|Newspaper Title||Adelaide Observer (SA : 1843 - 1904)|
|Trove Title||A Life's Punishment|
For-some days our route lay through sheep and cattle runs, and we were able to reach a station every night. In some instances MoFhereon was acquainted with the mana gers, but even at those places where we came as entire strangers we were hospitably re ceived and treated. The men were sent to the kitchen, and McPherson, Walter, and myself became the gueBts of the manager.
I'he last Btation we stopped at was a cattle run, and the manager ana McPherson were old friends, having been together on a station some years previously. We did not reach the homestead until late in the evening. Heavy rain had fallen during the day, and we were cold and wet. But the reception given to ua would have made amends for far greater dis comforts than we had as yet endured. McPherson had intended to continue his
journey the following day, but when we awoke in the morning the rain was falling in a steady, sullen manner, as if quite deter mined to keep on the whole day; and this, combined with the pressing invitation of the manager, prevailed to change McPherson's plan.
The rain kept on for two days, and 1 do not think that any member of our party really regretted the enforced rest. I know that neither myself nor Walter were sorry. We found that travelling on horseback day after day at a walking pace was far more trying than the quick rideB we were accus tomed to about Pamatta. But it was out of the question to travel faster; we had a great distance to go and muBt keep our horses freBh, and also the pack horses were heavily
During our stay at this station we gathered all the information possible concerning the country ahead of us. The stockmen knew something of the country within a distance of 50 or 60 miles from the head station, having had cccasion to go that far in search of stray cattle. They reported it to be good and fairly well-w atered. But from the blacks we learned that beyond this part was a broad strip of desert, across which very few of them had ever ventured. There was one old man amongst them who had done so many years ago, and he gave a very bad account of it. The water was scarce and difficult to find, and of course there was hardly any food in the shape of kangaroo or birds. He also spoke of a tribe of very wild and savage blacks living on the further side of the desert. But the old man was so very old and stupid that it was difficult to get any certain information from him, and it was doubtful even if that which he had told us was true. Supposing it was there waB nothing very very formidable. A desert that would appear great to a native on foot would be nothing to well-mounted men, and we were well aimed and capable of holding our own against a large number of blacks.
On the morning of the third day of our stay at thiB station we saddled our horses and rode away. The manager rode with us for a few mileB and then wishing us a suc cessful trip and a speedy return bade fare well. The son shone brightly, the air was soft and fragrant from the rain, men and horses were refreshed by the day or two's rest, and we travelled onward in good spirits with no thought of danger or disaster to throw a shade upon onr hopes. McPnerson, Walter, and I rode abreaet, Walter full of delight and excitement at the thought of at last being fairly launched upon an explor ing expedition. The jingling of the bits in the mouths of the horses, the occa sional ring of the stirrnps as the horses drew close together and clashed, and the frequent, joyous laughter of the boy
formed a fitting accompaniment to the eoene. Behind us came the pick-horses, snatching mouthfols from bush and tnssock as they went, and in the rear the two men blowing cicuds of smoke from the pipes which were seldom out of their mouths, and keeping an eye on the horses to see that none of them tried to break away. At noon we rested for i an hour for dinner, and then rode on until the
sun sank low in the west Then we selected a favourable camping-place, the horses were uneaddled, hobbleB were fastened to their forelegs to keep them from galloping away,
and round the neck of one was hung a
to assist us in finding them in the morning. We were camped near to a creek, in which were a few holes or ponds of water. Tne banks were lined with gum-trees, and so we
bad an abundance of the two chief items necessary to the comfort of camping out.
The evening grew chilly after the sun had set, and we made a large fire and gathered together a good stock of wood for the night. Each man had his own quart pot and panni can. The pots were filled with water and placed side by side round the fire to boil. Fiesh beef had been given to us at the Last station, and steaks cut from it were soon hisBing and spluttering in the fryingpan over the fire. And here McPherson Bhowed signs of beiog something of an epicure. He ob jected to fried meat, said it gave him in digestion, and then from one of the packB produced a piece of hoopiron. Giving it
three or four bendB until it resembled the letter w, he made a gridiron that answered the purpose; and by leaving the laBt arm very long so as to form a handle he was able to do his cooking in comfort. As soon as the pots came to the boil a pinch of tea was thrown on the water and the pannicans placed on top to keep in the steam, and supper began.
The station cook had presented us with a ponderous loaf of bread, and beginning with McPherson, each man cut from it a large slice, then a piece of steak from the pan, which he placed on top of the bread, ana then with his pot of tea in the other hand drew a little away from the fire and squatted on the gronnd. It was a simple meal, but a pleasant one. The beef bad not been stall ted, bnt we had contentment, and so, perhaps, were more happy than many who at tnat moment were seated at well-appointed and luxurious tables. When supper was finished fresh logs were thrown on the fire, pipes were lighted, and streched oat at full length we stnoked and talked. Such a scene would tax the skill of an artist to reproduce. The blazing logs, the forms and faces aronnd lighted by its flickering flames, now brought out vividly, and again overshadowed as the light for an instant wained, the dark back ground of night, and overhead the bright twinkling stare. Indeed, no man could paint the picture; the constantly changing light would be impossible, and it was that which gave the scene its weird and fantastic ap
Early to bed and early to rise is to be our motto, and ss soon as our pipes are smoked out we clear away sticks and stoneB from beneath onr rugs, roll them round ub, and say good night. Thore is no danger from blacks to guard against on this night, and no watch need be set. Soon the sonnd of heavy breathing tells me that my companions are asleep. But for some time 1 lay awake thinking. The fire is burning brightly, the horse-bell is tinkling musically a little dis tance away, and a gentle breeze iB stirring the branches of the trees above us. Bnt by and-by the light from the fire grows less bright, the bell sounds further and farther away, the rustling of the leaves was distinct, and I knew nothing further until roused from my slumbers in the early morning. The sun had not yet risen, but had sent up streams of light as heralds of its approach. There were few birds in the trees, the morning was calm, and everything, animate and inanimate, seemed waiting for the sun to qnicken them into life and activity.
1 dareBay that the early morning had more beauty in it than was visible to snch an un poetic being aB myself. Its beanties have been sung by many poets, bat I have some times wondered under what circumstances these poets beheld the rising of the sun?
A camp such as ours did not oner any oppor- J
tunities for the proper study of the dawn, j Poetic musings were not in keeping with the matter-of fact character of onr enterprise. Besides, McPherson had an aversion to dila tory people, and would have looked very
black at the man who dared to remain in his blankets after being called up.
The ground had proved to be a harder couch than I had anticipated. I felt stiff for a few minutes after rising, and also found
that I had not cleared away the stoneB and ' sticks as carefully as I might have done. No Booner had I opened mv eyes than I telt that one stone had been left just under my shoulders. I expected to find one quite the size of a hen's egg, but was disgusted when it turned out to be not much bigger than a pea. It was no wonder that the Sybarites grumbled at a crumpled rose leaf.
While one of the men and Walter took the bi idles and went away to catch the horseB, the other man cooked breakfast, and McPherson and myself rolled up the blankets and as much as possible pre pared the packs ready for starting. The horseB had strayed some distance back towards the station, and we had eaten our breakfast by the time they were driven up. They were saddled while'Walter and tne other man ate their share or the meal, and so really very little time was wasted.
For several days no incidents worthy of note were met with. We were still within
the region of good country, and had little difficulty in finding water. McPherson shaped his course by the compass, but had no chart—none existed, indeed, of this country. He knew only the general direc tion we must take. The men who had told Hardinge of it in the first instance had reached it from the east; we were approach
ing it from the opposite quarter. \