Mrs Myers settled herself to enjoy life comfortably and happily, at the fixed age of thirty-nine, for the next seven years or so. She was a pleasant-faced dumpling, who had been baked solid in the droughts of Out-Back without losing her good looks, and had put up with a hard life, and Myers, all those years without losing her good humour and nature. Probably, had her husband been the opposite kind of man, she would have been different— haggard, bad-tempered, and altogether impossible—for of such is woman. But then it might be taken into consideration that she had been practically a widow during at least the last five years of her husband’s alleged life.
Mrs Myers was reckoned a good catch in the district, but it soon seemed that she was not to be caught.
‘It would be a grand thing,’ one of the periodical boozers of Tinned Dog would say to his mates, ‘for one of us to have his name up on a pub.; it would save a lot of money.’
‘It wouldn’t save you anything, Bill, if I got it,’ was the retort. ‘You needn’t come round chewing my lug then. I’d give you one drink and no more.’
The publican at Dead Camel, station managers, professional shearers, even one or two solvent squatters and promising cockatoos, tried their luck in vain. In answer to the suggestion that she ought to have a man to knock round and look after things, she retorted that she had had one, and was perfectly satisfied. Few trav’lers on those tracks but tried ’a bit of bear-up’ in that direction, but all to no purpose. Chequemen knocked down their cheques manfully at the Half-way House—to get courage and goodwill and ‘put it off’ till, at the last moment, they offered themselves abjectly to the landlady; which was worse than bad judgment on their part—it was very silly, and she told them so.
One or two swore off, and swore to keep straight; but she had no faith in them, and when they found that out, it hurt their feelings so much that they ‘broke out’ and went on record-breaking sprees.
About the end of each shearing the sign was touched up, with an extra coat of paint on the ‘Margaret’, whereat suitors looked hopeless.
One or two of the rejected died of love in the horrors in the Big Scrub— anyway, the verdict was that they died of love aggravated by the horrors. But the climax was reached when a Queensland shearer, seizing the opportunity when the mate, whose turn it was to watch him, fell asleep, went down to the yard and hanged himself on the butcher’s gallows— having first removed his clothes, with some drink-lurid idea of leaving the world as naked as he came into it. He climbed the pole, sat astride on top, fixed the rope to neck and bar, but gave a yell— a yell of drunken triumph—before he dropped, and woke his mates.
They cut him down and brought him to. Next day he apologised to Mrs Myers, said, ‘Ah, well! So long!’ to the rest, and departed— cured of drink and love apparently. The verdict was that the blanky fool should have dropped before he yelled; but she was upset and annoyed, and it began to look as though, if she wished to continue to live on happily and comfortably for a few years longer at the fixed age of thirty-nine, she would either have to give up the pub. or get married.
Her fame was carried far and wide, and she became a woman whose name was mentioned with respect in rough shearing-sheds and huts, and round the camp-fire.
About thirty miles south of Tinned Dog one James Grimshaw, widower— otherwise known as ‘Old Jimmy’, though he was little past middle age— had a small selection which he had worked, let, given up, and tackled afresh (with sinews of war drawn from fencing contracts) ever since the death of his young wife some fifteen years agone. He was a practical, square-faced, clean-shaven, clean, and tidy man, with a certain ‘cleanness’ about the shape of his limbs which suggested the old jockey or hostler. There were two strong theories in connection with Jimmy—one was that he had had a university education, and the other that he couldn’t write his own name. Not nearly such a ridiculous nor simple case Out-Back as it might seem.
Jimmy smoked and listened without comment to the ‘heard tells’ in connection with Mrs Myers, till at last one night, at the end of his contract and over a last pipe, he said quietly, ‘I’ll go up to Tinned Dog next week and try my luck.’
His mates and the casual Jims and Bills were taken too suddenly to laugh, and the laugh having been lost, as Bland Holt, the Australian actor would put it in a professional sense, the audience had time to think, with the result that the joker swung his hand down through an imaginary table and exclaimed—
‘By God! Jimmy’ll do it.’ (Applause.)
So one drowsy afternoon at the time of the year when the breathless day runs on past 7 P.M., Mrs Myers sat sewing in the bar parlour, when a clean-shaved, clean-shirted, clean-neckerchiefed, clean-moleskinned, greased-bluchered—altogether a model or stage swagman came up, was served in the bar by the half-caste female cook, and took his way to the river-bank, where he rigged a small tent and made a model camp.
A couple of hours later he sat on a stool on the verandah, smoking a clean clay pipe. Just before the sunset meal Mrs Myers asked, ‘Is that trav’ler there yet, Mary?’
‘Yes, missus. Clean pfellar that.’
The landlady knitted her forehead over her sewing, as women do when limited for ‘stuff’ or wondering whether a section has been cut wrong— or perhaps she thought of that other who hadn’t been a ‘clean pfellar’. She put her work aside, and stood in the doorway, looking out across the clearing.
‘Good-day, mister,’ she said, seeming to become aware of him for the first time.
‘No, not particular!’
She waited for him to explain. Myers was always explaining when he wasn’t raving. But the swagman smoked on.
‘Have a drink?’ she suggested, to keep her end up.
‘No, thank you, missus. I had one an hour or so ago. I never take more than two a-day—one before breakfast, if I can get it, and a night-cap.’
What a contrast to Myers! she thought.
‘Come and have some tea; it’s ready.’
‘Thank you. I don’t mind if I do.’
They got on very slowly, but comfortably. She got little out of him except the facts that he had a selection, had finished a contract, and was ‘just having a look at the country.’ He politely declined a ‘shake-down’, saying he had a comfortable camp, and preferred being out this weather. She got his name with a ‘by-the-way’, as he rose to leave, and he went back to camp.
He caught a cod, and they had it for breakfast next morning, and got along so comfortable over breakfast that he put in the forenoon pottering about the gates and stable with a hammer, a saw, and a box of nails.
And, well—to make it short—when the big Tinned Dog shed had cut-out, and the shearers struck the Half-way House, they were greatly impressed by a brand-new sign whereon glistened the words:
The last time I saw Mrs Grimshaw she looked about thirty-five.