The Story of
by Henry Lawson
They learn the world from black-sheep,
Who know it all too well.
Peter M'Laughlan, bush missionary, Joe Wilson and his mate, Jack
Barnes, shearers for the present, and a casual swagman named Jack
Mitchell, were camped at Cox's Crossing in a bend of Eurunderee Creek.
It was a grassy little flat with gum-trees standing clear and clean
like a park. At the back was the steep grassy siding of a ridge, and
far away across the creek to the south a spur from the Blue Mountain
range ran west, with a tall, blue granite peak showing clear in the
broad moonlight, yet dream-like and distant over the sweeps of dark
There was the jingle of hobble-chains and a crunching at the grass
where the horses moved in the soft shadows amongst the trees. Up the
creek on the other side was a surveyors' camp, and from there now and
again came the sound of a good voice singing verses of old songs; and
later on the sound of a violin and a cornet being played, sometimes
together and sometimes each on its own.
Wilson and Barnes were on their way home from shearing out back in
the great scrubs at Beenaway Shed. They had been rescued by Peter
M`Laughlan from a wayside shanty where they had fallen, in spite of
mutual oaths and past promises, sacred and profane, because they had
got wringing wet in a storm on the track and caught colds, and had been
tempted to take just one drink.
They were in a bad way, and were knocking down their cheques
beautifully when Peter M'Laughlan came along. He rescued them and some
of their cash from the soulless shanty keeper, and was riding home with
them, on some pretence, because he had known them as boys, because Joe
Wilson had a vein of poetry in him—a something in sympathy with
something in Peter; because Jack Barnes had a dear little girl-wife who
was much too good for him, and who was now anxiously waiting for him in
the pretty little farming town of Solong amongst the western spurs.
Because, perhaps, of something in Peter's early past which was a
mystery. Simply and plainly because Peter M'Laughlan was the kindest,
straightest and truest man in the West— a “white man.”
They all knew Mitchell and welcomed him heartily when he turned up
in their camp, because he was a pathetic humorist and a kindly cynic—a
“joker” or “hard case” as the bushmen say.
Peter was about fifty and the other three were young men.
There was another man in camp who didn't count and was supposed to
be dead. Old Danny Quinn, champion “beer-chewer” of the district, was
on his way out, after a spree, to one of Rouse's stations, where, for
the sake of past services—long past—and because of old times, he was
supposed to be working. He had spent his last penny a week before and
had clung to his last-hope hotel until the landlord had taken him in
one hand and his swag in the other and lifted them clear of the
veranda. Danny had blundered on, this far, somehow; he was the last in
the world who could have told how, and had managed to light a fire;
then he lay with his head on his swag and enjoyed nips of whisky in
judicious doses and at reasonable intervals, and later on a tot of
mutton-broth, which he made in one of the billies.
It was after tea. Peter sat on a log by the fire with Joe and Jack
Mitchell on one side and Jack Barnes on the other. Jack Mitchell sat on
the grass with his back to the log, his knees drawn up, and his arms
abroad on them: his most comfortable position and one which seemed to
favour the flow of his philosophy. They talked of bush things or
reflected, sometimes all three together, sometimes by turns.
From the surveyors' camp:
I remember, I remember,
The house where I was born,
The little window where the sun
Came peeping in at morn—-
The breeze from the west strengthened and the voice was blown away.
“That chap seems a bit sentimental but he's got a good voice,” said
Mitchell. Then presently he remarked, round his pipe:
“I wonder if old Danny remembers?” And presently Peter said quietly,
as if the thought had just occurred to him:
“By the way, Mitchell, I forgot to ask after your old folk. I knew
your father, you know.”
“Oh, they're all right, Peter, thank you.”
“Heard from them lately?” asked Peter, presently, in a lazy tone.
Mitchell straightened himself up. “N—no. To tell the truth, Peter,
I haven't written for—I don't know how long.”
Peter smoked reflectively.
