|Newspaper Title||Chronicle (Adelaide, SA : 1895 - 1954)|
|Trove Title||When Wings Are Clipped|
When Wings Are Clipped
By ARTHUR W. UPFIELD
THE reason why the Midnight Mail mar- tied the Paroo Parrot always remained ob- scure, for through mat- rimony both appeared to lose much more than they gained.
There was the Midnight Mail knock- ing up good cheques; leaving a job when he wished to walk hundreds of miles with his swag lashed to a pedal- less bicycle; as free as the birds and as unmindful of the future. And there was the Paroo Parrot, who, with her tribe of children, drove small mobs of sheep to the Burke butchers, or took young rams from the railway station to the sheep stations through which runs the Paroo River— about once every 80 years. It may be that she was more far-seeing than the birds and the Midnight Mail, but, for all that, one could not see how she gained by marriage. In a roundabout way we had heard about the wedding, and of the home the Midnight Mail made for his bride on the outskirts of Wilcannia; and then, to our further astonishment, in less than a month from the wedding day, the bridegroom turned up to ac- cept a fencing contract on Momba. To Momba came the Midnight Mail with the pedal-less bike and much gear loaded on the buckboard formerly be- longing to the Paroo Parrot. He was wanting a mate, and it happened that I wanted a change of scene. "I got 11 miles at £18 a mile,' he ex plained while carving into my tobacco plug. "I got the plant and we'll go fifty-fifty in tucker, drill-bits and the cheque. It's easy country, and we'll slip through it like a hot knife through fat' "What did you want to take a fenc- ing contract in December for?" I asked him complainingly, when, a week later, we were slaving from dawn till dark cutting pine posts. At that his eyes lit up and the hairs of his grey moustache trembled like cat's whiskers. For an instant his long wiry form relaxed against his axe, and down his face and chest ran glis- tening drops of sweat. "Can't beat the summer for hard work," he replied, cheerfully. "A man likes tea-drinkin' in summer better'n in winter. In winter 'is muscles is too cramped up." There was no possibility of cramped muscles during three months. "Come on! Day's breakin'! Break- fust's ready!" invariably was his morn- ing greeting; and at the end of the long day, when I was so tired that to move was painful, when my hands were smeared with mutton fat and wrapped in rags, he would cheerfully set to work making a damper and boiling salt mut- ton for the morrow. "When we gets through this job, 'Ampshire, you and me wall go inter Wilcannia, and you can come and camp with us. We got a good 'ouse with a south verandee, and on that verandee we'll lie in deck chairs and drink nice cold beer," was the vision he con- stantly created when the temperature was around 110 and from the flies there was no escape. "My old Dutch ain't narrer minded, and we can send young Alf to the Globe with a cuppler jugs. Come night we can take a stroll round the town end have a schooner or two with any of the boys 'appening to be on the bust." "Sounds good." "Good! 'Course it's good! Here's me, 62 come next May. For nigh 40 years I bin tearin' up and down Noo South. No comfort, no ease in me old age. Marriage! Why, marriage is the greatest invention of any. What more can a man want than a lovin' woman ministerin' to 'is needs?" I agreed— even though I had known the Paroo Parrot for seven years. Every night did the Midnight Mail discourse on the haven on that south verandah in company with jugs of beer. I got to know the habits and the dispositions of the many step- children, and I came to know more about the Paroo Parrot than an un- married man should have known. I dreamed about deck chairs in which I need not move one single muscle for hours— save to reach for a jug— and of the cool verandah and of a team of bare-legged youngsters constantly carrying away empty jugs and return- ing with them capped with foam. ** "YOU'LL be all right once we get 'ome," the Midnight Mail assured me when, our contract finished, we drove away from Momba on the 45 mUa Journey to the Queen City of the West. "Ah! A lovin' woman's gentle 'ands arrangin' the cushions and puttin' a jam case under your feet! A table atween us and jugs of ale at our el- bows!' Ah, rest! Blessed ease! "Drive the mokes faster so's we get there sooner," I pleaded. "My back!
