Written In The Wind

Some things just aren’t meant to be. I came to this conclusion after I had come to terms with the loss of a premature calf I almost succeeded in raising.

Bubby, a temporary name I gave her because I had little confidence in her survival, entered this world seven weeks and three days earlier than her expected time of arrival. Her mother, a heifer and a novice to motherhood, seemed unaware that anything untoward had happened. The pathetic little creature expelled so unceremoniously from the warmth of the womb, lay helpless in the now cold mucus and residue of her birth sac.

She was not much bigger than a cat with just a sparse covering of a coat. She was so small and frail that I felt she had no hope of survival, yet she latched on to my little finger and sucked enthusiastically. I rang the vet.

When Gavin answered my call he sighed and even though I couldn’t see him, I knew he was shaking his head. “She will just break your heart, but I know you’ll try anyway!”

It was late autumn but still quite warm. Bubby was wrapped in a molleton rug and surrounded by hot water bottles. We lit the pot belly stove and placed a bowl of water nearby to provide warm humid air. I thawed a litre of colostrum kept in the freezer for emergencies, and fed Bubby two hundred and fifty ml from a bottle with a special floppy teat.

For the next week it was a constant round of two hourly feeds. After the first night, I brought in the large wood box which I lined with a woollen blanket covered with a plastic sheet. On this sheet I placed several old towels and molleton baby rugs. All of these layers had to be changed and washed several times a day so the washing machine was constantly in operation.

Bubby grew stronger with each passing hour. She was on her feet at 24 hours old and in just two days, was clad in a jumper so that she could explore the front garden for short periods during the warmest part of the day.

The first crisis came unexpectedly when she was six days old. She threw herself down on her side and kicked at her tummy. Her breathing became shallow and laboured and I rang Gavin for help. I thought she was dying and when he arrived and saw her he wasn’t too optimistic either, and he wasn’t certain as to what was causing her problems. She had a temperature and although she appeared to be kicking at pains in her belly, Gavin could find nothing wrong.

After a painkiller and an antibiotic injection, Bubby began to show signs of improvement in an hour or so. She still had a raised temperature and refused her feed but her breathing was normal. It was simply a matter of nursing, hoping and getting as much fluid into her as possible.

I was required to write down her intake, output and temperature recordings and relay them by phone to Gavin twice a day. I had to give her the antiobiotic injections until her temperature dropped back to normal on the fourth day when the injections were discontinued. She had recovered from whatever ailed her.

After her small setback, she began to thrive. She had the run of the dining room and breakfast room which were carpeted and I spent my time running after her with a bowl to catch the puddles. When I was unable to watch her, I placed her on a rug in the middle of the lounge-room’s polished floor. She quickly learned that to leave the rug was to invite disaster on the slippery floor.

She was two weeks old when the next crisis struck. Once again her temperature shot up and she refused her feeds. She was pathetic in her misery and after two sleepless nights, I was sure we had reached the end. To make matters worse, I got down on my knees to tend her and found I was unable to get up because my knee had locked. I had to be taken to the doctor who promptly put me in hospital overnight. I was so unhappy because I felt Bubby would be dead by the time I got back home.

Hubby managed to persuade her to drink half a bottle and when I came home in the morning she got to her feet and demanded attention. It was only then that an idea crossed my mind. I looked into her mouth and discovered a couple of grinders in the back gums. Bubby’s crises were caused by teething! My boys had long since grown up and I had forgotten about babies and teething traumas. Gavin was delighted with my discovery as he had not thought of teething either. After all, full term calves have their grinders when they are born.

By the time she was four weeks old she had grown so much she could pass for a full term calf. She had taken to bunting the furniture and over-turning chairs so her days inside came to an abrupt end. She continued to sleep in her box by the pot belly at night until she discovered she could easily jump out of the box and go exploring.

In no time at all her curiosity outgrew the garden and she began finding ways to wander further afield. Having had no contact with her own kind, she viewed the herd with suspicion. I am positive she thought she was human or even a cat or dog, but as she viewed the cows through the fence she backed away as though thinking she was definitely not bovine.

Eventually she began to take an interest in the heifer calves in the “nursery” by the orchard and on occasions, broke in to romp with them.

Life was a bowl of cherries and she revelled in it. Her antics were a delight to watch.

The last crisis came unexpectedly when she was seven weeks and three days old. She didn’t come when I called her though she sat there watching me. Her eyes were not as bright as usual and when I encouraged her to get to her feet, she swayed on wobbly back legs.
By now she was much too heavy for me to carry so I put her in the wheelbarrow and brought her up onto the front verandah.

She was obviously in a good deal of pain so I called Gavin. For two hours Gavin tried to ease her pain but she didn’t respond. On the face of it she was a lovely healthy animal yet she was frantic with a pain he wasn’t able to alleviate and she died – she was seven weeks and three days old.

“I am so sorry,” Gavin said softly, “I really thought we had raised this one.”

I grieved for Bubby as I would have had she been a child of my own body. If her survival had been decreed she wouldn’t have died on the very day she was due to be born, would she? That is why I believe some things just weren’t meant to be. Perhaps the survival of us all is written in the wind.

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Joey

“Mum”, Ken called from the back door. “Got something for you.”

Jessie took the batch of scones from the oven , placed the hot tray on the sink and went to see what her son wanted. “What is it?” she inquired as she opened the door to see him standing there empty handed. He pointed to the ground at his feet.

“Oh! Oh my goodness, where is its mother?”

“I found him still in the breeding bag; the cow must have died as soon as she got him out. Old girl must have spent all her energy pushing him out. Anyway, I thought you might be able to raise him.” Ken looked at his mother questioningly. “Wouldn’t like to knock him on the head after all that trouble the cow went to get him out alive.”

Jessie looked at the poor little red creature all covered with sticky mucus. She nodded. “I’ll get an old blanket and you can bring him in on the verandah; he’ll need a feed quick smart.”

Jessie knew from her experience with raising lambs that she was in for problems and her chances of raising this calf were slim. He hadn’t had any colostrom from his mother so would not have any immunity to infection. Then there was the added problem of not having a teat to put onto a bottle. The baby teats she used for the lambs would be too small for a calf.

When the calf was installed on the verandah where it would get the warmth from the slow combustion stove on the other side of the wall, Jessie made up a milk formula. To each pint of half-strength milk she added a teaspoon of brandy and several drops of Pentavite. She used a worcestershire sauce bottle which had a narrow neck and its smaller opening meant more control over the flow of the milk. The first feed of two sauce bottles went down well and Jessie repeated the feeds every four hours.

When Charlie came home that evening he told Jessie in no uncertain words that she was out of her mind. “You need your head read, Jess. Everyone knows you can’t raise a calf when it hasn’t had its first feed from its mother.”

