Buckholts' Gate by Henry Lawson
Old Abel Albury had a genius for getting the bull by the tail with a
tight grip, and holding on with both hands and an obstinacy born of
ignorance—and not necessarily for the sake of self-preservation or
selfishness—while all the time the bull might be, so to speak, rooting
up life-long friendships and neighbourly relations, and upsetting
domestic customs and traditions with his horns.
Yes, Uncle Abel was always grasping the wrong end of things, and
sticking to it with that human mulishness which is often stronger, and
more often wearies and breaks down the opposition than an intelligent
man's arguments. He was—-or professed to be, the family said—unable
for a long time to distinguish between his two grand-nephews, one of
whom was short and fat, while the other was tall and thin, the only
points of resemblance between them being that each possessed the old
family nose and eyes. When they were boys he used to lay the strap
about one in mistake for the other. They had a saying that Uncle Abel
saw with ten squinting eyes.
Also, he could never-or would not, as the family said—remember
names. He referred to Mrs Porter, a thin, haggard selector's wife, as
“Mrs Stout” and he balanced matters by calling Mrs Southwick “Mrs
Porterwicket”—when he didn't address her as “Mrs What's-the-woman's-name”—and he succeeded in deeply offending both ladies.
Uncle Abel was Mrs Carey's uncle.
Down at the lower end of Carey's selection at Rocky Rises, in the
extreme corner of the lower or outer paddock, were sliprails opening
into the main road, which ran down along the siding, round the foot of
a spur from ridge, and out west. These sliprails were called “The Lower
Sliprails” by the family, and it occurred to Uncle Abel to refer to
them as “Buckolts' Gate,” for no other reason apparently than that
Buckolts' farm lay in that direction. The farm was about a mile further
on, on the other side of the creek, and the gate leading to it from the
main road was round the spur, out of sight of Carey's selection. It is
quite possible that Uncle Abel reasoned the thing out for days, for of
such material are some human brains. Sliprails, or a slip-panel, is a
panel of fencing of which the rails are made to be slipped out of the
mortise holes in the posts so as to give passage to horses, vehicles
and cattle. I suppose Abel called it a gate, because he was always
going to hang a proper gate there some day. The family were unaware of
his new name for the Lower Sliprails, and after he had, on one or two
occasions, informed the boys that they would find a missing cow or
horse at the Buckolts' Gate, and they had found it calmly camped at the
Lower Sliprails, and after he had made several appointments to meet
parties at Buckolts' Gate, and had been found leaning obstinately on
the fence by the Lower Sliprails with no explanation to offer other
than that he was waiting at Buckolts' Gate, they began to fear
that he was becoming weak in his mind.
It was New Year's Eve at Rocky Rises. There was no need for
fireworks nor bonfires, for the bush-fires were out all along the
ranges to the east, and, as night came on, lines and curves of
lights—clear lights, white lights, and, in the nearer distance, red
lights and smoky lights—marked the sidings and ridges of a western
spur of the Blue Mountain Range, and seemed suspended against a dark
sky, for the stars and the loom of the hills were hidden by smoke and
There was a dance at Careys'. Old Carey was a cheerful, broad-minded
bushman, haunted at times by the memories of old days, when he was the
beau of the bush balls, and so when he built his new slab-and-bark barn
he had it properly floored with hard-wood, and the floor well-faced “to
give the young people a show when they wanted a dance,” he said. The
floor had a spring in it, and bush boys and girls often rode twenty
miles and more to dance on that floor. The girls said it was a lovely
On this occasion Carey had stacked his wheat outside until after the
New Year. Spring-carts, and men and girls on horseback came in from
miles round. “Sperm” candles had been cut up and thrown on the floor
during the afternoon, and rubbed over by feet cased tightly in
'lastic-sides; and hoops were hung horizontally from the tie-beams,
with candles stuck round them. There were fresh-faced girls, and sweet,
freckled-faced girls, and jolly girls, and shy girls—all sorts of
girls except sulky, “toney” girls—and lanky chaps, most of them
sawney, and weird, whiskered agriculturists, who watched the dancers
with old, old time-worn smiles, or stood, or sat on their heels
yarning, with their pipes, outside, where two boilers were slung over a
log-fire to boil water for tea; and there were leathery women, with
complexions like dried apples, who gossiped—for the first time in
months perhaps—and watched the young people, and thought at times, no
doubt, of other days—of other days when they were girls. (And not so
far distant either, in some cases, for women dry quickly in the bush.)
