Over the Sliprails
A Gentleman Sharper and Steelman Sharper
Steelman and Smith had been staying at the hotel for several days in the dress and
character of bushies down for what they considered a spree. The gentleman sharper from
the Other Side had been hanging round them for three days now. Steelman was the more
sociable, and, to all appearances, the greener of the two bush mates; but seemed rather
too much under the influence of Smith, who was reserved, suspicious, self-contained, or
sulky. He almost scowled at Gentleman Sharper's "Good-morning!" and "Fine day!",
replied in monosyllables and turned half away with an uneasy, sullen, resentful hump of
his shoulder and shuffle of his feet.
Steelman took Smith for a stroll on the round, bald tussock hills surrounding the city, and
rehearsed him for the last act until after sundown.
Gentleman Sharper was lounging, with a cigar, on the end of the balcony, where he had
been contentedly contemplating the beautiful death of day. His calm, classic features
began to whiten (and sharpen) in the frosty moonlight.
Steelman and Smith sat on deck-chairs behind a half-screen of ferns on the other end of
the balcony, smoked their after-dinner smoke, and talked in subdued tones as befitted the
time and the scene -- great, softened, misty hills in a semicircle, and the water and
harbour lights in moonlight.
The other boarders were loitering over dinner, in their rooms, or gone out; the three were
alone on the balcony, which was a rear one.
Gentleman Sharper moved his position, carelessly, noiselessly, yet quickly, until he
leaned on the rail close to the ferns and could overhear every word the bushies said. He
had dropped his cigar overboard, and his scented handkerchief behind a fern-pot en route.
"But he looks all right, and acts all right, and talks all right -- and shouts all right,"
protested Steelman. "He's not stumped, for I saw twenty or thirty sovereigns when he
shouted; and he doesn't seem to care a damn whether we stand in with him or not."
"There you are! That's just where it is!" said Smith, with some logic, but in a tone a wife
uses in argument (which tone, by the way, especially if backed by logic or common
sense, makes a man wild sooner than anything else in this world of troubles).
Steelman jerked his chair half-round in disgust. "That's you!" he snorted, "always
suspicious! Always suspicious of everybody and everything! If I found myself shot into a
world where I couldn't trust anybody I'd shoot myself out of it. Life would be worse than
not worth living. Smith, you'll never make money, except by hard graft -- hard,
bullocking, nigger-driving graft like we had on that damned railway section for the last
six months, up to our knees in water all winter, and all for a paltry cheque of one-fifty --
twenty of that gone already. How do you expect to make money in this country if you