“I remember your father well, Jack,” he said. “He was a big-hearted
Old Danny was heard remonstrating loudly with spirits from a warmer
clime than Australia, and Peter stepped over to soothe him.
“I thought I'd get it, directly after I opened my mouth,” said
Mitchell. “I suppose it will be your turn next, Joe.”
“I suppose so,” said Joe, resignedly.
The wind fell.
I remember, I remember,
And it gives me little joy,
To think I'm further off from heaven,
Than when I was a boy!
When Peter came back another thought seemed to have occurred to him.
“How's your mother getting on, Joe?” he asked. “She shifted to
Sydney after your father died, didn't she?”
“Oh, she's getting on all right!” said Joe, without elaboration.
“Keeping a boarding-house, isn't she?”
“Yes,” said Joe.
“Hard to make ends meet, I suppose?” said Peter. “It's almost a
harder life than it could have been on the old selection, and there's
none of the old independence about it. A woman like your mother must
feel it, Joe.”
“Oh, she's all right,” said Joe. “She's used to it by this time. I
manage to send her a few pounds now and again. I send her all I can,”
he added resentfully.
Peter sat corrected for a few moments. Then he seemed to change the
“It's some time since you were in Sydney last, isn't it, Joe?'
“Yes, Peter,” said Joe. “I haven't been there for two years. I never
did any good there. I'm far better knocking about out back.”
There was a pause.
“Some men seem to get on better in one place, some in another,”
reflected Mitchell, lazily. “For my part, I seem to get on better in
Peter blinked, relit his pipe with a stick from the fire and
The surveyor's song had been encored:
I remember, I remember—-
Perhaps Peter remembered. Joe did, but there were no vines round the
house where he was born, only drought and dust, and raspy voices raised
in recrimination, and hardship most times.
“I remember,” said Peter, quietly, “I remember a young fellow at
home in the old country. He had every advantage. He had a first-class
education, a great deal more money than he needed—almost as much as he
asked for, and nearly as much freedom as he wanted. His father was an
English gentleman and his mother an English lady. They were titled
people, if I remember rightly. The old man was proud, but fond of his
son; he only asked him to pay a little duty or respect now and again.
We don't understand these things in Australia—they seem formal and
cold to us. The son paid his respects to his father occasionally—a
week or so before he'd be wanting money, as a rule. The mother was a
dear lady. She idolized her son. She only asked for a little show of
affection from him, a few days or a week of his society at home now and
then—say once in three months. But he couldn't spare her even
that—his time was taken up so much in fashionable London and Paris and
other places. He would give the world to be able to take his proud,
soft old father's hand now and look into his eyes as one man who
understands another. He would be glad and eager to give his mother
twelve months out of the year if he thought it would make her happier.
It has been too late for more than twenty years.”
Old Danny called for Peter.
Mitchell jerked his head approvingly and gave a sound like a sigh
and chuckle conjoined, the one qualifying the other.
“I told you you'd get it, Joe,” he said.
“I don't see how it hits me,” said Joe.
“But it hit all the same, Joe.”
“Well, I suppose it did,” said Joe, after a short pause.
“He wouldn't have hit you so hard if you hadn't tried to parry,”
reflected Mitchell. “It's your turn now, Jack.”
Jack Barnes said nothing.
“Now I know that Peter would do anything for a woman or child, or an
honest, straight, hard-up chap,” said Mitchell, straightening out his
legs and folding his arms, “but I can't quite understand his being so
partial to drunken scamps and vagabonds, black sheep and
never-do-wells. He's got a tremendous sympathy for drunks. He'd do
anything to help a drunken man. Ain't it marvellous? It's my private
opinion that Peter must have been an awful boozer and scamp in his
The other two only thought. Mitchell was privileged. He was a young
man of freckled, sandy complexion, and quizzical grey eyes. “Sly Joker"
“could take a rise out of anyone on the quiet;” “You could never tell
when he was getting at you;” “Face of a born comedian,” as bushmen said
of Mitchell. But he would probably have been a dead and dismal failure
on any other stage than that of wide Australia.
