The Romance of the Swag

The Story of “Gentleman Once”

Henry Lawson

They learn the world from black-sheep,
Who know it all too well.
Out Back.
PETER M‘LAUGHLAN, bush missionary, Joe Wilson and his mate, Jack Barnes, shearers for the present, and a casual swagman named Jack Mitchell, were camped at Cox’s Crossing in a bend of Eurunderee Creek.

It was a grassy little flat with gum-trees standing clear and clean like a park. At the back was the steep grassy siding of a ridge, and far away across the creek to the south a spur from the Blue Mountain range ran west, with a tall, blue granite peak showing clear in the broad moonlight, yet dream-like and distant over the sweeps of dark green bush.

There was the jingle of hobble-chains and a crunching at the grass where the horses moved in the soft shadows amongst the trees. Up the creek on the other side was a surveyors’ camp, and from there now and again came the sound of a good voice singing verses of old songs; and later on the sound of a violin and a cornet being played, sometimes together and sometimes each on its own.

Wilson and Barnes were on their way home from shearing out back in the great scrubs at Beenaway Shed. They had been rescued by Peter M‘Laughlan from a wayside shanty where they had fallen, in spite of mutual oaths and past promises, sacred and profane, because they had got wringing wet in a storm on the track and caught colds, and had been tempted to take just one drink.

They were in a bad way, and were knocking down their cheques beautifully when Peter M‘Laughlan came along. He rescued them and some of their cash from the soulless shantykeeper, and was riding home with them, on some pretence, because he had known them as boys, because Joe Wilson had a vein of poetry in him—a something in sympathy with something in Peter; because Jack Barnes had a dear little girl-wife who was much too good for him, and who was now anxiously waiting for him in the pretty little farming town of Solong amongst the western spurs. Because, perhaps, of something in Peter’s early past which was a mystery. Simply and plainly because Peter M‘Laughlan was the kindest, straightest and truest man in the West—a “white man.”

They all knew Mitchell and welcomed him heartily when he turned up in their camp, because he was a pathetic humorist and a kindly cynic—a “joker” or “hard case” as the bushmen say.

Peter was about fifty and the other three were young men.

There was another man in camp who didn’t count and was supposed to be dead. Old Danny Quinn, champion “beer chewer” of the district, was on his way out, after a spree, to one of Rouse’s stations, where, for the sake of past services—long past—and because of old times, he was supposed to be working. He had spent his last penny a week before and had clung to his last-hope hotel until the landlord had taken him in one hand and his swag in the other and lifted them clear of the veranda. Danny had blundered on, this far, somehow; he was the last in the world who could have told how, and had managed to light a fire; then he lay with his head on his swag and enjoyed nips of whisky in judicious doses and at reasonable intervals, and later on a tot of mutton-broth, which he made in one of the billies.

It was after tea. Peter sat on a log by the fire with Joe and Jack Mitchell on one side and Jack Barnes on the other. Jack Mitchell sat on the grass with his back to the log, his knees drawn up, and his arms abroad on them: his most comfortable position and one which seemed to favour the flow of his philosophy. They talked of bush things or reflected, sometimes all three together, sometimes by turns.

From the surveyors’ camp

I remember, I remember,
    The house where I was born,
The little window where the sun
    Came peeping in at morn——

The breeze from the west strengthened and the voice was blown away.

“That chap seems a bit sentimental but he’s got a good voice,” said Mitchell. Then presently he remarked, round his pipe

“I wonder if old Danny remembers?”

And presently Peter said quietly, as if the thought had just occurred to him

“By the way, Mitchell, I forgot to ask after your old folk. I knew your father, you know.”

“Oh, they’re all right, Peter, thank you.”

“Heard from them lately?” asked Peter, presently, in a lazy tone.

Mitchell straightened himself up. “N—no. To tell the truth, Peter, I haven’t written for—I don’t know how long.”

Peter smoked reflectively.

