The Shearer’s Colt

Part I - Chapter XII

Shifting for Fred

Andrew Barton ‘Banjo’ Paterson

IT IS said that women are variable creatures. But they are models of consistency compared to a millionaire who has drifted, jelly-fish-like, on the tides of shearing, mustering and lamb-marking, varied only by an occasional trip out prospecting. Such a man may roll his swag preparatory to starting on some enterprise in a due northerly direction, and may then meet a friend who persuades him to start on quite another enterprise due south.

Thus is was hardly to be wondered at that when Red Fred was called upon to make the decision to go to England, and to trust himself to a sea he had never even seen, he felt a sort of blind urge to remain where he was. He had settled down comfortably at the hotel and had made friends there. It was, perhaps, the nearest approach to a home that he had ever known since he grew to manhood and he did not like leaving it.

When Fitzroy opened the question of taking the horse to England, he thought that there would be little difficulty about it as Sensation had been bought with that one object in view. He found, however, that since the Leger Red Fred’s views had undergone a decided change.

“I don’t know,” he said when Fitzroy asked him when they would get away. “I don’t know. We’re doing pretty well here ain’t we? Harry says there’s two thousand to be picked up in the weight-for-age races and we’d laugh our heads off if we left a goldmine behind us and went away and bottomed on a duffer. I’ll see about it. I’ve got to go down now and try on a suit o’ clothes at that tailor Charley Stone put me on to. I don’t want you to-day. You can go and see Moira if you like.”

This accorded well with Fitzroy’s own desires, and before long Moira and he were discussing their chances of getting to England. As is usual in such cases, they felt they were actuated by the highest and most altruistic motives, and like boy scouts they felt they must do their one good deed for the day. They must get Red Fred to England whether he wanted to go or not.

“It’s ridiculous,” said Moira, “that he should want to keep a horse like Sensation in this country, picking up easy money, when it might win a big English race. Fred doesn’t want the money. It’s not fair to himself. It’s not fair to the horse. He might win the Ascot Gold Cup with that horse and be presented to the King and everybody. And he wants to stop here. I’d like to murder that old trainer.”

Fitzroy, too, felt it was his duty to get his employer away from Australia. He had sensed a subtle change in Red Fred’s character in the last few days, and it behoved him to act quickly before things got worse.

“The boss,” he said, “is not looking after himself. Takes no exercise. He’s been shearing his hundred sheep a day, and now he just loafs round the pub and eats and drinks half his time. No feller could stand it. He put the wind up Charley Stone by going out to a big lunch with the boozehound of the Squatters’ Financial Company. Charley thought they might get his business away from the Empire Pastoral, but luckily the boss got a load on board and he wanted to fight the Squatters’ Financial chap in the car coming back. Then all sorts of take-downs have got wind of him, and they’re hanging round the pub trying to get him to put his money into things. We must get him away somehow. There’s only one thing he’s afraid of. He thinks that Chinaman might come after him.”

“Why is he afraid of the Chinaman?”

“Well, you know, these Chinamen are very bad medicine. They think a lot of what they call their face. The boss won two thousand off Jimmy the Pat, and I threw him about a bit, and altogether we made him look like a monkey. He’s got to wipe that off somehow, even if he has to wipe off Red Fred. I can look after myself, but when I see a Chinaman coming down the street I cross the road and look into a shop window till the Chow goes past. I don’t want a knife in my ribs. Anyhow, I can do without it.”

“Perhaps we can scare the life out of Fred,” said Moira hopefully. “And we could scare that trainer, too. I’m sure we ought to try it, even if we get into trouble over it. We simply can’t let him stop here and run to seed like a public-house loafer. I’ve known Fred ever since I can remember and he’s got a heart of gold, that man.”

Between them they hatched a plan that at any rate had the virtue of originality. The first blow was struck when Red Fred received a letter with a Queensland postmark. As a rule he just glanced at his letters and handed them either to the Empire Pastoral Company or the wastepaper basket. But this one was obviously something out of the ordinary run of letters. He was at breakfast eating an egg when he opened it. As he read it he put down a spoonful of egg untasted and emitted a hollow groan.

“Look at this, Fitz,” he said. “That Chow! I thought he’d be after me.”

The envelope contained merely a dirty crumpled sheet of common note-paper on which the following message had been laboriously printed, apparently by some illiterate person:



                The Chinaman’s Vengunce.

I beg to inform you that unless you get out of Australia you will die by the hand of a Chinaman.



“A well-wisher, eh! I wish he was a well-sinker. I’d give ’im a ’undred quid to sink a well and leave the Chow down it. What does the Chow want to get after me for? I didn’t sling him about like a bag of feathers. I didn’t get his horse left at the post”—eyeing his secretary meanwhile as though he blamed him for everything. “I remember a Chinee cook once that put poison in the tea and nearly wiped out a whole shedful of shearers, just to ketch one man that had kicked his dog. I wonder is there a Chinee cook at this pub? I won’t eat anything, only eggs and sardines, and drink ginger beer, till we get out o’ this. I better go out and tell Long Harry. That Chow might get after the horse and I’d sooner he’d poison me than poison the horse. You go down and have a look if there’s a Chow in the kitchen.”

Fitzroy’s investigations in the kitchen revealed a Chinese chef who greeted him with an affable smile, and Fitzroy wondered how Red Fred would receive the news that he was living at the mercy of a Chinese assassin. Fitzroy returned upstairs and sat down to wait for his boss. But when Red Fred returned all his fear had vanished. Like a celebrated English politician Red Fred took his opinion from the last man with whom he conversed. Long Harry had scoffed at the idea of there being any danger.

