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Steelman’s Pupil
by [?]

“Remember, they’re Scotch up at that house. You understand the Scotch barrack pretty well by now–if you don’t it ain’t my fault. You were born in Aberdeen, but came out too young to remember much about the town. Your father’s dead. You ran away to sea and came out in the Bobbie Burns to Sydney. Your poor old mother’s in Aberdeen now–Bruce or Wallace Wynd will do. Your mother might be dead now–poor old soul!–any way, you’ll never see her again. You wish you’d never run away from home. You wish you’d been a better son to your poor old mother; you wish you’d written to her and answered her last letter. You only want to live long enough to write home and ask for forgiveness and a blessing before you die. If you had a drop of spirits of some sort to brace you up you might get along the road better. (Put this delicately.) Get the whine out of your voice and breathe with a wheeze–like this; get up the nearest approach to a deathrattle that you can. Move as if you were badly hurt in your wind–like this. (If you don’t do it better’n that, I’ll stoush you.) Make your face a bit longer and keep your lips dry–don’t lick them, you damned fool!-breathe on them; make ’em dry as chips. That’s the only decent pair of breeks you’ve got, and the only shoon. You’re a Presbyterian–not a U.P., the Auld Kirk. Your mate would have come up to the house only–well, you’ll have to use the stuffing in your head a bit; you can’t expect me to do all the brain work. Remember it’s consumption you’ve got–galloping consumption; you know all the symptoms–pain on top of your right lung, bad cough, and night sweats. Something tells you that you won’t see the new year–it’s a week off Christmas now. And if you come back without anything, I’ll blessed soon put you out of your misery.”

Smith came back with about four pounds of shortbread and as much various tucker as they could conveniently carry; a pretty good suit of cast-off tweeds; a new pair of ‘lastic-sides from the store stock; two bottles of patent medicine and a black bottle half-full of home-made consumption-cure; also a letter to a hospital-committee man, and three shillings to help him on his way to Palmerston. He also got about half a mile of sympathy, religious consolation, and medical advice which he didn’t remember.

Now,” he said, triumphantly, “am I a mug or not?”

Steelman kindly ignored the question. “I did have a better opinion of the Scotch,” he said, contemptuously.

Steelman got on at an hotel as billiard-marker and decoy, and in six months he managed that pub. Smith, who’d been away on his own account, turned up in the town one day clean broke, and in a deplorable state. He heard of Steelman’s luck, and thought he was “all right,” so went to his old friend.

Cold type–or any other kind of type–couldn’t do justice to Steelman’s disgust. To think that this was the reward of all the time and trouble he’d spent on Smith’s education! However, when he cooled down, he said:

“Smith, you’re a young man yet, and it’s never too late to mend. There is still time for reformation. I can’t help you now; it would only demoralize you altogether. To think, after the way I trained you, you can’t battle round any better’n this! I always thought you were an irreclaimable mug, but I expected better things of you towards the end. I thought I’d make something of you. It’s enough to dishearten any man and disgust him with the world. Why! you ought to be a rich man now with the chances and training you had! To think–but I won’t talk of that; it has made me ill. I suppose I’ll have to give you something, if it’s only to get rid of the sight of you. Here’s a quid, and I’m a mug for giving it to you. It’ll do you more harm than good; and it ain’t a friendly thing nor the right thing for me–who always had your welfare at heart–to give it to you under the circumstances. Now, get away out of my sight, and don’t come near me till you’ve reformed. If you do, I’ll have to stoush you out of regard for my own health and feelings.”