And there were one or two old soldiers and their wives, whose eyes
glistened when Jim Bullock played “The Girl I Left Behind Me.”
Jim Bullock was there with his concertina. He sat on a stool in
front of a bench, on which was a beer-keg, piles of teacups and
saucers, several big tin teapots, and plates of sandwiches,
sponge-cakes, and tarts. Jim sat in his shirt-sleeves, with his
flat-brimmed, wire-bound, “hard-hitter” hat on, slanting over his
weaker eye. He held one leg loosely and the other rigid, with the
concertina on his knee, and swanked away at the instrument by the hour,
staring straight in front of him with the expression of a cod-fish, and
never moving a muscle except the muscles of his great hairy arms and
big chapped and sun-blotched hands; while chaps in tight “larstins"
(elastic-side boots), slop suits of black, bound with braid, and with
coats too short in the neck and arms, and trousers bell-mouthed at the
bottoms, and some with paper collars, narrow red ribbon ties, or scarfs
through walnut shells, held their partners rigidly, and went round the
room with their eyes—most of them—cocked at the rafters in
But there was tall, graceful, pink-and-white Bertha Buckolt,
blue-eyed and blue-black-haired, and little Mary Carey with the kind,
grey eyes and red-gold hair; there was Mary's wild brother Jim, with
curly black hair and blue eyes and dimples of innocence; and there was
Harry Dale, the drover, Jim's shearing and droving mate, a tall,
good-looking, brown-eyed and brown-haired young fellow, a
“better-class” bushman and the best dancer in the district. Uncle Abel
usurped the position of M.C., and roared “Now then! take yer partners!”
and bawled instructions and interrupted and tangled up the dancers,
until they got used to taking no notice of his bull voice. Mary Carey
was too shy—because she loved him, and secretly and fondly hoped and
doubted that he cared for her—to be seen dancing more than once with
Harry Dale, so he shared Bertha Buckolt, the best girl dancer there,
with Jim Carey, who danced with his sister when Harry was dancing with
Bertha Buckolt, and who seemed, for some reason best known to himself,
to be perfectly satisfied with the arrangement. Poor little Mary began
to fret presently, and feel a little jealous of Bertha, her old
schoolmate. She was little and couldn't dance like Bertha, and she
couldn't help noticing how well Bertha looked to-night, and what a
well-matched pair she and Harry made; and so, when twelve o'clock came
and they all went outside to watch the Old Year out and the New Year
in—with a big bonfire on the distant ridge where the grass fires had
reached a stretch of dry scrub—and to join hands all round and sing
“Auld Lang Syne,” little Mary was not to be found, for she was sitting
on a log round behind the cow-yard, crying softly to herself.
And when about three o'clock they all started home, Mary gave Bertha
her cheek to kiss instead of her mouth, and that hurt Bertha, who had
her cry riding home, to the astonishment and irritation of her
brother Jack, who rode home with her. But when they were all gone Mary
was missing again and when her mother called her, and, after a pause,
the voice of Harry Dale said, respectfully, in the darkness, “She's
here, Mrs Carey, she's all right,” the two were discovered sitting on a
convenient log of the wood-heap, with an awkward and overacted interval
of log between them.
Old Carey liked Harry Dale, and seemed very well satisfied with the
way things appeared to be going. He pressed Harry to stay at the
selection overnight. “The missus will make you a shake-down on the
floor,” he said. Harry had no appointments, and stayed cheerfully, and
old Carey, having had a whisky or two, insisted on Mary making the
shake-down, and the old folks winked at each other behind the young
folks' backs to see how poor little Mary spread a spare mattress, with
redhot, averted face, and found an extra pillow and a spare pair of
ironed sheets for the shake-down.
At sunrise she stole out to milk the cows, which was her regular
duty; there was no other way out from her room than through the
dining-room, where Harry lay on his back, with his arms folded, resting
peacefully. He seemed sound asleep and safe for a good two hours, so
she ventured. As she passed out she paused a moment looking down on him
with all the lovelight in her eyes, and, obeying a sudden impulse, she
stooped softly and touched his forehead with her lips, then she slipped
out. Harry stretched, opened his eyes, winked solemnly at the ceiling,
and then, after a decent interval, he got up, dressed, and went out to
help her to milk.
