Dad was inside grunting and groaning with toothache. He had had it a week, and was nearly mad. For a while he sat by the fire, prodding the tooth with his pocket-knife; then he covered his jaw with his hand and went out and walked about the yard.
Joe asked him if he had seen Nell’s foal anywhere that day. He did n’t answer.
“Did y’ see the brown foal any place ter-day, Dad?”
“Damn the brown foal!”—and Dad went inside again.
He walked round and round the table and in and out the back room till Mother nearly cried with pity.
“Is n’t it any easier at all, Father?” she said commiseratingly.
“How the devil can it be easier? . . . Oh-h!”
The kangaroo-dog had coiled himself snugly on a bag before the fire. Dad kicked him savagely and told him to get out. The dog slunk sulkily to the door, his tail between his legs, and his back humped as if expecting another kick. He got it. Dad sat in the ashes then, and groaned lamentably. The dog walked in at the back door and dropped on the bag again.
Joe came in to say that “Two coves out there wants somethink.”
Dad paid no attention.
The two “coves”—a pressman, in new leggings, and Canty, the storekeeper—came in. Mother brought a light. Dad moaned, but did n’t look up.
“Well, Mr. Rudd,” the pressman commenced (he was young and fresh-looking), “I’m from the (something-or-other) office. I’m—er—after information about the crops round here. I suppose—er——”
“Oh-h-h!” Dad groaned, opening his mouth over the fire, and pressing the tooth hard with his thumb.
The pressman stared at him for awhile; then grinned at the storekeeper, and made a derisive face at Dad’s back. Then—“What have you got in this season, Mr. Rudd? Wheat?”
“I don’t know. . . . Oh-h—it’s awful!”
“Did n’t think toothache so bad as that,” said the man of news, airily, addressing Mother. “Never had it much myself, you see!”
He looked at Dad again; then winked slyly at Canty, and said to Dad, in an altered tone: “Whisky’s a good thing for it, old man, if you’ve got any.”
Nothing but a groan came from Dad, but Mother shook her head sadly in the negative.
“Any oil of tar?”
Mother brightened up. “There’s a little oil in the house,” she said, “but I don’t know if we’ve any tar. Is there, Joe—in that old drum?”
The Press looked out the window. Dad commenced to butcher his gums with the pocket-knife, and threatened to put the fire out with blood and saliva.
“Let’s have a look at the tooth, old man,” the pressman said, approaching Dad.
“Pooh!—I’ll take that out in one act!” . . . To Joe—“Got a good strong piece of string?”
Joe could n’t find a piece of string, but produced a kangaroo-tail sinew that had been tied round a calf’s neck.
The pressman was enthusiastic. He buzzed about and talked dentistry in a most learned manner. Then he had another squint at Dad’s tooth.
“Sit on the floor here,” he said, “and I won’t be a second. You’ll feel next to no pain.”
Dad complied like a lamb.
“Hold the light down here, missis—a little lower. You gentlemen” (to Canty and Dave) “look after his legs and arms. Now, let your head come back—right back, and open your mouth—wide as you can.” Dad obeyed, groaning the whole time. It was a bottom-tooth, and the dentist stood behind Dad and bent over him to fasten the sinew round it. Then, twisting it on his wrist, he began to “hang on” with both hands. Dad struggled and groaned—then broke into a bellow and roared like a wild beast. But the dentist only said, “Keep him down!” and the others kept him down.
Dad’s neck was stretching like a gander’s, and it looked as if his head would come off. The dentist threw his shoulders into it like a crack oarsman—there was a crack, a rip, a tear, and, like a young tree leaving the ground, two huge, ugly old teeth left Dad’s jaw on the end of that sinew.
“Holy!” cried the dentist, surprised, and we stared. Little Bill made for the teeth; so did Joe, and there was a fight under the table.
Dad sat in a lump on the floor propping himself up with his hands; his head dropped forward, and he spat feebly on the floor.
The pressman laughed and slapped Dad on the back, and asked “How do you feel, old boy?” Dad shook his head and spat and spat. But presently he wiped his eyes with his shirt-sleeve and looked up. The pressman told Mother she ought to be proud of Dad. Dad struggled to his feet then, pale but smiling. The pressman shook hands with him, and in no time Dad was laughing and joking over the operation. A pleased look was in Mother’s face; happiness filled the home again, and we grew quite fond of that pressman—he was so jolly and affable, and made himself so much at home, Mother said.
“Now, sit over, and we’ll have supper,” said Dad, proud of having some fried steak to offer the visitors. We had killed a cow the evening before—one that was always getting bogged in the dam and taking up much of Dad’s time dragging her out and cutting greenstuff to keep her alive. The visitors enjoyed her. The pressman wanted salt. None was on the table. Dad told Joe to run and get some—to be quick. Joe went out, but in a while returned. He stood at the door with the hammer in his hand and said:
“Did you shift the r-r-r-rock-salt from where S-Spotty was lickin’ it this evenin’, Dave?”
Dave reached for the bread.
“Don’t bother—don’t bother about it,” said the pressman. “Sit down, youngster, and finish your supper.”
“No bother at all,” Dad said; but Joe sat down, and Dad scowled at him.
Then Dad got talking about wheat and wallabies—when, all at once, the pressman gave a jump that rattled the things on the table.
“Oh-h-h! . . . I’ve got it now!” he said, dropping his knife and fork and clapping his hands over his mouth. “Ooh!”
We looked at him. “Got what?” Dad asked, a gleam of satisfaction appearing in his eyes.
“The toothache!—the d——d toothache! . . . Oh-h!”
“Ha! ha! Hoo! hoo! hoo!” Dad roared. In fact, we all roared—all but the pressman. “Oh-h!” he said, and went to the fire. Dad laughed some more.
We ate on. The pressman continued to moan.
Dad turned on his seat. “What paper, mister, do you say you come from?”
“Oh-h! . . . Oh-h, Lord!”
“Well, let me see; I’ll have in altogether, I daresay, this year, about thirty-five acres of wheat—I suppose as good a wheat——”
“Damn the wheat! . . . ooh!”
“Eh!” said Dad, “why, I never thought toothache was thet bad! You reminds me of this old cow we be eatin’. She moaned just like thet all the time she was layin’ in the gully, afore I knocked ’er on the head.”
Canty, the storekeeper, looked up quickly, and the pressman looked round slowly—both at Dad.
“Here,” continued Dad—“let’s have a look at yer tooth, old man!”
The pressman rose. His face was flushed and wild-looking. “Come on out of this—for God’s sake!” he said to Canty—“if you’re ready.”
“What,” said Dad, hospitably, “y’re not going, surely!” But they were. “Well, then—thirty-five acres of wheat, I have, and” (putting his head out the door and calling after them) “Next year—next year, all being well, please God, I’ll have sixty!”