Dick would have got married two or three times while he was at Saddletop, but for the girls that were there. Not that they wouldn’t have him; but they were all sentiment and formality—there was no business about any of them; their idea of matrimony was seven or eight years’ hugging and mugging and riding about on Sunday, then a ring and a ceremony and a big dance, and off up the country.
Dick wasn’t a cove to shilly-shally about things and waste time; he was imperative and impatient, and couldn’t fool and poke round anyone’s place to find out if he was liked by the old man and the brothers and the little sister and the dog and the pet kangaroo, and approved by the old woman, before telling the girl what he was after.
On two or three occasions Dick got disgusted with himself and single life, and knocked off work in the middle of the day, and rode straight to a place where there was a marriageable daughter, and hung his horse to the fence and walked right in, and regardless of the presence of the parents and two strangers asked the girl in a loud voice if she would have him, and with an ugly frown on his face stood waiting her answer. And when the girl opened her eyes and stared and blushed and giggled, and shook her head, and referred him to Mary Molloy or someone of The Gap, he drew nasty comparisons between himself and other young chaps in the district, and warned her that she might “do a d—n sight worse,” and went home and remained single.
But Minnie Simpson, a one-eyed girl with two front teeth missing and a large head of faded, straggled hair and a round fat face, employed in the hotel at Sleepy Creek township, saw something in Dick one day and risked him. Dick risked her too.
Kate took great interest in Dick’s wedding. Mad on weddings, Kate was. Most women are; that’s why so many of them get married. Kate placed all her house at Dick’s disposal, and spent days cleaning and cooking—making sandwiches and pumpkin pies and prickly-pear tarts; and, because there was no wood chopped, grumbled and growled all the time at Sandy and Uncle.
Sandy got tired of Kate’s nagging at last, and the day before the wedding he chopped a whole dray load of wood; and everything Kate cooked that day got burnt and was no good. She perspired, too, every time she took a batch of stuff from the oven, and walked in and out slashing her apron about, and whined, and asked Sandy if he had tried to bring the very worst wood there was in the paddock. It’s always the way with a woman!—leave her no wood, and she’ll cook anything; give her plenty of it and she’ll burn the inside out of the oven.
Kate papered the walls of the house, too, and put a new cover on the sofa—in fact, made the place look new. You’d think Kate was to be the bride herself!
Everyone on Sleepy Creek was invited to Dick Saunders’s wedding, and all of them turned up and brought their families and their dogs. They came early, too, and hung round looking at things, at intervals engaging Sandy in fragments of conversation, and wondering how much longer the old clergyman would be turning up.
Dick himself was the only person who seemed unconcerned about the clergyman or about the arrangements, or the wedding itself for that matter. He remained on the sofa all the while with Minnie sitting on his knee, mauling her neck with his big hands and listening to her tearing the inside out of a concertina that he was getting along with her. They promised to be a devoted couple, did Dick and Minnie.
About noon the clergyman showed in sight, crawling along on a poor, downhearted-looking animal which might once have been a horse.
Sandy, in a clean shirt and a tweed coat, stepped forward and welcomed him and introduced him to his friends. The friends seemed more taken up with the steed, and stared it all over. But it didn’t seem to mind. It wasn’t a sensitive animal. It seemed glad it had arrived, though. ’T was a rare piece of horseflesh: it looked like the last of its tribe. There it stood without leaning against anything - its head down and its eyes closed, until you felt solemn and reverent and inclined to take your hat off.
Uncle, who had not had time to clean himself, hobbled up like a disreputable hotel-groom, saluted the clergyman, and taking hold of the bridle-reins with both hands pulled the animal across to the shed, and quarrelled with it because it showed signs of life when it saw hay there and shoved him about with its shapeless head when he started to take the bridle off. But when one of Sandy’s old mares approached to see what it was, and the skeleton put its ears back skittishly and assumed a rakish attitude, Uncle took kindly to it. He chuckled and threw it a bundle of hay.
It did eat, too!—looked as if it would have tackled a feed of bark or bottles with gratitude. When Uncle saw the appetite it had he gathered up the cart-saddle and winkers and some bags that were lying about, and put them in the shed. Then, with an old rag of a coat of his own hanging on his arm, he returned to the company.
Dick Saunders, with his long hair and whiskers combed, came out. “This is the chap!” Sandy said, and the clergyman smiled and extended his soft white hand to Dick and asked how he was.
Dick claimed to be “tip-top,” but didn’t know how he would feel directly.
Uncle guffawed and made several suggestive remarks about weddings. Dick frowned on Uncle and called him a turnip. Fire and water came into Uncle’s little red eyes, and if Dick had been a small man and less like a bushranger there might easily have been an inquest in place of a wedding. The clergyman spoke to Sandy, and they both went inside. Dick and the others strolled over to the shed, smoking. When Dick set eyes on the clergyman’s horse he stood—spell-bound!
