Back to the Index Page

 
 
 

The Blindness of One-eyed Brogan by Henry Lawson

1901

    They judge not and they are not judged—'tis their philosophy—
    (There's something wrong with every ship that sails upon the sea).
                    —The Ballad of the Rouseabout.

“And what became of One-eyed Bogan?” I asked Tom Hall when I met him and Jack Mitchell down in Sydney with their shearing cheques the Christmas before last.

“You'd better ask Mitchell, Harry,” said Tom. “He can tell you about Bogan better than I can. But first, what about the drink we're going to have?”

We turned out of Pitt Street into Hunter Street, and across George Street, where a double line of fast electric tramway was running, into Margaret Street and had a drink at Pfahlert's Hotel, where a counter lunch—as good as many dinners you get for a shilling—was included with a sixpenny drink. “Get a quiet corner,” said Mitchell, “I like to bear myself cackle.” So we took our beer out in the fernery and got a cool place at a little table in a quiet corner amongst the fern boxes.

“Well, One-eyed Bogan was a hard case, Mitchell,” I said. “Wasn't he?”

“Yes,” said Mitchell, putting down his “long-beer” glass, “he was.”

“Rather a bad egg?”

“Yes, a regular bad egg,” said Mitchell, decidedly.

“I heard he got caught cheating at cards,” I said.

“Did you?” said Mitchell. “Well, I believe he did. Ah, well,” he added reflectively, after another long pull, “One-eyed Bogan won't cheat at cards any more.”

“Why?” I said. “Is he dead then?”

“No,” said Mitchell, “he's blind.”

“Good God!” I said, “how did that happen?”

“He lost the other eye,” said Mitchell, and he took another drink. “Ah, well, he won't cheat at cards any more—unless there's cards invented for the blind.”

“How did it happen?” I asked.

“Well,” said Mitchell, “you see, Harry, it was this way. Bogan went pretty free in Bourke after the shearing before last, and in the end he got mixed up in a very ugly-looking business: he was accused of doing two new-chum jackaroos out of their stuff by some sort of confidence trick.”

“Confidence trick,” I said. “I'd never have thought that One-eyed Bogan had the brains to go in for that sort of thing.”

“Well, it seems he had, or else he used somebody else's brains; there's plenty of broken-down English gentlemen sharpers knocking about out back, you know, and Bogan might have been taking lessons from one. I don't know the rights of the case, it was hushed up, as you'll see presently; but, anyway, the jackaroos swore that Bogan had done 'em out of ten quid. They were both Cockneys and I suppose they reckoned themselves smart, but bushmen have more time to think. Besides, Bogan's one eye was in his favour. You see he always kept his one eye fixed strictly on whatever business he had in hand; if he'd had another eye to rove round and distract his attention and look at things on the outside, the chances are he would never have got into trouble.”

“Never mind that, Jack,” said Tom Hall. “Harry wants to hear the yarn.”

“Well, to make it short, one of the jackaroos went to the police and Bogan cleared out. His character was pretty bad just then, so there was a piece of blue paper out for him. Bogan didn't seem to think the thing was so serious as it was, for he only went a few miles down the river and camped with his horses on a sort of island inside an anabranch, till the thing should blow over or the new chums leave Bourke.

“Bogan's old enemy, Constable Campbell, got wind of Bogan's camp, and started out after him. He rode round the outside track and came in on to the river just below where the anabranch joins it, at the lower end of the island and right opposite Bogan's camp. You know what those billabongs are: dry gullies till the river rises from the Queensland rains and backs them up till the water runs round into the river again and makes anabranches of 'em—places that you thought were hollows you'll find above water, and you can row over places you thought were hills. There's no water so treacherous and deceitful as you'll find in some of those billabongs. A man starts to ride across a place where he thinks the water is just over the grass, and blunders into a deep channel—that wasn't there before—with a steady undercurrent with the whole weight of the Darling River funnelled into it; and if he can't swim and his horse isn't used to it—or sometimes if he can swim—it's a case with him, and the Darling River cod hold an inquest on him, if they have time, before he's buried deep in Darling River mud for ever. And somebody advertises in the missing column for Jack Somebody who was last heard of in Australia.”

“Never mind that, Mitchell, go on,” I said.

“Well, Campbell knew the river and saw that there was a stiff current there, so he hailed Bogan.

“'Good day, Campbell,' shouted Bogan.

“`I want you, Bogan,' said Campbell. `Come across and bring your horses.'

