Geoffrey Hamlyn, by Henry Kingsley

Chapter 19

I Hire a New Horsebreaker.

I must leave them to go their way towards their new home, and follow my own fortunes a little, for that afternoon I met with an adventure quite trifling indeed, but which is not altogether without interest in this story.

I rode on till high noon, till having crossed the valley of the Belloury, and followed up one of its tributary creeks, I had come on to the water system of another main river, and the rapid widening of the gully whose course I was pursuing assured me that I could not be far from the main stream itself. At length I entered a broad flat, intersected by a deep and tortuous creek, and here I determined to camp till the noon-day heat was past, before I continued my journey, calculating that I could easily reach home the next day.

Having watered my horse, I turned him loose for a graze, and, making such a dinner as was possible under the circumstances, I lit a pipe and lay down on the long grass, under the flowering wattle-trees, smoking and watching the manoeuvres of a little tortoise, who was disporting himself in the waterhole before me. Getting tired of that I lay back on the grass, and watched the green leaves waving and shivering against the clear blue sky, given up entirely to the greatest of human enjoyments — the after dinner pipe, the pipe of peace.

Which is the pleasantest pipe in the day? We used to say at home that a man should smoke but four pipes a-day: the matutinal, another I don’t specify, the post-prandial, and the symposial or convivial, which last may be infinitely subdivided, according to the quantity of drink taken. But in Australia this division won’t obtain, particularly when you are on the tramp. Just when you wake from a dreamless sleep beneath the forest boughs, as the east begins to blaze, and the magpie gets musical, you dash to the embers of last night’s fire, and after blowing many fire-sticks find one which is alight, and proceed to send abroad on the morning breeze the scent of last night’s dottle. Then, when breakfast is over and the horses are caught up and saddled, and you are jogging across the plain, with the friend of your heart beside you, the burnt incense once more goes up, and conversation is unnecessary. At ten o’clock when you cross the creek (you always cross a creek about ten if you are in a good country), you halt and smoke. So after dinner in the lazy noon-tide, one or perhaps two pipes are necessary, with, perhaps, another about four in the afternoon, and last, and perhaps best of all, are the three or four you smoke before the fire at night, when the day is dying and the opossums are beginning to chatter in the twilight. So that you find that a fig of Barret’s twist, seventeen to the pound, is gone in the mere hours of day-light without counting such a casualty as waking up cold in the night, and going at it again.

So I lay on my back dreaming, wondering why a locust who was in full screech close by, took the trouble to make that terrible row when it was so hot, and hoping that his sides might be sore with the exertion, when to my great astonishment I heard the sound of feet brushing through the grass towards me. “Black fellow,” I said to myself; but no, those were shodden feet that swept along so wearily. I raised myself on my elbow, with my hand on my pistol, and reconnoitred.

There approached me from down the creek a man, hardly reaching the middle size, lean and active-looking, narrow in the flanks, thin in the jaws, his knees well apart; with a keen bright eye in his head; his clothes looked as if they had belonged to ten different men; and his gait was heavy, and his face red, as if from a long hurried walk; but I said at once, “Here comes a riding man, at all events, be it for peace or war.”

“Good day, lad,” said I.

“Good day, sir.”

“You’re rather off the tracks for a foot-man;” said I. “Are you looking for your horse?”

“Deuce a horse have I got to my name, sir — have you got a feed of anything? I’m nigh starved.”

“Ay, surely: the tea’s cold; put it on the embers and warm it a bit; here’s beef, and damper too, plenty.”

I lit another pipe and watched his meal. I like feeding a real hungry man; it’s almost as good as eating oneself — sometimes better.

When the edge of his appetite was taken off he began to talk; he said first —

“Got a station anywheres about here, sir?”

“No, I’m Hamlyn of the Durnongs, away by Maneroo.”

“Oh! ay; I know you, sir; which way have you come this morning?”

“Southward; I crossed the Belloury about seven o’clock.”

“That, indeed! You haven’t seen anything of three bullock drays and a mob of cattle going south?”

“Yes! I camped with such a lot last night!”

“Not Major Buckley’s lot?”

“The same.”

“And how far were they on?”

“They crossed the range at daylight this morning; — they’re thirty miles away by now.”

He threw his hat on the ground with an oath: “I shall never catch them up. I daren’t cross that range on foot into the new country, and those black devils lurking round. He shouldn’t have left me like that; — all my own fault, though, for staying behind! No, no, he’s true enough — all my own fault. But I wouldn’t have left him so, neither; but, perhaps, he don’t think I’m so far behind.”

I saw that the man was in earnest, for his eyes were swimming; — he was too dry for tears; but though he looked a desperate scamp, I couldn’t help pitying him and saying —

“You seem vexed you couldn’t catch them up; were you going along with the Major, then?”

