|Newspaper Title||The Colac Herald (Vic. : 1875 - 1918)|
|Trove Title||The Colt from Crooked Creek|
THE COLT FROM CROOKED CREEK. By H. A. CONANT. CHAPTER I. "Still I see the shearers drinking at the town- ship in the scrub." —Henry Lawson, Everyone with claims to geographical learning knows that the township of Crooked Creek lies just where the Stony Range weds the plain, on the elbow the creek makes in describing an angle to flow through and enrich the land of the leading resident. Peter Brown, more familiarly known as Pious Pete, for certain occult reasons, the disclosure of which might cause unpleasantness. But of the township, even the very learned can tell you little, as the inhabi- tants are conservative in many matters, and as yet have given little encourage- ment, to numerous peripatetic canvas- sers, yearning to immortalise them in two columns with descriptive photo- graphs. Perhaps this is because they realise their native settle- ment is simply a type treated of by many pens, and consider their lack of originality calls for no less a self-in- flicted penance than complete obscurity. On the other hand. they may have studied the late boom period with ad- vantage. and grown cynical on the sub- ject of advertisement. I never heard a complete statement of their opinions on this matter. but that they are strong I know, for the last book fiend to halt at Crooked Creek finally reached Sulky- ville, ten miles further on, looking as though he had tumbled out of the Ark, and the ages had not been sufficient to dry him. The township looked painfully new amid a forest of trees alarmingly old. The weatherboard structures had sprung up with amazing rapidity in the beginning, and the place flourished like a green bay tree: then the premature de- cay of exotics laid hold of it, and its growth waned; whilst the bush, at first startled off to a distance, drew close again, and in the springtime wild flow- ers mingled with the grasses in the main street. The stores languished: but the Stock- man's Hotel seemed to drive even a bet- ter business than when the township was rich and adolescent. Two sections in the community regard this house from opposite points of view. The wo- men were always wondering why the men could have anything to do with such a house. The men marvelled what on earth they would do without it. You must not conclude from this that they drank viciously; but, as I said before, they were conservative, and possibly drank because their fathers had done so before them. As old Blazer, the pound- keeper, once remarked. "My old man boozed up all his life, and what was good enough for him is good enough for me." Such logic is unanswerable. However, Blazer was not consistent, because when the great Melbourne dailies began to fill their columns with cheerful anecdotes about certain mi- crobic gentlemen, he made a rapid change of front, and when one night he came crapulously home to receive up- braidings from the wife of his bosom, who pointed out with uncommon elo- quence that drink may have been good enough for his father, but that it un- doubtedly killed him. Blazer explained at length that he took whisky with his water merely to kill the malign germs. "Boiling will do that," said Mrs Blazer, unconvinced. "That would—hic—be cruelty to dumb animals," hiccoughed Blazer, and burst into tears. The Stockman's Hotel had always a goodly assemblage in the bar. But on a certain night this was augmented to such a degree that the company not only filled the bar, the back rooms, and the passage way, but also overflowed into the street a human tail wriggling about the front door, convulsed by in- dividual efforts to reach the drink with- in or the fresh air without. The Crooked Creek company of shearers had return- ed that afternoon from their campaign among the sheds on the Lower Murray. With noble patriotism they had brought their cheques unbroken to their native town, perhaps more to the unspeakable gratification of Tubbs, mine host of the Stockman's Hotel. than anyone else, not excluding their female relatives. There were ten of them, and on clattering down the street with blood-thirsty yells of joy they had been stopped by the astute Tubbs to have one drink with him, before they disbanded to their respective homes. This was early in the after- noon. It was now pretty late in the evening. and they still held the bar, de- spite many messages borne to them by young brothers from anxious kin. The news of their arrival had gone like wildfire through the town. One by one every male inhabitant had been ab- sorbed into the public-house, except, of course, those whose positions prevented them from promiscuously mingling with the wearers of moleskin trousers. They walked gloomily about the deserted streets, and cursed their eminence. The branch bank manager, a son of Pious Pete's, originally handy boy on a pig farm, for once felt the disadvantages of being the local society leader: and old Loggam, who came to Crooked Creek to hawk drapery but stayed to build a great business and grow rich, was heard to ask of Heaven. in pathetic tones, what he had done to be compelled to live in such a drunken community. Meanwhile all was joy at the public house. Flash Charley sat on a barrel in all the glory of six inch spurs. telling tales of wonderful tallies and obdurate rams to an audience that alternately admired and drank hard. Squinting Dick, so called because his eyes had re- versed one of Nature's commonest laws, held another barrel and a group of lis- teners, whilst he discoursed seriously upon the crude and inartistic method of boiling mutton. as practised by a certain station cook, who was always alluded to in conjunction with a crimson pre- fix. .Harry Dale was eloquent upon the theme of speiling and its inutility against a "fly bloke," illustrated by many of the narrator's personal experi- ences. The remainder of the contingent were mixed among their district cronies, and every individual present in the house, if not talking, was drinking, and if not drinking was talking. Every theme under the sun was being more or less violently discussed except, perhaps, temperance, and that went untouched only.because argument, like fighting, re- quires a difference of opinion. The company was suddenly recalled to the world without the public-house by a wild yell and the sound of gallop- ing hoofs, followed almost immediately by a babel of congratulatory voices hail- ing the new comers. Then the passage squeezed itself into a narrow lane, and allowed two booted, bearded men to press into the bar. Their clothes bore all the outward signs of travel; the white moleskin trou- sers were hidden under a coating of thick red dust. On the inner side of each leg, just above the boot. and reach- ing to the knee. the sweat had kneaded into stiff, grimy patches. The color of their coats was indistinguishable. On sight of them the ten returned wan- derers left their barrels and unfinished sentences, and like one man flung them- selves on the new comers, notably on the younger, shouting many raucous questions that mingled into a reverber- ating medley from which occasionally a high-toned "Damn glad to see," "How did yer get along?" "Where did you strike for after D'niliquin," would come full, clear, showing no common amount of interest in their fortunes.
