Dan never joined us in the evenings without an invitation, although he was not above putting himself in the way of one. Whenever he felt inclined for what he called “a pitch with the boss and missus” he would saunter past at a little distance, apparently bound for the billabong, but in reality ready to respond to the Maluka’s “Is that you, Dan?” although just as ready to saunter on if that invitation was not forthcoming—a happy little arrangement born of that tact and delicacy of the bush-folk that never intrudes on another man’s privacy.
Dan being just Dan rarely had need to saunter on; and as he sewed down on the grass in acceptance of this usual form of invitation, he wagged his head wisely, declaring “she had got on so well with her education that it ’ud be a pity not to finish her off properly.” Then dropping his bantering tone, he reported a scatter-on among the river cattle.
“I wasn’t going to say anything about it before the “boys,” he said, “but it’s time some one gave a surprise party down the river;” and a “scatter-on” meaning “niggers in,” Maluka readily agreed to a surprise patrol of the river country, that being forbidden ground for blacks’ camps.
“It’s no good going unless it’s going to be a surprise party,” Dan reiterated; and when the Quiet Stockman was called across from the Quarters, he was told that “there wasn’t going to be no talking before the boys.”
Further consultations being necessary, Dan feared arousing suspicion, and to ensure his surprise party, and to guard against any word of the coming patrol being sent out-bush by the station “boys,” he indulged in a little dust-throwing, and there was much talking in public about going “out to the north-west for the boss to have another look round there,” and much laying of deep plans in private.
Finally, it was decided that the Quiet Stockman and his “boys” were to patrol the country north from the river while we were to keep to the south banks and follow the river down to the boundaries in all its windings, each party appointed to camp at the Red Lily lagoons second night out, each, of course, on its own side of the river. It being necessary for Jack to cross the river beyond the Springs, he left the homestead half a day before us—public gossip reporting that he was “going beyond the Waterhouse horse mustering,” and Dan finding dust-throwing highly diverting, shouted after him that he “might as well bring some fresh relays to the Yellow Hole in a day or two,” and then giving his attention to the packing of swags and pack-bags, “reckoned things were just about fixed up for a surprise party.”
At our appointed time we left the homestead, taking the north-west track for over a mile to continue the dust-throwing; and for the whole length of that mile Dan reiterated the “advantages of surprise parties,” and his opinion that “things were just about properly fixed up for one”; and when we left the track abruptly and set off across country at right angles to it, Sambo’s quick questioning, suspicious glance made it very evident that he, for one, had gleaned no inkling of the patrol, which naturally filled Dan with delight.