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Title: In the Musgrave Ranges
Author: Sayce, Conrad H. (Conrad Harvey), 1888-1935
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "In the Musgrave Ranges" ***

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[Frontispiece: THE OUTPOST OF DEATH  _Page 253_]





Author of "The Golden Valley" &c.




[Transcriber's Note: "Jim Bushman" is a pseudonym of Conrad H. Sayce.]

Blackie's Imperial Library

  Ann's Great Adventure.  E. E. Cowper.
  The Golden Magnet.  G. Manville Fenn.
  Every Inch a Briton.  Meredith Fletcher.
  'Twixt Earth and Sky.  C. R. Kenyon.
  In the Musgrave Ranges.  Jim Bushman.
  No Ordinary Girl.  Bessie Marchant.
  Norah to the Rescue.  Bessie Marchant.
  What Happened to Kitty.  Theodora Wilson Wilson.



      I.  A TORNADO
     II.  CAMELS
     XI.  THIRST



A Tornado

Towards the end of a long hot day, a shabby mixed train stopped at one
of the most wonderful townships in the world, Hergott Springs, the
first of the great cattle-trucking depots of Central Australia.  It was
dark, but a hurricane lantern, swung under a veranda, showed that the
men who were waiting for the train were not ordinary men.  They were
men of the desert.  Most of them were tall, thin, weather-beaten
Australians, in shirt sleeves and strong trousers worn smooth inside
the leg with much riding.  A few Afghans were there too, big,
dignified, and silent, with white turbans above their black faces;
while a little distance away was a crowd of aboriginal men and women,
yabbering excitedly and laughing together because the fortnightly train
had at last come in.  The same crowd would watch it start out in the
morning on the last stage of its long journey to Oodnadatta, the
railway terminus and the metropolis of Central Australia.

There were very few passengers on the train, and all of them seemed
known to everybody and were greeted with hearty handshakes and loud
rough words of welcome back to the North.  Two passengers, however, did
not get out of the carriage for a time, being unwilling to face that
crowd of absolute strangers.  They were Saxon Stobart and Rodger
Vaughan, boys of about fifteen, who were on their way to Oodnadatta.
It was their first sight of the back country.

Presently a big man with only one eye climbed back into the carriage
where they were sitting.  "Here, don't you lads want a feed?" he asked.
"You won't get it here, you know."

"We don't know where to go," said one of them.  "We thought we'd wait a

"Don't you do too much waiting in this part of the country," said the
man kindly.  "You just hop in and get your cut.  See?  You'll get left
if you don't.  Now, get hold of your things and come along.  I'll fix
you up."

The result of the stranger's kindness was that the two boys shared a
room with him at the only hotel in the place, and had a hearty meal in
a room full of men in shirt sleeves, who shouted to one another and
laughed in the most friendly manner.

After tea the two friends went out into the sandy street to stretch
their legs after the long day's railway ride, before going to bed.  It
was so dark that they couldn't see anything at first, and nearly ran
into a knot of men who were standing and smoking.  They recognized the
voice of one of them as that of the man who had taken them over to the
hotel.  They knew him only as Peter, a name which his companions called

"I never saw it look so bad," he was saying.  "Just look at the moon,

"How far away d'you reckon it is?" asked another man.  "It's a long way
yet, I reckon.  You can't hear any thunder.  I wonder if it's coming
this way."

Vaughan nudged his companion.  "What are they talking about, Sax?" he

Stobart pointed north into the darkness.  Overhead, and nearly to the
horizon, the sky was a mass of stars, but just on the northern horizon
was a patch where no stars were to be seen.  As their eyes became
accustomed to the night, they saw that this patch looked as if it was
alive with flashing, coiling, darting red things.  It was like a mass
of snakes squirming in agony, and now and again a clear white jet of
light came out of the darkness, as if one of them was spitting venom at
the sky.  In reality, the boys were looking at one of those terrible
electric storms which tear across Central Australia after a severe
drought, and the lurid colours were caused by lightning flashing inside
a very thick cloud.

But no interest was strong enough to overcome the healthy weariness of
the boys, and they went to bed soon afterwards and fell asleep almost
at once.

Saxon Stobart was the son of a famous drover who took huge mobs of
cattle across the centre of the continent, and who was noted for his
pluck and endurance, and for his skill as a bushman, which enabled him
to travel through parts of the country where very few white men have
ever been.  His son had many of the qualities of mind and body which
had made his father such a fine man.  He was tall and thin, but was as
active as a cat and stronger than most boys of his size and age.  His
friend Vaughan was a different-looking boy altogether.  He was short
and thick-set.  Although Vaughan was not fat, he was so solidly built
that his nickname "Boof" suited him very well indeed.  His father used
to own Langdale Station, a big sheep run in the Western District, but a
series of bad droughts had forced him to sell the place.

The two boys had been great friends at school, and when Drover Stobart
wrote to his son: "Come on up to Oodnadatta for a bit of a holiday
before settling down, and bring your mate along with you", they both
accepted the invitation with enthusiasm.

      *      *      *      *      *

The boys were suddenly roused from sound sleep about three o'clock next
morning by someone in the room shouting at them; "Hi, there!  Hi!  Get
up, it's coming.  Get up quick."

The next instant the bedclothes were jerked back and a man was pulling
them roughly to their feet.  It was all so sudden and unexpected that
each boy thought that he was dreaming; but as the man shook and punched
them into activity, they became aware of a terrifying noise coming at
them across the desert through the black darkness of the night.  The
air vibrated with a tremendous booming which affected their ears like
the deep notes of a huge organ, and the loudest shout was only just

"It's me.  It's Peter," said a voice at their side.

"Come for your lives.  The tornado's right on top of us."

He caught each boy firmly by the wrist and dragged them, dressed only
in pyjamas just as they had tumbled out of bed, out of the room, down
the corridor, and out at the back of the hotel.  Everything was in
confusion.  They bumped into people and upset chairs and things in
their mad rush.  Now and again Peter's voice rose above the din,
shouting, "The tank!  The tank!" but nobody paid any attention, even if
they heard the voice of a man above that other and more dreadful voice
which was coming nearer and nearer and striking terror into the hearts
even of the brave dwellers in the desert.

The shock of the night air did more than anything else fully to arouse
the boys.  It was like a dash of cold water, and though Peter still
kept a tight grip of them, they ran along level with him of their own
accord.  Out into the yard they dashed, round one or two corners, over
a fence at the back of an outhouse, and suddenly the man stopped dead
and began pulling at something on the ground.  It was a grating with a
big iron handle.  It stuck.  The approaching tornado roared with anger
while the man put out all his great strength.  The booming sound rose
to a shriek of triumph, as if the storm actually saw that these
escaping human beings were delivered into its power.  But Peter's
muscles were like steel and leather.  He strained till the veins stood
out on his forehead like rope.  At last the thing loosened and came up,
and the bushman sprawled on his back.  But he was on his feet again
instantly.  Speech would have been no good, so he gripped Vaughan by
the collar of his pyjamas and swung him into the hole in the ground,
and only waited long enough for the boy to find a foothold before he
did the same with Stobart.  Then he scrambled down himself.  They were
in a big cement rain-water tank built in the ground at the back of the
hotel.  There was no water in it.

Nobody spoke.  Nobody _could_ speak.  The air was so packed full of
sound that it seemed as if it could not possibly hold one sound more.
It was like the booming of a thousand great guns at the same time; the
shock, the recoil, and the rush of air across the entrance to the tank
was as if artillery practice on an immense scale were going on.  There
was a screaming sound as if shells were hurtling through space.  Now
the pitch blackness of the night was a solid mass; then it was red and
livid like a recent bruise; and then again, with a crackle like the
discharge of a Maxim, vivid flashes of white fire split the air.
Thunder rolled continuously and lightning played without stopping, in a
way which is seen and heard only on a battle-field or during a tornado
in the desert.  It sounded as if the pent-up fury of a thousand years
had suddenly been let loose upon that little collection of houses on
the vast barren plain.

Down in the tank it was as dark as a tomb.  The boys were close to one
another, crouched against the wall, unable to move through sheer
amazement.  Peter stood up and looked out through the entrance,
expecting every moment to hear the sound of houses being torn up from
their foundations and flung down again many yards distant, mere heaps
of splintered wood and twisted iron, with perhaps mangled human corpses
in the wreckage.  But such a sound did not come.

The tornado lasted about three minutes--that was all--and then it
passed, and all those tremendous sounds became muffled in the distance
as it retreated.

Gradually the stunned senses of the boys began to recover, and they
heard Peter speaking.  "It missed us," he was saying.  "It came pretty
close, though.  I thought the hotel was gone for a cert."  Then he
struck a match and held it to his pipe.  The little light flared up
steadily and showed two boys in pyjamas, the smooth cement walls of the
tank, and the bushman in his shirt and trousers, but without his boots.
It showed also a cat which had died a long time ago, and which had been
dried up by the great heat.  The sight of the squashed cat was so
funny, down in the tank, that the boys started to laugh.  It was a
relief to do so after the strain of the last few minutes.

"We'd better get out of this," said Peter, throwing the match at the
cat and starting to climb up an iron ladder.  "Were you lads much

It was so evident that they had been very much scared that their
emphatic denial of it made them all laugh again.  "I tell you, I was,"
confessed the bushman.  "I reckoned the whole town was going to glory.
It would have, too, if the wind had struck it.  The thing must have
turned off before it got here."

Such tornadoes as the one described occur in Central Australia just
before the breaking up of long droughts.  Sometimes they are mere
harmless willy-willies, which have not enough power to blow a man off
his horse, but now and again a bigger one comes along, which travels at
thirty or forty miles an hour at the centre and sweeps everything
before it.  These tornadoes may not be more than a quarter of a mile
across, and look from the distance like huge brown waterspouts coiling
up into the air till they are lost in the clear blue of the sky.
Sometimes the whirling column of sand leaves the ground for a time and
goes on spinning away high over the heads of everything, but it usually
comes down again and goes on tearing across the country.  The Central
Australian tornado must not be confused with the tropical typhoon or
cyclone, which is sometimes three or four hundred miles across.

Peter was right about the tornado turning off before it reached Hergott
Springs.  It came across the country from the Musgrave Ranges in the
north-west till it reached the Dingo Creek.  Here it turned and
followed the dry depression, wrecked the Dingo Creek railway bridge,
leaving it a mass of twisted iron and hanging sleepers, and then tore
on down the line, doing a great deal of damage and making straight for
the helpless township.

There is a very deep and wide cutting about a mile north of Hergott
Springs, and the fury of the wind that night completely filled it up
with sand from bank to bank.  This undoubtedly saved the town, for,
after this exhibition of its power, the tornado turned slightly to the
east, and missed the houses entirely.  The fringe of it, however,
touched the end of the station yard, where the great water-tank stood.
The wind caught this tremendous weight, lifted it from the platform,
and threw it fifty yards, while the steel pillars of the stand were
twisted together as if they had been cotton.  A tool-shed which used to
stand near the tank was moved bodily, and no trace of it was ever
found.  No doubt it was buried deep in one of the many sandhills which
these terrific winds leave behind them.



It was not till next morning that the boys saw that the tornado had
completely upset their plans.  During the few terrible minutes of the
storm, and for an hour afterwards, till sleep finally claimed them
again, excitement drove all thoughts of the future clean away.  But
when they awoke late next morning, and looked out at the sky, which was
blue and without a cloud, and across the sandy street at the collection
of iron station buildings and the train by which they had arrived and
which still stood waiting, and saw, beyond and around everything, the
tremendous stretches of yellow sand already blazing in the heat, the
affairs of the night seemed only a dream.

The reality of things was suddenly brought home to them when Peter came
into the room with a cheery, "Good morning!  How're you getting on?"

Both boys were feeling fine and said so, and then their friend told
them: "You'd better hurry on a bit.  The train starts back for town in
about an hour."

Sax was using the towel at the time, and when he heard what Peter said,
he stopped rubbing his face and looked at him in surprise.

"Back to town!" he exclaimed.  "But we don't want to go back to town.
We're going on to Oodnadatta."

"Going on to Oodnadatta, are you?" asked Peter, with a smile.  "And how
are you going to get there?"

"Why, by train, of course," broke in Vaughan.  Then suddenly the events
of the night appeared to him in a new light.  "That is--of course--if
it's running," he stammered.

"It's not running," said Peter.  "And you take it from me, it won't run
for a month or two.  The tornado smashed the Dingo Creek bridge and
tore up the line this side of it, too.  Besides, the Long Cutting's
full of sand.  It'll take them a couple of weeks to clean that out."

