The whole camp, black and white, came to the rescue but it was an awful work getting the exhausted creature out of its death-trap. The hole had to be cut back to a solid ridge of rocky soil, saplings cut to form a solid slope from the bed of the river to the ground above, and the poor brute roped and literally hauled up the slope by sheer force and strength of numbers. After an hour’s digging, dragging, and rope-pulling, the horse was standing on solid turf, a new pool had been added to the Springs, and none of us had much hankering for riding over springy country.
The hour’s work among the pools awakened the latent geologist in all of us, excepting Dan, and set us rooting at the bottom of one of the pools for a piece of the terraced limestone.
It was difficult to dislodge, and our efforts reminded Dan of a night spent in the camp of a geologist—a man with many letters after his name. “Had the chaps heaving rocks round for him half his time,” he said. “Couldn’t see much sense in it meself.” Dan spoke of the geologist as “one of them old Alphabets.” “Never met a chap with so many letters in his brand,” he explained. “He was one of them taxydermy blokes, you know, that’s always messing round with stones and things.”
Out of the water, the opal tints died out of the limestone, and the geologist in us went to sleep again when we found that all we had for our trouble was a piece of dirty-looking rock. Like Dan, we saw little sense in “heaving rocks round,” and went back to the camp and the business of packing up for the homestead.
About next midday we rode into the homestead thoroughfare, where Cheon and Tiddle’ums welcomed us with enthusiasm, but Cheon’s enthusiasm turned to indignation when he found we were only in for a day or two.
“What’s ’er matter?” he ejaculated. “Missus no more stockrider”; but a letter waiting for us at the homestead made “bush” more than ever imperative: a letter, from the foreman of the telegraphic repairing line party, asking for a mob of killers, and fixing a date for its delivery to one “Happy Dick.”
“Spoke just in the nick of time,” Dan said; but as we discussed plans Cheon hinted darkly that the Maluka was not a fit and proper person to be entrusted with the care of a woman, and suggested that he should undertake to treat the missus as she should be treated, while the Maluka attended to the cattle.
Fate, however, interfered to keep the missus at the homestead, to persuade Cheon that, after all, the Maluka was a fit and proper person to have the care of a woman, and to find a very present use for the house; an influenza sore-throat breaking out in the camp, the missus developed it, and Dan went out alone to find the Quiet Stockman and the “killers” for Happy Dick.
Before a week was out the Maluka and Cheon had won each other’s undying regard because of their treatment of the missus.