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Man Alone

Chapter IX

page 81

Chapter IX

After a few days Johnson wrote to Scotty asking him to send his things down if it wasn't difficult and if nobody cared where he was. He took the letter himself down to the corner one morning, when he went out with the cream cans on a pack-saddle, and gave it to Sayers, open, with two shillings to buy a money order to cover postage. His clothes came back in a week's time with a letter inside, but not from Scotty. It was from Robertson.

‘Your things go to you herewith,’ he wrote, ‘minus, I'm sorry to say, your spare pair of boots, but one of the bastards took them just after you left us. You left pretty sudden though, didn't you. Scotty's been ill, he's in hospital. He came back that night looking bad, but it's not that really, it's the old trouble, his cough. He's in the big hospital in town. He was worried about you. No one else is worried about you. They've all got their own worries. I told the boss you'd gone to a job in the country. There's a few forms you should have filled in first. I shouldn't worry too much about that.

‘I expect you read the papers so you heard what happened after you pulled out. I went into town myself the night after, the Friday night, just as an observer like. There was a big crowd out again at the top of the town waiting for something to happen but not so many ready to start it. They had a lot of “special constables” they call them out, boys from the colleges and all sorts, enough to make any one want to throw a brick, and some smart boys on horseback from the country having the hell of a good time riding about. It was quite like a circus for a while only the show never really got page 82 started. There was some stones thrown and a few windows gone, but that was all. The police–the real police that is–were on top. They were getting a bit of their own back for the night before. Professional pride that's called. The next night there was some crowds about and one or two meetings there were over the week-end, but it didn't amount to a lot. The excitement's over for a while. The fellows here say it's enough for the present. That means they don't want any more, I guess, just now. I don't know. Maybe this'll frighten the Government into handing out a little more relief. It's food they want mostly for women and children in the towns, food in the country that produces it, mind you. Both sides are suckers. The fellows here are pretty proud of what they've done and the fine time they had. There was free cigarettes going about for a few days I can tell you. I tell them if they'd think a little more and organise and smash a little less they'd do better, but you can't put sense into their bloody heads, not in this country. They're too ignorant. It's enough to make you sick of it all, and now they're back on the pick and shovel life again like a lot of sucking pigs.

‘It isn't all over yet a while just the same, I'm thinking. Maybe you won't notice things so much down where you are. It sounds a God enough forsaken hole. Somehow I don't think things will be quite as good again for a time to come, not to my way of thinking. This has brought too much out into the open that people didn't like to think about. It's like if you had a body in the cellar you didn't want known about and suddenly you found it laid out on the table when your friends went in to dinner. That's the way it is. As I figure it out, this used to be a fine easy country where everybody had money or could make it. Maybe there was a few that didn't, but there was enough having a good time to page 83 forget about the others. It was dead easy then to be a pal to everybody and to crack hearty up and down the country. It was a nice small country too, a pretty nice little country. It's a bit different now. You can see fellows looking at each other when you go about in town, thinking maybe which side are you on, you bastard, maybe you're out to break a window, maybe you're a special constable on your night off. It makes a difference all right. Men don't talk so freely around the way they did. You can see the fellows here on the road now looking up when anybody goes by, like a gang of convicts waiting for a chance to throw a brick, which is what they're likely to be if the police ever get to checking up on the records of some of them.

‘I reckon you were wise to get out of it when you did, son. This isn't a life here. I'll do the same soon, I'm thinking, only I'm getting a little old to be wandering the country. If they're wanting any good shepherds down there you could tell me, only remember, I don't milk cows and I'm not learning.’

Johnson missed the end of it all except for what he got in the weekly when it came down, the court cases, the men in hiding, the ones that got six months and nine months and two years, the fellows with gelignite trying to blow up buildings. He missed all that and didn't mind. He wrote to Scotty at the hospital and got no answer, and had a card a month later from Robertson to say that Scotty was dead. So the only man he wanted to keep in touch with was dead, and he was glad to be back in the country and away from it all. It's the towns that play hell with men, he said to Stenning. The quiet of the country closed over him while he thought of it until the camp and the men in it, the streets and the lights of the city and the cold discomfort of the camp were farther from him than things that had happened years before.