“`I'm damned if I will,' says Bogan. `I'm not going to catch me death o' cold to save your skin. If you want me you'll have to bloody well come and git me.' Bogan was a good strong swimmer, and he had good horses, but he didn't try to get away—I suppose he reckoned he'd have to face the music one time or another—and one time is as good as another out back.

“Campbell was no swimmer; he had no temptation to risk his life—you see it wasn't as in war with a lot of comrades watching ready to advertise a man as a coward for staying alive—so he argued with Bogan and tried to get him to listen to reason, and swore at him. `I'll make it damned hot for you, Bogan,' he said, `if I have to come over for you.'

“`Two can play at that game,' says Bogan.

“`Look here, Bogan,” said Campbell, `I'll tell you what I'll do. If you give me your word that you'll come up to the police station to-morrow I'll go back and say nothing about it. You can say you didn't know a warrant was out after you. It will be all the better for you in the end. Better give me your word, man.'

“Perhaps Campbell knew Bogan better than any of us.

“`Now then, Bogan,' he said, `don't be a fool. Give your word like a sensible man, and I'll go back. I'll give you five minutes to make up your mind.' And he took out his watch.

“But Bogan was nasty and wouldn't give his word, so there was nothing for it but for Campbell to make a try for him.

“Campbell had plenty of pluck, or obstinacy, which amounts to the same thing. He put his carbine and revolver under a log, out of the rain that was coming on, saw to his handcuffs, and then spurred his horse into the water. Bogan lit his pipe with a stick from his camp-fire—so Campbell said afterwards—and sat down on his heels and puffed away, and waited for him.

“Just as Campbell's horse floundered into the current Bogan shouted to go back, but Campbell thought it was a threat and kept on. But Bogan had caught sight of a log coming down the stream, end on, with a sharp, splintered end, and before Campbell knew where he was, the sharp end of the log caught the horse in the flank. The horse started to plunge and struggle sideways, with all his legs, and Campbell got free of him as quick as he could. Now, you know, in some of those Darling River reaches the current will seem to run steadily far a while, and then come with a rush. (I was caught in one of those rushes once, when I was in swimming, and would have been drowned if I hadn't been born to be hanged.) Well, a rush came along just as Campbell got free from his horse, and he went down-stream one side of a snag and his horse the other. Campbell's pretty stout, you know, and his uniform was tight, and it handicapped him.

“Just as he was being washed past the lower end of the snag he caught hold of a branch that stuck out of the water and held on. He swung round and saw Bogan running down to the point opposite him. Now, you know there was always a lot of low cunning about Bogan, and I suppose he reckoned that if he pulled Campbell out he'd stand a good show of getting clear of his trouble; anyway, if he didn't save Campbell it might be said that he killed him—besides, Bogan was a good swimmer, so there wasn't any heroism about it anyhow. Campbell was only a few feet from the bank, but Bogan started to strip—to make the job look as big as possible, I suppose. He shouted to Campbell to say he was coming, and to hold on. Campbell said afterwards that Bogan seemed an hour undressing. The weight of the current was forcing down the bough that Campbell was hanging on to, and suddenly, he said, he felt a great feeling of helplessness take him by the shoulders. He yelled to Bogan and let go.

“Now, it happened that Jake Boreham and I were passing away the time between shearings, and we were having a sort of fishing and shooting loaf down the river in a boat arrangement that Jake had made out of boards and tarred canvas. We called her the Jolly Coffin. We were just poking up the bank in the slack water, a few hundred yards below the billabong, when Jake said, `Why, there's a horse or something in the river.' Then he shouted, `No, by God, it's a man,' and we poked the Coffin out into the stream for all she was worth. `Looks like two men fighting in the water,' Jake shouts presently. `Hurry up, or they'll drown each other.'

“We hailed 'em, and Bogan shouted for help. He was treading water and holding Campbell up in front of him now in real professional style. As soon as he heard us he threw up his arms and splashed a bit—I reckoned he was trying to put as much style as he could into that rescue. But I caught a crab, and, before we could get to them, they were washed past into the top of a tree that stood well below flood-mark. I pulled the boat's head round and let her stern down between the branches. Bogan had one arm over a limb and was holding Campbell with the other, and trying to lift him higher out of the water. I noticed Bogan's face was bleeding—there was a dead limb stuck in the tree with nasty sharp points on it, and I reckoned he'd run his face against one of them. Campbell was gasping like a codfish out of water, and he was the whitest man I ever saw (except one, and he'd been drowned for a week). Campbell had the sense to keep still. We asked Bogan if he could hold on, and he said he could, but he couldn't hold Campbell any longer. So Jake took the oars and I leaned over the stern and caught hold of Campbell, and Jake ran the boat into the bank, and we got him ashore; then we went back for Bogan and landed him.

