|Chapter Title||AN INTRODUCTION TO THE BUSH.|
|Newspaper Title||The Port Augusta Dispatch, Newcastle and Flinders Chronicle (SA : 1885 - 1916)|
|Trove Title||Benbonuna: A Tale of Thirty Years Ago|
BBNBOlf UNA i
A TALE OF THIRTY YBABS AGO.
CHAPTER I. AH DTTBODUOTIOH TO THE BUSH.
BY BOBEBT BBUCE.
'The scene in which my story opens is a narrow South Australian plain, clothed with grass and saltbush—the former dry sod inflammable BB tinder, the drooping foliage of the latter sprinkled thickly with saline blotches, and scorched to a sickly yellowish-bine tinge, while the ground Itself gasps in a perfect network of fissnres, as if fainting from long con tinned drought. Bounding the plain to the westward is a low grassy range over which -looms, like the guardian genius of the plain, the lofty detached hills Peimbatana* and Cudleytana/f the sombre hoe of their pines and black oaks contrasting strangely with the grey-green of the •jnnifex and the ted tint*, merging into pnrple, of the huge rooks projecting from them ; the whole producing a novel, not to pay a forbidding, effect. To the northward rises the magnificent range of Woodnawoolpena, black, and sharply defined against the aky; whilst shutting in the landscape to the northward, some twenty miles distant, rises the precipitous Roundslegr Bluff, its qsual dark-bine tint Blowly changing to a lovely violet hue. To the eastward smaller ranges mh parallel to the western ones; and above.them the sharp peak of WUkatana$ pierces the cloudless sky, shimmering in a flood of golden light, with scarcely a tree or bush to chequer it with shadow. Slowly traversing the natural track leading northward through the plain were two travellers, whose horses, stained with dust and sweat, looked as if they had rolled in mud, which had afterwards dried on them, whilst their prominent ribs and hollow flanks told or the effects of a long journey and present thirst. The younger of the two, evidently a new arrival in the colony, and apparently about 20 years of age, was tall and powerfully built, had a tbiok curly crop of brown hair that teemed almost to push bis straw hat off, a fresh, rosy complexion, a pair of honest blae •yes, and large regular features—just the •ortofface which one does not stop to consider as to whether it is handsome or not, its pleasant, menly expression being sufficient recommendation in itself. The young fellow was one of those sore to find favor with the fair sex, and friends amongst his own. Owing to the heat he had relegated his coat and rest to the pommel of his saddle, and bis onoe white shirt was now grey with dust, whichj wafted dp by the languid south wind, kept pace with the travellers and heightened the discomforts of the journey; discomforts which a dense swarm of ; flies did their best to complete. The young man, whoBe name was Frank Beslop, had juBt arrived from England, and was on bis way to Benbonuna, a station belonging to Mr ABhby, a friend of his father, who bad, on hearing of Frank's intention to seek his fortune in Australia, offered to receive him as " pannikin overseer,"—the goose step to the management of a station of his own. His companion, who appeared to be about thirty years of age, was a man of a totally different stamp. His closely cropped hair was of the deepest
black, his forehead low, his eyes, bright and unsteady, were deeply set beneath straight, strongly marked eyebrows, his noBe was aquiline, his wide month was furnished with splendid teeth, his closely set lips were thin and contemptuous in expression, his jaws were massive, and bis chin, in harmony with the rest of his features, was round and prominent. With the exception of a long drooping moustache, he was clean shaved, biB dark Bkin seeming to bid defiance to the burning rays of the sun, which had played such havol with the fair face of his companion, and even the flies eeemed to give him bnt little annoyance. He was about five feet ten inches in height, and looked as lithe and sinewy as a leopard; his riding suit of grey tweed fitted him with perfect accuracy, whilst light kerseymere leggings protected his trousers from the dust and the sweat of his horse. He wore no spore, but carried in his hand a light-thonged hunting whip, with which he eometimeB expedited the movements of the pack hone, a cunning looking old black cob—which he addressed sharply, from time to time, as " Peter." His seat on horeback to an English eye would have appeared, at the first glance, ungraceful, for he rode with bis feet thruBt well home in the stirrup irons, biB knees high up and loose, and his body a little forward, but it moved in unison with every motion of hie horse—a low set lengthy chestnut—which was going at a fast amble, or bear walk. This equine gait..is greatly prized by Australian bushmen, as it is of especial value in a horse on a long journey, such for instance as that which Stephen Hawley and his companion had just accomplished. They had ridden, in daily stages of from thirty to forty mileB, from Adelaide, a distance of nearly three hundred miles, their horses being merely turned out at night and midday hobbled, and in hobbies had scraped np a sustenance BS best they could. In the case of bush bred horses hobbling is no great hardship if any grass be procurable within a mile or so of the camp, but to a nag used to the comfort and regular feeding of a town stable it is very trying, hence though Frank Heslop's horse was really a good animal, it was about done up, whilst its companions, though stale looking, had still a lot of work left in them. Now Stephen Hawley was Mr Ashby's " overseer" (or "manager" as he preferred to style tumselQ, and had been to the South Australisn metropolis to transact some private business of his own, as well as to deliver a flock of fat sheep