The Pretty Girl in the Army by Henry Lawson
Now I often sit at Watty's, when the night is very near,
With a head that's full of jingles—and the fumes of bottled
For I always have a fancy that, if I am over there
When the Army prays for Watty, I'm included in the prayer.
It would take a lot of praying, lots of thumping on the drum,
To prepare our sinful, straying, erring souls for Kingdom Come.
But I love my fellow-sinners! and I hope, upon the whole,
That the Army gets a hearing when it prays for Watty's soul.
—When the World was Wide.
The Salvation Army does good business in some of the outback towns
of the great pastoral wastes of Australia. There's the thoughtless,
careless generosity of the bushman, whose pockets don't go far enough
down his trousers (that's what's the matter with him), and who
contributes to anything that comes along, without troubling to ask
questions, like long Bob Brothers of Bourke, who, chancing to be “a
Protestant by rights,” unwittingly subscribed towards the erection of a
new Catholic church, and, being chaffed for his mistake, said:
“Ah, well, I don't suppose it'll matter a hang in the end, anyway it
goes. I ain't got nothink agenst the Roming Carflicks.”
There's the shearer, fresh with his cheque from a cut-out shed,
gloriously drunk and happy, in love with all the world, and ready to
subscribe towards any creed and shout for all hands—including Old Nick
if he happened to come along. There's the shearer, half-drunk and
inclined to be nasty, who has got the wrong end of all things with a
tight grip, and who flings a shilling in the face of out-back
conventionality (as he thinks) by chucking a bob into the Salvation
Army ring. Then he glares round to see if he can catch anybody winking
behind his back. There's the cynical joker, a queer mixture, who
contributes generously and tempts the reformed boozer afterwards.
There's the severe-faced old station-hand—in clean shirt and
neckerchief and white moleskins—in for his annual or semi-annual
spree, who contributes on principle, and then drinks religiously until
his cheque is gone and the horrors are come. There's the shearer,
feeling mighty bad after a spree, and in danger of seeing things when
he tries to go to sleep. He has dropped ten or twenty pounds over bar
counters and at cards, and he now “chucks” a repentant shilling into
the ring, with a very private and rather vague sort of feeling that
something might come of it. There's the stout, contented, good-natured
publican, who tips the Army as if it were a barrel-organ. And there are
others and other reasons—black sheep and ne'er-do-wells—and faint
echoes of other times in Salvation Army tunes.
Bourke, the metropolis of the Great Scrubs, on the banks of the
Darling River, about five hundred miles from Sydney, was suffering from
a long drought when I was there in ninety-two; and the heat may or may
not have been another cause contributing to the success, from a
business point of view, of the Bourke garrison. There was much beer
boozing—and, besides, it was vaguely understood (as most things are
vaguely understood out there in the drought-haze) that the place the
Army came to save us from was hotter than Bourke. We didn't hanker to
go to a hotter place than Bourke. But that year there was an
extraordinary reason for the Army's great financial success there.
She was a little girl, nineteen or twenty, I should judge, the
prettiest girl I ever saw in the Army, and one of the prettiest I've
ever seen out of it. She had the features of an angel, but her
expression was wonderfully human, sweet and sympathetic. Her big grey
eyes were sad with sympathy for sufferers and sinners, and her poke
bonnet was full of bunchy, red-gold hair. Her first appearance was
somewhat dramatic—perhaps the Army arranged it so.
The Army used to pray, and thump the drum, and sing, and take up
collections every evening outside Watty Bothways' Hotel, the Carriers'
Arms. They performed longer and more often outside Watty's than any
other pub in town—perhaps because Watty was considered the most
hopeless publican and his customers the hardest crowd of boozers in
Bourke. The band generally began to play about dusk. Watty would lean
back comfortably in a basket easy-chair on his wide veranda, and clasp
his hands, in a calm, contented way, while the Army banged the drum and
got steam up, and whilst, perhaps, there was a barney going on in the
bar, or a bloodthirsty fight in the backyard. On such occasions there
was something like an indulgent or fatherly expression on his fat and
usually emotionless face. And by and by he'd move his head gently and
doze. The banging and the singing seemed to soothe him, and the
praying, which was often very personal, never seemed to disturb him in
Well, it was about dusk one day; it had been a terrible day, a
hundred and something startling in the shade, but there came a breeze
after sunset. There had been several dozen of buckets of water thrown
on the veranda floor and the ground outside. Watty was seated in his
accustomed place when the Army arrived. There was no barney in the bar
because there was a fight in the backyard, and that claimed the
attention of all the customers.
