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It was nearly nightfall when that melancholy little party made their appearance at the head station. Dick, with great foresight, had sent the ration cart out some miles to meet them, so that my mother was spared the pain of seeing the body of her husband brought in upon his horse. Rough and rude as he was, Dick was a thoughtful fellow, and I firmly believe he would have gone through fire and water to serve my mother, for whom he had a boundless admiration.
338 pages, with a reading time of ~5.25 hours (84,688 words), and first published in 1906. This DRM-Free edition published by epubBooks, 2015.
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If any man had told me a year ago that I should start out to write a book, I give you my word I should not have believed him. It would have been the very last job I should have thought of undertaking. Somehow I’ve never been much of a fist with the pen. The branding iron and stockwhip have always been more in my line, and the saddle a much more familiar seat than the author’s chair. However, fate is always at hand to arrange matters for us, whether we like it or not, and so it comes about that I find myself at this present moment seated at my table– pen in hand, with a small mountain of virgin foolscap in front of me, waiting to be covered with my sprawling penmanship. What the story will be like when I have finished it, and whether those who do me the honour of reading it will find it worthy of their consideration, is more than I can say. I have made up my mind to tell it, however, and that being so, we’ll “chance it,” as we say in the Bush. Should it not turn out to be to your taste, well, my advice to you is to put it down at once and turn your attention to the work of somebody else who has had greater experience in this line of business than your humble servant. Give me a three-year old as green as grass, and I’ll sit him until the cows come home; let me have a long day’s shearing, even when the wool is damp or there’s grass seed in the fleece; a hut to be built, or a tank to be sunk, and it’s all the same to me; but to sit down in cold blood and try to describe your past life, with all its good deeds (not very many of them in my case) and bad, successes and failures, hopes and fears, requires more cleverness, I’m afraid, than I possess. However, I’ll imitate the old single-stick players in the West of England, and toss my hat on the stage as a sign that, no matter whether I’m successful or not, I intend doing my best, and I can’t say more than that. Here goes then.
To begin with, I must tell you who I am, and whence I hail. First and foremost, my name is George Tregaskis–my father was also a George Tregaskis, as, I believe, was his father before him. The old dad used to say that we came of good Cornish stock, and I’m not quite sure that I did not once hear him tell somebody that there was a title in the family. But that did not interest me; for the reason, I suppose, that I was too young to understand the meaning of such things. My father was born in England, but my mother was Colonial, Ballarat being her native place. As for me, their only child, I first saw the light of day at a small station on the Murray River, which my father managed for a gentleman who lived in Melbourne, and whom I regarded as the greatest man in all the world, not even my own paternal parent excepted. Fortunately he did not trouble us much with visits, but when he did I trembled before him like a gum leaf in a storm. Even the fact that on one occasion he gave me half-a-crown on his departure could not altogether convince me that he was a creature of flesh and blood like my own father or the hands upon the run. I can see him now, tall, burly, and the possessor of an enormous beard that reached almost to his waist. His face was broad and red and his voice deep and sonorous as a bell. When he laughed he seemed to shake all over like a jelly; taken all round, he was a jovial, good-natured man, and proved a good friend to my mother and myself when my poor father was thrown from his horse and killed while out mustering in our back country. How well I remember that day! It seems to me as if I can even smell the hot earth, and hear the chirrup of the cicadas in the gum trees by the river bank. Then came the arrival of Dick Bennet, the overseer, with a grave face, and as nervous as a plain turkey when you’re after him on foot. His horse was all in a lather and so played out that I doubt if he could have travelled another couple of miles.
“Georgie, boy,” Dick began, as he got out of his saddle and threw his reins on the ground, “where’s your mother? Hurry up and tell me, for I’ve got something to say to her.”
“She’s in the house,” I answered, and asked him to put me up in the saddle. He paid no attention to me, however, but was making for the house door when my mother made her appearance on the verandah. Little chap though I was, I can well recall the look on her face as her eyes fell upon him. She became deadly pale, and for a moment neither of them spoke, but stood looking at each other for all the world as if they were struck dumb. My mother was the first to speak.
“What has happened?” she asked, and her voice seemed to come from deep down in her throat, while her hands were holding tight on to the rail before her as if to prevent herself from falling. “I can see there is something wrong, Mr. Bennet.”