Cap lived according to the 3F’s. Fighting. Feeding. … and indulging in as much procreative activity as he could, well, till he met Alice.
He had a code of ham-fisted justice that was swift and hard. Some farmer near Merino had once whipped Cap’s old one-eyed Dad on the legs with a dog chain for something and Cap hunted this bloke out, thrashed the shit out of him in the middle of a paddock one time he and I had gone rabbit hunting. He’d asked me to go with him and after finding out where he wanted to go I’d thought it would be okay this time. Just hills, rabbits, him an’ me. No-one would go out with him any more because there was always a fight, always. But this time I thought it was safe. We were going off in the middle of bloody nowhere past Coleraine. So I’d said, “Yeah all right.”
It seemed fine. There were no houses, no cars, carts horses or chickens, there was no-one for bloody miles. Cap spotted some bunnies and said,
“Lance, you git on round the low side and I’ll come from the top.”
So off I went, really pleased, as it was all going so smooth. I found myself going through a small stand of gums down the bottom of the paddock where the creek runs thin and shallow in sandy pools and out to the clearing Cap was to meet me in. It was empty as the Sahara. No Cap. I waited a bit and then started up the slope. Near the top there was the sound of bone impacting flesh, grunts and a sort of soft whoooohk. I crested the hill just as this farmer who’d whipped Cap’s dad, copped a beauty in the guts. He went down. There was blood all over his face, some came from his nose and some from a cut on the eyebrow.
“Ahhh shit! Bloody hell Cap!”
Cap was a bit puffed but not much. I’d seen him worse, like the time he’d flogged that big Irish bastard at Casterton. Cap straightened up running the back of his hand across his nose and leaned over the farmer.
“If yer want some more, y’bastard, jus’ call me.”
Then he swung away and picked up his gun and walked off calling me.
I just stared at his straight back. I couldn’t believe it. Middle of bloody nowhere and trouble happened.
Still we got over two dozen bunnies and a bit more that day and Cap said Alice his wife, would be happy. I doubted it. All the women were sick to death of rabbit. To supplement the diet and income, Cap ran a huge veggie garden like his old Dad. Magnificent straight lines of everything you could think of. Carrots, beetroot, silverbeet, onions the size of babies heads, radishes, corn, peas, beans, lettuce. Everything. First it was all dug by hand, about two acres of it. Then after his dad bought a rotary hoe, Cap gave in and bought one too. He did anything he could to get the money for that rotary hoe. Cut wood, sold veggies by the side of the road or wheelbarrowed them into Casterton every morning, shot rabbits, skinned them then sold the carcasses and skins, worked like a bloody dog. They were tough boys from that family. It seemed they were all in competition with their old man. Up the pub we used to ask each other which of Harry’s boys was the toughest, some said Frank, some George, some Cap, some swore old Harry was pretty much invincible. I reckoned Cap was.
Harry their dad, came out from Yorkshire on an assisted passage and after he’d done his stint of compulsory laboring, came to Casterton and cleared that block about three mile out of town. He built a nice little place for Mary and the boys to live. Did everything by hand, said it was the proper way to get a job done. Had more control. I don’t know, I couldn’t imagine how but he was bloody amazing. Harry got his one-eyed look back in Scarborough when he was about sixteen riding down a cobbled street on his bicycle. The front wheel hit a man hole cover that wasn’t on properly, he flew off, landed with his face impaled on a picket up through the roof of his mouth and into the eye socket. Well, Harry pulled himself off the fence picket, got back on his bike and rode a few more blocks to the hospital. He was there for three months with the nurses packing the hole in his face with gauze every day. He looked a sight after that, his cheek bone was all shattered and his eyeball was about three inches down his face. Gruesome. But Mary must’ve seen the good side of his face first and married him. Cap told me once that Harry his dad, had to leave England in a bit of a hurry as he’d had a run in with some Scotsman.
Harry was a gardener on an estate somewhere in the north of England and this big Jock kept giving him and everyone else trouble. Harry was a small man with big fists, they always seem the most dangerous types to me, and this Scot was big with bigger fists but a brain like a potato. The Scot kept hauling Harry away from the garden and shoving him in the dairy with the cows and he didn’t like it. His fists tingled but he knew he’d have no chance against this hairy haggis in the open because of his size. So one afternoon after they’d separated the last of the milk and cream, Harry went across and bolted the dairy door, from the inside.
