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The Shanty-Keeper's Wife

by Henry Lawson (1867-1922)

. . . the story continues . . .

Presently a light showed through a window, with a scratched and fly-bitten B and A on two panes, and a mutilated R on the third, which was broken. A door opened, and we sneaked into the bar. It was like having drinks after hours where the police are strict and independent.

When we came out the driver was scratching his head and looking at the harness on the verandah floor.

“You fellows ’ll have ter put in the time for an hour or so. The horses is out back somewheres,” and he indicated the interior of Australia with a side jerk of his head, “and the boy ain’t back with ’em yet.”

“But dash it all,” said the Pilgrim, “me and my mate –”

“Hush!” said the publican.

“How long are the horses likely to be?” we asked the driver.

“Dunno,” he grunted. “Might be three or four hours. It’s all accordin’.”

“Now, look here,” said the Pilgrim, “me and my mate wanter catch the train.”

“Hush-sh-sh!” from the publican in a fierce whisper.

“Well, boss,” said the joker, “can you let us have beds, then? I don’t want to freeze here all night, anyway.”

“Yes,” said the landlord, “I can do that, but some of you will have to sleep double and some of you’ll have to take it out of the sofas, and one or two ‘ll have to make a shakedown on the floor. There’s plenty of bags in the stable, and you’ve got rugs and coats with you. Fix it up amongst yourselves.”

“But look here!” interrupted the Pilgrim, desperately, “we can’t afford to wait! We’re only ‘battlers’, me and my mate, pickin’ up crumbs by the wayside. We’ve got to catch the –”

“Hush!” said the publican, savagely. “You fool, didn’t I tell you my missus was bad? I won’t have any noise.”

“But look here,” protested the Pilgrim, “we must catch the train at Dead Camel.”

“You’ll catch my boot presently,” said the publican, with a savage oath, “and go further than Dead Camel. I won’t have my missus disturbed for you or any other man! Just you shut up or get out, and take your blooming mate with you.”

We lost patience with the Pilgrim and sternly took him aside.

“Now, for God’s sake, hold your jaw,” we said. “Haven’t you got any consideration at all? Can’t you see the man’s wife is ill – dying perhaps – and he nearly worried off his head?”

The Pilgrim and his mate were scraggy little bipeds of the city push variety, so they were suppressed.

“Well,” yawned the joker, “I’m not going to roost on a stump all night. I’m going to turn in.”

“It’ll be eighteen pence each,” hinted the landlord. “You can settle now if you like to save time.”

. . . the story continues . . .

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