His Brother's Keeper by Henry Lawson
By his paths through the parched desolation,
Hot rides and the terrible tramps;
By the hunger, the thirst, the privation
Of his work in the furthermost camps;
By his worth in the light that shall search men
And prove—ay! and justify each—
I place him in front of all Churchmen
Who feel not, who know not—but preach!
—The Christ of the Never.
I told you about Peter M'Laughlan, the bush missionary, and how he
preached in the little slab-and-bark school-house in the scrub on
Ross's Creek that blazing hot Sunday afternoon long ago, when the
drought was ruining the brave farmers all round there and breaking
their hearts. And how hard old Ross, the selector, broke down at the
end of the sermon, and blubbered, and had to be taken out of church.
I left home and drifted to Sydney, and “back into the Great
North-West where all the rovers go,” and knocked about the country for
six or seven years before I met Peter M'Laughlan again. I was young
yet, but felt old at times, and there were times, in the hot, rough,
greasy shearing-shed on blazing days, or in the bare “men's hut” by the
flicker of the stinking slush-lamp at night, or the wretched wayside
shanty with its drink-madness and blasphemy, or tramping along the
dusty, endless track—there were times when I wished I could fall back
with all the experience I'd got, and sit once more in the little
slab-and-bark “chapel” on Ross's Creek and hear Peter M'Laughlan and
the poor, struggling selectors sing “Shall We Gather at the River?” and
then go out and start life afresh.
My old school chum and bush mate, Jack Barnes, had married pretty
little Clara Southwick, who used to play the portable harmonium in
chapel. I nearly broke my heart when they were married, but then I was
a young fool. Clara was a year or so older than I, and I could never
get away from a boyish feeling of reverence for her, as if she were
something above and out of my world. And so, while I was worshipping
her in chapel once a month, and at picnics and parties in between, and
always at a distance, Jack used to ride up to Southwick's place on
Saturday and Sunday afternoons, and on other days, and hang his horse
up outside, or turn it in the paddock, and argue with old Southwick,
and agree with the old woman, and court Clara on the sly. And he got
It was at their wedding that I first got the worse for drink.
Jack was a blue-eyed, curly black-haired, careless, popular young
scamp; as good-hearted as he was careless. He could ride like a circus
monkey, do all kinds of bush work, add two columns of figures at once,
and write like copper-plate.
Jack was given to drinking, gambling and roving. He steadied up when
he got married and started on a small selection of his own; but within
the year Clara was living in a back skillion of her father's house and
Jack was up-country shearing. He was “ringer” of the shed at Piora
Station one season and made a decent cheque; and within a fortnight
after the shed “cut out” he turned up at home in a very bad state from
drink and with about thirty shillings in his pockets. He had fallen
from his horse in the creek near Southwick's, and altogether he was a
nice sort of young husband to go home to poor, heart-broken Clara.
I remember that time well. She stopped me one day as I was riding
past to ask me if I'd seen Jack, and I got off my horse. Her chin and
mouth began to twitch and tremble and I saw her eyes filling with
tears. She laid her hand on my arm and asked me to promise not to drink
with Jack if I met him, but to try and persuade him to come home.
And—well, have you, as a man, ever, with the one woman that you can't
have, and no matter at what time or place, felt a sudden mad longing to
take her in your arms and kiss her—and damn the world? I got on my
horse again. She must have thought me an ignorant brute, but I felt
safer there. And when I thought how I had nearly made a fool of myself,
and been a cowardly brute, and a rotten mate to my mate, I rode ten
miles to find Jack and get him home.