"Steady, mateys," cried the younger, laughing: "I can't answer you all, but I'll put up drinks for the lot." "No, you don't," said Flash Charley, "this round's mine." At this Squinting Dick interposed, and remarking, that he was not always going to play second fiddle to every flash shearer that came along, meaning no one in particular,, but if any party
didn't like it he'd better say so, claimed the entire right and privilege of paying for that particular round of drinks. As these remarks were construed by Flash Charley into a personal attack upon himself, there grew up a great possi- bility that the harmony must suffer an interlude whilst the gentlemen satisfied their honor with a bout at fisticuffs. But Tubbs had not run that particular house for ten years for nothing. "Gentlemen," he said, "the evenin's young yet. There's time for you all to shout before morn- ing." The great wisdom of this remark being appreciated, the company gave its orders, and so much was the question of payment at rest among them that when the drinks were served there was no money forthcoming from anybody, so that the younger new comer, known as Bill Herrick, was allowed the honor of paying for them, as he first sugges- ted. "And wot sort of sheds did yer get after leavin' us?" asked Flash Charley, when some quietness was restored. "Ripping." said Bill Herrick. "We did all right." "And we come fifty mile this evening in three hours and forty minutes," said his companion. boastfully. "Well, that's a lie, anyway," said Flash Charley. "It ain't." said the other. "Go on, Cruppy, it is," retorted Flash Charley. "No horse could do it." "None o' your sort of mokes, I 'spose you mean," said Cruppy, winking at the crowd, who roared at this exquisite wit- ticisnl, and proved themselves possessed of no common order of humor. Flash Charley was fearfully enraged, jingling his spurs in the impatience of his anger. Herrick tried to explain that it did not matter a great deal whether they had done the distance or not, that it was not worth while disputing about, and many arguments to the same pur- pose: for he was a philosophical fellow, although holding a reputation for reck- lessness and dare-devilry equal to none. But Flash Charley had, as he expressed it, "his monkey up." and nothing short of the cold convincing argument of money up would appease him. "I bet you ten pounds you didn't do it!" lie shouted. Then seeing the absur- dity of a wager which could only be de- cided by his opponent's word, he added. "And another tenner that my neddy hanging up at the rail outside beats yours for any distance." Squinting Dick then remarked that in his opinion a he-goat could beat Flash Charley's mount, and he would very much like to tackle him with his mare. From this out the atmosphere got very troubled. and two of the wanderers, bosom friends an hour ago, adjourned with a few friends to the roadway and chopped up each other's faces in the most blood- thirsty and scientific manner possible. This time chaos itself threatened the bar room, and no less a diplomatist than Tubbs could have averted the threat- ened annihilation of all goodfellowship. "Don't be bloomin' fools, chaps, an' get rowing." he said. "Why don't you get up a sweepstake and see which horse is the flier?" "Lor, what a head you've got, Tubbs," cried Squinting Charley, putting on the coat he had discarded to give mortal battle to Flash Charley. "Now, chaps," he continued, "you as fancies yer mounts and in a tenner to old Tubbs, 'an we'll run it off down on the race- course the day after to-morrow. It'll be a sort of jubilation for our safe return without the church service." The idea caught like wildfire. for there were few among those returned shearers that had not long entertained the supreme contempt for their mates' "prads," as compared, in the matter of pace, with their own. Six others be- sides Flash Charley and Squinting Dick, handed their "tenners" to Tubbs, naming, as they did so, the animals they intended to race. Flash Charley turned on Cruppy in arrogant triumph. "I no- tice," he said, "that after all yer bloom- ing skite you ain't put no money up." The crowd this time roared with him, and it was Cruppy's turn to grow an angry man. " I reckon my mare's knocked out, but Bill's here could lose the lot of yer if he only liked to enter." This drew general attention upon Herrick. who was leaning carelessly on the bar talking to Pious Pete. Oh. yes! Peter Brown was there, for you must know he could not have the pride of his son (his father was not a wealthy man), and taking little apparent interest in the brawling about him. Now the first flush of the travel was gone, you could see beneath the dust a face uncommon- ly handsome, and I am bound to tell you here. that he had all the simplicity of a strong nature. and hated quarrel- ling as he did the black snakes in the ranges. Finding all eyes on him, he blushed modestly, and raised a glass of liquor to hide his embarrassment. "Do you think with Cruppy that your colt can show the way to our neddies?" demanded Flash Charley. "Well, hang it, if you ask me straight, I do," said Herrick, more embarrassed than ever. "Why don't you sling your tenner in, then?" asked Squinting Dick. "I don't want to take you chaps, my pals, down," he said, simply. Pious Pete looked at him with eyes large with wonder. Dick laughed a most expressive and irritating laugh. "Oh, of course, you swallow that," he said. Herrick's nostrils dilated. "You don't believe me?" he demanded. "'Chuck yer kid!" said Flash Charley. "If you reckon your nag's anything put in the tenner." Herrick still hesitated. "He's not game," said a voice in the crowd. "'Close entries, Tubbs." At this Herrick pulled out a fat purse from his trousers pocket, and presently threw Tubbs a ten pound note. "Of course, if you reckon I'm funking, this proves I'm not," he said. "You'll all whip the cat over this, take it from me." They did not take Herrick very seri- ously, however, but someone remarked that he always played good bluff in poker, and they all grew highly amused, Cruppy, in a casual way, asked Flash Charley if he had another pound or two to spare. On being asked the reason of the question, he expressed a desire to name the winner of the sweepstakes, and back his prophecy for twenty pounds. "I'll bet you can't name it." said C1harley. "For twenty pounds?" asked Cruppy. "For twenty pounds," agreed Charley. "I name Bill's colt." said Cruppy, and the wager was made. Whilst this was taking place, Herrick drew Pious Pete aside, amid whispering in his ear, bade him to back the colt if he wanted to make a safe pound or two. "If the tip comes off is it given for my sake or for my daughter's?" asked Pious Pete, with a grin. "Ah, Bill, my boy, you're as clean as they make them, but I doubt your pockets are lined well enough for Peter Brown's girl." Never- theless the old man took the hint, and button-holing Jerry Joyce, the black- smith, bet him five pounds Herrick's colt would win.
