(C) Copyright 1970 Robert Gordon Delahoy
Speed 1915 1916
Hot and dry, a heat haze shimmering above the paddocks, the warm smell of
the crop sweet and all infolding.
I took another long drink from the water bag and hung it back on the stake, then went and sat on the ground in the shade of a bag stack, watching Wally where he crouched, figuring with a twig in the dust.
Soft through the still air came a shout from Bill to his team, and Rowdy stiffened an ear a moment to listen, then let it flop back down.
"Well that's it," said Wally, turning a grin spread right across his face. "Cleaned, sewn up, ready for carting two thousand bags!"
"You'd bake a few loaves out that Wal."
But two thousand bags was only about a third of the harvest, and already Bill and Harry were well ahead of us on the strippers, with Christmas only a fortnight away.
"Be well into the New Year before we finish," Bill remarked as we drove the teams home that evening. "Hope the weather holds."
Harry pointed towards the house. "Who's that?"
"Dunno," said Bill. "Hope he's got time for a yarn."
It proved to be Mr Frank Nitschke, and yes, thank you, he would stay to tea, and took his horse out of the jinker and put a nose bag on him while we rubbed down the teams and fed them.
"Looking for work for my new power winnower," Mr Nitschke said over tea. "Finished my harvest and wondered if you would be interested in a contract to clean yours?"
"How much a bag?"
"Shilling," he said. "I've got a three-man team, and we usually put through about three hundred bags a day."
Bill looked at Harry.
And right there and then they worked out a contract for Mr Nitschke to do the rest of the winnowing, which meant we could start carting the wheat into Speed almost at once.
Frank Nitschke and his men arrived with the winnower late the next day and set it up by the big heaps of wheat and cocky chaff, ready for an early start.
It was a beaut machine, and Jove, could it clean wheat.
One of the men on the team was a young German, Fritz Kruger, who could only speak a few words of English. He had arrived in Australia just before war was declared and had been interned. But with the shortage of manpower he had been let out on parole to Frank, reporting to the Sea Lake police once a fortnight.
And Jove, could he work! Strong as a scrub bull Bill said.
With the power winnower working Wally was able to go onto one of the strippers to finish off the crop, and Harry began carting in to Speed, one load of eighty bags each afternoon, and soon after he had started the trips brought a letter from Mother saying she would be home with Rupe on the train from Mildura that night.
"M' stomach'll never believe it," Bill said, and Harry muttered that any time Mother was away Bill was more than welcome to try his hand at the cooking.
The train from Mildura usually arrived at Speed around midnight, and after tea Wally took the jinker in to meet them.
"And we'll get the place a bit shipshape," Harry decided. "Come on you lot."
I went to bed after we had cleaned up the house, and woke about one o'clock from a split second dream that a wheat stack had collapsed on top of me.
"G'day Bob!" Rupe cried from where he had landed on top of me. "I'm back."
"Get off! Y' nearly killed me! How are you?"
"Pretty good. I've seen Rowdy and Clyde and the ponies. "How's everything else?"
"Fine." I climbed out of the bed and wandered down to the kitchen to see Mother.
They had brought down two cases of Alberta peaches with them, and after months of tinned fruit they tasted wonderful, and I sat by the fire eating them while Mother told us the news.
"Em has a baby daughter. Caroline Mary. That makes all you boys uncles now."
"Me!" I asked, surprised. I was too young to be an uncle.
"You," Mother laughed. "Perhaps after the harvest you'll be able to go up and see her, but I think right now we better all get off to bed."
But when we got up to the bedroom Rupe was too excited to go to sleep and wanted to know what had been happening around the place while he was away, and had I been out trapping, and was I catching many?
"Haven't had a chance to put any traps down, and I won't be able to come with you when you start Rupe. I'll have to keep on sewing bags."
"Well I'll go you whacks in the skins Bob."
After school next day Rupe went back to setting his traps in the mallee scrub. We always used to do it together, selling the skins for pocket money.
One evening after setting his traps, Rupe told me he had seen the marks of bare feet in the sand amongst the mallee scrub about half a mile north of our boundary fence.
"Must have been those new kids from the block over to the north west."
"Is that their name? Didn't know you'd met them."
