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Telling Mrs Baker
by [?]

Most Bushmen who hadn’t ‘known Bob Baker to speak to’, had ‘heard tell of him’. He’d been a squatter, not many years before, on the Macquarie river in New South Wales, and had made money in the good seasons, and had gone in for horse-racing and racehorse-breeding, and long trips to Sydney, where he put up at swell hotels and went the pace. So after a pretty severe drought, when the sheep died by thousands on his runs, Bob Baker went under, and the bank took over his station and put a manager in charge.

He’d been a jolly, open-handed, popular man, which means that he’d been a selfish man as far as his wife and children were concerned, for they had to suffer for it in the end. Such generosity is often born of vanity, or moral cowardice, or both mixed. It’s very nice to hear the chaps sing ‘For he’s a jolly good fellow’, but you’ve mostly got to pay for it twice–first in company, and afterwards alone. I once heard the chaps singing that I was a jolly good fellow, when I was leaving a place and they were giving me a send-off. It thrilled me, and brought a warm gush to my eyes; but, all the same, I wished I had half the money I’d lent them, and spent on ’em, and I wished I’d used the time I’d wasted to be a jolly good fellow.

When I first met Bob Baker he was a boss-drover on the great north-western route, and his wife lived at the township of Solong on the Sydney side. He was going north to new country round by the Gulf of Carpentaria, with a big mob of cattle, on a two years’ trip; and I and my mate, Andy M’Culloch, engaged to go with him. We wanted to have a look at the Gulf Country.

After we had crossed the Queensland border it seemed to me that the Boss was too fond of going into wayside shanties and town pubs. Andy had been with him on another trip, and he told me that the Boss was only going this way lately. Andy knew Mrs Baker well, and seemed to think a deal of her. ‘She’s a good little woman,’ said Andy. ‘One of the right stuff. I worked on their station for a while when I was a nipper, and I know. She was always a damned sight too good for the Boss, but she believed in him. When I was coming away this time she says to me, “Look here, Andy, I’m afraid Robert is drinking again. Now I want you to look after him for me, as much as you can–you seem to have as much influence with him as any one. I want you to promise me that you’ll never have a drink with him.”

‘And I promised,’ said Andy, ‘and I’ll keep my word.’ Andy was a chap who could keep his word, and nothing else. And, no matter how the Boss persuaded, or sneered, or swore at him, Andy would never drink with him.

It got worse and worse: the Boss would ride on ahead and get drunk at a shanty, and sometimes he’d be days behind us; and when he’d catch up to us his temper would be just about as much as we could stand. At last he went on a howling spree at Mulgatown, about a hundred and fifty miles north of the border, and, what was worse, he got in tow with a flash barmaid there–one of those girls who are engaged, by the publicans up country, as baits for chequemen.

He went mad over that girl. He drew an advance cheque from the stock-owner’s agent there, and knocked that down; then he raised some more money somehow, and spent that–mostly on the girl.

We did all we could. Andy got him along the track for a couple of stages, and just when we thought he was all right, he slipped us in the night and went back.