“I remember your father well, Jack,” he said. “He was a big-hearted man.”

Old Danny was heard remonstrating loudly with spirits from a warmer clime than Australia, and Peter stepped over to soothe him.

“I thought I’d get it, directly after I opened my mouth,” said Mitchell. “I suppose it will be your turn next, Joe.”

“I suppose so,” said Joe, resignedly. The wind fell.

I remember, I remember,
    And it gives me little joy,
To think I’m further off from heaven,
    Than when I was a boy!

When Peter came back another thought seemed to have occurred to him.

“How’s your mother getting on, Joe?” he asked. “She shifted to Sydney after your father died, didn’t she?”

“Oh, she’s getting on all right!” said Joe, without elaboration.

“Keeping a boarding-house, isn’t she?”

“Yes,” said Joe.

“Hard to make ends meet, I suppose?” said Peter. “It’s almost a harder life than it could have been on the old selection, and there’s none of the old independence about it. A woman like your mother must feel it, Joe.”

“Oh, she’s all right,” said Joe. “She’s used to it by this time. I manage to send her a few pounds now and again. I send her all I can,” he added resentfully.

Peter sat corrected for a few moments. Then he seemed to change the subject.

“It’s some time since you were in Sydney last, isn’t it, Joe?”

“Yes, Peter,” said Joe. “I haven’t been there for two years. I never did any good there. I’m far better knocking about out back.”

There was a pause.

“Some men seem to get on better in one place, some in another,” reflected Mitchell, lazily. “For my part, I seem to get on better in another.”

Peter blinked, relit his pipe with a stick from the fire and reflected.

The surveyor’s song had been encored:

I remember, I remember——

Perhaps Peter remembered. Joe did, but there were no vines round the house where he was born, only drought and dust, and raspy voices raised in recrimination, and hardship most times.

“I remember,” said Peter, quietly, “I remember a young fellow at home in the old country. He had every advantage. He had a first-class education, a great deal more money than he needed—almost as much as he asked for, and nearly as much freedom as he wanted. His father was an English gentleman and his mother an English lady. They were titled people, if I remember rightly. The old man was proud, but fond of his son; he only asked him to pay a little duty or respect now and again. We don’t understand these things in Australia—they seem formal and cold to us. The son paid his respects to his father occasionally—a week or so before he’d be wanting money, as a rule. The mother was a dear lady. She idolized her son. She only asked for a little show of affection from him, a few days or a week of his society at home now and then—say once in three months. But he couldn’t spare her even that—his time was taken up so much in fashionable London and Paris and other places. He would give the world to be able to take his proud, soft old father’s hand now and look into his eyes as one man who understands another. He would be glad and eager to give his mother twelve months out of the year if he thought it would make her happier. It has been too late for more than twenty years.”

Old Danny called for Peter.

Mitchell jerked his head approvingly and gave a sound like a sigh and chuckle conjoined, the one qualifying the other. “I told you you’d get it, Joe,” he said.

“I don’t see how it hits me,” said Joe.

“But it hit all the same, Joe.”

“Well, I suppose it did,” said Joe, after a short pause.

“He wouldn’t have hit you so hard if you hadn’t tried to parry,” reflected Mitchell. “It’s your turn now, Jack.”

Jack Barnes said nothing.

“Now I know that Peter would do anything for a woman or child, or an honest, straight, hard-up chap,” said Mitchell, straightening out his legs and folding his arms, “but I can’t quite understand his being so partial to drunken scamps and vagabonds, black sheep and ne’er-do-wells. He’s got a tremendous sympathy for drunks. He’d do anything to help a drunken man. Ain’t it marvellous? It’s my private opinion that Peter must have been an awful boozer and scamp in his time.”

The other two only thought. Mitchell was privileged. He was a young man of freckled, sandy complexion, and quizzical grey eyes. “Sly Joker” “could take a rise out of anyone on the quiet;” “You could never tell when he was getting at you;” “Face of a born comedian,” as bushmen said of Mitchell. But he would probably have been a dead and dismal failure on any other stage than that of wide Australia.