“Well Charlie, we’ll see won’t we?” Jessie replied showing her stubborn streak. “If it doesn’t survive it won’t be my fault, and anyway it won’t hurt to try.”

She referred to the calf as Joe because she was superstitious enough to think she would jonah him by not giving him a proper name. He became weaker by the day with the continual scouring so in between feeds of her formula, she fed him water containing salt and sugar together with a little bi carb soda. Every morning she was surprised to see him still alive. She cleaned him up and provided fresh bedding and hauled him to his feet to feed him. Every evening after she had given him his last feed of the day she’d tell him he’d probably be dead in the morning.

He was about two weeks old when he began to rally. He was pathetically thin but his eyes became bright and he began trying to get to his feet when he heard Jessie approach. The scouring had stopped and now Jessie began to increase the milk strength. A few days later he was quite mobile and needed to be moved out into the yard.

Joey grew stronger by the day. He learned to drink from a bucket and spent his days out in the home paddock where there was plenty of grass. He romped with two pet lambs and the family dogs. At first light each day he was to be found at the side gate waiting for his bucket of milk.

Ken was delighted to see the pathetic little creature he’d brought home growing and glowing with health. He’d take time out each morning to play with him before he left to do his daily station chores. One morning Joey bunted him from behind as he walked away. Ken turned quickly and ‘charged’, feigning anger. Joey dodged. Ken charged again. Joey dodged again and stood looking curiously in anticipation. Ken turned his back and bent over, presenting a still target, calling “Come on Joe, have a go.” Joey put his head down and charged and at the last moment Ken moved aside.

The game became a morning ritual. Ken began feeding Joey treats. He’d always have pieces of apple or bread in his pockets which he’d produce after their morning game. Joey learned quickly and would try to help himself. When Ken’s pockets were empty he would bunt him like a calf bunting its mother’s udder for more milk let-down.

Ken introduced Joey to the fruit of a vine that grew and wound its way up into the mulga trees. We called the fruit wild banana but the aborigines said it was ‘alungua’. The vine stems and leaves had a milky sap and the fruit was cylinder shaped with a thick green skin. Inside was filled with white silk, the top part covered in flat green seeds. The silk exuded a sweet nectar when chewed and the seeds had a nutty taste.

Ken stood on Joey’s back in order to reach the fruit, stuffing his pockets as he gathered them. On the ground again he fed Joey and when his pockets were empty, Joey bunted him until he moved on to another tree.

Joey’s penchant for alungua caused the rest of us a lot of problems. He would not allow anyone else on his back so we were forced to climb the tree and throw the fruit down to him. When there were no more left on the vine, Joey refused to let us get down out of the tree. We soon learned to throw the last few fruits as far away from the tree as we could manage to allow us time to reach the ground. We also learned to put as much distance between us and Joey because he’d gallop after us and keep bunting us up the nearest tree.

The shearer’s cook became a target for Joey’s pranks and she was terrified of him. She made the mistake of turning tail and running for home when she first came across Joey in the paddock. He saw her in the distance and, always on the lookout for a handout, he headed towards her at full gallop. Alice made the hundred yards to the shearer’s house with seconds to spare as Joey skidded to a stop at the gate.

Alice ventured out into the paddock most days after she checked on Joey’s whereabouts. It seemed to us that Joey kept an eye out for Alice. We’d watch with some amusement to see Joey grazing peacefully in the paddock and as soon as Alice emerged from the house yard, he’d quietly move across the paddock. When Alice was a couple of hundred yards away from her safe haven, Joey would appear as if from nowhere. We would hear her screaming blue murder and see her streaking towards home with Joey keeping pace a few yards behind her.

We all agreed that Alice would have had no trouble winning an olympic medal under Joey’s coaching.

Joey was about fourteen months old when he was moved out to the bullock paddock, an area of some twenty square miles. Ken kept a bag of feed pellets in the back of the landrover and whenever Joey saw the vehicle he’d turn up for a handout.

At mustering times Joey stuck with Ken like a dog and soon learned what it was all about. He began helping to yard the cattle and then to separate the cows from the calves once they were yarded. In time he became an essential part of the muster and valued highly by all the station hands.

Drought struck the Northern Territory with a vengeance and all saleable animals were trucked and sent to market. Joey was now a big beautiful bullock. The boss owned and lived on a property in Victoria and it was arranged that the breeding stock would be transported to Victoria. Joey was sent with them, leaving Jessie and Ken with heavy hearts. They didn’t believe the boss would keep a pet bullock that would bring a considerable sum at the saleyards.

Joey, however, lost no time in winning the affections of the boss. He made himself more useful than a dog and became a valuable station worker. Although David often sent notes to say ‘Old Joe’ is doing well, neither Charlie nor Jess really believed he hadn’t been sold for steaks. A year or so later when Charlie was on holiday, he called into David’s property and saw for himself that Joey was indeed alive and well. He had grown into a massive animal weighing almost a ton.

While the Northern Territory remained in the grip of drought, Victoria was being deluged with rain. Joey’s weight now caused huge problems. He sank into the sodden earth and David was forced on two occasions to hire a crane to lift him out of the bog. Fearing that Joey would meet his end in a bog, David reluctantly sent him to the saleyards in Adelaide.

Metro Meats paid a few hundred guineas for the huge Caupaul bullock and made headlines because David had announced the proceeds would be donated to the Royal Flying Doctor Service. A reporter’s curiosity was aroused when he noticed a group of children in Joey’s pen. They were sitting on his back and patting his big gentle face. Photographs were taken and the reporter, sensing a great story, sought out the seller’s agent. David was interviewed and he provided the detail of Joey’s beginnings.

Joey instantly became famous. Children and adults kept a vigil by his pen so that Metro Meats were forced to announce his retirement to a lush paddock where he’d be available for weekend visits from his fans. The gentle giant bullock who’d been raised on milk laced with brandy and pentavite, spent his remaining years in the lap of luxury, doted on by all who had the good fortune to meet him.

Ends.

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Run-in With A Murderer

Eddie and I hitched a chestnut hack to a sulky and headed out on the open plain in search of wild turkeys. We were responsible enough not to shoot indiscriminately at anything that happened our way so we had our parents’ blessing to provide the Sunday roast and enjoy ourselves in the process.

We left the township of Broome and headed north towards Derby until we came to an open plain about two miles square. We covered this area without so much as a glimpse of a turkey and the butcher’s paddock gate looked more and more inviting as time passed.

Eddie halted the horse. “I reckon we’d find a couple in there.”

“Well, if you’re game we could have a look-see. He went to Derby yesterday.”

“Are you sure?”

“Sure, I’m sure. I heard him say so when he was in Wong’s Store the afternoon before. He was going to Derby yesterday morning and coming back late tonight.”