Harry Dale and Jim Carey were going out to take charge of a mob of
bullocks going north-west, away up in Queensland. And as they had lost
a day and night to be at the dance, they decided to start in the cool
of the evening and travel all night. Mary walked from the homestead to
the Lower Sliprails between her brother, who rode—because he was her
brother—and led a packhorse on the other side, and Harry, who walked
and led his horse—because he was her sweetheart, avowed only since
There were thunderstorms about, and Mary had repented sufficiently
with regard to Bertha Buckolt to wear on her shoulders a cape which
Bertha had left behind her last night.
When they reached the Lower Sliprails Jim said he'd go on and that
Harry needn't hurry: he stooped over his horse's neck, kissed his
sister, promised to keep away from the drink, not to touch a card, and
to leave off fighting, and rode on. And when he rounded the Spur he saw
a tall, graceful figure slipping through the trees from the creek
towards Buckolts' Gate.
Then came the critical time at the Lower Sliprails. The shadows from
the setting sun lengthened quickly on the siding, and then the sun
slipped out of sight over a “saddle” in the ridges, and all was soon
dusk save the sunlit peaks of the Blue Mountains away to the east over
the sweeps of blue-grey bush.
“Ah, well! Mary,” said Harry, “I must make a start now.”
“You'll—you'll look after Jim, won't you, Harry?” said Mary.
“I will, Mary, for your sake.”
Her mouth began to twitch, her chin to tremble, and her eyes brimmed
“You must cheer up, Mary,” he said with her in his arms. “I'll be
back before you know where you are, and then we'll be married right off
at once and settle down for life.”
She smiled bravely.
He led his horse through the rails and lifted them, with trembling
hands, and shot them home. Another kiss across the top rail and he got
on his horse. She mounted the lower rail, and he brought his horse
close alongside the fence and stooped to kiss her again.
“Cheer up, Mary!” he said. “I'll tell you what I'll do—when I come
back I'll whistle when I reach the Spur and you be here to let the
sliprails down for me. I'll time myself to get here about sundown. I'll
whistle `Willie Riley,' so you'll know it's me. Good-bye, little girl!
I must go now. Don't fret—the time will soon go by.”
He turned, swung his horse, and rode slowly down the track, turning
now and again to wave his hand to her, with a farewell flourish of his
hat as he rounded the Spur. His track, five hundred miles, or perhaps a
thousand, into the great north-west; his time, six months, or perhaps a
year. Hers a hundred yards or so back to the dusty, dreary drudgery of
selection life. The daylight faded into starlight, the sidings grew
very dim, and a faint white figure blurred against the bars of the
It was the last day of the threshing—shortly after New Year—at
Rocky Rises. The green boughs, which had been lashed to the
veranda-posts on Christmas Eve, had withered and been used for
firewood. The travelling steamer had gone with its gang of men, and the
family sat down to tea, the men tired with hard work and heat, and with
prickly heat and irritating wheaten chaff and dust under their
clothes—and with smut (for the crop had been a smutty one) “up their
brains” as Uncle Abel said—the women worn out with cooking for a big
gang of shearers.
Good-humoured Aunt Emma—who was Uncle Abel's niece —recovered
first, and started the conversation. There were one or two neighbours'
wives who bad lent crockery and had come over to help with the cooking
in their turns. Jim Carey's name came up incidentally, but was quickly
dropped, for ill reports of Jim had come home. Then Aunt Emma mentioned
Harry Dale, and glanced meaningly at Mary, whose face flamed as she
bent over her plate.
“Never mind, Mary,” said Aunt Emma, “it's nothing to be ashamed of.
We were all girls once. There's many a girl would jump at Harry.”
“Who says I'm ashamed?” said Mary, straightening up indignantly.
“Don't tease her, Emma,” said Mrs Carey, mildly.
“I'll tell yer what,” said young Tom Carey, frankly, “Mary got a
letter from him to-day. I seen her reading it behind the house.”
Mary's face flamed again and went down over her plate.
“Mary,” said her mother, with sudden interest, “did Harry say
anything of Jim?”
