A Dinner for Five

A club dining-room in Australia is much like one in any other part of the world. Even at the Antipodes⁠—though the seasons are reversed, and the foxes have wings⁠—we still shun the club bore, and let him have a table to himself; the head waiter usually looks a more important personage than any of the members or guests; and men may be seen giving each other dinners from much the same ignoble motives as those which actuate their fellows elsewhere. In the Cassowary Club, on the night of which we tell, the Bo’sun was giving his dinner of necessity to honour the draft of hospitality drawn on him by Grant. At the next table a young solicitor was entertaining his one wealthy client; near by a band of haggard University professors were dining a wandering scientist, all hair and spectacles⁠—both guest and hosts drinking mineral waters and such horrors; while beyond them a lot of racing men were swilling champagne and eating and talking as heartily as so many navvies. A few squatters, down from their stations, had foregathered at the centre table, where each was trying to make out that he had had less rain than the others. The Bo’sun and his guests were taken in hand by the head waiter, who formerly had been at a London Club, and was laying himself out to do his best; he had seen that Gillespie had “Wanderers’ Club” on his cards, and he knew, and thanked his stars that he did know, what “Wanderers’ Club” on a man’s card meant. His fellow-waiters, to whom he usually referred as “a lot of savages,” were unfortunately in ignorance of the social distinction implied by membership of such a club.

For a time there was nothing but the usual commonplace talk, while the soup and fish were disposed of; when they reached the champagne and the entrées, things become more homelike and conversation flowed. A bushman, especially when primed with champagne, is always ready to give his tongue a run⁠—and when he has two open-mouthed new chums for audience, as Gordon had, the only difficulty is to stop him before bedtime; for long silent rides on the plain, and lonely camps at night, give him a lot of enforced silence that he has to make up for later.

“Where are you from last, Gordon?” said the Bo’sun. “Haven’t seen you in town for a long time.”

“I’ve been hunting wild geese,” drawled the man from far back, screwing up one eye and inspecting a glass of champagne, which he drank off at a gulp. “That’s what I do most of my time now. The old man⁠—Grant, you know⁠—my boss⁠—he’s always hearing of mobs of cattle for sale, and if I’m down in the southwest the mob is sure to be up in the far northeast, but it’s all one to him. He wires to me to go and inspect them quick and lively before someone else gets them, and I ride and drive and coach hundreds of miles to get at some flat-sided pike-horned mob of brutes without enough fat on them to oil a man’s hair with. I’ve to go right away out back now and take over a place that the old man advanced some money on. He was fool enough, or someone was fool enough for him, to advance five thousand pounds on a block of new country with five thousand cattle on it⁠—book-muster, you know, and half the cattle haven’t been seen for years, and the other half are dead, I expect. Anyhow, the man that borrowed the money is ruined, and I have to go up and take over the station.”

“What do you call a book-muster?” said the globetrotter, who was spending a month in the country, and would naturally write a book on it.

“Book-muster, book-muster? Why, a book-muster is something like dead-reckoning on a ship. You know what dead-reckoning is, don’t you? If a captain can’t see the sun he allows for how fast the ship is going, and for the time run and the currents, and all that, and then reckons up where he is. I travelled with a captain once, and so long as he stuck to dead-reckoning he was all right. He made out we were off Cairns, and that’s just where we were; because we struck the Great Barrier Reef, and became a total wreck ten minutes after. With the cattle it’s just the same. You’ll reckon the cattle that you started with, add on each year’s calves, subtract all that you sell⁠—that is, if you ever do sell any⁠—and allow for deaths, and what the blacks spear and the thieves steal. Then you work out the total, and you say, ‘There ought to be five thousand cattle on the place,’ but you never get ’em. I’ve got to go and find five thousand cattle in the worst bit of brigalow scrub in the north.”

“Where do you say this place is?” said Pinnock. “It’s called No Man’s Land, and it’s away out back near where the buffalo-shooters are. It’ll take about a month to get there. The old man’s in a rare state of mind at being let in. He’s up at Kuryong now, driving my brother Hugh out of his mind. Hugh would as soon have an attack of faceache as see old Bully looming up the track. Every time he goes up he shifts every blessed sheep out of every paddock, and knocks seven years’ growth out of them putting them through the yards; then he overhauls the store, and if there’s a box of matches short he’ll keep Hugh up half the night to account for it. He sacks all the good men and raises the wages of the loafers, and then comes back to Sydney quite pleased; it’s a little holiday to him. You come along with me, Carew, and let old Bully alone. What did you come out for? Colonial experience?”

An Englishman hates talking about himself, and Carew rather hesitated. Then he came out with it awkwardly, like a man repeating a lesson.

“Did you ever meet a man named Considine out here?” he said.

“Lots of them,” said Gordon promptly⁠—“lots of them. Why, I had a man named Considine working for me, and he thought he got bitten by a snake, so his mates ran him twenty miles into Bourke between two horses to keep him from going to sleep, giving him a nip of whisky every twenty minutes; and when he got to Bourke he wasn’t bitten at all, but he died of alcoholic poisoning. What about this Considine, anyhow? What do you want him for?”

The Englishman felt like dropping the subject altogether, not feeling quite sure that he was not being laughed at. However, he decided to go through with it.

“It’s rather a long story, but it boils down to this,” he said. “I’m looking for a Patrick Henry Considine, but I don’t know what he’s like. I don’t know whether there is such a chap, in fact, but if there is, I’ve got to find him. A great-uncle of mine died out here a long while ago, and we believe he left a son; and if there is such a son, it turns out that he would be entitled to a heap of money. It has been heaping up for years in Chancery, and all that sort of thing, you know,” he added, vaguely. “My people thought I might meet him out here, don’t you know⁠—and he could go home and get all the cash, you see. They’ve been advertising for him.”

“And what good will it do you,” drawled Gordon, “supposing you do find him? Where do you come in?”

“Oh, it doesn’t do me much good, except that if there is such a Johnny, and he dies without making a will, then the money would all come to my people. But if there isn’t, it all goes to another branch of the family.”

Gordon thought the matter over for a while. “What you want,” he said, “is to find this man, and to find him dead. If we come across him away in the back country, we’ll soon arrange his death for you, if you make it worth while. Nasty gun accident, or something like that, you know.”

“I wouldn’t like anyone to shoot him,” said the Englishman.

“Well, you come with me, and we’ll find him,” said Gordon.

By this time dinner was over. The waiters began to turn out the lights on the vacant tables; and, as the party rose it was arranged nem. con., and with much enthusiasm, that Carew should accompany Gordon on his trip to No Man’s Land, and that Gordon should, by all means in his power, aid and abet Carew in his search for Considine.

Then, all talking together, and somewhat loudly, they strutted into the smoking-room.