Peter came back and they sat and smoked, and maybe they reflected
along four very different back-tracks for a while.
The surveyor started to sing again:
I have heard the mavis singing
Her love-song to the morn.
I have seen the dew-drop clinging
To the rose just newly born.
They smoked and listened in silence all through to the end. It was
very still. The full moon was high. The long white slender branches of
a box-tree stirred gently overhead; the she-oaks in the creek sighed as
they are always sighing, and the southern peak seemed ever so far away.
That has made me thine for ever!
Bonny Mary of Argyle.
“Blarst my pipe!” exclaimed Mitchell, suddenly. “I beg your pardon,
Peter. My pipe's always getting stuffed up,” and he proceeded to shell
out and clear his pipe.
The breeze had changed and strengthened. They heard the violin
playing “Annie Laurie.”
“They must be having a Scotch night in that camp tonight,” said
Mitchell. The voice came again:
Maxwelton Braes are bonny—
Where early fa's the dew,
For 'twas there that Annie Laurie
Gie me her promise true—-
Mitchell threw out his arm impatiently. “I wish they wouldn't play
and sing those old songs,” he said. “They make you think of damned old
things. I beg your pardon, Peter.”
Peter sat leaning forward, his elbows resting on his knees and his
hands fingering his cold pipe nervously. His sad eyes had grown haggard
and haunted. It is in the hearts of exiles in new lands that the old
songs are felt.
“Take no thought of the morrow, Mitchell,” said Peter, abstractedly.
“I beg your pardon, Mitchell. I mean—-”
“That's all right, Peter,” said Mitchell. “You're right; to-morrow
is the past, as far as I'm concerned.”
Peter blinked down at him as if he were a new species.
“You're an odd young man, Mitchell,” he said. “You'll have to take
care of that head of yours or you'll be found hanging by a saddle-strap
to a leaning tree on a lonely track, or find yourself in a lunatic
asylum before you're forty-five.”
“Or else I'll be a great man,” said Mitchell. “But—ah, well!”
Peter turned his eyes to the fire and smiled sadly. “Not enjoyment
and not sorrow, is our destined end or way,” he repeated to the fire.
“But we get there just the same,” said Mitchell, “destined or not.”
But to live, that each to-morrow,
Finds us further than to-day!
“Why, that just fits my life, Peter,” said Mitchell. “I might have
to tramp two or three hundred miles before I get a cut* or a job, and
if to-morrow didn't find me nearer than to-day I'd starve or die of
thirst on a dry stretch.”
[ * Cut—a pen or “stand” in a shearing shed ]
“Why don't you get married and settle down, Mitchell?” asked Peter,
a little tired. “You're a teetotaller.”
“If I got married I couldn't settle down,” said Mitchell. “I reckon
I'd be the loneliest man in Australia.” Peter gave him a swift glance.
“I reckon I'd be single no matter how much married I might be. I
couldn't get the girl I wanted, and—ah, well!”
Mitchell's expression was still quaintly humorous round the lower
part of his face, but there was a sad light in his eyes. The strange
light as of the old dead days, and he was still young.
The cornet had started in the surveyors' camp.
“Their blooming tunes seem to fit in just as if they knew what we
were talking about,” remarked Mitchell.
You'll break my heart, you little bird,
That sings upon the flowering thorn
Thou mind'st me of departed joys,
Departed never to return.
“Damn it all,” said Mitchell, sitting up, “I'm getting sentimental.”
Then, as if voicing something that was troubling him, “Don't you think
a woman pulls a man down as often as she lifts him up, Peter?”
“Some say so,” said Peter.
“Some say so, and they write it, too,” said Mitchell.
“Sometimes it seems to me as if women were fated to drag a man down
ever since Adam's time. If Adam hadn't taken his wife's advice—but
there, perhaps he took her advice a good many times and found it good,
and, just because she happened to be wrong this time, and to get him
into a hole, the sons of Adam have never let the daughters of Eve hear
the last of it. That's human nature.”