"Yeah. I've been over to their place. Mr Burns is rolling about three hundred acres of scrub ready to burn."
"Well," Rupe said definitely, "they better keep out of it. I don't want them mucking around with my traps."
Rupe had followed the marks of bare feet for about a mile, but lost them near the big mallee hen's nest, the extra large one we had taken forty eggs from the year before.
"Yes," said Rupe, "and they better keep right away from that nest too. We found it and it's ours."
At lunchtime the next day Tom Knight, a young Constable from Sea Lake, rose up on a big roan hack, and Bill went out and invited him in.
"I'm looking for a young girl about eighteen. She's a school teacher, Olga Andrews, only recently up from Gippsland." He nodded to Mother and took the cup of tea gratefully. "Thanks Mrs Delahoy."
"What's she done?" Wally asked.
"No, no. She's lost. She's teaching over at Nyarrin. Set out from the place where she stays the other morning and never reached the school. They gave the alarm when her pony came home without her."
"Oh dear. The poor girl," Mother sympathised, "she can't last long in this heat. It's been over a hundred degrees these last few days."
"Well, this is the second day Mrs Delahoy." He took a mouthful of the meal Mother served him and chewed on it a moment. "I've seen no sign of her."
"I don't suppose she could have left the tracks my young brother saw constable?"
"Out by his traps. Just off to the north of our boundary."
"To the north where's your brother?"
"Rupert? He's at school," Mother said. "You don't think the poor girl might be around here ..?"
Tom Knight looked at Mother a moment. "Is the school far from here?"
"I could show you where Rupe saw them "
"Right. If I can just bolt this food down Mrs Delahoy while your son here gets a horse?"
"Of course," Mother said. "Bob, go and saddle Chester."
I was off at a run, and by the time I had Chester back to the house Constable Knight was coming out, and I led him at a gallop to the north boundary.
"We'll get off here and cut his tracks constable."
We climbed down and led the horses into the scrub in the direction of the big mallee hen's nest, and not far along came across Rupe and Snowy's tracks, and, sure enough, there were the marks of bare feet, petering out, as Rupe had said, at the nest.
"Do you know this country well Bob?"
"Yeah. Right through to Box Tank. It's all mallee scrub, and if you head north you'll not find water for at least thirty mile."
We stopped on the crest of a big sand hill.
"Damned if I know," the Constable said, looking around in a full circle. " This bloody country looks all the same to me."
"Do you think they could be the girl's tracks?"
He nodded. "I don't know where to start looking though."
I pointed across to the north west. "See that pine tree about half a mile away? Well, if you search over to that I'll head across to that big mallee tree to the north-east. That's about half a mile too. You stay by the pine and I'll cut back to you. If the tracks cross anywhere there one of us should pick them up."
"Right'o Bob. That sounds alright to me."
I turned Chester towards the big mallee tree and started down the side of the sand hill, keeping the pace slow while I searched the ground.
There were no signs crossing the first line, and at the mallee tree I turned across towards the pine, and with about three hundred yards to go
I slipped from the saddle and knelt in the sand. Tracks alright. The same bare feet.
"C'mon Chester!" I threw myself into the saddle and kicked into a gallop towards the pine.
"Any luck?" the Constable called towards me.
"Yes!" I shouted, halting Chester. "Back here."
Together we squatted in the sand and studied them.
"Which way are they going?"
"Why, due north," I said, surprised.
Tom Knight tilted his hat back and scratched his head. "Damned if I know. I'd swear they were going south."
"Look Constable, why don't we go back home now and arrange for Rupe and some of the men to come out tomorrow? We'll never follow these far before dark."
Tom Knight looked up and studied the sky. "Right. That's probably the best way, 'though I don't like the thought of her being out another night."
"There's not much sense in trying to follow them now."
"No." He stood up and mounted his horse. "We'll get an early start then."
I watched him as he rode off. "Where are you going?"
He stopped, puzzled. "Back to your house."
"Aw hell, it's not that way."
I climbed back into the saddle and turned Chester towards home. "It's back here."
He turned back and followed, but it was not until we reached our boundary that he relaxed and laughed.
"Now I know where we are. Does your brother know the bush as well as you?"
"Aw yes Constable. Rupe could track you down and tell you where you spat last year."
