On the Track

Meeting Old Mates - II.

Jack Ellis

Henry Lawson

THINGS are going well with you. You have escaped from “the track”, so to speak, and are in a snug, comfortable little billet in the city. Well, while doing the block you run against an old mate of other days—very other days—call him Jack Ellis. Things have gone hard with Jack. He knows you at once, but makes no advance towards a greeting; he acts as though he thinks you might cut him—which, of course, if you are a true mate, you have not the slightest intention of doing. His coat is yellow and frayed, his hat is battered and green, his trousers “gone” in various places, his linen very cloudy, and his boots burst and innocent of polish. You try not to notice these things —or rather, not to seem to notice them—but you cannot help doing so, and you are afraid he’ll notice that you see these things, and put a wrong construction on it. How men will misunderstand each other! You greet him with more than the necessary enthusiasm. In your anxiety to set him at his ease and make him believe that nothing—not even money—can make a difference in your friendship, you over-act the business; and presently you are afraid that he’ll notice that too, and put a wrong construction on it. You wish that your collar was not so clean, nor your clothes so new. Had you known you would meet him, you would have put on some old clothes for the occasion.

You are both embarrassed, but it is you who feel ashamed— you are almost afraid to look at him lest he’ll think you are looking at his shabbiness. You ask him in to have a drink, but he doesn’t respond so heartily as you wish, as he did in the old days; he doesn’t like drinking with anybody when he isn’t “fixed”, as he calls it— when he can’t shout.

It didn’t matter in the old days who held the money so long as there was plenty of “stuff” in the camp. You think of the days when Jack stuck to you through thick and thin. You would like to give him money now, but he is so proud; he always was; he makes you mad with his beastly pride. There wasn’t any pride of that sort on the track or in the camp in those days; but times have changed—your lives have drifted too widely apart— you have taken different tracks since then; and Jack, without intending to, makes you feel that it is so.

You have a drink, but it isn’t a success; it falls flat, as far as Jack is concerned; he won’t have another; he doesn’t “feel on”, and presently he escapes under plea of an engagement, and promises to see you again.

And you wish that the time was come when no one could have more or less to spend than another.

P.S.—I met an old mate of that description once, and so successfully persuaded him out of his beastly pride that he borrowed two pounds off me till Monday. I never got it back since, and I want it badly at the present time. In future I’ll leave old mates with their pride unimpaired.

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