For the rest of the evening the con- versation ran on horses, and was inter- larded with more drinks than are good for the physical well being of man, more especially when the liquors have suffer- ed improvement at the hands of the as- tute Tubbs. For the sake of Crooked Creek's reputation, I refrain from men- tioning the number of horses the grey dawn found hitched outside the public- house, or the number of heads that yearned all next morning for the com- fort of a cold hand. That the number was considerable may be judged from the words of the groom when inviting the mail-boy to liquid refreshment. "I'm flush this a arternoon," he said, "an' will send a quid to the big sweep; I've been drawing water all the morning from the well to douce the drunks at a tanner a bucket."
CHAPTER II. "There's a limit unto women, And the wine, and ways of men, But when the talk is horses You can wait and come again." —The Wayside Handicap. The fact that news gets over the country more swiftly and mysteriously
than a commercial traveller, has been commented upon so often that any learned disquisition upon the cause or causes is unnecessary here. Sufficient then to say that news does travel at a pretty speed, and that the news of the shearers' sweepstake was no exception to the general rule, penetrating in the manner of its forebears the remotest gullies, and scaling the highest ranges on an untiring wing, so that the whole world, pivoted about Crooked Creek, was discussing the exciting topic almost before the groom at the Stockman had drawn his last pail of water. The result bore undoubted testimony to the love of sport typically Australian. On the momentous morn every valley for miles around gave up its humanity; the plains were dotted with flying specks; and the mountain tracks flung afar the echoes of galloping horses. The roads that centred on the racecourse had their travellers from the dawn; buggies and spring carts. blooded fliers and mountain ponies, all conveyances were represented. As the day drew on, fully three hundred people had assembl- ed to see the sequel to the shearers' spree. Peter Brown, junior, was there with his pale-faced city wife and his new dog-cart. Loggam drove an American buggy and a pair of fourteen hands ponies with an affectation of weariness that impressed young Brown's wife sufficiently to make her remark condescendingly that "Loggam would almost pass in Melbourne." She did not extend her charity, however, to the storekeepers wife. whose bow was re- turned with chilling stiffness, and whose relmarks on the fineness of the day elicited the monosyllable 'Yes." carry- ing with it almost the ignificance of an insult. But, as she explained to her husband, these people must be taught to know their place. He thought of Loggam's account, and sighed, but said nothing. probably realising long ago that feminine prejudices are not to be combated and overcome by any logic. Pious Pete was there, too, shocking his daughter-in-law by an unconventionality of raiment that culminated in a white diamond studded shirt without a collar.
Many pretty girls had foregathered about the racecourse, but perhaps the queen of them all was little Mary Brown. who, on a tricky bay mare, had raced her father the whole way to the gates, beating him by a clear seven lengths. Her face was healthily fair to look upon, and her form had all the entrancing subtlety of sweet curves and nascent womanhood. What wonder was it that Herrick would have suf- fered even ridicule for her sake! And when she reined up at the gates, and found that sly gentleman accidentally waiting there on his restive colt, it was hard to say which of the twain blushed the most. Then she gave him her hand —the prettiest, plumpest, daintiest little hand on the whole course—to shake, and I forgive him with my whole heart for holding it so long, even if Pious Pete did display some restiveness on that occasion, riding in between them in the gruffest manner possible. And after saying that Mary Brown was there, I would fain stop, feeling I had cata- logued enough, but as Cruppy and the ten peripatetic shearers were the cause of all the excitement and the pro- mised amusement, in common decency I must say that they were there too, every man of them in spic and span white "moles" and top boots, whose brightness should send a certain black- ing advertisement blank with envy.
What a day it was to be sure! Crooked Creek and district was deliriously happy in its Sunday clothes, with the excep- tion. perhaps, of Mrs Brown. who had responded graciously to the salutation of Tubbs—Tubbs sleek and resplendent in fine linen and broadcloth—under the impression he was a visiting personage, finding out her mistake only when Mrs Loggam remarked, with extreme sweet- ness. "I did not know Mr Tubbs of the hotel was such a friend of yours!" The course was in splendid going order, and as there was no gate to pay, everybody was charmed, and exchanged luncheon and compliments until Flash Charley, in a shirr of paralysing purity, rode on to the running ground, the first of the "field." It was a great sight to see those con- testing shearers doing their "pre- liminaries" amidst an excitement grow- ing to fever heat. Squinting Dick was so carried away by the glory of his posi- tion. and did so many frantic gallops: for the edification of the grinning bush- men lining the post and rails, that be- fore the race begun his horse was hope- lessly "'pumped," and, in the language of a bystander. "hadn't a possible." Presently the starters were lined up and let away to race a mile, and after the first two hundred yards the race was farcical. Pious Pete at that early stage asking the blacksmith to pay. Herrick, holding hard, went clean from the field, and ultimately cantered in, sit- ting as straight as a cavalry officer, two hundred yards ahead of everything. Then came Flash Charley, about fifty yards away from the ruck, swearing profusely; and then came the ruck aforesaid with shouts, and whipcracks and voices making side-wagers. And, finally, Squinting Dick whipped every- thing in from a decent position in the rear amidst the jeers and jibes of his particular friends. After the Shearers' Sweepstakes Crooked Creek moved round. and asked its particular friends to drink from pri- vate and particular flasks and bottles, and then, as human nature is pretty much the same in the bush as in the Flemington "birdcage," found a won- derful shapeliness in the limbs of the winning horse, a rare touch of courage in its head, unmistakable indications of limberness in its hocks, and such other qualities whicl no one had re- marked on before. The fortunate back- ers of the winner took to themselves a high opinion of their judgment. In the meantime Bob Herrick had a wondrously satisfactory half-hour with Mary Brown, whilst her father, Pious Pete, was drinking with the blacksmith. What he said and what Mary replied I am not at liberty to mention, seeing that it was told to me in confidence: but Cruppy swears he saw Bob kiss Mary behind Anderson's waggonette. The value of this statement must be judged by you. There were other scratch races—hack races, trotting matches, high jumps— got up on the spot to make an after- noon's sport: after which Crooked Creek harnessed its horses and retired homewards. But it was in the private parlor of the Stockman that night, wherein were collected the successful and unsuccessful competitors to parti- cipate in what was termed a "settling up," the incident occurred that gives this story a widespread and universal interest. Between drinks and in a lull of the conversation, Cruppy was ob- served to suddenly start in his seat. A moment afterwards he observed:
