The next day passed branding the cattle, and the following as we arrived within sight of the homestead, Dan was congratulating the Maluka on the “missus being without a house,” and then he suddenly interrupted himself “Well, I’m blest!” he said. “If we didn’t forget all about bangtailing that mob for her mattress.”
We undoubtedly had, but thirty-three nights, or thereabouts, with the warm, bare ground for a bed, had made me indifferent to mattresses, and hearing that Dan became most hopeful of “getting her properly educated” yet.
Cheon greeted us with his usual enthusiasm, and handed the Maluka a letter containing a request for a small mob of bullocks within three weeks.
“Nothing like keeping the ball rolling,”, Dan said, also waxing enthusiastic, while the South-folk remained convinced that life out-bush is stagnation.
Dan and the Quiet Stockman went out to the north-west immediately, to “clean up there” before getting the bullocks together; but the Maluka, settling down to arrears of bookkeeping, with the Dandy at his right hand, Cheon once more took the missus under his wing feeding her up and scorning her gardening efforts.
“The idea of a white woman thinking she could grow water-melons,” he scoffed, when I planted seeds, having decided on a carpet of luxuriant green to fill up the garden beds until the shrubs grew. The Maluka advised “waiting,” and the seeds coming up within a few days, Cheon, after expressing surprise, prophesied an early death or a fruitless life.
Billy Muck, however, took a practical interest in the water-melons, and to incite him to water them in our absence, he was made a shareholder in the venture. As a natural result, the Staff, the Rejected, and the Shadows immediately applied for shares—pointing out that they too carried water to the plants—and the water-melon beds became the property of a Working Liability Company with the missus as Chairman of Directors.
The shadows were as numerous as ever, the rejected on the increase, but the staff was, fortunately, reduced to three for the time being; or, rather, reduced to two, and increased again to three: Judy had been called “bush” on business, and the Macs having got out in good time.
Bertie’s Nellie and Biddie had been obliged to resign and go with the waggons, under protest, of course, leaving Rosy and Jimmy’s Nellie augmented by one of the most persistent of all the shadows—a tiny child lubra, Bett-Bett.
Most of us still considered Bett-Bett one of the shadows but she persisted that she was the mainstay of the staff. “Me all day dust ’im paper, me round ’im up goat” she would say. “Me sit down all right”.