Back on Dave
Regan by Henry Lawson
A RATHER FISHY YARN FROM THE BUSH
(AS TOLD BY JAMES NOWLETT, BULLOCK-DRIVER)
You might work this yarn up. I've often thought of doin' it meself,
but I ain't got the words. I knowed a lot of funny an' rum yarns about
the bush, an' I often wished I had the gift o' writin'. I could tell a
lot better yarns than the rot they put in books sometimes, but I never
had no eddication. But you might be able to work this yarn up—as yer
There useter be a teamster's camp six or seven miles out of Mudgee,
at a place called th' Old Pipeclay, in the days before the railroad
went round to Dubbo, an' most of us bullickies useter camp there for
the night. There was always good water in the crick, an' sometimes we'd
turn the bullicks up in the ridge, an' gullies behind for grass, an'
camp there for a few days, and do our washin' an' mendin', and make new
yokes perhaps, an tinker up the wagons.
There was a woman livin' on a farm there named Mrs Hardwick—an' she
was a hard wick. Her husban', Jimmy Hardwick was throwed from his
horse agenst a stump one day when he was sober, an' he was killed—an'
she was a widder. She had a tidy bit o' land, an' a nice bit of a
orchard an' vineyard, an some cattle, an' they say she had a tidy bit
o' money in the bank. She had the worst tongue in the district, no
one's character was safe with her; but she wasn't old, an' she wasn't
bad-lookin'—only hard—so there was some fellers hangin' round arter
her. An' Dave Regan's horse was hangin' up outside her place as often
as anybody else's. Dave was a native an' a bushy, an' drover an' a
digger, an' he was a bit soft in them days—he got hard enough
Mrs Hardwick hated bullick-drivers—she had a awful down on
bullickies—I dunno why. We never interfered with her fowls, an' as for
swearin'! why, she could swear herself. Jimmy Hardwick was a
bullick-driver when she married him, an' p'r'aps that helped to account
for it. She wouldn't let us boil our billies at her kitchen fire, same
as any other bushwoman, an' if one of our bullicks put his nose under
her fence for a mouthful of grass, she'd set her dogs onter him. An'
one of her dogs got something what disagreed with him one day, an' she
accused us of layin' poisoned baits. An', arter that, she 'pounded some
of our bullicks that got into her lucerne paddick one night when we was
on the spree in Mudgee, an' put heavy damages on 'em. She'd left the
sliprails down on purpose, I believe. She talked of puttin' the police
onter us, jest as if we was a sly-grog shop. (If she'd kept a
sly-grog shop she'd have had a different opinion about
bullick-drivers.) An' all the bullick-drivers hated her because she
Well, one wet season half a dozen of us chaps was camped there for a
fortnight, because the roads was too boggy to travel, an' one night
they got up a darnce at Peter Anderson's shanty acrost the ridges, an'
a lot of gals an' fellers turned up from all round about in spite of
the pourin' rain. Someone had kidded Dave Regan that Mother Hardwick
was comin', an' he turned up, of course, in spite of a ragin' toothache
he had. He was always ridin' the high horse over us bullickies. It was
a very cold night, enough to cut the face an' hands off yer, so we had
a roarin' fire in the big bark-an'-slab kitchen where the darncin' was.
It was one of them big, old-fashioned, clay-lined fire-places that goes
right acrost the end of the room, with a twenty-five foot slab-an'-tin
Dave Regan was pretty wild about being had, an' we copped all the
gals for darncin'; he couldn't get one that night, an' when he wasn't
proddin' out his tooth with a red-hot wire some one was chaffin' him
about Mrs Hardwick. So at last he got disgusted an' left; but before he
went he got a wet three-bushel flour-bag an' climbed up very quietly
onter the roof by the battens an' log weights an' riders, an' laid the
wet bag very carefully acrost the top of the chimbly flue.
