The bush silent, restful. Dad on the veranda, in his easy chair, thinking; Dave, Joe and Bill stretched on the grass near the steps, dreamily watching the clustering stars.
Close to the house the eerie note of a night bird suddenly rang out. Joe and Bill turned over to locate it. Dad and Dave took no notice. The moon came slowly over the range, weird shadows fell before her and crept over the earth, and Budgee plain was a dim expanse in the hazy, languid light. Dad spoke.
“Whose stock’s on Lawson’s selection now?” he asked.
“Everyone’s,” Dave said. “Carey’s, mostly.”
“Well, turn everything out t’-morrow that isn’t ours.”
Dave sat up and chuckled.
“And the Careys ’ll run ’em all back,” Joe joined in, “an’ put ours where we’ll never see ’em again.”
“If they do I’ll make it warm for them,” Dad said.
“You wasp, get inside and don’t be grinnin’ like a d—d cat at everythin’ y’ hear!”
Bill whined and said he wasn’t grinning.
“Well, hold y’r noise then!” Dad shouted. Then he dragged his chair nearer the steps and spoke softly. “T’-morrow that selection’s mine,” he said. “Lawson’s thrown ’t up.”
Dave mounted the steps. “What, after fencin’!”
“After fencin’!” Dad chuckled and sat back, and no more was said.
Next morning Dad repeated his instructions to Dave to turn all stock off Lawson’s selection, and started for town in the sulky.
At the Lands office he was told that Lawson’s selection was in the Ipswich district, and late in the day he left for home, intending to take train to Ipswich the following morning.
Dad pulled up at a wayside pub. Several men were leaning on the bar, their empty glasses before them. Dad invited them all to drink. They drank.
Dad lingered awhile and chatted sociably and grew very enthusiastic about dairy farming. He exaggerated his interest and spoke of Saddletop as though he owned it all. The men became interested, one in particular. He was a Carey, and Dad in his exuberance failed to recognize him. Carey’s horse had got away and he was walking home. He had twelve miles yet to tramp, and when Dad asked the company if any of them wanted work, Carey said he did. Carey knew Dad.
“Jump into the trap, then,” Dad said, “an’ I’ll drive y’ out.”
Carey climbed in, and Dad drove off. All the way along he boasted of his possessions and prospects. Carey was an attentive listener and encouraged Dad to talk. Dad took a fancy to his companion, and in a lowered voice, in case some of the trees or fences concealed a pair of ears, became confidential. He revealed all he knew of Lawson’s selection and his intentions regarding it, and, approaching Carey’s own place, he whispered, hoarsely, “Nice set of scoundrels live there!” His companion never flinched.
“Whose place is it?” he asked.
“Carey’s,” Dad said—“a bad lot!” And Dad shook his head in the moonlight.
Dad pulled up at the gate.
“You camp in the barn there,” he said, indicating the building with a sweep of his hand, “an’ tackle the milkin’ in the morning with the boys.” Then Dad unharnessed the mare and went inside. The “man” went home chuckling.
Next morning Dave and Joe and Cranky Jack were in the yard milking. Dad came out.
“Where’s thet feller I brought out last night—not up yet?” he asked.
Dave didn’t understand. Dad explained and hobbled off to the barn. The man wasn’t there. Dad returned to the yard, swearing.
“That cove wouldn’t be after work,” Dave drawled. “He had y’; he only wanted a lift. Plenty of his sort about.”
Bill, bailing up, stood and laughed. Bill’s hilarity always annoyed Dad. He chased Bill out of the yard, then roared to him to come in again. Bill slunk back.
“Go in there!”—Dad pointed the way through the rails. Bill hesitated sullenly. He dropped his head and turned the whites of his eyes on Dad.
Bill moved sideways to the rails, then judged his distance and dived. But he miscalculated. His head struck the bottom rail and he rebounded, and Dad got in his kick and grinned, and forgave the man who had taken him in the night before.
Dad reached Ipswich at night and strolled about till he found a place to put up. Then he went into the streets again and gaped at things. But he didn’t see many sights. There was a large store with the shutters up. The pallid light of a few flickering gas-jets revealed the outline of an old, weird weather-worn fountain, around which “the Army” crouched and yelled for the salvation of souls—and a church fence—and a policeman, motionless. At regular intervals a huge clock broke the silence. It had a sad, unhealthy note, and seemed to toll a requiem for the dead. Dad stared up at it and wondered.
Morning again. Dad halted at the foot of the Lands office steps and stared in surprise. Old Carey was feeling his way down them with a stick. Carey saw Dad and grinned. Dad went into the office and came out breathing heavily. He went down the street and searched for Grey till he missed the train.
“How’s it y’ didn’t get it?” Dave said in an unhappy kind of voice.
Dad gave no reason. He sat down and thought, and we all stood round waiting as if something was going to happen.
“They’ve got it all right,” Dad groaned at last. Then Dave’s opportunity came.
“Yairs,” he said, “an’ they’ve got all our cattle—pounded every one o’ them, an’ ten shillings a head damages on them.”
Sarah rushed out, so did Bill and Barty; but Dave and Joe held Dad down and saved the furniture.