Jack Barnes, the young husband, who was suffering a recovery, had
been very silent all the evening. “I think a man's a fool to always
listen to his wife's advice,” he said, with the unreasonable impatience
of a man who wants to think while others are talking. “She only messes
him up, and drives him to the devil as likely as not, and gets a
contempt for him in the end.”
Peter gave him a surprised, reproachful look, and stood up. He paced
backwards and forwards on the other side of the fire, with his hands
behind his back for a while; then he came and settled himself on the
log again and filled his pipe.
“Yes,” he said, “a man can always find excuses for himself when his
conscience stings him. He puts mud on the sting. Man at large is
beginning all over the world to rake up excuses for himself; he
disguises them as `Psychological studies,' and thinks he is clean and
clever and cultured, or he calls 'em problems—the sex problem, for
instance, and thinks he is brave and fearless.”
Danny was in trouble again, and Peter went to him. He complained
that when he lay down he saw the faces worse, and he wanted to be
propped up somehow, so Peter got a pack-saddle and propped the old
man's shoulders up with that.
“I remember,” Peter began, when he came back to the fire, “I
remember a young man who got married—-”
Mitchell hugged himself. He knew Jack Barnes. He knew that Jack had
a girl-wife who was many times too good for him; that Jack had been
wild, and had nearly broken her heart, and he had guessed at once that
Jack had broken out again, and that Peter M'Laughlan was shepherding
him home. Mitchell had worked as mates with Jack, and liked him because
of the good heart that was in him in spite of all; and, because he
liked him, he was glad that Jack was going to get a kicking, so to
speak, which might do him good. Mitchell saw it coming, as he said
afterwards, and filled his pipe, and settled himself comfortably to
“I remember the case of a naturally selfish young man who got
married” said Peter. “He didn't know he was selfish; in fact, he
thought he was too much the other way—but that doesn't matter now. His
name was—well, we'll call him—we'll call him, `Gentleman Once.'“
“Do you mean Gentleman Once that we saw drinking back at Thomas's
shanty?” asked Joe.
“No,” said Peter, “not him. There have been more than one in the
bush who went by the nickname of `Gentleman Once.' I knew one or two.
It's a big clan, the clan of Gentleman Once, and scattered all over the
“By the way,” said Mitchell—“excuse me for interrupting, Peter—but
wasn't old Danny, there, a gentleman once? I've heard chaps say he
“I know he was,” said Peter.
“Gentleman Once! Who's talking about Gentleman Once?” said an awful
voice, suddenly and quickly. “About twenty or thirty years ago I was
called Gentleman Once or Gentleman Jack, I don't know which—Get out!
Get out, I say! It's all lies, and you're the devil. There's four
devils sitting by the fire. I see them.”
Two of the four devils by the fire looked round, rather startled.
Danny was sitting up, his awful bloodshot eyes glaring in the
firelight, and his ruined head looking like the bloated head of a hairy
poodle that had been drowned and dried. Peter went to the old man and
soothed him by waving off the snakes and devils with his hands, and
telling them to go.
“I've heard Danny on the Gentleman Once racket before,” remarked
“Seems funny, doesn't it, for a man to be proud of the fact that he
was called `Gentleman Once' about twenty years ago?”
“Seems more awful than funny to me,” said Joe.
“You're right, Joe,” said Mitchell. “But the saddest things are
When Peter came back he went on with his story, and was only
interrupted once or twice by Danny waking up and calling him to drive
off the snakes, and green and crimson dogs with crocodile heads, and
devils with flaming tails, and those unpleasant sorts of things that
force their company on boozers and madmen.
