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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesAdventures In Australia - Chapter 3
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Adventures In Australia - Chapter 3 Post by :trebor95 Category :Long Stories Author :William H. G. Kingston Date :May 2012 Read :3265

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Adventures In Australia - Chapter 3

CHAPTER THREE

We spent a pleasant evening with Bracewell, talking over old times and our future prospects. He gave us a great deal of good advice, by which we hoped to profit.

"I am very glad you have come out, old fellows, for I am sure you will succeed if you stick to work," he observed. "I have not done badly. I began with eight head of cattle, and now I have three hundred; and with forty sheep, which have become upwards of two thousand. I should have had a larger number had I known more of the business when I commenced, but I have lost many by disease and dingoes, and the natives. You must make up your mind to take the rough and smooth together, and not despair though you happen to get what they call a run of ill-luck--which in nine cases out of ten arises from a man's carelessness. I confess that I have sometimes felt my solitude; but yet, with my friends on the shelves up there, and these faithful animals at my feet, I have had no great reason to complain. I also remember that I should have been much worse off in many respects had I remained at home."

"But what about the blacks and the bushrangers?" asked Guy.

"The blacks have been troublesome at times, but I have hitherto been able to keep them at bay," answered Bracewell; "and with regard to the bushrangers, none have ever paid me a visit. The fellows who stuck me up the other day were the first I had the misfortune to fall in with. I wonder if Vinson recognised me; but I think not, or if he did he kept out of sight. I am grieved to think it was him, as he will certainly, before long, come to an untimely end; for no bushranger ultimately escapes, and most of them run but a very short career: they either get shot or die of starvation and sickness in the bush."

When we talked of continuing our journey the next day, Bracewell would not hear of it.

"Your relative does not expect you," he observed, "and you will pick up more useful knowledge on my station than you will on a more extensive run; besides which I want you to have some hunting with me, to show you this part of the country."

Nothing loth, we agreed to Bracewell's proposal. It was not until a late hour, for the bush, that we turned into our bunks in one of the side-rooms, which he told us he kept as his guest-chamber. Bracewell slept in a hammock in the sitting-room, while old Bob occupied the other room.

The first day we spent riding over the run, visiting the cattle and inspecting the sheep. In the evening Bracewell proposed that we should go into the neighbouring wood in search of opossum, whose skins he wished to obtain to make some rugs, which he said he wanted to sleep on when camping out or to serve as coverlets in cold weather. His shepherd possessed a couple of small dogs, famous opossum hunters. The sheep having been penned, their master was requested to accompany us.

The Australian opossum is a long-bodied short-legged little animal, with a furry tail by which he can suspend himself on the branches of trees, while it assists him to make rapid progress among them. He is fond of hiding himself in the holes of decayed trees, out of which it is no easy matter to smoke him. Being a nocturnal animal he is more generally captured during the day-time, for the bright light of the sun puzzles him and he knows not in what direction to make his escape.

We soon arrived at a large hole in a gum-tree round which the dogs began barking, leaving us no doubt that several opossums were ensconced within. Our first care was to collect a quantity of sticks and green leaves; when, a fire being kindled inside the hole, the smoke began to ascend, filling the whole of the cavity, which extended to where the boughs branched off. The moon having risen, we could see almost as well as in daylight. Before long, three or four little creatures emerged from the hole and began to make their way upwards. One, however, almost suffocated by the smoke, fell to the ground; when the dogs, instantly pouncing upon it, would have torn it to pieces had not their master pulled them off. Guy shot another, and two more were brought to the ground by the sticks which the rest of us hove at them before they had recovered their senses, after having been so unexpectedly smoked out of their nests.

We were equally successful with two other trees, round which the dogs gave tongue, and after an hour's hunting we returned carrying our prizes, which took Bracewell and his shepherd some time to clean.

"Of course opossum hunting is but tame work, I'll allow," exclaimed Bracewell while washing his hands after having cleaned the last of the beasts; "but as you are both good horsemen and have steady nerves we will to-morrow go in chase of some wild cattle which have appeared in the bush not far off. I should not object to kill a couple of them, as we are in want of fresh meat and I cannot afford to slaughter my sheep. Perhaps on the way we may fall in with a kangaroo, which is sure to give us good sport."

