“Eyes front!” Mac shouted suddenly, and in a moment the homestead was in sight, and the front gate forty-five miles behind us. “If ever you do reach the homestead alive,” the Darwin ladies had said; and now they were three hundred miles away from us to the north-west.
“Sam’s spotted us!” Mac smiled as we skimmed on, and a slim little Chinaman ran across between the buildings. “We’d better do the thing in style,” and whipping up the horses, he whirled them through the open slip-rails, past the stockyards, away across the grassy homestead enclosure, and pulled up with a rattle of hoofs and wheels at the head of a little avenue of buildings.
The Dandy, fresh and spotless, appeared in a doorway; black boys sprang up like a crop of mushrooms and took charge of the buck-board; Dan rattled in with the pack-teams, and horses were jangling hobbles and rattling harness all about us, as I found myself standing in the shadow of a queer, unfinished building, with the Maluka and Mac surrounded by a mob of leaping, bounding dogs, flourishing, as best they could, another “Welcome home!”
“Well?” Mac asked, beating off dogs at every turn. “Is it a House or a Hut?”
“A Betwixt and Between,” we decided; and then the Dandy was presented, And the steady grey eyes apparently finding “something decent” in the missus, with a welcoming smile and ready tact he said: “I’m sure we’re all real glad to see you.” Just the tiniest emphasis on the word “you”; but that, and the quick, bright look that accompanied the emphasis, told, as nothing else could, that it was “that other woman” that had not been wanted. Unconventional, of course; but when a welcome is conventional out-bush, it is unworthy of the name of welcome.
The Maluka, knew this well, but before he could speak, Mac had seized a little half-grown dog—the most persistent of all the leaping dogs—by her tightly curled-up tail, and, setting her down at my feet, said: “And this is Tiddle’ums,” adding, with another flourishing bow, “A present from a Brither Scot,” while Tiddle’ums in no way resented the dignity. Having a tail that curled tightly over her back like a cup handle, she expected to be lifted up by it.
Then one after the other Mac presented the station dogs: Quart-Pot, Drover, Tuppence, Misery, Buller, and a dozen others; and as I bowed gravely to each in turn Dan chuckled in appreciation: “She’ll do! Told you she was the dead finish.”
Then the introductions over, the Maluka said: “Ann, now I suppose she may consider herself just ‘One of Us.’”
The homestead, standing half-way up the slope that rose from the billabong, had, after all, little of that “down-at-heels, anything’ll-do” appearance that Mac had so scathingly described. No one could call it a “commodious station home,” and it was even patched up and shabby; but, for all that, neat and cared for. An orderly little array of one-roomed buildings, mostly built of sawn slabs, and ranged round a broad oblong space with a precision that suggested the idea of a section of a street cut out from some neat compact little village.