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- While the Billy Boils - 20/51 -

together. I won't be the fool I always was. If I'd had sense a couple of years ago, I wouldn't be tramping through this damned sand and mulga now. I'll get a job on a station, or at some toff's house, knocking about the stables and garden, and I'll make up my mind to settle down to graft for four or five years."

"But supposing you git the sack?" said his mate.

"I won't take it. Only for taking the sack I wouldn't be hard up to-day. The boss might come round and say:

'I won't want you after this week, Mitchell. I haven't got any more work for you to do. Come up and see me at the office presently.'

"So I'll go up and get my money; but I'll be pottering round as usual on Monday, and come up to the kitchen for my breakfast. Some time in the day the boss'll be knocking round and see me.

"'Why, Mitchell,' he'll say, 'I thought you was gone.'

"'I didn't say I was going,' I'll say. 'Who told you that--or what made you think so?'

"'I thought I told you on Saturday that I wouldn't want you any more,' he'll say, a bit short. 'I haven't got enough work to keep a man going; I told you that; I thought you understood. _Didn't I give you the sack on Saturday_?'

"'It's no use;' I'll say, 'that sort of thing's played out. I've been had too often that way; I've been sacked once too often. Taking the sack's been the cause of all my trouble; I don't believe in it. If I'd never taken the sack I'd have been a rich man to-day; it might be all very well for horses, but it doesn't suit me; it doesn't hurt you, but it hurts me. I made up my mind that when I got a place to suit me, I'd stick in it. I'm comfortable here and satisfied, and you've had no cause to find fault with me. It's no use you trying to sack me, because I won't take it. I've been there before, and you might as well try to catch an old bird with chaff.'

"'Well, I won't pay you, and you'd better be off,' he'll say, trying not to grin.

"'Never mind the money,' I'll say, 'the bit of tucker won't cost you anything, and I'll find something to do round the house till you have some more work. I won't ask you for anything, and, surely to God I'll find enough to do to pay for my grub!'

"So I'll potter round and take things easy and call up at the kitchen as usual at meal times, and by and by the boss'll think to himself: 'Well, if I've got to feed this chap I might as well get some work out of him.'

"So he'll find me, something regular to do--a bit of fencing, or carpentering, or painting, or something, and then I'll begin to call up for my stuff again, as usual."


We lay in camp in the fringe of the mulga, and watched the big, red, smoky, rising moon out on the edge of the misty plain, and smoked and thought together sociably. Our nose-bags were nice and heavy, and we still had about a pound of nail-rod between us.

The moon reminded my mate, Jack Mitchell, of something--anything reminded him of something, in fact.

"Did you ever notice," said Jack, in a lazy tone, just as if he didn't want to tell a yarn--"Did you ever notice that people always shoot the moon when there's no moon? Have you got the matches?"

He lit up; he was always lighting up when he was reminded of something.

"This reminds me--Have you got the knife? My pipe's stuffed up."

He dug it out, loaded afresh, and lit up again.

"I remember once, at a pub I was staying at, I had to leave without saying good-bye to the landlord. I didn't know him very well at that time.

"My room was upstairs at the back, with the window opening on to the backyard. I always carried a bit of clothes-line in my swag or portmanteau those times. I travelled along with a portmanteau those times. I carried the rope in case of accident, or in case of fire, to lower my things out of the window--or hang myself, maybe, if things got too bad. No, now I come to think of it, I carried a revolver for that, and it was the only thing I never pawned."

"To hang yourself with?" asked the mate.

"Yes--you're very smart," snapped Mitchell; "never mind---. This reminds me that I got a chap at a pub to pawn my last suit, while I stopped inside and waited for an old mate to send me a pound; but I kept the shooter, and if he hadn't sent it I'd have been the late John Mitchell long ago."

"And sometimes you lower'd out when there wasn't a fire."

"Yes, that will pass; you're improving in the funny business. But about the yarn. There was two beds in my room at the pub, where I had to go away without shouting for the boss, and, as it happened, there was a strange chap sleeping in the other bed that night, and, just as I raised the window and was going to lower my bag out, he woke up.

"'Now, look here,' I said, shaking my fist at him, like that, 'if you say a word, I'll stoush yer!'

"'Well,' he said, 'well, you needn't be in such a sweat to jump down a man's throat. I've got my swag under the bed, and I was just going to ask you for the loan of the rope when you're done with it.'

"Well, we chummed. His name was Tom--Tom--something, I forget the other name, but it doesn't matter. Have you got the matches?"

He wasted three matches, and continued--

"There was a lot of old galvanized iron lying about under the window, and I was frightened the swag would make a noise; anyway, I'd have to drop the rope, and that was sure to make a noise. So we agreed for one of us to go down and land the swag. If we were seen going down without the swags it didn't matter, for we could say we wanted to go out in the yard for something."

"If you had the swag you might pretend you were walking in your sleep," I suggested, for the want of something funnier to say.

"Bosh," said Jack, "and get woke up with a black eye. Bushies don't generally carry their swags out of pubs in their sleep, or walk neither; it's only city swells who do that. Where's the blessed matches?

"Well, Tom agreed to go, and presently I saw a shadow under the window, and lowered away.

"'All right?' I asked in a whisper.

"'All right!" whispered the shadow.

"I lowered the other swag.

"'All right?'

"'All right!' said the shadow, and just then the moon came out.

"'All right!' says the shadow.

"But it wasn't all right. It was the landlord himself!

"It seems he got up and went out to the back in the night, and just happened to be coming in when my mate Tom was sneaking out of the back door. He saw Tom, and Tom saw him, and smoked through a hole in the palings into the scrub. The boss looked up at the window, and dropped to it. I went down, funky enough, I can tell you, and faced him. He said:

"'Look here, mate, why didn't you come straight to me, and tell me how you was fixed, instead of sneaking round the trouble in that fashion? There's no occasion for it.'

"I felt mean at once, but I said: 'Well, you see, we didn't know you, boss.'

"'So it seems. Well, I didn't think of that. Anyway, call up your mate and come and have a drink; we'll talk over it afterwards.' So I called Tom. 'Come on,' I shouted. 'It's all right.'

"And the boss kept us a couple of days, and then gave us as much tucker as we could carry, and a drop of stuff and a few bob to go on the track again with."

"Well, he was white, any road."

"Yes. I knew him well after that, and only heard one man say a word against him."

"And did you stoush him?"

"No; I was going to, but Tom wouldn't let me. He said he was frightened I might make a mess of it, and he did it himself."

"Did what? Make a mess of it?"

"He made a mess of the other man that slandered that publican. I'd be funny if I was you. Where's the matches?"

"And could Tom fight?"

"Yes. Tom could fight."

"Did you travel long with him after that?"

"Ten years."

"And where is he now?"

While the Billy Boils - 20/51

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