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The dog gulped at the chunks of fatty meat, the collar working forward on liis neck, the eyes popping in his head. He smelled the long, slow scent of chaff slavered in the nosebag by the munching horse. He propped his head against the damp collar discarded by the horse. The man was throwing to the dog, wliile pretending, according to his nature, not to do so.How much of will, how much of fate, entered into this it was diificult to say. But he had not continued to do any of these things for long, because he knew that it was not intended.‘There goes young Stan,* people said, pulling down their mouths and blowing the air through their noses, because, they felt, here was somebody assailable.‘At least you will be a comfort to your mother, Stan,* said Mrs Parker, lier nose grown thin and pink, not so much from grief as from remembering many of tliose incidents which liad pained her in a world that is not nice.The boy looked at her in horror, not understanding altogether wliat she implied, but knowing for certain he could not be what she expected.Because they had looked tlirough the doorway and seen him, as a little boy, blowing the bellows for his father, tlicre, they felt, he shall stay put.
A frosty, bloody hole, complained the man, from out of the half- sleep in which he had become involved, and twitched the bags tighter round his body. He knew that where his cart had stopped, he would stop. He would make the best of this cell in which he had been locked. He was neither a preacher nor a teacher, as his mother had hoped he might still become, almost up to the moment when they put her under the yellow grass at the bend in Willow Creek. He had driven a mob of skeleton sheep, and a mob of chafing, satin cattle; he had sunk a well in solid rock, and built a house, and killed a pig; he had weighed out the sugar in a country store, and cobbled shoes, and ground knives.
These were the dominant trees in that part of the bush, rising above the in- volved scrub with the simplicity of true grandeur. Then the man took an axe and struck at the side of a hairy tree, more to hear the sound than for any other reason. I'he man struck the tree, and struck, till several wliitc chips had fn lien. More quickly then, as if deliberately breaking with a dream, he took the harness from the horse, leaving a black pattern of sweat. In that light of late evening, tinder the wliite sky, the black limbs of trees, the black and brooding scrub, were being folded into one. And inside the circle of its light the man’s face was unconcerned as he rubbed tobacco in the palms of his hard hands, a square of tinkling paper stuck to his lower lip. In the light of the fire the bristles of his muzzle glistened. She con- tinued because, apart from the story, literature brought with it a kind of gentility for which slie craved. So Miss Noakes had become Mrs Parker, became idso, in a way, more frightened than before.
So die cart stopped, grazing the hairy side of a tree, and the horse, shaggy and stolid as the tree, sighed and took root. He rubbed his hands to- gether, because already it was cold, a curdle of cold cloud in a pale sky, and copper in the west. As the man rubbed his hands, the friction of cold skin intensified the coldness of the air and the solitude of that place. He hobbled the strong fetlocks of the cobby little horse and stuck the nosebag on his bald face. Because he had 9 nothing to hide, he did perhaps appear to have forfeited a little of his strength. ‘Stan,’ said his mother once, ‘you must promise to love God, and never to touch a drop.’ ‘Yes,* said the boy, for he had had experience of neither, and the sun was in his eyes.
Now, Lord, lie had said, lying with his eyes open in the dark. He was the black- smith, and had looked into the fire. All fiery m his own strength, deaf with the music of metal, and superior to the stench of burned hoof, there was no question.
Sometimes he would hear his father, swearing and belching, the other side of the door. Once, from tlic bottom of a ditch, on his way home, after rum, he had even spoken to God, and caught at the wing of a protesting angel, before passing out.