“Right you are then. What he doesn’t know won’t hurt him.”

I opened the gate and we ventured into Jim Binny territory. There wasn’t a kid in Broome who didn’t give Jim Binny a wide berth. We all knew he’d done time for murder and the grisley business had a habit of surfacing as a bedtime story. I shuddered and glanced at Eddie who grinned cheekily.

The Butcher’s Paddock was an area of some ten square miles that enclosed the slaughter yards and abattoirs as well as Jim Binny’s cottage, which was located a half mile or so from the gate we’d just entered. We headed off to the right to avoid passing the cottage.

No matter how I tried to keep my mind on watching out for turkeys, the peace and tranquility of the bush in the winter afternoon sunshine lulled me, allowing gory visions to roll before my eyes as the often told story took hold of my imagination and filled me with unease:

……..

The lone horseman’s voice droned on as his horse moved about the mob
of cattle. Most had settled down to chewing the cud, either standing
quietly or recumbent but some were moving slowly as they grazed. They
paid no heed to the nightwatchman as he rode by, singing through his
repetoire of bush ballads so as not to spook them.

In the eerie light of a sinking full moon the mob were stirring. Now and
again a beast was found to be straying too far afield and gently turned
back. Thoughts of a boiling billy were uppermost in the mind of the
nightwatchman as he scanned the bush in the direction of the camp, a
mile or so behind the mob, looking for the arrival of his relief. He halted
his mount when he saw the figure of the approaching horseman.

No sound came from the rifle as the bullet hit home and when its rider
fell to the ground the horse merely stopped and stood quietly, as a good
camp horse is never spooked. In just a minute or two more, the horse also
buckled at the knees and fell.

Binny looked down at the lifeless form sprawled on the ground near the
dead horse. He did not dismount. In a minute or two he moved off and
began quietly urging the mob on its way. By the time the first signs of
light appeared in the east the mob were well ahead and Binny rode into
camp to inform the other men that their mate had run out on them. He
sent them off after the mob, telling them he was going to try to catch up
with the runaway and bring him back.

With his men on the job and out of the way, Binny rode back to the scene
of his crime. He gutted the horse, placed the body of the dead stockman
inside and covered it all with a small mountain of dry timber, which he
then set alight.

It was a weary Jim Binny who rode into camp that evening. He told his
men he’d followed the boy’s tracks until he lost them in the heavy timber,
and mentally patted himself on the back when he detected no signs of
disbelief. The boy had been a disrupting influence in the camp since day
one with his grumbling and surly nature, so Binny reasoned the others
would accept his desertion without a great deal of thought.

……………

A cold shiver went down my spine and I shifted uneasily in my seat. I could get by without a turkey dinner and I could only imagine what might be our fate if Jim Binny caught us trespassing. “Let’s get out of here, Eddie.”

Eddie shot me a glance and turned the horse. “Yeah, well there’s no sign of turkeys anyway.”

While I had been absorbed in my daydream, I hadn’t noticed we had traversed the paddock and now were obliged to pass the cottage to reach the gate. Apart from some articles of clothing on the line which were fluttering in the breeze, the place looked deserted. I could see no open windows and the one door in view was closed. I relaxed my grip on the rifle and began to breathe more easily.

I was taken by surprise when Eddie halted the horse at the side gate of the cottage. “What the hell…” I began in a stage whisper.

“Water.” Eddie replied as he jumped down and headed for the tap in the garden.

I watched him apprehensively and a little enviously as I became aware of my own need for a drink of cool water. I licked my lips but remained on the sulky. Eddie had satisfied his thirst and on his way past the line he flicked a fluttering garment and promptly forgot the need for discretion as his sense of fun took over. He removed the flimsy brassiere from the line, put it on and was capering about giving his own interpretation of a sexy female. I found myself laughing helplessly at his antics which spurred him on further.

“Hey! Get y’filthy hands off my washing.” An enraged female voice screached through the air and our eardrums sending Eddie scampering for the sulky, shedding the garment as he went.

We heard the sound of an approaching vehicle above the din we were making to urge the mare on. I looked back to see Jim Binny’s truck not half a mile away and heading for the cottage. By the time we had the gate in sight, he had reached the cottage and I saw his lady friend run to meet it. When it roared into life again seconds later, we knew without a doubt he was after us.

We tore through the gate, doing a sharp right turn to head for the timber line about half a mile away. We knew we had no hope of outrunning the truck in open country but in the timber we had small chance. The mare was fairly flying with the sulky wheels hardly touching the ground, and just two hundred yards from the safety of the timber and our hope of escape, the right hand wheel of the sulky struck a stump hidden in the grass. Arse over tip it went, spilling us out to sprawl in unainly heaps on the hard ground. The mare came to a stop a few yards further on, giving a couple of whinnies by way of protest.

The moment I knew Binny was after us, I decided that I would shoot him if he caught up with us. I was certain that he, a murderer, would dispose of Eddie and I just as calmly and unfeelingly as I imagined he had disposed of his last victim.

When the sulky overturned I was holding a winchester 32 calibre lever-action rifle. Now I scrambled to retrieve it where it fell a yard or so from where I bit the dust. Frantically, I tried to load the thing only to find the breech had been jerked opened and was filled with dirt.

Jim Binny skidded to a stop in a gust of dust, flung open the door and in two strides had caught hold of Eddie as he scrambled to his feet, dispatching him sprawling to the ground again with one blow. Then he was coming for me.

I sat there shivering in my shoes and clutching the useless rifle. I couldn’t escape because I had suffered some painful damage to my right ankle in the fall. I looked into the fiercely glowering face as he towered over me and tried to steel myself against the first blow which I was sure would be a boot in the ribs.

“And who are you, you young bastard?” He growled.

I blurted my name and waited in terror.

“One of Emmy’s kids?” He asked as he stared at me.

I managed to nod and squirmed under his gaze. After a long and terrifying moment, he turned to the two black boys in the back of the truck and told them to right the sulky. Without another word he turned, jumped into the truck and drove back to his cottage.

Eddie and I were still shaking in our boots when we got home an hour later but we managed to concoct a feasible story to explain the accident and my broken ankle. Neither of us ever breathed a word to a soul about our run-in with Jim Binny who must also have kept his own counsel, for our story was never questioned.

It was many years later that I met Jim Binny again. I was having a solitary meal in a Perth Pub when I happened to glance up and meet the eyes of the man at the next table. I recognised him immediately and the years fell away. He showed no sign that he knew me so I was kind of surprised that when he finished his meal he came and sat down at my table.

“You’re young Jeff Day, aren’t you?”

I nodded and offered my hand. “Yes. How are you, Mr. Binny?”

