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by [?]

We gathered round while M’Gregor questioned the drover. The man was monosyllabic to a degree, as the real bushmen generally are. It is only the rowdy and the town-bushy that are fluent of speech.

“Guid mornin’,” said M’Gregor.

“Mornin’, boss,” said the drover, shortly.

“Is this the horrse ye hae for sale?”

“Yes. ”

“Ay,” and M’Gregor looked at the pony with a businesslike don’t-think-much-of-him air, ran his hand lightly over the hard legs, and opened the passive creature’s mouth. “H’m,” he said. Then he turned to the drover. “Ye seem a bit oot o’ luck. Ye’re thin like. What’s been the matter?”

“Been sick with fever—Queensland fever. Just come through from the North. Been out on the Diamantina last. ”

“Ay. I was there mysel’,” said M’Gregor. “Hae ye the fever on ye still?”

“Yes—goin’ home to get rid of it. ”

A man can only get Queensland fever in a malarial district, but he can carry it with him wherever he goes. If he stays, it will sap his strength and pull him to pieces; if he moves to a better climate, the malady moves with him, leaving him by degrees, and coming back at regular intervals to rack, shake, burn, and sweat its victim. Gradually it wears itself out, often wearing its patient out at the same time. M’Gregor had been through the experience, and there was a slight change in his voice as he went on with his palaver.

“Whaur are ye makin’ for the noo?”

“Monaro—my people live in Monaro. ”

“Hoo will ye get to Monaro gin ye sell the horrse?”

“Coach and rail. Too sick to care about ridin’,” said the drover, while a wan smile flitted over his yellow-grey features. “I’ve rode him far enough. I’ve rode that horse a thousand miles. I wouldn’t sell him, only I’m a bit hard up. Sellin’ him now to get the money to go home. ”

“Hoo auld is he?”

“Seven. ”

“Is he a guid horrse on a camp?” asked M’Gregor.

“No better camp-horse in Queensland,” said the drover. “You can chuck the reins on his neck, an’ he’ll cut out a beast by himself. ”

M’Gregor’s action in this matter puzzled us. We spent our time crawling after sheep, and a camp-horse would be about as much use to us as side-pockets to a pig. We had expected Sandy to rush the fellow off the place at once, and we couldn’t understand how it was that he took so much interest in him. Perhaps the fever-racked drover and the old camp-horse appealed to him in a way incomprehensible to us. We had never been on the Queensland cattle-camps, nor shaken and shivered with the fever, nor lived the roving life of the overlanders. M’Gregor had done all this, and his heart (I can see it all now) went out to the man who brought the old days back to him.

“Ah, weel,” he said, “we hae’na muckle use for a camp-horrse here, ye ken; wi’oot some of these lads wad like to try theer han’ cuttin’ oot the milkers’ cawves frae their mithers. ”And the old man laughed contemptuously, while we felt humbled in the sight of the man from far back. “An’ what’ll ye be wantin’ for him?” asked M’Gregor.

“Reckon he’s worth fifteen notes,” said the drover.

This fairly staggered us. Our estimates had varied between thirty shillings and a fiver. We thought the negotiations would close abruptly; but M’Gregor, after a little more examination, agreed to give the price, provided the saddle and bridle, both grand specimens of ancient art, were given in. This was agreed to, and the drover was sent off to get his meals in the hut before leaving by the coach.