Both Constable Knight and his horse were worn out when we got back to the house, and Bill insisted he stay the night with us. "You can get off early with Rupe and Bob "
"And I can spare Fritz," Mr Nitschke said.
"Right," said Bill, "and we'll equip you all so you can just keep on following those tracks till you find her.
Just before first light next morning we finished breakfast and went down to the stable where Bill had the four horses saddled and ready.
"You could probably stay out for two or three days with this gear," Bill told Constable Knight, indicating the water bags. "Well. Best of luck."
We moved out in the still darkness, the soft creak of leather, the rattle of a bit as a horse shook its head and snuffled, the soft fall of hooves in the sand.
Crisp and still cold in the brown of pre-dawn, the fences and stand of mallee shadowy and indistinct as we followed Rupe out towards the boundary.
He pushed his horse up into a canter, Snowy as sure footed in the half light as Rupe was fearless, and we touched our horses up to stay with him, more cautious, but conceding every minute counted.
Into the mallee scrub across the boundary and tree and stump became more sharply defined as the dawn began to break, and I moved my horse up past Rupe and led out past the mallee hen's nest and north to the right of the pine tree where the Constable and I had cut the tracks the night before.
Rupe slipped from the saddle and squatted in the sand. "Yeah. Same tracks I saw."
"Can you follow them Ruper?" Constable Knight asked.
"If they stay like this," Rupe said.
Fritz Kruger slipped from his horse and studied the marks on the ground, then looked up at Rupe.
"That way," Rupe pointed. "See Fritz? That way."
"Jah," Fritz nodded, and looked off into the mallee scrub.
Leading his horse, Rupe set off after the tracks, fresh now, and walking quickly. But by midday the temperature had risen up into at least the nineties, and it became an effort of will to keep moving forward through the burning sand.
Fritz was walking back beside his horse, letting it find its own way, leaning against its shoulder for support. Constable Knight looked all in. He had tied his coat up on the front of the saddle, and his shirt was ripped from the mallee scrub. He had long given up ducking or going around the smaller branches, keeping his face forward and plodding stolidly ahead.
I followed behind them all, more used to the heat from the long weeks in the paddocks turning the winnower and sewing bags, but Rupe seemed totally oblivious to the sun and the heat hammering up from the sand, walking easily, and keeping up a running commentary as he read the tracks.
"She's had a lie down here, see. Now she's walking a bit funny. See where she's gone down on one knee?"
He kept up this flow of chatter just like the black kids used to do when they were showing us how to track. It seemed to sharpen their concentration and perception, and at time Rupe was speaking more to himself than to us.
We walked up over a sand hill, the tracks winding from side to side where the girl had wandered, straightening up as she had gone down the other side, Rupe pointing out a place where she had fallen and slid in the sand.
Down at the bottom, Rupe stopped and took the water bag from the saddle, knocking the crown of his hat inwards and filling it with water for his horse to drink.
Constable Knight watched him in surprise, then like Fritz and I, did the same.
Rupe called out to me and I walked up to where he had moved away from the horses and squatted in the sand. "They look pretty fresh here Bob."
"Yeah. They do."
"She won't be far away now. You follow on with the others and I'll go ahead. I'm quicker than them." He stood up and went back to Snowy. "You follow with Bob Constable."
He climbed into the saddle and started off, leaning over Snowy's neck to watch the tracks, and in a few minutes we had lost him as we followed more slowly in his tracks.
It was becoming a real effort for Constable Knight and Fritz just to keep moving.
About twenty minutes after we had split up we heard the long drawn "Coo. eee! Coo .eee!" from ahead.
"Rupe's found her!"
It seemed to give them both a new charge of energy, and we swung into the saddles and pushed the horses forward.
"He ..re ..!"
We followed through the scrub in the direction of his voice, down the side of one sand hill and up to one side on the next.
"There he is!"
Rupe was seated on Snowy, looking down at a girl, her hands clutching the sand, head alongside a tuft of porcupine grass.
"She's breathing I think," Rupe called.
Constable Knight swung from his horse and dropped on his knees beside her. "Fritz!"
Together they lifted her into the shade, and Rupe handed Tom his water bag, watching as it was pressed between her lips.
