For Life and Other Stories

Charley’s Yarn

Steele Rudd

WE were camped on the Bogan—four of us. We had finished tea, and were lying on our blankets, yarning and smoking, and lazily watching the stars. The moon came slowly up over the gloomy timber, and blazed on the surface of the big water-hole.

Each of us, excepting Charley, had told a yarn, and a silence set in—a silence broken only by the steady puffing of pipes. Charley wasn’t a smoker, nor a talker—he was the chump, the “green” one of the party, and, as a rule, we acted charitably towards him on that account.

Miller lazily raised himself upon his elbow and proposed that Charley tell a yarn. He never expected that Charley would. Neither did we. We grinned in silence, and smoked harder.

Charley, who had been sitting on his blanket all the while, shook his head and grinned, too.

“Might as well,” Miller said playfully.

“Only know one,” Charley said, “an’ it’s true.”

The rest of us sat up to look at Charley.

“All the better,” Miller said, kicking Smith on the leg; “that’s the kind we like.”

Charley grinned and shuffled about.

“Go on,” Smith said encouragingly.

Charley began:

“I was only a young fellow at the time.” Then he stopped.

“Well?” Miller said. “Well?”

“Quite a kid,” Charley continued. “We was all workin’ for Brown up North Queensland, and we were out on the station by ourselves. I can remember the humpy we lived in just as if it was only yesterday. And me father and mother, and me brothers and me sister, I can see them now!”

Tears came into Charley’s eyes, and we stopped grinning,

“The blacks was terrible bad,” he went on, mastering his emotion, “and used to kill the cattle and th’ sheep. And we were very frightened of them. One morning early they came and yelled round the house, an’ I remember how father jumped up; an’ I remember, too, how they shoved the door down, and rushed in with tomahawks. Poor Dad! They killed him first, and he fell in the front room.”

Charley paused again, and passed his hand across his eyes. Our hearts went out to him.

He proceeded:

“The way mother screamed is always in me ears. It’s in them now! They killed her in the bed. An’ me sister and me brother, it was awful how they died! I was the only one that got away. A black gin saw me in the bed, and she picked me up and ran with me to the edge of a scrub, hugging me close to her all the time. She meant to keep me for herself. But when the blacks had burnt the house, they came to the scrub where we were. They talked angrily to the old gin when they saw me, but she held me tight. Then two of them took me from her, and, each taking hold of a leg of me, swung me round and round to throw me over the top of a tree. It was awful!”

He paused again, and we could see how pale he was. Poor old Charley!

“But the others stopped them,” he renewed, “and they threw me on the ground same as they would a kangaroo rat. Then they gathered up all the dead wood about, and stacked it in a heap round the foot of a tree, and placed me on the top of it and set fire to it. I’ll never forget that fire. It burned up all round and in blue flames, and forked tongues shot up at me.”

He stopped again. We waited. Charley lay back and gazed at the sky.

“But you haven’t finished?” Miller said. “Didn’t the fire burn you, man?”

Charley raised himself slowly.

“No, it didn’t,” he said. “I was too green to burn.”

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