The boys were too much amazed to speak.  They looked at one another in
blank dismay.  They were indeed in a fix.  Drover Stobart waiting for
them in Oodnadatta, and here they were in Hergott Springs, and no
chance of getting out of it for a month or two.  Whatever were they to

Their bushman friend did not leave them long in uncertainty.  He was a
simple-hearted kindly man, and he could see by the boys' faces what
they were thinking about.  So he interrupted their gloomy thoughts by

"See here.  I don't know who you lads are, and you don't know much
about me.  But I've got to get to Oodnadatta some way or another.
There's a plant of horses and niggers waiting for me up there.  I'll
fix up something.  Would you care to come along with me?"

The boys' faces instantly showed their eager pleasure, and the man did
not need their words of thanks to assure him that he was doing them a
good turn.

"Thanks _awfully_!" they exclaimed.  "Thank you _very_ much, Mr.----"

"My name's Peter," said the man.  "And there's no 'Mister' about me.
What shall I call you two?"

"This is Vaughan," said Stobart, pointing to his friend.  "My name's

"Stobart!  Stobart!" said Peter in surprise.  "Anything to do with Boss

Sax had never heard his father's nickname, so he answered in a puzzled
tone, "Boss Stobart?"

"Yes, bless you.  Boss Stobart.  And a fine man too.  The best drover
that ever crossed a horse in this country.  Don't I know it too?  We
punched cattle together for ten years, did the Boss and me."

Sax's face beamed with delight.  "That's my father," he said proudly.

Peter's big hand shot out in greeting.  "So you're Boss Stobart's son,
are you?  Well, well, you seem a fine lad, and you've sure got a fine
father."  He also shook hands with Vaughan, and added: "So we're to be
mates, are we?  You leave things to me.  I'll let you know about it
when I've fixed things up."

Peter was busy all morning and the boys had time to look around the
township.  It seemed very small to them in comparison with the vast
plains which stretched away on all sides of it.  They felt sure that if
once they got away out of sight of the scattered houses, they would
never be able to find them again, for Hergott Springs is only a very
tiny spot on the face of the desert.  They watched the train go back
the way it had come the day before, and then walked up to the end of
the station yard to see the wrecked water-tank.  Flocks of goats
wandered about the township, picking up and eating bits of rubbish,
just like stray dogs.  They found that this was why the mutton they had
eaten for tea and breakfast was so tough; for, because sheep cannot
thrive in that part of the country, goats are kept and killed for meat.

Camels interested them very much.  These tall, awkward, smelly, grey
beasts stalked along with such dignity that it was almost impossible to
believe them capable of the hard work they do.  Through following a
string of camels, tied together from nose-line to tail, the boys came
to a collection of buildings outside the town proper.  This was Afghan
Town, where the black-skinned camel-drivers lived.  They watched some
camels kneeling down in the sand and being loaded with bags of flour
and sugar, chests of tea, and cases of jam and tinned meat.  These
bulky packages were roped to the saddle till it appeared as if the poor
beast underneath would never be able to get up.  But, one after the
other, they stood up when the time came, and stalked away, swaying
gently from side to side as they pad-padded silently across the soft

Suddenly the boys were startled by a most terrifying sound a little
distance away.  It was a bubbling roar, such as a bullock would make if
he tried to bellow when he was drowning.  They looked in the direction
it came: from, and saw a big bull camel, blowing its bladder out of its
mouth and lashing with its tail.  They went over and found the animal
standing in a little paddock fenced with strong stakes.  The boys had
never seen such a tremendous camel before.  Its body and fore legs were
thick and heavy, but its hind legs were trim and shapely, and reminded
them of the hind-quarters of a greyhound.  Its neck was broad and flat,
and looked very strong, while its head, with the bloodshot eyes and the
horrid red bladder hanging from the mouth, was not nice to see.  It
stood there with its fore feet fastened together by a chain, its hind
ones spread wide apart, twitching its tail about, and roaring with a
rumbling gurgle, either in rage or challenge.  It was a sight to strike
terror into anybody's heart.

Presently two Afghans came up and began to talk in English.  "Ah!" said
one, a little man, dressed in the blouse and baggy pantaloons of his
native country, his face looking very cruel.  "Ah!  That's old Abul, is
it?  I've not seen him for ten years.  He used to try and play tricks
with me, did Abul, but I taught him his lessons; didn't I, Abul?  I
taught him not to play with _me_."  He laughed at the remembrance of
the cruelties he had practised on that camel ten years ago.

"He's a good camel," replied the other man.  "He belongs to me.  He's a
very good camel.  He doesn't want to be beaten.  He works well.  I can
do anything I like with him."  He began to climb over the fence, but
the first speaker stopped him.

"What are you going to do?" he asked excitedly.  "You must not go in
there.  He is a bad camel, I tell you.  Abul is not safe.  I know him.
I was his master ten years ago."

"I'm only going to take off his hobbles," said the other man.

"Well, do not go in like that.  I used to throw a rope and tie him up
before I went near him.  He is a bad camel, I tell you.  But _I_ taught
him his lessons."  He laughed again, and Sax shuddered as he looked at
the man's cruel face.

But the present owner was not afraid.  He had been kind to Abul.  He
went up to the great grey beast and stood beside it, looking very small
indeed.  The camel could have killed the man without any difficulty
whatever, but, instead of that, it bent its head and looked at him and
allowed its master to rub it between the ears.

The Afghan outside the fence was very excited.  He muttered to himself,
and now and again shouted to his fellow-countryman: "Look out!  Look
out, I tell you!  That is only his way.  It is all his bluff.  Oh, he
is a very bad camel!  Look out, I tell you!"

The man inside the paddock took no notice of these warnings, for they
were quite unnecessary.  He stooped down and unfastened the hobbles
from the animal's fore feet, and stood up again with them in his hand,
and walked towards the fence where his companion was standing.  The
camel stalked after him.

Then an absolutely unexpected thing happened.  When Abul was about ten
yards from the fence, he made a sudden rush and grabbed his former
owner by the coat.  It was all so quick that no one knew what had
occurred till they saw the huge camel walking round his enclosure with
the screaming man dangling from his mouth.  The old camel was going to
have his revenge.  He remembered his tormentor of ten years ago, and
was going to kill him.

Suddenly there came a sound of tearing cloth.  The coat had torn.  The
man sprawled on the ground for a moment, and then scrambled to his
feet.  He made a dash for the fence, but the camel was too quick for
him.  The terrified Afghan started to run and, as there was no way of
escape, he had to run round and round the paddock with the camel at his
heels.  For a moment or two there was silence.  The spectators were too
much amazed to speak, and the unfortunate man himself was using all his
breath in his effort to evade his pursuer.  Abul could easily have
caught him, but it looked as if the animal wanted to play with the
cruel man, for he kept just behind him, whereas, if he had stretched
out his neck, he could have grabbed him at any time.

A crowd of Afghans and aboriginals were quickly drawn to the spot, but
they were far too excited to think of doing anything to help.  The man
was doomed.  The death would be a cruel one, but the man had deserved
it.  Sax, however, was a clear-headed boy, and though the whole affair
was more terrifying to him than to the others, because he was not used
to camels, a plan at once suggested itself to him.

The proper entrance to the paddock was a strong iron gate.  Shouting
out for Vaughan to follow him, Sax ran to the gate.  The Afghan had now
run three times round the little paddock, and as he came round the
fourth time, nearly exhausted, the boy called out to him.  Just as the
running man drew level with the gate Sax swung it open.  The man fell
through it and lay gasping on the sand, but the camel shot past it
before it saw that it had lost its prey.  The boys slammed the gate
shut again.  Abul turned and glared at them.  It was about to break
down the fence, which it could easily have done, when other camel-men
arrived on the scene, and drove it back with sticks and savage dogs.

When they arrived back at the hotel for dinner, they found that Peter
was looking for them.  "Where've you been all the morning?" he asked.

The boys told him about their wanderings around the town, and about the
bull camel which had nearly killed the Afghan.

"That must be Sultan Khan," said Peter.  "I heard last night that he
had come back into the country.  The police kicked him out ten years
ago for being cruel to his camels.  It's a pity the bull didn't get

Sax looked crestfallen.  It was not nice to hear that the man whom he
had just saved from a most terrible death would have been better left
to die.  But Peter reassured him at once.

"Of course I don't mean that really," he said.  "You did fine.  It's
what any decent white man would have tried to do.  But I suppose you're
dead scared of camels now."

The man went on to explain that he had arranged to travel north with a
string of camels which was leaving the township the same afternoon.
They would go as far as Dingo Creek and wait there for the train which
was being sent down from Oodnadatta.  "That's the best arrangement I
can make," said Peter.  "If you'd care to come along, now's your
chance.  You won't have much to do with camels, anyway.  But don't mind
saying if you'd rather not."

Both boys protested that they weren't a bit scared of camels and that
they were anxious to go right away; so, after dinner, they got their
belongings together and followed Peter to the outskirts of the town.
Here they found a line of fifty camels kneeling in the sand ready to

Most of them were heavily loaded with stores for Oodnadatta which had
come up on the same train as the boys had travelled by.  More than a
score of men had helped to unload the trucks that morning, and to
arrange the bags and cases and bales ready for being roped to the
camel-saddles.  The boys were very much amused by the antics of three
or four calf-camels.  They looked like big lambs on stilts, except that
their necks were longer.  They frisked about and did not seem at all
afraid; but when Vaughan tried to stroke one of them, it bumped into
him and knocked him over, which made everybody laugh.

The man in charge of the camels was not an Afghan; he was an Indian
named Becker Singh, a big, handsome, intelligent man, and he wore the
same rough sort of clothes and hat as any Australian in the back
country.  He showed Peter the two camels he had chosen for the boys,
and, after testing them himself, the bushman showed his two friends how
to arrange their blankets on the iron framework of the saddle in order
to make a comfortable seat, how to mount, and the easiest way to sit.

"Don't you try to do anything," he told them.  "Just get your feet into
the stirrups and sit loosely."

This was good advice and saved the boys the usual discomfort which
comes to those who ride a camel for the first time.  They had no need
to guide their camels, for all the animals were tied one behind the
other.  When everything was ready, Becker walked slowly down the long
line, giving a final inspection to each of his charges, then whistled
in a peculiar way.

All the camels stood up at once.  To the boys, this was the most
uncomfortable part of their experience, for a camel has four distinct
movements in getting up or down, and, unless the rider is used to them,
they are rather startling.  But once their mounts were really up, the
rest was plain sailing.  They swayed gently forward and back with each
stride of the camel and enjoyed the motion very much, and could see
over the country from their high position much better than they could
from horseback or on foot.

The three days' journey to the Dingo Creek Bridge was accomplished
without any accident, though the new method of travel and the new
country passed through were full of interest to the two boys.  Each
evening the long line of stately animals was coiled round in a big
circle at the camping-place, and the camels were made to kneel down
while their loads were unroped and their saddles taken off.  Then the
black boys who were helping Decker Singh hobbled the camels and drove
them off to pick up what food they could find during the night.  In the
morning the same boys brought them in and made them kneel in the right
places to be loaded again for the day.

To have their meals and to sleep near the packs was a novelty which the
boys very much enjoyed.  The blazing fire with the billies catching the
flame, the meal of bread and meat, the hour or two afterwards when they
lolled on the sand while Peter smoked and told yarns, and then the cool
quiet night with the myriad stars above them; these things made the
boys forget the little discomforts they were bound to encounter.

On the second day, towards the middle of the afternoon, a black dot
appeared on the horizon, growing bigger and bigger as they approached
it.  The sun beat down on the bare plains and made the whole landscape
quiver with heat, so that things in the distance looked blurred and it
was impossible to tell what they were.  In this instance the object
proved to be a group of date-palms growing round a pool made by a
bore-pipe.  On all sides of this little oasis stretched the barren
desert, and it was quite easy to believe that no man had been able to
live in that part of the country before this bore had been put down.

Peter told them that the pipe went straight down into the earth for
several thousand feet.  Water was struck suddenly.  One day, when the
men were boring as usual, a noise came up the pipe like sea waves in a
blow-hole of rock, a sort of gurgling roar accompanied by a rush of
air.  Then a column of water, as thick as a man's leg and as strong as
a bar of iron, shot up straight into the air and turned over at the top
like a gigantic umbrella.  The water struck the bore staging with such
tremendous force that it smashed a hole clean through a two-inch board
as if a shell had crashed into it, and it wrenched the other boards
from their supports and flung them for a hundred yards, just a useless
mass of splintered wood.  The man who was on the platform at the time
heard the water coming and jumped for his life.  He was not a moment
too soon.  If he had hesitated, he would have been blown to pieces.
The flow is not so strong nowadays, but it still reaches the top of the
pipe and flows over, and enables men and cattle to live in a country
which used to be a waterless desert.

A quarter of a mile north of the date-palms was a sand-hill with what
appeared like a few bushes on it.  Sax was looking at this hill when he
saw a coil of smoke rising up out of one of the bushes.  He was so
surprised that he called his friend's attention to it.

"I say, Boof," he exclaimed.  "'D'you see that smoke over there?  There
must be a camp or something."

