and I began to laugh at Jane about the way he was interested in her village histories. By George! it was no joke after all. They took a fancy to one another, and though he was double her age, he was a dashing fellow to look at, after all. And there’s something in an old friend and a long pedigree, especially in a woman’s eyes. Jane was a fresh English-looking young woman, with a good figure and a pleasant face. He hadn’t been in the way of seeing girls like her for many a year, so that was the reason he was struck with her, I suppose. He told her plain enough how low he had fallen—had given himself up for lost—and that she must take the chance of his keeping his word. If he broke it, all would be lost; and, of course, I tried to persuade her all I knew, besides saying (as Burdock did) that only one hard drinker in a thousand ever was really reclaimed when they got to that stage.
However, woman-like, she took the risk and thought it would be a wonderful thing to save a soul, and so on. He turned out to be the one in a thousand, luckily for her, and never went back on his pledge to his dying day. Jane and he were married and went to live at Yantara, where they were snug enough, though it was a deal hotter than Bandra.
Well, as time went on, I did better and better. Money’s like a snowball—it keeps getting bigger as it rolls. Mr. Buffray made up his mind to sell Bandra and live near Sydney (where he had a beautiful place) for the sake of the children’s education.
I bought it—to make a long story short—and there my wife and I, and all you boys and girls have been living for years. Mr. Leighton and his wife and family are at Yugildah. He’s saved money, and had some sent out from home besides lately, with which he bought a half share in Yantara, where there’s fifty thousand sheep now. They intend to go to England next year, to see his people and travel for a year or two. They’ll leave their two eldest sons at school, so they say.
But I’m not going home—not a yard. Bandra’s quite good enough for me, and as long as I have good health, good children, good horses, with enough to keep me from idling, and the best wife in the world, my home’s here in Australia.