He consulted Mother and Dave, and together they thought more.
“The thing is,” Dad said, “to get another horse to finish the bit of ploughing. We’ve got one; Anderson will lend the grey mare, I know.”
He walked round the room a few times.
“When that’s done, I think I see my way clear; but that’s the trouble.”
He looked at Dave. Dave seemed as though he had a solution. But Joe spoke.
“Kuk-kuk-could n’t y’ b-reak in some kang’roos, Dad? There’s pul-lenty in th’ pup-paddick.”
“Could n’t you shut up and hold your tongue and clear out of this, you brat?” Dad roared. And Joe hung his head and shut up.
“Well, y’ know”—Dave drawled—“there’s that colt wot Maloney offered us before to quieten. Could get ’im. ’E’s a big lump of a ’orse if y’ could do anythin’ with ’im. They gave ’im best themselves.”
Dad’s eyes shone.
“That’s th’ horse,” he cried. “Get him! To-morrow first thing go for him! I’ll make something of him!”
“Don’t know”—Dave chuckled—“he’s a——”
“Tut, tut; you fetch him.”
“Oh, I’ll fetch ‘im.” And Dave, on the strength of having made a valuable suggestion, dragged Joe off the sofa and stretched himself upon it.
Dad went on thinking awhile. “How much,” he at last asked, “did Johnson get for those skins?”
“Which?” Dave answered. “Bears or kangaroos?”
“Five bob, was n’t it? Six for some.”
“Why, God bless my soul, what have we been thinking about? Five shillings? Are you sure?”
“What, bear-skins worth that and the paddock here and the lanes and the country over-run with them—full of the damn things—hundreds of them—and we, all this time—all these years—working and slaving and scraping and—and” (he almost shouted), “Damn me! What asses we have been, to be sure.” (Dave stared at him.) “Bear-skins five shillings each, and——”
“That’s all right enough,” Dave interrupted, “but——”
“Of course it’s all right enough now,” Dad yelled, “now when we see it.”
“But look!” and Dave sat up and assumed an arbitrary attitude. He was growing suspicious of Dad’s ideas. “To begin with, how many bears do you reckon on getting in a day?”
“In a day”—reflectively—“twenty at the least.”
“Twenty. Well, say we only got half that, how much d’ y’ make?”
“Make?” (considering). “Two pounds ten a day . . . fifteen or twenty pounds a week . . . yes, twenty pounds, reckoning at that even. And do you mean to tell me that we would n’t get more than ten bears a day? Why we’d get more than that in the lane—get more up one tree.”
“Can’t you see? Damn it, boy, are you so dense?”
Dave saw. He became enthusiastic. He wondered why it had never struck us before. Then Dad smiled, and we sat to supper and talked about bears.
“We’ll not bother with that horse now,” said Dad; “the ploughing can go; I’m done with it. We’ve had enough poking and puddling about. We’ll start this business straightaway.” And the following morning, headed by the dog and Dad, armed with a tomahawk, we started up the paddock.
How free we felt! To think we were finished for ever with the raking and carting of hay—finished tramping up and down beside Dad, with the plough-reins in our hands, flies in our eyes and burr in our feet—finished being the target for Dad’s blasphemy when the plough or the horses or the harness went wrong—was delightful! And the adventure and excitement which this new industry promised operated strongly upon us. We rioted and careered like hunted brumbies through the trees, till warned by Dad to “keep our eyes about;” then we settled down, and Joe found the first bear. It was on an ironbark tree, around the base of which we soon were clamouring.
“Up y’ go!” Dad said, cheerfully helping Dave and the tomahawk into the first fork.
Dave ascended and crawled cautiously along the limb the bear was on and began to chop. We armed ourselves with heavy sticks and waited. The dog sat on his tail and stared and whined at the bear. The limb cracked, and Dave ceased chopping and shouted “Look out!” We shouldered arms. The dog was in a hurry. He sprang in the air and landed on his back. But Dave had to make another nick or two. Then with a loud crack the limb parted and came sweeping down. The dog jumped to meet it. He met it, and was laid out on the grass. The bear scrambled to its feet and made off towards Bill. Bill squealed and fell backwards over a log. Dad rushed in and kicked the bear up like a football. It landed near Joe. Joe’s eyes shone with the hunter’s lust of blood. He swung his stick for a tremendous blow—swung it mightily and high—and nearly knocked his parent’s head off. When Dad had spat blood enough to make sure that he had only lost one tooth, he hunted Joe; but Joe was too fleet, as usual.
Meanwhile, the bear had run up another tree—about the tallest old gum in the paddock. Dad snapped his fingers angrily and cried: “Where the devil was the dog?”
“Oh, where the devil wuz the dorg?” Dave growled, sliding down the tree—“where th’ devil wuz you? Where wuz the lot o’ y’?”
“Ah, well!” Dad said “—there’s plenty more we can get. Come along.” And off we went. The dog pulled himself together and limped after us.
Bears were plentiful enough, but we wandered far before we found another on a tree that Dave could climb, and, when we did, somehow or other the limb broke when he put his weight on it, and down he came, bear and all. Of course we were not ready, and that bear, like the other, got up another tree. But Dave did n’t. He lay till Dad ran about two miles down a gully to a dam and filled his hat with muddy water and came tearing back with it empty—till Anderson and Mother came and helped to carry him home.
We did n’t go out any more after bears. Dave, when he was able, went and got Maloney’s colt and put him in the plough. And, after he had kicked Dad and smashed all the swingle-trees about the place, and got right out of his harness a couple of times and sulked for two days, he went well enough beside Anderson’s old grey mare.
And that season, when everyone else’s wheat was red with rust—when Anderson and Maloney cut theirs for hay—when Johnson put a firestick in his—ours was good to see. It ripened; and the rain kept off, and we reaped 200 bags. Salvation!