Peter came back and they sat and smoked, and maybe they reflected along four very different back-tracks for a while.

The surveyor started to sing again:

I have heard the mavis singing
    Her love-song to the morn.
I have seen the dew-drop clinging
    To the rose just newly born.

They smoked and listened in silence all through to the end. It was very still. The full moon was high. The long white slender branches of a box-tree stirred gently overhead; the she-aks in the creek sighed as they are always sighing, and the southern peak seemed ever so far away.

That has made me thine for ever!
    Bonny Mary of Argyle.

“Blarst my pipe!” exclaimed Mitchell, suddenly. “I beg your pardon, Peter. My pipe’s always getting stuffed up,” and he proceeded to shell out and clear his pipe.

The breeze had changed and strengthened. They heard the violin playing “Annie Laurie.”

“They must be having a Scotch night in that camp tonight,” said Mitchell. The voice came again:

Maxwelton Braes are bonny—
    Where early fa’s the dew,
For ’twas there that Annie Laurie
    Gie me her promise true—

Mitchell threw out his arm impatiently.

“I wish they wouldn’t play and sing those old songs,” he said. “They make you think of damned old things. I beg your pardon, Peter.”

Peter sat leaning forward, his elbows resting on his knees and his hands fingering his cold pipe nervously. His sad eyes had grown haggard and haunted. It is in the hearts of exiles in new lands that the old songs are felt.

“Take no thought of the morrow, Mitchell,” said Peter, abstractedly. “I beg your pardon, Mitchell. I mean——”

“That’s all right, Peter,” said Mitchell. “You’re right; to-morrow is the past, as far as I’m concerned.”

Peter blinked down at him as if he were a new species.

“You’re an odd young man, Mitchell,” he said. “You’ll have to take care of that head of yours or you’ll be found hanging by a saddle-strap to a leaning tree on a lonely track, or find yourself in a lunatic asylum before you’re forty-five.”

“Or else I’ll be a great man,” said Mitchell. “But—ah, well!”

Peter turned his eyes to the fire and smiled sadly.

“Not enjoyment and not sorrow, is our destined end or way,” he repeated to the fire.

“But we get there just the same,” said Mitchell, “destined or not.”

But to live, that each to-morrow,
    Finds us further than to-day!

“Why, that just fits my life, Peter,” said Mitchell. “I might have to tramp two or three hundred miles before I get a cut or a job, and if to-morrow didn’t find me nearer than to-day I’d starve or die of thirst on a dry stretch.”

“Why don’t you get married and settle down, Mitchell?” asked Peter, a little tired. “You’re a teetotaller.”

“If I got married I couldn’t settle down,” said Mitchell. “I reckon I’d be the loneliest man in Australia.” Peter gave him a swift glance. “I reckon I’d be single no matter how much married I might be. I couldn’t get the girl I wanted, and—ah, well!”

Mitchell’s expression was still quaintly humorous round the lower part of his face, but there was a sad light in his eyes. The strange light as of the old dead days, and he was still young.

The cornet had started in the surveyors’ camp.

“Their blooming tunes seem to fit in just as if they knew what we were talking about,” remarked Mitchell.

The cornet

You’ll break my heart, you little bird,
That sings upon the flowering thorn—
Thou mind ’st me of departed joys,
Departed never to return.

“Damn it all,” said Mitchell, sitting up, “I’m getting sentimental.” Then, as if voicing something that was troubling him, “Don’t you think a woman pulls a man down as often as she lifts him up, Peter?”

“Some say so,” said Peter.

“Some say so, and they write it, too,” said Mitchell. “Sometimes it seems to me as if women were fated to drag a man down ever since Adam’s time. If Adam hadn’t taken his wife’s advice—but there, perhaps he took her advice a good many times and found it good, and, just because she happened to be wrong this time, and to get him into a hole, the sons of Adam have never let the daughters of Eve hear the last of it. That’s human nature.”

