And as we roamed about the tiny Settlement, the Wag and others vied with the Maluka, Mine Host, and Mac in "making things pleasant for the missus": relating experiences for her entertainment; showing all there was to be shown, and obeying the edict with cheerful, unquestioning chivalry.
For two full weeks after our return from the drovers' camp our life was exactly as Cheon would have it peaceful and regular, with an occasional single day "out-bush"; and when the Maluka in his leisure began to fulfil his long-standing promise of a defence around my garden, Cheon expressed himself well-pleased with his reform.
Neither the Head Stockman nor the little bushman, however, had made any offers of friendship, Dan having gone out to the station immediately after interviewing the Maluka, while the little bushman spent most of his time getting out of the way of the missus whenever she appeared on his horizon.
Apart from the mystery of the side-saddle, and the joke of seeing her in an enormous mushroom hat, there was the interest of the mounting itself; Jackeroo having spread a report that the Maluka held out his hands, while the missus ran up them and sat herself upon the horse's back.
"Couldn't have fixed up better for them if they've got a surprise party of their own up their sleeves," he added ruefully, looking round at the dense wall of grass about us; and as he and the Maluka swung the two nets not six feet apart, we were all of one mind that "getting murdered was an experience we could do nicely without."
Then books were "cut out," after that the house linen was looked to, and as I hesitated over the number of pillow-cases we could manage with, Mac cried triumphantly: "You won't need these anyway, for there's no pillows." The Maluka thought he had prepared me for everything in the way of roughness; but in a flash we knew that I had yet to learn what a bushman means by rough.
Every morning, quietly and doggedly, she put herself on the staff, and every morning was as quietly and doggedly dismissed from office. Doggedness being an unusual trait in a black fellow, the homestead became interested. "Never say die, little 'un," the Maluka laughed each morning; but Dan was inclined to bet on Nellie.
"He's like the rest of us," he said, with a sly, sidelong look at the Maluka, "perfectly reconciled to his fate." Although it was only sixty-five miles to the Katherine it took us exactly three days to travel the distance.
But there were still other services for the mate to render and as the bush-folk stood aside, none daring to trespass here, a rough wooden railing rose about the grave. Then the man packed his comrade's swag for the last time, and that done, came to the Maluka, as we stood under the house verandah, and held out two sovereigns in his open palm.
It may have been a disadvantage, perhaps, to have been so thirsty; but then only the thirsty soul knows the sweetness of slaking that thirst. After a full hour's silence the last written sheet was laid down, and I found the Maluka watching and smiling. "Enjoyed your trip south, little 'un?" he said, and I came back to the bush with a start, to find the supper dead cold.