Instinct Gone Wrong
OLD MAC used to sleep in his wagon in fine weather, when he had no load, on his blankets spread out on the feed-bags; but one time he struck Croydon, flush from a lucky and good back trip, and looked in at the (say) Royal Hotel to wet his luck—as some men do with their sorrow—and he “got there all right.” Next morning he had breakfast in the dining-room, was waited on as a star boarder, and became thoroughly demoralized; and his mind was made up (independent of himself, as it were) to be a gentleman for once in his life. He went over to the store and bought the sloppiest suit of reach-me-downs of glossiest black, and the stiffest and stickiest white shirt they had to show—also four bone studs, two for the collar and two for the cuffs. Then he gave his worn “larstins” to the stable-boy (with half a crown) to clean, and—proceeded. He put the boots on during the day, one at a time between drinks, gassing all the time, and continued. He concluded about midnight, after a very noisy time and interviews with everyone on sight (slightly interrupted by drinks) concerning “his room.” It was show time, you see, and all the rooms were as full as he was—he was too full even to share the parlour or billiard room with others; but he consented at last to a shake-down on the balcony, the barmaid volunteering to spread the couch with her own fair hands. Towards daylight he woke, for one of the reasons why men do wake. It is well known, to people who know, that old campers-out (and young men new to it, too) will wake once—if in a party, each at different times—to tend to their cattle, or listen for the hobbles of their horses, or simply to rise on their elbows and have a look round—the last, I suppose, from an instinct born in old dangerous times. Mac woke up, and it was dark. He reached out and his hand fell, instinctively, on the rail of the balcony, which was to him (instinctively—and that shows how instinct errs) the rail of the side of his wagon, in which as I have said, he was wont to sleep. So he drew himself up on his knees and to his feet, with the instinctive intention of getting down to (say) put some chaff and corn in the feed-bags stretched across the shafts for the horses; for he intended, by instinct, to make an early start. Which shows how instinct can never be trusted to travel with memory, but will get ahead of it—or behind it. (Say it was instinct mixed with or adulterated by drink.) He got a long, hairy leg over and felt (instinctively) for the hub of the wheel; his foot found and rested on the projecting ledge of the balcony floor outside, and that, to him, was the hub all right. He swung his other leg over and expected to drop lightly on to the grass or dust of the camp; but, being instinctively rigid, he fell heavily some fifteen feet into a kerbed gutter.
As a result of his howls lights soon flickered in windows and fanlights; and with prompt, eager, anxious, and awed bush first-aid and assistance, they carried a very sober, battered and blasphemous driver inside and spread mattresses on the floor. And, some six weeks afterwards, an image, mostly of plaster-of-Paris and bandages, reclined, much against its will, on a be-cushioned cane lounge on the hospital veranda; and, from the only free and workable corner of its mouth, when the pipe was removed, came shockingly expressed opinions of them ——— newfangled ———! two-story ———! “night houses” (as it called them). And, thereafter, when he had a load on, or the weather was too bad for sleeping in or under his wagon, the veranda of a one-storied shanty (if he could get to it) was good enough for MacSomething, the carrier.
- Written by Henry Lawson
- Published: The Rising of the Court, and Other Sketches in Prose and Verse
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