He grinned. “Y’can cut the mister, son. I thought you were in Java.” He noticed my surprise and grinned again. “Your Mum’s always been a good friend to me,” he explained.

“I didn’t know,” I murmured dumbly.

“Y’ wouldn’t know that, son. Emmy was the only one who didn’t judge me. I never told her I nearly beat the hell out of you, y’know. Not that y’ didn’t deserve it, mind you.”

I didn’t know what to say or how to ask the questions that were popping into my mind. I felt uncomfortable and wished he would go.

“I never was a murderer. Sure I did time; but for manslaughter.” He stated, answering questions I hadn’t voiced.

Again he read my mind as I failed to conceal the fact that this was news to me.

“Y’didn’t ever hear the true story did you? It was years before I found out about the yarn the Broome kids passed around – it was a true story I believe but had nothing to do with me. Funny how these things get started.” He sighed and offered his hand, “well, it doesn’t matter now but it sort of knocked the stuffing out of me when I realised how close y’came to using that rifle, if y’know what I mean.”

I certainly did know what he meant and I ought to have told him I had learned a valuable lesson that Sunday afternoon when Eddie and I thought we’d had a run-in with a murderer.

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The Intruder

“You need time alone, Jen,” Stephanie told her as she pressed the keys to the cottage in her hands. “Go to Quiet Cove for the weekend; just relax and forget everyone else for once. Everything is there – you don’t have to do anything but get in your car and go! I’ll give you a ring in the morning”

Jennifer did just that. She got in her red mini and drove out of the city without a word to anyone. As she drove her thoughts went back to the moment nearly a year ago when Mark suddenly severed their year long relationship and walked out of her life. Again she felt the pain, the shock and the anger and bitterness that overwhelmed her in those first weeks. It was so hard withstanding the sympathetically knowing looks of her office colleagues and associates. It wouldn’t have been so bad had Mark not jilted her for her best friend just a few days before their wedding.

The departure of Mark from her life seemed to start a roller coaster of events that had her bouncing from one trauma to another. Her mother’s fall that resulted in a broken leg, followed by her father’s emergency appendectomy operation just a week later caused some anxious moments. After that, a series of minor mishaps occurred so that she felt drained and depleted of energy.

It was dusk by the time the little red car slowly bumped its way along the rough driveway to the cottage that overlooked twenty acres of Melaleuca scrub.

As she unwound her tall frame from the confines of the little car, she stretched out her arms to ease the tension from her neck muscles. She breathed deeply of the crisp clean air as a sudden gentle breeze gusted by, tantalising her nostrils with the salty odour of the ocean. First of all, she decided, she would make a cuppa and relax for awhile before exploring the cottage and its amenities.

A little later she was sipping tea and idly flipping through the pages of a magazine when she was startled by the sound of a man clearing his throat. Instantly her body stiffened and all her senses focused on the unexpected presence associated with the sound.

In the ensuing moments of silence, a passing thought that her imagination was playing tricks on her was dispelled when her ears picked up a soft snuffle. Then the coughing began. A fit of such painful hacking that she winced in sympathy.

No sooner had the coughing ended with a few painful rasping breaths, than someone whispered, “shush – be quiet!”

There followed scratching and scraping sounds that sent Jennifer into a spin. She looked around the room with wide frightened eyes seeking a safe refuge, or even a weapon with which she might put up some sort of defence. She could see no weapon and no means of escape.

“Shush – be quiet mate!” the same voice hissed.

“Oh, shut up” an irritable voice returned loudly.

Jennifer, still dithering in fear found a measure of courage. She remembered the telephone in the hallway and, slipping off her shoes, slid off the chair and began to creep across the room, her ears tuned to the whispering, scraping and scratching that went on like a broken record.

The creak of a floorboard stopped her in her tracks and she stood there holding her breath, listening to the all-engulfing silence. After a moment or two the sounds outside continued and she resumed her stealthy progress into the hallway. Just a few steps away the most wonderful sight in all the world, the telephone, her saviour.

She forgot to creep and all hell broke loose with yelling and shouting
and slapping. “Hey, look out!” “No. Over here, quick!” Jennifer ran blindly. Some seconds later she realised that the deafening screams filling her ears were of her own doing. She closed her mouth and looked around her.

She was quite surprised to find herself alone. Her hands were still clasped firmly on the door knob, the back door knob, which she now remembered she had been frantically trying to wrench off the door in her panic. In the dim light she could see a switch on the wall – she flicked it on and the entire back area lit up like a city street.

The sight beyond the back door; an outdoor living area plucked directly out of the glossy pages of a magazine, was so unexpected and so lovely that her fear dissolved. She unlocked the door and stepped out onto the patio.

“Hello!” A soft, pleasant voice greeted her, “say hello to Sam.”

Jennifer stared at the Major Mitchell sitting on the T-Bar perch to which it was tethered by a chain attached to one leg. She shook her head at the incredible thought running through her mind. “Sam? Oh no! Surely it couldn’t …” Her hand covered her mouth as though to smother a scream and then she began to laugh – a soft giggle at first and then hysterical laughter.

Sam fluffed up his pink crest. “Shush! Be quiet.” He hissed and scraped his beak along the perch.

ends

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The Contract

Gerry is dead and I am rich. In a short space of time I would have been rich anyway, but not as rich as I am now that he’s dead.

A cold chill runs down my spine as I recall the events of yesterday. Domino heaves his heavy bulk from his position at my feet and with a concerned whine, places his head in my lap. “It’s okay, Dom,” I tell him and stroke him gently.

If I hadn’t loved Gerry, I would never have agreed to the farce that was our marriage. I really thought I had a good chance of a ‘happily ever after’ life because, after all, Gerry and I had been friends for a long time. Friendship, I reasoned, was a good base upon which to build a loving relationship.

For twenty-four months and twenty days, Gerry was a kind and considerate husband. He played his part so well that not one member of our families, not one friend or acquaintance, had the slightest inkling that our marriage was not made in heaven. Even I was lulled into thinking that our pre-nuptial agreement would be scrapped; that Gerry had found a small place in his heart for me.

Was it so naïve of me, I ask myself as I turn over the pages of the last two years; was it so naïve of me to take all those little signs of affection, the surprise gifts, the flowers and gentle caresses, as an indication of a growing love?

Why, I wonder now, did he put on all that unnecessary display if he felt nothing for me? Perhaps he thought he needed to create an illusion of hope for me in order to keep me content with my lot. Whatever his reasons, he gave me no cause to suspect his evil intent let alone the evil that lurked in his heart.

He could have trusted me because I would never have done anything to hurt him. I entered into our partnership with my eyes wide open and was prepared to be paid off at the end of the contract, even though I clutched at the faint hope that sometimes dreams do come true. The million dollars that was to be mine at the end would have gone a long way to ease the pain of a broken dream.

