Triangles of Life and Other Stories

His Mistake

Henry Lawson

THERE is one Chinaman the less in Australia by a mistake that was purely aboriginal. Perhaps he is missed in China. Ted Butler brings the account of the tragedy from Northern Queensland or somewhere.

The old shepherd had died, or got drunk, or got rats, or got the sack, or a legacy, or got sane, or chucked it, or got lost, or found, or a wife, or had cut his throat, or hanged himself, or got into Parliament or the peerage—anyway, anything had happened to him that can happen to an old shepherd or any other man in the bush, and he wasn’t there.

Then a Chinaman came from nowhere, with nothing, apparently, save a suit of dungaree, basket boots and hat, and a smile that was three thousand years old. He looked as if he had fallen out of China last night, and had been blown all the way in a dust storm, and the cracked sweat and dust made him look more like an ancient Joss. He had no English, but understood the boss as new chum Chinamen always understand bosses, or as bosses can always make them understand.

“You want a job?”

“Yel,” said the Chinaman.

“Can you shepherd sheep?”


“You saw that hut along the track, where there were some sheep in a yard?”


“You go back there, and put the sheep out in the morning, and put them in at night.”


“By and by I send you some ration.”


“Well, stop yellin’ and get.”


“Get—go back.”

“Yel.” And China toiled and ploughed through the dust towards the hut.

Presently Billy, the black boy, came riding home.

“I say, Billy.”

“Yahs, boss.”

“Don’t take the saddle off yet. I want you to take some tucker along to the Mile Hut, and give it to the new shepherd you’ll see there. Go to the storekeeper, and he’ll give you a bag of ration.”

“Yahs, boss.”

But in about three-quarters of an hour Billy was back, and he brought the rations back with him.

“Wotinel, now, Billy? Didn’t you see the new shepherd?”

“No, boss.”

“Didn’t you see anybody there at the hut?”

“No, boss.”

“——— it. Didn’t you see a Chinaman there?”

“No, boss. What like it that phella?”

“X X X!———!!! Didn’t you see a man—or a —— woman if you like? Didn’t yer seen any double dash thing?”

“No, boss.” Then, as an afterthought, “I see it something. Yellow, like it dingo. Tail like it yarramin.” (A horse. John had his pigtail down and loose, and was dressing it when Billy happened.) “Talk it like a plurry cockatoo. Bin killit sheep, mine think it. I bin kill it!”

I suppose they buried the Chow—and the boss carefully gave Billy an elementary lesson on the Races of Man before another blew out of China.

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