But we had a lot to feel thankful for. Besides a sympathetic mother, every other facility was afforded us to become accomplished. Abundance of freedom; enthusiastic sisters; and no matter how things were going—whether the corn would n’t come up, or the wheat had failed, or the pumpkins had given out, or the water-hole run dry—we always had a concertina in the house. It never failed to attract company. Paddy Maloney and the well-sinkers, after belting and blasting all day long, used to drop in at night, and throw the table outside, and take the girls up, and prance about the floor with them till all hours.
Nearly every week Mother gave a ball. It might have been every night only for Dad. He said the jumping about destroyed the ground-floor—wore it away and made the room like a well. And whenever it rained hard and the water rushed in he had to bail it out. Dad always looked on the dark side of things. He had no ear for music either. His want of appreciation of melody often made the home miserable when it might have been the merriest on earth. Sometimes it happened that he had to throw down the plough-reins for half-an-hour or so to run round the wheat-paddock after a horse or an old cow; then, if he found Dave, or Sal, or any of us, sitting inside playing the concertina when he came to get a drink, he would nearly go mad.
“Can’t y’ find anything better t’ do than everlastingly playing at that damn thing?” he would shout. And if we did n’t put the instrument down immediately he would tear it from our hands and pitch it outside. If we did lay it down quietly he would snatch it up and heave it out just as hard. The next evening he would devote all his time to patching the fragments together with sealing-wax.
Still, despite Dad’s antagonism, we all turned out good players. It cost us nothing either. We learnt from each other. Kate was the first that learnt. She taught Sal. Sal taught Dave, and so on. Sandy Taylor was Kate’s tutor. He passed our place every evening going to his selection, where he used to sleep at night (fulfilling conditions), and always stopped at the fence to yarn with Kate about dancing. Sandy was a fine dancer himself, very light on his feet and easy to waltz with—so the girls made out. When the dancing subject was exhausted Sandy would drag some hair out of his horse’s mane and say, “How’s the concertina?” “It’s in there,” Kate would answer. Then turning round she would call out, “J—oe, bring the concer’.”
In an instant Joe would strut along with it. And Sandy, for the fiftieth time, would examine it and laugh at the kangaroo-skin straps that Dave had tacked to it, and the scraps of brown paper that were plastered over the ribs of it to keep the wind in; and, cocking his left leg over the pommel of his saddle, he would sound a full blast on it as a preliminary. Then he would strike up “The Rocky Road to Dublin”, or “The Wind Among the Barley”, or some other beautiful air, and grind away untiringly until it got dark—until mother came and asked him if he would n’t come in and have supper. Of course, he always would. After supper he would play some more. Then there would be a dance.
A ball was to be held at Anderson’s one Friday night, and only Kate and Dave were asked from our place. Dave was very pleased to be invited; it was the first time he had been asked anywhere, and he began to practise vigorously. The evening before the ball Dad sent him to put the draught horses in the top paddock. He went off merrily with them. The sun was just going down when he let them go, and save the noise of the birds settling to rest the paddock was quiet. Dave was filled with emotion and enthusiastic thoughts about the ball.
He threw the winkers down and looked around. For a moment or two he stood erect, then he bowed gracefully to the saplings on his right, then to the stumps and trees on his left, and humming a tune, ambled across a small patch of ground that was bare and black, and pranced back again. He opened his arms and, clasping some beautiful imaginary form in them, swung round and round like a windmill. Then he paused for breath, embraced his partner again, and “galloped” up and down. And young Johnson, who had been watching him in wonder from behind a fence, bolted for our place.
“Mrs. Rudd! Mrs. Rudd!” he shouted from the verandah. Mother went out.
“Wot’s—wot’s up with Dave?”
Mother turned pale.
“My God!” Mother exclaimed—“whatever has happened?”
Young Johnson hesitated. He was in doubt.
“Oh! What is it?” Mother moaned.
“Well” (he drew close to her) “he’s—he’s mad!”
“He is. I seen ’im just now up in your paddick, an’ he’s clean off he’s pannikin.”
Just then Dave came down the track whistling. Young Johnson saw him and fled.
For some time Mother regarded Dave with grave suspicion, then she questioned him closely.
“Yairs,” he said, grinning hard, “I was goin’ through th’ fust set.”