"Well, chaps, there ain't no doubt of Herrick's colt being a flier." "I reckon you know that pretty well," observed Flash Charley, thinking bit- terly of his lost thirty pounds, "without rubbing it into a bloke afterwards." "It ain't that, Charley," said Cruppy; "but I've got an idea." "Ah, Cruppy's a man o' talent, ain't he!" exclaimed Pious Pete, sarcasti- cally. "Trot it out, Cruppy, trot it out, before it leaves you; you're accustomed to hang on to such things." "Well, if yer all goin' to talk like—" "Let us have it, Cruppy?" asked Her- rick, kindly. He could afford to be gra- cious to-night, and looked every bit his nick name—Handsome Bob. Cruppy was now disposed to be coy, but sundry deep-throated adjurations to "chuck it off" his chest, and such wise friendly advice, stimulated him to dis- close the idea. "You remember them Melbourne blokes comin' up here at New Year, and takin' us down with that mare, Flying Scud, at our meeting?" asked Cruppy, as a preliminary. They did remember. "Well, chaps, I was thinking, seeing
we've got such a flier as Bob's colt among us that it wouldn't be too bad to take him to Melbourne, an' take them city fellers down for their coin, same as they did us. There ain't no doubt but wot the colt is a remarkable flier—a gal- loper that would make station hacks o' most horses." "Blimme, Cruppy. you've struck it!" exclaimed Flash Charley, with em- phasis. Pious Pete and the rest of the company were visibly moved. A small country township like an individual, has an exaggerated sense of its own import- ance. Crooked Creek had never re- covered from the wound those Mel- bourne racing men had inflicted upon their vanity. Their ideas of city life were limited. They thought that Mel- bourne was laughing at them over that disastrous meeting, just as Sulkyville did when they cleaned out Crooked Creek with the Monaro horse, Dainty, three years ago. "You see, we might win the Mel- bourne Cup with him," continued Cruppy.
"Now your imagination's running a bit quick," said Pious Pete. "I doubt if the colt could stay two miles. But the Vernal Stakes, run the same day, is jest the thing—'o course, if Bob here reckons he'd like the mare to race." "Whatever you fellows think a fair thing is good enough for me," replied Bob Herricks, his remarks addressed undoubtedly to old Peter Brown. "Then," said Pious Pete, "we'll form a syndicate to enter and train the colt, Bob having half the profits, because he provides the horse; the syndicate having half the profits, because they find the coin. Is that square?" Herrick expressed himself as satis- fied. "Now," said Pious Pete, "who'll be the syndicate at ten pound a share?" Fifteen men volunteered promptly, and the names were recorded upon a piece of sugar bag in lead pencil. Crooked Creek was so bound together by isolation that they felt no necessity for a more legal document. "And now." said Pious Pete, who seemed to take the whole business upon himself, "what'll we name the colt?" There was no lack of suggestions, and each was characteristic of its source. Cruppy fancied "The Nark" as a suit- able name: Flash Charley stavored "Reckless;" Herrick thought "Marisa" might suit, and though the name may have had Scriptural inspiration, the company thought otherwise, and snig- gered; Pious Pete fancied "Devilskin." There were hundreds of other names suggested, and discussed with more or less rhetoric: but none met universal favor until Jerry Joyce, who was a politician, as well as a blacksmith, roared out in stentorian tones, "Federa- tion! that's the monacher for the nod- dy!" The syndicate shouted assented. Tubbs was called in. Federation was toasted in beakers deep, together with the name of Jerry Joyce, his god-father, whose wit made him so many effusive friends that his head paid sorely for it, in the morning.
"Then it's settled that Federation goes in training for the Vernal Stakes," said Pious Pete, smoothly. "And this I'll add, seeing that Bob's been hanging after my Mary like a motherless foal, that if the colt wins, and Bob promises to fix his share of the winnings on my daughter, I'll raise no more objections to their marryin', an' will add something to their little bit myself. But. o' course, if the colt don't win, Bob had better look otherwheres for a missus, cause he don't have Mary." The company nodded approval, and Herrick blushed crimson. "D'ye think that's fair, Bob?" de- manded Pious Pete. Bob thought it was precisely the op- posite, but did not deem it policy to say so, merely nodding assent. "That's settled then." said the old man, with grim satisfaction; "and if Crooked Creek falls in the fat there's some people I knows will flog a bit. The next thing, then, is to select a com-mit- tee to represent the syndicate's interests in Melbourne when it's time for the colt to go there. A com-mit-tee of five, without counting Bob. Who wants to be on it?"
The weighty nature of the office in question appalled the soul of the syndi- cate. They knew Crooked Creek; but Melbourne was known to few except by hearsay, and the fear of the unknown was upon them. At last, Flash Charley nervously announced himself, prefacing his candidature with a modest and de- precatory resume of his qualifications, among which he mentioned an ability to ride anything with a tail as a saving clause. Then Terry Joyce handed in his name. Squinting Dick considered if Charley was good enough to go, he was. Syrias Lamont, a free selector from Too- lambie, and the present writer, desired their claims to be considered. There was a pause. "Five only want to go, so there's no need for an election," remarked Pious Pete. "I think I'll nominate," said Cruppy, suddenly. "The com-mit-tee pay their own ex- penses," said Pious Pete, in admonitory tones. "Perhaps, after all, I couldn't spare the time," said Cruppy, so the com- mittee was elected, and moved with their friends to the bar. Bob Herrick reckoned he would go and see after the colt. Five minutes afterwards the crepitation of flying hoofs came faintly from the wooden bridge over the creek. "I s'pose he's gone to see after Mary while I'm away," said Pious Pete, with a grin. "Bob's a good-hearted fellow." Whether this surmise was true, history saith not, but it is certain that Billy Hayes. riding that night from Sully- ville, said he saw the colt hung up to Brown's fence, and a man leaning over the slip-rail. When asked if the man had company, he grew reserved; but, on being pressed, admitted that "There might have been a petticoat in the neighborhood."
