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2. In The Wool-Shed
At last shearing came; and with the shearers there was an old native, whom they had
nicknamed Chowbok--though, I believe, his real name was Kahabuka. He was a sort of
chief of the natives, could speak a little English, and was a great favourite with the
missionaries. He did not do any regular work with the shearers, but pretended to help in
the yards, his real aim being to get the grog, which is always more freely circulated at
shearing-time: he did not get much, for he was apt to be dangerous when drunk; and very
little would make him so: still he did get it occasionally, and if one wanted to get
anything out of him, it was the best bribe to offer him. I resolved to question him, and get
as much information from him as I could. I did so. As long as I kept to questions about
the nearer ranges, he was easy to get on with--he had never been there, but there were
traditions among his tribe to the effect that there was no sheep-country, nothing, in fact,
but stunted timber and a few river-bed flats. It was very difficult to reach; still there were
passes: one of them up our own river, though not directly along the river-bed, the gorge
of which was not practicable; he had never seen any one who had been there: was there to
not enough on this side? But when I came to the main range, his manner changed at once.
He became uneasy, and began to prevaricate and shuffle. In a very few minutes I could
see that of this too there existed traditions in his tribe; but no efforts or coaxing could get
a word from him about them. At last I hinted about grog, and presently he feigned
consent: I gave it him; but as soon as he had drunk it he began shamming intoxication,
and then went to sleep, or pretended to do so, letting me kick him pretty hard and never
I was angry, for I had to go without my own grog and had got nothing out of him; so the
next day I determined that he should tell me before I gave him any, or get none at all.
Accordingly, when night came and the shearers had knocked off work and had their
supper, I got my share of rum in a tin pannikin and made a sign to Chowbok to follow me
to the wool-shed, which he willingly did, slipping out after me, and no one taking any
notice of either of us. When we got down to the wool-shed we lit a tallow candle, and
having stuck it in an old bottle we sat down upon the wool bales and began to smoke. A
wool-shed is a roomy place, built somewhat on the same plan as a cathedral, with aisles
on either side full of pens for the sheep, a great nave, at the upper end of which the
shearers work, and a further space for wool sorters and packers. It always refreshed me
with a semblance of antiquity (precious in a new country), though I very well knew that
the oldest wool-shed in the settlement was not more than seven years old, while this was
only two. Chowbok pretended to expect his grog at once, though we both of us knew very
well what the other was after, and that we were each playing against the other, the one for
grog the other for information.
We had a hard fight: for more than two hours he had tried to put me off with lies but had
carried no conviction; during the whole time we had been morally wrestling with one
another and had neither of us apparently gained the least advantage; at length, however, I
had become sure that he would give in ultimately, and that with a little further patience I