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My Wife’s Lovers
by [?]

There were three of them in 1886, the big drought year: old Eversofar, Billy Marshall, and Bingong. I never was very jealous of them, not even when Billy gave undoubted ground for divorce by kissing her boldly in the front garden, with Eversofar and Bingong looking on–to say nothing of myself. So far as public opinion went it could not matter, because we were all living at Tilbar Station in the Tibbooburra country, and the nearest neighbour to us was Mulholland of Nimgi, a hundred miles away. Billy was the son of my manager, John Marshall, and, like his father, had an excellent reputation as a bushman, and, like his mother, was very good-looking. He was very much indeed about my house, suggesting improvements in household arrangements; making remarks on my wife’s personal appearance–with corresponding disparagement of myself; riding with my wife across the plains; shooting kangaroos with her by night; and secretly instructing her in the mysteries of a rabbit-trap, with which, he was sure, he could make “dead loads of metal” (he was proficient in the argot of the back-blocks); and with this he would buy her a beautiful diamond ring, and a horse that had won the Melbourne Cup, and an air-gun! Once when she was taken ill, and I was away in the South, he used to sit by her bedside, fanning her hour after hour, being scarcely willing to sleep at night; and was always on hand, smoothing her pillow, and issuing a bulletin to Eversofar and Bingong the first thing in the morning. I have no doubt that Eversofar and Bingong cared for her just as much as he did; but, from first to last, they never had his privileges, and were always subordinate to him in showing her devotion. He was sound and frank with them. He told Eversofar that, of course, she only was kind to him, and let him have a hut all to himself, because he was old and had had a bad time out on the farthest back-station (that was why he was called Eversofar), and had once carried Bingong with a broken leg, on his back, for twenty miles. As for Bingong, he was only a black fellow, aged fifteen, and height inconsiderable. So, of the three, Billy had his own way, and even shamelessly attempted to lord it over me.

Most husbands would consider my position painful, particularly when I say that my wife accepted the attention of all three lovers with calm pleasure, and that of Billy with a shocking indifference to my feelings. She never tried to explain away any circumstance, no matter how awkward it might look if put down in black and white. Billy never quailed before my look; he faced me down with his ingenuous smile; he patted me on the arms approvingly; or, with apparent malice, asked me questions difficult to answer, when I came back from a journey to Brisbane–for a man naturally finds it hard to lay bare how he spent all his time in town. Because he did it so suavely and naively, one could not be resentful. It might seem that matters had reached a climax, when, one day, Mulholland came over, and, seeing my wife and her lovers together watering the garden and teaching cockatoos, said to me that Billy had the advantage of me on my own ground. It may not be to my credit that I only grinned, and forbore even looking foolish. Yet I was very fond of my wife all the time. We stood pretty high on the Charwon Downs, and though it was terribly hot at times, it was healthy enough; and she never lost her prettiness, though, maybe, she lacked bloom.

I think I never saw her look better than she did that day when Mulholland was with me. She had on the lightest, softest kind of stuff, with sleeves reaching only a little below her elbow–her hands and arms never got sunburnt in the hottest weather–her face smiled out from under the coolest-looking hat imaginable, and her hair, though gathered, had a happy trick of always lying very loose and free about the head, saving her from any primness otherwise possible, she was so neat. Mulholland and I were sitting in the veranda. I glanced up at the thermometer, and it registered a hundred in the shade! Mechanically I pushed the lime-juice towards Mulholland, and pointed to the water-bag. There was nothing else to do except grumble at the drought. Yet there my wife was, a picture of coolness and delight; the intense heat seemed only to make her the more refreshing to the eye. Water was not abundant, but we still felt justified in trying to keep her bushes and flowers alive; and she stood there holding the hose and throwing the water in the cheerfulest shower upon the beds. Billy stood with his hands on his hips watching her, very hot, very self-contained. He was shining with perspiration; and he looked the better of it. Eversofar was camped beneath a sandal-tree teaching a cockatoo, also hot and panting, but laughing low through his white beard; and Bingong, black, hatless–less everything but a pair of trousers which only reached to his knees–was dividing his time between the cockatoo and my wife.