The Army prayed for Watty and his clients; then a reformed drunkard
started to testify against publicans and all their works. Watty settled
himself comfortably, folded his hands, and leaned back and dozed.
The fight was over, and the chaps began to drop round to the bar.
The man who was saved waved his arms, and danced round and howled.
“Ye-es!” he shouted hoarsely. “The publicans, and boozers, and
gamblers, and sinners may think that Bourke is hot, but hell is a
thousand times hotter! I tell you”
“Oh, Lord!” said Mitchell, the shearer, and he threw a penny into
“Ye-es! I tell you that hell is a million times hotter than Bourke!
I tell you—-”
“Oh, look here,” said a voice from the background, “that won't wash.
Why, don't you know that when the Bourke people die they send back for
The saved brother glared round.
“I hear a freethinker speaking, my friends,” he said. Then, with
sudden inspiration and renewed energy, “I hear the voice of a
freethinker. Show me the face of a freethinker,” he yelled, glaring
round like a hunted, hungry man. “Show me the face of a freethinker,
and I'll tell you what he is.”
Watty hitched himself into a more comfortable position and clasped
his hands on his knee and closed his eyes again.
“Ya-a-a-s!” shrieked the brand. “I tell you, my friends, I can tell
a freethinker by his face. Show me the face of a—-”
At this point there was an interruption. One-eyed, or Wall-eyed,
Bogan, who had a broken nose, and the best side of whose face was
reckoned the ugliest and most sinister—One-eyed Bogan thrust his face
forward from the ring of darkness into the torchlight of salvation. He
had got the worst of a drawn battle; his nose and mouth were bleeding,
and his good eye was damaged.
“Look at my face!” he snarled, with dangerous earnestness. “Look at
my face! That's the face of a freethinker, and I don't care who knows
it. Now! what have you got to say against my face,
The brother drew back. He had been known in the northwest in his
sinful days as “Man-without-a-Shirt,” alias “Shirty,” or “The Dirty
Man,” and was flabbergasted at being recognized in speech. Also, he had
been in a shearing-shed and in a shanty orgy with One-eyed Bogan, and
knew the man.
Now most of the chaps respected the Army, and, indeed, anything that
looked like religion, but the Bogan's face, as representing
free-thought, was a bit too sudden for them. There were sounds on the
opposite side of the ring as from men being smitten repeatedly and
rapidly below the belt, and long Tom Hall and one or two others got
away into the darkness in the background, where Tom rolled helplessly
on the grass and sobbed.
It struck me that Bogan's face was more the result of free speech
than anything else.
The Army was about to pray when the Pretty Girl stepped forward, her
eyes shining with indignation and enthusiasm. She had arrived by the
evening train, and had been standing shrinkingly behind an Army lass of
fifty Australian summers, who was about six feet high, flat and broad,
and had a square face, and a mouth like a joint in boiler plates.
The Pretty Girl stamped her pretty foot on the gravel, and her eyes
flashed in the torchlight.
“You ought to be ashamed of yourselves,” she said. “Great big men
like you to be going on the way you are. If you were ignorant or poor,
as I've seen people, there might be some excuse for you. Haven't you
got any mothers, or sisters, or wives to think of? What sort of a life
is this you lead? Drinking, and gambling, and fighting, and swearing
your lives away! Do you ever think of God and the time when you were
children? Why don't you make homes? Look at that man's face!” (she
pointed suddenly at Bogan, who collapsed and sidled behind his mates
out of the light). “Look at that man's face! Is it a face for a
Christian? And you help and encourage him to fight. You're worse than
he is. Oh, it's brutal. It's—it's wicked. Great big men like you, you
ought to be ashamed of yourselves.”
Long Bob Brothers—about six-foot-four—the longest and most
innocent there, shrunk down by the wall and got his inquiring face out
of the light. The Pretty Girl fluttered on for a few moments longer,
greatly excited, and then stepped back, seemingly much upset, and was
taken under the wing of the woman with the boiler-plate mouth.