An' we was a mortal hour tryin' to find out what was the matter with
that infernal chimbly, and tackin' bits o' tin an' baggin' acrost the
top of the fire-place under the mantelshelf to try an' stop it from
smokin', an' all the while the gals set there with the water runnin'
out of their eyes. We took the green back log out an' fetched in a dry
one, but that chimbly smoked worse than ever, an' we had to put the
fire out altogether, an' the gals set there shiverin' till the rain
held up a bit an' the sky cleared, an' then someone goes out an' looks
up an' sings out, “Why, there's somethin' acrost the top of the blazin'
chimbly!” an' someone else climbs up an' fetches down the bag. But the
darnce was spoilt, an' the gals was so disgusted that they went off
with their fellers while the weather held up. They reckoned some of us
bullickies did it for a lark.
An' arter that Dave'd come ridin' past, an' sing out to know if we
knew of a good cure for a smokin' chimbly, an' them sorter things. But
he always got away before we could pull him off of his horse. Three of
us chased him on horseback one day, but we didn't ketch him.
So we made up our minds to git back on Dave some way or other, an'
it come about this way.
About six months arter the smoked-out darnce, four or five of us
same fellers was campin' on th' Pipeclay agen, an' it was a dry season.
It was dryer an' hotter than it was cold 'n' wet the larst time. Dave
was still hangin' round Mrs Hardwick's an' doin' odd jobs for her.
Well, one very hot day we seen Dave ridin' past into Mudgee, an' we
knowed he'd have a spree in town that night, an' call at Mrs Hardwick's
for sympathy comin' out next day; an' arter he'd been gone an hour or
two, Tom Tarrant comes drivin' past on his mail-coach, an' drops some
letters an' papers an' a bag o' groceries at our camp.
Tom was a hard case. I remember wonst I was drivin' along a lonely
bit o' track, an' it was a grand mornin', an' I felt great, an' I got
singin' an' practisin' a recitation that I allers meant to give at a
bush darnce some night. (I never sung or spouted poetry unless I was
sure I was miles away from anyone.) An' I got worked up, an' was wavin'
me arms about an' throwin' it off of me chest, when Tom's coach comes
up behind, round a bend in the road, an' took me by surprise. An' Tom
looked at me very hard an' he says, “What are yer shoutin' an' swearin'
an' darncin' an' goin' on at the bullicks like that for, Jimmy? They
seem to be workin' all right.” It took me back, I can tell yer. The
coach was full of grinnin' passengers, an' the worst of it was that I
didn't know how long Tom had been drivin' slow behind me an' takin' me
out of windin'. There's nothin' upsets a cove as can't sing so much as
to be caught singin' or spoutin' poetry when he thinks he's privit'.
An' another time I remember Tom's coach broke down on the track, an'
he had to ride inter town with the mails on horseback; an' he left a
couple of greenhides, for Skinner the tanner at Mudgee, for me to take
on in the wagon, an' a bag of potatoes for Murphy the storekeeper at
Home Rule, an' a note that said: “Render unto Murphy the things which
is murphies, and unto Skinner them things which is skins.” Tom was a
Well, this day, when Tom handed down the tucker an' letters, he got
down to stretch his legs and give the horses a breathe. The coach was
full of passengers, an' I noticed they all looked extra glum and sulky,
but I reckoned it was the heat an' dust. Tom looked extra solemn, too,
an' no one was talkin'. Then I suddenly began to notice something in
the atmosphere, as if there was a dead beast not far away, an' my mates
started sniffin' too. An' that reminds me, it's funny why some people
allers sniff hard instead of keepin' their noses shut when there's a
stink; the more it stinks the more they sniff. Tom spit in the dust an'
thought a while; then he took a parcel out of the boot an' put it on
the corner post of the fence. “There,” he said, “There's some fresh
fish that come up from Sydney by train an' Cobb &Co's coach larst
night. They're meant for White the publican at Gulgong, but they won't
keep this weather till I git out there. Pity to waste them! you chaps
might as well have a feed of 'em. I'll tell White they went bad an' I
had to throw them out,” says Tom. Then he got on to the coach agen an'
drove off in a cloud of dust. We undone the brown paper, an' the fish
was in a small deal box, with a lid fastened by a catch. We nicked back
the catch an' the lid flew open, an' then we knowed where the smell
comed from all right. There wasn't any doubt about that! We didn't have
to put our noses in the box to see if the fish was bad. They was packed
in salt, but that made no difference.