to the emissaries of " ChBrley Fisher," the great fat stock buyer who then worked the Adelaide market; and as Heslop had arrived in the colony during the overseer's stay in town, the latter had, in accordance with previous instructions from Mr ABhby, purchased a horse for him and was now piloting him to the station, though with a very bad grace. Up to the present they had got on without coming to an open rupture, though Hawley who, from the very first had seemed to conceive a strange dislike to Frank, had been dictatorial and contemptuous in his manner ; and in addition he had been at no pains to accommodate his horse's pace to that of his companion's, which, being an indifferent walker, had consequently to " jog, BO that before two stages of the journey bad been accomplished, what with the jolting and a new, hard, bullock-hide saddle, poor Frank might almost have compared his situation to that of the classical Cassowary, "sitting on live coals" —not to speak of the rawness of his knees. As I said before, Hawley's horse was a splendid ambler; and ambling his master kept him, so that there was no relief for poor Frank, except when he allowed bis horse to lag behind, and then recovered lOBt ground at a trot or canter; but Hawley had so rallied him for this, saying " Why don't you make your horse walk" that he had given it up and borne his martyrdom with the fortitude of one of •Peimbatana, Hill of the Fines. tCudleytana, Hill of the Black Oaks. jWilbtaaa, Bill of the Wild Dogs.
Fox's worthies. There is no doubt that the young new chum's veneration for a real live bushman (who, from bis own showing, could Btick to the biggest buckjumper ever foaled as long as the saddle retained its position, and who knew ev< ry track and horse path in the colony) had a great deal to do with his submitting good natnredly to Hawley's humors. Breaking a long silence, Heslop inquired, " How much further is it to the station now ? We are close to it, are we not ?" " Oh, no! We've got five or six miles to go yet" replied Hawley, ungraciously. " I wish we were there, for the duBt and flies are simply detestable, besides I can scarcely get my borsn along," said HeBlop, spuring up the poor animal, which felt to him like a log going the wrong way. " I'd give anything for a drink and a wash!" " Oh! your horse is all right. Make him wdk. He's only " pointing" on you ; and as for the duBt, why it's nothing. Wait till you have a day or two's sheep drafting. Then you'll know what duet iB I You'll soon find that sheep farming does not mean lying on your back all day on a sheepskin, smoking cigars—as all ' new chums' think," replied Hawley, laying particular emphasis on all the disagreeable points of his discourse. " Oh !" replied Frank, " I expected to have to rough it, so I shall not be surprised. But is it quite 60 bad aB you represent ?" I may here state that Hawley, from some motive of his own, whenever he bad condescended to talk, had persistently painted bush life in its blackest colors, BO much so in fact that Frank was almost convinced that he had taken a false step in leaving Adelaide. " Well if yoa don't choose to believe what I say, don't. But in that caBe I'd advise yon not to come bothering me with any more stupid questions," replied the overseer with asperity. " I am sorry you take it in that light Mr Hawley, for I am not aware of any intention on my part of discrediting your veracity," said Frank, rather nettled at the tart reply. " Then why do you ask me to contra diet myself ? I don't care to be told to my face that I am a liar," returned Hawley trying to work himself into passion. u Ton need not put yourself into a rage ; BB I said before, I am not aware of having Baid anything that you can take reason able exception to, and therefore I can't apologise ?" " Well," growled Hawley " all I can say is—don't do it again." "It is of no use our having words about it | and if you do not feel inclined to be civil, there iB no reason why we should trouble each other with any further conversation,*' replied Frank quietly. " You've got to be very independent all at once—now that you think yourself safe at the station," sneered the overseer. " I do not know what motive you can have, Mr Hawley," replied Frank, looking him steadily in the face ; " but it certainly seems as if you had taken a dislike' to me from some mysterious reason, and are now trying ' the wolf and lamb business' on. If that is your intention," he continued, " I am sorry, for I bate to be unfriendly with any one ; but don't go too far, for am not to be bullied by you or any other man." There was a look of quiet determination in Frank's eyes that rather startled Hawley, and shewed him that, instead of an overgrown boy, he bad a resolute, though good-natured man to deal with ; and, bully as he was, he sensibly modified his demeanor, for he knew by experience what awkward customers those self-same quiet fellowB prove when properly roused. Besides, it did not quite euit his book to quarrel outright, and eo soon, with Mr Ashby's friend, so, without meeting Heslop's eye he replied : " Quarrel with you ! Why should wish to quarrel with you ?" "That's juBt what I should like to know," said Frank, " your desire to do BO seemB obvious." This was a home thrust Hawley could not well parry, so with a contemptuous " pshaw I" he rode on in silence, whilst Frank, thoroughly disgusted, no longer endeavoured to suit his pace to that of his ungracious companion ; so they proceeded in Indian file till just before entering on a jumble of low irregular hills forming the northern boundary of the plain, Hawley noticed some fresh track, crossing the road from the westward. He stopped his horse suddenly and exclaimed, " Curse that old Baggs ! Here's a lot of bis Bheep adrift again."