Jack Barnes, the young husband, who was suffering a recovery, had been very silent all the evening. “I think a man’s a fool to always listen to his wife’s advice,” he said, with the unreasonable impatience of a man who wants to think while others are talking. “She only messes him up, and drives him to the devil as likely as not, and gets a contempt for him in the end.”

Peter gave him a surprised, reproachful look, and stood up. He paced backwards and forwards on the other side of the fire, with his hands behind his back for a while; then he came and settled himself on the log again and filled his pipe.

“Yes,” he said, “a man can always find excuses for himself when his conscience stings him. He puts mud on the sting. Man at large is beginning all over the world to rake up excuses for himself; he disguises them as ‘Psychological studies,’ and thinks he is clean and clever and cultured, or he calls ’em problems—the sex problem, for instance, and thinks he is brave and fearless. “

Danny was in trouble again, and Peter went to him. He complained that when he lay down he saw the faces worse, and he wanted to be propped up somehow, so Peter got a pack-saddle and propped the old man’s shoulders up with that.

“I remember,” Peter began, when be came back to the fire, “I remember a young man who got married——”

Mitchell hugged himself. He knew Jack Barnes. He knew that Jack had a girl-wife who was many times too good for him; that Jack had been wild, and had nearly broken her heart, and he had guessed at once that Jack had broken out again, and that Peter M‘Laughlan was shepherding him home. Mitchell had worked as mates with Jack, and liked him because of the good heart that was in him in spite of all; and, because he liked him, he was glad that Jack was going to get a kicking, so to speak, which might do him good. Mitchell saw it coming, as he said afterwards, and filled his pipe, and settled himself comfortably to listen.

“I remember the case of a naturally selfish young man who got married” said Peter. “He didn’t know he was selfish; in fact, he thought he was too much the other way—but that doesn’t matter now. His name was—well, we’ll call him—we’ll call him, ‘Gentleman Once.’”

“Do you mean Gentleman Once that we saw drinking back at Thomas’s shanty?” asked Joe.

“No,” said Peter, “not him. There have been more than one in the bush who went by the nickname of ‘Gentleman Once.’ I knew one or two. It’s a big clan, the clan of Gentleman Once, and scattered all over the world.”

“By the way,” said Mitchell—“excuse me for interrupting, Peter—but wasn’t old Danny, there, a gentleman once? I’ve heard chaps say he was.”

“I know he was,” said Peter.

“Gentleman Once! Who’s talking about Gentleman Once?” said an awful voice, suddenly and quickly. “About twenty or thirty years ago I was called Gentleman Once or Gentleman Jack, I don’t know which—Get out! Get out, I say! It’s all lies, and you’re the devil. There’s four devils sitting by the fire. I see them.”

Two of the four devils by the fire looked round, rather startled.

Danny was sitting up, his awful bloodshot eyes glaring in the firelight, and his ruined head looking like the bloated head of a hairy poodle that had been drowned and dried. Peter went to the old man and soothed him by waving off the snakes and devils with his hands, and telling them to go.

“I’ve heard Danny on the Gentleman Once racket before,” remarked Mitchell. “Seems funny, doesn’t it, for a man to be proud of the fact that he was called ‘Gentleman Once’ about twenty years ago?”

“Seems more awful than funny to me,” said Joe.

“You’re right, Joe,” said Mitchell. “But the saddest things are often funny.”

When Peter came back he went on with his story, and was only interrupted once or twice by Danny waking up and calling him to drive off the snakes, and green and crimson dogs with crocodile heads, and devils with flaming tails, and those unpleasant sorts of things that force their company on boozers and madmen.

