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- An Outback Marriage - 5/39 -
Carew waiting outside while he went in. He didn't want to parade their injuries, and knew that Carew's eye would excite remark; but by keeping his upper lip well drawn over his teeth, he hoped his own trouble would escape notice.
"Seems a harmless sort of chap, that new chum," said Pinnock.
"He'll do all right," said Charlie casually. "I've met his sort before. He's not such a fool as he lets on to be. Shouldn't wonder if he killed somebody before he gets back here, anyhow."
"How did you get on at the dancing saloon?" asked Pinnock.
"Oh, slow enough. Nothing worth seeing. Good-bye."
They sneaked on board the steamer without meeting the Bo'sun or anybody, and before evening were well on their way to No Man's Land.
THE OLD STATION.
There are few countries in the world with such varieties of climate as Australia, and though some stations are out in the great, red-hot, frying wastes of the Never-Never, others are up in the hills where a hot night is a thing unknown, where snow falls occasionally, and where it is no uncommon thing to spend a summer's evening by the side of a roaring fire. In the matter of improvements, too, stations vary greatly. Some are in a wilderness, with fittings to match; others have telephones between homestead and out-stations, the jackeroos dress for dinner, and the station hands are cowed into touching their hats and saying "Sir." Also stations are of all sizes, and the man who is considered quite a big squatter in the settled districts is thought small potatoes by the magnate "out back," who shears a hundred and fifty thousand sheep, and has an overdraft like the National Debt.
Kuryong was a hill-country station of about sixty thousand acres all told; but they were good acres, as no one knew better than old Bully Grant, the owner, of whose history and disposition we heard something from Pinnock at the club. It was a highly improved place, with a fine homestead--thanks to Bully Grant's money, for in the old days it had been a very different sort of place--and its history is typical of the history of hundreds of others.
When Andrew Gordon first bought it, it was held under lease from the Crown, and there were no improvements to speak of. The station homestead, so lovingly descanted upon in the advertisement, consisted of a two-roomed slab hut; the woolshed, where the sheep were shorn, was made of gumtree trunks roofed with bark. The wool went down to Sydney, and station supplies came back, in huge waggons drawn by eighteen or twenty bullocks, that travelled nine miles a day on a journey of three hundred miles. There were no neighbours except at the township of Kiley's Crossing, which consisted of two public-houses and a store. It was a rough life for the young squatter, and evidently he found it lonely; for on a visit to Sydney he fell in love with and married a dainty girl of French descent. Refined, well-educated, and fragile-looking, she seemed about the last person in the world to take out to a slab-hut homestead as a squatter's wife. But there is an old saying that blood will tell; and with all the courage of her Huguenot ancestry she faced the roughness and discomforts of bush life. On her arrival at the station the old two-roomed hut was plastered and whitewashed, additional rooms were built, and quite a neat little home was the result. Seasons were good, and the young squatter might have gone on shearing sheep and selling fat stock till the end of his life but for the advent of free selection in 1861.
In that year the Legislature threw open all leasehold lands to the public for purchase on easy terms and conditions. The idea was to settle an industrious peasantry on lands hitherto leased in large blocks to the squatters. This brought down a flood of settlement on Kuryong. At the top end of the station there was a chain of mountains, and the country was rugged and patchy--rich valleys alternating with ragged hills. Here and there about the run were little patches of specially good land, which were soon snapped up. The pioneers of these small settlers were old Morgan Donohoe and his wife, who had built the hotel at Kiley's Crossing; and, on their reports, all their friends and relatives, as they came out of the "ould country," worked their way to Kuryong, and built little bits of slab and bark homesteads in among the mountains. The rougher the country, the better they liked it. They were a horse-thieving, sheep-stealing breed, and the talents which had made them poachers in the old country soon made them champion bushmen in their new surroundings. The leader of these mountain settlers was one Doyle, a gigantic Irishman, who had got a grant of a few hundred acres in the mountains, and had taken to himself a Scotch wife from among the free immigrants. The story ran that he was too busy to go to town, but asked a friend to go and pick a wife for him, "a fine shtrappin' woman, wid a good brisket on her."
The Doyles were large, slow, heavy men, with an instinct for the management of cattle; they were easily distinguished from the Donohoes, who were little red-whiskered men, enterprising and quick-witted, and ready to do anything in the world for a good horse. Other strangers and outlanders came to settle in the district, but from the original settlement up to the date of our story the two great families of the Doyles and the Donohoes governed the neighbourhood, and the headquarters of the clans was at Donohoe's "Shamrock Hotel," at Kiley's Crossing. Here they used to rendezvous when they went away down to the plains country each year for the shearing; for they added to their resources by travelling about the country shearing, droving, fencing, tanksinking, or doing any other job that offered itself, but always returned to their mountain fastnesses ready for any bit of work "on the cross" (i.e., unlawful) that might turn up. When times got hard they had a handy knack of finding horses that nobody had lost, shearing sheep they did not own, and branding and selling other people's calves.
