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- Children of the Bush - 5/48 -
there was a pregnant silence. He was staring at the hat we supposed.
We were all up at the station to see him off. It was rather a long wait. The Giraffe edged me up to the other end of the platform.
He seemed overcome.
"There's--there's some terrible good-hearted fellers in this world," he said. "You mustn't forgit 'em, Harry, when you make a big name writin'. I'm--well, I'm blessed if I don't feel as if I was jist goin' to blubber!"
I was glad he didn't. The Giraffe blubberin' would have been a spectacle. I steered him back to his friends.
"Ain't you going to kiss me, Bob?" said the Great Western's big, handsome barmaid, as the bell rang.
"Well, I don't mind kissin' you, Alice," he said, wiping his mouth. "But I'm goin' to be married, yer know." And he kissed her fair on the mouth.
"There's nothin' like gettin' into practice," he said, grinning round.
We thought he was improving wonderfully; but at the last moment something troubled him.
"Look here, you chaps," he said, hesitatingly, with his hand in his pocket, "I don't know what I'm going to do with all this stuff. There's that there poor washerwoman that scalded her legs liftin' the boiler of clothes off the fire---"
We shoved him into the carriage. He hung--about half of him--out the window, wildly waving his hat, till the train disappeared in the scrub.
And, as I sit here writing by lamplight at midday, in the midst of a great city of shallow social sham, of hopeless, squalid poverty, of ignorant selfishness, cultured or brutish, and of noble and heroic endeavour frowned down or callously neglected, I am almost aware of a burst of sunshine in the room, and a long form leaning over my chair, and:
"Excuse me for troublin' yer; I'm always troublin' yer; but there's that there poor woman. . . ."
And I wish I could immortalize him!
THAT PRETTY GIRL IN THE ARMY
Now I often sit at Watty's, when the night is very near, With a head that's full of jingles--and the fumes of bottled beer; For I always have a fancy that, if I am over there When the Army prays for Watty, I'm included in the prayer. It would take a lot of praying, lots of thumping on the drum, To prepare our sinful, straying, erring souls for Kingdom Come. But I love my fellow-sinners! and I hope, upon the whole, That the Army gets a hearing when it prays for Watty's soul. -When the World was Wide.
The Salvation Army does good business in some of the outback towns of the great pastoral wastes of Australia. There's the thoughtless, careless generosity of the bushman, whose pockets don't go far enough down his trousers (that's what's the matter with him), and who contributes to anything that comes along, without troubling to ask questions, like long Bob Brothers of Bourke, who, chancing to be "a Protestant by rights," unwittingly subscribed towards the erection of a new Catholic church, and, being chaffed for his mistake, said:
"Ah, well, I don't suppose it'll matter a hang in the end, anyway it goes. I ain't got nothink agenst the Roming Carflicks."
There's the shearer, fresh with his cheque from a cut-out shed, gloriously drunk and happy, in love with all the world, and ready to subscribe towards any creed and shout for all hands--including Old Nick if he happened to come along. There's the shearer, half-drunk and inclined to be nasty, who has got the wrong end of all things with a tight grip, and who flings a shilling in the face of out-back conventionality (as he thinks) by chucking a bob into the Salvation Army ring. Then he glares round to see if he can catch anybody winking behind his back. There's the cynical joker, a queer mixture, who contributes generously and tempts the reformed boozer afterwards. There's the severe-faced old station-hand--in clean shirt and neckerchief and white moleskins--in for his annual or semi-annual spree, who contributes on principle, and then drinks religiously until his cheque is gone and the horrors are come. There's the shearer, feeling mighty bad after a spree, and in danger of seeing things when he tries to go to sleep. He has dropped ten or twenty pounds over bar counters and at cards, and he now "chucks" a repentant shilling into the ring, with a very private and rather vague sort of feeling that something might come of it. There's the stout, contented, good-natured publican, who tips the Army as if it were a barrel-organ. And there are others and other reasons--black sheep and ne'er-do-wells--and faint echoes of other times in Salvation Army tunes.
