|Chapter Title||A RACE, AND WHAT CAME OF IT.|
|Newspaper Title||The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1871 - 1912)|
|Trove Title||Tom Hellicar's Children|
Tom Hellicar's Children.
By L. C.
Chapter XIII.— A Race. antj what m»» «v tt.
J.EAR by the nver stood a slab building of some size, for such an edifice, with a barked roof and verandah ; it did not need the sign swinging from a post before the door to assure you that it was an inn— one of a low tvpe, too. Although on the verge of civilization— some would say quite beyond it,— there was no lack of business. The punt across the river belonged to the landlord, and there -were large stations scattered around. Night was falling as a party of horsemen
drew up before the low door, booted and spurred, with stockwhip in hand or at saddle front, and several fine collies following. The elder of the men stepped into the parlour, while his companions took the horses round to the stables. The room was already occu pied by a gentleman, roughly dressed, yet unmistake ably a gentleman. ' What ! Prankerd » ' _ ' How do you do, M'Kenzie ; this is a surprise,' ejaculated the newcomer, as he grasped the out stretched hand. 'You are a long way from home, Prankerd.' ' Yes, I am, the boys have been delivering stock in Victoria, and are on our way home. The house seems full,' he added abruptly, as a loud burst of voices arose from the Fmall bar. ' Yes, there are a lot of fellows in from the sur rounding stations, having a spree— that is little Torn Puller's voice — you must know Puller ? ' ' What, he that was in ltiverina some years back, and made such a smash of it ? ' ' The very same. He and a man from down the river have been having a match here, on old Gleadow's course.' There was an air of contempt about the speaker which was lost on his companion, a man growing old, with hardly using himself, rather than age,— the hand that was raising a tumbler half rilled with cold rum and water trembled ; there was a yellow tint on the eye balls, a purple on the face, and the limbs were thin. Mr. Prankerd made some in quiries. ' I can give you no details. There were several races, one a trotting one, which ended in a perfect rsw ; ?he owner of .the losing horse accused the rider of the winner of cheating, and laid a horse- whip across him, which the boy resented with the courage of a lion : and there was directly a free tight, in which an old Irishman, the father or something connected with the boy, played a conspicuous part, some heads were broken, but no brains lost, I imagine.' Here a slipshod rough-headed girl entered to spread the supper table ; a much soiled cloth of coarse ma terial was taken from a drawer, and a few black handled knives and forks. Every second cup and plate was of a distinct pattern, but as each thing was earned into the room separately, and with long pauses between, it took some time to make that ap parent ; and by the time the very greasy chops and large tin teapot completed the preparations for the feast, enough time been occupied to spread a Lord Mayor's bajiqiir-t, 'We need not expect a carver, of course,' re marked Mr. M'Kenzie, as he seated himself before the dish of chops. ' I have observed houses of this kind make a point of not supplying n, second knife and fork, with a religious exactitude — These are your sons, eh.' Three very tall youths entered as he spoke ; all had the hollow cheek and spare form of persons who had grown up on the saddle, were bad walkers, and better developed in the arms than lawer limbs. All might have been handsome, but for the want of brain culture. The events ot the day, which they had just been fully acquainting themselves with in the bar, for a time gave a subject of conversation, and even anima tion, but the quiet satire of M'Kenzie' s manner soon reduced them to silence, and an uneasy air, like that of the schoolboy in his master's presence, who has cognizance of the neighbourhood of the cane, and a secret recollection of certain peccadilloes in orchards. The meal was soon discussed, and the youths stole away to enjoy their pipes outside. The elder men also'hghted meerschaums, and making the most ot the very comfortless chairs and colonial sofa, entered into conversation. They had not met fjr twenty years ; at that time they were neighbouring squatters, and as such acquaintances, if not in its truest sense, friends. Many matters of interest arose, the future fortunes of old friends, and a certain kindly feeling sprung up out of the asked of 'do you remember.' At length there was a pause. ' You have a large family,' abruptly remarked the Scotchman. ' Yes. Twelve living. The three eldest boys, then four girls ; the others all boys.' 'Eight sons! what will you do with them- 'What are you doing with these tliree : ' *'*Oh, they are on the station. I am getting too old for much stock work now, Mac. To tell you the truth, I feel stiff after a day on the run, and the horses are not what they used to be. Do you remember ray Cobbler? Why, I have ridden that beast seventy miles in the day, and been as fresh as a lark. There are no such horses as Cobbler and your old chesnut Billy now.' ' Perhaps not. I sometimes think the horses have changed. But those we mounted thirty years ago. But the question which I have been trying to solve for years is what to do with our sons : ' ' Our eons ! Why in this country every one can make a living. The boys take to a horse as soon as they can walk ; a stockwhip aud dog, and then they are provided for.' ' That is one side of the question, Prankerd. But where are they? Socially and morally, where are they r ' The old man rose as he spoke, and laid aside his pipe. Prankerd made some indefinite sound. 'We have our stations or grants, a home with somo tbing respectable about it. In time we will drop off ; say one has the old place ; what of the others ? Mere stockmen ; yet above settling down as hired servants, where they might be useful, and therefore, in their way, valuable members of society.' ' Hang it, Mac, I look for something above a hired stockman's billet for the boys.' ' You do, and so do I, and so does a hundred, nay a thousand others ; but what ? We had a tutor for them or sent them a couple of years to school, but they are not well educated, taking it in its very shallowest meaning. They are not fit for good supers, not equal to a more disciplined man from home. What will they be but loafers and duffers. What are they now ? not our boys, but the class, but duffers, Their one enjoyment a race, thek occupation stock-keeping, their conversation horsey, their social value nil.' Prankerd fidgeted and grew irritable, as men will when the subject fits too nearly to truth,— their truth. ' People can say this sort of thing of «very class,' he said after a pause, in a vexed tone, ' you may say the same of clerks and shopboys.' ?? I do not see it. If a man has any aim or settled pursuit, and follows, and excels in that thing, then I call him a benefit to his race, and regard him as doing