“No, mother,” said Mary. “And that's why I didn't tell you about the
There was a pause. Then Tommy said, with that delightful tact which
usually characterizes young Tommies:
“Well, Mary needn't be so cocky about Harry Dale, anyhow. I seen him
New Year's Eve when we had the dance. I seen him after the dance
liftin' Bertha Buckolt onter her horse in the dark—as if she couldn't
get on herself—she's big enough. I seen him lift her on, an' he took
her right up an' lifted her right inter the saddle, 'stead of holdin'
his hand for her to tread on like that new-chum jackaroo we had. An',
what's more, I seen him hug her an' give her a kiss before he lifted
her on. He told her he was as good as her brother.”
“What did he mean by that, Tommy?” asked Mrs Porter, to break an
“How'm I ter know what he means?” said Tommy, politely.
“And, Tommy, I seen Harry Dale give young Tommy Carey a lick with a
strap the day before New Year's Eve for throwing his sister's cat into
the dam,” said Aunt Emma, coming to poor Mary's rescue. “Never mind,
Mary, my dear, he said goodbye to you last.”
“No, he didn't!” roared Uncle Abel.
They were used to Uncle Abel's sudden bellowing, but it startled
them this time.
“Why, Uncle Abel,” cried both Aunt Emma and Mrs Carey, “whatever do
“What I means is that I ain't a-goin' to have the feelin's of a
niece of mine trifled with. What I means is that I seen Harry Dale with
Bertha Buckolt on New Year's night after he left here. That's what I
“Don't speak so loud, Abel, we're not deaf,” interrupted Carey, as
Mary started up white-faced. “What do you want to always shout for?”
“I speak loud because I want people to hear me!” roared Uncle Abel,
turning on him.
“Go on, Uncle Abel,” said Mary, “tell me what you mean.”
“I mean,” said Uncle Abel, lowering his voice a little, “that I seen
Harry Dale and Bertha Buckolt at Buckolts' Gate that night—I seen it
“At Buckolts' Gate!” cried Mary.
“Yes! at Buckolts' Gate! Ain't I speakin' loud enough?”
“And where were you?”
“Never mind wheers I was. I was comin' home along the ridges, and I
seen them. I seen them say good-bye; I seen them hug an' kiss—”
“Uncle Abel!” exclaimed Aunt Emma.
“It's no use Uncle Abelin' me. What I sez I sez. I ain't a-goin' to
have a niece of mine bungfoodled—”
“Uncle Abel,” cried Mary, staring at him wild-eyed, “do be careful
what you say. You must have made a mistake. Are you sure it was Bertha
“Am I sure my head's on me neck?” roared Uncle Abel. “Would I see
'em if I didn't see 'em? I tell you—”
“Now wait a moment, Uncle Abel,” interrupted Mary, with dangerous
calmness. “Listen to me. Harry Dale and I are engaged to be married,
“Have you got the writings!” shouted Uncle Abel.
“The what?” said Mary.
“No, of course not.”
“Then that's where you are,” said Uncle Abel, triumphantly. “If you
had the writings you could sue him for breach of contract.”
Uncle Abel, who couldn't read, had no faith whatever in verbal
agreements (he wouldn't sign one, he said), all others he referred to
“Now, listen to me, Uncle Abel,” said Mary, trembling now. “Are you
sure you saw Harry Dale and Bertha Buckolt at Buckolts' Gate after he
left here that night?”
“Yes. An' what's more, I seen young Tommy there ridin' on his pony
along by the Spur a little while after, an' he muster seen them too, if
he's got a tongue.”
Mary turned quickly to her brother.
“Well, all I can say,” said Tommy, quietened now, “is that I seen
her at Buckolts' Gate that night. I was comin' home from Two-Mile
Flat, and I met Jim with his packhorse about a mile the other side of
Buckolts', and while we was talkin' Harry Dale caught up, so I jist
said 'So-long' an' left 'em. And when I got to Buckolt's Gate I seen
Bertha Buckolt. She was standin' under a tree, and she looked as if she
But Mary got her bonnet and started out.
“Where are you going to, Mary?” asked her mother, starting up
“I'm going across to Buckolts' to find out the truth,” said Mary,
and she went out.
“Better let her go, Lizzie,” said Aunt Emma, detaining her sister.
“You've done it now, Uncle Abel.”
“Well, why didn't she get the writings?” retorted Uncle Abel.
Half-way to Buckolts' Mary met Bertha Buckolt herself, coming over
to the selection for the first time since the night of the party.
Bertha started forward to kiss Mary, but stopped short as Mary stood
stock-still and faced her, with her hands behind her back.