Bourke, the metropolis of the Great Scrubs, on the banks of the Darling River, about five hundred miles from Sydney, was suffering from a long drought when I was there in ninety-two; and the heat may or may not have been another cause contributing to the success, from a business point of view, of the Bourke garrison. There was much beer boozing--and, besides, it was vaguely understood (as most things are vaguely understood out there in the drought-haze) that the place the Army came to save us from was hotter than Bourke. We didn't hanker to go to a hotter place than Bourke. But that year there was an extraordinary reason for the Army's great financial success there.
She was a little girl, nineteen or twenty, I should judge, the prettiest girl I ever saw in the Army, and one of the prettiest I've ever seen out of it. She had the features of an angel, but her expression was wonderfully human, sweet and sympathetic. Her big grey eyes were sad with sympathy for sufferers and sinners, and her poke bonnet was full of bunchy, red-gold hair. Her first appearance was somewhat dramatic--perhaps the Army arranged it so.
The Army used to pray, and thump the drum, and sing, and take up collections every evening outside Watty Bothways' Hotel, the Carriers' Arms. They performed longer and more often outside Watty's than any other pub in town--perhaps because Watty was considered the most hopeless publican and his customers the hardest crowd of boozers in Bourke. The band generally began to play about dusk. Watty would lean back comfortably in a basket easy-chair on his wide veranda, and clasp his hands, in a calm, contented way, while the Army banged the drum and got steam up, and whilst, perhaps, there was a barney going on in the bar, or a bloodthirsty fight in the backyard. On such occasions there was something like an indulgent or fatherly expression on his fat and usually emotionless face. And by and by he'd move his head gently and doze. The banging and the singing seemed to soothe him, and the praying, which was often very personal, never seemed to disturb him in the least.
Well, it was about dusk one day; it had been a terrible day, a hundred and something startling in the shade, but there came a breeze after sunset. There had been several dozen of buckets of water thrown on the veranda floor and the ground outside. Watty was seated in his accustomed place when the Army arrived. There was no barney in the bar because there was a fight in the backyard, and that claimed the attention of all the customers.
The Army prayed for Watty and his clients; then a reformed drunkard started to testify against publicans and all their works. Watty settled himself comfortably, folded his hands, and leaned back and dozed.
The fight was over, and the chaps began to drop round to the bar. The man who was saved waved his arms, and danced round and howled.
"Ye-es!" he shouted hoarsely. "The publicans, and boozers, and gamblers, and sinners may think that Bourke is hot, but hell is a thousand times hotter! I tell you"
"Oh, Lord!" said Mitchell, the shearer, and he threw a penny into the ring.
"Ye-es! I tell you that hell is a million times hotter than Bourke! I tell you---"
"Oh, look here," said a voice from the background, "that won't wash. Why, don't you know that when the Bourke people die they send back for their blankets?"
The saved brother glared round.
"I hear a freethinker speaking, my friends," he said. Then, with sudden inspiration and renewed energy, "I hear the voice of a freethinker. Show me the face of a freethinker," he yelled, glaring round like a hunted, hungry man. "Show me the face of a freethinker, and I'll tell you what he is."
Watty hitched himself into a more comfortable position and clasped his hands on his knee and closed his eyes again.
"Ya-a-a-s!" shrieked the brand. "I tell you, my friends, I can tell a freethinker by his face. Show me the face of a---"
At this point there was an interruption. One-eyed, or Wall-eyed, Bogan, who had a broken nose, and the best side of whose face was reckoned the ugliest and most sinister--One-eyed Bogan thrust his face forward from the ring of darkness into the torchlight of salvation. He had got the worst of a drawn battle; his nose and mouth were bleeding, and his good eye was damaged.
"Look at my face!" he snarled, with dangerous earnestness. "Look at my face! That's the face of a freethinker, and I don't care who knows it. Now! what have you got to say against my face, `Man-without-a-Shirt?'"
The brother drew back. He had been known in the northwest in his sinful days as "Man-without-a-Shirt," alias "Shirty," or "The Dirty Man," and was flabbergasted at being recognized in speech. Also, he had been in a shearing-shed and in a shanty orgy with One-eyed Bogan, and knew the man.
Now most of the chaps respected the Army, and, indeed, anything that
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