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EPICS OF THE BUSH
A HENRY LAWSON STORY
THE DROVER'S WIFE
The in>o-roomed house is built of round timber, slabs, and stringy bark, dnd floored With Split slabs. A big bark kitchen standing at one end is larger than the house itself, verandah included.
Bush all round-bush with no horizon, for the country) is flat. No ran get in the distance. The bush consists of stunted, rotten native apple trees. No undergrowth. Nothing to relieve the eye save the darker green of a feu) she-oaks which are sighing above the narrow, almost waterless creek. Nineteen miles to the nearest sign of civilization-a shanty on the main road.
T^HE drover, an ex-squatter, is away
with sheep. His wife and child
ren are left here alone.
Four ragged, dried-up-looking child ren are playing about the house. Sud denly one of them yells: "Snake! Mother, here's a snake!"
The gaunt, Bun-browned bushwoman dashes from the kitchen, snatches her baby from the ground, holds It On her
left hip, and reaches for a stick.
"Where is it?"
"Here! gone into the woodheap!" yells the eldest boy - a sharp-faced urchin of eleven. "Stop there, mother! I'll have him. Stand back! I'll have the beggar!"
"Tommy, come here, or you'll he bit. Come here at once when X tell you, you little wretch!"
The youngster comes reluctantly, carrying a stick bigger than himself. Then he yells, triumphantly:
"There it goes under the house!" and darts away with club uplifted. At the same time the big, black, yellow-eyed dog-of-all-breeds, who has shown tho wildest interest in the proceedings, break his chain and rushes after that snake. He is a moment late, however, and his nose reaches the crack in the slabs just as the end of its tail disap pears. Almost at the same moment the boy's club comes down and skins the aforesaid nose. Alligator takes small notice of this, and proceeds to under mine the building; but he is subdued after a struggle and chained up. They cannot afford to lose him.
The drover's wife makes the child ren stand together near the dog-house, while she watches for the snake. She gets two small dishes of milk and sets them down near the wall to tempt it to come out; but an hour goes by and it does not show itself.
It is near sunset, and a thunder storm is coming. The children must be brought inside. She will not take them into the house, for she knows the snake id there, and may at any moment come up through a crack in the rough slab floor; so she carries several arm fuls of wood into the kitchen, and then takes the children there. The kitchen has no floor-or, rather, an earthen one-called a "ground floor" in this part of the bush. There is a large, roughly-made table in the centre of the place. She brings the children in, aud makes them get on this table. They are two boys and two girls - mere babies. She gives them some supper, and then, before it gets dark, she goeB into the house, and snatches up some pillows and bedclothes-expecting to see or lay her hand on the snake any minute. She makes a bed on the kit chen table for the children, and sits down beside it to watch all night.
She has an eye on the corner and a green sapling club laid in readiness on the dresser by her side; also her sewing basket and a copy of the "Young Ladies' Journal." She has brought the dog into the room.
Tommy turns in, under protest, failt says he'll lie awake all night and
smash that blinded snake.
His tnother asks him how many times she has told him not to Bwear. ? He has his club with him under the bedclothes) and Jacky protests;
"Mutainy! Tommy's skinnin' me alive wif his club. Make him take it out."
Tommy: "Shet up, you little ! D'yer want to be bit With the snake?"
Jacky shuts up.
"If yer bit," say6 Tohimy, Wter a pause, "you'll swell up, an' smell, an' turn red ah' greed, fcn' blue, all bver till yer bust. Won't he, mother?" ?
"Now then, don't frighten the cbila. Go to sleep," she says.
The two younger children go to sleep, and now and then Jacky com plains of being "skeezed." More rooih is made for him. Presently "Tommy says: "Mother! listen to them (adjec tive) little 'possums. I'd like to fedrew their blanky necks."
And Jacky protests drowsily.
"But they don't hurt us, the little I blanks!"
| Mother: "There, I told you you'd
teach Jacky to swear." But the remark makes her smile. Jacky goes to sleep.
Presently Tommy asks:- j "Mother! Do you think they'll ever extricate the (adjective) kangaroo?"
"Lord! How am I to know, child?
Go to sleep."
"Will you wake me up if the snake
"Yes. Go to sleep."
