His life and books
“OLD SLOW AND SURE”
By Nat Gould
His name was Jabez Peek, but they called him “old Slow and Sure” at Reedy Flat. When Jabez Peek first arrived at Reedy Flat, in New South Wales, no one knew; he hardly knew himself, it was so many years ago. Many people described him as an old convict, but they did not know the man, there was nothing of the convict about “old Slow and Sure.” Fortune's favours had not been thickly bestowed upon Jabez Peek. He was a man who never rose to the occasion, or grasped the situation when it presented itself. Had Jabez been a Thames trout, he would have missed the finest and most tempting bait when he made a rush at it. Jabez missed almost everything in life consequently he tenaciously clung to the position he had occupied for years as ostler and generally handy-man at the Native Cat at Reedy Flat. Unlike most men in such a position, Jabez Peek did not know the value of money, and he regarded tips somewhat disdainfully, even going so far as to say, as he contemplated a shining shilling in his great brown horny palm, “What's this 'ere for? I ain't done nothink to deserve this 'un.”
This remark was not intended to be sarcastic on the part of Jabez, although one commercial, who understood not the ways of “old Slow and Sure” said,
“Don't you think it enough ? If so, give it me back.”
Much to the surprise of the bagman Jabez quietly handed him back his tip and walked solemnly away.
Fred March, landlord of the Native Cat, had a firm belief in the honesty and integrity of “old Slow and Sure.” He had known Jabez all his life, and when the Native Cat came into his possession on the death of his father, Jabez came with the other effects as a matter of course.
There is not much excitement to be found in a bush township, except when the local race meeting is held, or the member for the district condescends to pay a visit and deliver an oration when he scents a general election ahead.
Whenever Jabez Peek saw the local member arrive at the Native Cat, an event that happened about every three years, he invariably made the following remark
“It's you, is it, sir? Then I reckon we ain't fur off another parliamentary eruption.”
The local politicians could make nothing of Jabez Peek; he described all the doings of the Reedy Flat Debating Society as "humbug," and he was probably right, but then there is nothing politicians hate so much as the truth, and Jabez had a nasty habit of always telling it.
Once a year, however, “old Slow and Sure” braced himself and walked about with such increased activity that Fred March always regarded him with a look of surprise. Not that Jabez did more work or got through with it quicker; he merely bustled about and made more fuss over it. Strange to say there are men in great cities who imitate Jabez every day. It was during the Reedy Flat race meeting that “old Slow and Sure” woke up. Jabez Peek loved horses. The mere apologies for horses that occasionally put up at the Native Cat were well looked after by Jabez. The leaner the animal the more attention Jabez gave to it. The “feeds” he placed before some of these animals well-nigh gave them the staggers, they were so surprised at such unlooked-for plenty. Business was always brisk at the Native Cat during the race meeting. It was not a large place, and was built of wood. It was two stories high and had a wide verandah running along the second story, forming a shelter from sun or rain of the front portion of the house below.
Fred March had only one child, a girl ten years old, and she was idolised by her father, and regarded by Jabez Peek as an angel upon earth. Hetty March returned her father's affection in full, and was kind to “old Slow and Sure.”
It was the day of the annual race meeting, and Reedy Flat was crowded with people from various parts of the district. The races were contested by local horses only, and Fred March generally managed to pull off a couple of events. Although March was a fair average rider, he was not by any means a good horseman. It was, however, his pet hobby to ride his own horse in the hack race. For weeks, nay months, before the race “old Slow and Sure” groomed Fred March's hack, and looked alter him as though every next day was the day of the race. Fred March's latest purchase in the hack line did not please Jabez. The horse came from Sydney with a good character, but somehow Jabez Peek doubted the documentary evidence of Dandy's perfections. The horse was always restless, but had never given Fred March much trouble to handle, and Dandy was a rare goor, much faster than anything at Reedy Flat.
On the morning of the races Jabez Peek said to Fred March as they stood looking at Dandy in the stable, “You'll have to be careful with him. He's none such a certain horse. My 'pinion is when he's set goin' he'll be hard to stop.”
“I have galloped him lots of times,”
“He's not had his blood up in a race,” said Jabez, “that'll make all the difference.”
Fred March laughed, and said, “You're always over careful, Slow and Sure. You'll never make a good rider now, at any rate.”
Jabez Peek looked after Fred March as he walked away, and muttered to himself as he shook his head, “I'm too old to ride much now but I've seen the time, Fred March, when the toughest buckjumper in the colony had no chance of getting rid of me.”
