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- An Outback Marriage - 3/39 -
of faceache as see old Bully looming up the track. Every time he goes up he shifts every blessed sheep out of every paddock, and knocks seven years' growth out of them putting them through the yards; then he overhauls the store, and if there's a box of matches short he'll keep Hugh up half the night to account for it. He sacks all the good men and raises the wages of the loafers, and then comes back to Sydney quite pleased; it's a little holiday to him. You come along with me, Carew, and let old Bully alone. What did you come out for? Colonial experience?"
An Englishman hates talking about himself, and Carew rather hesitated. Then he came out with it awkwardly, like a man repeating a lesson.
"Did you ever meet a man named Considine out here?" he said.
"Lots of them," said Gordon promptly--"lots of them. Why, I had a man named Considine working for me, and he thought he got bitten by a snake, so his mates ran him twenty miles into Bourke between two horses to keep him from going to sleep, giving him a nip of whisky every twenty minutes; and when he got to Bourke he wasn't bitten at all, but he died of alcoholic poisoning. What about this Considine, anyhow? What do you want him for?"
The Englishman felt like dropping the subject altogether, not feeling quite sure that he was not being laughed at. However, he decided to go through with it.
"It's rather a long story, but it boils down to this," he said. "I'm looking for a Patrick Henry Considine, but I don't know what he's like. I don't know whether there is such a chap, in fact, but if there is, I've got to find him. A great-uncle of mine died out here a long while ago, and we believe he left a son; and if there is such a son, it turns out that he would be entitled to a heap of money. It has been heaping up for years in Chancery, and all that sort of thing, you know," he added, vaguely. "My people thought I might meet him out here, don't you know--and he could go home and get all the cash, you see. They've been advertising for him."
"And what good will it do you," drawled Gordon, "supposing you do find him? Where do you come in?"
"Oh, it doesn't do me much good, except that if there is such a Johnny, and he dies without making a will, then the money would all come to my people. But if there isn't, it all goes to another branch of the family."
Gordon thought the matter over for a while. "What you want," he said, "is to find this man, and to find him dead. If we come across him away in the back country, we'll soon arrange his death for you, if you make it worth while. Nasty gun accident, or something like that, you know."
"I wouldn't like anyone to shoot him," said the Englishman.
"Well, you come with me, and we'll find him," said Gordon.
By this time dinner was over. The waiters began to turn out the lights on the vacant tables; and, as the party rose it was arranged nem. con., and with much enthusiasm, that Carew should accompany Gordon on his trip to No Man's Land, and that Gordon should, by all means in his power, aid and abet Carew in his search for Considine.
Then, all talking together, and somewhat loudly, they strutted into the smoking-room.
IN PUSH SOCIETY.
The passing of the evening afterwards is the only true test of a dinner's success. Many a good dinner, enlivened with wine and made brilliant with repartee, has died out in gloom. The guests have all said their best things during the meal, and nothing is left but to smoke moodily and look at the clock. Our heroes were not of that mettle. They meant to have some sort of fun, and the various amusements of Sydney were canvassed. It was unanimously voted too hot for the theatres, ditto for billiards. There were no supporters for a proposal to stop in the smoking-room and drink, and gambling in the card-rooms had no attractions on such a night. At last Gordon hit off a scent. "What do you say," he drawled, "if we go and have a look at a dancing saloon--one of these larrikin dancing saloons?"
"I'd like it awfully," said one Englishman.
"Most interesting" said the other. "I've heard such a lot about the Australian larrikin. What they call a basher in England, isn't it? eh, what? Sort of rough that lays for you with a pal and robs you, eh?"
The Bo'sun rang for cigars and liqueurs, and then answered the question. "Pretty much the same as a basher," he said, "but with a lot more science and dog-cunning about him. They go in gangs, and if you hit one of the gang, all the rest will 'deal with you,' as they call it. If they have to wait a year to get you, they'll wait, and get you alone some night or other and set on to you. They jump on a man if they get him down, too. Oh, they're regular beauties."
