You will be surprised to know that I have given up the police force. I don’t suppose that bit of news has been cabled to England yet. There was a scrimaje at a race-meeting where a lot of money was supposed to be stolen. I was like the North West Mounted Police I got my man, but the man I arrested was a milliunair and the chaps who informed on him were the chaps that got the money. When he had to be let go, he saw I was disappointed so he offered me a job as secertary at a thousand a year, so I told the police they had better look out for a man in my place.
Most rich men are so close with their money, you wouldn’t get anything out of them with the synide [cyanide] process, but my boss is free with his money and too free with his tongue when he gets a few drinks in. I am chucker-out as well as seckertary, and I have to chuck out my boss and put him to bed when he gets into a brawl.
My boss is mad on going in for racing and he bought three young horses from an old Irish squatter, a friend of Uncle Hilton’s, and I think much the same sort as Uncle Hilton. He fancied himself a lot and talked in a snearing way and made fun of Red Fred, which is my boss’s nickname and not a bad sort either. My boss hadn’t any money a year ago but now he has a private gold-mine and three big stations, about half a milliun sheep. We left the young horses to be broken in, one of them belongs to me. The boss gave him to me for carrying him out of the room when he wanted to fight.
We left the old Irishman’s place to go two hundred miles up the river to Calabash which is one of my boss’s places. Everything he touches turns out lucky just now. He bought this place from a man who was runed by four years drought and when the man gave delivry of it he had to swim his horses away from the place. The country is like a wheat feild now and the river is over its banks out for miles over the plain. It had banked up and was running the wrong way. We got into boggy country and had to leave the river and go ploughing through the scrub. When we retirned to the river we followed it the wrong way. Thinking it was flowing down stream when it was rearly flowing upstream. We were out all night and that is the time men get on each others nerfs, but we were all right. We had to do a perish, no grub, and he was saying what sort of dinners he would order when he got to England. He said what would a dinner cost at a fashuonable hotel in London and I said about two pounds a head, and he said that be blowed for a yarn, how could any man eat two pounds worth of grub at one sitting!
When we got going again we stopped for breakfast at a bush shanty. The publican wanted Red Fred to buy a lot of shares in a gold-mine. He said it was like a jeweller’s shop for gold, they had let him go down and take spessimens, so my boss said ‘if they let you go down that settles it. If it was as good as you say they wouldn’t let anybody look at it, they would keep it for themselves.’ He is shrood all right is Mr Fred Carstairs. His wool clip last year was over two hundred and fifty thowsand and his mine another fifty thowsand. As fast as one place paid for itself he bought another. We are going to inspect a fresh place next week.
We only got here last night so haven’t had much of a look round yet. The homestead isn’t much but the boss says if you build too good a homestead the manager will never go out on the run.
Will close now and finish this letter when we settle down. We are going to a real backblocks race-meeting soon, it ought to be some fun and will give the boss his first crack at the racing game.
PS. Since writing above, Mr Delahunty’s daughter has come over with some friends for the race-meeting and will be here for some days. Her name is Moira and she is like the old man, very tall and dark, with deep blue eyes, but she doesn’t talk like him, she talks quite frendly and is full of fun. She is mad on racing and she says we must get my boss a fair run for his money. These little bush meetings are even hotter than lether-flapping meetings in Ireland. She has visitered England and Ireland and knows a lot of people you know. Must close now for the present. The boss bought a mare called Nancy Bell down at Barcoo, but he didn’t race her when I arrested him. The trainer is sending her over by road and we will run her here. With much love from your son.
The mare Nancy Bell, with her jockey, duly arrived at Calabash and soon cast the spell of the thoroughbred over her millionaire owner. The day after the mare’s arrival he was discovered sitting by her feedbox, listening ecstatically to the sound of her jaws as she munched her food. Every now and again the mare would give him a friendly look from one of her liquid brown eyes and rub her head against him. When she went out for walking exercise he would follow her down the paddock, admiring the dainty way in which she picked up her feet.
“Them’s the sort,” he said, “that the bushrangers used to take away when they stuck up a station. They’d run the mob into the yard and pick out the good-bred sorts. Then when the traps got after them they’d race straight across country, up mountains and down sidelings, till they got where they could hide out for awhile. How would you like to have the troops after you, Nancy? You’d show ’em, old girl.”
After a day’s acquaintance the ex-shearer took to giving the mare furtive lumps of sugar from the bin in the kitchen, or handfuls of milk-thistle and prairie grass gathered in the garden. The mare, on her part, soon got to know his footsteps and acknowledged his attentions in a ladylike way by calling out to him while he was still a hundred yards off. The little one-eyed jockey who looked after the mare—if he had any other name than Bill the Gunner nobody had ever heard it—was inclined to take a firm stand about these variations in diet, but Red Fred, in spite of his inferiority complex, was not to be daunted by a jockey. He told Bill the Gunner that if he didn’t like it he could come and get his cheque, and Bill the Gunner, though undesirable in many ways, had so firm an affection for the mare that he would rather have left his wife than Nancy Bell.
