We had just finished. The girls were sowing the last of the grain when Fred Dwyer appeared on the scene. Dad stopped and talked with him while we (Dan, Dave and myself) sat on our hoe-handles, like kangaroos on their tails, and killed flies. Terrible were the flies, particularly when you had sore legs or the blight.
Dwyer was a big man with long, brown arms and red, bushy whiskers.
“You must find it slow work with a hoe?” he said.
“Well-yes-pretty,” replied Dad (just as if he was n’t quite sure).
After a while Dwyer walked over the “cultivation”, and looked at it hard, then scraped a hole with the heel of his boot, spat, and said he did n’t think the corn would ever come up. Dan slid off his perch at this, and Dave let the flies eat his leg nearly off without seeming to feel it; but Dad argued it out.
“Orright, orright,” said Dwyer; “I hope it do.”
Then Dad went on to speak of places he knew of where they preferred hoes to a plough for putting corn in with; but Dwyer only laughed and shook his head.
“D—n him!” Dad muttered, when he had gone; “what rot! Won’t come up!”
Dan, who was still thinking hard, at last straightened himself up and said he did n’t think it was any use either. Then Dad lost his temper.
“No use?” he yelled, “you whelp, what do you know about it?”
Dan answered quietly: “On’y this, that it’s nothing but tomfoolery, this hoe business.”
“How would you do it then?” Dad roared, and Dan hung his head and tried to button his buttonless shirt wrist-band while he thought.
“With a plough,” he answered.
Something in Dad’s throat prevented him saying what he wished, so he rushed at Dan with the hoe, but—was too slow.
Dan slept outside that night.
No sooner was the grain sown than it rained. How it rained! for weeks! And in the midst of it all the corn came up—every grain-and proved Dwyer a bad prophet. Dad was in high spirits and promised each of us something—new boots all round.
The corn continued to grow—so did our hopes, but a lot faster. Pulling the suckers and “heeling it up” with hoes was but child’s play—we liked it. Our thoughts were all on the boots; ’twas months months since we had pulled on a pair. Every night, in bed, we decided twenty times over whether they would be lace-ups or bluchers, and Dave had a bottle of “goanna” oil ready to keep his soft with.
Dad now talked of going up country—as Mother put it, “to keep the wolf from the door”—while the four acres of corn ripened. He went, and returned on the day Tom and Bill were born—twins. Maybe his absence did keep the wolf from the door, but it did n’t keep the dingoes from the fowl-house!
Once the corn ripened it did n’t take long to pull it, but Dad had to put on his considering-cap when we came to the question of getting it in. To hump it in bags seemed inevitable till Dwyer asked Dad to give him a hand to put up a milking-yard. Then Dad’s chance came, and he seized it.
Dwyer, in return for Dad’s labour, carted in the corn and took it to the railway-station when it was shelled. Yes, when it was shelled! We had to shell it with our hands, and what a time we had! For the first half-hour we did n’t mind it at all, and shelled cob after cob as though we liked it; but next day, talk about blisters! we could n’t close our hands for them, and our faces had to go without a wash for a fortnight.
Fifteen bags we got off the four acres, and the storekeeper undertook to sell it. Corn was then at 12 shillings and 14 shillings per bushel, and Dad expected a big cheque.
Every day for nearly three weeks he trudged over to the store (five miles) and I went with him. Each time the storekeeper would shake his head and say “No word yet.”
Dad could n’t understand. At last word did come. The storekeeper was busy serving a customer when we went in, so he told Dad to “hold on a bit”.
Dad felt very pleased—so did I.
The customer left. The storekeeper looked at Dad and twirled a piece of string round his first finger, then said—“Twelve pounds your corn cleared, Mr. Rudd; but, of course” (going to a desk) “there’s that account of yours which I have credited with the amount of the cheque—that brings it down now to just three pound, as you will see by the account.”
Dad was speechless, and looked sick.
He went home and sat on a block and stared into the fire with his chin resting in his hands, till Mother laid her hand upon his shoulder and asked him kindly what was the matter. Then he drew the storekeeper’s bill from his pocket, and handed it to her, and she too sat down and gazed into the fire.
That was our first harvest.