He straightened up again after a bit and went out and got another
shed, and they say that Peter M'Laughlan got hold of him there. I don't
know what Peter did to him then—Jack never spoke of it, even to me,
his old mate; but, anyway, at the end of the shearing season Jack's
cheque came home to Clara in a registered envelope, addressed in
Peter's hand-writing, and about a week later Jack turned up a changed
He got work as a temporary clerk in the branch government land
office at Solong, a pretty little farming town in a circle of blue
hills on the banks of a clear, willow-fringed river, where there were
rich, black-soil, river-flat farms, and vineyards on the red soil
slopes, and blue peaks in the distance. It was a great contrast to
Ross's Creek. Jack paid a deposit on an allotment of land, a bit out of
town, on the river bank, and built a little weather-board box of a
cottage in spare times, and planted roses and grape-vines to hide its
ugliness by and by. It wasn't much of a place, but Clara was mighty
proud of it because it was “our house.” They were very happy, and she
was beginning to feel sure of Jack. She seemed to believe that the
miserable old time was all past and gone.
When the work at the land's office gave out, Jack did all sorts of
jobs about town, and at last, one shearing season, when there was a
heavy clip of wool, and shearers were getting L1 a hundred, he decided
to go out back. I know that Clara was against it, but he argued that it
was the only chance for him, and she persuaded herself that she could
trust him. I was knocking about Solong at the time, and Jack and I
decided to go out together and share his packhorse between us. He wrote
to Beenaway Shed, about three hundred: miles north-west in the Great
Scrubs, and got pens for both of us.
It was a fine fresh morning when we started; it was in a good season
and the country looked grand. When I rode up to Jack's place I saw his
horse and packhorse tied up outside the gate. He had wanted me to come
up the evening before and have tea with them and camp at his place for
the night. “Come up! man alive!” he said. “We'll make you a
shake-down!” But I wouldn't; I said I had to meet a chap. Jack wouldn't
have understood. I had been up before, but when I saw him and Clara so
happy and comfortable, and thought of the past and my secret, and
thought of myself, a useless, purposeless, restless, homeless sort of
fellow, hanging out at a boarding-house, it nearly broke me up, and I
had to have a drink or two afterwards. I often wonder if Clara guessed
and understood. You never know how much a woman knows; but—ah, well!
Jack had taken my things home with him and he and Clara had packed
them. I found afterwards that she had washed, dried and ironed some
collars and handkerchiefs of mine during the night. Clara and Jack came
out to the gate, and as I wouldn't go in to have a cup of tea there was
nothing for it but to say good-bye. She was dressed in a fresh-looking
print blouse and dark skirt, and wore a white hood that fell back from
her head; she was a little girl, with sweet, small, freckled features,
and red-gold hair, and kind, sympathetic grey eyes. I thought her the
freshest, and fairest, and daintiest little woman in the district.
I was Jack's mate, so she always treated me as a sort of
brother-in-law, and called me by my Christian name. Mates are closer
than brothers in the bush.
I turned my back and pretended to tighten the straps and girths on
the packhorse while she said good-bye to Jack. I heard her speaking
earnestly to him, and once I heard her mention Peter M`Laughlan's name.
I thought Jack answered rather impatiently. “Oh, that's all right,
Clara,” he said, “that's all over—past and gone. I wish you would
believe it. You promised never to speak of that any more.”
I know how it was. Jack never cared to hear about Peter; he was too
ashamed of the past, perhaps; besides, deep down, we feel a sort of
resentment towards any reference to a man who has helped or saved us in
the past. It's human nature.
Then they spoke in low tones for a while, and then Jack laughed, and
kissed her, and said, “Oh, I'll be back before the time's up.” Then he
ran into the house to say good-bye to Mary's sister, who was staying
with her, and who was laid up with a sprained ankle.
Then Clara stepped up to me and laid her fingers on my shoulder. I
trembled from head to foot and hoped she didn't notice it.
“Joe,” she said, looking at me with her big, searching grey eyes, “I
believe I can trust you. I want you to look after Jack. You know why.
Never let him have one drink if you can help it. One drink—the first
drink will do it. I want you to promise me that you will never have a
drink with Jack, no matter what happens or what he says.”
“I never will,” I said, and I meant it.
“It's the first time he's been away from me since he gave up
drinking, and if he comes back all right this time I will be sure of
him and contented. But, Joe, if he comes back wrong it will kill me; it
will break my heart. I want you to promise that if anything happens you
will ride or wire for Peter M'Laughlan. I hear he's wool-sorting this
year at Beenaway Station. Promise me that if anything happens you will
ride for Peter M'Laughlan and tell him, no matter what Jack says.”