Peter heard the remark and laughed.  "D'you know what that is?" he

"Why, bushes, of course," replied Sax.

"And what d'you reckon it is?" asked Peter again, turning to Vaughan.

Young Vaughan looked intently at the sand-hill where the smoke was
coming from.  He heard a dog bark, and then thought he saw a little
black human figure crawl out of one of the bushes, followed by another
and bigger figure.  It was all so far away that he wasn't sure that he
had seen correctly, so he answered with hesitation; "It looks as if
there were people in those bushes.  They don't live there, do they,

"They're not bushes," explained the man.  "They're what we call
'wurlies'.  They're sort of little huts the blacks live in.  You'll see
quite enough of them before you've been in this country long, I promise

The boys wanted to go over at once and see, so Peter good-naturedly
went with them.

The wurlies were made from branches pulled from the ragged trees which
grew around, and stuck in the sand with their tops brought together.
This framework was covered with bits of old bag or blanket.  The whole
thing was the shape of a pudding-basin turned upside down, and was not
more than three feet high in the middle or four feet wide at the bottom.

"Do they really live in there?" asked Sax.

"Sure thing," said Peter.  "They crawl in through that hole and curl
themselves up like dogs."

As he finished speaking, a shaggy head appeared at one of the holes.
The hair was stuck together in greasy plaits and hung down to the man's
shoulders.  He looked up at the visitors, half in and half out of the
wurley, and on his hands and knees just like an animal.  His face and
body were black and very dirty, and his head and chest were so thickly
covered with hair that the only features which stood out from the
matted tangle were a pair of very bright eyes and a flat, shining nose.

Peter said something which the lads did not understand, and the man
came out and stood upright.  He was quite naked and very thin.  His
legs seemed to be the same thickness all the way up, and his knees
looked like big swollen knuckles.  But his whole appearance gave the
impression that he could move very quickly if he wanted to, with the
graceful speed of a greyhound.  The woman and child whom Vaughan had
seen from the distance had run away like startled rabbits as the white
men came up, and the camp of six or seven wurlies seemed deserted
except for this one miserable specimen of humanity.  Bits of clothing,
tins, pieces of decaying food, and all sorts of dirt were strewn around
the camp and gave out such an unpleasant smell that the boys turned
away in disgust.

"What's the matter?" asked Peter.

"How horribly dirty he is," said Vaughan.  "Aren't some of them clean?"

"Oh yes," replied Peter.  "Most boys who work on stations are made to
use soap.  That's because they work with white men, or with decent
chaps like Becker Singh.  His boys aren't bad.  But you leave them
alone for a week, and they'll be just as bad as that old buck there.
Don't you ever forget--" he added earnestly, "don't you ever forget
that that's the real nigger you've just seen.  And don't you have too
much to do with them."

"There's not much fear of that," said Sax.

"Well, don't you forget it, that's all," repeated Peter.  "Many a good
lad has gone to the dogs through having too much to do with niggers."

They reached the Dingo Creek on the morning of the fourth day.  The
bridge was a complete wreck.  It was almost impossible to believe that
wind could have done so much damage.  The whole thing had been lifted
off the stanchions, twisted as easily as if it had been a ribbon of
paper, and then thrown down into the soft sand of the creek bed.  The
steel stanchions leaned this way and that; one of them had been torn up
from its concrete foundation, and another had been screwed about till
it looked like a gigantic corkscrew.  The bridge must have been caught
by the very centre of the tornado.

The camels did not stop at the creek.  They travelled on for a couple
of miles to where a railway engine and a few trucks were waiting.
These had been sent down from Oodnadatta with a break-down gang of men,
and were returning next day.  Peter decided to stay and help Becker
with the camels as far as Oodnadatta, but, at his advice, the two boys
went on by train, and so it came about that they completed their broken
journey in the same way in which it had begun.


A Message from the Unknown

The sun had set several hours ago when the train finally pulled up at
Oodnadatta station.  A hurricane-lantern hung under a veranda, and
showed a crowd of about twenty men, women, and children with eager
faces, ready to welcome anyone who had completed the interrupted
journey.  But the two boys were the only passengers.  They stood on the
platform of the carriage and looked at the crowd.  It was seven years
since Sax had seen his father, but he felt sure he would recognize him
instantly; and, besides, it was such a rare thing for two strange lads
to come up on the Far North train, that if anyone had been there to
meet them, he would have had no trouble in picking them out.

But no one came forward.  In vain did the drover's son compare the
picture of his father which he had in his mind, with one after the
other of the men under the veranda.  Men, tall, thin, and bearded there
certainly were, and more than one had that stamp of the desert on his
face, which never wears off.

"Can't you see him, Sax?" asked his companion anxiously.

"Not yet.  He's somewhere at the back, most likely.  We'll wait a tick
and see."

So they waited, and in those minutes the lads felt more lonely than
they had ever done in their lives before.  The thought would insist on
presenting itself:

"Suppose he doesn't come!  What then?"  The nearest person they really
knew was five days away.  In front of them was a little crowd of people
who knew each other well, but who had never seen the boys before, and
all around was the vast unsympathetic silence of the desert which came
in and oppressed the boys even in the dark.

Presently a man in badly creased white trousers and very thin shirt,
open all the way down, came past.  He stopped and looked up at the
boys.  "Waiting for somebody?" he asked pleasantly.

"Yes, we are," said Sax, who was usually the spokesman of the pair when
strangers were concerned.  "Can you tell me, please, if Mr. Stobart is

"Stobart?  If it's Boss Stobart you're waiting for, I'm afraid you'll
be disappointed."

"Why?"  Both boys uttered the word of dismay at the same time.

"Well, you see," went on the man, "we expected him the day before
yesterday.  He's never late, so I wired up the road.  I'm his agent,
you know.  They haven't heard of him south of Horseshoe Bend."

"What!  Is he lost, then?" asked Sax in an incredulous voice.  His
hero, his father, lost?  Impossible!

"Bless you, no.  He's never lost.  He must have taken a fresh track at
the Bend, that's all.  Feed and water and that sort of thing.  By the
way, who are you?"

"I'm his son," said Sax, simply and proudly, "and this is my friend.
Father said he'd meet this train."

"His son, are you?  Oh, well, you may depend upon it, he's not far away
if he said he'd meet you.  But he didn't come in to-day.  I know that
for a cert.  You'd better come over to the hotel and let me fix you up
for the night.  My name's Archer--Joe Archer.  I've got a store here
and manage your father's business at this end."

The kind-hearted storekeeper handed the boys over to the care of the
hotel-keeper's wife, who soon set a meal of boiled goat and potatoes
before them.  Their intense disappointment at not meeting Mr. Stobart
had not lessened their appetites, and they assured one another that
they would see him in a few days, probably on the very next morning.

After their tea they went straight to their room, a little box of a
place with a window looking out over a yard where a horse was standing
perfectly still and breathing heavily, fast asleep.  The friends talked
for a time and then blew out the candle.

Scarcely had they done so, when they heard a tapping on the window.
They took no notice.  It came again.  Tap--tap--tap.  It could not
possibly have been an accident.

"What's that, Sax?" whispered Vaughan.

"Blest if I know," answered his companion from the other bed.  "Shall I
light the candle again?"

"Let's wait a bit and see," suggested Boof.

The taps came again, this time louder, and were followed by a cough.

Sax struck a match.  His hand shook so much that he could hardly light
the candle, but whether it was from fear or from excitement cannot be
told.  The light flared up, went down again, and then burned bright and

Suddenly a man's head and shoulders appeared at the window.  It was a
nigger.  For a moment both lads stared at the apparition with startled
eyes.  But the man did not do anything.  He was just waiting till their
surprise died down.  His face was not at all as forbidding as the one
they had seen at Coward Springs.  He was wearing an old felt hat and a
dirty shirt, and though he had hair all over his face, there was
something about him which proclaimed him to be a young man.

After a few moments of absolute stillness and silence, they saw the
hair on his face move, and a row of beautiful white teeth showed in a
most engaging smile.  Then came the words: "Which one Stobart?"

The lads had never heard an aboriginal speak before.  The sound was
guttural, but there was no mistaking the words: "Which one Stobart?"

Sax started forward and the black seemed to scrutinize his features
intently.  "You Stobart?" he asked.

"Yes.  My name's Stobart," answered Sax.  "What d'you want?"

The black fellow smiled again, groped in his shirt, and pulled out a
dirty piece of folded paper.  He held it in his hand and again looked
at the lad as if to make quite sure he was not being deceived.

"Boss Stobart, him say, you walk longa Oodnadatta.  You find um my son.
You give 'im paper yabber.  Him good fella, Boss Stobart, so I go.  My
name Yarloo."

The words came slowly, as if the man were repeating something he had
said over and over in his mind.  But the words were quite distinct.

He handed the "paper yabber" to Sax, and disappeared.  The two friends
came close together round the candle and looked at the paper which had
come to them from the unknown by such a strange hand.  For a few
moments Sax was too excited to open it.  What was the news it
contained?  Good or bad?  It was not addressed, or, if it ever had
been, the handling to which it had been subjected had worn any writing
completely off the outside.

At last the lad opened it.  It was a sheet torn from a common note-book
ruled with lines and columns for figures, the sort of thing on which a
rough man would keep his rough accounts.  It contained writing in
pencil by a hand which Sax at once recognized as his father's; but it
was uneven as if it had been written in the dark.  The words were:

  "In difficulties.  Musgrave Ranges.  Tell
  Oodnadatta trooper, but _no one else_."  (These last three
  words were underlined several times.)  "He'll
  understand.  Boy quite reliable.  Don't worry.
  Get a job somewhere.         "STOBART."

The friends read it to themselves, and then Sax read it out loud.

"'In difficulties'," said Vaughan.  "What does that mean?"

"Blest if I know.  With the cattle, I expect.  I wonder where the
Musgrave Ranges are."

"But why does he say 'tell the trooper and no one else'?" asked Vaughan
again.  "Yet he wouldn't say 'don't worry' if anything was up, would

"Oh, nothing's really up," said Sax with conviction.  "He means he's a
bit late, that's all.  P'raps the trooper's expecting him or something.
Of course he wouldn't want anybody else to know.  You see, he's got a
name here," said the lad proudly.  "They call him Boss Stobart.  Even
the nigger did that."

"But he'll be a long time, Sax.  He won't be in for a week or so at any
rate, or else he wouldn't tell us to get a job, would he?"

The boys discussed the news from every possible point of view, and
finally arrived at the conclusion that the famous drover had been
forced out of the route he had intended to travel by difficulties with
feed and water, and that he might be very late arriving at his
destination.  That he would finally arrive, they never doubted for a
moment.  With this assurance, they once more blew out the light, and it
was not long before they were both fast asleep.

If they could have known the terrible danger which Drover Stobart was
in at that very time, it is certain that sleep would have been
impossible to them.  He was as near death, a hideous death, as any man
can possibly be who lives to tell the tale.


Wild Cattle

The boys woke late on their first morning in the Far North.  Sax's
thoughts immediately turned to his father's letter.  He groped under
his pillow and pulled it out and read it again:

  "In difficulties.  Musgrave Ranges.  Tell Oodnadatta
  trooper, but _no one else_.  He'll understand.
  Boy quite reliable.  Don't worry.  Get a job somewhere.


It was a characteristic note, for the drover never wrote long letters,
but the shakiness of the writing, and the mysterious way in which it
had been delivered, gave Sax a feeling of great uneasiness.  If, as Joe
Archer the storekeeper had suggested, Stobart had been forced to take a
westerly track from Horseshoe Bend in order to find water and feed for
the cattle, he could easily have sent word to Oodnadatta by the
ordinary camel mail which passed the Bend once a month.

Sax looked up and saw that his friend was awake.  "What d'you reckon we
ought to do, Boofy?" he asked, getting out of bed.

Vaughan took the letter and read it before replying.  "It says 'Tell
Oodnadatta trooper'," he remarked.  "I reckon we ought to do that
first, Sax, don't you?"

When breakfast was over, the boys asked the way to the trooper's house,
and were told that Sergeant Scott had gone away after some blacks who
had been spearing cattle.  No one had any idea when he was likely to
return.  "You see--" said the man who was telling them about it, "you
see, he may get the niggers easy and bring them in at once.  Or they
may clear out and make him chase them for days and days.  He'll get
them in the end, though, you bet.  Old Scotty's not the one to be
beaten by niggers."

The boys sat down outside the trooper's house on a little hill and
looked over the desolate landscape.  They seemed to be baulked at every

Presently, away above the northern rim of the land appeared a little
brown stain.  It caught the eye because the horizon had no cloud on it
or anything to break the clear line except that patch of brown.

Sax was idly watching it, wondering what in the world he could do to
help his father, when the cloud seemed to get bigger and clearer.
"Look, Boof," he said.  "D'you see that thing over there?  It looks
like a cloud, but it's brown."