It was a surprise, and very sudden. Bogan slipped round to the
backyard, and was seen bathing his battered features at the pump. The
rest wore the expression of men who knew that something unusual has
happened, but don't know what, and are waiting vacantly for
developments.—Except Tom Hall, who had recovered and returned. He
stood looking over the head of the ring of bushmen, and apparently
taking the same critical interest in the girl as he would in a
fight—his expression was such as a journalist might wear who is
getting exciting copy.
The Army had it all their own way for the rest of the evening, and
made a good collection. The Pretty Girl stood smiling round with
shining eyes as the bobs and tanners dropped in, and then, being shoved
forward by the flat woman, she thanked us sweetly, and said we were
good fellows, and that she was sorry for some things she'd said to us.
Then she retired, fluttering and very much flushed, and hid herself
behind the hard woman—who, by the way, had an excrescence on her upper
lip which might have stood for a rivet.
Presently the Pretty Girl came from behind the big woman and stood
watching things with glistening eyes. Some of the chaps on the opposite
side of the ring moved a little to one side and all were careful not to
meet her eye—not to be caught looking at her—lest she should be
embarrassed. Watty had roused himself a little at the sound of a
strange voice in the Army (and such a clear, sweet voice too!) and had
a look; then he settled back peacefully again, but it was noticed that
he didn't snore that evening.
And when the Army prayed, the Pretty Girl knelt down with the rest
on the gravel. One or two tall bushmen bowed their heads as if they had
to, and One-eyed Bogan, with the blood washed from his face, stood with
his hat off, glaring round to see if he could catch anyone sniggering.
Mitchell, the shearer, said afterwards that the whole business made
him feel for the moment like he felt sometimes in the days when he used
to feel things.
The town discussed the Pretty Girl in the Army that night and for
many days thereafter, but no one could find out who she was or where
she belonged to—except that she came from Sydney last. She kept her
secret, if she had one, very close—or else the other S.-A. women were
not to be pumped. She lived in skillion-rooms at the back of the big
weather-board Salvation Army barracks with two other “lassies,” who did
washing and sewing and nursing, and went shabby, and half starved
themselves, and were baked in the heat, like scores of women in the
bush, and even as hundreds of women, suffering from religious mania,
slave and stint in city slums, and neglect their homes, husbands and
children—for the glory of Booth.
The Pretty Girl was referred to as Sister Hannah by the Army people,
and came somehow to be known by sinners as “Miss Captain.” I don't know
whether that was her real name or what rank she held in the Army, if
indeed she held any.
She sold War Crys, and the circulation doubled in a day.
One-eyed Bogan, being bailed up unexpectedly, gave her “half a caser"
for a Cry, and ran away without the paper or the change. Jack
Mitchell bought a Cry for the first time in his life, and read
it. He said he found some of the articles intensely realistic, and many
of the statements were very interesting. He said he read one or two
things in the Cry that he didn't know before. Tom Hall, taken
unawares, bought three Crys from the Pretty Girl, and blushed to
find it fame.
Little Billy Woods, the Labourers' Union secretary—who had a poetic
temperament and more than the average bushman's reverence for higher
things—Little Billy Woods told me in a burst of confidence that he
generally had two feelings, one after the other, after encountering
that girl. One was that unfathomable far-away feeling of loneliness and
longing, that comes at odd times to the best of married men, with the
best of wives and children—as Billy had. The other feeling, which came
later on, and was a reaction in fact, was the feeling of a man who
thinks he's been twisted round a woman's little finger for the benefit
of somebody else. Billy said that he couldn't help being reminded by
the shy, sweet smile and the shy, sweet “thank you” of the Pretty Girl
in the Army, of the shy, sweet smile and the shy, sweet gratitude of a
Sydney private barmaid, who had once roped him in, in the days before
he was married. Then he'd reckon that the Army lassie had been sent out
back to Bourke as a business speculation.
Tom Hall was inclined to reckon so too—but that was after he'd been
chaffed for a month about the three War Crys.
The Pretty Girl was discussed from psychological points of view; not
forgetting the sex problem. Donald Macdonald—shearer, union leader and
labour delegate to other colonies on occasion—Donald Macdonald said
that whenever he saw a circle of plain or ugly, dried-up women or girls
round a shepherd, evangelist or a Salvation Army drum, he'd say
“sexually starved!” They were hungry for love. Religious mania was
sexual passion dammed out of its course. Therefore he held that
morbidly religious girls were the most easily seduced.
