“Of all the four of us,” she concluded her letter, “I am the only one who has been fortunate in love. I found my mate in the beginning, before there was time to make mistakes—the right man, whom I could love in the right way—and we have been kept for each other through all these years, although for a long time we did not know it. And now we are together—or shall be in a few days—never to part again. It is the only love-story in the family—I don’t except Rose’s, because I don’t call that a love-story—which has had a happy ending.”
Down the middle of the big T-shaped wool-shed, in two rows of six pens each, with an aisle between them, the bleating sheep were massed. They had been driven into that aisle and thus distributed, as a crowd of soldiers might be packed into their pews at church, and twelve little gates had then been shut upon them. Each gate had a corresponding one at the opposite end of the pen, opening upon a broad lane of floor, and facing a doorway into outside pens and the sunny paddocks of the background. Between gate and door, on his own section of the boarded lane, a sweating, bare-armed man with shears performed prodigies of strength and skill. Every few minutes he snatched a heavy sheep from the pen beside him, flung it with a round turn into a sitting posture between his knees, and with the calm indifference to its violent objections of the spider to those of the fly that he makes into a parcel, sliced off its coat like a cook peeling a potato. The fleece gently fell upon the floor, as you may see an unnoticed shawl slip from an old lady’s shoulders, and before it could realise what had happened, the poor naked animal found itself shot through the doorway, to stagger headlong down the sloping stage that was its returning path to freedom. Twelve of these stalwart and strenuous operators, lining the long walls at regular intervals, six a side, were at it with might and main (payment by results being the rule in this department of industry), and attendant boys strolled up and down, picking the fleeces from the floor and carrying them to the sorter’s table. One was the tar-boy, whose business it was to dab a brushful of tar upon any scarlet patch appearing upon a white under-coat where the shears had clipped too close. The sorter or classer stood behind his long table, above and at right angles to the lines of sheep-pens and shearers. Near him on either hand were racks like narrow loose-boxes, built against the walls; behind him the hydraulic press cranked and creaked as its attendants fed and manipulated it, and the great bales, that others were sewing up, weighing, and branding, were mounting high in the transepts of the building—the two arms of the capital T. The air was thick with woolly particles and the smell of sheep; the floor was dark and slippery, and everything one touched humid with the impalpable grease of the silky fleeces circulating all about the shed. Strict, downright, dirty business was the order of the day.