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Steelman’s Pupil
by [?]

Steelman was a hard case, but some said that Smith was harder. Steelman was big and good-looking, and good-natured in his way; he was a spieler, pure and simple, but did things in humorous style. Smith was small and weedy, of the sneak variety; he had a whining tone and a cringing manner. He seemed to be always so afraid you were going to hit him that he would make you want to hit him on that account alone.

Steelman “had” you in a fashion that would make your friends laugh. Smith would “have” you in a way which made you feel mad at the bare recollection of having been taken in by so contemptible a little sneak.

They battled round together in the North Island of Maoriland for a couple of years.

One day Steelman said to Smith:

“Look here, Smithy, you don’t know you’re born yet. I’m going to take you in hand and teach you.”

And he did. If Smith wouldn’t do as Steelman told him, or wasn’t successful in cadging, or mugged any game they had in hand, Steelman would threaten to stoush him; and, if the warning proved ineffectual after the second or third time, he would stoush him.

One day, on the track, they came to a place where an old Scottish couple kept a general store and shanty. They camped alongside the road, and Smith was just starting up to the house to beg supplies when Steelman cried:

“Here!–hold on. Now where do you think you’re going to?”

“Why, I’m going to try and chew the old party’s lug, of course. We’ll be out of tucker in a couple of days,” said Smith.

Steelman sat down on a stump in a hopeless, discouraged sort of way.

“It’s no use,” he said, regarding Smith with mingled reproach and disgust. “It’s no use. I might as well give it best. I can see that it’s only waste of time trying to learn you anything. Will I ever be able to knock some gumption into your thick skull? After all the time and trouble and pains I’ve took with your education, you hain’t got any more sense than to go and mug a business like that! When will you learn sense? Hey? After all, I–Smith, you’re a born mug!”

He always called Smith a “mug” when he was particularly wild at him, for it hurt Smith more than anything else. “There’s only two classes in the world, spielers and mugs–and you’re a mug, Smith.”

“What have I done, anyway?” asked Smith helplessly. “That’s all I want to know.”

Steelman wearily rested his brow on his hand.

“That will do, Smith,” he said listlessly; “don’t say another word, old man; it’ll only make my head worse; don’t talk. You might, at the very least, have a little consideration for my feelings–even if you haven’t for your own interests.” He paused and regarded Smith sadly. “Well, I’ll give you another show. I’ll stage the business for you.”

He made Smith doff his coat and get into his worst pair of trousers–and they were bad enough; they were hopelessly “gone” beyond the extreme limit of bush decency. He made Smith put on a rag of a felt hat and a pair of “‘lastic-sides” which had fallen off a tramp and lain baking and rotting by turns on a rubbish heap; they had to be tied on Smith with bits of rag and string. He drew dark shadows round Smith’s eyes, and burning spots on his cheek-bones with some greasepaints he used when they travelled as “The Great Steelman and Smith Combination Star Dramatic Co.” He damped Smith’s hair to make it dark and lank, and his face more corpse-like by comparison–in short, he made him up to look like a man who had long passed the very last stage of consumption, and had been artificially kept alive in the interests of science.

“Now you’re ready,” said Steelman to Smith. “You left your whare the day before yesterday and started to walk to the hospital at Palmerston. An old mate picked you up dying on the road, brought you round, and carried you on his back most of the way here. You firmly believe that Providence had something to do with the sending of that old mate along at that time and place above all others. Your mate also was hard up; he was going to a job–the first show for work he’d had in nine months–but he gave it up to see you through; he’d give up his life rather than desert a mate in trouble. You only want a couple of shillings or a bit of tucker to help you on to Palmerston. You know you’ve got to die, and you only want to live long enough to get word to your poor old mother, and die on a bed.