His life and books
THE WEE WAA MAIL COACH
By Nat Gould
RABY WARREN was the driver of the Wee Waa mail coach. Raby was a character out back in the Far West, and his fame had penetrated even unto Sydney. Raby Warren had driven the Wee Waa mail ever since the township became important enough to have a delivery on its own account. He was a little man, brimful of determination, and accustomed to have his own way. His face was red and weather-beaten and his fierce moustache curled and twisted in divers directions, being utterly independent of its owner's control. Not many men could handle a team of horses better than Raby Warren, he drove the team in his own particular way, two horses behind three in front, and he managed them admirably. Raby's horses knew him upon short acquaintance. When he had a fresh horse in his team Raby interviewed it, and explained to the animal that there was only one boss on the road, and that was Raby Warren.
The mail coaches out West are not the most comfortable vehicles of locomotion in existence. They do not possess springs, and consequently the jolting is of a high order, infinitely superior to the mere oscillation of the common or ordinary carriage. Raby Warren, having been jolted about on the box seat of his mail coach for a number of years, felt uneasy when he reached ground. He missed the vibration and the sudden electric shocks caused by the wheels passing over logs and cannoning against stumps. Consequently, when on land he walked with a springy, jerky motion, and had a roll somewhat similar to a sailor. Raby's hands and his pockets were very much attached to each other, and seldom parted company, and there would have been something wanting about his mouth had his old short stumpy pipe not been stuck in one corner and elevated towards his eye. Raby's adventures during the time he was driving the Wee Waa mail were numerous, and he was nothing loth to relate them. A silent man on the box seat of the Wee Waa coach constituted an offence in Raby's eyes. The Wee Waa driver was a conversationalist, and hated silent folk worse than mosquitoes.
Commercial travellers are seldom quiet men, but a certain Jonas Pilkington had earned the undying ill-will of Raby Warren by his persistency in selecting the box seat, and his obstinacy in refusing to converse. Jonas Pilkington had frequent business at Wee Waa, and Raby Warren determined to have his revenge.
“Morning,” said Ruby as Jonas Pilkington settled himself next the driver. “You are the only passenger ?”
A grunt from Pilkington sealed his fate. Had he even returned Raby's salutation the driver of the Wee Waa mail would have hoped for better things, and forgiven him.
It had been raining hard, and the track was in bad condition, and the creeks were swollen, and favourable to Raby's plans.
“Bad travelling,” said Raby; “a heap of water in the creeks.”
“No danger I hope,” mumbled Jonas, “you have no business to run the coach if there is any danger.”
“I don't run the coach,” said Raby. “Them 'osses run it. They fairly revel in running this coach, and I wouldn't offend 'cm on any account.”
Raby gathered up the reins and proceeded to send his team along. Jonas Pilkington commenced to think either Raby Warren was not sober, or the coach had gone wrong. Every rut in the track, every stray log or standing stump the coach appeared to bound over in a marvellous manner. Jonas held his peace, and he also held on to the coach with a firm grip. From time to time Raby took a look at the traveller and smiled as he saw a pained expression upon his face, as though he were having a tooth extracted.
“Anything wrong with the coach,” ejaculated Jonas, the words coming separately at decent intervals after each jolt.
“Near hind wheel, and off fore wheel a bit loose,” said Raby; “two fresh young horses in, and the o'd mare's in a nasty temper. Hold hard on Mr. Pilkington, and don't attempt to jump off if you feel we're going over. It is much safer to sit still and go with the coach.”
“This is abominable.” said Jonas, who seemed to have found his tongue and felt inclined to use it.
“Wonder they don't put down a blue metal road to Wee Waa,” said Raby.
“I mean it is abominable running a coach in this unsafe condition,” gasped Jonas.
Raby saw a beautiful jagged stump ahead and made for it. The jolt was terrific. Jonas Pilkington bounded into the air, came down with a dull thud on to the seat again, rolled violently against the iron rail, grasped Raby's arm, and felt stiff, sore, and out of breath.
“Baggage gone,” said Raby looking over his shoulder.
Jonas Pilkington saw the leather cases containing his samples deposited in the mire some distance from the coach.
“Sorry I can't leave the 'osses,” said Raby, “or I'd get down for it.”
“Do you mean to say I must pick these things up myself?” said Jonas. “That's what it amounts to,” said the imperturbable Raby; “I'll give you a hand with them when you get 'em on the wheel.”
Jonas Pilkington scrambled down looking black as thunder. As his foot touched the wheel Raby gave the reins a sly jerk, and the horses tugged at the traces. Jonas Pilkington slipped and fell into the soft ground spattering the mud around him.
“You blaguard, you did that on purpose,” roared Jonas.
“Speak up," said Raby. “It's a good distance up here,” and he proceeded to light his pipe.
Boiling over with rage, Jonas Pilkington picked himself up, and then did likewise to his baggage.
“The other side,” said Raby, when Jonas had the heaviest case on the wheel. “I can't reach 'em there.”
There was nothing for it but to drag the cases round to the other side of the coach.
“Now then,” said Raby as he pulled at the handle, “heave up.”