“I promise,” I said.
She half-held out her hand to me, but I kept both mine behind my
back. I suppose she thought I didn't notice that she wanted to shake
hands on the bargain; but the truth was that my hands shook so, and I
didn't want her to notice that.
I got on my horse and felt steadier. Then, “Good-bye,
Clara”—“Good-bye, Jack.” She bore up bravely, but I saw her eyes
brimming. Jack got on his horse, and I bent over and shook hands with
her. Jack bent down and kissed her while she stood on tiptoe.
“Good-bye, little woman,” he said. “Cheer up, and I'll be back before
you know where you are! You mustn't fret—you know why.”
“Good-bye, Jack!”—she was breaking down.
“Come on, Jack!” I said, and we rode off, turning and waving our
hats to her as she stood by the gate, looking a desolate little thing,
I thought, till we turned down a bend of the road into the river.
As we jogged along with the packhorse trotting behind us, and the
quart-pots and hobble-chains jingling on the packsaddle, I pictured
Clara running inside, to cry a while in her sister's arms, and then to
bustle round and cheer up, for Jack's sake—and for the sake of
“I'll christen him after you, Joe,” said Jack, later on, when we'd
got confidential over our pipes after tea in our first camp. It never
seemed to enter his head that there was the ghost of a chance that it
might be a girl. “I'm glad he didn't come along when I was drinking,”
And as we lay rolled in our blankets under the stars I swore a big
oath to myself.
We got along comfortably and reached Beenaway Station in about a
week, the day before the shearers' roll-call. Jack never showed the
slightest inclination to go into a shanty; and several times we talked
about old times and what damned fools we'd been throwing away our money
over shanty bars shouting for loafers and cadgers. “Isn't this ever
so-much better, Joe!” said Jack, as we lay on our blankets smoking one
moonlight night. “There's nothing in boozing, Joe, you can take it from
me. Just you sling it for a year and then look back; you won't want to
touch it again. You've been straight for a couple of months. Sling it
for good, Joe, before it gets a hold on you, like it did on me.”
It was the morning after cut-out at Beenaway Shed, and we were glad.
We were tired of the rush and roar and rattle and heat and grease and
blasphemy of the big, hot, iron machine shed in that dusty patch in the
barren scrubs. Swags were rolled up, saddle-bags packed, horses had
been rounded up and driven in, the shearers' cook and his mate had had
their fight, and about a hundred men—shearers, rouseabouts, and
wool-washers—were waiting round the little iron office to get their
We were about half through when one bushman said to another: “Stop
your damned swearin', Jim. Here's Peter M'Laughlan!” Peter walked up
and the men made way for him and he went into the office. There was
always considerably less swearing for a few feet round about where
Peter M'Laughlan happened to be working in a shearing-shed. It seemed
to be an understood thing with the men. He took no advantages, never
volunteered to preach at a shed where he was working, and only spoke on
union subjects when the men asked him to. He was “rep.” (Shearers'
Union representative) at this shed, but squatters and station managers
respected him as much as the men did.
He seemed much greyer now, but still stood square and straight. And
his eyes still looked one through.
When Peter came out and the crowd had cleared away he took Jack
aside and spoke to him in a low voice for a few minutes. I heard Jack
say, “Oh, that's all right, Peter! You have my word for it,” and he got
on his horse. I heard Peter say the one word, “Remember!” “Oh, that's
all right,” said Jack, and he shook hands with Peter, shouted, “Come
on, Joe!” and started off with the packhorse after him.
“I wish I were going down with you, Joe,” said Peter to me, “but I
can't get away till to-morrow. I've got that sick rouseabout on my
hands, and I'll have to see him fixed up somehow and started off to the
hospital” (the nearest was a hundred miles away). “And, by the way,
I've taken up a collection for him; I want a few shillings from you,
Joe. I nearly forgot you. The poor fellow only got in about a
fortnight's work, and there's a wife and youngsters in Sydney. I'll be
down after you to-morrow. I promised to go to Comesomehow* and get the
people together and start an agitation for a half-time school there.