“We had some whisky and soon brought Campbell round; but Bogan was bleeding like a pig from a nasty cut over his good eye, so we bound wet handkerchiefs round his eyes and led him to a log and he sat down for a while, holding his hand to his eye and groaning. He kept saying, `I'm blind, mates, I'm blind! I've lost me other eye!' but we didn't dream it was so bad as that: we kept giving him whisky. We got some dry boughs and made a big fire. Then Bogan stood up and held his arms stiff down to his sides, opening and shutting his hands as if he was in great pain. And I've often thought since what a different man Bogan seemed without his clothes and with the broken bridge of his nose and his eyes covered by the handkerchiefs. He was clean shaven, and his mouth and chin are his best features, and he's clean limbed and well hung. I often thought afterwards that there was something of a blind god about him as he stood there naked by the fire on the day he saved Campbell's life—something that reminded me of a statue I saw once in the Art Gallery. (Pity the world isn't blinder to a man's worst points.)

“Presently Jake listened and said, `By God, that's lucky!' and we heard a steamer coming up-river and presently we saw her coming round the point with a couple of wool-barges in tow. We got Bogan aboard and got some clothes on him, and took him ashore at Bourke to the new hospital. The doctors did all they knew, but Bogan was blind for life. He never saw anything again—except `a sort of dull white blur,' as he called it—or his past life sometimes, I suppose. Perhaps he saw that for the first time. Ah, well!

“Bogan's old enemy, Barcoo-Rot, went to see him in the hospital, and Bogan said, `Well, Barcoo, I reckon we've had our last fight. I owe you a hiding, but I don't see how I'm going to pay you.' `Never mind that, Bogan, old man,' says Barcoo. `I'll take it from anyone yer likes to appoint, if that worries yer; and, look here, Bogan, if I can't fight you I can fight for you—and don't you forget it!' And Barcoo used to lead Bogan round about town in his spare time and tell him all that was going on; and I believe he always had an ear cocked in case someone said a word against Bogan—as if any of the chaps would say a word against a blind man.

“Bogan's case was hushed up. The police told us to fix it up the best way we could. One of the jackaroos, who reckoned that Bogan had swindled him, was a gentleman, and he was the first to throw a quid in the Giraffe's hat when it went round for Bogan, but the other jackaroo was a cur: he said he wanted the money that Bogan had robbed him of. There were two witnesses, but we sent 'em away, and Tom Hall, there, scared the jackaroo. You know Tom was always the best hand we had at persuading witnesses in Union cases to go home to see their mothers.”

“How did you scare that jackaroo, Tom?” I asked.

“Tell you about it some other time,” said Tom.

“Well,” said Mitchell, “Bogan was always a good woolsorter, so, next shearing, old Baldy Thompson—(you know Baldy Thompson, Harry, of West-o'-Sunday Station)—Baldy had a talk with some of the chaps, and took Bogan out in his buggy with him to West-o'-Sunday. Bogan would sit at the end of the rolling tables, in the shearing-shed, with a boy to hand him the fleeces, and he'd feel a fleece and tell the boy what bin to throw it into; and by and by he began to learn to throw the fleeces into the bins himself. And sometimes Baldy would have a sheep brought to him and get him to feel the fleece and tell him the quality of it. And then again Baldy would talk, just loud enough for Bogan to overhear, and swear that he'd sooner have Bogan, blind as he was, than half a dozen scientific jackaroo experts with all their eyes about them.

“Of course Bogan wasn't worth anything much to Baldy, but Baldy gave him two pounds a week out of his own pocket, and another quid that we made up between us; so he made enough to pull him through the rest of the year.

“It was curious to see how soon he learned to find his way about the hut and manage his tea and tucker. It was a rough shed, but everybody was eager to steer Bogan about—and, in fact, two of them had a fight about it one day. Baldy and all of us—-and especially visitors when they came—were mighty interested in Bogan; and I reckon we were rather proud of having a blind wool-sorter. I reckon Bogan had thirty or forty pairs of eyes watching out for him in case he'd run against something or fall. It irritated him to be messed round too much—he said a baby would never learn to walk if it was held all the time. He reckoned he'd learn more in a year than a man who'd served a lifetime to blindness; but we didn't let him wander much—for fear he'd fall into the big rocky waterhole there, by accident.