But this couldn't apply to Pretty Girl in the Army. Mitchell
reckoned that she'd either had a great sorrow—a lot of trouble, or a
disappointment in love (the “or” is Mitchell's); but they couldn't see
how a girl like her could possibly be disappointed in love—unless the
chap died or got into jail for life. Donald decided that her soul had
been starved somehow.
Mitchell suggested that it might be only a craving for notoriety,
the same thing that makes women and girls go amongst lepers, and out to
the battlefield, and nurse ugly pieces of men back to life again; the
same thing that makes some women and girls swear ropes round men's
necks. The Pretty Girl might be the daughter of well-to-do people—even
aristocrats, said Mitchell—she was pretty enough and spoke well
enough. “Every woman's a barmaid at heart,” as the Bulletin puts
it, said Mitchell.
But not even one of the haggard women of Bourke ever breathed a
suspicion of scandal against her. They said she was too good and too
pretty to be where she was. You see it was not as in an old settled
town where hags blacken God's world with their tongues. Bourke was just
a little camping town in a big land, where free, good-hearted
democratic Australians, and the best of black sheep from the old world
were constantly passing through; where husband's were often obliged to
be away from home for twelve months, and the storekeepers had to trust
the people, and mates trusted each other, and the folks were
broad-minded. The mind's eye had a wide range.
After her maiden speech the Pretty Girl seldom spoke, except to
return thanks for collections—and she never testified. She had a sweet
voice and used to sing.
Now, if I were writing pure fiction, and were not cursed with an
obstinate inclination to write the truth, I might say that, after the
advent of the Pretty Girl, the morals of Bourke improved suddenly and
wonderfully. That One-eyed Bogan left off gambling and drinking and
fighting and swearing, and put on a red coat and testified and fought
the devil only; that Mitchell dropped his mask of cynicism; that Donald
Macdonald ate no longer of the tree of knowledge and ceased to worry
himself with psychological problems, and was happy; and that Tom Hall
was no longer a scoffer. That no one sneaked round through the scrub
after dusk to certain necessary establishments in weather-board
cottages on the outskirts of the town; and that the broad-minded and
obliging ladies thereof became Salvation Army lassies.
But none of these things happened. Drunks quieted down or got out of
the way if they could when the Pretty Girl appeared on the scene,
fights and games of “headin' 'em” were adjourned, and weak, ordinary
language was used for the time being, and that was about all.
Nevertheless, most of the chaps were in love with that Pretty Girl
in the Army—all those who didn't worship her privately. Long
Bob Brothers hovered round in hopes, they said, that she'd meet with an
accident—get run over by a horse or something—and he'd have to carry
her in; he scared the women at the barracks by dropping firewood over
the fence after dark. Barcoo-Rot, the meanest man in the back country,
was seen to drop a threepenny bit into the ring, and a rumour was
industriously circulated (by Tom Hall) to the effect that One-eyed
Bogan intended to shave and join the Army disguised as a lassie.
Handsome Jake Boreham (alias Bore-'em), a sentimental shearer
from New Zealand, who had read Bret Harte, made an elaborate attempt
for the Pretty Girl, by pretending to be going to the dogs headlong,
with an idea of first winning her sorrowful interest and sympathy, and
then making an apparently hard struggle to straighten up for her sake.
He related his experience with the cheerful and refreshing absence of
reserve which was characteristic of him, and is of most bushmen.
“I'd had a few drinks,” he said, “and was having a spell under a gum
by the river, when I saw the Pretty Girl and another Army woman coming
down along the bank. It was a blazing hot day. I thought of Sandy and
the Schoolmistress in Bret Harte, and I thought it would be a good idea
to stretch out in the sun and pretend to be helpless; so I threw my hat
on the ground and lay down, with my head in the blazing heat, in the
most graceful position I could get at, and I tried to put a look of
pained regret on my face, as if I was dreaming of my lost boyhood and
me mother. I thought, perhaps, the Girl would pity me, and I felt sure
she'd stoop and pick up my hat and put it gently over my poor troubled
head. Then I was going to become conscious for a moment, and look
hopelessly round, and into her eyes, and then start and look sorrowful
and ashamed, and stagger to my feet, taking off my hat like the Silver
King does to the audience when he makes his first appearance drunk on
the stage; and then I was going to reel off, trying to walk as straight
as I could. And next day I was going to clean up my teeth and nails and
put on a white shirt, and start to be a new man henceforth.
