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Two Sundowners
by [?]

“Blanked if I didn’t think I got that flour out!” he said.

“What’s that, mate?” asked Swampy.

“Why! I could have sworn I got the flour out in the dish and mixed it before I went for the water,” said the cook, staring at the dish again. “It’s rum what tricks your memory plays on you sometimes.”

“Yes,” said Swampy, showing interest, while the cook got some more flour out into the dish from a bag in the back of the tent. “It is strange. I’ve done the same, thing meself. I suppose it’s the heat that makes us all a bit off at times.”

“Do you cook, then?” asked the surveyors’ cook.

“Well, yes. I’ve done a good bit of it in me time; but it’s about played out. I’m after stragglers now.” (Stragglers are stray sheep missed in the general muster and found about the out paddocks and shorn after the general shearing.)

They had a yarn and Swampy “bit the cook’s ear” for a “bit o’ meat an’ tea an’ sugar,” not forgetting “a handful of flour if yer can spare it.”

“Sorry,” said the cook, “but I can only let you have about a pint. We’re very short ourselves.”

“Oh, that’s all right!” said Swampy, as he put the stuff into his spare bags. “Thank you! Good day!”

“Good day,” said the cook. The cook went on with his work and Swampy departed, catching up the bag of flour from behind the tree as he passed it, and keeping the clump of timber well between him and the surveyors’ camp, lest the cook should glance round, and, noticing the increased bulk of his load, get some new ideas concerning mental aberration.

Nearly every bushman has at least one superstition, or notion, that lasts his time–as nearly every bushman has at least one dictionary word which lasts him all his life. Brummy had a gloomy notion–Lord knows how he got it!–that he should ‘a’ gone on the boards if his people hadn’t been so ignorant. He reckoned that he had the face and cut of an actor, could mimic any man’s voice, and had wonderful control over his features. They came to a notoriously “hungry” station, where there was a Scottish manager and storekeeper. Brummy went up to “government house” in his own proper person, had a talk with the storekeeper, spoke of a sick mate, and got some flour and meat. They camped down the creek, and next morning Brummy started to shave himself.

“Whatever are you a-doin’ of, Brummy?” gasped Swampy in great astonishment.

“Wait and see,” growled Brummy, with awful impressiveness, as if he were going to cut Swampy’s throat after he’d finished shaving. He shaved off his beard and whiskers, put on a hat and coat belonging to Swampy, changed his voice, dropped his shoulders, and went limping up to the station on a game leg. He saw the cook and got some “brownie,” a bit of cooked meat and a packet of baking powder. Then he saw the storekeeper and approached the tobacco question. Sandy looked at him and listened with some slight show of interest, then he said:

“Oh that’s all right now! But ye needn’t ha’ troublt shavin’ yer beard–the cold weather’s comin’ on! An’ yer mate’s duds don’t suit ye–they ‘re too sma’; an’ yer game leg doesn’t fit ye either–it takes a lot o’ practice. Ha’ ye got ony tea an’ sugar?”

Brummy must have touched something responsive in that old Scot somewhere, but his lack of emotion upset Brummy somewhat, or else an old deep-rooted superstition had been severely shaken. Anyway he let Swampy do the cadging for several days thereafter.

But one bad season they were very hard up indeed–even for Brummy and Swampy. They’d tramped a long hungry track and had only met a few wretched jackaroos, driven out of the cities by hard times, and tramping hopelessly west. They were out of tobacco, and their trousers were so hopelessly “gone” behind that when they went to cadge at a place where there was a woman they were moved to back and sidle and edge away again–and neither Brummy nor Swampy was over fastidious in matters of dress or personal appearance. It was absolutely necessary to earn a pound or two, so they decided to go to work for a couple of weeks. It wouldn’t hurt them, and then there was the novelty of it.