The night, in truth, was very dark. It was now midsummer, at which time with us the days are so long that the coming of the one almost catches the departure of its predecessor. But Gangoil was not far outside the tropics, and there were no long summer nights. The heat was intense; but there was a low soughing wind which seemed to moan among the trees without moving them. As they crossed the little home inclosure and the horse paddock, the track was just visible, the trees being dead and the spaces open. About half a mile from the house, while they were still in the horse paddock, Harry turned from the track, and Jacko, of course, turned with him. “You can sit your horse jumping, Jacko?” he asked.
“My word! jump like glory,” answered Jacko. He was soon tried. Harry rode at the bush fence—which was not, indeed, much of a fence, made of logs lengthways and crossways, about three feet and a half high— and went over it. Jacko followed him, rushing his horse at the leap, losing his seat and almost falling over the animal’s shoulders as he came to the ground. “My word!” said Jacko, just saving himself by a scramble; “who ever saw the like of that?”
“Why don’t you sit in your saddle, you stupid young duffer?”
“Sit in my saddle! Why don’t he jump proper? Well, you go on. I don’t know that I’m a duffer. Duffer, indeed! My word!” Heathcote had turned to the left, leaving the track, which was, indeed, the main road toward the nearest town and the coast, and was now pushing on through the forest with no pathway at all to guide him. To ordinary eyes the attempt to steer any course would have been hopeless. But an Australian squatter, if he have any well-grounded claim to the character of a bushman, has eyes which are not ordinary, and he has, probably, nurtured within himself, unconsciously, topographical instincts which are unintelligible to the inhabitants of cities. Harry, too, was near his own home, and went forward through the thick gloom without a doubt, Jacko following him faithfully. In about half an hour they came to another fence, but now it was too absolutely dark for jumping. Harry had not seen it till he was close to it, and then he pulled up his horse. “My word! why don’t you jump away, Mr. Harry? Who’s a duffer now?”
“Hold your tongue, or I’ll put my whip across your back. Get down and help me pull a log away. The horses couldn’t see where to put their feet.” Jacko did as he was bid, and worked hard, but still grumbled at having been called a duffer. The animals were quickly led over, the logs were replaced, and the two were again galloping through the forest.
“I thought you were making for the wool-shed,” said Jacko.
“We’re eight miles beyond the wool-shed,” said Harry. They had now crossed another paddock, and had come to the extreme fence on the run. The Gangoil pastures extended much further, but in that direction had not as yet been inclosed. Here they both got off their horses and walked along the fence till they came to an opening, with a slip panel, or movable bars, which had been Heathcote’s intended destination. “Hold the horses, Jacko, till I come back,” he said.