“Gentleman Once,” said Peter, “he came from the old country with a good education and no character. He disgraced himself and family once too often and came, or was sent, out to Australia to reform. It’s a great mistake. If a man is too far gone, or hasn’t the strength to live the past down and reform at home, he won’t do it in a new country, unless a combination of circumstances compels him to it. A man rises by chance; just as often he falls by chance. Some men fall into the habit of keeping steady and stick to it, for the novelty of it, until they are on their feet and in their sane minds and can look at the past, present and future sensibly. I knew one case— But that’s got nothing to do with the story.

“Gentleman Once came out on the remittance system. That system is fatal in nine cases out of ten. The remittance system is an insult to any manhood that may be left in the black sheep, and an insult to the land he is sent to. The cursed quarterly allowance is a stone round his neck which will drag him down deeper in a new land than he would have fallen at home. You know that remittance men are regarded with such contempt in the bush that a man seldom admits he is one, save when he’s drunk and reckless and wants money or credit. When a ne’er-do-well lands in Melbourne or Sydney without a penny he will probably buck-up and do something for himself. When he lands with money he will probably spend it all in the first few months and then straighten up, because he has to. But when he lands on the remittance system he drinks, first to drown homesickness. He decides that he’ll wait till he gets his next quarter’s allowance and then look round. He persuades himself that it’s no use trying to do anything: that, in fact, he can’t do anything until he gets his money. When he gets it he drifts into one ‘last’ night with chums he has picked up in second and third-rate hotels. He drinks from pure selfishness. No matter what precautions his friends at home take, he finds means of getting credit or drawing on his allowance before it is due—until he is two or three quarters behind. He drinks because he feels happy and jolly and clever and good-natured and brave and honest while he is drinking. Later on he drinks because he feels the reverse of all these things when he is sober. He drinks to drown the past and repentance. He doesn’t know that a healthy-minded man doesn’t waste time in repenting. He doesn’t know how easy it is to reform, and is too weakwilled to try. He gets a muddled idea that the past can’t be mended. He finds it easy to get drink and borrow money on the strength of his next quarter’s allowance, so he soon gets a quarter or two behind, and sometimes gets into trouble connected with borrowed money. He drifts to the bush and drinks, to drown the past only. The past grows blacker and blacker until it is a hell without repentance; and often the black sheep gets to that state when a man dreads his sober hours. And the end? Well, you see old Danny there, and you saw old Awful Example back at Thomas’s shanty—he’s worse than Danny, if anything. Sometimes the end comes sooner. I saw a young new-land-new-leaf man dying in a cheap lodging-house in Sydney. He was a schoolmate of mine, by the way. For six weeks he lay on his back and suffered as I never saw a man suffer in this world; and I’ve seen some bad cases. They had to chloroform him every time they wanted to move him. He had affected to be hard and cynical, and I must say that he played it out to the end. It was a strong character, a strong mind sodden and diseased with drink. He never spoke of home and his people except when he was delirious. He never spoke, even to me, of his mental agony. That was English home training. You young Australians wouldn’t understand it; most bushmen are poets and emotional.

“My old schoolmate was shifted to the Sydney Hospital at last, and consented to the amputation of one leg. But it was too late. He was gone from the hips down. Drink—third-rate hotel and bush shanty drink—and low debauchery.”

Jack Barnes drew up his leg and rubbed it surreptitiously. He had “pins and needles.” Mitchell noticed and turned a chuckle into a grunt.

“Gentleman Once was a remittance man,” continued Peter. “But before he got very far he met an Australian girl in a boarding-house. Her mother was the landlady. They were bush people who had drifted to the city. The girl was pretty, intelligent and impulsive. She pitied him and nursed him. He wasn’t known as Gentleman Once then, he hadn’t got far enough to merit the nickname.”

Peter paused. Presently he jerked his head, as if he felt a spasm of pain, and leaned forward to get a stick from the fire to light his pipe.

“Now, there’s the girl who marries a man to reform him, and when she has reformed him never lets him hear the last of it. Sometimes, as a woman, she drives him back again. But this was not one of that sort of girls. I once held a theory that sometimes a girl who has married a man and reformed him misses in the reformed man the something which attracted her in the careless scamp, the something which made her love him—and so she ceases to love him, and their married life is a far more miserable one than it would have been had he continued drinking. I hold no theory of that kind now. Such theories ruin many married lives.”