The races took place, and Fred March won the hack race on Dandy. He was elated, and Hetty was also delighted at her father's success. She had driven to the course in the buggy with Jabez Peek, and returned home with him in the same manner. Fred March was to ride Dandy home from the course, about three miles from the township. After the races there was generally some jollification on the course, and Fred March was bound to remain and take part in it. Somehow Jabez Peek felt uneasy about his employer riding Dandy home on this particular night. He stood in front of the hotel watching the various horsemen ride into the town, but he saw nothing of Fred March. Hetty came to him and asked when her father would be home, and Jabez kept on telling her he could not be many minutes now.
Horses were tied up to the posts in front of the Native Cat, and buggies stood in various parts of the wide streets. It was a hot, sultry night, and most of the men were in rough, easy costumes.
Wonder where March is?” said one man.
“Can't get away until nearly the last,” replied another. “He's secretary of the club, and has a lot to do after the races are over. “
“Nice horse he won on."
“Very, but a bit uncertain. I knew him as soon as I saw him, and they regarded him as a bolter in Sydney.”
Old Jabez heard this remark, and said, “I thought as much. I wish he'd come home.”
“Oh, it's you, Slow and Sure,” said the speaker. “It's not often you are anxious about anything. What's this?” The exclamation caused Jabez Peek and others to look up the street. In the distance they saw a horse galloping at a great rate, his rider vainly endeavouring to stop him.
Jabez Peek had only to look once, even at that distance, to see it was Dandy furiously galloping, and Fred March who had lost all control over him.
Jabez was not a quick thinker, but he knew what had to be done in a case of this kind. There was no time to be lost, but he walked into the house in his usual slow manner, and out at the back into the yard. He picked up a halter and looked at it.
“Once I get this round yer neck I'll throttle the life out of yer,” he muttered. He walked back through the house, and he heard the clatter of the horse's hoofs.
“That fellow Jabez has slunk away,” said the man who had before spoken. “So he has,” replied his companion. “I'd always a better opinion of old 'Slow and Sure.'”
Just as Jabez Peek reached the front of the house Hetty March ran past him and straight into the middle of the road. Her sudden appearance so startled every one that for a moment no one moved. In an instant Jabez Peek dashed forward.
Would he be too late? Tearing down the centre of the road, with nostrils extended, foam flying from his wide open mouth, and with dilating eyes came Dandy, and on his back Fred March, his hat off, his face pale, and yet a firm determined manner about him. When he caught sight of Hetty standing spellbound in the middle of the road, right in front of the almost mad animal he bestrode, his courage forsook him, and for the first time since Dandy commenced to run away a great fear crept over him. He gave a loud piercing cry of agonised entreaty that reached every man's heart, “Save my child!”
Hetty stood still, gazing with terror-stricken eyes at the horse bearing down upon her. She was too frightened to move. In another moment she would have been galloped down, rolled and crushed into a shapeless mass on the hard road. Suddenly a man dashed forward. He seized her by the waist and flung her on one side, where she was caught by friendly hands. Then, quick as lightning, he threw the halter he carried round Dandy's neck and held on tight. Alas! the rope broke, and as old Slow and Sure fell to the ground the horse struck him on the temple with his hoof. But the sudden check had given Fred March control over his horse, and he quickly pulled him up. As he dismounted and led Dandy back, he saw four men carryng something into his house. His heart almost stopped beating. Had his child been knocked down after all? He hurried up to the house.
“Is she safe?” he asked, hurriedly. “Did he save her?”
“Yes, he saved her,” said a man.
“Thank God,” said Fred March. “Where is she ?”
“Here I am,” said Hetty, rushing into her father's arms.
After a tender embrace, she said, “Why have they carried 'old Slow and Sure' in there, father?” and she pointed to the room.
Fred March's face blanched. “What a selfish brute I am,” he said. “He saved us both. Where is he? Is he hurt?”
They opened the door, and he passed in with Hetty.
“Old Slow and Sure” lay quiet and still on the sofa. There was noise and bustle outside, but here there was a great silence. Instinctively Fred March took in the situation at a glance. He stood there with his child, uninjured, while on the sofa lay the brave old man who had given his life for them. “Is he asleep Hetty?” whispered.
Her father could not answer her; he dare not speak. Words he felt would choke him. He led Hetty to the door, opened it, pushed her gently outside, and shut it. Then he went back and sat down by “old Slow and Sure”.
It is some years since all this happened at Reedy Flat, and there have been many changes in the place; but the memory of “old Slow and Sure's” gallant deed has never faded away, nor will it while Fred March and Hetty are living witnesses of the heroic act by which he gave his life for theirs.
"Old Slow and Sure" by Nat Gould was published in Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News on 17 July 1897.