Gerry must have had a cruel streak in him that I had not detected. He knew I loved him and he deliberately played with my emotions for the pleasure of seeing me shattered and broken. His father must have known and added the proviso to his will in the hope that a miracle would happen to change his son’s character.

You will inherit the whole of my estate, my beloved son,
provided that you marry a nice girl and stay married for
two years. Should you remain single and fancy free, then
the whole caboodle goes to those nominated below.

If Gerry had not played his cruel little game we would have ended our contract and gone our separate ways. I with my million dollars and he with his multi-million dollar legacy. If it hadn’t been for domino, it would have been my broken body at the bottom of the cliff. At the thought my teeth begin to chatter and Domino nuzzles me and whines softly.I look down into the soft dark eyes.

“It’s been nice knowing you, sweetheart, but it is over. There’ll be weeping and much sympathy for me,” Gerry said as he reached to push me into oblivion.

Domino made his silent rush, rising up to place two massive paws into the small of Gerry’s back, sending him over the edge while I toppled backwards to land awkwardly on my behind. I sat there for a space of time – time when the world spun around me and Gerry’s words an endless repetition in my mind.

Gerry told me he had an appointment on Tuesday with Shack, Shack and Shack, Attorneys At Law, to arrange for our divorce and the settlement to me of my one million dollars. He lied, because there was no such appointment and now I wonder just when he planned my ‘accident’.

Now, on Tuesday, there will be a solemn church service with an equally solemn funeral procession, followed by a tasteful wake. After that, with Gerry’s millions washing over me, I will concentrate in dealing with my grief and mending my shattered dreams.
ends

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The Games They Play

A visit to the Sandford home was an ordeal. No one, least of all their parents, was exempt from the pranks of a bunch of the wildest kids in the bush.

The Sandfords lived on an isolated cattle station in the far north east of South Australia. Dick Sandford was employed as the Station Manager and his wife, Maisie, spent her time doing domestic chores and acting as chief cook and bottlewasher for the Station’s workforce and the frequent visits of the owner or his representatives.

There were six Sandford children, Tom, Richard, Margaret, Owen, William and the endearing young Molly. Their ages ranged from twelve to two years. Schooling for children in the outback was correspondence lessons under the eye of a hired teacher or Governess, and there was always a huge turnover of such employees due to the tough conditions and isolation.

Maisie Sandford presided over organised chaos. While she did her best she found it difficult to allocate enough time to keep her brood in check, and they were left to amuse themselves. When Tom and Richard reached school age, she set up a school room by getting Dick to enclose part of the verandah off the dining room and with the best of intentions, started them off on their correspondence lessons.

Unused to being confined in any way, Tom and Richard were not impressed with this learning caper. They grumbled and moaned. The moment Maisie had to leave the room to attend the kitchen, the two boys lost no time in escaping and remaining out of Maisie’s reach until supper time.

By the time Tom and Richard were twelve and ten years old, they had learned very little. Margaret liked learning, and now she was helping Owen complete his correspondence assignments. Maisie had been complaining to her husband that she was out of her depth with schooling their kids, but their efforts to secure the services of a teacher had been unsuccessful.

It was with some relief then, that she announced the arrival of a governess. “Well, you two, your good times are about to end,” Maisie told her boys one evening when they showed up for supper. “Your father will be home tomorrow and he is bringing a school teacher with him. There’ll be no more of this ducking your school lessons.”

Tom and Richard looked long and hard at each other but said nothing. Owen and Margaret began to giggle whilst the two younger ones, not understanding the impact of the news, began to tuck into the food on their plates. Maisie paused to study the faces of her brood around the table and realised for the first time that they looked for all the world like a bunch of ruffians.

“From now on, “ Maisie said with all the sternness she could muster, “you will get no supper unless you have washed your face and hands and combed your hair.” Her eyes fell on her older boys. “Tom and Richard, go at once and wash those filthy hands.”

As the two older boys pushed their chairs away from the table with much noise, Owen and Margaret’s giggles became louder. Tom, angry now, picked up a handful of mashed potato and threw it with precision accuracy to splatter on Owen’s face. “Bull’s eye” he said as Owen spluttered and scraped the mess from his eyes. Margaret, always protective of her favourite sibling, returned the gesture and when the missile splattered on Tom’s face she yelled, “Double bull’s eye”.

Before Maisie had time to react she had a riot on her hands. William and Molly, too young to comprehend, also joined in the fun of throwing food. Molly laughed in delight from her high chair as she filled her little plump hands from the contents of her bowl and William climbed up on his chair yelling “Bull’s eye, bull’s eye.”

Maisie grabbed Richard by the neck of his shirt and with the other hand cuffed Tom over the ear. Suddenly there was silence. She pushed Richard out the door and grabbed Tom, spun him around and sent him off after Richard.

Owen began to cry. Margaret, protective as always put her arms around him and tried to soothe him. “Don’t cry, Owey.”

William was back sitting in his chair looking somberly at the mess around him. He looked at his mother and said plaintively, “I’se hungry Mummie.”

It was mid-morning on a Friday when the governess arrived at the station. She was about twenty years old with little experience in her profession. She came from a genteel city family, was quietly spoken and almost prissy in appearance. She was introduced to her new charges as Miss Morris and she began her duties at 9am on Monday morning.

Tom and Richard failed to show up in the school room by 9.30 am and Miss Morris was forced to enlist Marcie’s help. At 10 am the classroom door slammed open and the boys were unceremoniously flung into the room by a red-faced, furious Dick Sandford. “Think yourselves lucky you didn’t find out what my stockwhip feels like,” he roared.

Miss Morris looked as though she’d rather have been anywhere else at that moment. Her eyes darted from the two sullen faces of her pupils to the angry face of their father. Dick Sandford’s rage subsided quickly and he turned to Miss Morris and apologised for the behaviour of his sons. “I hope you can put something worthwhile in their heads,” he told her quietly. “My wife and I will do our best to help you. Good morning,” he added as he left the room, shutting the door quietly behind him.

“Because this is our first day together,” Miss Morris began tentatively, “I’d like to use this time to get to know each other.” She paused and directed her gaze to Tom and Richard who were huddled together at the far end of the large table where Margaret and Owen were working. “Tom, I’d like you to sit here at this small table, and Richard, you may have the space right there where you are.”

“Now, I’d like you to tell me a little about yourselves. I would like to know what lessons you find hard to understand and what subjects you would like to learn more about. Margaret, would you like to begin?”

“It’s all hard, Miss.” Margaret replied without hesitation. “I can’t do sums very well, but I like learning to read.”