After seeming to consider the matter for few seconds, Hawley passed the leading ein of the pack hor6e to Frank, Baying. Hero ! take Peter and go on the station ; ou can tell the people there that I have one to count Bagg's Bheep into the yard." Heslop took the rein, as desired, merely aying " Very well! only I don't know he way to the station." " 0 ! you can't miss it, follow up that lind creek," pointing to one, which as yet as merely a gutter, ran northward through he small hills, " and when you strike the ig gum creek—which you will do in little ver a mile from here, follow it up. It will take you straight to Benbonuna." As these directions eeemed plain enough rank—never very remarkable for fore hought, was too proud to make more paricular inquiries of the overseer, and started o do aB he was bid, while Hawley, Bending a malignant glance after him, rode off on the Bheep trackB, was soon out of Bight. Frank followed the course of the blind creek, the track frequently crossing and recrossing it, and tor awhile the pack horse " Peter" kept up well enough ; but soon finding that he had a novice to deal with, he began to lag behind, and receiving no cut for biB pains, thereafter insisted on being dragged along at a snail's pace, looking at hiB victimised conductor cunningly from the corners of his half-closed eyes, while the bit rattled against bis tusks, as he showed his teeth in a helpless sort of fashion very irrita ting to Frank's feelings. But dragging Peter along soon became the least of Frank's troubles ; for now that he had no disengaged hand to drive the flies from his face, the swarming insects seemed to form a fiendish deter mination to drive him utterly distracted They clustered in thick rings round his mouth and eyeB, hustling one another for a coign of vantage near the corners, marched boldly with a buzz of possession into his ears, and diligently probed the cracks in the skin of his lips and hands- It was near their roosting time, and so they were making the raoBt of the moments left; whilst their helpless victim inwardly devoted them to Tophet, and hoped there would be no flies in Heaven. The nuisance made him the more desperately bent on getting Peter along, so, having no whip wherewith to administer a good flanker, instead thereof he pro ceeded to give Peter a violent jerk in the mouth with the bit, without at the same time taking the precaution of reining round his own horse, the consequence being that it went forward, and Peter dashed back directly he saw what was intended. Heslop having to choose between coming to the ground snd letting go the leading rein, of course adopted the latter alternative ; and away trotted Peter along the track, the quart pots and hobble chains hung about the pack rattling discordantly as he went. " Well," thought Heslop, as he made a vicieus but bloodless attack on the flies " If he will only run on like that, it is a good job he did get sway, for tbii «uit«
e far better than having to drag the old rute along. I hope though that Hawley , on't „ f, find out that he broko away from e. All went well till they reached a plendid gum creek, which running from he northward turned suddenly—where tht> oad struck it—in a sharp elbow towards a eepgapin the western range thronghwbich ts flood waters, after heavy rain storms, rushed to lose themselves in the great polignum swamps of the sand-ridged plains bordering the waterleBS Lake Torrens. At this time, however, only a few trickling streams of clear fresh water issued here and there from the creek's boulder strewn bed and ran for perhaps several hundred yards, only to vanish aB suddenly as they had issued forth. Peter quickly made his way to the nearest rivulet, trotted a few steps up the current, then thrusting his nose into the water till his nostrils were covered, drank as only horseB that have done thirty miles without a drink under a burning Australian sun can. Here HeBlop might have caught the fugitive easily enough, had he gone to him directly his noBe was down, but being very thirsty himself he alighted stiffly from bis horse, and, on handa and knees, drank from the first water he came to ; but by the time he had had enough, Peter had also so far satisfied his thirst as to have his eyeB about him, and when HeBlop would have caught him quickly decamped. " All right, old boy, if you don't break that rein I don't care," said Frank, and mounting his now prancing horse, filled with water till it looked like an animated cask, he prepared to finish the last four miles of his journey, picturing to himself the reception he would meet with from the Ashbys and their fair daughter, and never doubting that he had only to follow Peter to arrive safely at the station, for he had beard a great deal about the sagacity of bush horses in taking their riders home. But he wns not Peter's rider, and that made all the difference. Had he been on that cunning animal's back, it would have lost no time in taking hitu home just to get