Next morning found us all three galloping along through the open forest. We trusted entirely to Bracewell's guidance, for before we had gone a mile, I confess I should have had a difficulty in finding my way back again.

"We are in luck," cried Bracewell, as in less than half an hour we caught sight of four head of the wild cattle we were in search of. As we approached they began pawing on the ground, sticking out their tails and looking anything but amiable.

"They will charge if we don't take care," observed Bracewell. "Shout and crack your whips, that will make them show us their flanks."

We had, I should have said, our guns in readiness, and a brace of pistols in our belts, so that we were well armed for the encounter with a wild bull, who, looking upon human beings and every other animal as enemies, was a dangerous character to engage.

Bracewell had before instructed us how to act under such ordinary circumstances as were likely to occur. The cracking of our whips, and our loud shouts, at length frightened the three bulls, and instead of running at us they turned tail and off they went.

"Tally-ho!" shouted Bracewell, and we made chase.

Our object was now to overtake them. Bracewell having got up to a powerful red bull, for a few seconds he and the animal kept time together; then gaining a little and keeping it on his right side he fired, and the superb beast, with a low bellow, crashed headlong to the ground. Pulling up for a moment he galloped after me, as I dashed on close to another bull I had singled out; but in consequence of a fallen tree which would have compelled me to slacken speed, I had ranged up on the wrong side, so that I could not fire with due effect. Fearing however that the bull would escape, I took the best aim I could, fired, and wounded it. The bull, maddened with rage, charged wildly at my horse.

"Spur for your life," shouted Bracewell. I did so, for I expected every moment to see the bull rip open my steed with his powerful horns, and I knew that if it was gored I might be trampled to death.

The bull came thundering behind me and actually touched my horse, which nearly sent me over its head as it kicked out viciously to defend itself. Happily Bracewell was close behind, and coming up presented the muzzle of his pistol at the bull's head. The next moment I was safe. In the meantime Guy had been pursuing a third bull. I had heard him fire twice. I now saw the animal rushing on, with head down, about to run at him. Fortunately a tree was near at hand, round which he managed to guide his horse, when the bull for a moment losing sight of him he was able to take a steady aim: he fired and the monster rolled over.

"Nervous work!" exclaimed Bracewell. "You fellows have behaved capitally, though I really forgot the danger to which you might be exposed, but I am very thankful that no harm has been done. We'll now ride back as hard as we can go, and get the cart to bring in the meat before the dingoes or black fellows or the ants have taken possession of it."

We agreed that hunting wild cattle was more exciting sport than galloping after kangaroos, although we fancied that the latter was the finest amusement to be found in Australia. Not a moment was lost on our arrival at home in getting the cart under way, and Guy and I undertook to accompany it, but Bracewell could not again leave the station during the time that old Bob who drove it, and Toby who went to assist him, were away. As we approached the scene of action, we caught sight of a number of what at a distance I should have fancied were ordinary dogs-- with sharp muzzles, short, erect ears, and bushy tails--hovering round the spot.

"They're dingoes!" cried Guy. "The rascals have already commenced operations on one of the bulls. We must drive them off or old Bob won't have much meat to carry home."

We dashed at the brutes with our riding-whips, which we brought into active play. Some well-aimed lashes on their backs made the dingoes turn tail and retreat to a safe distance, where they stood watching the operation of cutting up one of the animals.

While we were assisting Bob and Toby to load the cart with the flesh of the first bullock, the dingoes made a sudden dash at the carcase of the animal on which they had before commenced.

This was more than we could stand.