Near midnight. The children are all asleep and she sits there still, sewing and reading by turns. From time to time she glances round the floor and wall-plate, and, whenever she hearB a noise, she reaches for the stick. The thunderstorm comes on; and the wind, rushing through the cracks in the slab wall, threatens to blow out her candle. She places it on a sheltered part of the dresser and fixes up a newspaper to protect it. At every flash of light ning, the cracks between the slabs gleam like polished silver. The thun der rolls, and the rain comes down in
Alligator lies at full length on the floor, with his eyes turned towards the partition. "She knows by this that the snake is there. There are large cracks in that wall opening under the floor of the dwelling house.
She is not a coward, but recent events have shaken her nerves. A little son of her brother-in-law was lately bitten by a snake, and died. Be sides, she has not heard from her husband for six months, and is anxious
He was a drover, and started squatting here when they were mar ried. The drought of 18- ruined him. He had to sacrifice the remnant of his flock and go droving again. He intends to move his family into the nearest town when he comes back, and, in the meantime, his brother, who keepB a shanty on the main road, comes over about once a month with provisions. The wife has still a couple of cows, one horse, and a few sheep. The brother-in-law kills one of the latter oc casionally, gives her what she needs of it, and takes the rest in return for other provisions.
She is used to being left alone. She once lived like this for eighteen months. As a girl she built the usual castles in the air; but all her girlish hopes and aspirations have long been dead. She finds all the excitement and recreation she needs in the "Young Ladies' Journal," and Heaven help her! takes a pleasure in the fashion-plates.
Her husband is an Australian, and so is she. He is careless, but a good enough husband. If he had the means he would take her to the city and keep her there like a princess. They are used to being apart, or at least she is. "No use fretting," she says. He may forget sometimes that he is married; but if he has a good cheque when he comes back he will give most of it to her. When he had money he took her to the city several times-hired a railway sleeping compartment, and put up at the best hotels. He also bought her a buggy, but they had to sacrifice that along with the rest.
The last two children were born in the bush-one while her husband was bringing a drunken doctor, by force, to attend to her. She was alone on this occasion, and very weak. She had been ill with a fever. She prayed to God to send her assistan'ce. God sent her Black Mary-the "whitest" gin in all the land. Or, at least, God sent King Jimmy first, and he sent Black Mary. He put his black face round the door post, took in the situ ation at a glance, and said cheerfully, "All right, missus, I bring my old woman, she down alonga creek."
One of the children died white she was here alone. She rode nineteen miles for assistance, carrying the dead child. ?
It must be near one or two o'clock. The five is burning low. Alligator lies with his head resting on his paws and watches the wall. He is not a very beautiful dog, and the light shows numerous old wounds where the hair will not grow. He is afraid of nothing on the face of the earth or under it. He will tackle a bullock as readily as he will tackle a flea. He hates all other dogs-except kangaroo dogs and has a marked dislike to friends or relations of the family. They sel dom call, however. He sometimes makes friends with strangers. He hates snakes and has killed many, but he will be bitten some day and die; most snake-dogs end that way.
Now and then the bushwoman lays down her work and watches, and lis tens, and thinks. She thinks of things in her own. life, for there is little else
to think about.
The rain will make the grasB grow, and this reminds her of how she fought & bush-fire once, while her huS
band was away. The grass was long, and very dry, and the fire threatened to burn her out. She put on an old pair of her husband's trousers and beat out the flames with a green bough, till great drops of sooty perspiration stood out on her forehead and ran in streaks down her blackened arms. The sight of his mother in trousers great ly amused Tommy, who worked like a little hero by her side, but the ter rified baby howled lustily for his "mummy." The fire would have mas tered -her but "for four excited bush men who arrived in the nick of time. It was a mixed-up affair all round: when she went to take up the baby he screamed and struggled convulsively, thinking it was a "black man," and Alligator, trusting more to the child's sense than his own instinct, charged
furiously, and (being old and slightly deaf) did not in his excitement at first recognise his mistress's voice, but continued to hang on to the moleskins until choked off by Tommy with a saddle-strap. The dog's sorrow for his blunder, and his anxiety to let it be known that it was all a mistake, was as evident as his ragged tall and 12 inch grin could make it. It was a glori ous time for the boys; a day to look
back to, and talk about, and laug'a - over for many years. / .
(Concluded next week.) ^ *
A MESSAGE from, Auckland says
that broadcasting of Parliamentary debates is popular among New Zealand farmers. It passeth all Australian un derstanding.