Not that the mare was any great champion. Of clear thoroughbred English stud-book pedigree, as many backblocks horses in Queensland are, she hadn’t been broken in till she was four years old when her frame had had time to mature. She was not gifted with any great amount of pace, but she was as tough as steel and would fight out a race under the whip with the tenacity of a bulldog. Many a better horse had she worried out at the finish of a desperate race on a rough bush track, for tracks or weights or heavy going were all alike to Nancy Bell.
One day there was some trouble with the shearers, and trouble with shearers is serious enough to take a man’s mind off any other sort of trouble. A strike may mean that the sheep will have to be let go, to shed their wool all over the paddocks, so when the shearers demanded to see the owner instead of the proper authority, the station manager, a messenger was sent off hot-foot after Red Fred. The shearers said they must see the owner before they would shear another sheep. Nobody could find the owner until it was remembered that he had been seen walking down the paddock after Nancy Bell, and when found he refused to come back to the house.
“Tell ’em they can come and get their cheques,” he said. “I know shearers. If a shed runs for two hours without somebody gettin’ chipped [faulted for bad shearing] they say ‘twelve o’clock and not a word said. We’re robbin’ ourselves. Up on ’em boys’; and away they go, only taking the tops off the fleece and leavin’ that much wool on their legs you’d think the sheep was wearin’ gaiters. Ain’t the mare lookin’ lovely, Fitz? I was down at the track at daylight this mornin’ watchin’ her gallop and she cleaned up the black horse from Lost River, like as he was a hack. And he won the Town Plate at Wallaroo, that fellow.”
The station manager who had come down with Fitzroy to get the boss’s verdict about the shearers, was a canny Scot and like all Scots he couldn’t resist an argument, even if cost him his job.
“I wouldn’t take too much notice of that, boss,” he said. “When they run a trial and one of the owners is there, that owner’s horse always wins the trial. All over the wor-r-rld that’s the ir-r-ron-clad and un-brr- roken rule. I mind . . . ”
“Never mind what you ‘mind.’ You mind your shearers; they’ll keep you hopping. Come on, Fitz, let’s go and see the mare feed.”
The Calabash Charity Meeting was well named, because charity covers a multitude of sins. The Secretary of the District Hospital was nominally in control of the meeting, and as the hospital was desperately hard up he would, like Nelson, clap the telescope to his blind eye when asked to detect any wrongdoing by a big subscriber.
Meeting this official in Calabash township, Fitzroy was given the lay of the land.
“The whole show here,” said the Secretary, “is run by one man, and a Chinaman at that, Jimmy the Pat. D’yever hear of him?”
Having ascertained that Mr Hilton Fitzroy had not had the honour of meeting Jimmy the Pat, the Secretary proceeded to give the Chinaman’s dossier.
“Don’t you make any mistake,” he said, “this is a wonderful chap, this Chow. He started with nothing—just a coolie—but he was a big, powerful bloke and could mix it with anybody. He was in the ring for a bit, what d’you think of that—a Chow in the ring! He could take a punch too, let me tell you. ‘My face all same iun,’ he’d say. Then he took on running fan-tan and pakapoo joints, and he got to be a big man, because if any of the larrikin crowd got playing up Jimmy could knock him cold. Then he started smuggling opium and working it back to the blacks and Chows up in the Territory—heaven only knows what he made out of that. Then he started importing Chinese coolies from Canton with false identification papers, and he made these coolies work as slaves for him in Chinese gardens, until they had paid him big money. He owns a couple of stations on the quiet. And then, dash me, if he doesn’t start bookmaking!”
This was a task so far beyond Fitzroy’s arithmetic that he could hardly believe it.
“A Chow make a book?” he said. “What does he do that for?”
The Secretary looked round him before he spoke.
“I’ll tell you something,” he said, “Jimmy’s a very solid man and gives thousands to charities. But there’s hardly a fan-tan shop or an opium joint in Queensland but what Jimmy’s got a finger in it. There isn’t a criminal in Queensland but what would do exactly what Jimmy told him and do it at the double. I think that he took up the bookmaking so that he could travel about and keep an eye on all sorts of crooked jobs. Anything from fan-tan to murder. I don’t put anything past Jimmy. His right name is Kum Yoon Jim, but the boys call him Jimmy the Pat. They call all Chinamen ‘Pat.’ The larrikin crowd only call him that behind his back. He’ll hit any one that calls him Pat to his face. Tough on the Irish, isn’t it, when a Chinaman, will strike a man for calling him ‘Pat’! It ought to be a compliment.”
“Why doesn’t somebody arrest him?” said Fitzroy, “if he’s half what you say he ought to be doing time!”
“That’s all very well, but who’s going to give evidence against him? The police have been trying to catch him for years over the opium smuggling and fan-tan, but no one will risk his life by giving evidence against him. He’s always good-natured and always laughing, but every now and again there’s a Chow found dead, and the police think that the dead man has been trying to put the squeeze on Jimmy. Keep all this under your hat and don’t come to me about anything. I’m not going up against Jimmy. This isn’t much of a life, but such as it is I mean to hang on to it as long as I can.”