"She swallowed," he whispered.
"Get my coat Bob," the Constable said, pouring water over the girl's forehead and shoulders, wrapping the coat around her when I handed it to him, and starting in surprise as the girl grabbed suddenly at the water bag and almost tore it from his hands.
"Steady now - Steady." He placed it gently to her lips again, one hand wiping quickly at his own face, and I realised it was not sweat, but tears, streaming down his cheeks.
Fritz was walking around in circles sobbing like a school girl. "Ja boy, ja boy. Alive she is. Alive!"
She was delirious, but after Constable Knight, sobbing quite openly now, had bathed her face and shoulder for some minutes, she lapsed into a coma.
"We'll get her onto my horse. Fritz. Give me a hand."
Together we managed to lift her into the saddle in front of Tom, and with Rupe leading the way headed back towards home, pushing the horses as quickly as they could through the sand and scrub, the heat forgotten.
When we rode in from the scrub, Mother, Bill, Harry and Wally came running from the house to meet us, the boys taking the girl from Tom Knight's arms.
"Quick. Take her straight into my bedroom," Mother ordered, taking it all in at a glance.
"Leave the horses," Bill ordered as he helped carry the girl into the house. "Come on inside."
We climbed down stiffly, leaving the horses where they stood and walking slowly across the verandah to the kitchen.
"We'll get some tucker on for you," Bill said, coming from Mother's bedroom. "You look after the horses Wally."
While Bill cooked bacon and eggs Harry ran to and from Mother's bedroom, between trips making a broth on the stove.
"Is she going to be alright Harry?"
"Take it easy Tom. Mother has everything under control, and the girl seems to be coming around."
After we had the meal that Bill cooked, we all sat around the room, not talking much, glancing up each time Harry or Mother came from the bedroom.
"I think you better all come and have a quick peep at her," Mother said. "She's in a good sound sleep now, and she knows she's safe. She kept on saying her thanks to God-"
"Thanks to young Rupe," Constable Knight said, laying a hand on his shoulder.
Rupe shuffled his feet, embarrassed. "Aw, it was nothing much."
Mother smiled proudly at her son, and held the door open for us.
"Ja," Fritz said, and wiped the back of his hand across his eyes.
Miss Olga Andrews looked a different girl lying there asleep in Mother's bed, a peaceful smile on her lips, even now less swollen, and some of the redness of the sun had left the skin of her pretty face.
"I think you found her in time," Mother smiled, and gently eased us from the room.
The next day Olga was well enough to travel with Tom Knight and Frank Nitschke in his buggy into Sea Lake, and when Frank returned in the evening it was with the news that the doctor at the Sea Lake hospital felt she would be well enough to go back to teaching in a week or so.
"You never know from one day to the next what will turn up," Bill said.
He was carting wheat into Speed too now, and Frank Nitschke and his men looked like finishing the threshing before Christmas.
But they didn't quite make it.
Harry had put some decorations up in the kitchen and dining room to mark the festival, and Mother had us kill a couple of turkeys and some roosters. And of course when we sat down to dinner, with the temperature at one hundred and five degrees, we finished off the meal with the traditional hot plum pudding.
"Although why anyone in their right mind would eat hot plum pudding on a day like this," Bill muttered, sitting back from the table and loosening his belt. "Absolutely beats me."
"A second helping?" Harry asked.
"Ah- yeah, alright," Bill agreed, and pulled his chair back to the table.
After the washing up Harry sat down at the piano and launched into a Christmas carol, and we all took our places around him and sang. Fritz proved to have a particularly fine voice, and sang several of the carols to us in German, and we ended the evening to the strains of Silent Night.
"You know," Bill said reflectively as we made ready for bed," this Fritz Kruger seems a decent sort of bloke. It's so damn silly when you think of it. He's just come out from Germany and our brother's over there fighting the blighters."
"Yes," agreed Harry. "War doesn't seem to make sense any way you look at it. It's only the innocent who suffer. You mark my words, the Kaiser will get off scott free when it's all over, and so will all the big armament manufacturers like Krupp."
Harry was very philosophical about the whole thing.
"C'mon," said Rupe. "If you don't get off to bed you'll say you're too tired to go to the picnic tomorrow."
