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- Children of the Bush - 4/48 -
steep, drought-parched bank.
"I heard you saw your lady friends off this morning, Bob," I said, and was sorry I said it, even before he answered.
"Oh, they ain't no friends of mine," he said. "Only four' poor devils of women. I thought they mightn't like to stand waitin' with the crowd on the platform, so I jest offered to get their tickets an' told 'em to wait round at the back of the station till the bell rung. . . . An' what do yer think they did, Harry?" he went on, with an exasperatingly unintelligent grin. "Why, they wanted to kiss me."
"Yes. An' they would have done it, too, if I hadn't been so long. . . . Why, I'm blessed if they didn't kiss me hands."
"You don't say so."
"God's truth. Somehow I didn't like to go on the platform with them after that; besides, they was cryin', and I can't stand women cryin'. But some of the chaps put them into an empty carriage." He thought a moment. Then:
"There's some terrible good-hearted fellers in the world," he reflected.
I thought so too. "Bob," I said, "you're a single man. Why don't you get married and settle down?"
"Well," he said, "I ain't got no wife an' kids, that's a fact. But it ain't my fault."
He may have been right about the wife. But I thought of the look that Alice had given him, and---
"Girls seem to like me right enough," he said, "but it don't go no further than that. The trouble is that I'm so long, and I always seem to get shook after little girls. At least there was one little girl in Bendigo that I was properly gone on."
"And wouldn't she have you?"
"Well, it seems not."
"Did you ask her?"
"Oh, yes, I asked her right enough."
"Well, and what did she say?"
"She said it would be redicilus for her to be seen trottin' alongside of a chimbley like me."
"Perhaps she didn't mean that. There are any amount of little women who like tall men."
"I thought of that too--afterwards. P'r'aps she didn't mean it that way. I s'pose the fact of the matter was that she didn't cotton on to me, and wanted to let me down easy. She didn't want to hurt me feelin's, if yer understand--she was a very good-hearted little girl. There's some terrible tall fellers where I come from, and I know two as married little girls."
He seemed a hopeless case.
"Sometimes," he said, "sometimes I wish that I wasn't so blessed long."
"There's that there deaf jackaroo," he reflected presently. "He's something in the same fig about girls as I am. He's too deaf and I'm too long."
"How do you make that out?" I asked. "He's got three girls, to my knowledge, and, as for being deaf, why, he gasses more than any man in the town, and knows more of what's going on than old Mother Brindle the washerwoman."
"Well, look at that now!" said the Giraffe, slowly. "Who'd have thought it? He never told me he had three girls, an' as for hearin' news, I always tell him anything that's goin' on that I think he doesn't catch. He told me his trouble was that whenever he went out with a girl people could hear what they was sayin'--at least they could hear what she was sayin' to him, an' draw their own conclusions, he said. He said he went out one night with a girl, and some of the chaps foxed 'em an' heard her sayin' `don't' to him, an' put it all round town."
"What did she say `don't' for?" I asked.
"He didn't tell me that, but I s'pose he was kissin' her or huggin' her or something."
"Bob," I said presently, "didn't you try the little girl in Bendigo a second time?"
"No," he said. "What was the use. She was a good little girl, and I wasn't goin' to go botherin' her. I ain't the sort of cove that goes hangin' round where he isn't wanted. But somehow I couldn't stay about Bendigo after she gave me the hint, so I thought I'd come over an' have a knock round on this side for a year or two."
"And you never wrote to her?"
"No. What was the use of goin' pesterin' her with letters? I know what trouble letters give me when I have to answer one. She'd have only had to tell me the straight truth in a letter an' it wouldn't have done me any good. But I've pretty well got over it by this time."
A few days later I went to Sydney. The Giraffe was the last I shook hands with from the carriage window, and he slipped something in a piece of newspaper into my hand.
"I hope yer won't be offended," he drawled, "but some of the chaps thought you mightn't be too flush of stuff--you've been shoutin' a good deal; so they put a quid or two together. They thought it might help yer to have a bit of a fly round in Sydney."
I was back in Bourke before next shearing. On the evening of my arrival I ran against the Giraffe; he seemed strangely shaken over something, but he kept his hat on his head.
"Would yer mind takin' a stroll as fur as the Billerbong?" he said. "I got something I'd like to tell yer."
His big, brown, sunburnt hands trembled and shook as he took a letter from his pocket and opened it.
"I've just got a letter," he said. "A letter from that little girl at Bendigo. It seems it was all a mistake. I'd like you to read it. Somehow I feel as if I want to talk to a feller, and I'd rather talk to you than any of them other chaps."
It was a good letter, from a big-hearted little girl. She had been breaking her heart for the great ass all these months. It seemed that he had left Bendigo without saying good-bye to her. "Somehow I couldn't bring meself to it," he said, when I taxed him with it. She had never been able to get his address until last week; then she got it from a Bourke man who had gone south. She called him "an awful long fool," which he was, without the slightest doubt, and she implored him to write, and come back to her.
"And will you go back, Bob?" I asked.
"My oath! I'd take the train to-morrer only I ain't got the stuff. But I've got a stand in Big Billerbong Shed an' I'll soon knock a few quid together. I'll go back as soon as ever shearin's over. I'm goin' to write away to her to-night."
The Giraffe was the "ringer" of Big Billabong Shed that season. His tallies averaged a hundred and twenty a day. He only sent his hat round once during shearing, and it was noticed that he hesitated at first and only contributed half a crown. But then it was a case of a man being taken from the shed by the police for wife desertion.
"It's always that way," commented Mitchell. "Those soft, good-hearted fellows always end by getting hard and selfish. The world makes 'em so. It's the thought of the soft fools they've been that finds out sooner or later and makes 'em repent. Like as not the Giraffe will be the meanest man out back before he's done."
When Big Billabong cut out, and we got back to Bourke with our dusty swags and dirty cheques, I spoke to Tom Hall:
"Look here, Tom," I said. "That long fool, the Giraffe, has been breaking his heart for a little girl in Bendigo ever since he's been out back, and she's been breaking her heart for him, and the ass didn't know it till he got a letter from her just before Big Billabong started. He's going to-morrow morning."
That evening Tom stole the Giraffe's hat. "I s'pose it'll turn up in the mornin'," said the Giraffe. "I don't mind a lark," he added, "but it does seem a bit red hot for the chaps to collar a cove's hat and a feller goin' away for good, p'r'aps, in the mornin'."
Mitchell started the thing going with a quid.
"It's worth it," he said, "to get rid of him. We'll have some peace now. There won't be so many accidents or women in trouble when the Giraffe and his blessed hat are gone. Any way, he's an eyesore in the town, and he's getting on my nerves for one. . . . Come on, you sinners! Chuck 'em in; we're only taking quids and half-quids."
About daylight next morning Tom Hall slipped into the Giraffe's room at the Carriers' Arms. The Giraffe was sleeping peacefully. Tom put the hat on a chair by his side. The collection had been a record one, and, besides the packet of money in the crown of the hat, there was a silver-mounted pipe with case--the best that could be bought in Bourke, a gold brooch, and several trifles--besides an ugly valentine of a long man in his shirt walking the room with a twin on each arm.
Tom was about to shake the Giraffe by the shoulder, when he noticed a great foot, with about half a yard of big-boned ankle and shank, sticking out at the bottom of the bed. The temptation was too great. Tom took up the hair-brush, and, with the back of it, he gave a smart rap on the point of an in-growing toe-nail, and slithered.
We heard the Giraffe swearing good-naturedly for a while, and then
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