He pointed it out to his friend and they watched it together.  It was
certainly getting bigger.  "Looks like dust," said Vaughan.

"But whatever could be kicking up all that dust?" asked Sax.  "It's
coming this way.  Look, it's covering those trees over there now."

The cloud of dust got bigger and of a more distinct brown.  Objects
such as trees, which at one time stood out in front of it, were hidden
one after another, till it spread out like heavy brown smoke from a
damp fire.  The air was very clear and still.  All at once Sax gripped
his friend's arm.  He had heard a sound--a sound which was like his own
native tongue to the drover's son--the crack of a stock-whip.

"I'm sure I heard a whip," he exclaimed excitedly.  "I'm dead sure I
did.  Hark!"

Both boys sprang to their feet and listened intently.  From out that
advancing mass of brown dust sounds could be heard.  At first they were
just a confused murmur, a sort of deep grumbling very far away; but now
and again came a sharper sound, half like the crack of a pistol and
half like two flat boards being banged together.

"Yes.  I'm sure of it.  I'm sure of it.  It's whips.  I bet you it's
whips.  And that dust is kicked up by cattle.  I _know_ it is.  Oh,
Boofy, Boofy!  P'raps it's my father."

"Let's go and meet him," suggested Vaughan, and the boy would have
started out right away to meet the cattle if his friend had not
prevented him.  Sax had never seen a mob of bush cattle, at least not
that he could remember, though his father had often carried him on the
pommel of his saddle when he was a tiny baby.  But he knew
instinctively that it would be dangerous to face wild cattle on foot.

"Let's wait and see what happens," he said.  "They won't be long."

The noise had now increased to the continuous rumbling bellow of a
great mob of restless cattle.  Already the shouts of men could be
heard, and the cracks of whips came very sharp and clear.  Dim forms
could be seen for a moment now and again on the outskirts of the cloud
of dust, as mounted men wheeled here and there and everywhere in their
efforts to keep the cattle together.  The animals had never seen a town
before, and were frightened at the glitter of iron roofs in the sun.

Suddenly a figure on a horse shot out in front and cantered ahead.  The
boys became tense with excitement.  Was it Mr. Stobart?  At first they
could not distinguish him except that he rode a grey horse and sat it
with the perfect ease of a Central Australian.  The animal did not want
to leave its companions and started to "play up".  But nothing it could
do made any difference to the superb rider; he just sat as if he were
part of the horse, as if he were indeed its brain, forcing it to obey
his will.  When he came past the little hill where the lads were
standing he was about a hundred yards away from them, and they could
see him clearly.

"Is it, Sax?" asked Vaughan excitedly.  "Is it your pater?"

The drover's son shook his head.  "No chance," he said sadly.  "My
father's taller than that man.  But can't he just ride, Boof?"

The rider had by this time reached a set of troughs which spread out on
the ground and were filled by a bore about half a mile behind the town.
He dismounted, had a good look round to see that everything was right,
and then started to ride back again.  But instead of going straight
back to the cattle, he rode up to the boys.

"Good-day," he said, reining in his horse.  "Come out to see the

"Yes," replied Sax.  "And we were wondering whether Boss Stobart"--he
said the name proudly--"whether Boss Stobart was with them."

The man shook his head.  "No.  Didn't he come in a week ago?  He
started ahead of me.  These are T.D.3 cattle."

The lads showed their disappointment on their faces, but of course the
drover did not understand the reason for it.  "If it's fun you're after
seeing, you'll get as much with my mob as you would with the Boss's,"
he said with a very slight Irish brogue.  "They're sure as wild as
bally mosquitoes.  But look, you're a bit too close here.  Get back a
bit, and when they've had a drink, go over to the troughs.  You'll
likely see a bit of fun at the yards."

The lads did as he told them.  They climbed on the roof of an old shed
where they were well out of the way, and could get a good view of the
cattle as they came in to water.  They expected the whole mob to file
past at once, but that was not what happened.  As soon as the drover
returned, the cattle were rounded up in a hollow between two
sand-hills.  For a time the dust increased to such an extent that
nothing could be seen; but by the shouting and whip-cracking it was
evident that the men were having trouble.

Then a little mob of about a hundred were cut out from the others and
driven towards the water.  A white man rode in front and two black boys
rode behind.  To Stobart and Vaughan it looked as if the men were
taking far more care than was necessary, for they shepherded the cattle
every inch of the way.  The cattle smelt the water from the distance,
and wanted to rush straight to it, but they were turned again and
again, and allowed to advance only at a slow pace.  They had been ten
weeks on the road, and were so nervous at approaching the buildings of
the little town, that the least thing would make them rush away in all
directions.  Once they started, nothing could stop them, and the result
of all those weeks of constant care might go for nothing.  So the
stockmen took no chances.

The cattle watered quietly, and when they had had enough, they were
taken a little distance away and left in charge of the two black boys.
Then the white man returned and cut off another hundred, and watered
them in the same way, till every one in the huge mob of wild cattle had
had a drink without being disturbed.

Then came what the drover had called "a bit of fun".  The cattle were
slowly moved towards the great trucking-yards.

"Let's go over to the troughs as he said," suggested Vaughan.  "It's
lots nearer than this."  So the two friends took up their position
behind the big tank into which the water from the bore poured before it
flowed into the troughs.

The Oodnadatta trucking-yards are made of iron rails set in concrete
and are capable of holding more than a thousand head of stock.  Once
the cattle are in, nothing matters, for the yards are strong enough to
hold elephants.  But the job is to get them in.

Inch by inch the grumbling mass of irritable beasts was urged forward
by the white drover and his boys.  It was a ticklish job, and the whips
were kept quiet at first, except to flick up one or another which tried
to poke out of the mob.  All went well till the leading cattle came to
the wing of the yard.  Those iron rails frightened them.  They had only
seen a yard once before in their lives, and the rails of that one were
made of wood.

"Steady, boys!  Steady!" called the drover.  "Keep 'em quiet a bit."

For a minute or two the stockmen sat back on their horses and did not
urge the cattle forward, but let them get used to their new
surroundings.  The animals went up to the rails and smelt them,
bellowing with surprise.

"Now, slowly, boys!  Slowly!"

Very gradually the horsemen moved forward.  To a new chum this care
seemed very unnecessary.  The gate was straight ahead.  Why not force
the animals through, and get the job over?  But a thousand cattle
cannot be forced by five men, as the boys were soon to see.

The leading cattle were now right up to the gate, and the others were
slowly crowding on behind, till they were jammed in the wings.  If only
one or two would go through the rest would follow easily.  But the
leading bullock struck a tin buried in the sand.  Instantly the great
beast's head was raised and he sent out a roaring bellow.  Those behind
him crowded on, but he would not pass that tin.  It was lying on top of
the sand now.  He tried to back away from it, and in doing so struck
his foot against it again.

Bellow followed bellow.  He set his feet firmly in the sand and would
not budge.  Down went his head, and he tossed clouds of sand into the

"Let 'em have it.  Let 'em have it," shouted the drover.  "Force 'em up
there.  Force 'em up."  He stood in his stirrups and plied his whip,
cracking it back and front, and shouting at the top of his voice.  The
blacks did the same, till it seemed as if they would force the cattle
into the yard by sheer energy.

But no.  The leading bullock stood firm.  Something had to give way.
No single animal could withstand the pressure of all the others from
behind.  The bullock lifted his head high and shook his mighty horns,
and, with a roar which drowned all sounds of shouting, he turned along
the side of the wing and charged.  Nothing could stop him.  Others
followed till the cattle were going round and round like water in a
whirlpool.  What cattlemen most fear had happened: a ring.  Not a
single beast went through the gate.  They passed it, at first slowly,
then faster and faster, till they were galloping round and round like
clumsy circus horses.

The drover tried to break the ring.  He cut off a few cattle at the
back of the mob and forced them against the tide.  He succeeded for a
moment, and the black stockmen cut off others and brought them in.  For
a few seconds it was like two huge waves meeting.  The cattle jammed in
the centre, and some were actually lifted from their feet.  Then the
wave broke.

A charging mass of maddened cattle rushed away from the yards,
screaming with terror, heads down and stiffened tails high in the air.
Nothing could stand against them.  It was death to attempt to check the
terrible charge.  The mounted men galloped for safety to the sides.
One, however, was too slow.  He had just gained the edge of the mob
when a young steer dashed into his horse.  Both were going so fast that
they came down together.  Fortunately the boy was thrown clear and was
not hurt.  The steer rolled over and over and then picked itself up and
joined the rush.  The riderless horse galloped towards the troughs.


Riding Tests

During the exciting scenes at the yards, Sax and Vaughan had come out
from the shelter of the tank, wholly absorbed in the wild life they
were now witnessing for the first time.  With the keen delight which
every healthy-minded boy has in adventure, they followed every twist
and turn, wishing with all their hearts that they were in the thick of
it and not mere lookers-on.

When the cattle broke, the drover dashed out on their side of the mob
and waved a warning to them.  His mouth framed words, and though his
voice was drowned in the tremendous hullabulloo, the boys knew he was
shouting: "Back!  Back!  Back for your lives!"

So they raced for the tank and crouched behind it as the storm of
cattle went sweeping past.

The riderless horse galloped up to the troughs and stooped its head to
drink.  The bridle-rein trailed on the ground.  Sax looked around the
tank and saw it very near his hand.  He gave a quick glance at the
saddle and saw that all the gear was right, and then quietly stretched
out his arm and caught the rein.  He gripped it firmly but did not
pull.  The noise of stampeding cattle was so great that the horse did
not notice the movement near him till the boy slowly rose from the

Then the horse lifted its head and gave a snort of alarm.  But in a
moment Sax had jerked the reins over its head, and in another moment
was on its back.  Before he was well seated, the frightened animal
reared, squealing and pawing the air with its fore hoofs.  But Sax was
lean and very supple.  He clung on, drove his feet home in the
stirrups, and when the horse came down and started to buck and twist
and arch and side-spring, he had a seat from which it would have taken
a very good animal to shake him.  It was all over in less than a
minute, and then the horse saw its companions flying over the plains in
a cloud of dust, gave a whinny, and started after them at top speed.

Vaughan was left with feelings which were almost equally divided
between pride in his friend's achievement and envy that the adventure
had not fallen to his lot.

Sax caught up with the drover and rode neck and neck with him on the
wing of the cattle for some time before the man turned his head.  When
he did so, he was very surprised.

"Hallo, young 'un!" he shouted, almost breathless at the rate they were
going.  "Can you ride?"

"No," bawled Sax exultantly; "but I'm learning."

"Well, don't try and learn too much first go," came back the warning.
"There's ticklish work ahead.  You watch me."  And they settled down
again to give all their attention to the work in hand.

About five miles west of the town is a narrow but close belt of timber,
mostly gnarled mulga and gidgee, with here and there a sprawling
stunted creek gum.  The cattle were making for this shelter.  But
already the tremendous pace was beginning to tell.  The bellowing had
ceased and the mob was stringing out, the stragglers no longer being
able to gallop, but lumbering along at a clumsy trot.

To Sax's surprise, a black stockman, riding in the rear of the mob,
kept these stragglers at the top of their pace.  The drover gradually
forged ahead on the wing and the boy with him, till they were level
with the leaders.  Then, little by little, they worked nearer and
nearer to the galloping beasts, using their whips freely and trying by
every possible means to turn the line away from the belt of timber.
They succeeded.  From west the cattle turned to south, getting more and
more tired at every stride, then east, then north, and finally they
were brought up by rounding on themselves and turning in and in till
they were thoroughly exhausted and only too willing to pull up.

Sax's whole body was one big ache.  It was his first ride on a bush
horse, which he found very different from the thoroughbreds he had
known.  Every movement of the horse, now that the excitement was over,
was agony to him, but he sat in the saddle without flinching.  Not for
the world would he have betrayed himself.

"What do we do now?" he asked the drover.

The man laughed.  He admired the boy's pluck, and his keen eyes noticed
the signs of discomfort which Sax could not possibly hide.  "Do?" he
asked.  "Why?  Haven't you done enough for a bit?"

"Oh, I'm all right," said Sax.  "I like it."

"Wish I did," growled the other.  "I'll just begin to like it when it's
all over, and these beggars are in the yard."

The mounted men rode slowly to and fro around the cattle for an hour or
two.  Some of them got over their fright sufficiently to lie down,
others stood about in groups and nosed one another and murmured
quietly.  About noon the drover whistled to his boys, and a move was
made towards the yards.  This time they were not rushed forward in a
mob.  A few of the quietest were cut off and driven in first.  They
went through the gates without any trouble.  Then a few more, followed
by others till the thousand cattle were safely behind the great gates.

"Now we'll have a drink of tea, and then we'll truck them," said the
drover, dismounting from his horse and taking off the saddle.  He
turned to the black boys.  "Take um your horses little yard belonga Mr.
Archer," he said, pointing towards the town.  "Give um plenty tucker,
water.  Come back quick-fella!  Which way Yarloo sit down?"

