Page:While the Billy Boils, 1913.djvu/351

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319
MACQUARIE'S MATE

right, chaps, considerin' he's not here. But, then, you know, Awful, he might have acted straight to you that was his mate. The meanest blank―if he is a a man at all―will do that.'

'Oh, to blazes with the old sot!' shouted Barcoo. 'I gave my opinion about Macquarie, and, what's more, I'll stand to it.'

'I've got―I've got a point for the defence,' the old man went on, without heeding the interruptions. 'I've got a point or two for the defence.'

'Well, let's have it,' said Stiffner.

'In the first place―in the first place, Macquarie never talked about no man behind his back.'

There was an uneasy movement, and a painful silence. Barcoo reached for his drink and drank it slowly; he needed time to think―Box-o'-Tricks studied his boots―Sally Thompson looked out at the weather―the shanty-keeper wiped the top of the bar very hard―and the rest shifted round and 's'posed they'd try a game er cards.'

Barcoo set his glass down very softly, pocketed his hands deeply and defiantly, and said:

'Well, what of that? Macquarie was as strong as a bull, and the greatest bully on the river into the bargain. He could call a man a liar to his face―and smash his face afterwards. And he did it often, too, and with smaller men than himself.'

There was a breath of relief in the bar.

'Do you want to make out that I'm talking about a man behind his back?' continued Barcoo, threateningly, to Awful Example. 'You'd best take care, old man.'