It was the year we put the bottom paddock under potatoes. Dad was standing contemplating the tops, which were withering for want of rain. He shifted his gaze to the ten acres sown with corn. A dozen stalks or so were looking well; a few more, ten or twelve inches high, were coming in cob; the rest hadn’t made an appearance.
Dad sighed and turned away from the awful prospect. He went and looked into the water-cask. Two butterflies, a frog or two, and some charcoal were at the bottom. No water. He sighed again, took the yoke and two kerosene-tins, and went off to the springs.
About an hour and a half after he returned with two half-tins of muddy, milky-looking water — the balance had been splashed out as he got through the fences — and said to Mother (wiping the sweat off his face with his shirt-sleeve)—
“Don’t know, I’m SURE, what things are going t’ come t’; . . . no use doing anything . . . there’s no rain . . . no si ——” he lifted his foot and with cool exactness took a place-kick at the dog, which was trying to fall into one of the kerosene-tins, head first, and sent it and the water flying. “Oh you ——!” The rest is omitted in the interests of Poetry.
Day after. Fearful heat; not a breath of air; fowl and beast sought the shade; everything silent; the great Bush slept. In the west a stray cloud or two that had been hanging about gathered, thickened, darkened.
The air changed. Fowl and beast left the shade; tree-tops began to stir — to bend — to sway violently. Small branches flew down and rolled before the wind. Presently it thundered afar off. Mother and Sal ran out and gathered the clothes, and fixed the spout, and looked cheerfully up at the sky.
Joe sat in the chimney-corner thumping the ribs of a cattle-pup, and pinching its ears to make it savage. He had been training the pup ever since its arrival that morning.
The plough-horses, yoked to the plough, stood in the middle of the paddock, beating the flies off with their tails and leaning against each other.
Dad stood at the stock-yard — his brown arms and bearded chin resting on a middle-rail — passively watching Dave and Paddy Maloney breaking-in a colt for Callaghan — a weedy, wild, herring-gutted brute that might have been worth fifteen shillings. Dave was to have him to hack about for six months in return for the breaking-in. Dave was acquiring a local reputation for his skill in handling colts.
They had been at “Callaghan”— as they christened the colt — since daylight, pretty well; and had crippled old Moll and lamed Maloney’s Dandy, and knocked up two they borrowed from Anderson — yarding the rubbish; and there wasn’t a fence within miles of the place that he hadn’t tumbled over and smashed. But, when they did get him in, they lost no time commencing to quieten him. They cursed eloquently, and threw the bridle at him, and used up all the missiles and bits of hard mud and sticks about the yard, pelting him because he wouldn’t stand.
Dave essayed to rope him “the first shot,” and nearly poked his eye out with the pole; and Paddy Maloney, in attempting to persuade the affrighted beast to come out of the cow-bail, knocked the cap of its hip down with the milking-block. They caught him then and put the saddle on. Callaghan trembled. When the girths were tightened they put the reins under the leathers, and threw their hats at him, and shouted, and “hooshed” him round the yard, expecting he would buck with the saddle. But Callaghan only trotted into a corner and snorted. Usually, a horse that won’t buck with a saddle is a “snag.” Dave knew it. The chestnut he tackled for Brown did nothing with the saddle. HE was a snag. Dave remembered him and reflected. Callaghan walked boldly up to Dave, with his head high in the air, and snorted at him. He was a sorry-looking animal — cuts and scars all over him; hip down; patches and streaks of skin and hair missing from his head. “No buck in him!” unctuously observed Dad, without lifting his chin off the rail. “Ain’t there?” said Paddy Maloney, grinning cynically. “Just you wait!”
It seemed to take the heart out of Dave, but he said nothing. He hitched his pants and made a brave effort to spit — several efforts. And he turned pale.
Paddy was now holding Callaghan’s head at arms’-length by the bridle and one ear, for Dave to mount.
A sharp crack of thunder went off right overhead. Dave didn’t hear it.