CHAPTER III. "In the gray still summer morning, Ere the wing of light departs, The hooves drum up the dawning That will break the bookies' hearts." —The Escapade. After Federation had been duly en- tered for the Vernal Stakes, an unfore- seen difficulty arose over that noble ani- mal's training, which lasted for two weeks. Every individual member of the syndicate, including the committee, who considered their views official and absolute, had original ides, backed by long experience. of horseflesh; and every member wanted Federation pre- pared according to his own method. Thus one recommended a two mile gal- lop daily on oats and chaff. Another thought a mile and a half was quite suf- ficient on oats alone. A third argued against galloping altogether, and sug- gested long walks in sweaters. A fourth imagined horses ran better off the grass. And so it ran, until Bob Her- rick's hair grew bristly with perplexity. The culmination came one afternoon when Snell. the pig farmer, whose wife held strong opinions and read the news- papers without understanding. suggest- ed in all seriousness that his wife knew of a new fangled notion called "vege tarianism," which might suit Federa- tion down to the ground. Snell was an angry man when the schoolmaster laughed.
Bob Herrick finally consulted Mary Brown on the subject. "You see, dear," he said, "they all come along with dif- ferent advice, an' get grigged if I don't take it. What would you do?" "Bob," said Mary, without hesitation, "you know the horse better than any of them, and more about horses in gene- ral than any of them—at least I think so—so just you train him your own way and let all they say pass as talk." So Bob kissed Mary and went away determined to take this very sensible advice. When the syndicate found their pearls of wisdom were unheeded they called Bob the proverbial swipe, and over the whisky wished gloomily that no harm would come of not taking and
acting on their opinions. So the days passed until people grew tired of arising betimes to watch Federation's gallops, and the knot of spectators grew smaller and smaller, finally dwindling down to one only, and that a girl, Mary Brown, who rode down to the racecourse before superintending the morning dairying operations. "Federation must win," she frequent- ly remarked to Bob, when that gentle- man was in low spirits over an unsat- isfactory semi-trial. "May your words be true, darling." Bob was wont to say. And the tiny lad who rode the colt in exercise would ad- mire the heavens exceedingly and dis- creetly. But the depressed moods grew infrequent, for Federation galloped great guns like a racehorse. Crooked Creek watched eagerly for the weights, and on at last reading then adjourned in a body to Tubbs' to damp their enthusiasm. The weight was ridiculously low: six stone twelve pounds. Simply a feather on the back of Federation,who was a stayer, if any- thing at all. A select party rode down to Sulkyville to brag and make bets. They returned battered, bruised, but drunk with glory, having inveigled that unsophisticated township into laying nearly three hundred pounds against Herrick's colt. They received an ova- tion when the success of their mission was published, and Crooked Creek metaphorically, sat at their feet whilst their Homeric deeds were related, and the spilt blood estimated down to a fraction of a dram.
A second party invaded Slinker's Gully on a similar mission, only to find the residents anxious to meet requirements fistic. Upon finding nothing more pro- fitable than a seamed countenance could be expected, the party returned. amid a shower of clods, to their native hearth. Crooked Creek was not popular with its neighboring townships. so the inhabi- tants were believers in the aphorism that the strong always make enemies. At last a day came towards the end of October when Crooked Creek was stir- red to the heart: any stranger passing through, ignorant of the local manners, might have imagined it was a general election day at least, and be in a consti- tuency whose candidates were running on a very liberal platform indeed, be- lievers in beer if not sectarianism. The crowd swarmed about the Stock- man's Hotel like mosquitoes about a waterhole, and the centre of attention, the regarded of all regarders, was Fe- deration, clad in a marvellous newt rug of brilliant and many hues. He was leaving that afternoon in charge of the committee to complete his training at Flemington. Everyone in Crooked Creek intended to have at least a pound on him. Can you wonder at the multi- tude that thronged to say farewell! Flash Charley, to put it mildly, was intoxicated by the glory of the day, and a wondrous figure he made! For Char- ley. having some hazy idea that boots and cords. though in tone with Crooked Creek, were not quite the thing in a city, had at immense expense arrayed himself from the stock of Joshua Beane, general storekeeper, until, as the attendant ex- pressed it. he "looked the toff all through." Flash Charley was inclined to agree with this dictum, for every- thing looked so unmistakably new—the seams in the trousers so wondrously defined, the creases in the coat multitu- dinous, the shirt front with a sheen beyond the reach of mortal washer- woman. There was no doubt in Char- ley's mind that he at least would never be taken for a countryman. Thus as- sured that he looked quite the thing, he remarked, whilst Crooked Creek was having a valedictory drink with the committee, and entrusting its money to be laid out on Federation. that this mo- ment was the proudest in his "blooming natural, hanged if it wasn't!" and car- ried away by emotion he dashed out and mounted his horse, doing great deeds thereon to his personal satisfac- tion, but to the deadly peril of the chil- dren of the township. But, after Federation, Bob Herrick was the great hero of the hour. The men loved him, because he would never turn his back on a friend, a drink. or a foe. The women because he was hand- some, debonair, and had a love affair on his hands—that is, because they were match-makers, and had faith in the tam- ing qualities of matrimony. If Bob had received from Fate a fraction of the good fortune wished him, a healthy mil- lionaire would be be to-day. Unlike Flash Charley, he was not dressed for the occasion. "I s'pose Melbourne folks won't like you any bet- ter for your clothes." he said, when urged to purple and fine linen, thereby showing his complete ignorance of Melbourne's manner of thinking on that subject. So he was in