“Gentleman Once,” said Peter, “he came from the old country with a
good education and no character. He disgraced himself and family once
too often and came, or was sent, out to Australia to reform. It's a
great mistake. If a man is too far gone, or hasn't the strength to live
the past down and reform at home, he won't do it in a new country,
unless a combination of circumstances compels him to it. A man rises by
chance; just as often he falls by chance. Some men fall into the habit
of keeping steady and stick to it, for the novelty of it, until they
are on their feet and in their sane minds and can look at the past,
present and future sensibly. I knew one case—But that's got nothing to
do with the story.
“Gentleman Once came out on the remittance system. That system is
fatal in nine cases out of ten. The remittance system is an insult to
any manhood that may be left in the black sheep, and an insult to the
land he is sent to. The cursed quarterly allowance is a stone round his
neck which will drag him down deeper in a new land than he would have
fallen at home. You know that remittance men are regarded with such
contempt in the bush that a man seldom admits he is one, save when he's
drunk and reckless and wants money or credit. When a ne'er-do-well
lands in Melbourne or Sydney without a penny he will probably buck-up
and do something for himself. When he lands with money he will probably
spend it all in the first few months and then straighten up, because he
has to. But when he lands on the remittance system he drinks, first to
drown homesickness. He decides that he'll wait till he gets his next
quarter's allowance and then look round. He persuades himself that it's
no use trying to do anything: that, in fact, he can't do anything until
he gets his money. When he gets it he drifts into one `last' night with
chums he has picked up in second and third-rate hotels. He drinks from
pure selfishness. No matter what precautions his friends at home take,
he finds means of getting credit or drawing on his allowance before it
is due—until he is two or three quarters behind. He drinks because he
feels happy and jolly and clever and good-natured and brave and honest
while he is drinking. Later on he drinks because he feels the reverse
of all these things when he is sober. He drinks to drown the past and
repentance. He doesn't know that a healthy-minded man doesn't waste
time in repenting. He doesn't know how easy it is to reform, and is too
weak-willed to try. He gets a muddled idea that the past can't be
mended. He finds it easy to get drink and borrow money on the strength
of his next quarter's allowance, so he soon gets a quarter or two
behind, and sometimes gets into trouble connected with borrowed money.
He drifts to the bush and drinks, to drown the past only. The past
grows blacker and blacker until it is a hell without repentance; and
often the black sheep gets to that state when a man dreads his sober
hours. And the end? Well, you see old Danny there, and you saw old
Awful Example back at Thomas's shanty—he's worse than Danny, if
anything. Sometimes the end comes sooner. I saw a young
new-land-new-leaf man dying in a cheap lodging-house in Sydney. He was
a schoolmate of mine, by the way. For six weeks he lay on his back and
suffered as I never saw a man suffer in this world; and I've seen some
bad cases. They had to chloroform him every time they wanted to move
him. He had affected to be hard and cynical, and I must say that he
played it out to the end. It was a strong character, a strong mind
sodden and diseased with drink. He never spoke of home and his people
except when he was delirious. He never spoke, even to me, of his mental
agony. That was English home training. You young Australians wouldn't
understand it; most bushmen are poets and emotional.
“My old schoolmate was shifted to the Sydney Hospital at last, and
consented to the amputation of one leg. But it was too late. He was
gone from the hips down. Drink—third-rate hotel and bush shanty
drink—and low debauchery.”
Jack Barnes drew up his leg and rubbed it surreptitiously. He had
“pins and needles.” Mitchell noticed and turned a chuckle into a grunt.
“Gentleman Once was a remittance man,” continued Peter. “But before
he got very far he met an Australian girl in a boarding-house. Her
mother was the landlady. They were bush people who had drifted to the
city. The girl was pretty, intelligent and impulsive. She pitied him
and nursed him. He wasn't known as Gentleman Once then, he hadn't got
far enough to merit the nickname.”
Peter paused. Presently he jerked his head, as if he felt a spasm of
pain, and leaned forward to get a stick from the fire to light his
“Now, there's the girl who marries a man to reform him, and when she
has reformed him never lets him hear the last of it. Sometimes, as a
woman, she drives him back again. But this was not one of that sort of
girls. I once held a theory that sometimes a girl who has married a man
and reformed him misses in the reformed man the something which
attracted her in the careless scamp, the something which made her love
him—and so she ceases to love him, and their married life is a far
more miserable one than it would have been had he continued drinking. I
hold no theory of that kind now. Such theories ruin many married
Peter jerked his head again as if impatient with a thought, and
reached for a fire-stick.
