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The Bush-Fire
by [?]

“The boss,” said Robert, meaning his father, “the boss is always ready to let bygones be bygones. It’s a pity it couldn’t be fixed up.”

“Yes,” said Mary, looking at him (Bob looked very well on horseback), “it is a pity.”

They met several times, and next Prince of Wales’s birthday they rode home from the races together. Both had good horses, and they happened to be far ahead of the others on the wide, straight clear road that ran between the walls of the scrub. Along, about dusk, they became very confidential indeed–Mary had remarked what a sad and beautiful sunset it was. The horses got confidential, too, and shouldered together, and touched noses, and, after a long interval in the conversation, during which Robert, for one, began to breathe quickly, he suddenly leaned over, put his arm round her waist and made to kiss her. She jerked her body away, threw up her whiphand, and Robert ducked instinctively; but she brought her whip down on her horse’s flank instead, and raced ahead. Robert followed–or, rather, his horse did: he thought it was a race, and took the bit in his teeth. Robert kept calling, appealing:

“Wait a while, Mary! I want to explain! I want to apologize! For God’s sake listen to me, Mary!”

But Mary didn’t hear him. Perhaps she misunderstood the reason of the chase and gave him credit for a spice of the devil in his nature. But Robert grew really desperate; he felt that the thing must be fixed up now or never, and gave his horse a free rein. Her horse was the fastest, and Robert galloped in the dust from his heels for about a mile and a half; then at the foot of a rise Mary’s horse stumbled and nearly threw her over his head, and then he stopped like the good horse he was.

Robert got down feeling instinctively that he might best make his peace on foot, and approached Mary with a face of misery–she had dropped her whip.

“Oh, Bob!” she said, “I’m knocked out;” and she slipped down into his arms and stayed there a while.

They sat on a log and rested, while their horses made inquiries of each other’s noses, and compared notes.

And after a good while Mary said “No, Bob, it’s no use talking of marrying just yet. I like you, Bob, but I could never marry you while things are as they are between your father and mine. Now, that’ll do. Let me get on my horse, Bob. I’ll be safer there.”

“Why?” asked Bob.

“Come on, Bob, and don’t be stupid.”

She met him often and “liked” him.



It was Christmas Eve at Wall’s, but there was no score or so of buggies and horses and dozens of strange dogs round the place as of old. The glasses and decanters were dusty on the heavy old-fashioned sideboard in the dining-room; and there was only a sullen, brooding man leaning over the hurdles and looking at his rams in the yard, and a sullen, brooding half-caste at work in the kitchen. Mary had ridden away that morning to visit a girl chum.

It was towards the end of a long drought, and the country was like tinder for hundreds of miles round–the ground for miles and miles in the broiling scrubs “as bare as your hand,” or covered with coarse, dry tufts. There was feed grass in places, but you had to look close to see it.

Shearing had finished the day before, but there was a black boy and a station-hand or two about the yards and six or eight shearers and rouseabouts, and a teamster camped in the men’s huts–they were staying over the holidays to shear stragglers and clean up generally. Old Peter and a jackaroo were out on the run watching a bush-fire across Sandy Creek.