his old Sunday suit of grey tweed, slight- ly worn inside the knees by the saddle, and looked right well in it. But one article about him was new—a curiously woven necktie of brilliant silks. Its radiance shaded the sun. Perhaps it was not what an aesthetically minded person would call in distinct harmony, but it was the work of the fair hands of Mary Brown, executed in the night watches, and presented to Bob as a sur- prise, with faltered excuses on its hand- craftship. Bob swore it was the finest necktie ever made. and kissed the giver with something more than gratitude. Happy Bob! There was not a man in the district would not have worn thistles in his coat if Mary Brown had plucked them. The remaining members of the com- mittee were garbed with more or less magnificence, one of them remembering to this day with a blush that he only, of all those large-limbed, generous hearted, unsophisticated fellows wore a hat which is commonly called "a stove pipe." The last drinks, the invitation of Tubbs, were almost pathetic. Strong men wiped tears from their eyes. but whether this was the outcome of honest emotion, or merely a tribute to the strength of Tubbs' particular bulk. I was never rightly able to ascertain. The
start was witnessed by the whole popu- lation. Small boys yelled, old men cheered. women waved their hadker- chiefs, and when the cortege stopped for a moment to allow pretty Mary Brown to tie a rosette of blue ribbons on Federation's bridle—just for luck and for Bob! she said—the enthusiasm moved everybody to such extravagances of action that, as the journalists say, the scene baffles description. Bob Herrick. the committee, and some markedly interested friends re- ceded from Crooked Creek in a cloud of dust that vibrated from the cheers behind. As they swung round from, the creek, mak- ing for Sulkyville and the mainroad, Pious Pete, standing by Sliprails, stopped them. "There's a hundred quid," he said, handing Bob a chamois leather bag, "to invest on the colt. The wiunin's are for you an' Mary. So long!" The horses flung up the dust again as they broke into a trot, and then once more, loud and clear, the voice of Pious Pete was heard
"Don't give him much ter drink the day o' the race-an' Bob. don't forget he's jiggin' fer you an' Mary!" CHAPTER IV. "I asked him for a drink with me— Jack Ellis—my old mate, Jack! But his manner no longer was careless and free, He followed, but not with the grin that he Wore always in days Out Back." —H. Lawson. It is not my intention to describe the journey Melbournewards of Bob Her- rick, Federation and the committee. The camp fires ring of its main incidents un- to this day. How the colt walked into the horse box at Tallangatta, as quiet and self-possessed as a little man. How Squinting Dick scientifically chopped up a man from Sulkyville who happened on the platform to ease his soul in jeers at Crooked Creek. How a pleasant stranger in the carriage gained Flash Charley's friendship and confidence, and afterwards scurvily abused it to the tune of five pounds. How Dick was facetiously personal thereon until the
remainder of the committee were oblig- ed to sit on him (metaphorically, of course!), to preserve the peace. How Terry Joyce convinced an Afghan that hawking in a free country was sin- ful by the logical argument of throw- ing his bundle out of the window, the value of the same goods being after- wards subscribed by our friends to save Terry suffering the penalty usually at- tendant on unchecked political ideas. How Bob Herrick fell victim to baneful colic pains. through over indulgence in an exhilarating temperance beverage called "ginger-beer," pursuant to a policy of spirituous abnegation laid up on him by the prayer of Mary Brown. All these things and many more oc- curred on the journey; but, as I said before. they are the talk of the country- side, and if the reader desires more de- tail he or she need only make a trip to Crooked Creek.
In due time Federation was lodged at the training stables of Mr Stephonious Blox, Flemington, there to receive those last cunning touches indissolubly con- nected with success by the learned in equine lore. Blox eyed the colt with uncommon satisfaction, and after de- scribing the concentric circles with a thoughtful eye. arrived near enough to the horse to feel his fetlocks, smack his flanks, examine his teeth, and perform sundry other attendant mysteries, to the unspeakable awe and admiration of the committee, who bad long venerated Blox through the sporting papers. This done. Blox spat on the ground, and said, emphatically, "A clinker!" Upon which the Free Selector roared out, "My oath, he is!" and blushed at having spoken. "A clinker." said Mr Blox. "and the main that says otherwise don't know a horse from a spring cart." After which he commended Federation to a small stable boy. and led the committee away to whisky.
"No." said Blox, over the liquor, "it wants but ten days to Cup Day, and though the colt looks all right. I don't know what he is. until I see him gallop. You should have brought him down be- fore. I'll have a trial in about three days with old Coldstream. and then I'll tell you his chance. There's no doubt but what the Vernal Stakes takes a lot of winning. Miller's Reginald will take beating, without counting the surprises in the rest of the thirty entry. Any- how. we're in the dark yet. Now, do you give me complete control over the colt?" "We do," said Bob Herrick and the committee, unanimously. "Then." said. Blox. "Master Herrick who trained and knows the colt, will stay here with me. whilst you other gents had. better move round and see the city sights." So the "other gents" did move round. and got as sick of the city as bushmen usually do, under the circumstances of nothing particular to do. and unlimited time to do that nothing in. They wan- dered into the National Gallery, and al- though they kept their big slouch hats on had an uncomfortable feeling that the said hats should be off, and spoke in whispers with a reminiscent awe of the Crooked Creek weatherboard church hanging about them. The picture frames were voted very fine, and Jerry Joyce calculated their value to a deci- mal, but, perhaps. voiced the general opinion when he remarked. that, "arter all, given the same chance, the picture of the dying stockman in Tubbs' bar would wipe 'em all out." This peripatetic and slightly bibulous committee also visited the Waxworks, in Bourke street. They displayed re- markable interest in the tableaux de- scriptive of the fortunes of the Kelly Gang, but here again a. note of discord was struck. On entering the Chamber of Horrors. Squinting Dick said, with considerable profanity, that, in his opinion, it was immoral to show honest Christians "a yeller swine cuttin' the throat of a decent white woman." The committee sighed. and went out for a drink, to take the taste from their mouth. They walked up Collins street, they walked down Collins street, to the won- der of the city-bred. They eyed the trams with disfavor, as affecting the in- terests of horseflesh. "I don't believe in any bloomin' machinery doin' coves out of their graft." said Jerry Joyce. And at the same time he wondered why the Trades' Hall stood