what he is created for— work ; looking at him, of course, as only a working machine. Morally ne vnU be better from his efforts to excel, and the dicipline crowing out of that.' . » You -were always full of crotchets, M'Kenzie, but on your own ground you are wrong ; nowhere in the wexid could you meet with better riders than my boys. I tell you there is not a man on the river can beat Charlie after stock, nor set a bucking horse before Fred, and he and Tom, although he is but six teen, -will bring in a mob of wild horses off the ranges, and catch one and be on him in three days after.' The Scotchman smiled. ' And in a few years more they too will be unable to stand a day's hard riding ; and not having our breadth of build, will be old ten years before we were. I must say, Prankerd, this subject assumes a serious magnitude in my eyes. It is not only squatters' and settlers' son's that are growing up stock men and duffers, but we are recruiting every yeai from the towns. I do not say anything of men send ing their sons to manage their stations, as so many of our merchants do. That becomes a duty, and is the business of one or more youths in each family But if a lad runs wild, if he takes to low companv, the billiard table or drink, if he have ne talent, and worse still, no industry, the parents get some up-country friend to take him. Why, every time I go to Sydney or Melbourne I have halfa dozen such fellows all but forced upon me ! It is hard to refuse, when some poor mother looks at you nitifullv, and pleads that she want's to get her boy out of bad company. If she knew more of station life she would understand that wherever men will go wrong, they can. In fact the wild strain in us crops out readily enough, and men run back to savages in a reverse ratio of speed, so that they become honourable, educated, and gentlemen.' ' My boys are calling me, remarked Prankerd, and he left the room to join a group without. The party chiefly consisted of young men, masters or managers from the neighbouring stations. Some were far in advance of such scenes, whose monotonous life had laid them open to the temptation of such gatherings ; others -with all the various marks of a low type naturally, though socially gentlemen. All were more or less under the influence of intoxication, and several bore, in the form of black eyes or cut faces, relics of the affray to which Mr. M'Kenzie had alluded. As the group divided to let Mr. Prankerd enter, a boy was seen in the centre, a bright daring well grown child, with rough worn clothes, brown skin, and the marks of a whip lash across his cheek, a great cruel weal. » This is the chap rode Mr. Sarkin's Black Imp,' explained Charles Prankerd. 'And we want him to go along with us, he would be a first-rate 'un after horses,' added Tom. ?' Who are you, my boy r ' ' Sure, yer honor,' interrupted an old man with the look of a drover about him, 'he's a boy as I have in my charge — a sort of a coosin on the wife's side — . his name'6 Jack, yer honor, an' I'd be mighty proud to get him wid a jintleman, if so be, he would be well trated. ' 'Oh, that of course— what do you say, my boy, to going with us, and helping my sons about the station : ' *' I tiiould like it, sir.' ' Have you a horse.' ' No, the young gentleman said I could ride o:ie of tne pack-horses.' ' All right, Charley, I will have a look at the horses before I turn in.' 'I could' nt. take yer back to Gindion yer know, Jack, and' the ould 'omau will be right pleased to have ye'sc wid jintlemen — hut its sorry I am to part wid ye,' whispered Sam Feagan. ' 1 can't go back though, but you'll sec Dick, and tell him where I've gone.' 'That I'll do, and the doctor too.' So Jack Hellicar next morning started on his un known way, a Little sad5 to say good bye to the old drover, yet proud to be once more among lads of his own station, though it were but as their stock boy. The young Prankerds, however, made Max quite a companion, if at night, when they stopped at a. station he was sent to a hut while they repaired to the dwelling of tlie super intendent, or the owner, where he was a resident, or the kitchen of such inns as Gleadow's ; mere huts, where the coarsest fare, the coarsest carousals, and the vilest card-playing, Tvere tlie order. Alas ! for the handsome boy, Ruth Hellicar's pride, who already swore an oath and smoked a pipe, and was trying to toss off a glass of rum without a shudder, and to carry his bewildered head erect afterwards. Dubbed Jack the jockey, away from all who knew him, from every good influence, the bov was going on that long journey thoughtless and careless, proud that his fearless riding had won him notice. Tom Prau kerd was nearest to his own age, and soon made a boy's friendship, while Fred boasted of his deeds of horsemanship until the boy longed to imperil his neck after wild horses ; to have his steed killed from under him by savage cattle, driven till they were brought to bay ; and to be able to boast of such other adventures as approved the everyday life ot his three companions. Charley was a bush dandy, great in the matter of rolling his long greasy hair under at the tips, so as to make it look like a huge sausage round his neck ; particular in the fineness of his cabbage-tree hat, which he would roll and put iu his pocket, as a proof how fine and delicate the texture was ; and had been surprised smoking a new hat in the wide chimney of the home kitchen, to impart to it that brown tint so essential in the eyes of connoisseurs in cabbage-trees. He was rarely seen without long riding-boots and tight cords ; and the handles of his stock-whips were the wood of the myall, highly polished, and patterned with pins in elaborate forms, laboriously filed short, and hammered with the back of a knife into their places. That message to Richie the drover never delivered, as he died rather suddenly on his homeward journey.