"If I was you, sir, I'd give them a lesson they'll not forget," cried Bob; and throwing ourselves on our horses, we rode at the savage pack, using the butts of our whips with such good effect that we knocked over upwards of half a dozen before the rest of the pack took to flight. To prevent their returning, we pursued them as they went off in the direction of the station, when, firing our pistols, we brought down two or three more; but we were soon thrown behind by having to pull up and reload, and the pack, keeping wonderfully well together, again managed to distance us. Still, excited by the chase, we kept on, the dead dingoes marking the course we had taken. Our horses, having been somewhat tired by the chase after the wild cattle and the rides to and from the station, did not make as good play as they might otherwise have done. Neither Guy nor I thought of pulling up, however, while we had the chance of killing more of the brutes. At last my horse, stumbling, threw me over his head, and I lost the rein; when finding himself at liberty, away he galloped, showing no inclination to be caught. I shouted to my brother, who had got some distance on; he heard me, and seeing what had occurred went in chase of my steed, which by occasionally doubling and then galloping off again, well-nigh tired out his horse. I ran here and there hoping to catch the animal, but it took good care to avoid me. At length however Guy got hold of it, by which time, of course, the pack had escaped. We now had to consider what road we should take, but when we looked round we found it was a question difficult to decide.

"If we could but come across one of the dead dingoes, we could easily make our way back to where we left old Bob," observed Guy.

We felt sure that the last dingo we had killed could not be far off.

"This is the spot where my horse threw me, and I had just before knocked over a dingo," I said, "I know it by that peculiar-looking gum-tree."

We rode on, expecting to come upon the dead dingo, but though we searched about we could nowhere discover it. On and on we went, still no dingoes could we see, nor could we distinguish the track made by our horses' feet. The sky had become overcast, but though we could not see the sun, we knew that it must be near setting. In a short time the increasing darkness made us feel somewhat uncomfortable about the chance of being benighted.

We cooeyed as loudly as we could in the hope that Bob and Toby would hear our voices, but no answer reached us. Had we been riding horses belonging to the station, we might have let them select their course and they would probably have taken us in; but we had mounted our own beasts, which could not be depended on. Still, as long as there was light sufficient to enable us to avoid knocking our heads against the boughs of trees, we rode on, hoping that we might at length reach the station. At last, however, we agreed that we must make up our minds to spend the night in the bush, hungry and thirsty as we felt. Next morning we thought we should, at all events, easily find our way. We accordingly dismounted, hobbled our horses, collected materials for a fire, and choosing a spot free from grass we soon kindled a flame, though it rather mocked us as we had nothing to cook at it. We settled that one should keep watch and look after the horses. The poor animals were suffering from thirst as much as we were, and were continually moving away to look for water, for without it they showed little inclination to crop the grass. Had we thought it prudent for both of us to sleep, the night would have appeared to pass by much more quickly than it did. I was very thankful when at length day broke, and we were saluted by the merry call of the laughing-jackass. We did not shoot him, but we killed a couple of parrots, which we quickly roasted to satisfy the gnawings of hunger, and then mounting our horses made, as we thought, in the direction of the station. We felt especially vexed with ourselves for losing our way, and causing Bracewell the anxiety he would naturally feel on our account, though he would guess pretty clearly what had happened from the report old Bob would give him on his return.

We had gone some distance, when we caught sight of a fire and a column of smoke rising, in the morning air.

"Perhaps that is the camp of some people Bracewell has sent out to look for us," said I.

"It may be that of bushrangers," observed Guy. "It will be prudent, at all events, to approach it cautiously."

Riding on, we caught sight of a black figure with his back towards us, seated before a small fire at which he was apparently engaged in cooking something. His attention absorbed in his occupation, he did not observe us. The delicate morsel he was preparing for his meal was, we afterwards discovered, a large snake. When his ear at length caught the sound of horses' feet, he started up, and seizing the half-roasted snake, scampered off. Had we not made signs to him that we wished to be friends, he would soon have been out of sight. Seeing, however, that we did not unsling our rifles, he gained courage and returned to the fire.

We beckoned to him to continue roasting his snake, and then endeavoured to make him understand that we wanted a guide to conduct us to the station. He seemed determined not to understand our wishes. However, we waited patiently, hoping that when he had eaten his snake he might be more inclined to act as our guide. Finding that we had no intention of molesting him, he took things leisurely. The snake being roasted, he began to stow it away.

"I wonder he doesn't offer us some, though I'm not inclined to eat it," I observed.