it. Then a great weariness came over the committee, driving them to the by ways to seek bronzed faces known in the old bush days, forcing them to the bars of public houses with a notable country connection. They finally dis- covered Kirk's Horse Bazaar, and here with something of interest to them, would spend whole days, discussing the merits and demerits of the "lots" with anyone charitable enough to talk to them, and chummed in with the stable helpers, growing sufficiently familiar to help them with the labors of the day. Here it was. too, that Flash Charley took to his simple heart a lean under- sized boy, whose honesty was question- able, but whose starvation was palpa- ble. A queer boy. with an unhealthy knowledge of the world and its vices, one of those hangers-on at suburban race meetings, probably a "ticket snatcher," who at that moment was finding out that dishonesty is not so profitable as one might believe, that the well-dressed and prosperous villain of the melodrama rarely walks off the stage into real life. Flash Charley fed this boy until one day he disappeared, and haunted the Bazaar with his sad vicious little face no more. And all the while was a gathering excitement in the city, and horses' names came naturally from the lips of men, as the Day—the great. unique equine day—came ever nearer, dragging fascinated peoples from bush, and plain, from the seashore and the mountains, and strange cities, to see the rarely-bred horses of thie land flash over two miles for the largest added money in the world. One morning. the committee hired a cab, and drove out to Blox's in style; the only man among them who seemed in any way oppressed by the uncertain- ty of the trial being the Free Selector, who seemed more anxious than was customary with him. But Blox's first words cheered even him: "We had the trial this morning." said the trainer, "and you can take it from me that there is nothing in the race can live with the colt. He is a cert. You can put your boots on him for the Ver- nal." The Free Selector sighed like a man putting down a heavy weight. "I'm bloomin' glad o' that." said he, "because this mornin' I met Cop Peters —you mind Cop, Bob. the chap you stoushed for slinging off at Mary—and he says to me, 'I hear you Crooked Creek fellows have brought a mighty colt down here to play with.' So I says it was a better horse than he or the whole of bloomin' Sulkyville could rear. So he laughed, and said he'd like to lay agen it. So, knowin' him to be bookying here, an' in one of the clubs, an' a sure ma:rk. I axes him the odds. 'Fifteen to one to you.' ses he. 'I take it in hundreds.' an' he look bloomin' sorry, but he smiles bitter like—you know the swine's way!—an' ses he hop- ed I could afford to lose it." "I don't like that chap," said Bob, musingly. "Nor do I." said the Free Selector. "But comin' away I chummed in with a very pleasant bloke; the best I've met in this 'ere uncivilised place, an' I axed him to spend next Monday night with us. The night before the races. An' we had a few drinks together, an' he said he would." "H'm!" said Bob. "Well, gents," said Blox, who seemed always anxious to get rid of the com- mittee, "I've got young Bourne to ride the colt, and reckon the race is ours. So if you want to do any betting, you'd better get back to town an' do it. I can't spare Bob here"— Blox had dropped the "mister" and the surname "but on Monday night, seeing every- thing will be serene, I'll let him away to spend the evening with you. Good day." . The hint was unmistakable, and the
committee left, after receiving from Bob about two hundred and fifty pounds to invest on Federation. That afternoon the satisfactory nature of the trial was wired to Tallangatta, and reached Crooked Creek on a sweating horse the nest morning. The com- mittee then started to lay out their money with the big bookmakers, who, surprised at the early betting on so comparatively an unimportant race as the Vernal Stakes, nevertheless opened out at a good price, and gave Crooked Creek all it wanted. Of course next morning the unusual betting was com- mented upon in the papers, and the nature of the trial having leaked out in some way, the public were advised to watch Federation, "the horse that came with a reputation from Crooked Creek. wherever that was." During the week some of the syndi- cate dropped down to town determined to see the end of their venture. I might say Crooked Creek by this time had a healthy sense of its insignificance, and no longer dreamed of taking down the Melbourne "push." That feeling was dead. The interest lay in an antici- pated triumph over jeering Sulkyville, and Bob's and Mary's love affair, to say nothing of their financial interest in the horse. Crooked Creek felt very humble in the swarming city streets, and were disposed to wish the whole affair well over. And on Monday night. Bob Herrick, coming in to spend the evening with the committee, received a great sur- prise. Pious Pete hhd come to Mel- bourne too, and Mary was with him. The meeting of the lovers was almost sacred in its way, and Flash Charley drank beer violently for two hours after having witnessed it. Then all went to gether to the theatre, and to see Mary's enjoyment of the show, a villainous melodrama of the most persecuting type, was pleasure enough in itself to last any reasonable man more than one evening. But the majority of the Crooked Creek gentlemen were not ob- servant, for truth to tell, the intervals between drinks were rather long for them, and, as the Free Selector re- marked. "Hoxw can yer open out to the heroine's tale o' woe when ye're thirsty an' she's takin' her time gettin' through." The "very pleasant bloke" was of the party. A fat, jolly little man was he, with a red nose and watery eye. and just the little blemish of being too pleasant altogether. Sugar ever cloys. After the theatre. Bob walked to the Coffee Palace with Pious Pete and Mary, appointing to meet the commit- tee at the Bull and Mouth later on. There they waited in the back parlor with whisky and the "very pleasant bloke" to entertain them. He answered to the name of Harris. and swore he had visited every corner of the world. As the waiting moments began to drag, Harris asked Flash Charley to oblige the company with a song. Charley was. however, too modest, and entreated his entreater to favor them. After softly depreciating his ability. Harris sang "The Bold Colonial Boy," a ballad that hymns the adventures of a certain gentleman, Jack Dowling by name, who logically left home to go bush- ranging because he "was his father's favorite son and mother's only joy." At its conclusion whilst Squinting Dick was commending it warmly and directing Harris to the whisky, Bob returned, and told the committee he was at their service for the rest of the night, as he did not return to Fleming- ton until the morning.