Anyway, I'll be there by the end of the week. Good-bye, Joe. I must get
some more money for the rouser from some of those chaps before they
[ * There is a postal district in new South Wales called
Comesomehow was a wretched cockatoo settlement, a bit off the track,
about one hundred and fifty miles on our road home, where the settlers
lived like savages and the children ran wild. I reckoned that Peter
would have his work cut out to start a craving for education in that
By saying he'd be there I think he intended to give me a hint, in
case anything happened. I believe now that Jack's wife had got anxious
and had written to him.
We jogged along comfortably and happily for three or four days, and
as we passed shanty after shanty, and town after town, without Jack
showing the slightest inclination to pull up at any of them, I began to
feel safe about him.
Then it happened, in the simplest way, as most things of this sort
happen if you don't watch close.
The third night it rained, rained heavens-hard, and rainy nights can
be mighty cold out on those plains, even in midsummer. Jack and I
rigged up a strip of waterproof stuff we had to cover the swags on the
packhorse, but the rain drove in, almost horizontally, and we got wet
through, blankets, clothes and all. Jack got a bad cold and coughed fit
to break himself; so about daylight, when the rain held up a bit, we
packed up and rode on to the next pub, a wretched little weather-board
place in the scrub.
Jack reckoned he'd get some stuff for his cold there. I didn't like
to speak, but before we reached the place I said, “You won't touch a
“Do you think I'm a blanky fool?” said Jack, and I shut up.
The shanty was kept by a man who went by the name of Thomas, a
notorious lamber-down,* as I found out afterwards. He was a big,
awkward bullock of a man, a selfish, ignorant brute, as anyone might
have seen by his face; but he had a loud voice, and adopted a careless,
rollicking, hail-fellow-well-met! come-in-and-sit-down-man-alive!
clap-you-on-the-back style, which deceived a good many, or which a good
many pretended to believe in. His “missus” was an animal of his own
species, but she was duller and didn't bellow.
[ * “Lamber-down,” a shanty keeper who entices cheque-men to drink.
He had a rather good-looking girl there—I don't know whether she
was his daughter or not. They said that when he saw the shearers coming
he'd say, “Run and titivate yourself, Mary; here comes the shearers!”
But what surprised me was that Jack Barnes didn't seem able to see
through Thomas; he thought that he was all right, “a bit of a rough
diamond.” There are any amount of scoundrels and swindlers knocking
about the world disguised as rough diamonds.
Jack had a fit of coughing when we came in.
“Why, Jack!” bellowed Thomas, “that's a regular churchyarder you've
got. Go in to the kitchen fire and I'll mix you a stiff toddy.”
“No, thank you, Thomas,” said Jack, glancing at me rather
sheepishly, I thought. “I'll have a hot cup of coffee presently,
that'll do me more good.”
“Why, man alive, one drink won't hurt you!” said Thomas. “I know
you're on the straight, and you know I'm the last man that 'ud try to
get you off it. But you want something for that cold. You don't want to
die on the track, do you? What would your missus say? That cough of
yours is enough to bust a bullock.”
“Jack isn't drinking, Thomas,” I said rather shortly, “and neither
“I'll have a cup of coffee at breakfast,” said Jack; “thank you all
the same, Thomas.”
“Right you are, Jack!” said Thomas. “Mary!” he roared at the girl,
“chuck yerself about and get breakfast, and make a strong cup of
coffee; and I say, missus” (to his wife), “git some honey and vinegar
in a cup, will yer? or see if there's any of that cough stuff left in
the bottle. Go into the kitchen, you chaps, and dry yourselves at the
fire, you're wringing wet.”
Jack went through into the kitchen. I stepped out to see if the
horses were all right, and as I came in again through the bar, Thomas,
who had slipped behind the counter, crooked his finger at me and poured
out a stiff whisky. “I thought you might like to have it on the quiet,”
he whispered, with a wink.