When they stole stock, they moved them on through the mountains as quickly as possible, always having a brother or uncle, or a cousin--Terry or Timothy or Martin or Patsy--who had a holding "beyant." By these means they could shift stolen stock across the great range, and dispose of them among the peaceable folk who dwelt in the good country on the other side, whose stock they stole in return. Many a good horse and fat beast had made the stealthy mountain journey, lying hidden in gaps and gullies when pursuit grew hot, and being moved on as things quieted down.
Another striking feature was the way in which they got themselves mixed up with each other. Their names were so tangled up that no one could keep tally of them. There was a Red Mick Donohoe (son of the old publican), and his cousin Black Mick Donohoe, and Red Mick's son Mick, and Black Mick's son Mick, and Red Mick's son Pat, and Black Mick's son Pat; and there was Gammy Doyle (meaning Doyle with the lame leg), and Scrammy Doyle (meaning Doyle with the injured arm), and Bosthoon Doyle and Omadhaun Doyle--a Bosthoon being a man who never had any great amount of sense to speak of, while an Omadhaun is a man who began life with some sense, but lost most of it on his journey. It was a common saying in the country-side that if you met a man on the mountains you should say, "Good-day, Doyle," and if he replied, "That's not my name," you should at once say, "Well, I meant no offence, Mr. Donohoe."
One could generally pick which was which of the original stock, but when they came to intermarry there was no telling t'other from which. Startling likenesses cropped up among the relatives, and it was widely rumoured that one Doyle who was known to be in jail, and who was vaguely spoken of by the clan as being "away," was in fact serving an accumulation of sentences for himself and other members of the family, whose sins he had for a consideration taken on himself.
With such neighbours as these fighting him for every block of land, Andrew Gordon soon came to the end of his resources, and it was then that he had to take in his old manager as a partner. Before Bully Grant had been in the firm long, he had secured nearly all the good land, and the industrious yeomanry that the Land Act was supposed to create were hiding away up the gullies on miserable little patches of bad land, stealing sheep for a living. Bully fought them stoutly, impounded their sheep and cattle, and prosecuted trespassers and thieves; and, his luck being wonderful, he soon added to the enormous fortune he had made in mining, while Andrew Gordon died impoverished. When he died, old Bully gave the management of the stations to his sons, and contented himself with finding fault. But one dimly-remembered episode in his career was talked of by the old hands around Kiley's Hotel, long after Grant had become a wealthy man, and had gone for long trips to England.
Grant, in spite of the judgment and sagacity on which he prided himself, had at various times in his career made mistakes--mistakes in station management, mistakes about stock, mistakes about men, and last, but not least, mistakes about women; and it was to one of these mistakes that the gossips referred.
When he was a young man working as Mr. Gordon's manager, and living with the horse-breaker and the ration-carrier on the out-station at Kuryong (in those days a wild, half-civilised place), he had for neighbours Red Mick's father and mother, the original Mr. and Mrs. Donohoe, and their family. Their eldest daughter, Peggy--"Carrotty Peg," her relations called her--was at that time a fine, strapping, bush girl, and the only unmarried white woman anywhere near the station. She was as fair-complexioned as Red Mick himself, with a magnificent head of red hair, and the bust and limbs of a young Amazon.
This young woman, as she grew up, attracted the attention of Billy the Bully, and they used to meet a good deal out in the bush. On such occasions, he would possibly be occupied in the inspiriting task of dragging a dead sheep after his horse, to make a trail to lead the wild dogs up to some poisoned meat; while the lady, clad in light and airy garments, with a huge white sunbonnet for head-gear, would be riding straddle-legged in search of strayed cows. When Grant left the station, and went away to make his fortune in mining, it was, perhaps, just a coincidence that this magnificent young creature grew tired of the old place and "cleared out," too. She certainly went away and disappeared so utterly that even her own people did not know what had become of her; to the younger generation her very existence was only a vague tradition. But it was whispered here and muttered there among the Doyles and the Donohoes and their friends and relations, that old Billy the Bully, on one of his visits to the interior, had been married to this undesirable lady by a duly accredited parson, in the presence of responsible witnesses; and that, when everyone had their own, Carrotty Peg, if alive, would
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