|Chapter Title||THE POLEY BULLOCK YARDED.|
|Newspaper Title||The Methodist (Sydney, NSW : 1892 - 1954)|
|Trove Title||The Stolen Bullock|
'The Stolen Bullock.'
By Tom Bluegum.
Chapter IV. 'The Poley Bullock Yarded.'
That night Jack Thompson lay wakeful long after all the otherB had fallen aBleep A lull moon in a cloudless sky flooded the landscape with soft, beautiful radiance, and streamed through all the chinkB in the building. He listened to the wailing screech of the curlews as they ohorused on
the open flats. He listened to the mournful howl of prowling dingoes, sniffing on the edge of the open after the safely-folded Bheep. Then he fell to reviewing the long, anxious rides of the paBt week. One spot in particular oame vividly out in bis thoughts— a broad open flat in a bend, four miles on the creek. Dense scrub stole down from the ranges towards it, Fresh hoof- prints fringed the water beside it. Traces of cattle were everywhere about it. Yet only one or two dry milkers from the selection were to be found on it. He got speculating idly on its appearance in tbg moonlight. Suddenly a new idea struck him. ' The very thing !' he exclaimed, start ing upright in bed. His wife moved drowsily on her pillow, but did not waken. He slipped quietly out of bed, and swiftly and silently dressed for going out. It was a cool, clear night. , The full moon shone straight overhead as he
emerged. Saddling Mb horse he rode down the paddock, rousing up his drowsy bul lock team. Selecting those without bells he drove them rapidly through the selec tion and up the oreek. Within half a mile of the flat towards which he journeyed he loitered behind, leaving his bullocks to waDder onwards unattended. Making a detour he entered the scrub and cautiously rode round the sloping hillside until opposite the upper end of the open plain. As he reached this spot he paused, arrested by ithe lowing of oattle. The peculiar tone of these cries convinced him that [.his own bullocks had just come into contact with some Btrange mob of cattle. That these, or most of these would prove to be ' scrubbers ' grazing in the moonlight he did not doubt. Would the object of hia long painful searoh be among them ? If it were, could he hope alone to effect a capture ? In intense ex citement the horseman stealthily descended toward the plain. He had purposely approached from the upper side in order to face the light breeze. The commotion among the wild herd oausea by the advent of his own workers served to cover his approach. As he reached the verge of the scrub an exclamation of delight broke from his lips. Within a hundred paces stood the white poley bullock fraternising with the new comers. The clear moonlight rendered his Bpotless coat snowy in contrast to the sober hues surrounding him. There was no mistaking him. Aoross, on the further side of the open, clustered a mob of genuine sorubbers. They were suspicious of the new arrivals and held aloof accordingly. They awaited but the slightest token of danger before whioh they would vanish into the friendly scrub. After that first glance and smothered ejaculation, the selector did not hesitate for a moment. Whirling his long stookwhip round, he startled the mountain eohoeB with a report
like a rifle shot, at the same moment darting between the two groups of cattle on his fleet Bteed. There was a whiBk of tails, and the scrubbers disappeared. The white bullook made one wild attempt to follow. The long whip curled with a cruel awiBh about his ears, and the agile horse man baulked his way until, cowed and frightened, he rushed back among the retreating workers. They had already turned homewards. . After that the re3t was comparatively easy. Ere the moon had traversed half the distance from the zenith towards the western landscape the white poley was securely penned in the killing yard, and the workers grazed among their drowsy mates. Jack Thompson let his horse go, and stole softly back to hiB room. As he began to unlace his boots, his wife awakened. She looked at his dimly visible form. ' Why, Jack, where have you been ? I thought you were in bed with the rest of ?us.' In a moment he was kneeling at the bed side, a great gladness shining in his eyes, 'The promise has been kept,' he Baid gently. ' The poley bullock's yarded.'
