“There y’are,” he said, “There’s my right, title and intrust in all this here block of land, and all the stock what’s on it; and if you’re ever short of a man to look after the place in the wet season I’ll take the job. I might be glad of it.”
“I think it’s quite likely you won’t want any job from me,” said Charlie. “I’ll be asking you for a job yet. Are you sure that’s your right name? What was your father?”
“My name? O’ course it’s my name. My father was billiard-marker at Casey’s Hotel, Dandaioo,” said the old man with conscious pride. “A swell he had been, but the booze done him up, like many a better man. He used to write to people over in England for money, but they never giv’ him any.”
“Where did he write to?” asked Carew, looking at the uncouth figure with intense interest. “Do you know what people he wrote to?”
“Yairs. He wrote to William Considine. That was his father’s name. His father never sent any money, though. Told him to go to hell, I reckon.”
“What was your father’s name?”
“William Patrick Considine.”
Carew dashed out to his saddle, hurriedly unstrapped a valise, and brought in a small packet of papers.
“Here you are,” he said, opening one, and showing it to Gordon. “Those are the names, Patrick Henry Considine, son of William Patrick Considine. Entitled under his grandfather’s will—by Jove, do you know there’s a lot of money waiting for you in England?”
“A lot of money left you. In England. Any amount of it. If you are the right man, you’re rich, don’t you know. Quite a wealthy man.”
“How much money d’you say, Mister?”
“Oh, a great deal. Thousands and thousands. Your grandfather left it. No one knew for certain where you were, or if you were alive.”
“I’m alive all right, I believe,” said Considine, staring hard at them. “But look, Mister—you aren’t trying to take the loan of me? Is this straight?”
“Yes, it’s straight,” said Charlie. “You’ll have to go to England to make your claim good, I expect. It’s straight enough. That’s what brought Mr Carew out here, to try and find you.”
For some time the bushman smoked in silence, looking at each man in turn, perhaps expecting them to laugh. He muttered once or twice to himself under his breath. Then he turned on Gordon again.
“Now, look here, Mr Gordon, is this square? Because, if it ain’t, it’ll be a poor joke for some of you!”
“Man alive, why should we want to fool you? What good could it do us? It’s all right.”
“Well, if it’s all right, we’ll all have a drink on it. Here, Maggie, Lucy, Billy, come here. Get it pannikin. You won’t mind me treatin’ ’em with your rum, I suppose, Mister?” he said, turning to Gordon. “I don’t come in for a fortune every day, you know, and there ain’t a drop of lush in the place, only yours.”
“Fire away,” said Charlie.
“Come on, Lucy. Come on, Maggie. Where’s Ah Loy? Watch their faces, Mister, it’s as good as a play. Now then, ladies, I bin poor fella longa teatime, now rich feller longa bedtime. You savvy?”
The gins grinned uncomprehendingly, but held out their pannikins, and into each he poured a threefinger nip of raw overproof rum that would have burnt the palate of Satan himself. They swallowed it neat, in two or three quick gulps. The tears sprang to their eyes, and they contorted their faces into all sorts of shapes; but they disdained to take water after it.
“My word, that strong feller, eh?” said Considine. “Burn your mouth, I think it. Now then, Ah Loy, how much you wantee? That plenty eh?”
Ah Loy peered into the tin pannikin with a dejected air, and turned it on one side to show that there wasn’t much in it.
“Here y’are then,” said his boss. “Have a bit more. We don’t come in for a fortune every day. Watch him take it, Mister.”
Ah Loy put the fiery spirit to his lips, and began to drink in slow sips, as a connoisseur sips port wine. “Good heavens,” said Carew, “it’ll burn the teeth out of his head.”
The Chinee sipped away, pausing to let the delicate fluid roll well into the tender part of his mouth and throat.
“Welly stlong!” he said at last; but he finished the lot. The two black boys had their share, and retired again to their camp. Then the three white men sat out in front of the house on some logs, smoking, and looking at the blazing stars.
Considine had fifty questions to ask, and the more Carew tried, the more helpless it was to explain things to him.
“D’you say there’s a house left me with this here money?”
“Yes,” replied Carew. “Beautiful old place. Old oaks, and all that sort of thing. You’ll like it, I’m sure. Used to be a pack of hounds there.”
“Ha!” said Considine with contempt. “I don’t think much of this huntin’ they have in England. Why, I knew a chap that couldn’t ride in timber a little, and he went to England and hunted, and d’you know what he said? He said he could have rode in front of the dogs all the way, if he’d have liked. But the owner of the dogs asked him not to, so he didn’t.”
“I suppose could take Maggie and Lucy there,” he went on, looking doubtfully at his hearers. “They wouldn’t mind a chap havin’ a couple of black lady friends, would they? Yer see, they’ve stuck with me well, those two gins, and wouldn’t like to leave ’em behind. They’d get into bad hands. They’re two as good handy gins as there is in the world. That little fat one—you start her out with a bridle and enough tobacker after lost horses, and she’ll foller ’em till she gets ’em, if it takes a week. Camps out at night anywhere she can get water, and gets her own grub—lizards and young birds, and things like that. There ain’t her equal as a horse-hunter in Australia. Maggie ain’t a bad gin after horses, but if she don’t find ’em on the first day, she won’t camp out ’cause she gets real frightened. I’d like to take ’em with me, yer know.”
