Two Boys at Grinder Brothers'
by Henry Lawson
An Extract from,
Over the Sliprails
Five or six half-grown larrikins sat on the cemented sill of the
big window of Grinder Bros.' Railway Coach Factory waiting for the
work bell, and one of the number was Bill Anderson — known as
"Carstor Hoil" — a young terror of fourteen or fifteen.
"Here comes Balmy Arvie," exclaimed Bill as a pale, timid-looking
little fellow rounded the corner and stood against the wall by the
door. "How's your parents, Balmy?"
The boy made no answer; he shrank closer to the entrance. The
first bell went.
"What yer got for dinner, Balmy? Bread 'n' treacle?" asked the
young ruffian; then for the edification of his chums he snatched the
boy's dinner bag and emptied its contents on the pavement.
The door opened. Arvie gathered up his lunch, took his
time-ticket, and hurried in.
"Well, Balmy," said one of the smiths as he passed, "what do you
think of the boat race?"
"I think," said the boy, goaded to reply, "that it would be better
if young fellows of this country didn't think so much about racin'
The questioner stared blankly for a moment, then laughed suddenly
in the boy's face, and turned away. The rest grinned.
"Arvie's getting balmier than ever," guffawed young Bill.
"Here, Carstor Hoil," cried one of the smiths' strikers, "how much
oil will you take for a chew of terbaccer?"
"All right; let's see the chew, first."
"Oh, you'll get it. What yer frighten' of? . . . Come on, chaps,
'n' see Bill drink oil."
Bill measured out some machine oil and drank it. He got the
tobacco, and the others got what they called "the fun of seein' Bill
The second bell rang, and Bill went up to the other end of the
shop, where Arvie was already at work sweeping shavings from under a
The young terror seated himself on the end of this bench, drummed
his heels against the leg, and whistled. He was in no hurry, for his
foreman had not yet arrived. He amused himself by lazily tossing
chips at Arvie, who made no protest for a while. "It would be —
better — for this country," said the young terror, reflectively and
abstractedly, cocking his eye at the whitewashed roof beams and
feeling behind him on the bench for a heavier chip — "it would be
better — for this country — if young fellers didn't think so much
about — about — racin' — AND fightin'."
"You let me alone," said Arvie.
"Why, what'll you do?" exclaimed Bill, bringing his eye down with
feigned surprise. Then, in an indignant tone, "I don't mind takin' a
fall out of yer, now, if yer like."
Arvie went on with his work. Bill tossed all the chips within
reach, and then sat carelessly watching some men at work, and
whistling the "Dead March". Presently he asked:
"What's yer name, Balmy?"
"Carn't yer answer a civil question? I'd soon knock the sulks out
of yer if I was yer father."
"My name's Arvie; you know that."
Bill cocked his eye at the roof and thought a while and whistled;
then he said suddenly:
"Say, Balmy, where d'yer live?"
A short, low whistle from Bill. "What house?"
"Garn! What yer giv'nus?"
"I'm telling the truth. What's there funny about it? What do I
want to tell you a lie for?"
"Why, we lived there once, Balmy. Old folks livin'?"
"Mother is; father's dead."
Bill scratched the back of his head, protruded his under lip, and
"I say, Arvie, what did yer father die of?"
"Heart disease. He dropped down dead at his work."
Long, low, intense whistle from Bill. He wrinkled his forehead
and stared up at the beams as if he expected to see something unusual
there. After a while he said, very impressively: "So did mine."
The coincidence hadn't done striking him yet; he wrestled with it
for nearly a minute longer. Then he said:
"I suppose yer mother goes out washin'?"
"'N' cleans offices?"
"So does mine. Any brothers 'n' sisters?"
"Two — one brother 'n' one sister."
Bill looked relieved — for some reason.
"I got nine," he said. "Yours younger'n you?"
"Lot of bother with the landlord?"
"Yes, a good lot."
"Had any bailiffs in yet?"
They compared notes a while longer, and tailed off into a silence
which lasted three minutes and grew awkward towards the end.
Bill fidgeted about on the bench, reached round for a chip, but
recollected himself. Then he cocked his eye at the roof once more and
whistled, twirling a shaving round his fingers the while. At last he
tore the shaving in two, jerked it impatiently from him, and said
"Look here, Arvie! I'm sorry I knocked over yer barrer yesterday."
This knocked Bill out the first round. He rubbed round uneasily on
the bench, fidgeted with the vise, drummed his fingers, whistled, and
finally thrust his hands in his pockets and dropped on his feet.
"Look here, Arvie!" he said in low, hurried tones. "Keep close to
me goin' out to-night, 'n' if any of the other chaps touches yer or
says anything to yer I'll hit 'em!"
Then he swung himself round the corner of a carriage "body" and was
Arvie was late out of the shop that evening. His boss was a
sub-contractor for the coach-painting, and always tried to find twenty
minutes' work for his boys just about five or ten minutes before the
bell rang. He employed boys because they were cheap and he had a lot
of rough work, and they could get under floors and "bogies" with their
pots and brushes, and do all the "priming" and paint the trucks. His
name was Collins, and the boys were called "Collins' Babies". It was
a joke in the shop that he had a "weaning" contract. The boys were
all "over fourteen", of course, because of the Education Act. Some
were nine or ten — wages from five shillings to ten shillings. It
didn't matter to Grinder Brothers so long as the contracts were
completed and the dividends paid. Collins preached in the park every
Sunday. But this has nothing to do with the story.
When Arvie came out it was beginning to rain and the hands had all
gone except Bill, who stood with his back to a verandah-post,
spitting with very fair success at the ragged toe of one boot. He
looked up, nodded carelessly at Arvie, and then made a dive for a
passing lorry, on the end of which he disappeared round the next
corner, unsuspected by the driver, who sat in front with his pipe in
his mouth and a bag over his shoulders.
Arvie started home with his heart and mind pretty full, and a
stronger, stranger aversion to ever going back to the shop again.
This new, unexpected, and unsought-for friendship embarrassed the
poor lonely child. It wasn't welcome.
But he never went back. He got wet going home, and that night he
was a dying child. He had been ill all the time, and Collins was one
"baby" short next day.