For a few days the man rested, and then, just when work—hard work—was the one thing needful, Dan came in for a consultation, and with him a traveller, the bearer of a message from our kind, great-hearted chief to say that work was waiting for the mate at the line party. Our chief was the personification of all that is best in the bush-folk (as all bushmen will testify to his memory)—men’s lives crossed his by chance just here and there, but at those crossing places life have been happier and better. For one long weary day the mate’s life had run parallel with our chief’s, and because of that, when he left us his heart was lighter than ever we had dared to hope for. But this man was not to fade quite out of our lives, for deep in that loyal heart the Maluka had been enshrined as “one in ten thousand.”
The bearer of the chief’s message had also carried out all extra mail for us, and, opening it, we found the usual questions of the South folk.
“Whatever do you do with your time?” they all asked. “The monotony would kill me,” some declared. “Every day must seem the same,” said others: every one agreeing that life out-bush was stagnation, and all marvelling that we did not die of ennui.
“Whatever do you do with your time?” The day Neaves’s mate left was devoted to housekeeping duties—“spring-cleaning,” the Maluka called it, while Dan drew vivid word-pictures of dogs cleaning their own chains. The day after that was filled in with preparations for a walk-about, and the next again found us camped at Bitter Springs. Monotony! when of the thirty days that followed these three every day was alike only in being different from any other, excepting in their almost unvarying menu: beef and damper and tea for a first course, and tea and damper and jam for a second. They also resembled each other, and all other days out-bush, in the necessity of dressing in a camp mosquito net. “Stagnation!” they called it, when no day was long enough for its work, and almost every night found us camped a day’s journey from our breakfast camp.
It was August, well on in the Dry, and on a cattle station in the Never-Never “things hum” in August. All the surface waters are drying up by then, and the outside cattle—those scattered away beyond the borders—are obliged to come in to the permanent waters, and must be gathered in and branded before the showers scatter them again.
We were altogether at the Springs: Dan, the Dandy, the Quiet Stockman, ourselves, every horse-"boy” that could be mustered, a numerous staff of camp “boys” for the Dandy’s work, and an almost complete complement of dogs, Little Tiddle’ums only being absent, detained at the homestead this time with the cares of a nursery. A goodly company all told as we sat among the camp fires, with our horses clanking through the timber in their hobbles: forty horses and more, pack teams and relays for the whole company and riding hacks, in addition to both stock and camp horses for active mustering; for it requires over two hundred horses to get through successfully a year’s work on a “little place like the Elsey.”