Peter jerked his head again as if impatient with a thought, and reached for a fire-stick.

“But that’s got nothing to do with the story. When Gentleman Once reformed his natural selfishness came back. He saw that he had made a mistake. It’s a terrible thing for a young man, a few months, perhaps a few weeks after his marriage, to ask himself the question, ‘Have I made a mistake?’ But Gentleman Once wasn’t to be pitied. He discovered that he had married beneath him in intellect and education. Home training again. He couldn’t have discovered that he had married beneath him as far as birth was concerned, for his wife’s father had been a younger son of an older and greater family than his own— But Gentleman Once wouldn’t have been cad enough to bother about birth. I’ll do him that much justice. He discovered, or thought he did, that he and his wife could never have one thought in common; that she couldn’t possibly understand him. I’ll tell you later on whether he was mistaken or not. He was gloomy most times, and she was a bright, sociable, busy little body. When she tried to draw him out of himself he grew irritable. Besides, having found that they couldn’t have a thought in common he ceased to bother to talk to her. There are many men who don’t bother talking to their wives; they don’t think their wives feel it—because the wives cease to complain after a while; they grow tired of trying to make the man realize how they suffer. Gentleman Once tried his best—according to his lights—and weakness. Then he went in for self-pity and all the problems. He liked to brood, and his poor little wife’s energy and cheerfulness were wearying to him. He wanted to be left alone. They were both high-spirited, in different ways; she was highly strung and so was he—because of his past life mostly. They quarrelled badly sometimes. Then he drank again and she stuck to him. Perhaps the only time he seemed cheerful and affectionate was when he had a few drinks in him. It was a miserable existence—a furnished room in a cheap lodging-house, and the use of the kitchen.

“He drank alone.

“Now a dipsomaniac mostly thinks he is in the right—except, perhaps, after he has been forced to be sober for a week. The noblest woman in the world couldn’t save him—everything she does to reform him irritates him; but a strong friend can save him sometimes—a man who has been through it himself. The poor little wife of Gentleman Once went through it all. And she stuck to him. She went into low pubs after him.”

Peter shuddered again.

“She went through it all. He swore promises. He’d come home sober and fill her with hope of future happiness, and swear that he’d never take another glass. ‘And we’ll be happy yet, my poor boy,’ she’d say, ‘we’ll be happy yet. I believe you, I trust you’ (she used to call him her ‘bonny boy’ when they were first married). And next night he’d come home worse than ever. And one day he—he struck her!”

Peter shuddered, head and shoulders, like a man who had accidentally smashed his finger.

“And one day he struck her. He was sober when he did it—anyhow he had not taken drink for a week. A man is never sober who gets drunk more than once a week, though he might think he is. I don’t know how it happened, but anyway he struck her, and that frightened him. He got a billet in the Civil Service up-country. No matter in what town it was. The little wife hoped for six months.

“I think it’s a cruel thing that a carelessly selfish young man cannot realize how a sensitive young wife suffers for months after he has reformed. How she hopes and fears, how she dreads the moment he has to leave her, and frets every hour he is away from home—and suffers mental agony when he is late. How the horror of the wretched old past time grows upon her until she dares not think of it. How she listens to his step and voice and watches his face, when he comes home, for a sign of drink. A young man, a mate of mine, who drank hard and reformed, used to take a delight in pretending for a few minutes to be drunk when he came home. He was goodhearted, but dense. He said he only did it to give his wife a pleasant surprise afterwards. I thought it one of the most cruel things I had ever seen.

“Gentleman Once found that he could not stand the routine of office work and the dull life in that place. He commenced to drink again, and went on till he lost his billet. They had a little boy, a bright little boy, yet the father drank.