Now, there was this difference between Jack and me. When I was on
the track, and healthy and contented, I could take a drink, or two
drinks, and then leave it; or at other times I could drink all day, or
all night, and be as happy as a lord, and be mighty sick and repentant
all next day, and then not touch drink for a week; but if Jack once
started, he was a lost man for days, for weeks, for, months—as long as
his cash or credit lasted. I felt a cold coming on me this morning, and
wanted a whisky, so I had a drink with Thomas. Then, of course, I
shouted in my turn, keeping an eye out in case Jack should come in. I
went into the kitchen and steamed with Jack for a while in front of a
big log fire, taking care to keep my breath away from him. Then we went
in to breakfast. Those two drinks were all I meant to have, and we were
going right on after breakfast.
It was a good breakfast, ham and eggs, and we enjoyed it. The two
whiskies had got to work. I hadn't touched drink for a long time. I
shouldn't like to say that Thomas put anything in the drink he gave me.
Before we started breakfast he put a glass down in front of me and
“There's a good ginger-ale, it will warm you up.”
I tasted it; it was rum, hot. I said nothing. What could I say?
There was some joke about Jack being married and settled and
steadied down, and me, his old mate, still on the wallaby; and Mrs
Thomas said that I ought to follow Jack's example. And just then I felt
a touch of that loneliness that some men feel when an old drinking mate
Jack started coughing again, like an old cow with the pleuro.
“That cough will kill you, Jack,” said Thomas. “Let's put a drop of
brandy in your coffee, that won't start you, anyhow; it's real `Three
Star.'“ And he reached a bottle from the side-table.
I should have stood up then, for my manhood, for my mate, and for
little Clara, but I half rose from my chair, and Jack laughed and said,
“Sit down, Joe, you old fool, you're tanked. I know all about your
seeing about the horses and your ginger-ales. It's all right, old man.
Do you think I'm going on the booze? Why, I'll have to hold you on the
horse all day.”
“Here's luck, Joe!” said Jack, laughing, and lifting up his cup of
coffee with the brandy in it. “Here's luck, Joe.”
Then suddenly, and as clearly as I ever heard it, came Clara's voice
to my ear: “Promise me, whatever you do, that you will never have a
drink with Jack.” And I felt cold and sick to the stomach.
I got up and went out. They thought that the drink had made me sick,
but if I'd stayed there another minute I would have tackled Thomas; and
I knew that I needed a clear head to tackle a bullock like him. I
walked about a bit, and when I came in again Jack and Thomas were in
the bar, and Jack had a glass before him.
“Come on, Joe, you old bounder,” said Jack, “come and have a
whisky-and-soda; it will straighten you up.”
“What's that you're drinking, Jack?” I asked.
“Oh, don't be a fool!” said Jack. “One drink won't hurt me. Do you
think I'm going on the booze? Have a soda and straighten up; we must
make a start directly.”
I remember we had two or three whiskies, and then suddenly I tackled
Thomas, and Jack was holding me back, and laughing and swearing at me
at the same time, and I had a tussle with him; and then I was suddenly
calmer and sensible, and we were shaking hands all round, and Jack was
talking about just one more spree for the sake of old times.
“A bit of a booze won't hurt me, Joe, you old fool,” he said. “We'll
have one more night of it, for the sake of Auld Lang Syne, and start at
daylight in the morning. You go and see to the horses, it will
straighten you up. Take the saddle off and hobble 'em out.”
But I insisted on starting at once, and Jack promised he would. We
were gloriously happy for an hour or so, and then I went to sleep.
When I woke it was late in the afternoon. I was very giddy and
shaky; the girl brought me a whisky-and-soda, and that steadied me.
Some more shearers had arrived, and Jack was playing cards with two of
them on top of a cask in the bar. Thomas was dead drunk on the floor,
or pretending to be so, and his wife was behind the bar. I went out to
see to the horses; I found them in a bush yard at the back. The
packhorse was rolling in the mud with the pack-saddle and saddlebags
on. One of the chaps helped me take off the saddles and put them in the
harness-room behind the kitchen.