As he spoke the two moleskin-trousered, cotton-shirted little figures passed in front of the hut. “There they go,” he said. “Two real good gins. Now, as man to man, you wouldn’t arst me to turn them loose, would you?”
Carew looked rather embarrassed, and smoked some time before answering.
“Well, of course,” he said at last, “they’d put up with a good deal from you, bein’ an Australian, don’t you know. Fashion just now to make a lot of fuss over Australian chappies, whatever they do. But two black women—rather a large order. You might get married over there, and then these two black ladies——”
He was interrupted by a startled exclamation from Considine. “Married!” he said. “Married! forgot all about my wife. I am married!”
“What!” said Charlie. “Are you married?”
“Yairs. Married. Yairs! Should just think I was.”
“Not to a lubra, I suppose?”
“Lubra, no! A hot-tempered faggot of a woman I met at Pike’s pub. I lived with her three weeks and left her there. I haven’t seen her this six years.”
“Did you and she have some er—differences, then?” said Carew.
“Differences? No! We had fights—plenty fights. You see, it was this way. I hadn’t long got these two gins; and just before the rains the wild geese come down in thousands to breed, and the blacks all clear out and camp by the lagoons, and kill geese and eat eggs and young ones all day long, till they near bust. It’s the same every year—when the wild geese come the blacks have got to go, and it’s no use talkin’. So I was slavin’ away here—out all day on the run with the cattle—and one night I comes home after being out three days, and there at the foot of the bunk was the two gins’ trousers and shirts, folded up; they’d run away with the others.”
“So I goes after ’em down the river to the lagoons, and there was hundreds of blacks; but these two beauties had heard me coming, and was planted in the reeds, and the other blacks, of course, they says, ‘No more’ when I arst them. So there I was, lonely. Only me and the Chinaman here for two months, cause his gin had gone too. So one day I ketches the horses, and off I goes, and travels for days, till I makes Pike’s pub, and there was this woman.”
“It seems from what I heard afterwards that she’d just cleared out from some fellow she’d been livin’ with for years—had a quarrel with him. Anyhow, I hadn’t seen a white woman for years, and she was a fine lump of a woman, and I got on a bit of a spree for a week or so, you know—half-tight all the time; and it seems some sort of a parson—a mish’nary to the blacks—chanced along and married us. She had her lines and everything all right, but I don’t remember much about it. So then I’m living with her for a bit; but I don’t like her goin’s on, and I takes the whip to her once, and she gets snake-headed to me, and take up an axe; and then one day comes a black from this place and he says to me, he says, ‘Old man,’ he says, ‘Maggie and Lucy come back.’ So then I says to my wife, ‘I’m off back to the run,’ I says, ‘and it’s sorry I am that ever I married you.’ And she says, ‘Well, I’m not goin’ out to yer old run, to get eat up with musketeers.’ So says I, ‘Please yourself about that, you faggot,’ I says, ‘but I’m off.’ So off I cleared, and I never seen her from that day till this. I married her under the name of Keogh, though. Will that make any difference?”
This legal problem kept them occupied for some time; and, after much discussion, it was decided that a marriage under a false name could hardly be valid.
Then weariness, the weariness of open-air, travelling, and hard work, settled down on them, and they made for the house. On the verandah the two gins lay sleeping, their figures dimly outlined under mosquito nets; the dogs crouched about in all sorts of attitudes. Considine turned in all standing in the big rough bunk, while Carew and Gordon stretched their blankets on the hard earth floor, made a pillow of their clothes, and lay down to sleep, after fixing mosquito nets. Gordon slept as soon as he touched the blankets, but Carew tumbled and tossed. The ground was deadly hard. During the journey Frying Pan had got grass for their beds; here he had not been told to get it, and it would have looked effeminate to ask for grass when no one else seemed to want it. The old man heard him stirring and rolling, and sat up in his bunk. “What’s up, Mister?” he said kindly. “D’you find it a hard camp?”
“Not too easy,” said the Englishman. “Always seems to be a deuced hard place just under your hip, don’t you know?”
“I’ll put you right in a brace of shakes,” said Considine. “I’ve got the very thing to make a soft bed. Half a minute now, and I’ll get it for you.”
He went out to the back of the house and returned with a dry white bullock-hide, as rigid as a sheet of iron. This he threw down at Carew’s feet.
“Here y’are, Mister; put that under you for a hipper, and you’ll be all right.”
Carew found the hide nearly as hard as the bare floor, but he uttered profuse thanks, and said it was quite comfortable; to which the old man replied that he was sure it must be, and then threw himself back on his bunk and began snoring at once. But Carew lay long awake.