“Hello!” Dad said, “We’re going to have it — hurry up!”
Dave didn’t hear him. He approached the horse’s side and nervously tried the surcingle — a greenhide one of Dad’s workmanship. “Think that’ll hold?” he mumbled meekly.
“Pshaw!” Dad blurted through the rails —“Hold! Of course it’ll hold — hold a team o’ bullocks, boy.”
“’S all right, Dave; ’s all right — git on!” From Paddy Maloney, impatiently.
Paddy, an out-and-out cur amongst horses himself, was anxious to be relieved of the colt’s head. Young horses sometimes knock down the man who is holding them. Paddy was aware of it.
Dave took the reins carefully, and was about to place his foot in the stirrup when his restless eye settled on a wire-splice in the crupper — also Dad’s handiwork. He hesitated and commenced a remark. But Dad was restless; Paddy Maloney anxious (as regarded himself); besides, the storm was coming.
Dad said: “Damn it, what are y’ ’FRAID o’, boy? THAT’ll hold — jump on.”
Paddy said: “NOW, Dave, while I’ve ’is ’ead round.”
Joe (just arrived with the cattle-pup) chipped in.
He said: “Wot, is he fuf-fuf-fuf-f-rikent of him, Dad?”
Dave heard them. A tear like a hailstone dropped out of his eye.
“It’s all damn well t’ TALK,” he fired off; “come in and RIDE th’—— horse then, if y’ s’—— GAME!”
A dead silence.
The cattle-pup broke away from Joe and strolled into the yard. It barked feebly at Callaghan, then proceeded to worry his heels. It seemed to take Callaghan for a calf. Callaghan kicked it up against the rails. It must have taken him for a cow then.
Dave’s blood was up. He was desperate. He grabbed the reins roughly, put his foot in the stirrup, gripped the side of the pommel, and was on before you could say “Woolloongabba.”
With equal alacrity, Paddy let the colt’s head go and made tracks, chuckling. The turn things had taken delighted him. Excitement (and pumpkin) was all that kept Paddy alive. But Callaghan didn’t budge — at least not until Dave dug both heels into him. Then he made a blind rush and knocked out a panel of the yard — and got away with Dave. Off he went, plunging, galloping, pig-jumping, breaking loose limbs and bark off trees with Dave’s legs. A wire-fence was in his way. It parted like the Red Sea when he came to it — he crashed into it and rolled over. The saddle was dangling under his belly when he got up; Dave and the bridle were under the fence. But the storm had come, and such a storm! Hailstones as big as apples nearly — first one here and there, and next moment in thousands.
Paddy Maloney and Joe ran for the house; Dave, with an injured ankle and a cut head, limped painfully in the same direction; but Dad saw the plough-horses turning and twisting about in their chains and set out for them. He might as well have started off the cross the continent. A hailstone, large enough to kill a cow, fell with a thud a yard or two in advance of him, and he slewed like a hare and made for the house also. He was getting it hot. Now and again his hands would go up to protect his head, but he couldn’t run that way — he couldn’t run much any way.
The others reached the house and watched Dad make from the back-door. Mother called to him to “Run, run!” Poor Dad! He was running. Paddy Maloney was joyful. He danced about and laughed vociferously at the hail bouncing off Dad. Once Dad staggered — a hail-boulder had struck him behind the ear — and he looked like dropping. Paddy hit himself on the leg, and vehemently invited Dave to “Look, LOOK at him!” But Dad battled along to the haystack, buried his head in it, and stayed there till the storm was over — wriggling and moving his feet as though he were tramping chaff.
Shingles were dislodged from the roof of the house, and huge hailstones pelted in and put the fire out, and split the table, and fell on the sofa and the beds.
Rain fell also, but we didn’t catch any in the cask — the wind blew the spout away. It was a curled piece of bark. Nevertheless, the storm did good. We didn’t lose ALL the potatoes. We got SOME out of them. We had them for dinner one Sunday.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:59