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His Brother’s Keeper
by [?]

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 her.

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.