Bill cuffed him affectionately over the head. "Not likely young Rupe. We're hoping to give you away as first prize for one of the events."
"Last prize," said Wally. "That'll make 'em all run."
The Boxing Day picnic and pony races were at Myall, and as we spanked along in the double buggy we met other families on their way, and exchanged gossip and jokes as we drove.
"Are you going in the married women's race mum?" Rupe wanted to know.
Mother smiled. "No, I think I'll save my energy for cheering Bill in the Old Buffers race."
"Eh?" Bill asked in surprise, then realising Mother was taking a rise out of him grinned to himself and shook the reins over the ponies' backs. "Be a day or two yet before I'm ready for that."
"Well I'm going in the Rupe and spoon race," Harry said, nodding seriously.
"Gee," Rupe cried, excited. "Is it named after me Harry? What is it?"
"Haven't heard of a Rupe and spoon race?" Harry asked, surprised. "Thought everyone knew about them."
"Well what is it?"
"Ah, it's very difficult Rupe. You see, while all the others are running with an egg in a spoon, I'm going to run with you in a spoon."
Rupe looked at him, unsure. "But I .., I don't think I'd fit Harry."
Harry looked him up and down. "But I'll be using a big spoon."
Mother burst out laughing, and Rupe looked at her and then the rest of us, and turned away.
"Ah- I knew you were joking Harry."
One of the horse races was to gallop a mile and pull a ton. The horse who came first in the gallop was yoked to a dray loaded with a ton, and had to pull it. If he failed, he lost, and the next fastest horse had a chance, and so on until they found a winner.
It was a carnival day out there in the bush when the worries of weather and harvest could be forgotten, and for those few hours the serious side of life was put away. When the day finally ended, the loaded buggies and jinkers moved slowly out of the picnic grounds with their occupants tired and contented, and many a horse or pair found their way home and stood, patiently, at gates, until the driver woke with a start, and climbed down to open them.
"A jolly good couple of days," Bill decided, coming in from the stable after putting the ponies away, and sitting down. "Think I'll just have a bit of sleep before I go off to bed."
"And sleep all the way into Speed on the wagon tomorrow," Harry said. "You wheat farmers get it easy alright."
Carting the wheat into Speed was the last phase of the harvest, and that was almost all there was left to do. Frank Nitschke and his men finished up a week later, and the place suddenly seemed very lonely without them.
One evening Rupe was trying to struggle through the war news in the paper when he came on the retreat from Mons. He seemed puzzled by something, and turned to Mother. "Are there still angels mum?"
"Why- of course Rupert. What made you ask?"
"Well," said Rupe, "it says here some British soldiers saw an angel come down out of the sky to save them."
Mother leaned over and took the paper from him, studying it a moment before she spoke. "I think it was this way son. The British soldiers were caught in open country, out-numbered and out-gunned, and the German onslaught was just too strong for them to repel. When they tried to retreat to the line other British soldiers were fortifying with trenches, the Germans came in on two sides, and the situation was so desperate some of the British prayed for God to save them."
Mother was quiet a moment, the flickering light of the fire playing across her face as she thought of her son somewhere in that war-ravaged hell of Europe.
It seemed so incredible in the calm warm security of our home that men, and women and children, were even now fighting for their very lives. And our brother George with them when he should be home here with us resting after a day of work on the property.
It made you feel uncomfortable, uncertain, knowing this life we led could be shattered by other men's greed as the life of the farmer across Europe had been shattered.
"Mother .." Rupe sounded almost afraid.
Mother turned, drawing herself back from some distant place to look at her youngest son.
"You were telling me about the angels ..?"
Mother smiled. "Yes." She looked at the paper again. "A cloud so thick you could not see your hand in front of you descended on the battleground, remaining between the Germans and the British for two days, halting the German advance as the horses became confused when their drivers could not see. A lot of their guns finishing upside down in the ditches, and their advance became bedlam. And that was all the time the British needed to get safely back to their new positions."
"But what about the angels?" Rupe persisted. "And why did only some of the men see one?"
"Well, you're told in the bible that those who believe in God shall see Him."
"But if the angel was there."
Mother rested a hand on his head. "They were fighting a battle son. Perhaps not all of them chanced to look up at the right moment."