I'll pass over that night. It wouldn't be very edifying to the
great, steady-living, sober majority, and the others, the
never-do-wells, the rovers, wrecks and failures, will understand only
too well without being told—only too well, God help them!
When I woke in the morning I couldn't have touched a drink to save
my life. I was fearfully shaky, and swimming about the head, but I put
my head over a tub under the pump and got the girl to pump for a while,
and then I drank a pint of tea and managed to keep it down, and felt
All through the last half of the night I'd kept saying, in a sort of
drink nightmare, “I'll go for Peter M'Laughlan in the morning. I'll go
for Peter as soon as I can stand!” and repeating Clara Barnes's words,
“Ride for Peter if anything happens. Ride for Peter M'Laughlan.”
There were drunken shearers, horsemen and swagmen sleeping all over
the place, and in all sorts of odd positions; some on the veranda with
their heads on their swags, one sitting back against the wall, and one
on the broad of his back with his head on the bare boards and his mouth
open. There was another horse rolling in its saddle, and I took the
saddle off. The horse belonged to an English University man.
I went in to see how Jack was. He was lying in the parlour on a
little, worn-out, horse-hair sofa, that might have seen better days in
some clean home in the woman-and-girl world. He had been drinking and
playing cards till early that morning, and he looked awful—he looked
as if he'd been boozing for a month.
“See what you've done!” he said, sitting up and glaring at me; then
he said, “Bring me a whisky-and-soda, Joe, for God's sake!”
I got a whisky-and-soda from the girl and took it to him.
I talked to him for a while, and at last he said, “Well, go and get
the horses and we'll start.”
I got the horses ready and brought them round to the front, but by
that time he'd had more drink, and he said he wanted to sleep before he
started. Next he was playing cards with one of the chaps, and asked me
to wait till he'd finished that game. I knew he'd keep promising and
humbugging me till there was a row, so at last I got him aside and
“Look here, Jack, I'm going for Peter M'Laughlan—-”
“Go to hell!” said Jack.
I put the other horses back in the yard, the saddles in the
skillion, got on my horse and rode off. Thomas and the others asked me
no questions, they took no notice. In a place like that a man could
almost do anything, short of hanging himself, without anyone
interfering or being surprised. And probably, if he did hang himself,
they'd let him swing for a while to get a taste of it.
Comesomehow was about fifteen miles back on a track off the main
road. I reckoned that I could find Peter and bring him on by the
afternoon, and I rode hard, sick as I was. I was too sick to smoke.
As it happened, Peter had started early from his last camp and I
caught him just as he was turning off into Comesomehow track.
“What's up, Joe?” he asked as I rode up to him—but he could see.
“Jack Barnes is on the booze at Thomas's,” I said.
Peter just looked right through me. Then he turned his horse's head
without a word, and rode back with me. And, after a while, he said, as
if to himself:
“Poor Clara! Poor little lassie!”
By the time we reached the shanty it was well on in the afternoon. A
fight was stopped in the first round and voices lowered when the chaps
caught sight of us. As Peter walked into the bar one or two drunks
straightened themselves and took off their hats with drunken sentiment.
“Where is Jack Barnes, Thomas?” asked Peter, quietly.
“He's in there if you want to see him,” said Thomas, jerking his
head towards the parlour.
We went in, and when Peter saw Jack lying there I noticed that
swift, haunted look came into his eyes, as if he'd seen a ghost of the
past. He sat down by the sofa to wait until Jack woke. I thought as he
sat there that his eyes were like a woman's for sympathy and like a
dog's for faithfulness. I was very shaky.
Presently Thomas looked in. “Is there anything I can do for you,
M'Laughlan?” he asked in as civil a tone as he could get to.
“Yes,” said Peter, “bring me a flask of your best whisky—your own,
mind—and a glass.