Jonas heaved, then he slipped in the mud, and gave way, and Raby, with an eye to the advantages of the situation, let go his hold.
“That's your fault,” he said as he leaned over the side of the coach, and saw Jonas struggling out from under his baggage.
When the baggage was all on the coach again Jonas Pilkington was almost too exhausted to scramble into his seat. He was wet, dirty, and miserable, and in a towering passion. He showered his abuse upon Raby in an eloquent manner.
“Dashed if I thought he had it in him,” said Raby admiringly, deciding at the same time to carry on his experiments still further.
He touched up the horses, and they went along at a hand gallop, the coach swaying sideways, and bumping in a most outrageous manner.
“The brutes are running away,” groaned Jonas. “Not all of 'em,” said Raby. “That fellow's got the bit between his teeth,” he added, pointing to the near side leader with his whip; “and the old mare's beyond control but if Providence befriends us the other three will check 'em before we've gone many miles.”
Jonas Pilkington wished himself safe in Sydney. Ho was cold and wet, and his teeth chattered, and he felt he was ii great danger. The calm look on Raby's face exasperated him.
“You take it coolly,” he said. “Used to it,” said Raby. “Those 'osses do it often. They're not fairly going yet. Wait another ten minutes.”
“There's water ahead,” said Jonas Pilkington hoarsely.
“And a flood on,” said Raby. “Like as not we'll be upset. Can you swim?”
“No,” groaned the miserable man.
“That's bad,” said Raby. “You see I've got the mails aboard. I'm responsible to Government for 'em, and I'm bound to save them first. When I've picked out the mail bags I'll fish about for you. Try and hold on to the coach.”
“This is terrible,” said Jonas.
“Hold hard,” yelled Raby as the horses dashed into the creek.
Jonas Pilkington felt the water splashed all over him and clung to his seat like a drowning man. The coach lurched and every part of it creaked and strained. The horses snorted, plunged, and stamped, and Raby shouted at the top of his voice. The roar of the waters through the coach wheels sounded to poor Jonas like the death knell of all his hopes. A final strain and tug, a grating sound, and the coach safely landed on the other side.
“Over Jordan,” laughed Raby; and, by way of consolation added, “Only one of your packages gone.”
Jonas Pilkington was too far gone to resent this remark. He merely said in a doleful voice, “Are we safe ?”
There's a chance for us yet," said Raby, "if we can manage to get across Oakey Swamp."
Now the reputation of Oakey Swamp was as great as that of Raby Warren. Many a good horse had been done to death in Oakey Swamp.
“Don't go that way,” said Jonas, terrified.
“Must,” said Raby. “It's a short cut, and I'm bound to get the mails in to time if I can.” Jonas consigned the mails to a place where stamps and sealing-wax are unknown, and gasped out,
“I'll give you a note if you'll go round the other way.”
“More than my place is worth,” said Raby.
“I'll give you two notes,” said Jonas.
“Make it three, and I'll chance it,” said Raby.
“I will! I will!” said Jonas eagerly.
“Money down,” said Raby, who knew his man.
Jonas groaned, and with trembling fingers fumbled in his pocket. He produced three one-pound notes, and handed them to Raby.
“Keep it dark,” said Raby as he pocketed the notes. “If the Government knew I had gone round the other way I'd lose my place.”
On went the Wee Waa coach carrying the bruised and battered form of Jonas Pilkington, commercial traveller of Sydney, minus one package and his wealth diminished by three pound notes. Wee Waa was readied at last, and Raby Warren pulled up the reeking horses at the door of the Nugget Inn.
“You don't look well, Mr. Pilkington,” said the landlord, as he helped him down. Then, as he caught sight of Raby Warren's face, Bob Hare had much ado to keep from laughing. He grasped the situation at once, and, as he looked at the dilapidated form of Jonas Pilkington, he fancied he knew the sort of ride that gentleman had gone through.
“We've had a good trip,” said Raby, descending from the box. “One or two narrow escapes, but considering the state of the track we've done very well. Mr. Pilkington has done a heap of talking to-day. Never knew him so friendly before,” went on Raby, with a wink at Bob Hare.
“That man's a fiend,” said Jonas to the landlord, and he commenced a recital of his grievances to Bob Hare, who had never enjoyed a story so much for weeks.
That night in the snug bar of the Nugget, Raby Warren gave an account of “How I made Jonas talk,” to an admiring crowd of Wee Waaites.
Jonas Pilkington, sitting in the next room, heard the bulk of the story, and shook his list in the direction of the speaker.
“I'll be even with Raby Warren for this,” said Jonas to the landlord as he bid him good-night.
“Take my advice and leave Raby alone,” said Bob Hare. “There's no telling how far he'll go.”
“Will you ask him to he careful on the return trip?” said Jonas.
“Yes,” said Bob Hare, “but I'd advise you to talk to him.”
Jonas Pilkington has never forgotten that drive on the Wee Waa coach, and Raby Warren propounds the opinion that “It's wonderful how a man will talk after he's been shook up a bit.”
The Wee Waa Mail Coach by Nat Gould was published on 22 May 1897 in Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News.