At the name Yarloo, Sax looked up quickly.  Surely that was the name
given by the messenger who handed Boss Stobart's note to the boy in the
middle of the night.  The blacks laughed at the drover's question, and
one of them pointed towards the troughs.  "Him tummel aller same
kangaroo," he said, with a grin, making movements with his body like a
man being flung off a horse.  "Him come down cropper, I think," and he
rubbed the back of his head and made grimaces which caused the others
to laugh heartily.  A black-fellow is always highly amused at an

Two figures were coming over from the troughs.  Sax recognized one as
Vaughan.  The other was limping slightly.  It was Yarloo, the boy who
had been thrown from his horse.  He had got a job with the drover the
morning after the delivery of his midnight message to Saxon Stobart,
and, because he was a stranger, his fellow stockmen took a great
delight in limping about and imitating him.

"So that's how you got your ride," said the drover.  "How did you catch
the horse?"

Sax told him, and the drover remarked: "I'm glad you did.  Nothing
stirs things up so much as a saddled horse with nobody on him.  You and
your mate had better have a drink of tea with me.  By the way, what do
they call you?"

"That chap's name's Vaughan," answered Sax.  "Mine's Stobart."

"What?  Stobart?  Same name as Boss Stobart?"

"Yes.  He's my father."

For a moment the drover looked at the boy with keen eyes from which
nothing could be hidden.  They were light-grey eyes, set well apart,
and absolutely fearless.  He caught and held Sax's glance and seemed to
be reading the boy's character.  He evidently approved of what he saw,
for he held out his hand, which Stobart took at once.

"So you're Boss Stobart's son," he said.  "I'm sure glad to meet you.
My name's Darby.  Mick Darby.  Me and your father were mates for close
on ten years.  You came up to meet him, did you?"

Sax told him a little about the school, and how he and Vaughan had come
up to Oodnadatta expecting to meet the drover, and how disappointed
they were.  He did not mention the mysterious message; but when Mick
Darby asked what the boys intended doing, Sax answered promptly that
they were looking for a job, as Boss Stobart had sent a note advising
them to do this.

"He's likely changed his plans," said Darby, "and can't come down for a
bit.  What sort of a job d'you want?"

By this time Vaughan had come up, and the three whites were sitting
near an open pack-bag, eating damper and salt meat, and drinking tea
from the drover's quart-pot.  To his question as to what sort of job
they wanted, there seemed but one reply.  Sax's mouth was full at the
time, so Vaughan answered:

"This sort, of course."

Mick smiled at the boy's enthusiasm, and asked: "Can you ride too?"
The word "too" pleased Sax immensely, but it stirred his friend to
answer, somewhat boastfully:

"I can ride as well as he can--can't I, Sax?"

"You're better than I am," said Sax generously.  "He is indeed, Mr.

"Well, we'll see.  I shan't be starting back till the day after
to-morrow.  What d'you say to a riding test?" he asked, laughing.

The boys were willing to agree to anything, especially as the station
to which Mick was returning was out towards the Musgrave Ranges.  "It's
sure a rough place," said Mick, when he had agreed to take the boys.
"It's out on the edge of cattle country, the Musgraves west of us, and
niggers--bad niggers, too.  You'll wish you'd never come."  He looked
at the eager faces of the two lads and his own suffused with thoughts
of the days when he was their age.  He remembered all the hard years
between, the trips on which he had only just come through alive, the
terrors of thirst, the slow torment of being out of tucker, the scraps
with blacks, the dreary homeless monotony of the desert, and he said
earnestly: "I'm not urging you to come, mind.  I know what you're in
for; you don't.  But if you want to be men, now's your chance."

Vaughan's riding test next day was a severe one.  "It's not that I want
to make a fool of you," explained Mick, as they lead the horses out of
Archer's yard.  "But there's not a properly quiet horse in my plant.
It's no good your getting your swag ready if you can't ride.  What
d'you feel like?"

Vaughan said he was feeling fine; but if the truth must be told, his
pulses were beating unusually fast as he looked at the bush horses and
realized that he was soon to be on top of one of them.  The party
consisted of the drover, the white boys, and one or two black stockmen,
and when they came to a broad expanse of soft sand, Mick said they
needn't go any farther.

Vaughan rode three horses.  The first was a bay mare, of medium height,
short in the back, and with a long rein.  "You'll find her a bit tricky
to mount," said Mick.  The animal stood as quiet as a mouse while
Vaughan caught her and put the saddle on, but as soon as he tossed the
reins over her head, she backed away and started to prance round
excitedly.  The boy found it impossible to get his foot in the stirrup;
as soon as he touched the metal, the mare jumped back.  Mick Darby
stood by and said nothing, but he interfered when Sax wanted to go and
help his friend.  "Let him do it on his own," he said.  "He won't
always have you with him."

Instead of quietening down, when the mare found she could bluff the lad
she pranced about more than ever, and Vaughan saw that, unless he could
surprise the animal for a moment, he would have no chance of mounting.
So he kept the reins over her head and started to pat the lovely neck
and shoulders.  He slowly worked round till he was on the off side--a
side from which, normally, no one ever mounts a horse--and let his hand
run down the shoulder till it touched the stirrup.  The mare stood
quite still.

Still patting the animal, Vaughan shortened the rein, and quietly
lifted his right foot.  As soon as it was in the stirrup, he sprang,
and before the surprised horse could recover from its astonishment, he
was in the saddle, having mounted from the wrong side.

The blacks shouted their praise, but Vaughan listened only for the
drover's voice.  Mick laughed heartily.  "Good boy!  Good boy!" he
said.  "You bluffed her all right.  Get off, and I'll show you how to
do it on the near side."

The mare was quite quiet when once the rider was seated, and Vaughan
had no difficulty in riding her round or in dismounting.  Mick
shortened the rein for mounting, and just as the mare began to turn
away, as she had done with Vaughan, he took off his hat and put it
under the cheek-strap of the bridle, thus blinding the horse on the
near side.  She stood quite still, and the drover got on and off
several times without any difficulty.  Then Vaughan tried it in the
same way, and found he could do anything with the mare if only he
blindfolded the near-side eye when he was mounting.

"She's a good little mare to ride, and as game as a pebble," said Mick,
when the saddle had been taken off her.  "I'll let you have her if you
promise to treat her well."

The next horse was a big raking bay, high in the shoulder, too long and
badly coupled in the back, and of a very awkward appearance.  Vaughan
saddled him up and mounted.  The horse stood stock still.  Vaughan then
shook the reins and it moved on for a few paces, but as soon as the
reins were slacked again, it stopped.  The boy became impatient.
Nothing is so annoying to ride as a lazy horse.  So he shortened the
rein.  As soon as he did so, the big animal started to move forward,
and it got faster and raster as its rider put pressure on the reins.
It had an awkward habit of thrusting its long lean head straight out,
so Vaughan pulled hard.  But the harder the boy pulled the faster the
horse moved.  And it _could_ move.  Vaughan had never had such an
uncomfortable few minutes in his life.  Every part of the horse seemed
to be moving by itself, and jerking him in all directions.  He couldn't
possibly sit in the saddle.  He let the stirrups take all his weight
and just hung on.  The horse was bolting.

Vaughan did not lose his head.  After trying to pull up the runaway by
sheer force, he realized that he was only wasting his strength, and
making it go faster.  By the time he found this out, he was a mile away
from the others, enveloped in a cloud of dust, and racing as hard as
the horse could set foot to the ground.  He slackened the reins a
little.  Instantly the pace slackened too.  He took off more pressure
still and the horse was soon cantering at a medium speed.  Vaughan had
found out the secret.  He turned his horse's head towards home, and
made it do just anything he wanted by simply increasing or decreasing
the force with which he held the reins.  The horse had a most
delightful canter, like a big rocking-horse, and Vaughan rode up to his
companions feeling very pleased with himself.

"What d'you think of it?" asked Mick.

"Fine!" replied the lad.  "Fine!  But he shook me up before I found it

"Found what out?" asked the drover.

Vaughan told him, and the man smiled approval.  "Good!" he commented.
"Remember, these horses up here are all different, and you've got to
find them out.  Perhaps you've been used to riding properly trained
ones.  We don't do any of that up here in the bush.  Would you like to
try another?"

Vaughan was sore and tired, but he answered eagerly that he was ready
for a dozen more.

"I'll only give you one," said Mick, beckoning to one of the black
boys.  "Take him pretty carefully."

The black stockman caught and saddled a chestnut gelding.  Compared
with the thoroughbreds of Langdale Station, the horse was heavily
built, but it had beautifully made shoulders and back.  The rump was
coupled to the saddle of the back without the slightest dip, and the
curve rose over a pair of high shoulder-blades and up to a deep and
shapely neck.  The legs, however, were thick, and seemed to be out of
proportion with the rest of the body.

Vaughan mounted, or rather he tried to mount.  If he had known more
about horses he would have noticed the nervous head and eyes, and would
have taken precautions accordingly.  But he just flung the reins over
its head, put his foot in the stirrup, and--found himself sprawling in
the sand.  He did not let go of the reins.  The drover noticed this,
and knew, because of it, that the boy had the instincts of a horseman.
Sax ran forward, but Mick stopped him.  "He's all right," he said.
"Let him alone."

Vaughan picked himself up and approached the horse, cautiously, but
without fear.  He put the reins quietly over its head, shortened the
near side one and took a good handful of mane, and put his foot in the

"Don't rush it!  Don't rush it!" shouted Mick.  "You're dealing with a
nervous horse.  Take your time.  Don't be afraid.  He's got no vice."

Vaughan gradually pressed his weight in the stirrup and rose slowly
into the saddle.  The horse stood quite still and trembled.  The boy
realized that something was going to happen and settled himself firmly.
It was well he did so.  Without any warning, the horse's back arched
like a bent bow, and all four feet came off the ground.  It was an
extraordinary experience for Vaughan--everything sloping away from him.
Then the back straightened suddenly and the hoofs struck the ground
with such impact that, if the boy had not been very firmly in the
stirrups, he would have been tossed in the air like a stone from a

After that, Vaughan had a few of the busiest moments of his life.  Up
in the air--in front and behind and all together--pitching this way and
that; rooting, jumping, bucking, doing everything except rolling on the
ground, the screaming horse tried to get rid of its rider.

Vaughan did not know what he was doing.  Sheer pluck, and the supple
strength of his young body, brought him through a test where more
experienced riders would have failed.  He did the right things without
knowing why.  He leaned forward over the neck of the rearing horse; he
lay back when its heels were lashing the air; he balanced himself, as
he had often done on a horizontal bar at school, when the arched back
of the horse quivered under him high off the ground; and he stood in
his stirrups to save his body from the shock of those four heavy feet
striking the ground at once.  He did all these things instinctively,
though he had never been on a bucking horse before.

He was far too excited to be afraid.  His determination saw him
through, and at last the quivering horse and the breathless boy came to
a standstill.  Then, with a shrill whinny, the horse did its final
worst.  It braced its hind legs well apart and tossed its chest high in
the air.  Up and up rose the head and shoulders, while the fore feet
pawed the air; up and up, till horse and rider hung for a moment in the
balance--a horse on two legs, standing erect with a white boy clinging
to its back.  They swayed for a moment; for two; for three.  Then over
they came.  With a violent jerk of its head, the horse fell over

A shout of consternation went up.  Vaughan's position was one of
greatest peril.  But the boy's dancing blood had given his mind a
lightning grip of the situation, and as the horse fell, he kicked his
feet free from the stirrups, and flung himself clear.  He was not a
moment too soon.  With a crash which shook the ground, the heavy horse
came down, and would have mangled to a lifeless pulp anyone who had
been under it.  But Vaughan was safe.  He lay for a minute, gasping,
then stood up and faced the drover.  The rein was still in his hand,
though the force of the fall had torn the strong leather strap from the


Smoke Signals

Travelling across country in Central Australia is usually very
monotonous.  The same routine is gone through day after day, and there
is not even the relief of meeting new faces, for one's companions are
often the only human beings met with during the whole of a trip of many

For the first few days of journeying towards the Musgraves, young
Stobart and Vaughan found everything new and intensely interesting.  At
piccaninny daylight--which is the bush term for the rising of the
morning star--Mick Darby turned over on his swag and sat up, and called
out "Daylight!  Daylight!"

The drover was so punctual with this call that it seemed to the boys as
if he must have been awake for hours, watching for the star to rise
blood-red above the eastern horizon.  But years of bush travel, of
watching restless cattle, and of sleeping under the threat of danger
from prowling blacks had made the man respond immediately to any noise
or unusual sight.  There was no period of stretching or yawning.  Mick
was asleep one instant, and fully awake the next and shouting
"Daylight".  The black boys were also light sleepers, trained out of
their native laziness by association with alert whites.  There was
Yarloo, who had come in from the west with Boss Stobart's message and
had joined the white man's plant at once; and Ranui, a tall fine man
from North Queensland, who showed both in his build and name a trace of
Malay blood; and Ted and Teedee, two boys who had been with Mick since
they were "little fellas".

