After dinner. Dave and Joe at the barn waiting for the horses to finish feeding. Dave sitting with his back to the slabs, his hands embracing his knees, staring thoughtfully from under an old felt hat at the stubble-field, over which a million grasshoppers sported themselves in the scorching, simmering heat. Joe lying flat on his stomach, supporting his chin in his palms, digging earth up with the toes of his boots, and dextrously spitting at ants that passed within range.
“Don’t know wot you think,” Dave said gloomily, “but it ain’t good enough for me. I’ve told the old chap, too, over and over again, that I won’t stand it any longer. Slog away as much as y’ like, an’ look after things all the year, then when y’ want a few bob you’ve to ask him for it”—a pause—“an’ when y’ do ask he growls like a bear.”
“That’s so,” Joe said.
“Y’d think,” Dave continued, “a feller was on’y a kid, the way—”
Just then Dad appeared, using strong language to Cranky Jack for heaving a shovel at one of the mares.
“Not yoked-up yet?” he growled. “Y’ll take all day soon!”
“Oh, give the horses time to finish,” Dave said sharply.
“Time t’ finish!” Dad snorted. “Time for y’ to yarn and idle.”
Dave fixed his eyes on Dad.
“Wot ’re y’ talkin’ about?” he said.
“What ’m I — D—n you, feller, will y’ sit there givin’ impudence t’ my very face? Get up, and go on with the ploughin’ — the two of y’.”
“Not another turn’ll I do,” Dave said, the tears starting into his eyes. “Not another d—n stroke! . . . Y’ ain’t satisfied mooching round the place all the morning, pokin’ in everybody’s road, but y’ must come here ’n’ meddle with things y’ know nothing about—”
“Know nothing about?” And Dad shook with rage.
“Yes, know nothing about.”
“Confound you! You insolent—” (Dad was lost for a word.) “Clear out of this—clear!” And up went his big right hand, after the manner of a railway guard.
“No need t’ tell me,” Dave said. “I’ve stayed here too long as it is—for all thet ever I get from y’!”
“Get from me? What the devil do you want, you hound?”
“Something more than the few miserable shillings I get once a year.”
“D—n y’, feller! D’ y’ think I’m a millionaire?”
Here Mother came and intervened and tried to make peace.
But Dave was determined to leave home. He went into the house and put on a coat, then he saddled a horse and rode away. He went as far as Delaney’s—five miles up.
Dad began to think, and discussed the situation with Mother.
“Well, you know,” said Mother quietly, “the boys is men now, and I suppose they think that it’s time they had something to themselves.” Dad thought some more, then went down to the seventeen-acres, where a man we had engaged and one of the Regan boys were pulling corn and carting it in. Dad went over their tracks and, finding a small cob with scarcely any corn on it, brought it along and threw it into the dray and lectured the man for missing it.
The man offered no explanation, but young Regan grinned.
“You imp!” Dad yelled. “Get on outer thet. What the devil ‘re y’ standin’ for?”
The boy waded in.
Dad then lent a hand and worked hard. The dray was nearly full. The man mounted it to square the load.
“Wot ’re y’ lookin’ at now?” Dad shouted again to the boy, who was watching the man on the dray.
“I’ve finished me side,” whined the boy.
“Lead the horse on, then.”
“How kin I, till—”
“Lead th’ horse on!”
The boy ducked in time to dodge a cob Dad aimed at his head.
“You whelp!” And Dad went off round the dray after him.
Regan dodged. Dad pelted more cobs at him, and roared. “Stand, you young devil, or I’ll knock your head off!”
Regan gathered cobs as he ran and returned Dad’s fire over the back of the horse. The man on the dray sank in a lump on the load and laughed. Regan left the dray, charged into the corn, and disappeared.
Dad threatened the man on the dray with violence and the sack, then left and went across to Cranky Jack and a traveller who was putting in a day or two for tucker. They were filling the shed with hay and must have been doing it all wrong, because as soon as Dad set eyes on it he started swearing and dancing round.