"Who's with Federation?" asked Jerry Joyce. "No one. There's a lock on the stable, and he isn't of sufficient importance to be hocussed or anything like that." said Bob. "I don't know about that," observed Joyce. "But no matter. Crooked Creek has a star of its own." These remarks were rather incoherent. The Free Selector advised Jerry to try soda water for a while. Just then Harris excused himself. A sudden appointment, he said, called him away. He shook hands graciously all round, and went his way whistling the opening bars of "Gentle Annie." The gentlemen from Crooked Creek. feeling all restraint removed, set in to have a good harmonious time. Flash Charley was eloquent upon his early loves to Bob at three o'clock in the morning, as they sat surrounded by their sleeping companions, the sole sur- vivors of that Homeric spree. Charley was taking them in alphabetical order. At the letter M he suffered interrup- tion. The night bell rang, the porter opened the front door, and without a word a ragged young urchin rushed in. "Wot do you want?" asked the porter. "Is the Crooked Creek push staying here?"
"Well; and what if they are?" "I want ter see the long pallish sort of cove wot's among 'em," said the boy authoritatively. "I reckon they are all drunk," said the porter. "That's a lie, anyhow!" roared Flash Charley. "If we're wanted, show the gentleman in." The porter led "the gentleman" in. "Blimme! it's The Sparrow!" cried Harry. "That's me," said the boy, erstwhile haunter of Kirk's Bazaar, "an' no errer. I want ter squeak you somethin'." "Want to what?" asked Bob. "Squeak-pitch yer a wrinkle. Don't yer understan' plain talkin.' " "'Aint he a daisy!" cried Flash Char- ley. "D'ye know a party by the name o' Harris?" asked the boy abruptly. "I reckon so.. 'Well?" "He's doctorin' yer neddy by this time." "He is?" Yes. He an' a cove called Peters works together." "Hounds!" said Flash Charley. Bob Herrick said something worse. "How do you know'?" asked one of the committee, rising like a man from the dead. "Never mind. It's true. You blokes had better get along an' see if you can spoil him." Three men, without a word, made for the door. "I'll give you a tenner to-morrow, if we mark the point." said Flash Char- lcy.
"I don't want nuffin." said the boy. "You was kind to me." Then, seeing the men leaving, his nature was too strong, and he ran after them, crying, "Well, if yer think it's worth anything yer might sling us somethin' now." They did so. Five minutes after- wards a cab driver was flogging for a fiver along the Flemington road. with three pale, silent passengers. The man earned his fee. The horse fell dead at Blox's gate, and promising to pay for it, the passengers went swiftly to the long range of stabling. Federation's box was unlocked. They opened the door quietly, and saw the faint glimmer of a shaded light at the far end, and everything was very quiet. With the silence of serpents they stole in; becom- ing accustomed to the light their eyes discovered a man lying in the straw. Were they yet in time? The man was suddenly torn from the straw and dashed against the wall with violence. Six hands clutched him, and his teeth rattled like castanets with the shaking. "Have you done your job?'! almost shrieked Bob Herrick, in his despair's agony. "No," gasped the man, "I'd only be- gun." It was Harris.
CHAPTER V. "Neck and neck! head and head! staring eye! nostril spread! Girth and stifle laid close to the ground!" —Gordon. If any reader of this veracious chron- icle expects herein an account of the Melbourne Cup Day he is doomed to a bitter disappointment; but with confi- dence I refer him to the newspapers. He will probably find no reference there to our heroes of Crooked Creek, because reporters, like the world, are prone to judge a man's importance by his dress; this, however, he will find, that it was
one of our glorious days, breeze and sunshine, and that the assemblage was brilliant, indeed. Possibly, I am pre- judiced when I maintain that, though Mary Brown's dress was not exactly fashionable, and received no praise in society journals, her face was un- doubtedly the prettiest on the lawn, though a little pale with anxiety. Flash Charley was in his own pecu- liar way dressed to admiration, which you may prove for yourself by visiting Tubbs' back parlor and looking on a certain photograph hanging there, with the name, "Charles Blake," written across in scrawling characters. This was taken a day after the races. The remainder of the committee upheld the dignity of Crooked Creek nobly, includ- ing Pious Pete, in black, and a walking stick. Three men from Sulkyville were green with envy, and drank themselves into unconsciousness before the second race. Peters was there, smiling; Harris was not; Federation' walked the birdcage with a bandage. In the second race Peerless fell, and the rider was carried on a stretcher to the grand-stand. As he happened to be the jockey Bourke, Bob Herrick, looking a perfect man with his quiet self-possession, in con- trast to the excited humanity around, whispered to Mary: "I'm afraid, dar- ling, luck's dead against us." Pious Pete overheard this, and remarked that he would be sorry if such proved to be the case, but that "he was a man who kept right down to his word." The Cup caused the usual delirious excitement; in'a calmer mood the people watched the Vernal Stakes. Federa- tion was favorite because the weight of the Crooked Creek money made him so; but Reginald, the Red Leap representa- tive, bad been doing startling trials on the training track, and the public fancied him. Firelight, Dundas, Heyington, and a dozen others were mentioned in the betting. Bourne, though badly shaken, determined to ride Federation, and the colt from Crooked Creek bore him on to the course, clad in the cream and rose jacket. The race! Well, one race is so much like another that description would weary. Reginald led all the way, and entered the straight six lengths ahead of everything. Federation was blocked and came out rather late: but, with a turn of speed that was electric, closed up the gap and won by a length. Heying- ton was third. Well, well! excitement sways the strongest among us. so the committee can be excused for their extravagances over the victory. Flash Charley and Squinting Dick wept in each others arms. Pious Pete took a walk to cool himself. The Free Selector sent an urgent wire to Crooked Creek. Bob and Mary looked unutterable things. It was, indeed, a sweet time! "Oh, Lord, what a spree we'll have to- night!" cried Jerry Joyce, when they,= collected together again. "What a spree! Crooked Creek has scooped nigh six thousand. I can fancy the way the boys will prance round when they get the news." "I think," said Pious Pete, "we'll save our spree up until we get back to Crooked Creek an' have the weddin'." "Why not have it down here?" asked Jerry, who hated delay in such a serious matter as drinking. "We should always support local in- dustry," said Pious Pete. "And ain't the parson and publican to be con- sidered? What d'ye think, Bob ?' "By all means," said Bob. And so it was settled. The triumphal homeward procession and the fight with Sulkyville was the biggest event in the history of the dis- trict.