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PAGE 3

Stragglers
by [?]

The Wreck cannot eat at all, and seems internally disturbed by the sight of others eating.

One of the men is a cook, and this morning he volunteered good-naturedly to bake bread for the rest. His mates amuse themselves by chyacking him.

“I’ve heard he’s a dirty and slow cook,” says one, addressing Eternity.

“Ah!” says the cook, “you’ll be glad to come to me for a pint of flour when I’m cooking and you’re on the track, some day.

Sunset. Some of the men sit at the end of the hut to get the full benefit of a breeze which comes from the west. A great bank of rain-clouds is rising in that direction, but no one says he thinks it will rain; neither does anybody think we’re going to have some rain. None but the greenest jackaroo would venture that risky and foolish observation. Out here, it can look more like rain without raining, and continue to do so for a longer time, than in most other places.

The Wreck went down to the station this afternoon to get some medicine and bush medical advice. The Bourke sawney helped him to do up his swag; he did it with an awed look and manner, as though he thought it a great distinction to be allowed to touch the belongings of such a curiosity. It was afterwards generally agreed that it was a good idea for the Wreck to go to the station; he would get some physic and, a bit of tucker to take him on. “For they’ll give tucker to a sick man sooner than to a chap what’s all right.”

The Exception is rooting about in the rubbish for the other blucher boot.

The men get a little more sociable, and “feel” each other to find out who’s “Union,” and talk about water, and exchange hints as to good tucker-tracks, and discuss the strike, and curse the squatter (which is all they have got to curse), and growl about Union leaders, and tell lies against each other sociably. There are tally lies; and lies about getting tucker by trickery; and long-tramp-with-heavy-swag- and-no-water lies; and lies about getting the best of squatters and bosses-over-the-board; and droving, fighting, racing, gambling and drinking lies. Lies ad libitum; and every true Australian bushman must try his best to tell a bigger out-back lie than the last bush-liar.

Pat is not quite easy in his mind. He found an old pair of pants in the scrub this morning, and cannot decide whether they are better than his own, or, rather, whether his own are worse–if that’s possible. He does not want to increase the weight of his swag unnecessarily by taking both pairs. He reckons that the pants were thrown away when the shed cut out last, but then they might have been lying out exposed to the weather for a longer period. It is rather an important question, for it is very annoying, after you’ve mended and patched an old pair of pants, to find, when a day or two further on the track, that they are more rotten than the pair you left behind.

There is some growling about the water here, and one of the men makes a billy of tea. The water is better cooked. Pint-pots and sugar-bags are groped out and brought to the kitchen hut, and each man fills his pannikin; the Irishman keeps a thumb on the edge of his, so as to know when the pot is full, for it is very dark, and there is no more firewood. You soon know this way, especially if you are in the habit of pressing lighted tobacco down into your pipe with the top of your thumb. The old slush-lamps are all burnt out.

Each man feels for the mouth of his sugar-bag with one hand while he keeps the bearings of his pot with the other.

The Irishman has lost his match-box, and feels for it all over the table without success. He stoops down with his hands on his knees, gets the table-top on a level with the flicker of firelight, and “moons” the object, as it were.