Considering ourselves homeless, the Maluka decided that we should “go bush” for awhile during Johnny’s absence beginning with a short tour of inspection through some of the southern country of the run; intending, if all were well there, to prepare for a general horse-muster along the north of the Roper. Nothing could be done with the cattle until “after the Wet.”
Only Dan and the inevitable black “boy” were to be with us on this preliminary walk-about; but all hands were to turn out for the muster, to the Quiet Stockman’s dismay.
“Thought they mostly sat about and sewed,” he said in the quarters. Little did the Sanguine Scot guess what he was doing when he “culled” needlework from the “mob” at Pine Creek.
The walk-about was looked upon as a reprieve, and when a traveller, expressing sympathy, suggested that “it might sicken her a bit of camp life,” Jack clung to that hope desperately.
Most of the nigger world turned up to see the “missus mount,” that still being something worth seeing. Apart from the mystery of the side-saddle, and the joke of seeing her in an enormous mushroom hat, there was the interest of the mounting itself; Jackeroo having spread a report that the Maluka held out his hands, while the missus ran up them and sat herself upon the horse’s back.
“They reckon you have escaped from a “Wild West Show,” Dan said, tickled at the look of wonder on some of the faces as I settled myself in the saddle. We learned later that Jackeroo had tried to run up Jimmy’s hands to illustrate the performance in camp, and, failing, had naturally blamed Jimmy, causing report to add that the Maluka was a very Samson in strength.
“A dress rehearsal for the cattle-musters later on,” Dan called the walk-about, looking with approval on my cartridge belt and revolver; and after a few small mobs of cattle had been rounded up and looked over, he suggested “rehearsing that part of the performance where the missus gets lost, and catches cows and milks ’em.”
“Now’s your chance, missus,” he shouted, as a scared, frightened beast broke from the mob in hand, and went crashing through the undergrowth. “There’s one all by herself to practice on.” Dan’s system of education, being founded on object-lessons, was mightily convincing; and for that trip, anyway, he had a very humble pupil to instruct in the “ways of telling the signs of water at hand.”
All day as we zigzagged through scrub and timber, visiting water-holes and following up cattle-pads, the solitude of the bush seemed only a pleasant seclusion; and the deep forest glades, shady pathways leading to the outside world; but at night, when the camp had been fixed up in the silent depths of a dark Leichhardt-pine forest, the seclusion had become an isolation that made itself felt, and the shady pathways, miles of dark treacherous forest between us and our fellow-men.