We were vaguely chatting on all and sundry matters, as we sat under the verandah that faced the billabong, when the traveller came into sight.
“Horse traveller!” Mac said, lazily shading his eyes, and then sprang to his feet with a yell. “Talk of luck!” he shouted. “You’ll do, missus! Here’s Johnny himself.”
It was Johnny, sure enough; but Johnny had a cheque in his pocket, and was yearning to see the “chaps at the Katherine”; and, after a good look through the House and store, decided that he really would have to go in to the Settlement for—tools and “things.”
“I’ll be back in a week, missus,” he said next morning, as he gathered his reins together before mounting, “and then we shan’t be long. Three days in and three out, you know, bar accidents, and a day’s spell at the Katherine,” he explained glibly. But the “chaps at the Katherine” proved too entertaining for Johnny, and a fortnight passed before we saw him again.
The Quiet Stockman was a Scotchman, and, like many Scotchmen, a strange contradiction of shy reserve and quiet, dignified self-assurance. Having made up his mind on women in general, he saw no reason for changing it; and as he went about his work, thoroughly and systematically avoided me. There was no slinking round corners though; Jack couldn’t slink. He had always looked the whole world in the face with his honest blue eyes, and could never do otherwise. He only took care that our paths did not cross more often than was absolutely necessary; but when they did, his Scotch dignity asserted itself, and he said what had to be said with quiet self-possession, although he invariably moved away as soon as possible.
“It’s just Jack’s way,” the Sanguine Scot said, anxious that his fellow Scot should not be misunderstood. “He’ll be all there if ever you need him. He only draws the line at conversations.”
But when I mounted the stockyard fence one morning, to see the breaking-in of the colts, he looked as though he “drew the line” at that too.
Fortunately for Jack’s peace of mind, horse-breaking was not the only novelty at the homestead. Only a couple of changes of everything, in a tropical climate, meant an unbroken cycle of washing-days, while, apart from that, Sam Lee was full of surprises, and the lubras’ methods of house-cleaning were novel in the extreme.
Sam was bland, amiable, and inscrutable, and obedient to irritation; and the lubras were apt, and merry, and open-hearted, and wayward beyond comprehension. Sam did exactly as he was told, and the lubras did exactly as they thought fit, and the results were equally disconcerting.
Sam was asked for a glass of milk, and the lubras were told to scrub the floor. Sam brought the milk immediately, and the lubras, after scrubbing two or three isolated patches on the floor, went off on some frolic of their own.