Friday, May 28, 2010

Prose Slam Friday

BILL and Jim, professional shearers, were coming into Bourke from the Queensland side. They were horsemen and had two packhorses. At the last camp before Bourke Jim’s packhorse got disgusted and home-sick during the night and started back for the place where he was foaled. Jim was little more than a new-chum jackeroo; he was no bushman and generally got lost when he went down the next gully. Bill was a bushman, so it was decided that he should go back to look for the horse.
Now Bill was going to sell his packhorse, a well-bred mare, in Bourke, and he was anxious to get her into the yards before the horse sales were over; this was to be the last day of the sales. Jim was the best “barracker” of the two; he had great imagination; he was a very entertaining story-teller and conversationalist in social life, and a glib and a most impressive liar in business, so it was decided that he should hurry on into Bourke with the mare and sell her for Bill. Seven pounds, reserve.

Next day Bill turned up with the missing horse and saw Jim standing against a veranda-post of the Carriers’ Arms, with his hat down over his eyes, and thoughtfully spitting in the dust. Bill rode over to him.

“’Ullo, Jim.”

“’Ullo, Bill. I see you got him.”

“Yes, I got him.’’ Pause.

“Where’d yer find him?”

“’Bout ten mile back. Near Ford’s Bridge. He was just feedin’ along.”

Pause. Jim shifted his feet and spat in the dust.

“Well,” said Bill at last. “How did you get on, Jim?”

“Oh, all right,” said Jim. “I sold the mare.”

“That’s right,” said Bill. “How much did she fetch?”

“Eight quid;” then, rousing himself a little and showing some emotion, “An’ I could ’a’ got ten quid for her if I hadn’t been a dam’ fool.”

“Oh, that’s good enough,” said Bill.

“I could ’a’ got ten quid if I’d ’a’ waited.”

“Well, it’s no use cryin’. Eight quid is good enough. Did you get the stuff?”

“Oh, yes. They parted all right. If I hadn’t been such a dam’ fool an’ rushed it, there was a feller that would ’a’ given ten quid for that mare.”

“Well, don’t break yer back about it,” said Bill. “Eight is good enough.”

“Yes. But I could ’a’ got ten,” said Jim, languidly, putting his hand in his pocket.

Pause. Bill sat waiting for him to hand over the money; but Jim withdrew his hand empty, stretched, and said:

“Ah, well, Bill, I done it in. Lend us a couple o’ notes.”

Jim had been drinking and gambling all night and he’d lost the eight pounds as well as his own money.

Bill didn’t explode. What was the use? He should have known that Jim wasn’t to be trusted with money in town. It was he who had been the fool. He sighed and lent Jim a pound, and they went in to have a drink.

Now it strikes me that if this had happened in a civilized country (like England) Bill would have had Jim arrested and jailed for larceny as a bailee, or embezzlement, or whatever it was. And would Bill or Jim or the world have been any better for it?


Alex said...

I imagine that the postscript to this story is that, as the night wore on and Bill got some liquor into him, he decided that he felt more strongly about the issue and the situation ended in a punch-up out the front of the Carriers’ Arms. By next morning they were friends again, though.

Perseus said...

Now that I've been there, I actually picture it as being set in Ivanhoe, NSW.

I'm sure Henry Lawson went there at some point and said pretty much what I said: The shittest town in Australia.

Alex said...

Nah, as any local will tell you, Ivanhoe used to be a nice place. It only turned to shit when they stopped using it as a rail port.

Perseus said...

It's still a rail port, Alex, though the only cargo they have is prisoners for the local jail.

They could probably freight fresh produce except the locusts ate it all.

Speaking of which, thing in the paper yesterday warned of a serious outbreak of locusts in spring. I saw millions of them when I was up there (and 'millions' is not an exaggeration)and here's the scary bit: Each adult female locust can lay up to 200 eggs.

Note to everyone here: Do NOT go anywhere near souther NSW, northern Vic and eastern SA this spring.

Alex said...

You knew what I meant though, right? Back in the days when everyone and everything travelled by train and the steam engines HAD to stop there to refill. Not that I got to personally experience those 'good old days'. Ask any local though, whether they remember it not, they'll tell you.