"He is a perfect savage, and has no wish to part with his dainty fare," replied Guy.

We thought that the fellow would soon come to an end of the meal, and that then he would pack up the rest of the snake and carry it with him. To our surprise he did not stop until he had swallowed the whole of it, and when we again made signs to him that we wanted him to guide us, he stroked his stomach and signified that he should prefer sleeping by the side of his fire.

Guy at length, losing patience, gave a flourish with his stock whip, when an idea seemed suddenly to strike the black, and getting up he made signs to us to follow him. We naturally supposed that he intended to lead us to the station, and rode after him without hesitation. We had not gone far, however, when a cooee reached our ears. We replied, and presently, looking round in the direction from whence the sound came, we saw Bracewell galloping towards us, followed by Toby.

"I am thankful that I found you sooner than I expected," he said. "Where do you think you were going?"

"To the station," answered Guy.

"You were riding, however, in an opposite direction," said our friend.

"The black we fell in with, undertook to guide us," I remarked.

"The rascal had no intention of taking you to my station. He would probably have led you into the midst of a gang of his own people who, I have had notice, are encamped in the neighbourhood, and had they found you unprepared they might have speared you for the sake of your horses and clothes. The fellow you fell in with was probably one of their scouts who had been sent forward to ascertain what we were about. Should they have found us off our guard, they might have robbed the huts and carried off some of our cattle and sheep."

While Bracewell was speaking, I looked round and found that the black fellow had disappeared. This strongly corroborated the account our friend had given us.

As we were suffering greatly from thirst, we were anxious to get back as soon as possible. We had, we found, gone at least ten miles out of our way. Bracewell had, however, with the aid of Toby, traced us. Though our horses were tired, their eagerness to obtain water made them exert themselves, and they did not take long to cover the ground. Most thankful we were when we reached the stream close to the station, where we and they could take a good draught of the refreshing fluid.

We then, by our friend's advice--while old Bob was preparing dinner-- turned into our bunks and managed to get a sound snooze, awaking much refreshed.

Next morning we had completely recovered from the fatigues we had gone through, and we now felt that we ought to continue our journey to Mr Strong's.

"But I don't like you two fellows, with only Toby, to travel through the bush, with a chance of falling in with hostile blacks or those rascally bushrangers, who would only be too glad to stick you up and revenge themselves for your setting me free," said Bracewell. "I have given notice to the police that the latter gentlemen are abroad, and before long, clever as they may think themselves, they will be run to earth; but the blacks are far more difficult customers to deal with--they are here, there, and everywhere. One only knows where they have been when the cattle are found speared, or the hut-keeper murdered, or the sheep driven off. I should like to accompany you myself, but I cannot at present leave my station. However, if you will wait for a couple of days longer I will ride part of the way with you, and in the meantime we will try to ascertain the whereabouts of the mob of blacks, and I shall be able to judge whether the road will be safe for you to travel."

The two days passed by pleasantly enough, during which we rode round the station with Bracewell, to assist him in examining his sheep and to help in the various duties of a squatter's life.

Meantime, Toby and another native were sent out to ascertain what had become of the mob of blacks reported to be in the neighbourhood. They came back saying that, although they had come upon their tracks, the natives had moved away westward, and that we were not likely to fall in with them. We again, accordingly, told our host that we must go.

"Well, if you must, you must; and according to my promise I intend to ride part of the way with you," he answered. "I wish however that you could do without your baggage, and we would see how fast we could get over the ground; but as you have to take that, we must be content with a steady pace, and I'll make play on my way back so as to be at home again by night."

As there was a moon in the sky, and Bracewell knew every inch of the ground, we were in our saddles long before day-break, carrying with us our breakfast and kettle in which the tea could easily be made at the camp-fire.

We had performed some ten or twelve miles before sunrise, enjoying the cool fresh air of early morning, and fresh it is even in Australia before the burning sun gains his power over the world.

