CHAPTER I. IN THE CLUB.
It was a summer’s evening in Sydney, and the north-east wind that comes down from New Guinea and the tropical islands over leagues of warm sea, brought on its wings a heavy depressing moisture. In the streets people walked listlessly, perspired, mopped themselves, and abused their much-vaunted climate. Everyone who could manage it was out of town, either on the heights of Moss Vale or the Blue Mountains, escaping from the Inferno of Sydney.
In the Cassowary Club, weary, pallid waiters brought iced drinks to such of the members as were condemned to spend the summer in town. The gong had sounded, and in ones and twos members shuffled out of the smoking-room, and went in to dinner. At last only three were left talking at the far end of the big, empty smoking-room, like three small stage conspirators at the end of a very large robbers’ cavern.
One was a short, fat, red-faced man, who looked like a combination of sea-captain and merchant, and who was the local representative of a big English steamship company. His connection with the mercantile marine had earned him his nickname of “The Bo’sun.” By his side sat Pinnock, a lean and bilious-looking solicitor; the third man was an English globe-trotter, a colourless sort of person, of whom no one took any particular notice until they learnt that he was the eldest son of a big Scotch whisky manufacturer, and had £10,000 a year of his own. Then they suddenly discovered that he was a much smarter fellow than he looked. The three were evidently waiting for somebody. The “Bo’sun” had a grievance, and was relieving his mind by speech. He walked up and down between the smoking-room chairs, brandishing a telegram as he talked, while the attorney and the globe-trotter lay back on the lounge and admired his energy.
“I call it a shame,” he said, facing round on them suddenly; “I could have got up to Moss Vale for a day or two, and now old Grant of Kuryong wires me to meet and entertain a new chum. Just listen to this: ‘Young Carew, friend of mine, on Carthaginia. Will you meet him and show him round; oblige me—W. G. Grant.’ I met the old fellow once or twice at dinner, when he was in town for the sheep sales, and on the strength of that he foists an unknown callow new chum on to me. People are always doing that kind of thing.”
“Leave his friend alone, then,” said Pinnock; “don’t have anything to do with him. I know his sort—Government House young man the first week, Coffee Palace at two shillings a night the second week, boiler on the wharf the third week, Central Police Court the fourth week, and then exit so far as all decent people are concerned.”
The Bo’sun stuffed the telegram into his pocket and sat down.
“Oh, I don’t suppose he’ll be so bad,” he said. “I’ve asked him here to-night to see what he’s like, and if he’s no good I’ll drop him. It’s the principle I object to. Country people are always at this sort of thing. They’d ask me to meet an Alderney bull and entertain him till they send for him. What am I to do with an unknown new chum? I’d sooner have an Alderney bull—he’d be easier to arrange for. He’d stop where he was put, anyhow.”
Here Gillespie, the globe-trotter, cut into the conversation. “I knew a Jim Carew in England,” he said, “and if this is the same man you will have no trouble taking care of him. He was a great man at his ‘Varsity—triple blue, or something of the sort. He can row and run and fight and play football, and all that kind of thing. Very quiet-spoken sort of chap—rather pretends to be a simple sort of Johnny, don’t you know, but he’s a regular demon, I believe. Got into a row at a music-hall one night, and threw the chucker-out in among a lot of valuable pot plants, and irretrievably ruined him.”
“Nice sort of man,” said the Bo’sun. “I’ve seen plenty of his sort, worse luck; he’ll be borrowing fivers after the first week. I’ll put him on to you fellows.”
The globe-trotter smiled a sickly smile, and changed the subject. “What’s old Grant like—the man he’s going to? Squatter man, I suppose?”
“Oh, yes, and one of the real old sort, too,” interposed Pinnock, “perfect gentleman, you know, but apt to make himself deuced unpleasant if everything doesn’t go exactly to suit him; sort of chap who thinks that everyone who doesn’t agree with him ought to be put to death at once. He had a row with his shearers one year, and offered Jack Delaney a new Purdey gun if he’d fire the first two charges into the shearers’ camp at night.”
“Ha!” said Gillespie. “That’s his sort, eh? Well, if this Carew is the Carew I mean, he and the old fellow will be well met. They’ll about do for each other in the first week or two.”
“No great loss, either,” said the Bo’sun. “Anyhow I’ve asked this new chum to dinner to-night, and Charlie Gordon’s coming too. He was in my office to-day, but hadn’t heard of the new chum. Gordon’s a member now.”
“What’s he like?” said Gillespie. “Anything like the gentleman that wanted the shearers killed?”
“Oh, no; a good fellow,” said the Bo’sun, taking a sip of sherry. “He manages stations for Grant, and the old man has kept him out on the back-stations nearly all his life. He was out in the Gulf-country in the early days—got starved out in droughts, swept away in floods, lost in the bush, speared by blacks, and all that sort of thing, in the days when men camped under bushes and didn’t wear shirts. Gone a bit queer in the head, I think, but a good chap for all that.”
“How did this Grant make all his money” asked Gillespie. “He’s awfully well off, isn’t he? Stations everywhere? Is he any relation to Gordon?”
“No; old Gordon—Charlie’s father—used to have the money. He had a lot of stations in the old days, and employed Grant as a manager. Grant was a new chum Scotchman with no money, but a demon for hard work, and the most headstrong, bad-tempered man that ever lived—hard to hold at any time. After he’d worked for Gordon for awhile he went to the diggings and made a huge pile; and when old Gordon got a bit short of cash he took Grant into partnership.”
“It must have been funny for a man to have his old manager as a partner!”