“He says it’s all rot,” said Red Fred. “He says it’s some cove that wants to bluff me into givin’ him a hundred quid to keep the Chows off me. Long Harry says to let you have your breakfast first, and if you’re all right, then I’ll be all right. Ring for a whisky and soda, Fitz. It’s a bit early, but I knew coves up in Darwin that always drank gin and soda as soon as they’d finished their breakfasts, and they lived to be nearly a hundred. They can’t scare me with their Chows.”

Having missed with their first barrel, as it were, the mysterious writers of the anonymous letter made a new move. Just after the horses had come home from their exercise and the boys (who had been up since four o’clock) had retired to their bunks to have a sleep, a Chinaman might have been observed making his way up Long Harry’s deserted stable-yard. In fact he was observed. Mrs Harry happened to come to the kitchen door with a rolling-pin in her hand and saw the Chinaman making for Sensation’s box.

Having been born an O’Grady, the lady disdained to call for assistance. Instead, she tiptoed up the yard after the Chinaman and hit him a polthogue over the head with the rolling-pin. Down he went on his hands and knees, and as he fell a long-bladed knife dropped out of his clothes. At sight of the knife Mrs Raynham went into a most successful fit of hysterics. Her yells split the air; while the Chinaman, after casting a dazed looked about him, picked up the knife and ran like a redshank. Long Harry did not put in an appearance for some time. He said afterwards that he had mistaken Mrs Raynham’s shrieks for the whistle from the factory down the road.

The portly grocer, however, from next door came running into the yard just in time to meet the Chinaman face to face. The grocer spread out his arms and pretty well blocked the way, but the Chinaman threw his arms round the grocer’s legs and tossed him over his head with as little exertion as though he mere lifting a straw man. Then he darted like a rabbit round the corner and jumped into a racing car that was cruising slowly along, with a veiled lady at the wheel. In a second there was nothing but a streak of dust to show that a car had been there.

Of course the police and the Press were hot on the scent of this outrage. But they got very little out of Long Harry. That worthy said it was all rot; that some poor inoffensive Chinaman had come into the yard to see about buying the stable manure, and his wife had “woodened” him without giving him a chance to explain. This did not suit Mrs Harry at all. She gloried in the notoriety of interviews with the police, and posed for the Press photographers with a rolling-pin in her hand. Just to assert her importance, she relapsed into hysterics every two hours. Her female friends told Long Harry that he was an unfeeling brute and that he should get the doctor to her.

Police investigations ended in nothing. The affair seemed likely to remain a mystery; when it was capped by another sensation which made the first look like a chapter from the adventures of a curate. The horses were pacing with their stately walk down to the track in the grey dawn, and Long Harry was leading Sensation from the back of an elderly white pony. Suddenly a motor-car stopped in front of them and a man dressed in a long ulster, with his hat pulled well down over his eyes, rose to his feet and pointed a double-barrelled gun straight at Long Harry.

There could be no manure-buying about this business—at least that is not the way in which people generally go about the purchase of manure. Any one who has ever had a gun pointed straight at him can realize how much Long Harry regretted he had made light of this affair. Instinctively he put his hands up to protect his face and as he did so “bang” went the gun, and the charge whistled overhead. Sensation pulled away and set off for home at a pace that perhaps no other horse in the world could equal. The stable-boys and their charges joined in the flight, and Long Harry pulled his pony round and set off after them. As he did so, the gun went off again. It was held lower this time, but again it missed and the charge made a pattern in a solid sawn timber fence, where the local boys spent the next few days in picking out the pellets of shot. Riding for his life Long Harry sent the white pony scurrying down the street. As they rounded a corner the pony slipped, and its rider went flying over its head. Luckily he lit on his feet, and was running at top speed the instant his feet touched the ground.

Long Harry said afterwards that he had ridden many races but had never really made a horse gallop before; also, though he had been a track runner in his early days, he did not think he had ever really run before.

Again there was work for the police; but again they made nothing of it. All the notorious gunmen and the underworld of the turf were brought in and made to account for their movements on that day, but the absence of a motive puzzled the police from the first. Long Harry did not wait for any capture of criminals. He came in to see Red Fred and demanded that he take the horse away at once:

“I never had a horse like him, and I’ll never get another like him. Do you know,” he went to speaking very slowly and looking straight in front of him, “do you know, I think a man ought to be proud that he lived at the same time as that horse. After the scare he got, and the gallop he did, he came home sound as a bell and ate up his feed as cool as a cucumber. Whinnied to me when I walked into the yard. But what with me wife shrieking the town down, and me dodgin’ charges of shot, I’m full up. It ain’t fair to the horse anyhow. They’d be sure to get him, whether you left him with me or whether you gave him to anybody else. You take him to England. That’s the only thing to do with him. All I want to see is his tail goin’ out of my yard for the last time—for his own sake. And yet—I’d very near cry to see him go.”

The next day’s papers announced that Sensation was to leave for England in a week, and that the owner and his secretary would travel with the horse. As a sort of afterthought, it was added that the celebrated Queensland breeder Mr Delahunty and his daughter Moira would travel by the same boat. Two other passengers whose names were unrecorded were the Honourable Captain Salter who had come into money and was off back to England, and Bill the Gunner, specially brought down from Queensland to look after Sensation on his voyage to the old country.

The Shearer’s Colt - Contents    |     Chapter XIII - London Bound

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