“But he likes an excuse for a nobbler as well as any one. Did I tell you that they had fires over at Jackson’s yesterday—at Goolaroo?”
“Was there any harm done?”
“A deal of grass burned, and they had to drive the sheep, which won’t serve them this kind of weather. I don’t know which I fear most—the grass, the fences, or the sheep. As for the buildings, I don’t think they’ll try that again.”
“Why not, Harry?”
“The risk of being seen is too great. I can hardly understand that a man like Nokes should have been such a fool as he was.”
“You think it was Nokes?”
“Oh yes, certainly. In the first place, Jacko is as true as steel. I don’t mean to swear by the boy, though I think he is a good boy. But I’m sure he’s true in this. And then the man’s manner to myself was conclusive. I can not understand a man in Medlicot’s position supporting a fellow like that. By Heavens! it nearly drives me mad to think of it. Thousands and thousands of pounds are at stake. All that a man has in the world is exposed to the malice of a scoundrel like Nokes! And then a man who calls himself a gentleman will talk about it being un-English to look after him. He’s a ‘new chum;’ I suppose that’s his excuse.”
“If it’s a sufficient excuse, you should excuse him,” said Kate, with good feminine logic.
“That’s just like you all over. He’s good-looking, and therefore it’s all right. He ought to have learned better. He ought, at any rate, to believe that men who have been here much longer than he has must know the ways of the country a great deal better.”
“It’s Christmas-time, Harry,” said his wife, “and you should endeavor to forgive your neighbors.”
“What sort of a Christmas will it be if you and I, and these young fellows here, and Kate, are all burned out of Gangoil? Here’s Bates.- -Well, Mr. Bates, how goes it?
“Tremendous hot, Sir.”
“We’ve found that out already. You haven’t heard where that fellow Boscobel has gone?”
“No; I haven’t heard. But he’ll be over with some of those Brownbie lads. They say Georgie Brownbie’s about the country somewhere. If so, there’ll be a row among ’em.”
“When thieves fall out, Mr. Bates, honest men come by their own.”
“So they say, Mr. Heathcote. All the same, I shouldn’t care how far Georgie was away from any place I had to do with.” Then the young master and his old superintendent sauntered out to his back premises to talk about sheep and fires, and plans for putting out fires. And no doubt Mr. Bates had the glass of brandy-and-water which he had come to regard as one of his Sunday luxuries. From the back premises they went down to the creek to gauge the water. Then they sauntered on, keeping always in the shade, sitting down here to smoke, and standing up there to discuss the pedigree of some particular ram, till it was past six.
“You may as well come in and dine with us, Mr. Bates,” Harry suggested, as they returned toward the station.