“We shall need the whisky for him on the track, Joe,” said Peter,
when the flask came. “Get another glass and a bottle of soda; you want
a nip.” He poured out a drink for himself.
“The first thing we've got to do is to get him away; then I'll soon
put him on his feet. But we'll let him sleep a while longer. I find
I've got business near Solong, and I'm going down with you.”
By and by Jack woke up and glared round, and when he caught sight of
Peter he just reached for his hands and said, “Peter! Thank God you've
come!” Then he said, “But I must have a drink first, Peter.”
“All right, Jack, you shall have a drink,” said Peter; and he gave
him a stiff nobblerq. It steadied Jack a bit.
“Now listen to me, Jack,” said Peter. “How much money have you got
“I—I can't think,” said Jack. “I've got a cheque for twenty pounds
here, sewn inside my shirt.”
“Yes; but you drew thirty-six in three cheques. Where's the rest?”
“Thomas has ten,” said Jack, “and the six—well, the six is gone. I
was playing cards last night.”
Peter stepped out into the bar.
“Look here, Thomas,” he said quietly, “you've got a ten-pound cheque
“I know I have.”
“Well, how much of it does he owe you?”
“The whole, and more.”
“Do you mean to tell me that? He has only been here since yesterday
“Yes; but he's been shoutin' all round. Look at all these chaps
“They only came yesterday afternoon,” said Peter. “Here, you had
best take this and give me the cheque;” and Peter laid a five-pound
note on the bar. Thomas bucked at first, but in the end he handed over
the cheque—he had had several warnings from the police. Then he
suddenly lost all control over himself; he came round from behind the
bar and faced Peter.
“Now, look here, you mongrel parson!” he said. “What the —-do you
mean by coming into my bar and, interfering with me. Who the —- are
you anyway? A —-!” He used the worst oaths that were used in the bush.
“Take off your —-coat!” he roared at last, shaping up to Peter.
Peter stepped back a pace and buttoned his coat and threw back his
“No need to take off my coat, Thomas,” he said, “I am ready.”
He said it very quietly, but there was a danger-signal—a red light
in his eyes. He was quiet-voiced but hard-knuckled, as some had reason
Thomas balked like a bull at a spread umbrella. Jack lurched past me
as I stood in the parlour door, but I caught him and held him back; and
almost at the same moment a wretched old boozer that we called “Awful
Example,” who had been sitting huddled, a dirty bundle of rags and
beard and hair, in the corner of the bar, struggled to his feet,
staggered forward and faced Thomas, looking once again like something
that might have been a man. He snatched a thick glass bottle from the
counter and held it by the neck in his right hand.
“Stand back, Thomas!” he shouted. “Lay a hand—lay a finger on Peter
M'Laughlan, and I'll smash your head, as sure as there's a God above us
and I'm a ruined man!”
Peter took “Awful” gently by the shoulders and sat him down. “You
keep quiet, old man,” he said; “nothing is going to happen.” Thomas
went round behind the bar muttering something about it not being worth
his while to, etc.
“You go and get the horses ready, Joe,” said Peter to me; “and you
sit down, Jack, and keep quiet.”
“He can get the horses,” growled Thomas, from behind the bar, “but
I'm damned if he gets the saddles. I've got them locked up, and I'll
something well keep them till Barnes is sober enough to pay me what he
Just then a tall, good-looking chap, with dark-blue eyes and a long,
light-coloured moustache, stepped into the bar from the crowd on the
“What's all this, Thomas?” he asked.
“What's that got to do with you, Gentleman Once?” shouted Thomas.
“I think it's got something to do with me,” said Gentleman Once.
“Now, look here, Thomas; you can do pretty well what you like with us
poor devils, and you know it, but we draw the line at Peter M'Laughlan.
If you really itch for the thrashing, you deserve you must tempt
someone else to give it to you.”
