by Henry Lawson
While the Billy Boils (1896)
Droving Sheep, Photographic Reproduction, Jan Hendrik Scheltema (1861-1941)
“I’ll get down among the cockies along the Lachlan, or some of these rivers,” said Mitchell, throwing down his swag beneath a big tree. “A man stands a better show down there. It’s a mistake to come out back. I knocked around a good deal down there among the farms. Could always get plenty of tucker, and a job if I wanted it. One cocky I worked for wanted me to stay with him for good. Sorry I didn’t. I’d have been better off now. I was treated more like one of the family, and there was a couple of good-looking daughters. One of them was clean gone on me. There are some grand girls down that way. I always got on well with the girls, because I could play the fiddle and sing a bit. They’ll be glad to see me when I get back there again, I know. I’ll be all right — no more bother about tucker. I’ll just let things slide as soon as I spot the house. I’ll bet my boots the kettle will be boiling, and everything in the house will be on the table before I’m there twenty minutes. And the girls will be running to meet the old cocky when he comes riding home at night, and they’ll let down the sliprails, and ask him to guess ‘who’s up at our place?’ Yes, I’ll find a job with some old cocky, with a good-looking daughter or two. I’ll get on ploughing if I can; that’s the sort of work I like; best graft about a farm.
“By and by the cocky’ll have a few sheep he wants shorn, and one day he’ll say to me, ‘Jack, if you hear of a shearer knockin’ round let me know — I’ve got a few sheep I want shore.’
“‘How many have you got?’ I’ll say.
“‘Oh, about fifteen hundred.’
“‘And what d’you think of giving?’
“‘Well, about twenty-five bob a hundred, but if a shearer sticks out for thirty, send him up to talk with me. I want to get ’em shore as soon as possible.’
“‘It’s all right,’ I’ll say, ‘you needn’t bother; I’ll shear your sheep.’
“‘Why,’ he’ll say, ‘can you shear?’
“‘Shear? Of course I can! I shore before you were born.’ It won’t matter if he’s twice as old as me.
“So I’ll shear his sheep and make a few pounds, and he’ll be glad and all the more eager to keep me on, so’s to always have someone to shear his sheep. But by and by I’ll get tired of stopping in the one place and want to be on the move, so I’ll tell him I’m going to leave.
“‘Why, what do you want to go for?’ he’ll say, surprised, ‘ain’t you satisfied?’
“‘Oh, yes, I’m satisfied, but I want a change.’
“‘Oh, don’t go,’ he’ll say; ‘stop and we’ll call it twenty-five bob a week.’
“But I’ll tell him I’m off — wouldn’t stay for a hundred when I’d made up my mind; so, when he sees he can’t persuade me he’ll get a bit stiff and say:
“‘Well, what about that there girl? Are you goin’ to go away and leave her like that?’
“‘Why, what d’yer mean?’ I’ll say. ‘Leave her like what?’ I won’t pretend to know what he’s driving at.
“‘Oh!’ he’ll say, ‘you know very well what I mean. The question is: Are you going to marry the girl or not?’
“I’ll see that things are gettin’ a little warm and that I’m in a corner, so I’ll say:
“‘Why, I never thought about it. This is pretty sudden and out of the common, isn’t it? I don’t mind marrying the girl if she’ll have me. Why! I haven’t asked her yet!’
“‘Well, look here,’ he’ll say, ‘if you agree to marry the girl — and I’ll make you marry her, any road — I’ll give you that there farm over there and a couple of hundred to start on.’
“So, I’ll marry her and settle down and be a cocky myself and if you ever happen to be knocking round there hard up, you needn’t go short of tucker a week or two; but don’t come knocking round the house when I’m not at home.”