You know how a smell will start sudden in the bush on a hot, still
day, an' then seem to take a spell, an' then get to work agen stronger
than ever. You might be clost alongside of a horse that has been dead a
fortnight an' smell nothin' particular till you start to walk away, an'
the further you go the worse it stinks. It seems to smell most round in
a circle of a hundred yards or so. But these fish smelt from the centre
right out. Tom Tarrant told us arterwards that them fish started to
smell as soon as he left Mudgee. At first they reckoned it was a dead
horse by the road; but arter a while the passengers commenced squintin'
at each other suspicious like, an' the conversation petered out, an'
Tom thought he felt all their eyes on his back, an' it was very
uncomfortable; an' he sat tight an' tried to make out where the smell
come from; an' it got worse every hundred yards—like as if the track
was lined with dead horses, an' every one dead longer than the
last—till it was like drivin' a funeral. An' Tom never thought of the
fish till he got down to stretch his legs and fetched his nose on a
level with the boot.
Well, we shut down the lid of that box quick an' took it an' throwed
it in the bushes a good way away from the camp, but next mornin', while
we was havin' breakfast, Billy Grimshaw got an idea, an' arter
breakfast he wetted a canvas bag he had an' lit up his pipe, an' went
an' got that there box o' fish, an' put it in the wet bag, an' wrapped
it tight round it an' tied it up tight with string. Billy had a nipper
of a nephew with him, about fourteen, named Tommy, an' he was a sharp
kid if ever there was one. So Billy says, “Look here, Tommy, you take
this fish up to Mrs Hardwick's an' tell her that Dave Regan sent 'em
with his compliments, an' he hopes she'll enjoy 'em. Tell her that Dave
fetched 'em from Mudgee, but he's gone back to look for a pound note
that he dropped out of a hole in his pocket somewheers along the road,
an' he asked you to take the fish up.” So Tommy takes the fish an' goes
up to the house with 'em. When he come back he says that Mrs Hardwick
smiled like a parson an' give him a shillin'—an' he didn't wait. We
watched the house, an' about half an hour arterwards we seen her run
out of the kitchen with the open box in her hand, an' run a good way
away from the house an' throw the fish inter the bushes, an' then go
back quick, holdin' her nose.
An' jest then, as luck would have it, we seen Dave Regan ridin' up
from the creek towards the house. He got down an' went into the
kitchen, an' then come backin' out agen in a hurry with her in front of
him. We could hear her voice from where we was, but we couldn't hear
what she said. But we could see her arms wavin' as if she was drivin'
fowls, an' Dave backed all the way to his horse and gets on an' comes
ridin' away quick, she screamin' arter him all the time. When he got
down opposite the camp we sung out to know what was the matter. “What
have you been doin' to Mrs Hardwick, Dave?” we says. “We heerd her
goin' for yer proper jest now.” “Damned if I know,” says Dave. “I ain't
done nothin' to her that I knows of. She's called me everything she can
lay her tongue to, an' she's ravin' about my stinkin' fish, or
somethin'. I can't make it out at all. I believe she's gone ratty.”
“But you must have been doin' somethin' to the woman,” we
says, “or else she wouldn't have gone on at yer like that.”
But Dave swore he hadn't, an' we talked it over for a while an'
couldn't make head nor tail of it, an' we come to the conclusion that
it was only a touch o' the sun.
“Never mind, Dave,” we says. “Go up agen in a day or two, when she's
cooled down, an' find out what the matter is. Or write to her. It might
only have been someone makin' mischief. That's what it is.”