“Well, as I lay there with my eyes shut, I heard the footsteps come
up and stop, and heard 'em whisper, and I thought I heard the Pretty
Girl say `Poor fellow!' or something that sounded like that; and just
then I got a God-almighty poke in the ribs with an umbrella—at least I
suppose it was aimed for my ribs; but women are bad shots, and the
point of the umbrella caught me in the side, just between the bottom
rib and the hip-bone, and I sat up with a click, like the blade of a
“The other lassie was the big square-faced woman. The Pretty Girl
looked rather more frightened and disgusted than sentimental, but she
had plenty of pluck, and soon pulled herself together. She said I ought
to be ashamed of myself, a great big man like me, lying there in the
dust like a drunken tramp—an eyesore and a disgrace to all the world.
She told me to go to my camp, wherever that was, and sleep myself
sober. The square-jawed woman said I looked like a fool sitting there.
I did feel ashamed, and I reckon I did look like a fool—a man
generally does in a fix like that. I felt like one, anyway. I got up
and walked away, and it hurt me so much that I went over to West Bourke
and went to the dogs properly for a fortnight, and lost twenty quid on
a game of draughts against a blindfold player. Now both those women had
umbrellas, but I'm not sure to this day which of 'em it was that gave
me the poke. It wouldn't have mattered much anyway. I haven't borrowed
one of Bret Harte's books since.”
Jake reflected a while. “The worst of it was,” he said ruefully,
“that I wasn't sure that the girl or the woman didn't see through me,
and that worried me a bit. You never can tell how much a woman
suspects, and that's the worst of 'em. I found that out after I got
The Pretty Girl in the Army grew pale and thin and bigger-eyed. The
women said it was a shame, and that she ought to be sent home to her
friends, wherever they were. She was laid up for two or three days, and
some of the women cooked delicacies and handed 'em over the barracks
fence, and offered to come in and nurse her; but the square woman took
washing home and nursed the girl herself.
The Pretty Girl still sold War Crys and took up collections,
but in a tired, listless, half shamed-faced way. It was plain that she
was tired of the Army, and growing ashamed of the Salvationists.
Perhaps she had come to see things too plainly.
You see, the Army does no good out back in Australia—except from a
business point of view. It is simply there to collect funds for hungry
headquarters. The bushmen are much too intelligent for the Army. There
was no poverty in Bourke—as it is understood in the city; there was
plenty of food; and camping out and roughing it come natural to the
bushmen. In cases of sickness, accident, widows or orphans, the chaps
sent round the hat, without banging a drum or testifying, and that was
all right. If a chap was hard up he borrowed a couple of quid from his
mate. If a strange family arrived without a penny, someone had to fix
'em up, and the storekeepers helped them till the man got work. For the
rest, we work out our own salvation, or damnation—as the case is—in
the bush, with no one to help us, except a mate, perhaps. The Army
can't help us, but a fellow-sinner can, sometimes, who has been through
it all himself. The Army is only a drag on the progress of Democracy,
because it attracts many who would otherwise be aggressive
Democrats—and for other reasons.
Besides, if we all reformed the Army would get deuced little from us
for its city mission.
The Pretty Girl went to service for a while with the stock
inspector's wife, who could get nothing out of her concerning herself
or her friends. She still slept at the barracks, stuck to the Army, and
attended its meetings.
It was Christmas morning, and there was peace in Bourke and goodwill
towards all men. There hadn't been a fight since yesterday evening, and
that had only been a friendly one, to settle an argument concerning the
past ownership, and, at the same time, to decide as to the future
possession of a dog.
It had been a hot, close night, and it ended in a suffocating
sunrise. The free portion of the male population were in the habit of
taking their blankets and sleeping out in “the Park,” or town square,
in hot weather; the wives and daughters of the town slept, or tried to
sleep, with bedroom windows and doors open, while husbands lay outside
on the verandas. I camped in a corner of the park that night, and the
sun woke me.
As I sat up I caught sight of a swagman coming along the white,
dusty road from the direction of the bridge, where the cleared road ran
across west and on, a hundred and thirty miles, through the barren,
broiling mulga scrubs, to Hungerford, on the border of Sheol. I knew
that swagman's walk. It was John Merrick (Jack Moonlight), one-time
Shearers' Union secretary at Coonamble, and generally “Rep” (shearers'
representative) in any shed where he sheared. He was a “better-class
shearer,” one of those quiet, thoughtful men of whom there are
generally two or three in the roughest of rough sheds, who have great
influence, and give the shed a good name from a Union point of view.