rid of a nuisance ; but a pack-saddle was a very different affair; it was inoffensive, and not at all heavy. Besides had not Peter grazed comfortably for hours together, time out of number, under a packsaddlo, and why should he not now, especially as he had had his drink, and there was no feed for him at the station ? Peter jogged in a leisurely manner, snatching at bushes and grasB as he went for about half a mile ; then he suddenly seemed to alter his mind, for he turned short acrosB the creek towards some coarse grass on the top of the opposite bank, up which he scrambled, followed by Frank who spurred his weary horse into a shambling jog with the intention of heading the trnant back into the creek. But Peter was now on his travels, so just keeping the trailing rein clear of his fore feet by carrying his bead up and to one side, he kept his eye fixed on Frank, and scrambled about among a jumble of scrubby bills without the least regard to any direction. Heslop began to feel uneaBy, for, although there was more than an hour's daylight, he feared he should not be able either to catch Peter or to driv« him to the station; and he could not bear the thought of appearing there without him. He began to perspire freely ae he spurred his wretched nag in the hopes of turning the exasperating Peter at any rate toward the western range, between which and himself he knew the creek to be ; but bis horse was becoming more and more fagged, while Peter—a tough old bush veteran—freshened up at every step. How Hawley would sneer (Frank set his teeth at the thought), and what would MiBS Ashby think, if he proved bimBelf unable to head a wretched old pack horse? Something very like a bad word escaped him BB be redoubled his efforts to head the vagrant, but Peter was well aware of Frank's utter helplessness, and like many a two-legged sinner, was determined to Btay out all night. This was a nice beginning to the free and joyouB bush life
Frank had so often pictured to himself— riding leisurely round a flock of sheep to note their increasing fatnesB, or galloping like the wind after a kangaroo, emu, or refractory beast! He .was trying to gallop after a refractory beast now, but it waB about the moBt unprofitable and vexatious pursuit he had ever engaged in —and where was it to end ? That was the question which added a redoubled sting to bis present embarrassments. Frank possessed a more than average share of courage wben he knew what he had to fight against; but a night out in the Australian bush, and the very great chance of not finding the station in the morning, were disturbing elements the full force of which no one not occupying the embarrassing position in which our hero found himself, could realise, and, moreover, he could not help recalling the heartrending stories of death from thirst and starvation with which Hawley had endeavored to cheer his spirits on the road. Poor Frank was soon in that frame of mind in which violent action is the greatest relief, and therefore pursued with desperate vigor the relentless Peter up and down the rotten slate covered hills, getting well scratched by bushes, and disturbing dozens of marsupials — from the little active bush wallaby to the big sorrel-colored scrub kangaroo—which had now left th<rir lairs and were creeping about on all fours, and browsing on such tussocks of grass aB yet showed signs of life about the roots Quite absorbed by the pursuit Heslop did not feel the scratches or notice the kangaroos. He only Baw Peter, and him only at intervals, for his own horse was fast coming to a standstill. He got down at last and thought to lead him, but, like Peter, he was not to be led ; so there was nothing for it but to mount him again. He did BO, and vigorously plied his spurs and a stick he had broken from a bush ; there was no response, the horse was knocked up! Yes ! There it stood, with one foreleg a little advanced, its head stretched out as if it were looking for something it could not see, and its ears drooping widely apart—a picture of equine helplessness pitiable to look at. But Frank had too much worry on his mind for moralising. He gave the poor beast several digs in the ribs with bis spurs, and then—though he bad never seen a horse in such case— instinctively realising that the game was up, slowly dismounted and tried to think what was best to be done. Should he take off the saddle, hobble the horse, and, leaving Peter and the pack to take care of themselves, try to make hin way to the station on foot ? This was what prudence suggested, but pride pictured the ignominy of such a course. And so witbouttaking the trouble to hobble hiB horse, which he thought would be a needless cruelty, be removed the saddle and bridle, hung them on the low branch of a conspicuous pine tree,; and then, taking a forlorn glance at the sun, just sinking behind the western range, went after Peter who had disappeared over a scrubby range. On topping the ridge, Frank could see Peter at a little distance, busily rubbing his head against one of bis fore legs,which he had stretched out stiffly for the purpose. Looking haBtily at the horse be had left, Heslop saw that it was Btill standing as he had left it. Then he tried to fix the bearings of the place in his uiemory; and endeavoring as far as as possible to imitate HawUy's voice and manner, he approached Peter with affected carelessness, saying soothingly as be did io, " Woo-o! old boy." The only effect
