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The Babies In The Bush
by [?]

‘Oh, tell her a tale of the fairies bright–
That only the Bushmen know–
Who guide the feet of the lost aright,
Or carry them up through the starry night,
Where the Bush-lost babies go.’

He was one of those men who seldom smile. There are many in the Australian Bush, where drift wrecks and failures of all stations and professions (and of none), and from all the world. Or, if they do smile, the smile is either mechanical or bitter as a rule–cynical. They seldom talk. The sort of men who, as bosses, are set down by the majority–and without reason or evidence–as being proud, hard, and selfish,–‘too mean to live, and too big for their boots.’

But when the Boss did smile his expression was very, very gentle, and very sad. I have seen him smile down on a little child who persisted in sitting on his knee and prattling to him, in spite of his silence and gloom. He was tall and gaunt, with haggard grey eyes–haunted grey eyes sometimes–and hair and beard thick and strong, but grey. He was not above forty-five. He was of the type of men who die in harness, with their hair thick and strong, but grey or white when it should be brown. The opposite type, I fancy, would be the soft, dark-haired, blue-eyed men who grow bald sooner than they grow grey, and fat and contented, and die respectably in their beds.

His name was Head–Walter Head. He was a boss drover on the overland routes. I engaged with him at a place north of the Queensland border to travel down to Bathurst, on the Great Western Line in New South Wales, with something over a thousand head of store bullocks for the Sydney market. I am an Australian Bushman (with city experience)–a rover, of course, and a ne’er-do-well, I suppose. I was born with brains and a thin skin–worse luck! It was in the days before I was married, and I went by the name of ‘Jack Ellis’ this trip,–not because the police were after me, but because I used to tell yarns about a man named Jack Ellis–and so the chaps nicknamed me.

The Boss spoke little to the men: he’d sit at tucker or with his pipe by the camp-fire nearly as silently as he rode his night-watch round the big, restless, weird-looking mob of bullocks camped on the dusky starlit plain. I believe that from the first he spoke oftener and more confidentially to me than to any other of the droving party. There was a something of sympathy between us–I can’t explain what it was. It seemed as though it were an understood thing between us that we understood each other. He sometimes said things to me which would have needed a deal of explanation–so I thought–had he said them to any other of the party. He’d often, after brooding a long while, start a sentence, and break off with ‘You know, Jack.’ And somehow I understood, without being able to explain why. We had never met before I engaged with him for this trip. His men respected him, but he was not a popular boss: he was too gloomy, and never drank a glass nor ‘shouted’ on the trip: he was reckoned a ‘mean boss’, and rather a nigger-driver.

He was full of Adam Lindsay Gordon, the English-Australian poet who shot himself, and so was I. I lost an old copy of Gordon’s poems on the route, and the Boss overheard me inquiring about it; later on he asked me if I liked Gordon. We got to it rather sheepishly at first, but by-and-by we’d quote Gordon freely in turn when we were alone in camp. ‘Those are grand lines about Burke and Wills, the explorers, aren’t they, Jack?’ he’d say, after chewing his cud, or rather the stem of his briar, for a long while without a word. (He had his pipe in his mouth as often as any of us, but somehow I fancied he didn’t enjoy it: an empty pipe or a stick would have suited him just as well, it seemed to me.) ‘Those are great lines,’ he’d say–