Lean forward while I arrange this wogga over the back of the seat." "Don't you worry, 'Ampshire," he further assured me. "Just now you're a bit run down like. You wants lookin' after. Marriage! A woman's lovin' 'ands—" All that day we jogged along on the high seat of the buckboard which again contained the pedal-less bike in addition to the fencer's outfit. My partner swore he would never move without that machine. It had been his friend and his mistress in the days when he delighted— and had been free —to walk and push it at night in pre- ference to the day. It was early March and the still heat shimmering above the scrub-bordered track was terrific. In a kind of stupor I lived through the hours listening to the tale of a cool south verandah. That night we camped at a station dam. The next day it was hotter still. The dust rose behind us to hover motionless in the air. I was so stiff that every little jar tortured me. "Gonna git a storm." That aroused me to look up at the sky. The sun was at a little after three o'clock. It was the color of blood, semi-masked by a high, grey haze. "Wind!" ejaculated the Midnight Mail. "Hope it don't come till to- morrer. We'll keep going and get to Wilcannia about nine tonight. We'll 'ave a brush up, and then we'll slip along to the Globe for a schooner or two." "But the deck chairs— the verandah shade— the jugs of cold beerl" "That'll start as from six in the morning. The pubs don't open until six o'clock." * WE were watering the weary horses at the Government tank seven miles out of Wilcannia when the storm heaved itself above the long hill range to the west. So dark was the smother of sand that the hills themselves ap- peared swiftly to rise into towering mountains. "Better camp," advised the main in charge of the dam. "I reckon," agreed the Midnight Mail, regretfully. Removing the harness, we let the horses loose in a small paddock and rushed to the shelter of the damkeep- er's hut. The wind sprang up from the east. The sun went out— flick. The ramshackle hut swayed and rat- tled beneath the forces of the east wind sweeping eagerly to meet the duststorm. "Shut the door! Good job there ain't no winders," said the dam keeper. "Why in 'ell couldn't it have kept orf till tomorrer?" growled my mate, slamming shut the door at the in- stant that daylight failed. In the gloom, the dam-keeper crouched over the fire coaxing the billy to boil. Came a lull of grave-like stillness. Then the first buffet of the west wind, and the gloom was deep- ened by the sand and dust which hissed against the iron walls and roof and which entered through a thousand chinks. We ate and drank. The damper and the slabs of salt meat were encrusted with sand, colored a light reddish brown, and on the tea in our tin pannikins lay a scum of dust. Later, we rolled out our nap on the floor When I was awakened, I asked the usual question, "Day breaking?" "It broke two hours ago." Two hours ago! It was as dark as the false dawn. All that day we crouched on the floor expecting the hut to be blown from off us. We drank tea and ate the last of the cooked food. To cook more was im- possible. All that day and night, all through the next day and night, the sand storm kept us prisoners in the
crazy hut. The third morning the sun rose as though such things as wind and sand never had existed. "Ah, now we shan't be long, 'Amp shire," remarked the Midnight Mail with resumed cheerfulness. 'We'll be lying in them deck chairs smoking and drinking cold beer before noon." "What about a feed?" I anxiously enquired. "Tucker! You bet! My ole Dutch can cook, I'll say that about 'er. She'll 'ave a feed ready fer us in five min- utes. Whiles she's gettin' it, we'll send young Alf orf with a cuppler jugs." * EVENTUALLY, we arrived. The verandah was unfloored. I saw no deck chairs. It was occupied by three small children, seven or eight hens, a family of pups and two milk- ing goats. As we drove up to the back door five other children raced out to greet us— half naked, healthy sun- urchins. The last to emerge from the warren was the Paroo Parrot. "So you've come 'ome, 'ave- you?" she said shrilly. She was little and wiry, with small, washed out brown eyes and a rat trap mouth. The back of her skirt almost touched the ground, and the front hem reached almost to her knees. "Yes, dear, I've come 'ome," agreed her spouse. "A cheque's in me pocket, and a good mate's alongside me." To a lanky youth, the Midnight Mail added in a roar, "Alf, go along to the Globe and fetch a gallon of beer. Tell 'em yer father's come 'ome, and will pay for it later." "That's right, Alf," agreed the Paroo Parrot with what struck me as sinister alacrity. Then she screamed at ano- ther youth, "Bill, you go and borrer the wheelharrer of'n Mrs. Tinley. You others, you hunt up a shovel. It's over ther on the ash-'eap, I think." We unharnessed the horses, and a youngster named 'Enery took them to the town common. We approached the house at the same time as did the shovel and the barrow. Within the house was a sandhill, in places the sand was a foot deep on the floor. Excepting the kitchen table and several jam cases, evidently used that morning for breakfast, every article of furniture, every wall projection, was loaded with sand as tree branches are loaded with snow on the highlands. The woman screamed at us; the chil- dren got in the away. The Midnight Mail labored with the shovel and I labored with the barrow. I wheeled out of the house and to the ash-heap at least seventy loads of sand. Deck chairs! A shady verandah! Glass jugs kept filled with beer! I was glad to drink out of a tin pan nikin. We ate standing up and battled with the flies for the food. About three o'clock I grabbed me swag off the buck board and made my way to the Globe Hotel. ^^ THE Midnight Mail turned up the next morning. "There's a fencing contract going out on Grimpa," he said, his blue eyes sad, the corners of his mouth sagging. "I'm going to camp here for a month," I told him firmly. "Aw, come on! Let's get out of town," he pleaded. "The old Dutch 'as got me cheque." "Hard luck! I'll lend you a tenner." At that he brightened, and then he gave indubitable evidence that already he had learned the married man's craft, or graft. "Will you? All right! But I won't take it all at once. Gimma a half note now and then." I felt sorry for the Midnight Mail. His wanderings were over. His wings were clipped. Beer in glass jugs! A shady verandah! Meals served "by the lovin' 'ands of a woman !" I felt sorry, too, for the Paroo Parrot, living in that house after the years of free- dom spent on the great mulga lands west o' Darling. We left for the Grimpa contract well within the week.