But Dave only sat an' rubbed his head, an' presently he started home
to wherever he was hangin' out. He wanted a quiet week to think.
“Her chimbly might have been smokin', Dave,” we shouted arter him,
but he was too dazed like to ketch on.
Well, in a month or two we was campin' there agen, an' we found
she'd fenced in a lane to the crick she had no right to, an' we had to
take the bullicks a couple o' miles round to grass an' water. Well, the
first mornin' we seen her down in the corner of her paddick near the
camp drivin' some heifers, an' Billy Grimshaw went up to the fence an'
spoke to her. Billy was the only one of us that dared face her and he
was the only one she was ever civil to—p'r'aps because Billy had a
squint an' a wall eye and that put her out of countenance.
Billy took off his hat very respectful an' sings out, “Mrs
Hardwick.” (It was Billy's bullicks she'd “pounded,” by the way.)
“What is it?” she says.
“I want to speak to you, Mrs Hardwick,” says Billy.
“Well, speak,” she says. “I've got no time to waste talkin' to
“Well, the fact is, Mrs Hardwick,” says Billy, “that I want to
explain somethin', an' apologize for that young scamp of a nephew o'
mine, young Tommy. He ain't here or I'd make him beg your pardon
hisself, or I'd cut him to pieces with the bullick-whip. I heard all
about Dave Regan sendin' you that stinkin' fish, an' I think it was a
damned mean, dirty thing to do—to send stinkin' fish to a woman, an'
especially to a widder an' an unprotected woman like you, Mrs Hardwick.
I've had mothers an' sisters of me own. An' I want to tell you that I'm
sorry a relation o' mine ever had anythin' to do with it. As soon as I
heerd of it I give young Tommy a lambastin' he won't forgot in a
“Did Tommy know the fish was bad?” she says.
“It doesn't matter a rap,” says Billy; “he had no right to go takin'
messages from nobody to nobody.”
Mrs Hardwick thought a while. Then she says: “P'r'aps arter all Dave
Regan didn't know the fish was bad. I've often thought I might have
been in too much of a hurry. Things goes bad so quick out here in this
weather. An' Dave was always very friendly. I can't understand why he'd
do a dirty thing on me like that. I never done anything to Dave.”
Now I forgot to tell you that Billy had a notion that Dave helped
drive his bullicks to pound that time, though I didn't believe it. So
“Don't you believe that for a minute, Mrs Hardwick. Dave knew what
he was a-doin' of all right; an' if I ketch him I'll give him a
beltin' for it if no one else is man enough to stand up for a woman!”
“How d'yer know Dave knew?” says Mrs Hardwick.
“Know!” says Billy. “Why, he talked about it all over the district.”
“What!” she screamed out, an' I moved away from that there fence,
for she had a stick to drive them heifers with. But Billy stood his
ground. “Is that the truth, Billy Grimshaw?” she screams.
“Yes;” he says. “I'll-take me oath on it. He blowed about it all
over the district, as if it was very funny, an' he says—” An' Billy
“What did he say?” she shouted.
“Well, the fact is,” says Billy, “that I hardly like to tell it to a
lady. I wouldn't like to tell yer, Mrs Hardwick.”
“But you'll have to tell me, Billy Grimshaw,” she screams. “I have a
right to know. If you don't tell me I'll pull him next week an' have it
dragged out of you in the witness-box!” she says. “An' I'll have
satisfaction out of him in the felon's dock of a court of law!” she
says. “What did the villain say?” she screams.
“Well,” says Billy, “if yer must have it—an', anyway, I'm hanged if
I'm goin' to stand by an' see a woman scandalized behind her back—if
yer must have it I'll tell yer. Dave said that the fish didn't smell no
worse than your place anyway.”