As soon as the morning call sounded, the black stockmen rolled out of
their camp-sheets, picked up their bridles, and went off in the grey
light on the tracks of the hobbled horses.  Their skill in tracking was
a constant source of wonder to the boys.  The type of country didn't
seem to matter at all; soft sand or hard stony tableland was all the
same to them; they tracked the wandering horses with as much careless
certainty as if they could actually see them, though on some nights
they had strayed, in search of feed, several miles away from camp.

When the black boys had gone, Sax and Vaughan collected wood for the
morning fire, raked last night's ashes together, and made a blaze.
Then they filled the seven quart-pots with water and set them near the
flame to boil for breakfast.

The drover was always busy in the early hours.  There was probably a
piece of horse-gear to mend, a broken or faulty girth, the stuffing of
a saddle which had become lumpy, or a buckle which had torn away.  When
these were all in order, there was the everlasting "damper" to make.
Vaughan volunteered to become assistant cook if Mick would give him
lessons in the great bush art of damper-making.

"You'd better start on Johnny-cakes," said the drover.  "The mixture's
just the same, but if you make a mess you won't spoil a whole damper.
You watch me to-day.  You can try your hand to-morrow, if you like."

It was still an hour or so before sunrise when the white boys had their
first lesson in bush cookery.  Mick went over to one of the packs and
pulled out a seventy-pound bag of flour about half full.  He untied the
mouth of the bag and took out a tin of baking-powder.  Then he spread a
folded sack on the sand, and piled on it about five double handfuls of
flour, mixing a lidful of baking-powder with it.  He gave this a good
stir round, dry as it was, and then made a hollow in the middle and
poured in water in which a little salt had been dissolved.  The proper
mixing of the dough only came by experience, Mick told them; as dry as
possible and yet damp enough to stick together.  The work was done
quickly but thoroughly.

"If you wanted it for a damper," explained Mick, giving the dough a
final roll, "you'd put the whole lot in together.  But I'll show you
Johnny-cakes first; they're easier and don't take so long."

He divided the dough into little pieces and rolled each out in his
hands till it was the size and shape of an ordinary bun.  He arranged
these on the bag and pulled it near the fire.  "I always let the things
rise for a couple of minutes," he said.  "Some chaps don't, but I
always do."

Then he prepared the fire for cooking.  Every fragment of blazing wood
was put on one side, and a heap of soft glowing ashes left.  With a
curved stick, this pile was scooped about till it was like a very big
saucer, all glowing hot and yet not actually burning.  On this warm bed
the Johnny-cakes were dropped, leaving a space between each so that
they wouldn't run together.  When all the white balls of dough were in
place, Mick flicked some of the ashes from the edge of the hollow on to
them, gradually increasing the amount till the cakes were covered right
over and the whole affair was a mound of grey with no sign of the
cooking cakes.

"How long before they're done?" asked Vaughan.

"Depends," answered Mick.  "Depends on the size of them and the heat of
the fire.  I don't like the fire too hot.  We'll have a look at these
in about a quarter of an hour."

At the end of that time the top of the pile of ashes had begun to crack
here and there with the upward pressure of the rising Johnny-cakes.
Mick scooped one of them out from the edge.  It was brown and hard on
the outside, with a most appetizing smell, and a soft ring round it
where the top had pulled away, just like the top on a loaf of bread.
To the boy's surprise, the cakes were quite clean, and a few flicks
with a wisp of leaves left them as free from sand or ashes as if they
had been baked in an oven.  Mick tapped the cake with his knuckles.
"Another couple of minutes won't hurt," he said.

Presently the distant sound of a jangling stock-bell was heard, and a
few minutes later the horses came into camp, lead by an old black mare
who carried a bell, and driven by the four black boys riding bareback.
Everything was bustle for a few minutes.  The horses were again hobbled
to prevent them from straying, and then the men all settled down to
breakfast.  Vaughan usually took charge of the tea.  Directly a
quart-pot came to the boil, he tipped in some sugar and a pinch of tea,
and moved the pot away from the fire.  Sax superintended the tucker--a
slab of damper, or a Johnny-cake, and a chunk of salt meat for each
man.  These are the bush rations year in and year out: meat, damper,
and tea.  Breakfast was eaten quickly, and then the pack-bags were
weighted evenly and fastened up, horses caught and saddled, a final
look given round the camp to see that nothing was left behind, and the
three white men set out in a certain direction with no track and with
no guidance of any kind except that of the sun, followed at once by the
plant of horses driven by the blacks.

All day they rode, silent for the most part, but occasionally Mick
would answer a question as to a tree, a strange track, or a feature on
the horizon.  No other living thing was seen hour after hour, save a
solitary eagle high in the air, a few lizards darting about the clumps
of porcupine grass, and ants and flies.  These latter pests are the
curse of the back country.  The weather was hot.  That day and on
several others one hundred and thirty degrees was reached, and even
that temperature was exceeded now and then over sandhills and plains
which quivered in the heat.  But the boys would not have minded the
heat if the flies had only left them alone.  Long before dawn, before
even the morning star had risen, flies buzzed around them, making life
well-nigh unbearable.

A halt was made about noon for dinner, the packs and saddles taken off
the horses for an hour, and then the journey was resumed, each man
riding a fresh horse, for no one rides the same horse all day in
Central Australia, if he can possibly help it.

Evening camp was usually made near a water-hole or native well, but
sometimes the horses had to go as long as two days without a drink.
They were unsaddled and hobbled out, and allowed to roam about all
night and pick up scanty bits of food.  It amazed the white boys to see
what very little herbage of any kind there was for an animal to live
on.  No grass; just a dry uninviting bush here and there, growing up
out of loose barren sand, with, at long intervals, a clump of twisted
mulga trees.  Yet the horses "did" well, and certainly the thousand
T.D.3 bullocks which had come down from the territory looked none the
worse for their trip over country just as barren as the boys were now
camped on.

After tea was the time the two white boys enjoyed most, for Mick would
light his pipe then, prop himself up against his swag, and, with a
quart-pot of tea by his side, tell them yarns about the back country.
Many of these narratives included Boss Stobart, for he and Mick had
gone about together a great deal, and had established overland droving
records which are still unbeaten.  He told of drought and flood, of
thirst and hunger, of cattle rushes and disease, of mining camps, of
Afghans and their camels, of Chinamen and opium, of grog shanties, of
troopers, of wild blacks and still wilder whites, until his listeners'
minds flamed at the thought that they, even they, were in the country
where such adventures had taken place--and perhaps some day would be
met with by themselves.  And at night, when they lay out on their swags
under the cool sky, which looked so much farther away than it did in
cities, and heard the high quavering hunting-call of the dingo, their
thoughts would go, not towards the scenes where they had spent their
boyhood, but onwards into the unknown.

One day, when the routine of "the road" had gone on for more than a
fortnight, they were crossing a broad expanse of hard stony country,
shut in on the north by dense mulga scrub, when Sax noticed a thin
column of smoke rising from the trees a few miles away.  He could
hardly believe his eyes, and when he looked again it was no longer
coming up from the trees, but was rising up and up and fading away
against the flawless blue of the sky.  He was about to call Vaughan's
attention to it when his horse stumbled and nearly fell.  Next time he
looked to the north the smoke was again rising from the trees, and then
again it was cut off, and floated away and was lost.

His curiosity was thoroughly roused.  "Mick!" he shouted, for by this
time the boys had dropped the "Mr." when speaking to their drover
friend.  "Mick!  Is that _smoke_ over there in the trees?"

"Sure it's smoke," he answered.  "And so's that ahead there."  He
pointed across the plain, where the heat was dancing, to a little hill.
It must have been eight miles away, and from it rose a thin coil of
smoke.  At first Sax thought it was merely the effect of the sun
causing everything in the distance to quiver and take on fantastic
shapes, but he trusted the bushman's eyes, and at last convinced
himself that it was indeed smoke.

"Then somebody must be camped there," said Vaughan.

"Is it a station, Mick, or just chaps travelling like ourselves?" asked

"It's niggers, lad.  They're signalling to one another."

The columns of smoke were at once invested with a new interest to the
two boys.  Natives were near them, unseen, sending messages to other
natives at a distance.  The simplicity of this bush telegraphy was

"What are they saying, Mick, d'you know?" asked Vaughan eagerly.

"This lot," said the drover, "is telling that other lot over there that
we're coming.  So many white men, so many blacks, and so many horses.
We're getting into nigger country now."

"Will we see them?" asked the boys.

"No chance in life," replied the drover.  "These niggers are wild and
scared to death of white men.  They're different from the camp blacks
who hang round stations.  They'll likely be station blacks themselves
some day, for the wild nigger's dying out.  But just now, they keep
away and live their own lives.  We call them warraguls."


Stealthy Foes

Next morning, when the horses came in, two were missing.  "Which way
them two horses sit down?" Mick asked one of the boys.  "What for you
no bring um in?"

"Him dead," was the answer.

"Dead!" exclaimed the drover.  "How dead?"

"Him speared," explained Yarloo.

"Which way?  You show um me."  The drover saddled his horse and went
away with Yarloo, while the two white boys gave the other stockmen
their breakfast, wondering what had taken Mick off in such a hurry.

Mick Darby found the two dead horses.  By their tracks they had
evidently strayed away from the others, and by other tracks it was
clear that blacks had crept upon them in the dim light of dawn and had
speared them, for the bodies were still warm.  Mick always carried a
bottle of strychnine about with him, and at every camp he poisoned
little bits of meat and left them behind to kill the dingoes which
abound in cattle country.  He looked at the two horses--fine, stanch
animals, both of them--and his heart became hot with anger.  He put his
hand to his belt and fingered the poison pouch.  It was a great
temptation.  If the blacks had speared the horses for food, here was a
chance for revenge.  If he poisoned the carcass and killed the blacks,
would it not be a terrible warning to the others?

But it was only for a second that the ghastly thought attracted him.
He was a true white man and would not stoop to any hidden revenge.  It
is a white man's way to face his enemy in the open and under the sun,
not to kill him by putting strychnine in his food.  So Mick turned away
and rode back to camp, and did not tell the boys what danger they were

Next day smoke signals were all around them and very close.  It gave
the boys a feeling that keen black eyes were peering at them from every
bit of cover, and that lithe forms were slinking noiselessly from tree
to tree, never turning a stone or breaking a twig to disturb the
silence of the desert.

That evening they unpacked and unsaddled the horses early, and tied
them up till after tea.  Then Mick rode away with them himself, hobbled
them on an open patch of dry bush, and prepared to watch throughout the
night.  He knew the native method of attack: a little, then a little
more.  If two horses had been killed last night, three or four might be
speared this night.  To lose their horses would leave the party at the
mercy, not only of the blacks, but also of a more terrible enemy
still--thirst.  So the brave bushman was going to take no risks.

The spot he had chosen was a little plain covered with dry buck-bush
and surrounded on all sides with mulga scrub.  There was plenty of feed
to keep the horses quiet all night, but Mick was obliged to ride round
them again and again and turn them back from the scrub.  He was
perfectly sure that wild natives were in ambush behind the trees, and
that the first animal who wandered within range of a spear-cast would
become a victim.  The moon was half-full in a cloudless sky, and the
drover had no difficulty in seeing, but, after an hour or two, he had
the greatest difficulty in the world to keep awake.  The night was warm
and still and drowsy, and the day had been one of constant tension, and
as the drover sat with cocked rifle and with the horse's bridle looped
over his arm, he must have nodded once or twice through sheer weariness.

Suddenly he heard a stone move on another stone.  He was fully awake
and alert instantly.  The horses were still in the middle of the plain,
quietly feeding, but one or two of them were looking at an old tree
stump in the curious meditative way which resting animals have of
looking at things which are of no particular interest.

All at once Mick Darby sprang to his feet.  He had never seen that tree
stump before.  For several hours he had looked at that little plain in
the moonlight, and every bush was pictured on his memory.  He was
absolutely sure that old tree had not been there when he started to nod
with weariness.  Then, how had it come?  Trees do not grow from the
ground, become old, and die and lose most of their branches in less
than an hour of a summer's night.

Mick put his cocked rifle to his shoulder, trained the sights on the
tree stump, and walked slowly towards it.  The thing was about a
hundred and fifty yards away when he started.  He had covered a third
of the distance when the tree suddenly disappeared.  Remarkable as it
may appear, it is a fact.  One moment he saw the thick twisted trunk of
a mulga tree with a few broken branches, standing out on an otherwise
treeless plain; the next it had gone completely.  But, instead of the
tree, three wriggling black forms glided between the bushes with the
stealth of snakes, making for their lives towards the scrub.  They were
three warragul blacks, who had crept out into the plain and had used
this wonderful but quite common method of concealment.

