Their old man had died lately and left them some money; they had men, and only worked in their shops when they felt inclined, or there was a special work to do; they were both first-class tradesmen. I went into the painter’s shop to have a look at a double buggy that Galletly had built for a man who couldn’t pay cash for it when it was finished—and Galletly wouldn’t trust him.
There it stood, behind a calico screen that the coach-painters used to keep out the dust when they were varnishing. It was a first-class piece of work—pole, shafts, cushions, whip, lamps, and all complete. If you only wanted to drive one horse you could take out the pole and put in the shafts, and there you were. There was a tilt over the front seat; if you only wanted the buggy to carry two, you could fold down the back seat, and there you had a handsome, roomy, single buggy. It would go near fifty pounds.
While I was looking at it, Bill Galletly came in, and slapped me on the back.
‘Now, there’s a chance for you, Joe!’ he said. ‘I saw you rubbing your head round that buggy the last time you were in. You wouldn’t get a better one in the colonies, and you won’t see another like it in the district again in a hurry—for it doesn’t pay to build ’em. Now you’re a full-blown squatter, and it’s time you took little Mary for a fly round in her own buggy now and then, instead of having her stuck out there in the scrub, or jolting through the dust in a cart like some old Mother Flourbag.’
He called her ‘little Mary’ because the Galletly family had known her when she was a girl.
I rubbed my head and looked at the buggy again. It was a great temptation.
‘Look here, Joe,’ said Bill Galletly in a quieter tone. ‘I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I’ll let you have the buggy. You can take it out and send along a bit of a cheque when you feel you can manage it, and the rest later on,— a year will do, or even two years. You’ve had a hard pull, and I’m not likely to be hard up for money in a hurry.’
They were good fellows the Galletlys, but they knew their men. I happened to know that Bill Galletly wouldn’t let the man he built the buggy for take it out of the shop without cash down, though he was a big-bug round there. But that didn’t make it easier for me.
Just then Robert Galletly came into the shop. He was rather quieter than his brother, but the two were very much alike.
‘Look here, Bob,’ said Bill; ‘here’s a chance for you to get rid of your harness. Joe Wilson’s going to take that buggy off my hands.’
Bob Galletly put his foot up on a saw-stool, took one hand out of his pockets, rested his elbow on his knee and his chin on the palm of his hand, and bunched up his big beard with his fingers, as he always did when he was thinking. Presently he took his foot down, put his hand back in his pocket, and said to me, ‘Well, Joe, I’ve got a double set of harness made for the man who ordered that damned buggy, and if you like I’ll let you have it. I suppose when Bill there has squeezed all he can out of you I’ll stand a show of getting something. He’s a regular Shylock, he is.’
I pushed my hat forward and rubbed the back of my head and stared at the buggy.
‘Come across to the Royal, Joe,’ said Bob.
But I knew that a beer would settle the business, so I said I’d get the wool up to the station first and think it over, and have a drink when I came back.
I thought it over on the way to the station, but it didn’t seem good enough. I wanted to get some more sheep, and there was the new run to be fenced in, and the instalments on the selections. I wanted lots of things that I couldn’t well do without. Then, again, the farther I got away from debt and hard-upedness the greater the horror I had of it. I had two horses that would do; but I’d have to get another later on, and altogether the buggy would run me nearer a hundred than fifty pounds. Supposing a dry season threw me back with that buggy on my hands. Besides, I wanted a spell. If I got the buggy it would only mean an extra turn of hard graft for me. No, I’d take Mary for a trip to Sydney, and she’d have to be satisfied with that.
I’d got it settled, and was just turning in through the big white gates to the goods-shed when young Black, the squatter, dashed past the station in his big new waggonette, with his wife and a driver and a lot of portmanteaus and rugs and things. They were going to do the grand in Sydney over Christmas. Now it was young Black who was so shook after Mary when she was in service with the Blacks before the old man died, and if I hadn’t come along— and if girls never cared for vagabonds—Mary would have been mistress of Haviland homestead, with servants to wait on her; and she was far better fitted for it than the one that was there. She would have been going to Sydney every holiday and putting up at the old Royal, with every comfort that a woman could ask for, and seeing a play every night. And I’d have been knocking around amongst the big stations Out-Back, or maybe drinking myself to death at the shanties.
The Blacks didn’t see me as I went by, ragged and dusty, and with an old, nearly black, cabbage-tree hat drawn over my eyes. I didn’t care a damn for them, or any one else, at most times, but I had moods when I felt things.
One of Black’s big wool teams was just coming away from the shed, and the driver, a big, dark, rough fellow, with some foreign blood in him, didn’t seem inclined to wheel his team an inch out of the middle of the road. I stopped my horses and waited. He looked at me and I looked at him—hard. Then he wheeled off, scowling, and swearing at his horses. I’d given him a hiding, six or seven years before, and he hadn’t forgotten it. And I felt then as if I wouldn’t mind trying to give some one a hiding.
The goods clerk must have thought that Joe Wilson was pretty grumpy that day. I was thinking of Mary, out there in the lonely hut on a barren creek in the Bush—for it was little better—with no one to speak to except a haggard, worn-out Bushwoman or two, that came to see her on Sunday. I thought of the hardships she went through in the first year— that I haven’t told you about yet; of the time she was ill, and I away, and no one to understand; of the time she was alone with James and Jim sick; and of the loneliness she fought through out there. I thought of Mary, outside in the blazing heat, with an old print dress and a felt hat, and a pair of ’lastic-siders of mine on, doing the work of a station manager as well as that of a housewife and mother. And her cheeks were getting thin, and her colour was going: I thought of the gaunt, brick-brown, saw-file voiced, hopeless and spiritless Bushwomen I knew—and some of them not much older than Mary.
When I went back down into the town, I had a drink with Bill Galletly at the Royal, and that settled the buggy; then Bob shouted, and I took the harness. Then I shouted, to wet the bargain. When I was going, Bob said, ‘Send in that young scamp of a brother of Mary’s with the horses: if the collars don’t fit I’ll fix up a pair of makeshifts, and alter the others.’ I thought they both gripped my hand harder than usual, but that might have been the beer.