“It wasn’t at all funny for Gordon,” said the lawyer, grimly. “Anything but funny. They each had stations of their own outside the partnership, and all Gordon’s stations went wrong, and Grant’s went right. It never seemed to rain on Gordon’s stations, while Grant’s had floods. So Gordon got short of money again and borrowed from Grant, and when he was really in a fix Grant closed on him and sold him out for good and all.”
“What an old screw! What did he do that for?”
“Just pure obstinacy—Gordon had contradicted him or something, so he sold him up just to show which was right.”
“And what did Gordon do after he was sold up?”
“Died, and didn’t leave a penny. So then Bully Grant wheeled round and gave Gordon’s widow a station to live on, and fixed the two sons up managing his stations. Goodness knows how much he’s worth now. Doesn’t even know it himself.”
“And has he no children? Was he ever married?”
The lawyer lit a cigarette and puffed at it.
“He went to England and got married; there’s a daughter. The wife’s dead; the daughter is in England still—never been out here. There’s a story that before he made his money he married a bush girl up on the station, but no one believes that. The daughter in England will get everything when he dies. A chance for you, Gillespie. Go home and marry her—she’ll be worth nearly a million of money.”
“I’ll think about it,” said the globe-trotter.
As he spoke a buttony boy came up to the Bo’sun.
“Gentleman to see you, sir,” he said. “Mr. Carew, sir.”
The Bo’sun hurried off to bring in his guest, while Pinnock called after him—“Mind your eye, Bo’sun. Be civil to him. See that he doesn’t kill a waiter or two on the way up. Not but what he’d be welcome to do it, for all the good they are here,” he added, gloomily, taking another sip of his sherry and bitters; and before he had finished it the Bo’sun and his guest entered the room.
They had expected to see a Hercules, a fiery-faced, fierce-eyed man. This was merely a broad-shouldered, well-built, well-groomed youth, about twenty-three years of age; his face was square and rather stolid, clean-shaven, brown-complexioned, with honest eyes and a firm-set mouth. As he stood at the door he adopted the wooden expression that a University man always wears in the presence of strangers. He said nothing on being introduced to Pinnock; and when the globe-trotter came up and claimed acquaintance, defining himself as “Gillespie of Balliol,” the stranger said he didn’t remember him, and regarded him with an aspect of armed neutrality. After a sherry and bitters he thawed a little, and the Bo’sun started to cross-examine him.
“Mr. Grant of Kuryong wired to me about you,” he said. “I suppose you came in the Carthaginia?”
“Yes,” said the stranger, speaking in the regulation English University voice, a little deeper than usual. “I left her at Adelaide. I’m out for some bush experience, don’t you know. I’ll get you to tell me some place to stop at till I leave, if you don’t mind.”
His manner was distinctly apologetic, and he seemed anxious to give as little trouble as possible.
“Oh! you stop here,” said the Bo’sun. “I’ll have you made an honorary member. They’ll do you all right here.”
“That’s awfully good of you. Thanks very much indeed.”
“Oh! not at all. You’ll find the club not so bad, and a lot better than where you’re going with old Grant. He’s a regular demon to make fellows work. It’s pretty rough on the stations sometimes.”
“Ah! yes; awf’lly rough, I believe. Quite frightened me, what I heard of it, don’t you know. Still, I suppose one must expect to rough it a bit. Eh, what!”
“Charlie Gordon will he here in a minute,” said the Bo’sun. “He can tell you all about it. Here he is now,” he added, as the door swung open and the long-waited-for guest entered the room.
The newcomer was unmistakably a man from Far Out; tall, wiry-framed, and very dark, and so spare and lean of figure that he did not seem to have an ounce of superfluous flesh anywhere. His face was as hard and impassive as a Red Indian’s, and looked almost black by contrast with his white shirt-front. So did his hands. He had thin straight hair, high cheek-bones, and a drooping black moustache. But the eyes were the most remarkable feature. Very keen and piercing they were, deep-set in the head; even when he was looking straight at anyone he seemed to be peering into endless space through the man in front of him. Such eyes men get from many years of staring over great stretches of sunlit plain where no colour relieves the blinding glare—nothing but dull grey clumps of saltbush and the dull green Mitchell grass.
His whole bearing spoke of infinite determination and self-reliance—the square chin, the steadfast eyes, telling their tale as plainly as print. In India he might have passed for an officer of native cavalry in mufti; but when he spoke he used the curious nasal drawl of the far-out bushman, the slow deliberate speech that comes to men who are used to passing months with the same companions in the unhurried Australian bush. Occasionally he lapsed into reveries, out of which he would come with a start and break in on other people’s conversation, talking them down with a serene indifference to their feelings.
“Come out to old man Grant, have you?” he drawled to Carew, when the ceremonies of introduction were over. “Well, I can do something better for you than that. I want a mate for my next trip, and a rough lonely hot trip it’ll be. But don’t you make any mistake. The roughest and hottest I can show you will be child’s play to having anything to do with Grant. You come with me.”
“Hadn’t I better see Mr. Grant first?”
“No, he won’t care. The old man doesn’t take much notice of new chums—he gets them out by the bushel. He might meet a man at dinner in England and the man might say, “Grant, you’ve got some stations. I’ve got a young fellow that’s no use at home—or anywhere else for that matter—can’t you oblige me, and take him and keep him out of mischief for a while?” And if the old man had had about a bottle of champagne, he’d say, “Yes, I’ll take him—for a premium,” or if he’d had two bottles, he’d say, “Send along your new chum—I’ll make a man of him or break his neck.” And perhaps in the next steamer out the fellow comes, and Grant just passes him on to me. Never looks at him, as likely as not. Don’t you bother your head about Grant—you come with me.”
As he drawled out his last sentence, a move was made to dinner; so the Englishman was spared the pain of making any comments on his own unimportance in Mr. Grant’s eyes, and they trooped into the dining-room in silence.
Categories: English Literature