“But that's got nothing to do with the story. When Gentleman Once
reformed his natural selfishness came back. He saw that he had made a
mistake. It's a terrible thing for a young man, a few months, perhaps a
few weeks after his marriage, to ask himself the question, `Have I made
a mistake?' But Gentleman Once wasn't to be pitied. He discovered that
he had married beneath him in intellect and education. Home training
again. He couldn't have discovered that he had married beneath him as
far as birth was concerned, for his wife's father had been a younger
son of an older and greater family than his own—But Gentleman Once
wouldn't have been cad enough to bother about birth. I'll do him that
much justice. He discovered, or thought he did, that he and his wife
could never have one thought in common; that she couldn't possibly
understand him. I'll tell you later on whether he was mistaken or not.
He was gloomy most times, and she was a bright, sociable, busy little
body. When she tried to draw him out of himself he grew irritable.
Besides, having found that they couldn't have a thought in common he
ceased to bother to talk to her. There are many men who don't bother
talking to their wives; they don't think their wives feel it—because
the wives cease to complain after a while; they grow tired of trying to
make the man realize how they suffer. Gentleman Once tried his
best—according to his lights—and weakness. Then he went in for
self-pity and all the problems. He liked to brood, and his poor little
wife's energy and cheerfulness were wearying to him. He wanted to be
left alone. They were both high-spirited, in different ways; she was
highly strung and so was he—because of his past life mostly. They
quarrelled badly sometimes. Then he drank again and she stuck to him.
Perhaps the only time he seemed cheerful and affectionate was when he
had a few drinks in him. It was a miserable existence—a furnished room
in a cheap lodging-house, and the use of the kitchen.
“He drank alone.
“Now a dipsomaniac mostly thinks he is in the right—except,
perhaps, after he has been forced to be sober for a week. The noblest
woman in the world couldn't save him—everything she does to reform him
irritates him; but a strong friend can save him sometimes—a man who
has been through it himself. The poor little wife of Gentleman Once
went through it all. And she stuck to him. She went into low pubs after
Peter shuddered again. “She went through it all. He swore promises.
He'd come home sober and fill her with hope of future happiness, and
swear that he'd never take another glass. `And we'll be happy yet, my
poor boy,' she'd say, `we'll be happy yet. I believe you, I trust you'
(she used to call him her `bonny boy' when they were first married).
And next night he'd come home worse than ever. And one day he—he
Peter shuddered, head and shoulders, like a man who had accidentally
smashed his finger.
“And one day he struck her. He was sober when he did it—anyhow he
had not taken drink for a week. A man is never sober who gets drunk
more than once a week, though he might think he is. I don't know how it
happened, but anyway he struck her, and that frightened him. He got a
billet in the Civil Service up-country. No matter in what town it was.
The little wife hoped for six months.
“I think it's a cruel thing that a carelessly selfish young man
cannot realize how a sensitive young wife suffers for months after he
has reformed. How she hopes and fears, how she dreads the moment he has
to leave her, and frets every hour he is away from home—and suffers
mental agony when he is late. How the horror of the wretched old past
time grows upon her until she dares not think of it. How she listens to
his step and voice and watches his face, when he comes home, for a sign
of drink. A young man, a mate of mine, who drank hard and reformed,
used to take a delight in pretending for a few minutes to be drunk when
he came home. He was good-hearted, but dense. He said he only did it to
give his wife a pleasant surprise afterwards. I thought it one of the
most cruel things I had ever seen.
“Gentleman Once found that he could not stand the routine of office
work and the dull life in that place. He commenced to drink again, and
went on till he lost his billet. They had a little boy, a bright little
boy, yet the father drank.
