The twist of a tail was all it took to drive me and the kids indoors. Normally, prematurely extracting them from the sandpit is a big job but even an ebullient two-year-old can sense the importance of a “Don’t panic but…” message from his mum.
A snake (most likely a copper-head or tiger) had appeared at the bottom of Alex’s favourite climbing tree, just inches from the verandah and the children and I sat frozen in silence, listening to it swish through the dry leaves. And I am not Henry Lawson’s gutsy Drover’s Wife, for I am yellow to the core.
The drover’s wife makes the children stand together near the dog-house while she watches for the snake. She gets two small dishes of milk and sets them down near the wall to tempt it to come out; but an hour goes by and it does not show itself.
Instead, I send the kids scurrying indoors while I deploy my secret weapon: the Snake Trap. Purchased a couple of summers ago after another close encounter of the scaly kind, the trap has been waiting for just this moment.
She brings the children in, and makes them get on this table. They are two boys and two girls – mere babies. She gives some supper, and then, before it gets dark, she goes into house, and snatches up some pillows and bedclothes – expecting to see or lay or hand on the snake any minute. She makes a bed on the kitchen table for the children, and sits down beside it to watch all night.
Like a large corflute pizza box, the Snake Trap has a little trap door that leads to an internal spiral wall, which guides the snake in pursuit of an imaginary rodent evidenced by a trail of scenting media (mice and rat detritis).
Check the trigger, the trap door and deploy.
She has an eye on the corner, and a green sapling club laid in readiness on the dresser by her side; also her sewing basket and a copy of the Young Ladies’ Journal. She has brought the dog into the room.
It’s sitting there now, nestled in the leaves by the sandpit.
Graeme, the man behind the Snake Trap, reckons I will be lucky to catch my snake. They’re generally just passing through, he says, and the idea of the Snake Trap is to set it up at the start of snake season to waylay any casual unwelcome visitors. But I’m watching that trap door and time spent in the sand pit is a little less carefree than it was.
It must be near daylight now. The room is very close and hot because of the fire. Alligator still watches the wall from time to time. Suddenly he becomes greatly interested; he draws himself a few inches nearer the partition, and a thrill runs though his body. The hair on the back of neck begins to bristle, and the battle-light is in his yellow eyes. She knows what this means, and lays her hand on the stick. The lower end of one of the partition slabs has a large crack on both sides. An evil pair of small, bright bead-like eyes glisten at one of these holes. The snake – a black one – comes slowly out, about a foot, and moves its head up and down. The dog lies still, and the woman sits as one fascinated. The snake comes out a foot further. She lifts her stick, and the reptile, as though suddenly aware of danger, sticks his head in through the crack on the other side of the slab, and hurries to get his tail round after him. Alligator springs, and his jaws come together with a snap. He misses, for his nose is large, and the snake’s body close down on the angle formed by the slabs and the floor. He snaps again as the tail comes round. He has the snake now, and tugs it out eighteen inches. Thud, thud. Alligator gives another pull and he has the snake out – a black brute, five feet long. The head rises to dart about, but the dog has the enemy close to the neck. He is a big, heavy dog, but quick as a terrier. He shakes the snake as though he felt the original curse in common with mankind. The eldest boy wakes up, seizes his stick, and tries to get out of bed, but his mother forces him back with a grip of iron. Thud, thud – the snake’s back is broken in several places. Thud, thud – it’s head is crushed, and Alligator’s nose skinned again.
She lifts the mangled reptile on the point of her stick, carries it to the fire, and throws it in; then piles on the wood and watches the snake burn. The boy and the dog watch too. She lays her hand on the dog’s head, and all the fierce, angry light dies out of his yellow eyes. The younger children are quieted, and presently go to sleep. The dirty-legged boy stands for a moment in his shirt, watching the fire. Presently he looks up at her, sees the tears in her eyes, and, throwing his arms around her neck exclaims:
“Mother, I won’t never go drovin’ blarst me if I do!”
And she hugs him to her worn-out breast and kisses him; and they sit thus together while the sickly daylight breaks over bush.