the words had on the object of his solicitude was to start him off again. But Heslop was near enough to notice that Peter had partially succeeded in rubbing off the bridle, a strong head-stall, in so fur that he had shifted the broad strap that should be behind his ears to a position over his eyes, where it was firmly kept by the throat-letsh, which had been too tightly buckled to permit of its passing over Peter's prominent jaw bones; one ear was cocked forward, the other lay straight down on his forehead, its point being fixed tightly by the pro tern brow band, so that the animal presented a very hang dog, crop eared appearance as he turned his bead inquiringly. But as he was evidently blinded by the straps on the off side, Frank's hopes revived, and on Peter stopping at some tall kangaroo graBs, he pretended to give up the pursuit, but in reality made a long detour, running as fast as his Btiffened limbs would allow, and keeping as much as possible in cover of the bushes. How his heart beat when, thinking he had at last circumvented Peter, he crept up as silently as possible, intending to surprise that animal, who was making the most of his time and teeth ; then, seeing that the horse had noticed him, he advanced boldly and again said, " Woo-o I old boy I" Peter grazed quietly on ; he was evidently about to allow himself to be caught; and so—forgetting all his troubles in a moment—Heslop muttered exultingly, " I've got you at last, you old brute," debated with himself for an instant whether he should thrash or pet the delinquent, and stepped forward to catch him. But Peter appeared restless ; he raised bis head suddenly, looked out of the corner of his least obscured eye at Frank, Bnatched at a tussock of grass— and departed 1 Frank made a desperate run in hopes of being able to catch the reins, but only managed to touch Peter's hip, who starting at a sharp canter knocked him down with a kick which would have broken a limb bad he not been too close for the blow to take full effect. Frank subsided into a email prickly buBb, from which he emerjged with no worse hurts than a plentiful supply of spines impartially distributed over hiB person, and a freshened remembrance of the warning, "Never to run against^ the hind legs of a horse, however, quiet he may appear." He waa naturally a kind hearted fellow—though like Don Juan " somewhat oholoric and sudden," but if he could have laid hands on Peter then, he would have paid off old scores with a vengeance ; bnt Peter was perfectly safe from vengeance for that night. Rage for a little time lent suppleness to Frank'sIORS, and he repeatedly followed the " heading" tactics, only to be foiled in all his endeavours; and at last, just as the brief Australian twilight was deepening into night, he gave up the pursuit in despair, and threw himBelf on the ground completely knocked up for the time with worry and fatigue. (To be continued).
A SETTEE.—" Sergeant," said Mr Dunder as he slipped in on Sergeant Bendal, " Vhas dere some confidence game in which you see a dog ?" " There's all sorts of confidence gsmes, Mr Dander, and it's a poor one which wouldn't catch you. What is it now. " Vhell, if I vhas swindled again I dunno. Fife days ago a man come to my place mit a dog. Vhas I Carl Dunder ? I vhae. He like to leave dot dog with me for two hours. Dot dog vhae a setter. He vhas valuable. He vhas going to sell him for ten dollar." " Same old game." " Vhae he some old game? I neafer see him before. He goes avhay, und anoder man comeB. Whose dog vhas dot? I dunno. Dot was a waluable dog. He gifs me twenty dollar for him right off queek. He goes to der depot, und vhill eh top on hie vhay back. Vhell, he doan' be gone long vhen der dog man comeB in. Shake und me talk it oafer, und we see a shance to make ten dollars." " Of course. And you gave him lOdollars for the dog ?" " Yes." " And you are still waiting for the man to come and pay you twenty ?" " Yes." " Well, you will wait a good while." " Vhas I eh wind led ?" " Yes, sir." " Und he won't come ? : ' "Never." "Hum ! Dot'6 der vhay I belief, too, Sergeant 1" " Yes." " I vhas going home und kill dos dog! In a leedle while, maybe, some odder man comes along mit a setter. Vhat I Carl Dunder ? I vhas. I like to leaf dis dog mit you. He vhas a waluable dog. Ho vhas—pish ! thud ! bang !—and I like der Coroner to come in by der side-door und keep der boys oudtl Good-bye, Sergeant1 I pays taxes in two wards, und I vhas all right to gif bail!"—Detroit Free Press.