Not quiet with the resentful or snobbish reserve of the educated
Englishman, but with a sad or subdued sort of quietness that has force
in it—as if they fully realized that their intelligence is much higher
than the average, that they have suffered more real trouble and
heartbreak than the majority of their mates, and that their mates
couldn't possibly understand them if they spoke as they felt and
couldn't see things as they do—yet men who understand and are
intensely sympathetic in their loneliness and sensitive reserve.
I had worked in a shed with Jack Moonlight, and had met him in
Sydney, and to be mates with a bushman for a few weeks is to know him
well—anyway, I found it so. He had taken a trip to Sydney the
Christmas before last, and when he came back there was something
wanting. He became more silent, he drank more, and sometimes alone, and
took to smoking heavily. He dropped his mates, took little or no
interest in Union matters, and travelled alone, and at night.
The Australian bushman is born with a mate who sticks to him through
life—like a mole. They may be hundreds of miles apart sometimes, and
separated for years, yet they are mates for life. A bushman may have
many mates in his roving, but there is always one his mate, “my mate;"
and it is common to hear a bushman, who is, in every way, a true mate
to the man he happens to be travelling with, speak of his mate's
mate—“Jack's mate”—who might be in Klondyke or South Africa. A
bushman has always a mate to comfort him and argue with him, and work
and tramp and drink with him, and lend him quids when he's hard up, and
call him a b—-fool, and fight him sometimes; to abuse him to his face
and defend his name behind his back; to bear false witness and perjure
his soul for his sake; to lie to the girl for him if he's single, and
to his wife if he's married; to secure a “pen” for him at a shed where
he isn't on the spot, or, if the mate is away in New Zealand or South
Africa, to write and tell him if it's any good coming over this way.
And each would take the word of the other against all the world, and
each believes that the other is the straightest chap that ever lived-"a
white man!” And next best to your old mate is the man you're tramping,
riding, working, or drinking with.
About the first thing the cook asks you when you come along to a
shearers' hut is, “Where's your mate?” I travelled alone for a while
one time, and it seemed to me sometimes, by the tone of the inquiry
concerning the whereabouts of my mate, that the bush had an idea that I
might have done away with him and that the thing ought to be looked
When a man drops mateship altogether and takes to “hatting” in the
bush, it's a step towards a convenient tree and a couple of
saddle-straps buckled together.
I had an idea that I, in a measure, took the place of Jack
Moonlight's mate about this time.
“'Ullo, Jack!” I hailed as he reached the corner of the park.
“Good morning, Harry!” said Jack, as if he'd seen me last yesterday
evening instead of three months ago. “How are you getting on?”
We walked together towards the Union Office, where I had a camp in
the skillion-room at the back. Jack was silent. But there's no place in
the world where a man's silence is respected so much (within reasonable
bounds) as in the Australian bush, where every man has a past more or
less sad, and every man a ghost—perhaps from other lands that we know
nothing of, and speaking in a foreign tongue. They say in the bush,
“Oh, Jack's only thinking!” And they let him think. Generally you want
to think as much as your mate; and when you've been together some time
it's quite natural to travel all day without exchanging a word. In the
morning Jim says, “Well, I think I made a bargain with that horse,
Bill,” and some time late in the afternoon, say twenty miles farther
on, it occurs to Bill to “rejoin,” “Well, I reckon the blank as sold it
to you had yer proper!”
I like a good thinking mate, and I believe that thinking in company
is a lot more healthy and more comfortable, as well as less risky, than
On the way to the Union Office Jack and I passed the Royal Hotel,
and caught a glimpse, through the open door, of a bedroom off the
veranda, of the landlord's fresh, fair, young Sydney girl-wife,
sleeping prettily behind the mosquito-net, like a sleeping beauty,
while the boss lay on a mattress outside on the veranda, across the
open door. (He wasn't necessary for publication, but an evidence of
I glanced at Jack for a grin, but didn't get one. He wore the pained
expression of a man who is suddenly hit hard with the thought of
something that might have been.
I boiled the billy and fried a pound of steak.
“Been travelling all night, .Tack?” I asked.
“Yes,” said Jack. “I camped at Emus yesterday.”