“Thank you, Margaret. I hope I can make it easier for you with your sums and it is very good that you like reading. It is very important to read well. Tom, what do you like to learn?”

“Nuthin,” Tom replied, “I’sall bullshit an I don’t wanna learn nuthin.”

“Yeah, me too,” Richard piped up. “Ridin horses is best.”

Miss Morris showed no reaction to the language or their bad speech.
“Well, it is clear that both of you will have to work at improving your speech,” she told them quietly, “you may not like school lessons but the more you learn while you are young, the better your life will be. There is plenty of time for you to ride horses after school.”

“They’re dumb and won’t ever learn. Owey and I will be smart and Tom ‘n Richy will be dumb, dumb, dumb.” Margaret taunted.

“Shuddup, you goody girl. Ya can’t even ride a horse an’ yer’d drown in the dam.” Richard retorted.

“That is quite enough!” Miss Morris countered sternly. She shifted her gaze to Owen who was sitting quietly with his elbows on the table and his face resting in his hands. “Owen, would you like to tell me what you like to do?”

Owen shook his head and stared down at the table. Just then a gong sounded and all four children got to their feet noisily. Miss Morris raised her voice above the din. “Sit down!”

“But, Miss,” Margaret exclaimed, “ that’s the dinner gong!”

“I know very well it is the dinner gong Margaret,but you will not leave your seats without my permission! Now, sit down until I say you may go.”

Tom and Richard mumbled and grumbled, but all four sat down.

“Good,” Miss Morris said. “Now, I want to see you back in the classroom at two o’clock sharp. This afternoon we will begin your schooling in earnest.” She paused “You may stand and leave the room quietly.”

Miss Morris resigned after a month of enduring a campaign of pranks designed to to get rid of her. She came to dread entering the classroom. She was unable to cope with the fear in the pit of her stomach when she opened a drawer to find a large hairy tarantula looking for a way out of its prison and the smug, satisfied grins on the faces of Tom and Richard and their absolute delight when she freaked out. There was no end of the creepy creatures that turned up in the classroom but the six foot carpet snake, a diamond python, they put in her bedroom was the last straw.

There was a succession of teachers after the departure of Miss Morris. None lasted beyond a month. With as much assistance as Maisie could give, Margaret continued doing her correspondence lessons and did her best to help Owen while Tom and Richard wreaked havoc wherever they were.

“We have to do something about those two boys of ours, Maise,” Dick Sandford said as he entered the kitchen for smoko one morning. “If they don’t kill themselves first they’ll end up gaol bait.”

“What have they done now?” Maisie asked.

“Caused a bloody mess when they decided to stampede the mob of cattle the men were yarding. Silly little buggers nearly got themselves trampled.”

Maisie turned sharply and with a look of alarm on her face said, “Oh Dick. They’re okay aren’t they?”

“Sure they’re okay, but both of them will have trouble sitting on their backsides for a bit. First time I’ve been able to catch them to give them a good belting.” Dick ran his fingers through his thinning hair and sighed. “You know, Maisie, those kids’ve got nine bloody lives but they’ve used up seven of them.”

For Tom and Richard the crunch came a few months later when the station owner, Bob McLean, and his offsider paid a visit. Dick had warned the boys to make themselves scarce and if they got up to anything he’d beat the living daylights out of them. All went well until the time of departure and Dick was feeling relaxed and relieved that the boys hadn’t caused any problems.

“Going to see a man about a dog,” Fred the offsider said and headed off in the direction of the station dunny.

“Watch the redbacks,” one of the stockmen yelled.

It was too good an opportunity for Tom and Richard. They had been hitherto unnoticed and now stood out like beacons. “Let’s see how fast we can get ‘im outa there” Tom laughed. He fired the rifle, and at the same time Richard released the stone from his shanghai. The bullet hit the top of the dunny while the stone hit the iron wall with a shattering noise. Fred came out of the dunny moments later, his pants hobbling him around his ankles and his face as white as a sheet. Tom and Richard were doubled up in hysterical laughter.

Dick Sandford, momentarily paralysed at the scene before him, moved quickly to grab his stockwhip and, with a flick of his wrist, the whip curled around the body of Richard effectively curtailing his escape. Tom took off like a rocket while Dick reeled his brother in like a fish at the end of a line.

“Hang on to this little bastard, Maisie, while I get the other one.” Dick said as he shoved Richard towards her. He folded his stockwhip and headed off furiously muttering to himself about the many ways he could punish his sons.

Some twenty minutes later, Dick arrived back with Tom and pushed him to where Fred was waiting with the boss near the Ford V8 sedan they’d arrived in.
He called to Maisie to bring Richard and when he had the two boys together, he demanded they apologise . The boys mumbled something unintelligible.

Dick cuffed the pair of them under the ear and roared. “I said apologise and make sure you sound as if you bloody mean it!” They did so and Dick dismissed them to stay in the classroom until he decided what he was going to do with them. “You bloody well stay there, too,” he yelled after them as they left with heads bowed.

When the boys were out of earshot, Bob Mclean began to chuckle. “Dick, you’ve got to give it to them, those boys of yours sure come up with original pranks. I’ve heard plenty of yarns about them, but until now you’ve kept them pretty inconspicuous when I’ve been here.”

Dick began to apologise but McLean held up his hand to silence him. “I have a solution for you if you’re interested. It’s none of my business mind, but they’ll end up getting themselves hung if you don’t do something about them.”

Dick nodded his agreement and waited for Bob McLean to continue.

“I was thinking while you were chasing after that older boy. The two of them need to be separated so if you and Maisie agree, I’d be willing to take on that older boy and put him to work as a jackeroo plus make sure he gets some education.”

Dick looked at Maisie with a raised eyebrow. She nodded and smiled. “Mr McLean, you are right that the boys need to be separated. Dick and I have hardly any control over them and are at our wits end. If you take Tom and make something of him we’ll both be very grateful. We both know you will take good care of him and give him the discipline he needs.”

“Right then, that’s settled.” He slapped Dick on the back and grinned widely at Maisie. “How about you go and pack him a swag and we’ll be on our way. No time like the present, eh?”

A half hour later, Maisie returned with Tom who was carrying a swag and a small, battered suitcase. Richard was hanging back a few yards to their rear looking worried and a bit confused at this new ‘punishment’ his parents had dreamed up. Fred took the swag and case from Tom and jammed it in the narrow boot of the Ford. “Git in the back, son …and no bloody tricks either.”

Tom moved to the vehicle but before he could open the door, Maisie grabbed him and gave him a hug. “You behave yourself, Tom. We’ll see you soon.” Tom promised he’d behave and Dick shook his son’s hand, telling him he must do as Mr. McLean told him and he’d end up a son to be proud of. He told Tom he always had a home with his family and would always be welcomed.

