|Newspaper Title||Adelaide Observer (SA : 1843 - 1904)|
|Trove Title||A Life's Punishment|
I arrived at Pamatta in July. About the middle of September the shearing season commenced, the very busiest time in sheep station life. Everything conneoted with it was entirely new to me. Symptoms cf the approaching bustle became apparent a month previously The men in search of work—" swagmen," as they are called— increased in numbers. They walk from station to station carrying in a roll or swag on their back all their worldly possessions. At first I remember looking upon them as being no better than the " tramps" in Eng land, but soon found out my mistake. These Australian tramps are as a class respectable and hard-working, and their method of travel ling from place in the bush is convenient to the squatters who require labour. They are almoBt nomadic, and few amongst them are content to remain longer than from six to twelve monthB on one station.
During the Black season of the year they are seldom to be seen on the roads. Where they go to has never been satisfactorily explained. But no sooner does the shearing season draw near than they appear in ones and twos and in little bands of as many as five men. They come in to the homestead just about sundown and make for the over seer's quarters. They ask for work and for board and lodging for the night. The over seer, if he requires men, makes a selection of the most likely looking amongst them, and to all of them is given leave to stay the night. They get their supper and breakfast free of all charges. In the morning thoBe who have not been engaged tramp off towards the next station. This stylo of hospitality struck me sb being exceedingly novel, and the more so from its openhandedness. It was nothing uunsnal to have from eight to thirteen travel lers of an evening.
That the generosity of the squatters was oftentimes abused was nothing more than might be expected. There were men who travelled on foot from station to station throughout the length and breadth of the colony. They asked for work at every stopping-place. But in very few instances did it happen that the work offered was suitable to them. It waB declined nine times out of ten. These men were simply loafers. They did not wish for work, except a little job here and there just to keep them iu
Socket-money. They knew the country by
eart, and when leaving the station in the
morning would strike away from the main track and make for a shepherd's hut a few miles away. It was possible that the station would find food for that man for a week or more. But by-and-by these scamps became known to the overseers and the shepherds, and then they met with a reception some times too warm to be pleasant.
By the time we were ready to commence shearing there were considerably more than 100 men about the station. There were shearers, teamsters, packers, pressers, wool rollerB, woolpickers, branders, and knock abouts. It required au effort of memory to call each man by hiB proper name. It was quite_ a week before McPherson could be certain of correctly naming the man he wished to single out from a group. He would call for " Bill Brown" and a man supposed to be " Jones" would answer.
I bad my bands full of work at this time, and it became necessary to give me an assis tant in the store. The handB were supplied with flour, tea and Bugar, salt and meat, in addition to their wages. But they had to purchase everything else they might require. There were no townships close at hand, and the station had to supply the want. The store had a little of everything in it, from neces saries in the shape of soap and tobacco to luxuries Bnch as tinned salmon, jams, and fruits. Medicines of all kinds were also in stock. The wagons with the stores arrived some weeks before shearing, and looking at the tons of flour and sugar, the tierces of tobacco, the quantity of tea, and all the handred-and-one boxes and packages, I con
eluded that we had taken in a supply suffi
cient to l&Bt a year or two. But when the* work began I soon saw that I had made & mistake. There wsb not much to spare in the shape oi rations by tin day the shearing,
The day's work during thiB season began at 6 a.m., and with an hour for breakfast and the same for dinner kept on hard at work until 6 p.m. It was generally paBt 7 o'clock by the tune we sat down to supper, and in the evening the sheep and wool books had to he made np.
Three nights a week I had to open the store and stay there till 9 o'clock, serving any of the men who might want tningB. This put an end for the rime to my evenings with Walter. There was no time to think of snoh outside matters. The wool had to be taken
off the sheep in the quickest possible rime, and every one worked at high pressure. It was hard work for all concerned, but the push and bustle made an excitement which
agreeably broke in upon the quietness of bush
Nearly ten weeks went by before shearing was finished. But the last day came in dne conrse. First there were no more woolly sheep to pnt into the shed, then the pens began to get thinned aa one by one the sheep were hanled out, shorn and turned away to be marked. About 2 o'clock in the afternoon the very last sheep is seized upon, and then a cheer, which shakes the building to its foundations, comes from the men. An hour before Hardinge and myself have been busy with the men's accounts, adding np the totals of their scores of sheep shorn, and deducting from it their store -
accounts. Almost before the men have had time to make themselves clean, a deputation of one iB sent over to ask when Hardinge will be ready to pay them.