"Mmm," Rupe conceded, only half convinced.
"But that reminds me," Mother said, speaking to all of us now. "Since I've come back from Merbein you all seem to be swearing a great deal."
Surely this wasn't going to be one of those lectures we all dreaded?
"I heard you swearing Bill, when you drove the team past the house the other day. And you too Harry."
"Well ..," Harry started, and simply ended with a shrug.
"There's no 'well' about it. Your father drove horses when he was a young man, and I never heard him swear. Your father .." She took out a handkerchief and dabbed at her eyes. "It's just got to stop!"
So first Bill, then Harry, then Wally, and finally I, had our roasting.
"And," Mother went on, "I was disgusted to hear about you and Harry Bill. Drinking at the hotel at Woomelang after the inquest!"
Bill glanced at me from the side of his eye.
"No- don't go blaming Bob or Wally. Mrs Pa Jennings told me."
I heaved a sigh of relief.
"What would your poor father think?"
No-one spoke, we just sat there and took a thrashing, worse than being hit with a whip, and then Mother rose from her chair, a look in her eyes of hurt pride and indignation, turned her back to us, and quietly withdrew to her bedroom.
"Hell!" said Bill. "B- .." He stoped himself and got to his feet. "G'night."
It was a bad evening for the Delahoy boys, and we sneaked off to bed feeling worse than criminals.
My bed was out on the side verandah now, and I lay there, unable to sleep, listening to the mo-pokes calling through the still night air and the cry of the curlew rising up and up unto the sky. Close to the house in the warm wash of the moonlight the will- wagtails were chirping and flitting about, suddenly chittering angrily at some real or imagined danger, and then from away in the distance came the howl of a dingo, answered, as always, by a long howl from Rowdy.
Oh God! Why do dingoes have to howl on a moonlight night?
I tried to console myself with thoughts of the new bike Mother had promised me, but now it seemed to have sprouted wings and was disappearing in a haze towards the angels.
But in the morning things looked brighter, and after a few embarrassed good mornings we all felt better, even though it was Sunday, which meant chaff cutting until lunch.
"By the way," Harry said at breakfast. "I was working out the yield Bill. You were a bit optimistic with your ten bags to the acre. Averaged out more like eight."
"That's pretty good anyway," Bill answered. "Twenty four bushels to the acre's d- ," he caught himself in time, "jolly good."
"Perhaps we're starting the seven fat years?" Wally suggested.
"Perhaps we are," said Bill, standing up. "Look, Rupe, Bob, no need for you to come down. Stay up here and give Mother a hand."
"That's good," Rupe said.
"And I mean give Mother a hand," Bill warned him. "I'll bet there's plenty she wants done."
"One thing," Mother said, seizing the opportunity, "I would like is to see you boys clean yourselves up a little after you finish work on a Sunday. And Bill, you certainly need a shave."
Bill's whiskers made him look like a cross between the pictures of Marco Polo and Drake in the 'Royal Reader" we used at school.
"Ah well," Bill said, "if anyone calls they'll just have to take me as they find me. Handsome is as handsome does." And going out the door he gave himself a nod of approval in the mirror hanging on the verandah post, and set off for the chaff house.
Walking across the sand we watched him give his trousers a hitch up. They were always slipping down off his hips, so that most of the time the legs would slip over his boots and he would be walking on velvet.
"Hey!" young Rupe called after him, "why don't you tie hay bands around your trouser legs like Harry does!"
Bill spun around, indignant. "What! Wear bowyangs? No thanks!" And he turned back and walked off.
"Come one," Mother said from behind us. "There's plenty to be done around the house.
About ten thirty, when he was emptying a can of dust outside, Rupe sighted a jinker coming up the track towards the house.
He ran inside. "Looks like visitors coming. Must be lost."
"It's two ladies," Mother said from the back door. "Run down to the gate by the dam and let them through Rupert. I'll just brush my hair."
I waited on the verandah as they came up. One of them was a girl, and the other an older woman, perhaps her mother?
I stepped down and took their horse by the bridle.
"Ja, how are you? My name is Mrs Nitschke."
"Oh! Frank Nitschke's wife?"
"Ja, ja," she said, and laughed, then turned to the girl. "This is Olga Andrews."