The Ford V8 departed soon after and the remaining Sandford kids stood and watched until it disappeared into the mulga scrub in a cloud of dust. Richard was still there looking at the empty road when the others had gone back into the homestead. Dick went over to him, took him by the arm and led him to the ‘sitting’ log under the big gum tree just inside the garden fence.

“Richard, we are not sending Tom away to get rid of him. Mr. McLean is giving him a paying job so he can learn to be a jackeroo as well as school learning so he doesn’t end up a useless sod who can’t earn a living. Understand?”

Richard sat there drawing patterns in the dirt with his riding boots. “Yeah Dad, but where does that leave me – up the bloody creek?”

“You’ll be up the bloody creek without a paddle if you don’t pull yourself together and set about learning to read and write properly. If you do your school lessons every day, I will make a stockman out of you in your spare time. When you and Tom get together now and then you’ll be able to swap yarns and crow about what you’ve learned. It’s up to you. So put your nose to the grindstone and see if you can grow into a good sort of bloke.”

Dick left Richard there to decide which road he was going to travel and went in to find Maisie. “Well, Maise, did we do the right thing?”

Maisie put the teapot on the table and filled two mugs with strong black tea.. “I hope so, Dick. It’ll take a bit of getting used to but I think both boys will be better for it. Where’s Richard?”

“I just had a talk to him; he’s out on the ‘sitting’ log thinking over the whole bit. I reckon he’ll knuckle under in a day or two. Tom’ll wonder what hit him until he learns the ropes. Bob McLean won’t take any nonsense from him, but he’s fair and won’t allow him to be bullied. Wouldn’t have considered it otherwise.”

Maisie sat there looking into the bottom of her mug at the pattern of tea leaves. She looked up at Dick and found him doing the same thing. She smiled. “What do you see, love?”

“Tea leaves,” Dick replied, “just bloody tea leaves.”

“I’ve been thinking about what would be best for our kids, Dick. I hate the thought but do you think we might be wise to send the kids away to boarding school? Not all at once, but when they’re old enough?”

Dick sighed. “Oh Maise, that idea has been in my mind for months, but I couldn’t even suggest it to you. I know what a wrench it will be for us both.” He reached over and put his hand on hers. “We live in the bush but that is no excuse to bring up a bunch of scrubbers.”

Maisie smiled. “Well then, let’s turn our bunch of scrubbers into a bunch of fine young people.”

Dick got up from the table and kissed the top of her head. “Maise, old girl, I reckon we’ll look back on this day as the best in our lives, and it all started when Tom and Richard shot the dunny.” A chuckle began in his thoat and became a full-bellied laugh. “Did you ever see anything so funny as Fred trying to run with his trousers round his ankles?”

Maisie shook her head and giggled. The whole house reverberated with the sounds of laugher for some minutes but the story of the dunny prank did the rounds of the bush for years.

NOTE: This story is a piece of fiction based on incidents picked up via the bush telegraph.

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The Pantechnicon

Every time I see a pantechnicon, I wonder about the contents of that canvas bundle. It was a long time ago when I was just a bit more than a lad, but to this day I’ve never experienced such fear as I did that night.

The only ambition I ever had was to be a truck driver. Dad, bless him for his patience, put up with me through the years as I badgered him for driving lessons, almost before I could reach the pedals of the family utility. Sometimes he allowed me to sit on his lap and steer the tractor to the field where he was working.

Every day I measured the length of my legs after a lengthy session of stretching them. In the privacy of my room I lay face up on the floor, hooked my toes under the rail of my bed, grasped the bottom of the heavy wardrobe with my fingers and endeavoured to pull the bed towards me.

Inevitably, in God’s own good time, I grew. On Saturday mornings I hung around the local garage and made friends with Joe, the owner. I made myself useful, and gradually wheedled my way into the workshop where I fetched and carried for Mike the mechanic. At home on the farm I never missed an opportunity to drive. I drove the tractor, the truck and the old utility and eventually at the garage, Mike allowed me to shift vehicles, bringing them in and out of the workshop.

When I got my licence to drive, I left school and got a job at the local store. At first it was just delivering groceries and small items and I had the use of a small, rattletrap of a van. Then the management saw opportunities to expand. A new sign went up to replace ‘Coleman’s General Store.’ The new sign read COLEMAN’S GENERAL SERVICES and underneath in smaller letters, “we supply everything and deliver anywhere.”

Well, it all turned out in my favour and I got some good delivery assignments. That was how I came to be involved in the Pantechnicon incident.

The Pantechnicon was en route to Darwin. It had been consigned by rail to the Alice where its new owner was to take delivery. However, the best laid plans don’t always work and, for one reason or another, Coleman’s were hired to deliver it to Darwin.

Dick Coleman wasn’t one to miss an opportunity. He was not about to send an empty Pantechnicon on a thousand mile trip, so he arranged to kill two birds with one stone as it were. We had furniture to deliver to Tennant Creek and some crates bound for Elliott. And then there was the package we were to pick up from the hospital and take to Darwin.
It was morning tea time when I drove into the hospital grounds. I parked the van in the spot designated by the chap dressed in khakis and accepted his offer of a mug of tea while his two offsiders got the package.

I watched as they struggled with an awkward floppy bundle in a canvas bag. They heaved it into the back and slammed the doors shut. “There y’are, mate,” one said with a grin, “they reckoned Colemans’ll take on anythin’ but I’d a thought y’d baulk at a body!”

I looked at him dumbly. “Body?”

He nodded towards the pantechnicon. “Y’aint superstitious I reckon or y’wouldn’t be driving this ‘ere corpse all the way to Darwin.” I was in the process of swallowing the last mouthful of tea when it sank in that the canvas bundle held a body. A sharp intake of breath sent a few drops of the tea down the wrong way and I began to choke.

“Gee Mate!” my informative friend exclaimed, “are you okay?”

Still coughing and spluttering I managed to nod and croak my thanks as I climbed into the cab. As I drove slowly away, I tossed up as to whether I should go back and have it out with the boss for keeping me in the dark, or whether I ought to do the trip and argue about it later. Then it occurred to me the bloke might have been pulling my leg.
Since it didn’t worry me if I did have a corpse in the back, I saw no point in finding out one way or the other. I turned right and headed off up the Stuart Highway, whistling the tune “John Brown’s Body.”

The pantechnicon was brand new. The cab was well appointed with a well-padded bench seat that had a sort of moulded back support. I loved to drive and being comfortable was an added bonus. I took a cigarette from the pack in my shirt pocket and lit up, using the lighter in the cab.

I got to The Tennant five minutes before knock-off time so I wasn’t too popular. The two storemen who had to unload the furniture had a standard appointment at the Goldfields every night after work, and they resented being late. To get at the furniture easily, they dumped the canvas bag on the ramp just outside the pantechnicon door.