The traveller stood, holding an immense forkful of hay above his head, and listened a second or two. Then he said, “Be d—d to you!”—and threw all the hay on top of Dad, smashed the fork on the ground, heaved the pieces down the paddock, and walked off, cursing.
Dad threw the hay off himself and spat and shouted, “You coward!”
“Go ’way boss, go ’way,” Jack said, “an’ don’t insult the gentleman. Jim’s from Ireland.”
Dad scowled at the half-witted man and went away. He harnessed Dave’s pair of plough-horses and joined Joe.
“I’ll show th’ feller he can be done without, I know,” he said to Joe.
Joe smiled and said, “Git erp . . . Jess! . . . Jolly!” And when he stopped to clean the plough again and looked round there was Dad walloping Dave’s horses with a shovel.
Joe ran back.
“What th’ deuce is up, n-now?” he said.
“Confound the feller!” Dad answered—“he’s got the horses completely spoilt.”
“They’re all right,” Joe said, approaching the plough-handles.
“They’re not all right—they’re all wrong. Stand aside, sir!” And Dad took the reins again.
“Now then!” he shouted, shaking the plough. “Get up! . . . Horses!” They jerked and swerved and shoved each other. “You d—n rubbish! . . . get up!”
“No wonder!” said Joe, making a discovery. “They’re not in their right places. Put the b-black horse in th’ f-furrer!”
“He’ll go where I put him. Get up . . . you pair o’ dogs! . . . Gee back . . . way! Wa-ya!” Dad dropped the plough-handles, slipped up beside the horses, and then brought the shovel down on them again so suddenly that they both bounded off before Joe could seize the reins. The next moment they were bolting across the paddock with the plough flying behind them.
Dad turned to Joe. “Dammit, why couldn’t y’ take the reins?”
“W-well,” and Joe grinned—“there’s some things a feller can’t do.”
“There’s a d—n lot o’ things y’ can’t do!” Dad snorted out, and went after the horses. He found them, and a portion of the plough, stuck in the fence near the barn, surrounded by Mother and Sarah and the dogs and the man who was pulling corn.
Mother wanted to know what had happened, but Dad was uncommunicative. Next day he ordered a new plough and for months afterwards the black horse hopped about on three legs.
Dave came back after tea, but scarcely looked at anyone. He rolled some clothes in a blanket, hung about for a minute or two, as though he felt sorry, then said good-bye to us all and went back to Delaney’s, leaving Mother crying on the veranda.
“Mark my word,” said Dad, pacing up and down, “he’ll be glad to come back yet.”
Dave wasn’t away a week when everything was going wrong. Three cows burst on the lucerne, a mare and foal were lost, the chaff-cutter smashed in two places, and every ounce of a bullock that Dad salted went bad and was thrown out.
A hot day at Delaney’s. Dave ploughing. He had scraped the plough and was standing, reflecting. He felt lonely—it was the first time he had ever been away—and couldn’t help thinking of home and Mother—crying on the veranda—and of Joe and Sarah at home. “Poor old Sarah!” he said aloud, when a form he knew well rode up to the fence and greeted him cheerfully.
“Hello, Dad!” Dave said with a glad grin. It seemed like old times to Dave to see Dad, though it was only eight days since they had parted.
Dad dismounted and crawled through the fence.
“What’s he putting in here?” he asked, surveying the ploughed land.
Dave told him. Then there was a dead silence. Even the birds and the horses’ tails kept still. Dave played with some mud he had scraped from the plough, Dad with his trouser-pocket.
“Better come home, Dave?” he said.
“Dunno,” Dave answered, colouring up and throwing the mud down.
“This is no place for you, man”—(a pause)—“no place at all!”
Dave gazed in silence at his boots.
“If there’s enerthin’ y’ want, say s’, lad!” Dad went on, knowing when he had an advantage. “Here,” dragging his hand out of his pocket with a jerk, “here’s a fi-pun’-note for y’ now. . . . An’ goodness on’y knows, if ever y’ want t’ go t’ town, or enerwhere, yer can always take a day, or two days, or a week for that matter—can’t y’?”
“Yairs . . . I s’pose s’.”
“Well, come along.” Dave came. And two days later Dad called him a useless dog.