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- An Outback Marriage - 2/39 -
will get everything when he dies. A chance for you, Gillespie. Go home and marry her--she'll be worth nearly a million of money."
"I'll think about it," said the globe-trotter.
As he spoke a buttony boy came up to the Bo'sun.
"Gentleman to see you, sir," he said. "Mr. Carew, sir."
The Bo'sun hurried off to bring in his guest, while Pinnock called after him--"Mind your eye, Bo'sun. Be civil to him. See that he doesn't kill a waiter or two on the way up. Not but what he'd be welcome to do it, for all the good they are here," he added, gloomily, taking another sip of his sherry and bitters; and before he had finished it the Bo'sun and his guest entered the room.
They had expected to see a Hercules, a fiery-faced, fierce-eyed man. This was merely a broad-shouldered, well-built, well-groomed youth, about twenty-three years of age; his face was square and rather stolid, clean-shaven, brown-complexioned, with honest eyes and a firm-set mouth. As he stood at the door he adopted the wooden expression that a University man always wears in the presence of strangers. He said nothing on being introduced to Pinnock; and when the globe-trotter came up and claimed acquaintance, defining himself as "Gillespie of Balliol," the stranger said he didn't remember him, and regarded him with an aspect of armed neutrality. After a sherry and bitters he thawed a little, and the Bo'sun started to cross-examine him.
"Mr. Grant of Kuryong wired to me about you," he said. "I suppose you came in the Carthaginia?"
"Yes," said the stranger, speaking in the regulation English University voice, a little deeper than usual. "I left her at Adelaide. I'm out for some bush experience, don't you know. I'll get you to tell me some place to stop at till I leave, if you don't mind."
His manner was distinctly apologetic, and he seemed anxious to give as little trouble as possible.
"Oh! you stop here," said the Bo'sun. "I'll have you made an honorary member. They'll do you all right here."
"That's awfully good of you. Thanks very much indeed."
"Oh! not at all. You'll find the club not so bad, and a lot better than where you're going with old Grant. He's a regular demon to make fellows work. It's pretty rough on the stations sometimes."
"Ah! yes; awf'lly rough, I believe. Quite frightened me, what I heard of it, don't you know. Still, I suppose one must expect to rough it a bit. Eh, what!"
"Charlie Gordon will he here in a minute," said the Bo'sun. "He can tell you all about it. Here he is now," he added, as the door swung open and the long-waited-for guest entered the room.
The newcomer was unmistakably a man from Far Out; tall, wiry-framed, and very dark, and so spare and lean of figure that he did not seem to have an ounce of superfluous flesh anywhere. His face was as hard and impassive as a Red Indian's, and looked almost black by contrast with his white shirt-front. So did his hands. He had thin straight hair, high cheek-bones, and a drooping black moustache. But the eyes were the most remarkable feature. Very keen and piercing they were, deep-set in the head; even when he was looking straight at anyone he seemed to be peering into endless space through the man in front of him. Such eyes men get from many years of staring over great stretches of sunlit plain where no colour relieves the blinding glare--nothing but dull grey clumps of saltbush and the dull green Mitchell grass.
His whole bearing spoke of infinite determination and self-reliance--the square chin, the steadfast eyes, telling their tale as plainly as print. In India he might have passed for an officer of native cavalry in mufti; but when he spoke he used the curious nasal drawl of the far-out bushman, the slow deliberate speech that comes to men who are used to passing months with the same companions in the unhurried Australian bush. Occasionally he lapsed into reveries, out of which he would come with a start and break in on other people's conversation, talking them down with a serene indifference to their feelings.
"Come out to old man Grant, have you?" he drawled to Carew, when the ceremonies of introduction were over. "Well, I can do something better for you than that. I want a mate for my next trip, and a rough lonely hot trip it'll be. But don't you make any mistake. The roughest and hottest I can show you will be child's play to having anything to do with Grant. You come with me."
"Hadn't I better see Mr. Grant first?"
"No, he won't care. The old man doesn't take much notice of new chums--he gets them out by the bushel. He might meet a man at dinner in England and the man might say, "Grant, you've got some stations. I've got a young fellow that's no use at home--or anywhere else for that matter--can't you oblige me, and take him and keep him out of mischief for a while?" And if the old man had had about a bottle of champagne, he'd say, "Yes, I'll take him--for a premium," or if he'd had two bottles, he'd say, "Send along your new chum--I'll make a man of him or break his neck." And perhaps in the next steamer out the fellow comes, and Grant just passes him on to me. Never looks at him, as likely as not. Don't you bother your head about Grant--you come with me."