“And after the shearing-season Bogan's wife turned up in Bourke—-”

“Bogan's wife!” I exclaimed. “Why, I never knew Bogan was married.”

“Neither did anyone else,” said Mitchell. “But he was. Perhaps that was what accounted for Bogan. Sometimes, in his sober moods, I used to have an idea that there must have been something behind the Bogan to account for him. Perhaps he got trapped—or got married and found out that he'd made a mistake—which is about the worst thing a man can find out—-”

“Except that his wife made the mistake, Mitchell,” said Tom Hall.

“Or that both did,” reflected Mitchell. “Ah, well!—never mind—Bogan had been married two or three years. Maybe he got married when he was on the spree—I knew that he used to send money to someone in Sydney and I suppose it was her. Anyway, she turned up after he was blind. She was a hard-looking woman—just the sort that might have kept a third-rate pub or a sly-grog shop. But you can't judge between husband and wife, unless you've lived in the same house with them—and under the same roofs with their parents right back to Adam for that matter. Anyway, she stuck to Bogan all right; she took a little two-roomed cottage and made him comfortable—she's got a sewing-machine and a mangle and takes in washing and sewing. She brought a carrotty-headed youngster with her, and the first time I saw Bogan sitting on the veranda with that youngster on his knee I thought it was a good thing that he was blind.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because the youngster isn't his,” said Mitchell.

“How do you know that?”

“By the look of it—and by the look on her face, once, when she caught me squinting from the kid's face to Bogan's.”

“And whose was it?” I asked, without thinking.

“How am I to know?” said Mitchell. “It might be yours for all I know—it's ugly enough, and you never had any taste in women. But you mustn't speak of that in Bourke. But there's another youngster coming, and I'll swear that'll be Bogan's all right.

“A curious thing about Bogan is that he's begun to be fidgety about his personal appearance—and you know he wasn't a dood. He wears a collar now, and polishes his boots; he wears elastic-sides, and polishes 'em himself—the only thing is that he blackens over the elastic. He can do many things for himself, and he's proud of it. He says he can see many things that he couldn't see when he had his eyes. You seldom hear him swear, save in a friendly way; he seems much gentler, but he reckons he would stand a show with Barcoo-Rot even now, if Barcoo would stand up in front of him and keep yelling—-”

“By the way,” I asked, “how did Bogan lose the sight of his other eye?”

“Sleeping out in the rain when he was drunk,” said Mitchell. “He got a cold in his eye.” Then he asked, suddenly:

“Did you ever see a blind man cry?”

“No,” I said.

“Well, I have,” said Mitchell.

“You know Bogan wears goggles to hide his eyes—his wife made him do that. The chaps often used to drop round and have a yarn with Bogan and cheer him up, and one evening I was sitting smoking with him, and yarning about old times, when he got very quiet all of a sudden, and I saw a tear drop from under one of his shutters and roll down his cheek. It wasn't the eye he lost saving Campbell—it was the old wall-eye he used to use in the days before he was called 'One-eyed Bogan.' I suppose he thought it was dark and that I couldn't see his face. (There's a good many people in this world who think you can't see because they can't.) It made me feel like I used to feel sometimes in the days when I felt things—-”

“Come on, Mitchell,” said Tom Hall, “you've had enough beer.”

“I think I have,” said Mitchell. “Besides, I promised to send a wire to Jake Boreham to tell him that his mother's dead. Jake's shearing at West-o'-Sunday; shearing won't be over for three or four weeks, and Jake wants an excuse to get away without offending old Baldy and come down and have a fly round with us before the holidays are over.”

Down at the telegraph-office Mitchell took a form and filled it in very carefully: “Jacob Boreham. West-o'-Sunday Station. Bourke. Come home at once. Mother is dead. In terrible trouble. Father dying.—MARY BOREHAM.”

“I think that will do,” said Mitchell. “It ought to satisfy Baldy, and it won't give Jake too much of a shock, because he hasn't got a sister or sister-in-law, and his father and mother's been dead over ten years.”

“Now, if I was running a theatre,” said Mitchell, as we left the office, “I'd give five pounds a night for the face Jake'll have on him when he takes that telegram to Baldy Thompson.”

 
 
 

Back to the Index Page