And now all was hurry and bustle at Calabash. Strings of carts loaded with grog and provisions streamed out to the track. Blackfellows from adjoining stations raced their half-broken horses down the main street, or perhaps one should say the street, for there was only one street in Calabash. The bullock-team from Apsley Downs brought in a load of laughing humanity consisting of about six families down to the smallest baby. The élite, such as the party from Calabash station and the squatters and their wives from other properties, came in cars flying the colours of their horses. Dressed in yellow silk and sitting in a particularly showy car came the great Chinese bookmaker, Jimmy the Pat, cigar in mouth, and lolling back against the yellow upholstery till, as a cynic observed, you couldn’t tell there was anybody in the car.
Bill the Gunner arrived full of importance and leading Nancy Bell from a station hack, and the Calabash party made a bee-line for the mare’s stall under the long bough sheds. The millionaire, shaking with excitement, led the rush, followed by Moira Delahunty and Fitzroy. They plied the Gunner with questions as to whether the mare was all right, and had she eaten up her feed. But the Gunner’s vocabulary seemed to be limited to two sentences: “She’s home and dried,” and “She’ll lob in,” and with that they had to be content. Then there was a hurried inspection of all the mare’s opponents in the Town Plate in which Nancy Bell was engaged.
Such is the glamour of proprietorship that they all agreed that none of them looked like having a chance with her, until they came on a very racy-looking chestnut called Desire about which nobody seemed to know anything. He looked like a horse that should have a reputation, but even the Gunner could not find out anything about him. He seemed to have dropped from the clouds on to northern Queensland.
Moira had a horse of her own called Iron Cross engaged in the first race, a Maiden Plate of six furlongs at catch weights; and as she had no rider of her own, Bill the Gunner was legged into the saddle. Wellbred and not in bad condition, this four-year-old might have run very well, but he had never been off his own bush track and was green and frightened. At an earlier age he might have run better, but age and experience had taught him that the world was not altogether a friendly place. He went down for his preliminary shying and swerving about as he passed bullock-drays, blackfellows, men operating spinning jennies, and booths where raucous-voiced “barkers” were inviting all and sundry to come in and earn a pound by staying three rounds with Ironbark Joe, the lightweight champion of western Queensland.
“The dear thing,” said Moira, “he’s all of a dither. I rode him most of his work myself, and he can go a bit, but I suppose he’ll run all over the place. Still, we must have something on him, mustn’t we, Fitz? We can’t haul down the flag without firing a shot.”
They went into the crowd where Jimmy the Pat was standing on a box and calling “Tlee to one on er feah! Tlee to one on er feah! Whaffor you larp?” for Jimmy, who could speak good English when he chose, always found it paid him to act the comic Chinaman at race-meetings. “Koom on now, I gi’ you four to one on er feah! Four to one on er feah!”
As there were ten runners and not a previous winner in the lot, Jimmy was not taking much risk in offering four to one on the field, but he made it sound as though he were offering them a gold-mine. There were three professionally trained horses in the race, and most people knew that whichever the professionals fancied, would win: but the locals began to pour half-notes and pounds and even fivers on to their own horses, and before long Jimmy was holding quite a decent bit of money. When Moire and Fitzroy came up and asked the price of Iron Cross, Jimmy beamed on them and said:
“Iun Closs b’long you Sissetah, eh? Welly goo’ ’oss. I give you flet-ten pong [fifteen pounds] to one, Iun Closs.”
Fifteen to one was a nice price but it implied a sort of sneer at the horse and suggested that only a person of inferior judgment would own or train such an animal. Instead of putting on a pound each, as they had intended, they were stung into putting on a fiver each, and they walked away quite indignant.
“I do hope he runs well,” said Moira. “I’d like to teach that Chinaman a lesson. This horse can gallop, we’ve tried him with some pretty good ones.”
As the field fretted and twisted about at the post, Bill the Gunner, who was no mean horseman, watched his chance and had Iron Cross on the move as the barrier went up. He had drawn a good position on the rails and for a furlong or so Iron Cross went to the lead, galloping within himself. Then some loud-voiced spectator, leaning over the rails, gave vent to a howl of excitement, and Iron Cross ran across the track almost to the outer rail, letting the whole field come up inside him. By the time the Gunner had got him balanced and into his stride again, most of the field were ahead of him, but he settled down to his work and began to pass them one after another. Before long he was racing almost level with the leaders, but wide on the outside. As they made the turn, the Gunner began to swing him in towards the inner rail to get a position for a straight run home. Though he had covered more ground than anything in the race he was still galloping gamely and a mighty shout went up:
“Here, what’s this! I’ll take even money Iron Cross!”
As he came in towards the leaders, one of the professional horses swung out and cannoned into him sideways, almost knocking him off his, feet, and before he had a chance to recover himself the race was over. Even then he was placed third and must undoubtedly have won, only for the deliberate interference. There was no room for a protest as the winner had not interfered with him, and Moira and Fitzroy went to lunch with rage in their hearts and a determination to get level with the Chinaman who, they felt sure, had organized the whole thing.