“No, sir; I wasn’t hired with him; but an old mate of mine, Bill Lee, is gone along with him to show him some country, and I was going to stick to him and see if the Major would take me; we haven’t been parted for many years, not Bill and I haven’t; and the worst of it is, that he’ll think I’ve slipped away from him, instead of following him fifty mile on foot to catch him. Well! it can’t be helped now; I must look round and get a job somewhere till I get a chance to join him. Were you travelling with them, sir?”

“No, I’m after some cattle I’ve lost; a fine imported bull, too — worse luck! We’ll never see him again, I’m afraid, and if I do find them how I am to get them home single handed, I don’t know.”

“Do you mean, a short-horned Durham bull with a key brand? Why, if that’s him, I can lay you on to him at once; he’s up at Jamieson’s, here to the west. I was staying at Watson’s last night, and one of Jamieson’s men staid in the hut — a young hand; and, talking about beasts, he said that there was a fine short-horned bull come on to their run with a mob of heifers and cows, and they couldn’t make out who they belonged to; they were all different brands.”

“That’s our lot for a thousand,” says I; “a lot of store cattle we bought this year from the Hunter, and haven’t branded yet — more shame to us.”

“If you could get a horse and saddle from Jamieson’s, sir,” said he, “I could give you a hand home with them: I’d like to get a job somehow, and I’m well used to cattle.”

“Done with you,” said I; “Jamieson’s isn’t ten miles from here, and we can do that to-night if we look sharp. Come along, my lad.”

So I caught up the horse, and away we went. Starting at right angles with the sun, which was nearly overhead, and keeping to the left of him holding such a course, as he got lower, that an hour and half, or thereabouts, before setting he should be in my face, and at sundown a little to the left; — the best direction I can give you for going about due west in November, without a compass — which, by the way, you always ought to have.

My companion was foot-sore, so I went slowly; he, however, shambled along bravely when his feet got warm. He was a talkative, lively man, and chattered continually.

“You’ve got a nice place up at the Durnongs, sir,” said he; “I stayed in your huts one night. It’s the comfortablest bachelor station on this side. You’ve got a smart few sheep, I expect?”

“Twenty-five thousand. Do you know these parts well?”

“I knew that country of yours long before any of it was took up.”

“You’ve been a long while in the country, then?”

“I was sent out when I was eighteen; spared, as the old judge said, on account of my youth: that’s eleven years ago.”

“Spared, eh? It was something serious, then?”

“Trifling enough: only for having a rope in my hand.”

“They wouldn’t lag a man for that,” said I.

“Ay, but,” he replied, “there was a horse at the end of the rope. I was brought up in a training stable, and somehow there’s something in the smell of a stable is sure to send a man wrong if he don’t take care. I got betting and drinking, too, as young chaps will, and lost my place, and got from bad to worse till I shook a nag, and got bowled out and lagged. That’s about my history, sir; will you give me a job, now?” and he looked up, laughing.

“Ay, why not?” said I. “Because you tried hard to go to the devil when you were young and foolish, it don’t follow that you should pursue that line of conduct all your life. You’ve been in a training stable, eh? If you can break horses, I may find you something to do.”

“I’ll break horses against any man in this country — though that’s not saying much, for I ain’t seen not what I call a breaker since I’ve been here; as for riding, I’d ridden seven great winners before I was eighteen; and that’s what ne’er a man alive can say. Ah, those were the rosy times! Ah for old Newmarket!”

“Are you a Cambridgeshire man, then?”

“Me? Oh, no; I’m a Devonshire man. I come near from where Major Buckley lived some years. Did you notice a pale, pretty-looking woman, was with him — Mrs. Hawker?”

I grew all attention. “Yes,” I said, “I noticed her.”

“I knew her husband well,” he said, “and an awful rascal he was: he was lagged for coining, though he might have been for half-a-dozen things besides.”

“Indeed!” said I; “and is he in the colony?”

“No; he’s over the water, I expect.”

“In Van Diemen’s Land, you mean?”

“Just so,” he said; “he had better not show Bill Lee much of his face, or there’ll be mischief.”

“Lee owes him a grudge, then?”

“Not exactly that,” said my communicative friend, “but I don’t think that Hawker will show much where Lee is.”

“I am very glad to hear it,” I thought to myself. “I hope Mary may not have some trouble with her husband still.”

“What is the name of the place Major Buckley comes from?” I inquired.

“Drumston.”

“And you belong there too?” I knew very well however, that he did not, or I must have known him.

“No,” he answered; “Okehampton is my native place. But you talk a little Devon yourself, sir.”

The conversation came to a close, for we heard the barking of dogs, and saw the station where we were to spend the night. In the morning I went home, and my new acquaintance, who called himself Dick, along with me. Finding that he was a first-rate rider, and gentle and handy among horses, I took him into my service permanently, and soon got to like him very well.

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 21:44