The buck-board only being decided on, he expressed himself bitterly disappointed, but promised to do his best with that and the horses; until hearing that Mac was to go out to the “five-mile” overnight with the pack-team and loose horses, leaving us to follow at sun-up, he became disconsolate and refused even to witness the departure.
“I’d ’av willingly bust meself cheering a procession and lining the track with frantic crowds,” he said, “but I’m too fat to work up any enthusiasm over two people in a buck-board.”
A little before sundown Mac set out, after instructing the Katherine to “get the buck-board off early,” and just before the Katherine “turned in” for the night, the Maluka went to the office to settle accounts with Mine Host.
In five minutes he was back, standing among the ponchianas, and then after a little while of silence he said gently: “Mac was right. A woman does not represent business here.” Mine Host had indignantly refused payment for a woman’s board and lodging.
“I had to pay, though,” the Maluka laughed, with one of his quick changes of humour. “But, then, I’m only a man.”
When we arrived at the five-mile in the morning we found Mac “packed up” and ready for the start, and, passing the reins to him, the Maluka said, “You know the road best “; and Mac, being what he called a “bit of a Jehu,” we set off in great style across country, apparently missing trees by a hair’s breadth, and bumping over the ant-hills, boulders, and broken boughs that lay half-hidden in the long grass.
After being nearly bumped out of the buck-board several times, I asked if there wasn’t any track anywhere; and Mac once again exploded with astonishment.
“We’re on the track,” he shouted. “Good Heavens I do you mean to say you can’t see it on ahead there?” and he pointed towards what looked like thickly timbered country, plentifully strewn with further boulders and boughs and ant-hills; and as I shook my head, he shrugged his shoulders hopelessly. “And we’re on the main transcontinental route from Adelaide to Port Darwin,” he said.
“Any track anywhere!” he mimicked presently, as we lurched, and heaved, and bumped along. “What’ll she say when we get into the long-grass country?”
“Long here!” he ejaculated, when I thought the grass we were driving through was fairly long (it was about three feet). “Just you wait!”
I waited submissively, if bouncing about a buck-board over thirty miles of obstacles can be called waiting, and next day we “got into the long-grass country”, miles of grass, waving level with and above our heads—grass ten feet high and more, shutting out everything but grass.
The Maluka was riding a little behind, at the head of the pack-team, but we could see neither him nor the team, and Mac looked triumphantly round as the staunch little horses pushed on through the forest of grass that swirled and bent and swished and reeled all about the buck-board.