"Rather roughish sort of Johnnies, eh?" said the Englishman. "But we might go and see the dancing--no harm in that."
Pinnock said he had to go back to his office; the globe-trotter didn't care about going out at night; and the Bo'sun tried to laugh the thing off. "You don't catch me going," he said. "There's nothing to be seen--just a lot of flash young rowdies dancing. You'll gape at them, and they'll gape at you, and you'll feel rather a pair of fools, and you'll come away. Better stop and have a rubber."
"If you dance with any of their women, you get her particular fancy-man on to you, don't you?" asked Gordon. "It's years since I was at that sort of place myself."
The Bo'sun, who knew nothing about it, assumed the Sir Oracle at once.
"I don't suppose their women would dance with you if you paid 'em five shillings a step," he said. "There'd certainly be a fight if they did. Are you fond of fighting, Carew?"
"Not a bit," replied that worthy. "Never fight if you can help it. No chap with any sense ever does."
"That's like me," said Gordon. "I'd sooner run a mile than fight, any time. I'm like a rat if I'm cornered, but it takes a man with a stockwhip to corner me. I never start fighting till I'm done running. But we needn't get into a row. I vote we go. Will you come, Carew?"
"Oh, yes; I'd like to," said the Englishman. "I don't suppose we need get into a fight."
So, after many jeers from the Bo'sun, and promises to come back and tell him all about it, Carew and Gordon sallied forth, a pair of men as capable of looking after themselves as one would meet in a day's march. Stepping into the street they called a cab.
"Where to, sir?" asked the cabman.
"Nearest dancing saloon," said Gordon, briefly.
"Nearest darncin' saloon," said the cabman. "There ain't no parties to-night, sir; it's too 'ot."
"We're not expecting to drop into a ballroom without being asked, thank you," said Gordon. "We want to go to one of those saloons where you pay a shilling to go in. Some place where the larrikins go."
"Ho! is that it, sir?" said the cabman, with a grin. "Well, I'll take you to a noo place, most selectest place I know. Git up, 'orse." And off they rattled through the quiet streets, turning corners and crossing tramlines every fifty yards apparently, and bumping against each other in the most fraternal manner.
Soon the cab pulled up in a narrow, ill-lit street, at the open door of a dingy house. Instructing the cabman to wait, they hustled upstairs, to be confronted at the top by a man who took a shilling from each, and then was not sure whether he would admit them. He didn't seem to like their form exactly, and muttered something to a by-stander as they went in. They saw a long, low room, brilliantly lighted by flaring gas jets. Down one side, on wooden forms, was seated a row of flashily-dressed girls--larrikin-esses on their native heath, barmaids from cheap, disreputable hotels, shop girls, factory girls--all sharp-faced and pert, young in years, but old in knowledge of evil. The demon of mischief peeped out of their quick-moving, restless eyes. They had elaborate fringes, and their short dresses exhibited well-turned ankles and legs.
A large notice on the wall stated that "Gentlemen must not dance with nails in their boots. Gentlemen must not dance together."
"That blocks us," said Gordon, pointing to the notice. "Can't dance together, no matter how much we want to. Look at these fellows here."
Opposite the women sat or lounged a score or two of youths--wiry, hard-faced little fellows, for the most part, with scarcely a sizeable man amongst them. They were all clothed in "push" evening dress--black bell-bottomed pants, no waistcoat, very short black paget coat, white shirt with no collar, and a gaudy neckerchief round the bare throat. Their boots were marvels, very high in the heel and picked out with all sorts of colours down the sides. They looked "varminty" enough for anything; but the shifty eyes, low foreheads, and evil faces gave our two heroes a sense of disgust. The Englishman thought that all the stories he had heard of the Australian larrikin must be exaggerated, and that any man who was at all athletic could easily hold his own among such a poor-looking lot. The whole spectacle was disappointing. The most elaborately decorous order prevailed; no excitement or rough play was noticeable, and their expedition seemed likely to be a failure.
The bushman stared down the room with far-seeing eyes, apparently looking at nothing, and contemplated the whole show with bored indifference.
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