“Why! whatever is the matter, Mary?” exclaimed Bertha.
“You know very well, Bertha.”
“Why! Whatever do you mean? What have I done?”
“What haven't you done? You've—you've broken my heart.”
“Good gracious me! Whatever are you talking about? Tell me what it
“You met him at your gate that night?”
“I know I did.”
“Oh, Bertha! How could you be so mean and deceitful?”
“Mean and deceitful! What do you mean by that? Whatever are you
talking about? I suppose I've got as good a right to meet him as anyone
“No, you haven't,” retorted Mary, “you're only stringing him on. You
only did it to spite me. You helped him to deceive me. You ought to be
ashamed to look me in the face.”
“Good gracious! Whatever are you talking about? Ain't I good enough
for him! I ought to be, God knows! I suppose he can marry who he likes,
and if I'm poor fool enough to love him and marry him, what then? Mary,
you ought to be the last to speak—speak to—to me like that.”
“Yes. He can marry all, the girls in the country for all I care. I
never want to see either him or you any more. You're a cruel,
deceitful, brazen-faced hussy, and he's a heartless, deceiving
“Mary! I believe you're mad,” said Bertha, firmly. “How dare you
speak to me like that! And as for him being a blackguard. Why, you
ought to be the last in the world to say such a thing; you ought to be
the last to say a word against him. Why, I don't believe you ever cared
a rap for him in spite of all your pretence. He could go to the devil
for all you cared.”
“That's enough, Bertha Buckolt!” cried Mary. “You—you! Why,
you're a barefaced girl, that's what you are! I don't want to see your
brazen face again.” With that she turned and stumbled blindly in the
direction of home.
“Send back my cape,” cried Bertha as she too turned away.
Mary walked wildly home and fled to her room and locked the door.
Bertha did likewise.
Mary let Aunt Emma in after a while, ceased sobbing and allowed
herself to be comforted a little. Next morning she was out milking at
the usual time, but there were dark hollows under her eyes, and her
little face was white and set. After breakfast she rolled the cape up
very tight in a brown-paper parcel, addressed it severely to
MISS BERTHA BUCKOLT,
and sent it home by one of the school-children. She wrote to Harry
Dale and told him that she knew all about it (not stating what), but
she forgave him and hoped he'd be happy. She never wanted to see his
face again, and enclosed his portrait.
Harry, who was as true and straight as a bushman could be, puzzled
it out and decided that some one of his old love affairs must have come
to Mary's ears, and wrote demanding an explanation.
She never answered that letter.
It was Christmas Day at Rocky Rises. The plum puddings had been
made, as usual, weeks beforehand, and hung in rags to the tie-beams and
taken down and boiled again. Poultry had been killed and plucked and
cooked, and all the toil had been gone through, and every preparation
made for a red-hot dinner on a blazing hot day—and for no other reason
than that our great-grandmothers used to do it in a cold climate at
Christmas-times that came in mid-winter. Merry men hadn't gone forth to
the wood to gather in the mistletoe (if they ever did in England, in
the olden days, instead of sending shivering, wretched vassals in rags
to do it); but Uncle Abel had gone gloomily up the ridge on Christmas
Eve, with an axe on his shoulder (and Tommy unwillingly in tow,
scowling and making faces behind his back), and had cut young pines and
dragged them home and lashed them firmly to the veranda-posts, which
was the custom out there.
There was little goodwill or peace between the three or four farms
round Rocky Rises that Christmas Day, and Uncle Abel had been the cause
of most of the ill-feeling, though they didn't know, and he was least
aware of it of any.
It all came about in this way.
Shortly after last New Year Ryan's bull had broken loose and gone
astray for two days and nights, breaking into neighbours' paddocks and
filling himself with hay and damaging other bulls, and making love by
night and hiding in the scrub all day. On the second night he broke
through and jumped over Reid's fences, and destroyed about an acre of
grape-vines and adulterated Reid's stock, besides interfering with
certain heifers which were not of a marriageable age. There was a L5
penalty on a stray bull. Reid impounded the bull and claimed heavy
damages. Ryan, a small selector of little account, was always pulling
some neighbour to court when he wasn't being “pulled” himself, so he
went to court over this case.