We got away from there then. She cut up too rough altogether. I
can't tell you what she said—I ain't got the words. She went up to the
house, an' we seen the farm-hand harnessin' up the horse, an' we
reckoned she was goin' to drive into town straight away an' take out a
summons agenst Dave Regan. An' jest then Dave hisself comes ridin'
past—jest when he was most wanted, as usual. He always rode fast past
Mrs Hardwick's nowadays, an' never stopped there, but Billy shouted
“Hullo, Dave! I want to speak to yer,” shouts Billy. An' Dave yanks
his horse round.
“What is it, Billy?” he says.
“Look here, Dave,” says Billy. “You had your little joke about the
chimbly, an' we had our little joke about the fish an' Mrs Hardwick, so
now we'll call it quits. A joke's a joke, but it can go too far, an'
this one's gettin' too red-hot altogether. So we've fixed it up with
“What fish an' what joke?” says Dave, rubbin' his head. “An' what
have yer fixed up with Mrs Hardwick? Whatever are yer talkin' about,
So Billy told him all about us sendin' the stinkin' fish to Mrs
Hardwick by Tommy, an' sayin' Dave sent 'em—Dave rubbin' the back of
his neck an' starin' at Billy all the time. “An' now,” says Billy, “I
won't say anything about them bullicks; but I went up and seen Mrs
Hardwick this mornin', an' told her the whole truth about them fish,
an' how you knowed nothin' about it, an' I apologized an' told her we
was very sorry; an' she says she was very sorry too on your account,
an' wanted to see yer. I promised to tell yer as soon as I seen yer. It
ought to be fixed up. You ought to go right up to the house an' see her
now. She's awfully cut up about it.”
“All right,” says Dave, brightenin' up. “It was a dirty, mean trick
anyway to play on a cove; but I'll go up an' see her.” An' he went
there 'n' then.
An' about fifteen minutes arterwards he comes boltin' back from the
house one way an' his horse the other. The horse acted as if it had a
big scare, an' so did Dave. Billy went an' ketched Dave's horse for
him, an' I got Dave a towel to wipe the dirty dish-water off of his
face an' out of his hair an' collar, an' I give him a piece of soap to
rub on the places where he'd been scalded.
“Why, the woman must be ravin' mad,” I says. “Whatever did yer say
to her this time, Dave? Yer allers gettin' inter hot water with her.”
“I didn't say nothin',” says Dave. “I jest went up laughin' like,
an' says, `How are yer, Mrs Hardwick?' an' she ups an' lets me have a
dish of dirty wash-up water, an' then on top of that she let fly with a
dipper of scaldin'-hot, greasy water outer the boiler. She's gone clean
ravin' mad, I think.”
“She's as mad as a hatter, right enough, Dave,” says Billy Grimshaw.
“Don't you go there no more, Dave, it ain't safe.” An' we lent Dave a
hat an' a clean shirt, an' he went on inter town. “You ought to have
humoured her,” says Billy, as Dave rode away. “You ought to have told
her to put a wet bag over her chimbly an' hang the fish inside to
smoke.” But Dave was too stunned to ketch on. He went on inter the town
an' got on a howlin' spree. An' while he was soberin' up the thing
began to dawn on him. An' the nex' time he met Billy they had a fight.
An' Dave got another woman to speak to Mrs Hardwick, an' Mrs Hardwick
ketched young Tommy goin' past her place one day an' bailed him up an'
scared the truth out of him.
“Look here!” she says to him, “I want the truth, the whole truth,
an' nothin' but the truth about them fish, an' if I don't get it outer
you I'll wring yer young neck for tryin' to poison me, an' save yer
from the gallust!” she says to Tommy.
So he told her the whole truth, swelp him, an' got away; an' he
respected Mrs Hardwick arter that.
An' next time we come past with the teams we seen Dave's horse
hangin' up outside Mrs Hardwick's, an' we went some miles further along
the road an' camped in a new place where we'd be more comfortable. An'
ever arter that we used to always whip up an' drive past her place as
if we didn't know her.