For Life and Other Stories

Odds and Ends

Steele Rudd

TALKING about buck-jump riders,” Williams I said, “a darkey at Toompine was th’ best ever I see. Saw him on a chestnut mare one mornin’ that no one down th’ river ever could ride; only a bit of a thing, too—a little bay. Buck? By Christmas! On ’er side, straight ahead, and backwards, an’ round an’ round, an’ straight up, an’ high as your bloomin’ head every time. Y’ couldn’t see ’er or th’ darkey for dust—just like a big whirlwind tearin’ th’ yard up. Excitin’? Ghost! We climbed th’ yard out o’ the road. Th’ saddle-cloth went first; then th’ darkey’s boots and his belt left, and his shirt and trousers came flying out o’; th’ cloud o’ dust. Crikey! We thought it wer’ himself, for th’ moment. Then we started cheerin’, bein’ mostly British, an’ th’ bloomin’ mare starts squealin’ an’ gruntin’, sort o’ hootin’ like. By gad! ‘Stick to ’er! Stick to ’er!’ th’ boss was yellin ‘ an ‘gettin’ louder every time, when th’; darkey’s saddle hit him hard in the vestcut, an’ knocked him clean off th’ top rail an’ silenced him. Cripes! We got down off the yard in quick time, ’fore gettin’ one with the darkey. But he never come off—not ’im. Th’ mare give in, an’ when th’ dust cleared away there he was, sittin’ across her neck with a short hold of th’ reins, an’ his toes in th’ bridle-rings fer stirrups—an’ smilin’.”

.     .     .     .     .

Yellow Charley, a half-caste, arrested for cattle-stealing, slipped the constable during the night, and, in handcuffs, struck Caffery’s place just before dawn. Caffery’s yard was full of cattle. Caffery was stooping at a fire beside the rails, dusting a “johnny-cake,” raked from the ashes, with an empty tea-bag.

“Mornin’,” Yellow Charley said cheerfully.

“Mornin’,” answered Caffery, without looking up.

“Seen any ’traps’ about?”

“Nuh,” said Caffery, carelessly, flogging the “cake” harder with the bag.

The escaped one grinned.

“What d’ y’ think o’ these?” he said, holding out his hands and displaying the handcuffs.

Caffery looked up casually. Then he dropped the johnny-cake as though it burnt him, jumped over the fire, threw down the rails of the yard, rushed the cattle out, sooled the dog on them, and watched till they had disappeared in the timber. Then he turned, stared at the handcuffs, and said: “I didn’t think there was any cops about.”

.     .     .     .     .

There was blood in the sundowner’s eye. “Cursed lot o’ scabs!” he said. “They stole me damper out o’ th’ fire when I wer’ in th’ crick breakin’ a few sticks fer th’ night. I wouldn’t ’ave minded s’ much, though, if th’ mean, loafin’ lot o’ cadgers hadn’t covered th’ hole up an’ kep’ me scratchin’ fer it, an’ spoilin’ th’ fire, ’fore findin’ it wer’ gone!”

.     .     .     .     .

Jones, a tea man, “doing” the West per bike, flashed along a scrub road late one night, and passed old Schultz, returning to camp from the pub. Schultz dropped his meat-supply in the dirt and jumped behind a blue gum; then ran back, hard, to the pub. “Whatever it was,” he said, “it didn’t run; it flew; and was about five feet high, with one eye like a ball o’ blanky fire. By cripes! Give us a drop o’ brandy.”

.     .     .     .     .

“When my old horse jibs,” Brown said, “I never worries about it, an’ I don’t swear or ’ammer ’im. I just opens his mouth wide’s I can an’ chucks in a handful o’ dirt. Then, while he’s sneezin’ an’ snortin’ an’ spittin’ it out, I sez, ‘Get erp, Billy!’ an’ he goes off without thinkin’.”

.     .     .     .     .

“Dalton?” Gallagher exclaimed; “old Johnny Dalton? I wouldn’t take him wid me to look fer goats!” And he laughed heartily. “Johnny oncet came out with us mustering bullocks,” he said, “an’ we were camped one night there on th’ crick, ’way below Dirranbandi. About eight o’clock th’ dingoes found us out, an’ made a devil of a noise, an’ frightened th’ wits out o’ poor Johnny. When we turned in I was there” (Gallagher scratched the position in the ground with a stick); “Connolly was here” (another scratch), “an’ here was Johnny, on the outside o’ Connolly. When we woke in th’ mornin’ where d’ y’ think me brave Johnny was?”

Daley said he didn’t know.

He was in th’ middle.

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