Mick fired into the air to frighten them and any of their companions
who might be lurking near.  When the report had died away, the darkness
under the trees became full of little sounds like the patter of rain on
leaves, or like sheep passing over soft sand; a scarcely perceptible
sound, yet one which told of black savages creeping for safety into the
depths of the scrub.

The shot woke the two boys.  They turned to one another for an
explanation and saw that Mick had not returned.  His swag still lay
where it had been tossed off the horse.  They got up from their
blankets and began fastening their boots.  They saw Yarloo sitting up
on the other side of the fire and called him to them.  Yarloo always
camped away from the other black boys, for he was a member of a
different tribe.

"What was that shot, Yarloo?" asked Sax.

"Me can't know um," replied the boy.  "Boss, him no come back.  P'raps
him bin shoot, eh?"

"Which way did he go?" asked Sax again.  "It sounded quite close."

"Me find um all right."

"I vote we go too," said Vaughan.

Yarloo looked at him for a moment in hesitation; then he pointed to the
other blacks and said: "No two fella white man go.  No leave um camp
quite 'lone.  See?"

"He's right, Boof," said Sax.  "You go with Yarloo.  I'll stay," and as
his friend and the black boy disappeared in the darkness, he heaped
wood on the fire and blew it into a blaze.

Yarloo tracked Mick Darby with absolute certainty and found him within
half a mile of the camp.  The drover was surprised to see the white
boy, and at once made use of Yarloo to put the horses together in a
bunch and hold them for a time.  He told Vaughan what had happened, for
it was no good trying to keep the secret any longer.  "We lost two
horses last night," he said.  "I told you they'd cleared out.  But it
wasn't that.  The niggers had speared them."

"Then that's what the smoke signals meant?" asked Vaughan.

"Yes.  I wasn't sure at first whether it was hunger or devilment, so I
watched.  They tried to get in amongst the horses again to-night."

"Did you hit anyone?" asked Vaughan.

"No.  I didn't try.  I fired into the air to scare them."

By this time Yarloo had walked round the horses, turning them towards
the middle of the plain, and was squatting down on his haunches,

"That's a real good sort of a nigger," said Mick.  "He's got more sense
than most of them.  Seems to have taken to you boys.  I wonder why."

"He used to work for Sax's father," explained Vaughan.  "I thought you

"I see.  That explains it.  Hi!  Yarloo!" he called, and when the boy
came up: "You go back longa camp.  Watch till piccaninny daylight.  No
shut um eye, mind."

Yarloo grinned his understanding of the order and disappeared.  Then
the seasoned bushman and the new-chum white boy kept watch, turn and
turn about till dawn.  At least, that was the arrangement, but Vaughan
found that the drover fell so soundly asleep, and seemed to be so very
tired, that he did not wake him till the morning star was well above
the trees and had turned from fierce red to clear pale silver in a sky
which was rapidly becoming lighter.


First Sight of the Musgraves

Next day Mick Darby rode with cocked rifle in the lead of the plant.
The white boys were not with him.  They rode twenty or thirty yards in
the rear of the mounted blacks, ready to give instant alarm of any
danger.  But for nearly a week nothing unusual happened.  A few smoke
signals were seen, but were so far away that they seemed to indicate
that the wild blacks had taken warning and were retiring to their bush
fastnesses, having been convinced that it was beyond their power to
trick a watchful white man.

Night after night the horses were hobbled on the best feed that could
be found, and were watched from sunset till dawn.  The white boys took
their turn at this work, at first together, but, as night followed
night, and there was no sign of the blacks, Mick allowed them to take
their watches alone.  This experience did more than any other to
impress them with Central Australia: its silence, its absolute
loneliness, its vastness and the puny insignificance of man, who dared
to pit his power against it.

As hour after hour went by, and Sax or Vaughan rode round the horses or
squatted on the ground with the quietly breathing saddle-horse standing
near, these lads were slowly but surely changed from school-boys to
men.  They felt that they were face to face with the power of untamed
nature--the desert and the savage inhabitants of it--and that even they
were units in an army of progress which was conquering that nature and
making it minister to the needs of civilized man.  Of course, these
were not their actual thoughts, but that was certainly the general
effect which night-watching had upon them.

Six days went by in this way and it appeared as if all danger was past.
The party had been making towards a low range of hills on the western
horizon, and on the seventh day the plant passed up a little valley and
halted on the top for midday camp.

Through the clean sun-filled air of Central Australia the view was so
clear that all sense of distance was lost, and objects many days away
seemed no farther off than a few hours' ride.  The character of the
country was the same as that which they had travelled over since
leaving Oodnadatta: masses of scanty mulga scrub standing out dark on a
landscape of vast bare plains or rolling sand-hills.  Far away, a
pale-blue silhouette against the bright north-west sky, was a range of
high mountains.

"Those are the Musgraves," said Mick, in answer to a question.  "That's
where those niggers come from who speared my two horses."

"Are the niggers very wild?" asked Sax, thinking of his father.

"They're the last that really are wild in this part of the country,"
answered the drover.  "The rest have either come in and made camps near
stations, or cleared right out into West Australia."

"Are there many of them?" asked Vaughan.

"Nobody really knows," replied Mick.  "The Musgraves is a big slice of
country, as you can see, and it stretches back for a couple of hundred
miles north.  They say there's plenty of water and game in those
mountains.  Chaps used to go there after gold, but so few of them came
back that they chucked it and left the place alone.  The Musgraves have
got a bad name."

Mick Darby did not know that everything he said had a very personal
application to one at least of his companions.  The words of his
father's note kept ringing in Sax's ears: "In difficulties.  Musgrave
Ranges.  In difficulties.  Musgrave Ranges," and his vivid imagination
filled all sorts of details into the drover's bare statements about the
dangers of the place.  He noticed Yarloo looking intently at the
distant peaks, and when he caught the boy's eye, a significant glance
passed between them.  They were both thinking of the lonely white man.

But imaginary dangers soon gave place to present interests.  The saddle
of the hills where they were camped was the eastern boundary of
Sidcotinga Station, the run on which Mick was going to take up the
duties of head stockman, and the boys were keen to note every landmark
which he pointed out.

"How big is it, Mick?" asked Vaughan.

"Between six and seven thousand square miles."

"Miles!  You mean acres, don't you, Mick?"

"Acres be blowed!  No, miles.  This isn't a cocky farmer's cow-paddock."

The extent of country amazed the boys.  They were standing on a pretty
high hill and could see over a vast scope of country, but Mick told
them that a certain landmark near the head station was not even in
sight, and that the run stretched on beyond that again for miles and

"But how ever do you know when you've gone off the run?" asked Sax.
"Is it fenced?"

Mick Darby laughed heartily.  "Fenced!" he exclaimed.  "Fenced!  Oh my
hat!  No, lad, there's not a fence between here and glory, except round
a little bit of a paddock where they keep the working horses over
night.  Why, d'you know that to fence Sidcotinga Station you'd need
nearly four hundred miles of fencing?  There's no timber for the posts
in this part of the country, and as for wire----  No, they don't use
fences in Central Australia."

This was such a new point of view to the boys, that during the
afternoon's ride they asked innumerable questions of their kind-hearted
friend.  They heard that cattle are kept on any particular run because
of the impossibility of their wandering more than a certain distance
away from their water-hole.  In fact, a run is made up of permanent
waters and the area of country around them.  There may be any amount of
good feed on other parts of the run, but unless it is within reach of
water it is absolutely useless.

The only chance that cattle have of straying is after rain, which falls
very, very seldom in Central Australia.  When it does fall, the stock
wander off to new feeding-grounds, and may become stranded when the
surface waters dry up.  The stockmen are very busy at such times,
tracking up cattle and bringing them back to their accustomed haunts.

All this and much more the boys learnt as they rode along, and although
it seemed so new to them, there was a splendid sense that they were in
it all, and that soon they would know these things from actual

An experience of Central Australian life which might have ended fatally
was to come to them sooner than they expected.  Seeing that they were
now on Sidcotinga Station country, and that they had not been molested
for six days, Mick decided to let the horses go without being watched
that night, taking the precaution of tying up his own saddle-horse in
case of need.

Next morning all the boys had run away except Yarloo.  He went out with
a bridle at dawn and returned with the news that every one of the
horses had been speared.



Breakfast was being prepared in camp when Yarloo brought in the
terrible news.  Mick Darby was greasing a couple of pack-girths,
Vaughan was mixing a damper, and Sax was attending to the seven
quart-pots near the fire and laying out the tucker on a clean bag.
When Yarloo came in with his bridle in his hand, he did not say
anything for a minute or two, but went over to the fire.  He did not
always go after the horses in the morning, for he was very useful at
mending harness and doing odd jobs with the gear; therefore no one was
surprised to see him back before the others.  Presently Mick brought
the two girths over to be warmed, so that the grease would sink right
into the leather.  He looked across the fire at Yarloo and saw an
expression on the boy's face such as he had never seen there before.
The native looked terribly scared.  Mick had no idea what had upset the
boy, and thought the fright was probably due to one of the many
superstitions which are always liable to crop up.  But he liked Yarloo,
and asked him kindly: "What name, Yarloo?  You see um Kadaitcha
(avenging spirit), eh?"

The boy shook his head and fingered the bridle nervously.

"Which way Ranui, Ted, Teedee?" asked Mick again, noticing that the
other boys had not come up and that it was getting near sunrise.

"Gone," said Yarloo.

It was not what was said so much as the tone of the boy's voice which
made Mick look with sudden earnestness into Yarloo's face, and ask
quickly: "Gone!  What name you yabber gone?  (What makes you say
they've gone?)"

"Me think those three fella no come back," explained the boy.  "Me
track um up long way.  They walk, walk.  Oh my word, plenty walk."  He
pointed towards the distant mountains, and continued: "Me think they
walk longa Musgraves."

Yarloo pronounced the word "Musgraves" in a tone of fear.  It was a
word to strike terror to the heart; a word which at once called to mind
everything which was bad and treacherous and cruel about natives; a
word which told of the last great stronghold of the blacks which white
men had tried and tried again to take from them but without success.
Sax and Vaughan looked at one another when the dreaded word "Musgraves"
caught their ear.  Yarloo saw their glance, and repeated, in a hopeless
voice: "Me think they walk longa Musgraves."

"What time they go?" asked Mick, thinking that Yarloo must have made a
mistake.  "What time they start walk?"

The boy pointed to the western horizon and then shut his eyes, meaning
that the others had started out directly it was dark after sunset last
night.  "Me see um track other black fella," he said.  "Ranui, Ted,
Teedee, they join those other black fella.  Go 'way Go right 'way.  Me
think they no come back."

Suddenly the meaning of it all flashed into Mick's mind.  "And the
horses?" he asked eagerly.  "What name the horses?"

Yarloo did not answer.

Mick sprang across the fire and seized the startled boy by the arm and
shook him in his eagerness to hear all that had happened during that
fatal night.  "You yabber quickfella! quickfella!  (You tell me
quickly!)" he shouted.  "What name horses?"

"Them bin speared."

"Speared!"  The word came from Mick's lips with a yell of horror.

"Yah.  Alabout.  (All of them.)"

Mick sprang towards his own saddle-horse, which had been tied up all
night.  He unhitched it and was across its back before the white boys
had had time to realize the meaning of the terrible news.  "Show me!"
he shouted, and he and Yarloo disappeared at once on the track of the

The boy's report was only too true.  The Musgrave blacks, who had not
molested them for six nights, had done the most dastardly thing
possible under the circumstances.  They had stolen forward that night
and speared every one of the hobbled horses.  They evidently did not
want food, for, as Mick and Yarloo went from one dead body to another,
they saw that not a single piece of meat had been cut off.  It was hate
and not hunger which had actuated the deed.  The poor faithful workers,
some of whom had been the drover's companions for several years, were
cold and stiff, showing that they must have been killed early the night

The tracks of bare native feet made it clear that, after completing
their acts of cold-blooded murder--for it was nothing less--the
warragul blacks had crept towards the drover's camp.  They had
approached it on the black boys' side of the fire and had thus missed
seeing Mick's saddle-horse, which was tied to a tree near its master.
The rest of the story was easy to read.  The wild blacks had enticed
the camp boys away, and Ranui, Ted, and Teedee had left everything
behind them and had fled with the horse-killers through the night in
the direction of the ill-famed Musgrave Ranges.