He didn't eat. I began to reckon that he was brooding too much for
his health. He was much thinner than when I saw him last, and pretty
haggard, and he had something of the hopeless, haggard look that I'd
seen in Tom Hall's eyes after the last big shearing strike, when Tom
had worked day and night to hold his mates up all through the hard,
bitter struggle, and the battle was lost.
“Look here, Jack!” I said at last. “What's up?”
“Nothing's up, Harry,” said Jack. “What made you think so?”
“Have you got yourself into any fix?” I asked. “What's the
Hungerford track been doing to you?”
“No, Harry,” he said, “I'm all right. How are you?” And he pulled
some string and papers and a roll of dusty pound notes from his pocket
and threw them on the bunk.
I was hard up just then, so I took a note and the billy to go to the
Royal and get some beer. I thought the beer might loosen his mind a
“Better take a couple of quid,” said Jack. “You look as if you want
some new shirts and things.” But a pound was enough for me, and I think
he had reason to be glad of that later on, as it turned out.
“Anything new in Bourke?” asked Jack as we drank the beer.
“No,” I said, “not a thing—except there's a pretty girl in the
“And it's about time,” growled Jack.
“Now, look here, Jack,” I said presently, “what's come over you
lately at all? I might be able to help you. It's not a bit of use
telling me that there's nothing the matter. When a man takes to
brooding and travelling alone it's a bad sign, and it will end in a
leaning tree and a bit of clothes-line as likely as not. Tell me what
the trouble is. Tell us all about it. There's a ghost, isn't there?”
“Well, I suppose so,” said Jack. “We've all got our ghosts for that
matter. But never you mind, Harry; I'm all right. I don't go
interfering with your ghosts, and I don't see what call you've got to
come haunting mine. Why, it's as bad as kicking a man's dog.” And he
gave the ghost of a grin.
“Tell me, Jack,” I said, “is it a woman?”
“Yes,” said Jack, “it's a woman. Now, are you satisfied?”
“Is it a girl?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said.
So there was no more to be said. I'd thought it might have been a
lot worse than a girl. I'd thought he might have got married somewhere,
sometime, and made a mess of it.
We had dinner at Billy Woods's place, and a sensible Christmas
dinner it was—everything cold, except the vegetables, with the hose
going on the veranda in spite of the by-laws, and Billy's wife and her
sister, fresh and cool-looking and jolly, instead of being hot and
brown and cross like most Australian women who roast themselves over a
blazing fire in a hot kitchen on a broiling day, all the morning, to
cook scalding plum pudding and redhot roasts, for no other reason than
that their grandmothers used to cook hot Christmas dinners in England.
And in the afternoon we went for a row on the river, pulling easily
up the anabranch and floating down with the stream under the shade of
the river timber—instead of going to sleep and waking up helpless and
soaked in perspiration, to find the women with headaches, as many do on
Christmas Day in Australia.
Mrs Woods tried to draw Jack out, but it was no use, and in the
evening he commenced drinking, and that made Billy uneasy. “I'm afraid
Jack's on the wrong track,” he said.
After tea most of us collected about Watty's veranda. Most things
that happened in Bourke happened at Watty's pub, or near it.
If a horse bolted with a buggy or cart, he was generally stopped
outside Watty's, which seemed to suggest, as Mitchell said, that most
of the heroes drank at Watty's—also that the pluckiest men were found
amongst the hardest drinkers. (But sometimes the horse fetched up
against Watty's sign and lamppost—which was a stout one of
“iron-bark”—and smashed the trap.) Then Watty's was the Carriers'
Arms, a union pub; and Australian teamsters are mostly hard cases:
while there was something in Watty's beer which made men argue
fluently, and the best fights came off in his backyard. Watty's dogs
were the most quarrelsome in town, and there was a dog-fight there
every other evening, followed as often as not by a man-fight. If a
bushman's horse ran away with him the chances were that he'd be thrown
on to Watty's veranda, if he wasn't pitched into the bar; and victims
of accidents, and sick, hard-up shearers, were generally carried to
Watty's pub, as being the most convenient and comfortable for them.
Mitchell denied that it was generosity or good nature on Watty's part,
he said it was all business—advertisement. Watty knew what he was
doing. He was very deep, was Watty. Mitchell further hinted that if he
was sick he wouldn't be carried to Watty's, for Watty knew what
a thirsty business a funeral was. Tom Hall reckoned that Watty bribed
the Army on the quiet.