Now, it appears that the bull, on his holiday, had spent a part of
the first night in Carey's lower paddock, and Uncle Abel (who was out
mooching about the bush at all hours, “havin' a look at some timber” or
some “indercations” [of gold], or on some mysterious business or fad,
the mystery of which was of his own making)—Uncle Abel saw the bull in
the paddock at daylight and turned it out the sliprails, and talked
about it afterwards, referring to the sliprails as “Buckolts' Gate,” of
course, and spoke mysteriously of the case, and put on an appearance of
great importance, and allowed people to get an idea that he knew a lot
if he only liked to speak; and finally he got himself “brought up” as a
witness for Ryan.
He had a lot of beer in town before he went to the courthouse. All
he knew would have been of no use to either party, but he swore that he
had seen Ryan's bull inside Buckolts' Gate at daylight (on the day
which wasn't in question) and had turned him out. Uncle Abel mixed up
the court a good deal, and roared like the bull, and became more
obstinate the more he was cross-examined, and narrowly escaped being
committed for contempt of court.
Ryan, who had a high opinion of the breed of his bull, got an idea
that the Buckolts had enticed or driven the bull into their paddock for
stock-raising purposes, instead of borrowing it honestly or offering to
pay for the use of it. Then Ryan wanted to know why Abel had driven his
bull out of Buckolts' Gate, and the Buckolts wanted to know what
business Abel Albury had to drive Ryan's bull out of their paddock, if
the bull had really ever been there. And so it went on till Rocky Rises
was ripe for a tragedy.
The breach between the Careys and the Buckolts was widened, the
quarrel between Ryan and Reid intensified. Ryan got a down on the
Careys because he reckoned that Uncle Abel had deliberately spoilt his
case with his evidence; and the Reids and Careys were no longer on
speaking terms, because nothing would convince old Reid that Abel
hadn't tried to prove that Ryan's bull had never been in Reid's paddock
Well, it was Christmas Day, and the Carey family and Aunt Emma sat
down to dinner. Jim was present, having arrived overnight, with no
money, as usual, and suffering a recovery. The elder brother, Bob (who
had a selection up-country), and his wife were there. Mrs Carey moved
round with watchful eyes and jealous ears, lest there should be a word
or a look which might hurt the feelings of her wild son—for of such
Dinner went on very moodily, in spite of Aunt Emma, until at last
Jim spoke—almost for the first time, save for a long-whispered and, on
his part, repentant conversation with his mother.
“Look here, Mary!” said Jim. “What did you throw Harry Dale over
“Don't ask me, Jim.”
“Rot! What did he do to you? I'm your brother” (with a glance at
Bob), “and I ought to know.”
“Well, then, ask Bertha Buckolt. She saw him last.”
“What!” cried Jim.
“Hold your tongue, Jim! You'll make her cry,” said Aunt Emma.
“Well, what's it all about, anyway?” demanded Jim. “All I know is
that Mary wrote to Harry and threw him over, and he ain't been the same
man since. He swears he'll never come near the district again.”
“Tell Jim, Aunt Emma,” said Mary. And Aunt Emma started to tell the
story as far as she knew.
“Saw her at Buckolt's sliprails!” cried Jim, starting up. “Well, he
couldn't have had time to more than say good-bye to her, for I was with
her there myself, and Harry caught up to me within a mile of the
gate—and I rode pretty fast.”
“He had a jolly long good-bye with her,” shouted Uncle Abel. “Look
here, Jim! I ain't goin' to stand by and see a nephew of mine
bungfoodled by no girl; an', I tell you I seen 'em huggin' and kissin'
and canoodlin' for half an hour at Buckolts' Gate!”
“It's a—a—Look here, Uncle Abel, be careful what you say. You've
got the bull by the tail again, that's what it is!” Jim's face grew
whiter—and it had been white enough on account of the drink. “How did
you know it was them? You're always mistaking people. It might have
been someone else.”
“I know Harry Dale on horseback two miles off!” roared Uncle Abel.
“And I knowed her by her cape.”
It was Mary's turn to gasp and stare at Uncle Abel.
“Uncle Abel,” she managed to say, “Uncle Abel! Wasn't it at our
Lower Sliprails you saw them and not Buckolts' Gate?”
