Page:Triangles of life, and other stories.djvu/242

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230
THE STRANGERS' FRIEND

It was said that a great part of his wages went on strangers. But they said he was never so happy as when he caught a sick traveller at the hut. Jimmy would cross-examine him at length and with apparent severity—as if it were the stranger's fault—and then he'd get out his patent medicines. In the same tone, with a note of shocked decency, he'd ask a man if that was the only pair of trousers he had to go on the track with; and then he'd proceed to look him up an other pair.

But no one, not even his nearest friend, if he had one in the squatter, could accuse Jimmy of having the faintest streak of sentiment, poetry or romance in his soul. They said that the cult of the stranger was a mania with Jimmy—a curious branch of insanity. The stranger was to him something sacred, and his duty to the stranger was a religious rite, without a suggestion of reward, whether here or in the Hereafter. But, perhaps, long years ago, when women, or a woman, was to Jimmy something more than a being to be paid for doing what she was made for doing, he, a stranger himself, and sick in body, and heart-sick, in a strange land, had been found by another Strangers' Friend who stuck to him. And the memory of it had stuck to Jimmy all his life.

The only explanation he was ever reported to have given was that once—and it must have been in a weak moment when remonstrated with for squandering time and money over a "waster," he said—

"Ah, well, poor beggar, some day, when he's in a better fix, he might go and do something for s' mot her pore chap as he drops across."