At the time named the men assembled at the cffice.and enter one by one as they are called. The system used in keeping the accounts is a good one, and there is seldom any dispute raised by the men. Hardinge has to make biB pen ny to sign the cheques
qnickly enough for the crowd waiting impa tiently outside. Bj supper-time the place iB almost as quiet as a graveyard. The shearers have left in wagons, on horseback, and on foot, making their way for other sheds, and some for tne nearest public-house. TheBe laBt oneB will stay at the liquor shop until their bard-earned money has disappeared into the ever-gaping mouth of the publican's till.
A few of the knockabout hands are kept on for three or four days, to clean and tidy the shed np, and to bale np the remainder of the wool. Then they are discharged and the station relapses into its ordinary condition of quietness, with its normal complement of men. Discipline is relaxed for quite a week following. The hurry and bustle suddenly ceasing causes a reaction. Everybody, from Hardinge downwards, is tired and feels the - necessity of rest.
My visits to the house had been infrequent while shearing lasted. Now and then 1 bad gone np on Sunday evenings and stayed for an hour. Buttheunnaturalnessof my posi tion would be so forced upon me that I began to donht my powers of endnrance. Hardinge was in the habit of reading the Church of Eng land service on Sundays. A large unused room adjoining the store was used as a church, and any one dieposed to attend was made welcome. McPherson always made one of the congregation when at home, and several of the men also attended. I never could make up my mind to go. I felt out of place there somehow; but after every one
had gone in and the service had begun I used to post myself in the office. The sound of the harmonium and the voices of the men and women as they sang tunes, many of which had once been familiar to me, fell soft and mellow upon my ear. The distance and the obstruction of the wall softened the sounds into a murmuring cadence moBt soothing to listen to. I could not have fel this inBide the room. The sight of Mary standing there, looking bo sweet and pure, and yet, as I thought, still beyond my reach, would have been agony. She loved Hardinge. 1 had seen that by many little signs on her part, things so trifling that no one but one in my position would have noticed it. " Trifles, light as air, are, to the jealous, confirmations strong as proofs of.Holy Writ." Was her love for Hardinge as warm, aa deep, as everlast
ing as the love she had confessed for me that - day many yearB ago when I had told her of my love for her ? Surely not! or if ao, she bad not understood the meaning of the words she whispered in my ear! God knows, but she may have since used the selfsame words in reply to Hardinge !
And yet I could not leave the station—days ran into weeks, iweeks into months, month followed upon month, and still I stayed on. I could never feel that I became more re signed with time. Nothing but a sort of dogged, desperate determination kept me from opening my lipB to the destruction of Mary's happinesB. Sometimes I almost hoped, ay, jprayed, that by some chance she would discover my identity, and that leaving Hardinge ehe would come to me. Would I have received her back again? Would I have believed her if she had told me that her love for me was as true as ever—that she had
never cared for Hardinge as she had for me ? .• Why ask such questions oi the dumb sense
lees pageB of my dial y—questions which can . never be answered on this side the grave? - But however strong my longings may have
been it is consoling to think that I never - wittingly helped towards their fulfilment.
Can a man adopt any perfectly sure dis guise, one that shall render him proof against the keenest eai or eye ? I doubt it. He may disguise his face and figure securely and easily, but the altering oi the tones of voioe and natural habits and manners iB a very
The puzzled, frightened look that had come into Mary's face on the first evening we met at Famatta returned again and again as cften as we met and talked together; and aB time went on and I became more at ease in her presence it iB probable that I relaxed mv vigilance over my voice and manner. On one occasion in particular I remember I became interested and excited on some subject that Hardinge was discussing with me. I forgot my part for the moment, and muet have shown some trait that Mary remembered. I saw her make -a slight start and grow deathly pale. She glanced quickly at me, and that curious ex
£reesion in her eyes waB very marked,
uckily no one noticed her but myself. She
kept quiet, but in a few minutes left the room, and I saw her no more that evening. But I was certain then that she thought she recognised my voice, or whatever it was that had attracted her attention. Judging from her look, the discovery would not be a pleasant one to her. Would ehe endeavour to verify her suspicions ? It was impossible to say. But I must be prepared against any snob endeavonr. The following day saw my powers tried to the utmost.