"Hullo," I said, not recognising her, and helped them down from the jinker.
"Mrs Nitschke! How are you?" Mother called, coming from the door. "Do please come in."
Mrs Nitschke's face was all smiles. "Meet Olga, d'girl that you find."
"Jove!" Rupe whispered beside me. "It's her!"
"But .., but I hardly recognise you," Mother exclaimed.
Olga's face flushed. "I've come over to thank you Mrs Delahoy. You were so good to me ..And your sons .." She shook her head, overcome.
"No thank-yous," Mother said, and put an arm around Olga's shoulders. "It was such a joy to us to have you safe." She smiled down at the girl, then turned to us. "Take the pony out and look after it please boys."
"Jove," Rupe whispered as he watched them go in through the door. "She is pretty Bob. Come on, let's get the pony watered so we can go in and meet her."
But Rupe got more than he had bargained for as when Mother introduced him as the one who had found Olga, he was almost smothered in kisses and hugs.
"Yes, and you too," Olga cried as I backed away, and I was kissed and hugged as well.
"It was nothing," I protested, backing out through the door onto the verandah. Rupe was already out in the yard. "Will you excuse us?"
Olga had followed me out, and I could hear Mother and Mrs Nitschke laughing in the kitchen.
"Won't you stay and talk to me?"
"We have to tell our brothers to get ready for dinner," I called, and turned and chased after Rupe.
"What're you racing down here for?" Bill asked when we reached them.
"She's about eighteen," Rupe panted. "And gosh, is she pretty!"
"Well, I'm glad to hear that," said Bill.
"Same here," said Wally.
Harry nodded his agreement, winked at the other two, and they all turned on Rupe together.
"What're you talking about?"
"Eh?" asked Rupe, stepping back in surprise. "Her!"
"It's Mrs Nitschke," I explained. "She's brought the girl we found over to say thank you."
"Well, said Bill. "I reckon that's enough chaff to see us through the week anyway. Let's knock off and see for ourselves."
As we came up behind the stand of mallee we could see Olga standing on the verandah.
"Jove," said Bill, coming to a stop. "Yes, by jingoes. She isn't bad, is she?" He reached out a hand and tapped my shoulder. "Do us a favour will you Bob?"
"Well, when you and Rupe go into the house, pass my shaving gear out the bedroom window. But don't let anyone see you. In fact, better give us some soap and a towel. And my best trousers. May as well have a clean shirt too."
"Handsome is as handsome does," smirked Rupe.
"You shut up!" Bill warned.
Down at the house I left Harry and Wally being introduced and ducked through into Bill's room, getting together the things he wanted.
"Got 'em Bob?" he hissed, and I passed them out the window to him and watched him gallop off towards the men's hut.
In the kitchen Harry and Wally were chatting to Olga and Mrs Nitschke.
"Where's Bill?" Mother asked.
"Oh- he won't be long," Harry said evasively. "He's got something to do."
"Well come outside and I'll show you," Mother said to Olga and Mrs Nitschke. She had been telling them about the Geeba Singh episode. "That's where he was camped during the drought."
She started forward with the two women towards the men's hut.
"Struth!" I whispered. "Harry. What about Bill?"
"Perhaps he's got a sense of humour," Harry smiled. "Can't spoil Mother's story for a bit of pride anyway."
Unfortunately Bill, in his hurry, had left the hut door wide open. He had shaved, and now he was having a quick bath in one of the big iron tubs. He had just soaped himself up when Mother and Olga arrived at the door and started in.
"Oi! Eh!" came a strangled cry.
"Oh I .., I beg your pardon!" Mother managed, swinging to face the other two women. "I think we had better go back to the house."
Poor old Bill. It was one of his really bad days, he said afterwards. But during dinner he could not keep his eyes off Olga, and afterwards he invited her to see around the place and inspect our horses.
And Olga accepted.
In fact, it was quite a while before they came back in, and Harry played the piano and sang a couple of songs for us.
"Will you sing one for us Olga?" Mother asked.
Olga blushed and consulted with Harry, then sang for us, and then we all joined in, all except Bill. He made one or two attempts, but he did not seem to concentrate.
Chapter 4 | Contents | Chapter 6