When the last wardrobe was set down in the warehouse, one of them began to close the pantechnicon doors. “Hey, don’t forget me passenger,” I said, pointing to the canvas bag.
The tall one who’d done most of the grumbling and least of the unloading, took hold of the bag and lifted. “Give us a ‘and, will ya – it aint light.”

His mate put the bolt down on his half of the door and took hold of a corner of the canvas. “Well,” he said, “it’s a dead weight anyway.” He laughed. “Dead weight – body – get it? It could be, ya know, a dead body, I mean.”

“Yeah, ya bloody dumbo – pity it aint your arse in there,” the sour one retorted.

I couldn’t help it. He was such a surly bugger I thought he deserved to know the truth. “It is indeed a body,” I told him, “I’m taking it to Darwin…” I paused because it occurred to me that if the bloke who loaded it in the Alice was not having me on, then I had no idea why a body was being transported to Darwin by me in the back of a pantechnicon, “for burial.” I concluded lamely.

“Shit!” the surly fellow exclaimed. The other fellow just looked stunned and then he burst into laughter. When I drove out, he was still laughing but, it pleased me to see, the surly one was emptying the contents of his stomach as he leaned out from the warehouse ramp.

I pulled up in front of the Goldfields. After driving three hundred miles I had worked up a bit of a thirst and I was looking forward to a couple of cold ones and a feed before I struck out for Elliott, a hundred and fifty miles further north.

The Goldfields was a popular watering hole and as always there were a few familiar faces at the bar. Jeannie the barmaid drew a schooner of ale and placed it in front of me without waiting for me to order. A hefty slap on the back had me spluttering over the first mouthful. “Hey, Jamie me lad – is it you drivin’ that fancy bit o’ machinery?”

“G’day Mike,” I said when I recovered. Normally I’d have been pretty annoyed at such thoughtlessness but I admired Mike as much then as I had when he was Joe’s mechanic. We spent the next hour swapping yarns and then I left him while I got a feed. I was tucking into a fat juicy steak when there was an uproar coming from the bar. The waitress informed me it was the usual commotion that went on when the Honourable Stanley was evicted from the premises.

Stan Gibson was the town drunk. In better times he’d been a Member of Parliament and a respected member of the community, but after a tragic accident that robbed him of his family, he sought solace in the bottle. Mostly he was treated with kindness, sometimes pitied, but occasionally he was target for the practical joker.

The plight of this unfortunate man took a little of the enjoyment out of my meal and I lost no time in getting on my way but the light was all but gone when I climbed into the cab and turned on the ignition. I felt relieved somehow, to be leaving Stan and his troubles behind me.

After I’d clocked up the one hundredth mile I began to feel pretty weary. Away in the distance the reflectors on the white posts shone in the headlights. Now and again they danced towards me and sometimes there were multiples of moving lights as cattle or kangaroos strayed on or beside the road.

I yawned. Through the drumming of the wheels on the tarred road I heard a sound. Instantly I was alert. I listened and heard a thump behind the cab. I relaxed. Something must have come adrift in the back.

A short time later the hackles rose on the back of my neck. I had the distinct feeling I was not alone. I glanced warily beside me – nothing. There was no ghostly form beside me but my heart was fairly thumping its way out of my chest.

I put my foot down on the accelerator, gripped the steering wheel harder and my heart leaped into my mouth. My brain registered a mournful moaning together with shuffling and thumping coming from the back of the van. By now I was in a cold sweat behind the wheel of the pantechnicon that was pretty well rocking with speed, and I was struggling to control it.

Through my terror-addled brain, words were tumbling erratically. “Stooooooooop. Fer Christ’s sake stoooooop.”

Just as the lights of the Elliott pub showed up in the distance, the meaning of the words sank in. Someone was telling me to stop. The knowledge that I was almost safe had a calming effect on me but there was no way I was going to stop just yet. When I did, it was with squealing brakes right outside the door of the pub. I all but fell out the door of the cab and staggered up the verandah steps to be greeted by a row of curious faces.

“Crikey, it’s Jamie – what the hell’s got into ya?” asked Tom, the publican.

I was shaking like a leaf and unable to utter an intelligible word. Someone gave me a good slug of whisky and after I’d calmed down enough to tell the story, a couple of blokes went out and opened up the rear doors of the pantechnicon.

“Hey Jamie,” Tom’s voice boomed out amid roars of laughter from the pub verandah, “this ‘ere ghost aint dead yet!”

Presently Tom appeared in the doorway with Stan Gibson swaying a little unsteadily beside him. By now the whisky had calmed me and I cursed the practical jokers at the Goldfields. “Bloody hell, Stan,” I blurted, “waddya want to scare the hell out of a bloke like that for?”

Stan grabbed the glass out of my hand and drained it. “You think you were scared, mate? You should’ve been in my shoes.” He sounded as sober as a judge. “I opened one of the crates. I was pretty dry, you know – next thing I know I’m sprawled out on my back and there’s a hell of a din going on. I curled up in a ball and lay doggo.”

“Oh, come on Stan! Those crate lids are nailed down – you couldn’t have opened one without a lever or something.”

Stan shook his head. “This one wasn’t – I tell you I just lifted the lid and got knocked flat.”

I looked at Tom who simply shrugged his shoulders. “Reckon we’d better check out the crates, Jamie old son. If yer mate ‘ere wasn’t sufferin’ from the DTs, we might jest git ourselves a ghost.”

As soon as I saw the crate I knew it wasn’t part of the Elliott consignment. Besides it was empty. Tom moved it aside. In the light of his torch we stared down at a prostrate figure. I really thought he was dead. It was the surly character from the warehouse and it flashed across my mind that I’d be up for manslaughter, if not murder, and the thought chilled me to the bone.

Tom squatted down and felt for his pulse. There was a sizeable bruise on the side of his head and Tom had a good look at it. Then he grinned up at me. “He’s still kickin’ – reckon he took a mighty wallop that knocked him cold.”

Next morning after I’d off loaded the crates and double checked the back of the pantechnicon for uninvited travellers, I called into the pub to pay the bill. Tom shook his head and grinned widely, “it’s on the ‘ouse, Jamie old son. Long time since we ‘ad good entertainment in Elliott. I reckon that ride’ll be enough to keep old Stanley sober for months. The other bloke’ll think twice before he pulls another stunt like that as well!”

Yeah. Well, I made it to Darwin and though I was dying to find out whether the canvas bundle was a body or not, I was reluctant to ask. As it was, the bush telegraph would be buzzing. I had no doubt the story was already embellished beyond recognition and had reached Darwin before I did. No point in giving them more ammunition.

Ends.

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