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PAGE 2

"Roll Up At Talbragar"
by [?]

And then and there it happened.

A new chum suggested that Jack had more than he thought aboard and was thrown from his horse; but the new chum was repudiated with scorn and bad words and indignation by bushmen and bushwomen alike–as indeed he would be by any bushman who had seen a drunken rider ride.

“I learnt him to ride when he was a kiddy about so high,” said old Break-the-News Fosbery, resentfully gasping and gulping, “and Jack wasn’t thrown.” It was thought at first that his horse had shied and run him against a tree, or under an overhanging branch; but Ben Duggan had seen it, and explained the thing to the doctor with that strange calmness or quietness that comes to men in the midst of a life’s grief. Jack was riding loosely, and swung forward just as the filly, a fresh young thing, threw back her head; and it struck him with sledge-hammer force, full in the face.

He was dead, even before they got him to Anderson’s Halfway Inn. There was wild racing back to town for doctors, and some accidents; one horse was killed and another ridden to death. Others went as a forlorn hope in search of Doc. Wild, eccentric Yankee bush “quack,” who had once saved one of Denver’s little girls from diphtheria; others, again, for Peter M’Laughlan, bush missionary, to face the women–for they couldn’t.

Big Ben Duggan, blubbering unashamed by the bedside, put his hand on Mrs Denver’s shoulder, as she crouched there, wild-eyed, like a hunted thing. “Nev–never mind, Mrs Denver!” he blurted out, with a note as of indignation and defiance–just for all the world as if Jack Denver had done a wrong thing and the district was down on him–“he’ll have the longest funeral ever seen in these parts! Leave that to me.” Then some of the women took her out to her daughter’s. Big Ben Duggan gave terse instructions to some of the young riders about, and then, taking the best and freshest horse, the cross-country scrub swallowed him–west. The young men jumped on their horses and rode, fan-like, east.

They took Jack Denver home. They always took their dead home first, whenever possible, and no matter the distance, before taking them to their last long home; and they do it yet, I suppose. They are not always so particular about it in cities, from what I’ve seen.

But this was a strange funeral. They had arranged mattress and sheet in the bottom of a four-wheeler, and covered him with sheet, blanket, and quilt, though the weather was warm; and over the body, from side to side of the trap, they had stretched the big dark-green table-cloth from Anderson’s dining-room. The long, ghostly, white, cleared government road between the dark walls of timber in the moonlight. The buggies and carts behind, and the dead-white faces and glistening or despairingly staring eyes of the women–wife, daughters, and nieces, and those who had come to help and comfort. The men–sons and brothers, and few mates and chums and sweethearts–riding to right and left like a bodyguard, to comfort and be comforted who needed comfort.

Now and again a brother or son–mostly a brother–riding close to the wheel, would suddenly throw out his arm on the mud splasher, of buggy or cart, and, laying his head on it, sob as he rode, careless of tyre and spokes, till a woman pushed him off gently:

“Take care of the wheel, Jim–mind the wheel.”

The eldest son held the most painful position, by his mother’s side in the first buggy, supported by an aunt on the other side, while somebody led his horse. In the next buggy, between two daughters, sat a young fellow who was engaged to one of them–they were to be married after the holidays. The poor girls were white and worn out; he had an arm round each, and now and again they rested their heads on his shoulders. The younger girl would sleep by fits and starts, the sleep of exhaustion, and start up half laughing and happy, to be stricken wild-eyed the next moment by terrible reality. Some couldn’t realize it at all–and to most of them all things were very dreamy, unreal and far away on that lonely, silent road in the moonlight–silent save for the slow, stumbling hoofs of tired horses, and the deliberate, half-hesitating clack-clack of wheel-boxes on the axles.