Schulers Books Online
books - games - software - wallpaper - everything
- While the Billy Boils - 4/51 -
"You can drive me somewhere where I can leave my swag and dog while I get some decent clothes to see a tailor in," he said to the cabman. "My old dog ain't used to cabs, you see."
Then he added, reflectively: "I drove a cab myself, once, for five years in Sydney."
Stiffner and Jim
We were tramping down in Canterbury, Maoriland, at the time, swagging it--me and Bill--looking for work on the new railway line. Well, one afternoon, after a long, hot tramp, we comes to Stiffner's Hotel--between Christchurch and that other place--I forget the name of it--with throats on us like sunstruck bones, and not the price of a stick of tobacco.
We had to have a drink, anyway, so we chanced it. We walked right into the bar, handed over our swags, put up four drinks, and tried to look as if we'd just drawn our cheques and didn't care a curse for any man. We looked solvent enough, as far as swagmen go. We were dirty and haggard and ragged and tired-looking, and that was all the more reason why we might have our cheques all right.
This Stiffner was a hard customer. He'd been a spieler, fighting man, bush parson, temperance preacher, and a policeman, and a commercial traveller, and everything else that was damnable; he'd been a journalist, and an editor; he'd been a lawyer, too. He was an ugly brute to look at, and uglier to have a row with--about six-foot-six, wide in proportion, and stronger than Donald Dinnie.
He was meaner than a gold-field Chinaman, and sharper than a sewer rat: he wouldn't give his own father a feed, nor lend him a sprat--unless some safe person backed the old man's I.O.U.
We knew that we needn't expect any mercy from Stiffner; but something had to be done, so I said to Bill:
"Something's got to be done, Bill! What do you think of it?"
Bill was mostly a quiet young chap, from Sydney, except when he got drunk--which was seldom--and then he was a customer, from all round. He was cracked on the subject of spielers. He held that the population of the world was divided into two classes--one was spielers and the other was the mugs. He reckoned that he wasn't a mug. At first I thought he was a spieler, and afterwards I thought that he was a mug. He used to say that a man had to do it these times; that he was honest once and a fool, and was robbed and starved in consequences by his friends and relations; but now he intended to take all that he could get. He said that you either had to have or be had; that men were driven to be sharps, and there was no help for it.
"We'll have to sharpen our teeth, that's all, and chew somebody's lug."
"How?" I asked.
There was a lot of navvies at the pub, and I knew one or two by sight, so Bill says:
"You know one or two of these mugs. Bite one of their ears.
"So I took aside a chap that I knowed and bit his ear for ten bob, and gave it to Bill to mind, for I thought it would be safer with him than with me.
"Hang on to that," I says, "and don't lose it for your natural life's sake, or Stiffner'll stiffen us."
We put up about nine bob's worth of drinks that night--me and Bill--and Stiffner didn't squeal: he was too sharp. He shouted once or twice.
By-and-by I left Bill and turned in, and in the morning when I woke up there was Bill sitting alongside of me, and looking about as lively as the fighting kangaroo in London in fog time. He had a black eye and eighteen pence. He'd been taking down some of the mugs.
"Well, what's to be done now?" I asked. "Stiffner can smash us both with one hand, and if we don't pay up he'll pound our swags and cripple us. He's just the man to do it. He loves a fight even more than he hates being had."
"There's only one thing to be done, Jim," says Bill, in a tired, disinterested tone that made me mad.
"Well, what's than" I said.
"Smoke be damned," I snarled, losing my temper.
"You know dashed well that our swags are in the bar, and we can't smoke without them.
"Well, then," says Bill, "I'll toss you to see who's to face the landlord."
"Well, I'll be blessed!" I says. "I'll see you further first. You have got a front. You mugged that stuff away, and you'll have to get us out of the mess."
It made him wild to be called a mug, and we swore and growled at each other for a while; but we daren't speak loud enough to have a fight, so at last I agreed to toss up for it, and I lost.
Bill started to give me some of his points, but I shut him up quick.
"You've had your turn, and made a mess of it," I said. "For God's sake give me a show. Now, I'll go into the bar and ask for the swags, and carry them out on to the veranda, and then go back to settle up. You keep him talking all the time. You dump the two swags together, and smoke like sheol. That's all you've got to do."
I went into the bar, got the swags front the missus, carried them out on to the veranda, and then went back.
Stiffner came in.
"Good morning, sir," says Stiffner.
"It'll be a nice day, I think?"
"Yes, I think so. I suppose you are going on?"
"Yes, we'll have to make a move to-day."
Then I hooked carelessly on to the counter with one elbow, and looked dreamy-like out across the clearing, and presently I gave a sort of sigh and said: "Ah, well! I think I'll have a beer."
"Right you are! Where's your mate?"
"Oh, he's round at the back. He'll be round directly; but he ain't drinking this morning."
Stiffner laughed that nasty empty laugh of his. He thought Bill was whipping the cat.
"What's yours, boss?" I said.
The country was pretty open round there--the nearest timber was better than a mile away, and I wanted to give Bill a good start across the flat before the go-as-you-can commenced; so I talked for a while, and while we were talking I thought I might as well go the whole hog--I might as well die for a pound as a penny, if I had to die; and if I hadn't I'd have the pound to the good, anyway, so to speak. Anyhow, the risk would be about the same, or less, for I might have the spirit to run harder the more I had to run for--the more spirits I had to run for, in fact, as it turned out--so I says:
"I think I'll take one of them there flasks of whisky to last us on the road."
"Right y'are," says Stiffner. "What'll ye have--a small one or a big one?"
"Oh, a big one, I think--if I can get it into my pocket."
"It'll be a tight squeeze," he said, and he laughed.
"I'll try," I said. "Bet you two drinks I'll get it in."
"Done!" he says. "The top inside coat-pocket, and no tearing."
It was a big bottle, and all my pockets were small; but I got it into the pocket he'd betted against. It was a tight squeeze, but I got it in.
Then we both laughed, but his laugh was nastier than usual, because it was meant to be pleasant, and he'd lost two drinks; and my laugh wasn't easy--I was anxious as to which of us would laugh next.
Just then I noticed something, and an idea struck me--about the most up-to-date idea that ever struck me in my life. I noticed that Stiffner was limping on his right foot this morning, so I said to him:
"What's up with your foot?" putting my hand in my pocket. "Oh, it's a crimson nail in my boot," he said. "I thought I got the blanky thing out this morning; but I didn't."
There just happened to be an old bag of shoemaker's tools in the bar, belonging to an old cobbler who was lying dead drunk on the veranda. So I said, taking my hand out of my pocket again:
"Lend us the boot, and I'll fix it in a minute. That's my old trade."
Previous Page Next Page
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 20 30 40 50 51
Schulers Books Online
books - games - software - wallpaper - everything