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PAGE 3

"Roll Up At Talbragar"
by [?]

Ben Duggan rode hard, as grief-stricken men ride–and walk. At Cooyal he woke up the solitary storekeeper and told him the news; then along that little-used old road for some miles both ways, and back again, rousing prospectors and fossickers, the butcher of the neighbourhood, clearers, fencers, and timber-getters, in hut and tent.

“Who’s that?”

“What’s up?”

“What’s the matter?”

“Ben Duggan! Jack Denver’s dead! Killed ridin’ home from the races! Funeral’s to-morrow. Roll up at Talbragar or the nearest point you can get to on the government road. Tell the neighbours and folks.”

“Good God! How did it happen?”

But the hoofs of Ben’s horse would be clattering or thudding away into the distance.

He struck through to Dunne’s selection–his brother-in-law, who had not been to the races; then to Ross’s farm–Old Ross was against racing, but struck a match at once and said something to his auld wife about them black trousers that belonged to the black coat and vest.

Then Ben swung to the left and round behind the spurs to the school at Old Pipeclay, where he told the schoolmaster. Then west again to Morris’s and Schneider’s lonely farms in the deep estuary of Long Gully, and through the gully to the Mudgee-Gulgong road at New Pipeclay. The long, dark, sullenly-brooding gully through which he had gone to school in the glorious bush sunshine with Jack Denver, and his sweetheart–now but three hours his hopelessly-stricken widow; Bertha Lambert, Ben’s sweetheart–married now, and newly a grandmother; Harry Dale–drowned in the Lachlan; Lucy Brown–Harry’s school-day and boy-and-girl sweetheart–dead; and–and all the rest of them. Far away, far away–and near away: up in Queensland and out on the wastes of the Never-Never. Riding and camping, hardship and comfort, monotony and adventure, drought, flood, blacks, and fire; sprees and–the rest of it. Long dry stretches on Dead Man’s Track. Cutting across the country in No Man’s Land where there were no tracks into the Unknown. Chancing it and damning it. Ill luck and good luck. Laughing at it afterwards and joking at it always; he and Jack–always he and Jack–till Jack got married. The children used to say Long Gully was haunted, and always hurried through it after sunset. It was haunted enough now all right.

But, raising the gap at the head of the gully, he woke suddenly and came back from the hazy, lazy plains; the

Level lands where Distance hides in her halls of shimmering haze, And where her toiling dreamers ride towards her all their days;

where “these things” are ever far away, and Distance ever near–and whither he had drifted, the last hour, with Jack Denver, from the old Slab School.

“I wonder whether old Fosbery’s got through yet?” he muttered, with nervous anxiety, as he looked down on the cluster of farms and scattered fringe of selections in the broad moonlight. “I wonder if he’s got there yet?” Then, as if to reassure himself: “He must have started an hour before me, and the old man can ride yet.” He rode down towards a farm on Pipeclay Creek, about the centre of the cluster of farms, vineyards, and orchards.

Old Fosbery–otherwise Break-the-News–was a character round there. If he was handy and no woman to be had, he was always sent to break the news to the wife of a digger or bushman who had met with an accident. He was old, and world-wise, and had great tact–also great experience in such matters. Bad news had been broken to him so many times that he had become hardened to it, and he had broken bad news so often that he had come to take a decided sort of pleasure in it–just as some bushman are great at funerals and will often travel miles to advise, and organize, and comfort, and potter round a burying and are welcomed. They had broken the news to old Fosbery when his boy went wrong and was “taken” (“when they took Jim”). They had broken the news to old Fosbery when his daughter, Rose, went wrong, and bolted with Flash Jack Redmond. They had broken the news to the old man when young Ted was thrown from his horse and killed. They had broken the news to the old man when the unexpected child of his old age and hopes was accidentally burnt to death. So the old man knew how it felt.