Chapter V. 'I Thought you were a Christian.' Before noon next day the selector rode up to the station homestead. The owner proved absent, but was expected in to lunch. Would he wait ? But Jack Thompson had no inclination to wait. He had been delivered, it was true, but he had been deeply injured, and now that his innocence was vindicated felt that some reparation was due. ' Tell Mr. Jackson,' he Baid, ' that I found the white bullock to-day and want him to take delivery at once.' Then he rode away. The fact of the disappearance of the ox was known to most of the hands on the Btation. Those who knew him best had not shared the owner's suspicions of Jack Thompson. It was pleasant to hear their congratulations. It was pleasanter to know that his reputation had been cleared. Later in the day the squatter himself xode over, accompanied by an inexperienced new chum, for the purpose of personally satisfying himself as to the identity of the bullook, and in that case of taking delivery. How tenacious he was of his own opinion may be gathered from the fact that he came prepared to intercept some skilfu^ attempt to foist another than the original bullock on the owner. When occular ?demonstration convinced him of his error in that respect, he still retained a lingering suspicion that the bullook had been hidden away till the last moment, being restored ?only when no other alternative beoame possible. Yet he could not help confessing to himself the absurdity of such a view. But then religious people were all simple tons or humbugs. This man was no simpleton, therefore he must De the latter. Absurd as was the position be could not really abandon it. The alternative of faith in religion and religious people was what lie did not wish to accept. Under these ?conflicting feelings the squatter was rather displeased than otherwise by the restoration of hiB beast. Were it not for the criticism to which suoh action would have exposed .him, he would even then have declined to take delivery. His conduot was of course in keeping with his mood. ' He that loses can easily find,' he remarked grimly, after having satisfied himself of the bullock's identity. That was all the apology offered. Jack Thompson choked back the indig nant reioinder that struggled for utteranoe. He merely requested the formality of a receipt before complying with the curt demand to open the sliprailB and admit of t,tie egress of the bullock. The squatter tore a leaf out of his pocket 'book and wrote the acknowledgment; as desired. ' You will not take him inside your boundary without one or two quiet beasts
to bear him company,' remarked' the selector. A withering look was the only reply to this remark. Nothing roused the owner of Booleegong more than to impugn his skill as a stockman, though as a matter of fact, from long lack of practice that skill waB largely a thing of the past. ' Drop the rails,' was the curt rejoinder. Jack Thompson dropped the rails accord ingly. The poley bullock needed no second invitation. He bounded out of the yard and went down the paddock at a long swinging gallop. The squatter and his new-chum attendant followed. At first the bullook headed towards the gate in the portion of Booleegong boundary, which fenced Jack Thompson's western line. Then as if acting on second thoughts doubled across to the eastern line of fence on the selection. Outside that fence lay the cattle track up the creek. In vain did the squatter try to head off the impetuous beast. His assistant became a positive nuisance, following with great pertinacity immedi ately behind the fleeing quadruped. On reaching the fence the bullock leaped the barrier and cantered up the track towards the scrub. The squatter looked as if about to follow over the fence. But a - sight of open sliprails, left by the selector on his moonlight jaunt that morning, changed his purpose. Passing these at a gallop he renewed his tussle with the bullock until both disappeared into the scrub. It was the last Jack Thompson saw of either for a fortnight. About that time be was surprised at receiving a visit from the squatter. ' Hope |you bear no grudge for what is past, Thompson,' began the latter in a conciliatory tone. 'I am glad now that things turned out as they did.' ' Do you believe still that I planted your bullock ?' ' Can't say that I do. I really never did believe it after the brute turned up.' ' Well, if you're satisfied I am,' answered the selector. ' Will you ride out with me to day and show me where you found him ?' The selector thought awhile. Then he said Blowly, 'No, Mr. Jackson, I don't think I shall. You treated me as no man ever had cause to treat me about that beast* When you have ridden yon gullies for seven days at a stretch come back and I'll help you then.' The squatter coloured deeply. It had been very humbling to speak as he had spoken. 'I thought you were a Christian,' he remarked sarcastically. ' I find now that I was mistaken. I deserve thiB for being fool enough to believe in you.' And then he rode away. Jack Thompson stood gazing after the retreating horseman. His conscience in stantly smote him. The light within turned to darkness. He felt that somehow the enemy had gained advantage. The last remark of the squatter indicated a possibility such as he had not dreamed. Had he, by cherishing a desire for satis faction at the expense of his neighbour, hindered a work of grace in the man's soul ? He thought much, the more he thought the more miserable he beoame. At their evening meal his abstracted manner worried his wife. He surprised her still more by starting up abruptly as the meal conoluded. ' You must read and pray to-night yourself, Ibbb ; ' he said. ' I've got to go over to Booleegong.' Then he told her all. 'You are doing right now, Jack. Go, and yon won't go alone, remember.' That was her farewell Bpeech as he mounted his sturdy nag. It was after dark when he reached Booleegong. The squatter was in his study and ordered Jack to be shown in there. The latter had a fashion of going straight to the point without delay. 'I done wrong to-day, Mr. Jackson,' he said. '* I've been miserable about it ever since. I'm sorry 1 spoke the way I did ; no Christian ought to talk bo. I'm ready at any time you like to put your men on to the poley. That is all 1 can say.'
The squatter sat for a moment gazing anxiously at the earnest face turned frankly to his. Suddenly he rose and grasped the selector's hand. ' Look here, Thompson, I have come to believe in you in spite of myself. I am glad you thought better of it and came to tell me so. I has done me good. I must ask you now to forgive me for persistently misjudging you.' 'Then you don't think all religion's a fake because I'm so poor a specimen of the real thing ? ' the selector asked, a queer lump risiDg in his throat. 'Look here I ' replied the squatter, pointing to an old worn pocket Bible open on his table. ' I was reading that when you came in. It was my dear old mother's long ago. It has been locked up in my desk for thirty years. I had grown as miserable as a bandicoot on ' a burnt ridge ever since tbis bullock affair began. I knew somehow you were right and I was wrong.' ' Thank God 1' ejaculated the selector* 'Thank God!' and he drew back hastily from the light, for his eyes were full of tears. The biggest load he had ever borne rolled off his soul when he found that his own lack of grace had not turned a seeking soul out of the way. 'Are you going?' It was the squatter who spoke. 'Yes; I must get back now,' responded his visitor huskily. 'Well, good night!' and the squatter once more took his hand. He held it a moment. ' You pray sometimes,' he said in a low, earnest tone. ' Eemember me, will you ?' 'That will I. And the Master will remember you too, sir, never fear.' [The End.]