“What the —-are you talking about?” snorted Thomas. “You're drunk
“What's the trouble, M'Laughlan?” asked Gentleman Once, turning to
Peter. “No trouble at all, Gentleman Once,” said Peter; “thank you all
the same. I've managed worse men than our friend Thomas. Now, Thomas,
don't you think it would pay you best to hand over the key of the
harness-room and have done with this nonsense? I'm a patient man—a
very patient man—but I've not always been so, and the old blood comes
up sometimes, you know.”
Thomas couldn't stand this sort of language, because he couldn't
understand it. He threw the key on the bar and told us to clear out.
We were all three very quiet riding along the track that evening.
Peter gave Jack a nip now and again from the flask, and before we
turned in in camp he gave him what he called a soothing draught from a
little medicine chest that he carried in his saddle-bag. Jack seemed to
have got rid of his cough; he slept all night, and in the morning,
after he'd drunk a pint of mutton-broth that Peter had made in one of
the billies, he was all right—except that he was quiet and ashamed. I
had never known him to be so quiet, and for such a length of time,
since we were boys together. He had learned his own weakness; he'd lost
all his cocksureness. I know now just exactly how he felt. He felt as
if his sober year had been lost and he would have to live it all over
Peter didn't preach. He just jogged along and camped with us as if
he were an ordinary, every-day mate. He yarned about all sorts of
things. He could tell good yarns, and when he was fairly on you could
listen to him all night. He seemed to have been nearly all over the
world. Peter never preached except when he was asked to hold service in
some bush pub, station-homestead or bush church. But in a case like
ours he had a way of telling a little life story, with something in it
that hit the young man he wanted to reform, and hit him hard. He'd
generally begin quietly, when we were comfortable with our pipes in
camp after tea, with “I once knew a young man—” or “That reminds me of
a young fellow I knew—” and so on. You never knew when he was going to
begin; or when he was going to hit you. In our last camp, before we
reached Solong, he told two of his time-fuse yarns. I haven't time to
tell them now, but one stuffed up my pipe for a while, and made Jack's
hand tremble when he tried to light his. I'm glad it was too dark to
see our faces. We lay a good while afterwards, rolled in our blankets,
and couldn't get to sleep for thinking; but Peter seemed to fall asleep
as soon as he turned in.
Next day he told Jack not to tell Clara that he'd come down with us.
He said he wouldn't go right into Solong with us; he was going back
along another road to stay a day or two with an old friend of his.
When we reached Solong we stopped on the river-bank just out of
sight of Jack's house. Peter took the ten-pound cheque from his pocket
and gave it to Jack. Jack hadn't seen Peter give the shanty-keeper the
“But I owed Thomas something,” said Jack, staring. “However did you
manage to get the cheque out of him?”
“Never mind, Jack, I managed,” said Peter.
Jack sat silent for a while, then he began to breathe hard.
“I don't know what to say, Peter.”
“Say nothing, Jack. Only promise me that you will give Clara the
cheques as soon as you go home, and let her take care of the cash for a
“I will,” said Jack.
Jack looked down at the ground for a while, then he lifted his head
and looked Peter in the eyes.
“Peter,” he said, “I can't speak. I'm ashamed to make a promise;
I've broken so many. I'll try to thank you in a year's time from now.”
“I ask for no promises,” said Peter, and he held out his hand. Jack
“Aren't you coming home with me, Joe?” he asked.
“No,” I said; “I'll go into town. See you in the morning.”
Jack rode on. When he got along a piece Peter left his horse and
moved up to the head of the lane to watch Jack, and I followed. As Jack
neared the cottage we saw a little figure in a cloak run out to the
front gate. She had heard the horses and the jingle of the camp-ware on
the pack-saddle. We saw Jack jump down and take her in his arms. I
looked at Peter, and as he watched them, something, that might have
been a strange look of the old days, came into his eyes.
He shook hands with me. “Good-bye, Joe.”
He rode across the river again. He took the track that ran along the
foot of the spurs by the river, and up over a gap in the curve of blue
hills, and down and out west towards the Big Scrubs. And as he rounded
the last spur, with his packhorse trotting after him, I thought he must
have felt very lonely. And I felt lonely too.