We camped near a water-hole, from which we obtained all the fluid we required for our morning's meal. We had again mounted and were going round on the opposite side, when Bracewell exclaimed--"The blacks have been here. See, here are the remains of their fire still smouldering. They cannot have left it very long. We must keep a look-out for them when passing any spot from which they may hurl their lances should they be badly disposed; not that that is likely to be the case, and they certainly will not venture to attack us in the open."

Toby, who had examined the ground, gave it as his opinion that they had gone away to the northwards and that, being probably on a hunting expedition, they would be too intent on attacking their game to annoy us. Toby was right, and in about half an hour, just as we reached the top of a slight ridge or elevation which had before hidden them from view, we caught sight of several dusky figures, each holding in his hand a throwing-stick with a long spear attached to it. One of them had fixed to his left arm a shield of boughs which concealed his body as he crept towards a group of kangaroos feeding in the grassy bottom. As the hunters did not perceive us and we had time, we stood still watching them.

The throwing or throw-stick, is to serve the purpose of a sling for casting the spear. A heavy flat piece of wood, between two and three feet long, has at one end a slight hollow into which the end of the spear is fitted while at the other is a heavy weight, thus assisting the hunter in the act of throwing the spear. Except a small fillet of grass the natives wore not a particle of clothing, though there were several scarifications on their bodies; and what sailors call a spritsail-yard run through their nostrils which added to the ferocity of their appearance.

As we wanted to see how they would proceed, we kept as much as possible behind the ridge, and as the wind came from the kangaroos to us, we were not discovered by the animals. All this time the hunters were creeping forward, concealing themselves among the shrubs and trees until they got near enough to the game to hurl their spears with effect.

One fellow crept forward, holding his shield of boughs, until it seemed to us that he was almost close up to the kangaroos. Then his spear flew from his throwing-stick with so tremendous a force that the animal was almost pinned to the ground. Not a spear missed, and almost at the same moment three kangaroos were killed. Three others hopped away, but were pursued by the nimble-footed hunters, who using their throwing-sticks as clubs, despatched the animals with reiterated blows on the head.

Not until the hunt was over did we show ourselves, when we astonished the savages standing over their slain game. Fixing their spears in their sticks they threatened to launch them against us should we attempt to deprive them of their prizes. On seeing this we directed Toby to say that we had no intention of interfering with them. Whether or not they understood him, however, we could not tell, for they stood without altering their position, and not wishing to have an encounter with them which must have ended in bloodshed, we made a wide circuit beyond the reach of their weapons. When we looked back we saw them joined by a large number of their fellows who were employed in dragging off the bodies of the kangaroos.

"I am afraid you will be in some danger from them on your return," I observed to Bracewell.

"No fear of that," he answered. "They will be too busy in gorging themselves with the flesh of the kangaroos; besides they will not be on the look-out for me, and a well-mounted man, provided he doesn't come unexpectedly on a mob, need have no fear of them. My rifle can carry farther than their throwing-sticks, a fact of which they are well aware."

We soon lost sight of the blacks, and after riding on several miles further, our friend told us that he must bid us farewell, promising, however, to ride over to Mr Strong's station, should he find he could leave home, to see how we were getting on. "And remember," he added, "I shall be glad if one or both of you can join me, should you not find yourselves comfortable at your relative's; and if he has moved on, as he intended doing, to another station, come back if you think fit at once; though probably, if he expects you, he will have left word that you may be forwarded on to him. He has, I understand, a large family, but as we have never met I cannot give you a description of them. I need not warn you to keep as good a watch at night as you have hitherto done, and to avoid either blacks or suspicious looking white men, though I do not mean to say that you are to look upon every traveller you meet with as a bushranger."

We having again thanked Bracewell for his advice and the hospitality he had shown us, he turned his horse's head towards his home, and we proceeded on our journey.

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CHAPTER TWOThe night passed as Bracewell had predicted, without a visit from the natives; and as he assured us that they were not at all likely to attack four armed men in the day-time, we, being anxious to become better acquainted with them, agreed before setting off to pay a visit to their camp. They were sure indeed to find ours out; so that it would be as well to show that we had no fear of them, and to gain their friendship. On examining the birds we had cooked the previous evening we found they had been nearly devoured
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