“The last spree was a terrible one. He was away from home a
fortnight, and in that fortnight he got down as deep as a man could
get. Then another man got hold of him and set him on his feet, and
straightened him up. The other man was a ruined doctor, a wreck whose
devil was morphia. I don't hold that a man's salvation is always in his
own hands; I've seen mates pull mates out of hell too often to think
“Then Gentleman Once saw the past as he had never seen it before—he
saw hope for the future with it. And he swore an oath that he felt he
“He suffered from reaction on his way home, and, as he neared the
town, a sudden fear, born of his nervous state, no doubt, sent a cold,
sick emptiness through him: `Was it too late?'
“As he turned into the street where he lived, he noticed a little
group of bush larrikins standing at the corner. And they moved uneasily
when they caught sight of him, and, as he passed, they touched and
lifted their hats to him. Now he knew that he had lost the respect even
of bush larrikins; and he knew enough of the bush to know that a
bushman never lifts his hat to a man—only to death, and a woman
sometimes. He hurried home and read the truth in his wife's eyes. His
little boy was dead. He went down under the blow, and she held his head
to her breast and kept saying. `My poor boy, my poor boy!'
“It was he that she meant, not the boy she had lost. She knew him,
she understood him better than he did himself, and, heart-broken as she
was, she knew how he was going to suffer, and comforted him. `My poor
boy, my poor, foolish boy!'
“He mended the past, as far as he could, during the next two years,
and she seemed happy. He was very gentle, he was very kind to her. He
was happy, too, in a new, strange way. But he had learned what it was
to suffer through his own fault, and now he was to learn what it was to
suffer through no fault of his own, and without the consolation of
saying `I was wrong! I was to blame!' At the end of the two years there
was another child, and his wife died.”
The four sat silently smoking until Jack Barnes asked:
“And what did he do then, Peter?”
“Who?” said Peter, abstractedly.
“Why, Gentleman Once.”
Peter roused himself.
“Well, I've told the story, and it is about time to turn in,” he
said. “I can't say exactly what Gentleman Once did when his wife died.
He might have gone down to a deeper depth than Danny's. He might have
risen higher than he had ever been before. From what I knew of his
character he would never have gone down an easy slope as Danny has
done. He might have dropped plump at first and then climbed up. Anyway,
he had the memory of the last two years to help him.
“Then there's the reformed drunkard who has trained himself to take
a drink when he needs it, to drink in moderation—he's the strongest
character of all, I think—but it's time to turn in.”
The cornet up the creek was playing a march.
Peter walked across and looked at Danny, who seemed to be sleeping
as peacefully as could be expected of him.
Jack Barnes got up and walked slowly down the creek in the
moonlight. He wanted to think.
Peter rolled out his blankets on the grass and arranged his
saddle-bags for a pillow. Before he turned in Mitchell shook hands with
him, a most unusual and unnecessary proceeding in camp. But there's
something in the bush grip which means “I know,” or “I understand.”
Joe Wilson rolled out his blankets close to Mitchell's camp; he
wanted to enjoy some of Mitchell's quiet humour before he went to
sleep, but Mitchell wasn't in a philosophical mood. He wanted to
“I wonder who Gentleman Once was?” said Joe to Mitchell. “Could he
have been Danny, or old Awful Example back there at the shanty?”
“Dunno,” said Mitchell. He puffed three long puffs at his pipe, and
then said, reflectively:
“I've heard men tell their own stories before to-night Joe.”
It was Joe who wanted to think now.
About four o'clock Mitchell woke and stood up. Peter was lying
rolled in his blanket with his face turned to the west. The moon was
low, the shadows had shifted back, and the light was on Peter's face.
Mitchell stood looking at him reverently, as a grown son might who sees
his father asleep for the first time. Then Mitchell quietly got some
boughs and stuck them in the ground at a little distance from Peter's
head, to shade his face from the bright moonlight; and then he turned
in again to sleep till the sun woke him.