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Our Pipes
by [?]

The moon rose away out on the edge of a smoky plain, seen through a sort of tunnel or arch in the fringe of mulga behind which we were camped–Jack Mitchell and I. The timber proper was just behind us, very thick and very dark. The moon looked like a big new copper boiler set on edge on the horizon of the plain, with the top turned towards us and a lot of old rags and straw burning inside.

We had tramped twenty-five miles on a dry stretch on a hot day–swagmen know what that means. We reached the water about two hours “after dark “–swagmen know what that means. We didn’t sit down at once and rest–we hadn’t rested for the last ten miles. We knew that if we sat down we wouldn’t want to get up again in a hurry– that, if we did, our leg-sinews, especially those of our calves, would “draw” like red-hot wire’s. You see, we hadn’t been long on the track this time–it was only our third day out. Swagmen will understand.

We got the billy boiled first, and some leaves laid down for our beds and the swags rolled out. We thanked the Lord that we had some cooked meat and a few johnny-cakes left, for we didn’t feel equal to cooking. We put the billy of tea and our tucker-bags between the heads of our beds, and the pipes and tobacco in the crown of an old hat, where we could reach them without having to get up. Then we lay down on our stomachs and had a feed. We didn’t eat much–we were too tired for that–but we drank a lot of tea. We gave our calves time to tone down a bit; then we lit up and began to answer each other. It got to be pretty comfortable, so long as we kept those unfortunate legs of ours straight and didn’t move round much.

We cursed society because we weren’t rich men, and then we felt better and conversation drifted lazily round various subjects and ended in that of smoking.

“How came to start smoking?” said Mitchell. “Let’s see.” He reflected. “I started smoking first when I was about fourteen or fifteen. I smoked some sort of weed–I forget the name of it–but it wasn’t tobacco; and then I smoked cigarettes–not the ones we get now, for those cost a penny each. Then I reckoned that, if I could smoke those, I could smoke a pipe.”

He reflected.

“We lived in Sydney then–Surry Hills. Those were different times; the place was nearly all sand. The old folks were alive then, and we were all at home, except Tom.”

He reflected.

“Ah, well!…Well, one evening I was playing marbles out in front of our house when a chap we knew gave me his pipe to mind while he went into a church-meeting. The little church was opposite–a ‘chapel’ they called it.”

He reflected.

“The pipe was alight. It was a clay pipe and niggerhead tobacco. Mother was at work out in the kitchen at the back, washing up the tea-things, and, when I went in, she said: ‘You’ve been smoking!’

“Well, I couldn’t deny it–I was too sick to do so, or care much, anyway.

“‘Give me that pipe!’ she said.

“I said I hadn’t got it.

“‘Give–me–that–pipe!’ she said.

“I said I hadn’t got it.

“‘Where is it?’ she said.

“‘Jim Brown’s got it,’ I said, ‘it’s his.’

“‘Then I’ll give it to Jim Brown,’ she said; and she did; though it wasn’t Jim’s fault, for he only gave it to me to mind. I didn’t smoke the pipe so much because I wanted to smoke a pipe just then, as because I had such a great admiration for Jim.”

Mitchell reflected, and took a look at the moon. It had risen clear and had got small and cold and pure-looking, and had floated away back out amongst the stars.

“I felt better towards morning, but it didn’t cure me–being sick and nearly dead all night, I mean. I got a clay pipe and tobacco, and the old lady found it and put it in the stove. Then I got another pipe and tobacco, and she laid for it, and found it out at last; but she didn’t put the tobacco in the stove this time–she’d got experience. I don’t know what she did with it. I tried to find it, but couldn’t. I fancy the old man got hold of it, for I saw him with a plug that looked very much like mine.”