It was when Kate was married to Sandy Taylor that we realised what a blessing it is to be able to dance. How we looked forward to that wedding! We were always talking about it, and were very pleased it would be held in our own house, because all of us could go then. None of us could work for thinking of it—even Dad seemed to forget his troubles about the corn and Mick Brennan’s threat to summon him for half the fence. Mother said we would want plenty of water for the people to drink, so Sandy yoked his horse to the slide, and he, Dad, and Joe started for the springs.
The slide was the fork of a tree, alias a wheel-less water-trolly. The horse was hitched to the butt end, and a batten nailed across the prongs kept the cask from slipping off going uphill. Sandy led the way and carried the bucket; Dad went ahead to clear the track of stones; and Joe straddled the cask to keep her steady.
It always took three to work the slide.
The water they brought was a little thick—old Anderson had been down and stirred it up pulling a bullock out; but Dad put plenty ashes in the cask to clear it.
Each of us had his own work to do. Sandy knocked the partition down and decorated the place with boughs; Mother and the girls cooked and covered the walls with newspapers, and Dad gathered cow-dung and did the floor.
Two days before the wedding. All of us were still working hard. Dad was up to his armpits in a bucket of mixture, with a stack of cow-dung on one side, and a heap of sand and the shovel on the other. Dave and Joe were burning a cow that had died just in front of the house, and Sandy had gone to town for his tweed trousers.
A man in a long, black coat, white collar, and new leggings rode up, spoke to Dad, and got off. Dad straightened up and looked awkward, with his arms hanging wide and the mixture dripping from them. Mother came out. The cove shook hands with her, but he did n’t with Dad. They went inside—not Dad, who washed himself first.
Dave sent Joe to ask Dad who the cove was. Dad spoke in a whisper and said he was Mr. Macpherson, the clergyman who was to marry Kate and Sandy. Dave whistled and piled more wood on the dead cow. Mother came out and called Dave and Joe. Dave would n’t go, but sent Joe.
Dave threw another log on the cow, then thought he would see what was going on inside.
He stood at the window and looked in. He could n’t believe his eyes at first, and put his head right in. There were Dad, Joe, and the lot of them down on their marrow-bones saying something after the parson. Dave was glad that he did n’t go in.
How the parson prayed! Just when he said “Lead us not into temptation” the big kangaroo-dog slipped in and grabbed all the fresh meat on the table; but Dave managed to kick him in the ribs at the door. Dad groaned and seemed very restless.
When the parson had gone Dad said that what he had read about “reaping the same as you sow” was all rot, and spoke about the time when we sowed two bushels of barley in the lower paddock and got a big stack of rye from it.
The wedding was on a Wednesday, and at three o’clock in the afternoon. Most of the people came before dinner; the Hamiltons arrived just after breakfast. Talk of drays!—the little paddock could n’t hold them.
Jim Mullins was the only one who came in to dinner; the others mostly sat on their heels in a row and waited in the shade of the wire-fence. The parson was the last to come, and as he passed in he knocked his head against the kangaroo-leg hanging under the verandah. Dad saw it swinging, and said angrily to Joe: “Did n’t I tell you to take that down this morning?”
Joe unhooked it and said: “But if I hang it anywhere else the dog’ll get it.”
Dad tried to laugh at Joe, and said, loudly, “And what else is it for?” Then he bustled Joe off before he could answer him again.
Joe did n’t understand.
Then Dad said (putting the leg in a bag): “Do you want everyone to know we eat it, —— you?”
The ceremony commenced. Those who could squeeze inside did so—the others looked in at the window and through the cracks in the chimney.
Mrs. M’Doolan led Kate out of the back-room; then Sandy rose from the fire-place and stood beside her. Everyone thought Kate looked very nice—and orange blossoms! You’d think she was an orange-tree with a new bed-curtain thrown over it. Sandy looked well, too, in his snake-belt and new tweeds; but he seemed uncomfortable when the pin that Dave put in the back of his collar came out.
The parson did n’t take long; and how they scrambled and tumbled over each other at the finish! Charley Mace said that he got the first kiss; Big George said he did; and Mrs. M’Doolan was certain she would have got it only for the baby.
Fun! there was fun! The room was cleared and they promenaded for a dance—Sandy and Kate in the lead. They continued promenading until one of the well-sinkers called for the concertina—ours had been repaired till you could get only three notes out of it; but Jim Burke jumped on his horse and went home for his accordion.
Dance! they did dance!—until sun-rise. But unless you were dancing you could n’t stay inside, because the floor broke up, and talk about dust!—before morning the room was like a drafting-yard.
It was a great wedding; and though years have since passed, all the neighbours say still it was the best they were ever at.