Henry Lawson's Stories of the Bush
THE DROVER'S WIFE
(Concluded from last week's issue).
The Drover's Wife is used to being left at home with her kiddies, and Henry Lawson tells vividly the anxious moments that come to the bush woman who so bravely "carries on."
SHE thinks how she fought a flood
during her husband's absence. She stood for hours in the drenching down- pour and dug an overflow gutter to save the dam across the creek. But she could not save it. There are things that a bushwoman cannot do. Next morning the dam was broken and her heart was nearly broken too, for she thought how her husband would feel when he came home and saw the result of years of labor swept away. She cried then.
She also fought the pleuro-pneumonia — dosed and bled the few remaining cattle, and wept again when her two best cows died.
Again, she fought a mad bullock that besieged the house for a day. She made bullets and fired at him through cracks in the slabs with an old shot- gun. He was dead in the morning. She skinned him and got seventeen- and-sixpence for the hide.
She also fights the crows and eagles that have designs on her chickens. Her plan of campaign is very original. The children cry "Crows, mother!" and she rushes out and aims a broom- stick at the birds as though it were a gun, and says "Bung!" The crows leave in a hurry; they are cunning, but a woman's cunning is greater.
Occasionally a bushman in the hor- rors, or a villainous-looking sundown- er, comes and nearly scares the life out of her. She generally tells the suspicious-looking stranger that her husband and two sons are at work below the dam, or over at the yard, for he always cunningly inquires for the boss.
Only last week a gallows-faced swag- man — having satisfied himself that there were no men on the place — thew his swag down on the verandah, and demanded tucker. She gave him something to eat; then he expressed his intention of staying for the night. It was sundown then. She got a bat- ten from the sofa, loosened the dog, and confronted the stranger, holding the batten in one hand and the dog's collar with the other. "Now you go!" she said. He looked at her and at the dog, said "All right, mum," in a cringing tone, and left. She was a determined-looking woman, and Alli- gator's yellow eyes glared unpleasant- ly — besides, the dog's chawing up ap-
paratus greatly resembled that of the reptile he was named atfer.
She has few pleasures to think of as she sits here alone by the fire, on guard against a snake. All days are much the same to her; but on Sunday afternoon she dresses herself, tidies the children, smartens up baby, and goes for a lonely walk along the bush track, pushing an old perambulator in front of her. She does this every Sunday. She takes as much care to make herself and the children look smart as she would if she were going to do the block in the city. There is nothing to see, however, and not a soul to meet. You might walk for twenty miles along this track without being able to fix a point in your mind, unless you are a bushman. This is because of the everlasting, maddening same- ness of the stunted trees — that mono- tony which makes a man long to break away and travel as far as trains can go, and sail as far as ship can sail — and farther.
But this bush-woman is used to the loneliness of it. As a girl-wife she hated it, but now she would feel strange away from it.
She is glad when her husband re- turns, but she does not gush or make a fuss about it. She gets him some- thing good to eat, and tidies up the
She seems contented with her lot. She loves her children, but has no time to show it. She seems harsh to them. Her surroundings are not favorable to the development of the "womanly" or sentimental side of nature.
It must be near morning now; but the clock is in the dwelling-house. Her candle is nearly done; she forgot that she was out of candles. Some more wood must be got to keep the fire up, and so she shuts the dog inside and hurries round to the wood-heap. The rain has cleared off. She seizes a stick, pulls it out, and — crash! the whole pile collapses.
Yesterday she bargained with a stray blackfellow to bring her some wood, and while he was at work she went in search of a missing cow. She was absent an hour or so, and the native black made good use of his time. On her return she was so astonished to see a good heap of wood by the chimney, that she gave him an extra fig of tobacco, and praised him for not being lazy. He thanked her, and left with head erect and chest well out. He was the last of his tribe and a King; but he had built that wood-heap hollow.
She is liurt now, and tears spring to her eyes as she sits down again by the table. She takes up a handkerchief to wipe the tears away, but pokes her eyes with her bare fingers instead. The handkerchief is full of holes, and slie finds that she has put her thumb
Our City Artist Goes Bush
— HANGING A GATE
through one, and her forefinger through
This makes her laugh, to the sur- prise of the dog. She has a keen, very keen, sense of the ridiculous; and some time or other she will amuse bushmen with the story.
She had been amused before like that. One day she sat down "to have a good cry," as she said — and the old cat rubbed against her dress and "cried too." Then she had to laugh.
It must be near daylight now. The room is very close and hot because of the fire. Alligator still watches the wall from time to time. Suddenly he becomes greatly interested; he draws himself a few inches nearer the parti- tion, and a thrill runs through his body. The hair on the back of his neck begins to bristle, and the battle- light is in his yellow eyes. She knows what this means, and lays her hand on the stick. The lower end of one of the partition slabs has a large crack on both sides. An evil pair of small, bright bead-like eyes glisten at one of these holes. The snake — a black one — comes slowly out, about a foot, and moves its head up and down. The dog lies still, and the woman sits as one fascinated. The snake comes out a foot farther. She lifts her stick, and the reptile, as though suddenly aware of danger, sticks his head in through the crack on the other side of the slab, and hurries to get his tail round after him. Alligator springs, and his jaws come together with a snap. He misses for his nose is large, and the snake's body is close down in the angle formed by the slabs and the floor. He snaps again as the tail comes round. He has the snake now, and tugs it out eighteen inches. Thud, thud comes the woman's club on the ground. Alligator pulls again. Thud, thud. Alligator gives another pull and he has the snake out — a black brute, five feet long. The head rises to dart about, but the dog has the enemy close to the neck. He is a big, heavy dog, but quick as a terrier. He shakes the snake as though he felt the original curse in common with mankind. The eldest boy wakes up, seizes his stick, and tries to get out of bed, but his mother forces him back, with a grip of iron. Thud, thud, — the snake's back is broken in several places. Thud, thud — its head is crushed and Alligator's nose skinned again.
She lifts the mangled reptile on the point of her stick, carries it to the fire, and throws it in; then piles on the wood and watches the snake burn. The boy and dog watch, too. She lays her hand on the dog's head, and all the fierce, angry light dies out of his yellow eyes. The younger children are quieted, and pre- sently go to sleep. The dirty-legged boy stands for a moment in his shirt watch- ing the fire. Presently he looks up at her, sees the tears in her eyes, and, throwing his arms round her neck, ex-
"Mother, I won't never go drovin'; blarst me if I do!"
And she hugs him to her worn-out breast and kisses him, and they sit thus together while the sickly daylight breaks over the bush.