“Well!” bellowed Uncle Abel. “You might call 'em the `Lower
Sliprails,' but I calls 'em Buckolts' Gate! They lead to'r'ds
Buckolts', don't they? Hey? Them other sliprails”—jerking his arms in
the direction of the upper paddock “them theer other sliprails that
leads outer Reid's lane I calls Reid's Sliprails. I don't know nothing
about no upper or lower, or easter or wester, or any other la-di-dah
names you like to call 'em.”
“Oh, uncle,” cried Mary, trembling like a leaf, “why didn't you
explain this before? Why didn't you tell us?”
“What cause have I got to tell any of you everything I sez or does
or thinks? It 'ud take me all me time. Ain't you got any more brains
than Ryan's bull, any of you? Hey!—You've got heads, but so has
cabbages. Explain! Why, if the world wasn't stuffed so full of
jumped-up fools there'd be never no need for explainin'.”
Mary left the table.
“What is it, Mary?” cried Aunt Emma.
“I'm going across to Bertha,” said Mary, putting on her hat with
trembling hands. “It was me Uncle Abel saw. I had Bertha's cape on that
“Oh, Uncle Abel,” cried Aunt Emma, “whatever have you done?”
“Well,” said Uncle Abel, “why didn't she get the writin's as I told
her? It's to be hoped she won't make such a fool of herself next time.”
Half an hour later, or thereabouts, Mary sat on Bertha Buckolt's
bed, with Bertha beside her and Bertha's arm round her, and they were
crying and laughing by turns.
“But-but-why didn't you tell me it was Jim?” said Mary.
“Why didn't you tell me it was Harry, Mary?” asked Bertha. “It would
have saved all this year of misery.
“I didn't see Harry Dale at all that night,” said Bertha. “I was—I
was crying when Jim left me, and when Harry came along I slipped behind
a tree until he was past. And now, look here, Mary, I can't marry Jim
until he steadies down, but I'll give him another chance. But, Mary,
I'd sooner lose him than you.”
Bertha walked home with Mary, and during the afternoon she took Jim
aside and said:
“Look here, Jim, I'll give you another chance—for a year. Now I
want you to ride into town and send a telegram to Harry Dale. How long
would it take him to get here?”
“He couldn't get here before New Year,” said Jim.
“That will do,” said Bertha, and Jim went to catch his horse. Next
day Harry's reply came: “Coming”
New Year's Eve. The dance was at Buckolts' this year, but Bertha
didn't dance much; she was down by the gate most of the time with
little Mary Carey, waiting, and watching the long, white road, and
listening for horses' feet, and disappointed often as other horsemen
rode by or turned up to the farm.
And in the hot sunrise that morning, within a hundred 'miles of
Rocky Rises, a tired, dusty drover camped in the edge of a scrub,
boiled his quart-pot, broiled a piece of mutton on the coals, and lay
down on the sand to rest an hour or so before pushing on to a cattle
station he knew to try and borrow fresh horses. He had ridden all
Old Buckolt and Carey and Reid smoked socially under the
grape-vines, with bottles of whisky and glasses, and nudged each other
and coughed when they wanted to laugh at Old Abel Albury, who was, for
about the first time in his life, condescending to explain. He was
explaining to them what thund'rin' fools they had been.
Later on they sent a boy on horseback with a bottle of whisky and a
message to Ryan, who turned up in time to see the New Year in with them
and contradict certain slanders concerning the breed of his bull.
Meanwhile Bertha comforted Mary, and at last persuaded her to go
home. “He's sure to be here to-morrow, Mary,” she said, “and you need
to look fresh and happy.”
But Mary didn't sleep that night; she was up before daylight, had
the kettle on and some chops ready to fry, and at daybreak she was down
by the sliprails again. She was turning away for the second time when
she heard a clear whistle round the Spur—then the tune of “Willie
Riley,” and the hobble-chains and camp-ware on the packhorse jingling
to the tune.
She pulled out the rails with eager, trembling hands and leaned
against the tree. An hour later a tired drover lay on his back, in his
ragged, track-worn clothes and dusty leggings, on Mary's own little bed
in the skillion off the living-room, and rested. Mary bustled round
getting breakfast ready, and singing softly to herself; once she
slipped in, bent over Harry and kissed him gently on the lips, and ran
out as he stirred.
“Why, who's that?” exclaimed Uncle Abel, poking round early and
catching a glimpse of Harry through the open door.
“It's only Harry, Uncle Abel,” said Mary.
Uncle Abel peered in again to make sure.
“Well, be sure you git the writin's this time,” he said.