“Holy!” he said. Then he walked up to it and said “Shoo!” and threw up his arms. But it wasn’t a nervous beast; it didn’t lift its head from the hay.
“Should have been kept for a sire!” Dick remarked. The others laughed.
Then Dick stole the hay and ran round the yard with it. The brute wearily pursued him, whinnying imploringly for the fodder. It was a grand entertainment. Dick kept it going until Sandy called out from the back door that they were waiting; then he threw the hay to the brute and walked off, hitching his trousers and girthing himself up as he approached the door.
Inside was a great crowd. Dick could scarcely get in. At the table sat the clergyman, calm, composed; a leather bag, some papers, and a bottle of ink rested innocently before him. The guests, expectant and reverent-looking, stared at him nervously—only their breathing was audible.
“Where’s she?” Dick said, glaring all round the room.
Riley, who could never keep his tongue quiet, ejaculated, “Elorped!” and made Mrs. Riley and Daley’s wife shriek, and destroyed the solemnity.
The clergyman motioned Dick into position. Dick, who had been coached for several weeks in the ceremony by Sandy, dropped on his knees; but Daley, who had been married three times and knew more of the business than Sandy did, poked him up again. Dick stared and looked awkward, and stumbled about like a horse being shunted in a truck. At last Mrs. Harris and Kate, in charge of the bride, processioned from the bedroom.
Everyone got a surprise—even Dick. You wouldn’t have known Minnie in the rig-out she had accumulated round herself. Her hair was curled, and she wore a white dress all tucks and bespattered with ribbon and bows of different colours. Her head was a mass of wattle blossom, and she carried a huge bunch of it in her hand. She smelt of wattle blossom—you could scarcely see her dress for it—she was all wattle blossom, in fact; it was a distinct triumph of Nature over Art. A more interesting bride couldn’t be presented to anyone’s imagination. She would have looked well in a garden.
The bride took her place beside her Dick, and dropped her head modestly and giggled. Dick fumbled about with his big hairy paw till he found her hand and clung to it. And there they stood, the embodiment of love and courage. Our opinions differed as to which of the two was the more courageous.
Riley, in a loud whisper, reminded the guests of the “fust kiss,” but none shifted or made any preparations to rob Dick of his rights. Perhaps it was because they knew Dick. Perhaps because they knew Minnie.
The clergyman took the floor, and the marriage proceeded. Save the cleric’s resonant voice, not a sound was heard inside. But outside, beneath the window and under the verandah roof—there were no floor-boards connected with Sandy’s verandah—Uncle commenced rattling a tin-dish about.
A short prayer was concluded while Uncle splashed and bubbled in a dish of water.
“You take this woman to—”
Uncle, stripped to the waist, and holding his hands wide and his head low to the ground, while water ran off him, appeared at the front door and made efforts to catch Kate’s eye.
“—to be your wedded wi—”
“The old bloke wants a towel,” Dick jerked out across his shoulder to Kate, who was behind him.
The guests grinned, and strained their necks to see where Uncle was. But Kate paid no attention—she had eyes only for the bride.
Uncle withdrew, growling, and splashed more water over himself.
The clergyman repeated his question.
“I do!” Dick responded with decision, then said things after the cleric.
Uncle showed himself at the door again with soap in his eyes and on his whiskers, and more water dripping off him.
“For better, for worse—”
Uncle beckoned Kate with his wet finger. Kate had no respect for Uncle.
“—richer, for poorer?”
“Just as she stands!” Dick said.
Uncle broke into a loud interested chuckle. “Just as she stands!” he echoed noisily, then turned away and laughed with himself under the window.
The clergyman’s horse sauntered round to see what was going on. It stood with its head under the verandah, looking in casually.
The clergyman asked for the ring. Dick stared at him, then released the bride’s hand and felt himself all over; finally he said he hadn’t one. It looked as if something would go wrong. But Kate, always good in emergency, slipped her wedding-ring off and handed it to Dick.
“Where’ll I put it?” Dick asked—“on her thumb?”
The guests laughed; the bride tittered and held out the proper finger to receive the ring. Uncle, with a glow on his face like fresh meat, came to the door again, smiling, and wiping himself on a bag.
The clergyman began to bless the alliance. Uncle lowered his head devotionally. The horse reached out behind Uncle, dipped its nose into the dish of water, and made a noise like a pump. Uncle turned round and kicked it in the ribs. The brute backed and threw up its head and struck it hard against the verandah roof, and the whole structure fell down on top of Uncle and the dogs.
There was great excitement then! Some of the guests rushed to congratulate the happy couple, and some of them ran out to extricate Uncle. Uncle was unconscious for a few minutes, and when he came to he coughed violently. He coughed up cobwebs and dust and scraps of bark. The horse walked a few yards away and took a fit of coughing too. It coughed up the soap.
When the “breakfast” was over, Dick and his bride left. The guests chased them out the slip-rails with old boots and bags and things. After that I don’t know how they got on. We left too.