I was sitting on a stool along the veranda wall with Donald
Macdonald, Bob Brothers (the Giraffe) and Mitchell, and one or two
others, and Jack Moonlight sat on the floor with his back to the wall
and his hat well down over his eyes. The Army came along at the usual
time, but we didn't see the Pretty Girl at first—she was a bit late.
Mitchell said he liked to be at Watty's when the Army prayed and the
Pretty Girl was there; he had no objection to being prayed for by a
girl like that, though he reckoned that nothing short of a real angel
could save him now. He said his old grandmother used to pray for him
every night of her life and three times on Sunday, with Christmas Day
extra when Christmas Day didn't fall on a Sunday; but Mitchell reckoned
that the old lady couldn't have had much influence because he became
more sinful every year, and went deeper in ways of darkness, until
finally he embarked on a career of crime.
The Army prayed, and then a thin “ratty” little woman bobbed up in
the ring; she'd gone mad on religion as women do on woman's rights and
hundreds of other things. She was so skinny in the face, her jaws so
prominent, and her mouth so wide, that when she opened it to speak it
was like a ventriloquist's dummy and you could almost see the cracks
open down under her ears.
“They say I'm cracked!” she screamed in a shrill, cracked voice.
“But I'm not cracked—I'm only cracked on the Lord Jesus Christ! That's
all I'm cracked on—-.” And just then the Amen man of the Army—the
Army groaner we called him, who was always putting both feet in
it—just then he blundered forward, rolled up his eyes, threw his hands
up and down as if he were bouncing two balls, and said, with deep
“Thank the Lord she's got a crack in the right place!”
Tom Hall doubled up, and most of the other sinners seemed to think
there was something very funny about it. And the Army, too, seemed
struck with an idea that there was something wrong somewhere, for they
started a hymn.
A big American negro, who'd been a night watchman in Sydney, stepped
into the ring and waved his arms and kept time, and as he got excited
he moved his hands up and down rapidly, as if he was hauling down a
rope in a great hurry through a pulley block above, and he kept saying,
“Come down, Lord!” all through the hymn, like a bass accompaniment,
“Come down, Lord; come down, Lord; come down, Lord; come down, Lord!”
and the quicker be said it the faster he hauled. He was as good as a
drum. And, when the hymn was over, he started to testify.
“My frens!” he said, “I was once black as der coals in der mined! I
was once black as der ink in der ocean of sin! But now—thank an' bless
the Lord!—I am whiter dan der dribben snow!”
Tom Hall sat down on the edge of the veranda and leaned his head
against a post and cried. He had contributed a bob this evening, and he
was getting his money's worth.
Then the Pretty Girl arrived and was pushed forward into the ring.
She looked thinner and whiter than I'd ever seen her, and there was a
feverish brightness in her eyes that I didn't like.
“Men!” she said, “this is Christmas Day-.” I didn't hear any more
for, at the sound of her voice, Jack Moonlight jumped up as if he'd sat
on a baby. He started forward, stared at her for a moment as if he
couldn't believe his eyes, and then said, “Hannah!” short and sharp.
She started as if she was shot, gave him a wild look, and stumbled
forward; the next moment he had her in his arms and was steering for
the private parlour.
I heard Mrs Bothways calling for water and smelling-salts; she was
as fat as Watty, and very much like him in the face, but she was
emotional and sympathetic. Then presently I heard, through the open
window, the Pretty Girl say to Jack, “Oh, Jack, Jack! Why did you go
away and leave me like that? It was cruel!”
“But you told me to go, Hannah,” said Jack.
“That-that didn't make any difference. Why didn't you write?” she
“Because you never wrote to me, Hannah,” he said.
“That—that was no excuse!” she said. “It was so k-k-k-cruel of you,
Mrs Bothways pulled down the window. A new-comer asked Watty what
the trouble was, and he said that the Army girl had only found her
chap, or husband, or long-lost brother or something, but the missus was
looking after the business; then he dozed again.
And then we adjourned to the Royal and took the Army with us.
“That's the way of it,” said Donald Macdonald. “With a woman it's
love or religion; with a man it's love or the devil.”
“Or with a man,” said Mitchell, presently, “it's love and the devil
both, sometimes, Donald.”
I looked at Mitchell hard, but for all his face expressed he might
only have said, “I think it's going to rain.”