THEY hadn’t tasted meat for ten days. Prince was on three legs, and they couldn’t catch even a kangaroo rat. The wife was saying, between the howls of a cantankerous youngster, that Logan (a neighbour who occasionally slaughtered someone else’s bullocks and sold to his friends, without license) was to kill next day; but as the last quarter hadn’t been paid for, she expected they would refuse them any more. The old selector sat for a long time looking at the fire. He was solemn and silent, and played with a piece of stick, until he had mechanically traced the word “M-e-a-t” in the ashes.
An idea seized him. Pitching the ironbark pen into the fire, he rose and stepped outside, knocking his head as he went against a fleshless leg of a kangaroo which dangled ’neath the verandah.
“Come along with me!”
Bobby was the eldest boy, about fifteen. He stuttered fearfully, and had never put his feet inside shoe leather. The skin he walked on was as tough and as thick as that on the neck of a seventeen-year-old bull.
They walked away from the house. The night was dark, and Bobby trotted behind, wondering.
“Do you feel meat-hungry, Bobby?”
“M-m-meat-’ungry? W-what k-k-k-kind-beef or k-k-kang’roo meat?”
“H-h-haven’t t-tasted m-m-mutton since Kr-Kr-Krismus.”
“Could you find the sheep camp in the long paddock to-night, Bobby?”
“S-s-see now, Dad, g-g-g-goin’ t-t-t’ c-c-catch a sheep?” And the stuttering lad led the way over logs, gullies, and wire fences.
They stumbled along till Bobby said, “L-look out, D-Dad—a g-g-g-gully there.”
But he hung on to “gully” so long that Dad, who was near-sighted, tumbled into it.
“Dammit, boy, couldn’t you tell me? Now I’ve lost my hat and the bag.”
“B-b-but you woo-woo-wouldn’t w-wait. W-we’re close on n-n-now, D-Dad. You s-s-stay h-here, an’ I’ll s-s-sneak on them. If I k-k-catch one, I’ll w-w-whistle l-l-like k-k-curlew.”
The sheep were camped on a ridge, and Bobby crept up with the stealth of a black, and, pouncing like a starved dingo on the resting fold, grabbed the nearest one.
A whistle, as like the cry of the curlew as could be, followed, and several times repeated ere the old selector groped his way to where Bobby and a big wether were kicking and wrestling in the dust.
“H-have yer th’—— H-h-h-have yer th’ n-n-nife, Dad?”
The parent brandished the carving-knife.
“L-look out, d-d-d-don’t s-s-stick it in m-m-my p-p-p-paunch!”
The wether ceased to kick.
“Can we carry him between us, Bobby?”
“N-n-not if yer d-d-don’t t-t-take out his g-g-g-guts.”
Fried chops were served up for breakfast, and the selector’s wife didn’t ask where the mutton came from nor how it was got. She didn’t upbraid the man and try to make out that stolen mutton hadn’t the same taste as any other.
She was ruled by necessity, and necessity knows no law.