As he drawled out his last sentence, a move was made to dinner; so the Englishman was spared the pain of making any comments on his own unimportance in Mr. Grant's eyes, and they trooped into the dining-room in silence.
A DINNER FOR FIVE.
A club dining-room in Australia is much like one in any other part of the world. Even at the Antipodes--though the seasons are reversed, and the foxes have wings--we still shun the club bore, and let him have a table to himself; the head waiter usually looks a more important personage than any of the members or guests; and men may be seen giving each other dinners from much the same ignoble motives as those which actuate their fellows elsewhere. In the Cassowary Club, on the night of which we tell, the Bo'sun was giving his dinner of necessity to honour the draft of hospitality drawn on him by Grant. At the next table a young solicitor was entertaining his one wealthy client; near by a band of haggard University professors were dining a wandering scientist, all hair and spectacles--both guest and hosts drinking mineral waters and such horrors; while beyond them a lot of racing men were swilling champagne and eating and talking as heartily as so many navvies. A few squatters, down from their stations, had fore-gathered at the centre table, where each was trying to make out that he had had less rain than the others. The Bo'sun and his guests were taken in hand by the head waiter, who formerly had been at a London Club, and was laying himself out to do his best; he had seen that Gillespie had "Wanderers' Club" on his cards, and he knew, and thanked his stars that he did know, what "Wanderers' Club" on a man's card meant. His fellow-waiters, to whom he usually referred as "a lot of savages," were unfortunately in ignorance of the social distinction implied by membership of such a club.
For a time there was nothing but the usual commonplace talk, while the soup and fish were disposed of; when they reached the champagne and the entrées, things become more homelike and conversation flowed. A bushman, especially when primed with champagne, is always ready to give his tongue a run--and when he has two open-mouthed new chums for audience, as Gordon had, the only difficulty is to stop him before bed-time; for long silent rides on the plain, and lonely camps at night, give him a lot of enforced silence that he has to make up for later.
"Where are you from last, Gordon?" said the Bo'sun. "Haven't seen you in town for a long time."
"I've been hunting wild geese," drawled the man from far back, screwing up one eye and inspecting a glass of champagne, which he drank off at a gulp. "That's what I do most of my time now. The old man--Grant, you know--my boss--he's always hearing of mobs of cattle for sale, and if I'm down in the south-west the mob is sure to be up in the far north-east, but it's all one to him. He wires to me to go and inspect them quick and lively before someone else gets them, and I ride and drive and coach hundreds of miles to get at some flat-sided pike-horned mob of brutes without enough fat on them to oil a man's hair with. I've to go right away out back now and take over a place that the old man advanced some money on. He was fool enough, or someone was fool enough for him, to advance five thousand pounds on a block of new country with five thousand cattle on it--book-muster, you know, and half the cattle haven't been seen for years, and the other half are dead, I expect. Anyhow, the man that borrowed the money is ruined, and I have to go up and take over the station."
"What do you call a book-muster?" said the globe-trotter, who was spending a month in the country, and would naturally write a book on it.
"Book-muster, book-muster? Why, a book-muster is something like dead-reckoning on a ship. You know what dead-reckoning is, don't you? If a captain can't see the sun he allows for how fast the ship is going, and for the time run and the currents, and all that, and then reckons up where he is. I travelled with a captain once, and so long as he stuck to dead-reckoning he was all right. He made out we were off Cairns, and that's just where we were; because we struck the Great Barrier Reef, and became a total wreck ten minutes after. With the cattle it's just the same. You'll reckon the cattle that you started with, add on each year's calves, subtract all that you sell,--that is, if you ever do sell any--and allow for deaths, and what the blacks spear and the thieves steal. Then you work out the total, and you say, 'There ought to be five thousand cattle on the place,' but you never get 'em. I've got to go and find five thousand cattle in the worst bit of brigalow scrub in the north."
"Where do you say this place is?" said Pinnock. "It's called No Man's Land, and it's away out back near where the buffalo-shooters are. It'll take about a month to get there. The old man's in a rare state of mind at being let in. He's up at Kuryong now, driving my brother Hugh out of his mind. Hugh would as soon have an attack
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