“The last spree was a terrible one. He was away from home a fortnight, and in that fortnight he got down as deep as a man could get. Then another man got hold of him and set him on his feet, and straightened him up. The other man was a ruined doctor, a wreck whose devil was morphia. I don’t hold that a man’s salvation is always in his own hands; I’ve seen mates pull mates out of hell too often to think that.

“Then Gentleman Once saw the past as he had never seen it before—he saw hope for the future with it. And he swore an oath that he felt he would keep.

“He suffered from reaction on his way home, and, as he neared the town, a sudden fear, born of his nervous state, no doubt, sent a cold, sick emptiness through him: ‘Was it too late?’

“As he turned into the street where he lived, he noticed a little group of bush larrikins standing at the corner. And they moved uneasily when they caught sight of him, and, as he passed, they touched and lifted their hats to him. Now he knew that he had lost the respect even of bush larrikins; and he knew enough of the bush to know that a bushman never lifts his hat to a man—only to death, and a woman sometimes. He hurried home and read the truth in his wife’s eyes. His little boy was dead. He went down under the blow, and she held his head to her breast and kept saying, ‘My poor boy, my poor boy!’

“It was he that she meant, not the boy she had lost. She knew him, she understood him better than he did himself, and, heart-broken as she was, she knew how he was going to suffer, and comforted him. ‘My poor boy, my poor, foolish boy!’

“He mended the past, as far as he could, during the next two years, and she seemed happy. He was very gentle, he was very kind to her. He was happy, too, in a new, strange way. But he had learned what it was to suffer through his own fault, and now he was to learn what it was to suffer through no fault of his own, and without the consolation of saying ‘I was wrong! I was to blame!’ At the end of the two years there was another child, and his wife died.”

The four sat silently smoking until Jack Barnes asked:

“And what did he do then, Peter?”

“Who?” said Peter, abstractedly.

“Why, Gentleman Once.”

Peter roused himself.

“Well, I’ve told the story, and it is about time to turn in, he said. “I can’t say exactly what Gentleman Once did when his wife died. He might have gone down to a deeper depth than Danny’s. He might have risen higher than he had ever been before. From what I knew of his character he would never have gone down an easy slope as Danny has done. He might have dropped plump at first and then climbed up. Anyway, he had the memory of the last two years to help him.

“Then there’s the reformed drunkard who has trained himself to take a drink when he needs it, to drink in moderation—he’s the strongest character of all, I think—but it’s time to turn in.”

The cornet up the creek was playing a march.

Peter walked across and looked at Danny, who seemed to be sleeping as peacefully as could be expected of him.

Jack Barnes got up and walked slowly down the creek in the moonlight. He wanted to think.

Peter rolled out his blankets on the grass and arranged his saddle-bags for a pillow. Before he turned in Mitchell shook hands with him, a most unusual and unnecessary proceeding in camp. But there’s something in the bush grip which means “I know,” or “I understand.”

Joe Wilson rolled out his blankets close to Mitchell’s camp; he wanted to enjoy some of Mitchell’s quiet humour before he went to sleep, but Mitchell wasn’t in a philosophical mood. He wanted to reflect.

“I wonder who Gentleman Once was?” said Joe to Mitchell. “Could he have been Danny, or old Awful Example back there at the shanty?”

“Dunno,” said Mitchell. He puffed three long puffs at his pipe, and then said, reflectively

“I’ve heard men tell their own stories before to-night Joe.”

It was Joe who wanted to think now.


About four o’clock Mitchell woke and stood up. Peter was lying rolled in his blanket with his face turned to the west. The moon was low, the shadows had shifted back, and the light was on Peter’s face. Mitchell stood looking at him reverently, as a grown son might who sees his father asleep for the first time. Then Mitchell quietly got some boughs and stuck them in the ground at a little distance from Peter’s head, to shade his face from the bright moonlight; and then he turned in again to sleep till the sun woke him.

The Romance of the Swag - Contents

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