“How much,” he said, “is seven hundred bushels of wheat at six shillings?”
Joe, who was looked upon as the brainy one of our family, took down his slate with a hint of scholarly ostentation.
“What did y’ say, Dad—seven ’undred bags?”
“Seven ’un-dered bush-els-of wheat—wheat was it, Dad?”
“Wheat at . . . At what, Dad?”
“Six shillings a bushel.”
“Six shil-lings-a. . . . A, Dad? We’ve not done any at A; she’s on’y showed us per!”
“per bushel, then!”
“Per bush-el. That’s seven ’undered bushels of wheat at six shillin’s per bushel. An’ y’ wants ter know, Dad—?”
“How much it’ll be, of course.”
“In money, Dad, or—er——?”
“Dammit, yes; money!” Dad raised his voice.
For a while, Joe thought hard, then set to work figuring and rubbing out, figuring and rubbing out. The rest of us eyed him, envious of his learning.
Joe finished the sum.
“Well?” from Dad.
Joe cleared his throat. We listened.
“Nine thousan’ poun’.”
Dave laughed loud. Dad said, “Pshaw!” and turned his face to the wall. Joe looked at the slate again.
“Oh! I see,” he said, “I did n’t divide by twelve t’ bring t’ pounds,” and laughed himself.
More figuring and rubbing out.
Finally Joe, in loud, decisive tones, announced, “Four thousand, no ’undered an’ twenty poun’, fourteen shillin’s an’—”
“Bah! You blockhead!” Dad blurted out, and jumped off the sofa and went to bed.
We all turned in.
We were not in bed long when the dog barked and a horse entered the yard. There was a clink of girth-buckles; a saddle thrown down; then a thump, as though with a lump of blue-metal, set the dog yelping lustily. We lay listening till a voice called out at the door—“All in bed?” Then we knew it was Dan, and Dad and Dave sprang out in their shirts to let him in. All of us jumped up to see Dan. This time he had been away a long while, and when the slush-lamp was lit and fairly going, how we stared and wondered at his altered looks! He had grown a long whisker, and must have stood inches higher than Dad.
Dad was delighted. He put a fire on, made tea, and he and Dan talked till near daybreak—Dad of the harvest, and the Government dam that was promised, and the splendid grass growing in the paddock; Dan of the great dry plains, and the shearing-sheds out back, and the chaps he had met there. And he related in a way that made Dad’s eyes glisten and Joe’s mouth open, how, with a knocked-up wrist, he shore beside Proctor and big Andy Purcell, at Welltown, and rung the shed by half a sheep.
Dad ardently admired Dan.
Dan was only going to stay a short while at home, he said, then was off West again. Dad tried to persuade him to change his mind; he would have him remain and help to work the selection. But Dan only shook his head and laughed.
Dan accompanied Dad to the plough every morning, and walked cheerfully up and down the furrows all day, talking to him. Sometimes he took a turn at the plough, and Dad did the talking. Dad just loved Dan’s company.
A few days went by. Dan still accompanied Dad to the plough; but did n’t walk up and down with him. He selected a shade close by, and talked to Dad from there as he passed on his rounds. Sometimes Dan used to forget to talk at all—he would be asleep—and Dad would wonder if he was unwell. Once he advised him to go up to the house and have a good camp. Dan went. He stretched himself on the sofa, and smoked and spat on the floor and played the concertina—an old one he won in a raffle.
Dan did n’t go near the plough any more. He stayed inside every day, and drank the yeast, and provided music for the women. Sometimes he would leave the sofa, and go to the back-door and look out, and watch Dad tearing up and down the paddock after the plough; then he’d yawn, and wonder aloud what the diggins it was the old man saw in a game like that on a hot day; and return to the sofa, tired. But every evening when Dad knocked off and brought the horses to the barn Dan went out and watched him unharnessing them.
A month passed. Dad was n’t so fond of Dan now, and Dan never talked of going away. One day Anderson’s cows wandered into our yard and surrounded the hay-stack. Dad saw them from the paddock and cooeed, and shouted for those at the house to drive them away. They did n’t hear him. Dad left the plough and ran up and pelted Anderson’s cows with stones and glass-bottles, and pursued them with a pitch-fork till, in a mad rush to get out, half the brutes fell over the fence and made havoc with the wire. Dad spent an hour mending it; then went to the verandah and savagely asked Mother if she had lost her ears. Mother said she had n’t. “Then why the devil could n’t y’ hear me singin’ out?” Mother thought it must have been because Dan was playing the concertina. “Oh, damn his concertina!” Dad squealed, and kicked Joe’s little kitten, that was rubbing itself fondly against his leg, clean through the house.
Dan found the selection pretty slow—so he told Mother—and thought he would knock about a bit. He went to the store and bought a supply of ammunition, which he booked to Dad, and started shooting. He stood at the door and put twenty bullets into the barn; then he shot two bears near the stock-yard with twenty more bullets, and dragged both bears down to the house and left them at the back-door. They stayed at the back-door until they went very bad; then Dad hooked himself to them and dragged them down the gully.
Somehow, Dad began to hate Dan! He scarcely ever spoke to him now, and at meal-times never spoke to any of us. Dad was a hard man to understand. We could n’t understand him. “And with Dan at home, too!” Sal used to whine. Sal verily idolised Dan. Hero-worship was strong in Sal.
One night Dad came in for supper rather later than usual. He’d had a hard day, and was done up. To make matters worse, when he was taking the collar off Captain the brute tramped heavily on his toe, and took the nail off. Supper was n’t ready. The dining-room was engaged. Dan was showing Sal how the Prince of Wales schottische was danced in the huts Out Back. For music, Sal was humming, and the two were flying about the room. Dad stood at the door and looked on, with blood in his eye.
“Look here!” he thundered suddenly, interrupting Dan—“I’ve had enough of you!” The couple stopped, astonished, and Sal cried, “Dad!” But Dad was hot. “Out of this!” (placing his hand on Dan, and shoving him). “You’ve loafed long enough on me! Off y’ go t’ th’ devil!”
Dan went over to Anderson’s and Anderson took him in and kept him a week. Then Dan took Anderson down at a new game of cards, and went away West again.