“You’ll have to live up to your reputation now,” the Dandy said, and, brave in the knowledge that he was within cooee, I ordered the old men about most unmercifully, leaving little doubt in their minds that “missus was big mob cheeky fellow.”
They were most deferential all day, and at sundown I completed my revenge by offering these rulers of a nation the insult of a woman’s protection. “If you are still afraid of the wild blacks, you may sleep near me to-night,” I said, and apologised for not having made the offer for the night before.
“You’ve got ’em on toast,” the Dandy chuckled as the offer was refused with a certain amount of dignity.
The lubras secretly enjoyed the discomfiture of their lords and masters, and taking me into their confidence, made it very plain that a lubra’s life at times is anything but a happy one; particularly if “me boy all day krowl (growl).” As for the lords and masters themselves, the insult rankled so that they spent the next few days telling great and valiant tales of marvellous personal daring, hoping to wipe the stain of cowardice from their characters. Fortunately for themselves, Billy Muck and Jimmy had been absent from the wood-heap, and, therefore, not having committed themselves on the subject of wild blacks, bragged excessively. Had they been present, knowing the old fellows well, I venture to think there would have been no intimidation scheme floated.
As the Dandy put it, “altogether the time passed pleasantly,” and when the Maluka returned we were all on the best of terms, having reached the phase of friendship when pet names are permissible. The missus had become “Gadgerrie” to the old men and certain privileged lubras. What it means I do not know, excepting that it seemed to imply fellowship. Perhaps it meant “old pal” or “mate,” or, judging from the tone of voice that accompanied it, “old girl,” but more probably, like “Maluka,” untranslatable. The Maluka was always “Maluka” to the old men, and to some of us who imitated them.
Dan came in the day after the Maluka, and, hearing of our “affairs,” took all the credit of it to himself.
“Just shows what a bit of educating’ll do,” he said. “The Dandy would have had a gay old time of it if I hadn’t put you up to their capers”; and I had humbly to acknowledge the truth of all he said.
“I don’t say you’re not promising well,” he added, satisfied with my humility. “If Johnny’ll only stay away long enough, we’ll have you educated up to doing without a house.”
Within a week it seemed as though Johnny was aiding and abetting Dan in his scheme of education; for he sent in word that his “cross-cut saw,” or something equally important, had doubled up on him, and he was going back to Katherine to “see about it straight off.”
Before the mustered horses were drafted out, every one at the homestead, blacks, whites, and Chinese, went up to the stockyard to “have a look at them.”