“Hoo.” said Jock “What d’ye think y’ doin’?”
Harry looked at him, eye to eyes. “Ye great bastard, I’m goin’ to teach you a lesson!”
And in that dairy crowded with machinery, and vats and all, Harry bested the Scot. All the while the other men, were beating on the walls outside yelling,
“Are y’alright in there?” and “Open the fookin’ door!”
Then Harry came out alone with red fists and the men pulled back in surprise. One of them came forward and held his hand out to Harry to shake the red paw and said, “Weel the bugger had it comin’ to him.” But thereafter Harry could find no work nor peace and found out about this scheme to get to Australia.
So they already had it in them, getting’ into scrapes, all of those boys but Cap was the most relentless, always in trouble.
He had four children, the youngest, five year old Gordon with snowy white hair, was the light of his life, he was always hanging round his old man, making him laugh. Cap taught him how to box and sometimes took him to the Casterton Hotel sat him on a stool and gave him a lemonade. Not the girls though, not really, they could just as easily not have been around at all, or for that matter, his wife Alice. Young Snowy was everything to him. He adored that boy.
But Cap did everything in and around the house. What Cap didn’t do never got done. If he didn’t light the copper on Mondays, the washing moldered in the corner of the wash-house till the following Monday. If he didn’t take the kids to school, they ran off into the bush or down the creek. Geez, wild! I’ve seen those girls in fights that would’ve put a bloke to shame. He said he wanted more for them and by God he was prepared to work for it. Then one summer it was real dry, stinking hot and it all changed for him.
The day was a real mongrel. The tar on the roads was melting by ten o’clock that morning, I know ‘cause I was walking it on my way up to Cap’s house. I wished there was a fancy blue swimming pool or a creek to jump in myself. But the creeks were dry that year. When I got on up to the house I was sweating like a pig and looking out for a beer. I pushed open the wire screen door and went in calling out,
“Anyone got a drink for a thirsty man?”
Silence. I went out towards the veggie garden where Cap usually was this time of day. Then I heard Alice and one of the girls screaming by the water tank. I started to run. From the other direction I saw Cap belting across the paddock and over the fence clearing it by inches, his oldest boy was a way behind, crying as he ran. Cap got to Mary and the tank before me and without a pause picked up the axe that lay just there, near the wood pile and swung it way back. It plunged into the galvanised iron tank with a small squealing sound and water sprayed out. Again and again he struck the tank wrenching the axe out of the metal with a harsh squeal. When I got there I picked up the splitter and did the same, water gushed out making quick rivers around us. Then, throwing down the axe he upped the ladder, jumped over the edge and disappeared through the manhole into the remaining water. I’ll never forget that sound, reverberating in the tank. First a loud thumping splash then a howl, like a scream. Then he was calling me. “Lance. Lance…take him.”
I clambered up that ladder quick smart and looked in. Cap was standing in the shadow holding a small figure in his arms lifting him up to me, like an offering or something. Sunlight slanted through and fell upon young Gordon, gone white as a fish belly and cold.
Cap worked harder after that. He got a six month government contract over at the quarry making gravel. He had to let himself over the edge of the cliff face and drill holes for the gelignite, prepare the detonators, haul himself back to the top and blow it all up. Down below men would crush the fallen bluestone into gravel for roads. Once he worked all day and all night, boom booom boom through till morning. I went out to see him and found him and his bike along the road to home, asleep under a tree. He was knackered. When that finished he went shearing near Dubbo and there was no trouble there. He came home with nine months pay, spent nothing on himself, he’d done real well. But after he’d paid for all the wife had run up at the shops in his absence, he had nothing to show for it. She always looked flash. Cap never went away again. I’d often see him as I passed by the front paddock, there behind the rotary hoe leaning over it as though he was pushing the blasted thing by will power and gristle. They were bloody slow, heavy things back then.
Late one Sunday Alice went out to call him in for tea and saw him resting on the frame of the hoe but the motor wasn’t running, so she went through the gate towards him. Cap was dead, had been for a while because he was already starting to stiffen up. Been out there since six that morning most likely, working.
He never found it easy to relax but eventually we managed to straighten him out and he was no trouble in the end.