Mick's boys had actually taken no part in the killing; that was one
thing in their favour.  Another satisfaction, which stood out like a
dull gleam of light in the grim dark tragedy, was that now there were
three fewer men to share their limited supply of water.  But the
greatest good of all, in fact the only real ray of hope, was the fact
that one horse was still left, Mick's stanch gelding, Ajax.  If the
drover had not fastened him up the evening before, and he had shared
the fate of his companions, the outlook for the four men would have
been black indeed.  It was far blacker than they at first thought it to
be, for one important thing was not found out till later, and when it
was it took the bravest of brave hearts to stand up against such dire
disaster.  The marauders had taken all the water-canteens except one
which had evidently escaped their notice by being near Mick's head.  It
contained a little over three gallons!

Eighty miles from water, in the heart of the sandy scrub-covered desert
in blazing summer weather, with only a canteen half-full of water to
serve four men!

It is under such circumstances as these that manhood is put to the
test.  All four men rose to the occasion.  Sax and Vaughan, though
still lads as regards their age, were in reality men.  Nothing but the
unconquerable spirit of man can survive in the battle against grim
nature in the Central Australian desert, and these two, who had but a
short time before been sitting in the classroom of a city school, had
faced difficulties and had won through, by sheer pluck and resolution,
and had therefore earned the right to be called men.

Yarloo showed his faithfulness on this occasion when it would have been
so much easier for him to run away.  Because he always slept some
distance away from the other boys, he had not known of their silent
departure in the night, but once he saw the terrible difficulties in
which the little party had been placed, it would have been the most
natural thing in the world for him to clear out and leave the three
whites to their fate.  He could even have stolen the horse in order to
make his escape absolutely sure.  He was a native, and could live and
travel through the desert scrub day after day when a white man would
certainly perish.  He had been born and brought up to such a life, and
when he threw in his lot with the three stranded white men, he was, in
reality, jeopardizing his own chances of coming through the adventure
alive.  He chose to be faithful to his companions rather than make sure
of his own safety.

Yarloo was a good boy and had therefore always been treated well by
white men.  He had not had many masters, and one of them stood out
above all others in his primitive mind.  He had been Boss Stobart's boy
for years, and though he might work for other white men now and
again--as in this case he was working for Mick--he remained at heart
faithful to one man, first and last, and that man was Boss Stobart.
Therefore it was probably not only Yarloo's naturally fine spirit which
prompted him to stick to his companions when they were in trouble, but
also the fact that one of them was the son of his real Boss.  He felt
that Sax was definitely in his own personal charge, and, though his
simple mind did not know how it could possibly be brought about, he
felt that some day he would be the means of reuniting father and son.

Mick Darby also proved himself equal to the occasion.  In fact the
sheer manhood of him rose supreme above every difficulty and triumphed
over one disaster after another.  There are some men whose stories are
far greater than their actual achievements, and at times, when the
drover had been telling yarns to the boys after sunset, they had
wondered whether these things could possibly be true.  It was not that
they doubted their friend's veracity, but the country, the men, and
therefore the happenings were so strange to the lads that they seemed
to have an existence only in books and not to be possible in real life.
But now Mick showed the stuff he was made of.  When he had found out
all there was to learn, about what the blacks had done, and exactly
what position the party was left in, he stopped thinking about that
part of the question and set his mind to solve the problem of the
immediate future.

The first necessity was breakfast, and they ate heartily and drank
sparingly, but enough to quench their thirst.  Then Mick beckoned to
Yarloo to sit down near him, handed his plug to the boy, and when he
had broken off a pipeful, he jammed his own black brier to the brim and
started to smoke.  When he started to speak, he did so equally to all
three men, black and white alike.  Yarloo had definitely and of his own
free will chosen to share whatever fate was in store for them, and had
earned the right to be included in everything which they did.  The boy
did not presume on this unusual act of the white man; it is only a
weak-spirited man who presumes.

"I reckon we're eighty miles from Sidcotinga Station.  You think it,
Yarloo?" asked Mick, turning to the boy.

The native faced in the direction of the station and considered,
counting on his fingers.  "Yah," he said at length.  "Yah.  Me think it
two day ride, boss."

"Two days with a fresh horse, you mean," commented Mick.  "Ajax hasn't
had a drink for a whole day, remember....  That last water-hole's dry,
and the one back of that's nearly a hundred miles from here....  So it
must be Sidcotinga....  Let's see.  We've got two and a half gallons of
water, haven't we?"

The boys confirmed this estimate, and he went on:

"We needn't worry about tucker.  We've got mobs of flour and sugar....
The question is: who's to ride ahead for water and horses.  You lads
don't know the way, so it's either Yarloo or me....  Yarloo's lighter
on a horse than I am....  But he couldn't do as much as I could when he
got there, supposing they were all out on the run....  Still, I could
write a note to the cook, couldn't I?"  He paused, considering, drawing
in great breaths of smoke and puffing it out again on the still hot air
till his head was surrounded by a cloud.

Yarloo was drawing blackfellow diagrams in the sand with a little
stick, and looked as though he had made up his mind.  So he had, but he
waited for the white man to ask him for his opinion before giving it.

"What you think, Yarloo?" asked Mick, after a time.  "You think it me
or you ride Ajax longa Sidcotinga, bring um back water, horses, eh?"

Yarloo did not hesitate for a moment.  "You ride, boss," he said
decidedly.  "You ride.  Me stay here."

The tone surprised Mick, and he looked up quickly.  "What name?
(Why?)" he asked.

"White man drink more water nor black fella," he explained.  "S'pose me
stay, me drink little, little drop.  Me think you drink big mob."  He
hesitated and dug the little stick into the ground with an embarrassed
air.  The boy had evidently got another reason, and his listeners
wanted to hear it.  He looked at Mick as if he didn't know whether he
ought to say it or not, and then he blurted out: "You good white man
all right, boss.  You know um bush more better not big mob white men.
(You know the bush better than most white men.)  Yarloo know um bush
much more better nor you, boss.  Me bin grow up little piccaninny longa
bush....  S'pose--s'pose you no come back....  S'pose you fall off
horse....  S'pose you die, p'raps me find um water."  He paused again,
but it was clear that he had not finished.

"Good, Yarloo," said Mick encouragingly.  "Go ahead."

"One time me work longa Boss Stobart," said the boy slowly and
hesitatingly.  "Him altogether good boss.  Him plenty good quite.  That
one white boy," he pointed to Sax, "that one white boy, him belonga my
old boss.  Him belonga Boss Stobart....  Me stay, Misser Darby?  You
let Yarloo stay, eh?"  The request was made in a voice of entreaty, as
if the faithful native was asking a very great favour.

Mick at once complied with hearty good will.  "Of course you stay,
Yarloo.  You stay all right.  You look after white boy real good."
Yarloo's face lit up with satisfaction and his expression assured the
drover that the white boys would be perfectly safe in his hands.

Soon after coming to this decision, Mick Darby set out on Ajax for
Sidcotinga Station.  He knew that he would strike no water before
reaching the homestead well, and that it was not at all certain whether
the already thirsty horse could travel those eighty desert miles
without a drink.  He did not tell the boys of his fear, but started
away with a cheery good-bye, carrying only a quart-pot of water for
himself as well as a little damper and dried meat.

Fortune favoured the brave man.  On the very first night, after he had
travelled his tired horse on past sunset as long as he dared, he found
a big patch of parakelia.  This extraordinary plant sends up thick
moisture-filled leaves in the middle of the most arid desert.  The
juice, which can be easily squeezed from parakelia leaves, tastes
bitter and is not at all pleasant, but it has saved the life of many a
bold adventurer in Central Australia.  Stock can live on it for weeks
at a time without a drink of water, and once Ajax got a mouthful of
these cool succulent leaves, he did not move more than a few yards all
night, but satisfied his thirst and hunger and then lay down.

Mick Darby watched all night.  He was taking no more chances.  No doubt
he fell asleep from time to time, but at the slightest movement
anywhere near, he was instantly and fully awake.  Next day he rode a
thoroughly rested horse and reached Sidcotinga Station the same night,
after having covered sixty-three miles.  Such a distance would not be
at all unusual in good country, but in the desert, with the sun blazing
down out of a cloudless sky on mile after mile of soft sand, it was a
ride which none but the best of horses and the hardiest of men could
have accomplished.

The drover had advised the boys to stay just where they were till he
returned, and not exhaust themselves by walking.  Yarloo therefore
built them a rough sun-shelter of mulga boughs and they rested under
this all day, doing nothing which would create thirst.  In spite of
every care, however, their mouths were clammy and their throats calling
out for water long before sunset.  Once a real thirst is created, it
takes more water to quench it than it does to keep the thirst away, so
they each had a drink at tea-time and felt all the better for it.

Soon after tea, Yarloo, who had gone away, came in with a bundle of
sticks.  "Whatever's that for?" asked Sax.  Neither of the boys had got
into the way of addressing the natives in broken English.  "You're
surely not going to make a fire, are you?"

Yarloo had to think for a minute or two before he understood what the
white boy had said, and then he nodded his head.  "Yah," he replied.
"Me make um fire.  S'pose um bad black-fella come up."

"But how about us?" objected Vaughan.  "We'll be roasted alive."

The native did not catch the meaning of this remark, but he answered
the question which Vaughan had in his mind.  "By'm bye when it cool,"
Yarloo pointed to the sky, "we walk little bit."

"But Mick told us to stay here," said Vaughan again.

"Me think bad black-fella come up to-night," explained Yarloo, with
great patience.  "S'pose him see um fire, him think: 'White man sleep'.
Then him creep up, spear-um, spear-um.  S'pose we light fire then walk,
bad black-fella throw um spear, no good, no good at all.  White man go
'way."  Yarloo grinned both at the thought of the safety of the party
and of the discomfiture of the blacks.

The lads saw the force of Yarloo's argument.  A big fire was lit, as if
in preparation for spending the night, and then the three men took the
precious water, a little tucker, and as few personal belongings as
possible, and set out in the direction of Sidcotinga Station, lead by
the unerring instinct of their black companion.  It was well that they
did so.  During the hours of moonlight, a small band of Musgrave
niggers crept round the camp and remained in hiding.  But directly the
moon set, they advanced towards the dying fire, with spears poised and
boomerangs ready for instant and deadly use.  What would have happened
if any hated white man had been asleep in that camp can be better
imagined than described.  No one would have been left alive.  But,
finding their prey had escaped, the would-be murderers vented their
rage upon the saddles and pack-bags, tore them to shreds and threw them
into the flames, and scattered into the fire as much of the provisions
as was left after they had gorged themselves.  They did not attempt to
follow the three white men in the dark, and next day the little
marauding band went after their fellows and joined them on the way to
the Musgrave Ranges.  All except one, and we will hear more of him


A Sandstorm

By Yarloo's faithfulness and forethought the little party had escaped
death at the hands of wild savages, but a more deadly peril was waiting
for them.  It is one thing to fight with a human enemy, but quite
another to fight with one which is not human.  The lads were soon to
see that the most terrible disasters of the desert are caused, not by
wild and fiendishly cruel natives who follow silently day after day and
then wreak their hatred on the traveller in the most unexpected way,
but by grim Nature herself.  Nature was their greatest, their most
merciless, their most unconquerable enemy.  They were soon to have an
illustration of her power.

On the night when their camp was raided, the three men walked till the
moon set and then lay down to sleep.  They did not light a fire for
fear of showing the blacks where they were, but just scooped hollows in
the warm sand and stretched themselves out with a camp-sheet as their
only bed-clothes, for they had left everything else behind them.  The
white boys were soon asleep, but Yarloo kept himself awake all night to
watch.  It was one of the hardest things the boy had ever done, for he
was very tired and the heavy warm night made him drowsy.  His simple
mind fixed itself on one thing with all the determination of his
nature; he had one purpose and one purpose only in life just then, and
that was to preserve Boss Stobart's son from death, and he kept himself
awake by sheer will-power.  But when the morning star rose above the
eastern horizon, red and throbbing, the tired-out black-fellow knew
that his weary watch was over.  He flopped down on the sand and was
instantly asleep.

The close night was followed by a sultry dawn.  Instead of the
sparklingly clear pale sky in the east which usually heralds the rising
of the sun, a dull haze made everything appear heavy and listless.  The
air was warm and still, but not light and dry as it generally is in the
desert, and it was so heavy that every breath was an effort, and the
slightest movement caused perspiration to break out all over the body.

The boys woke up with a most uncomfortable feeling of oppression.  They
were hot and thirsty, yet they dared not touch the canteen of water.
Although the sun had not risen, the heat seemed to be greater than they
had ever known it before in the open air, and they lay and fanned their
faces and fought the flies which were swarming around them.

When the sun rose, it showed a few little white clouds like puffs of
steam, low down in the northern sky, and hiding the distant Musgrave
Ranges from view.  The sight of clouds is so unusual in Central
Australia that the boys remarked about it to one another, and were
amazed to see the difference which occurred in less than half an hour.
The clouds had indeed risen and increased greatly during that short
time.  Instead of a few separate clouds, a big solid bank was now
spreading all over the horizon, and huge pillars of white were
stretching out from the main mass, far up into the sky.

Yarloo slept late, but when he woke up, he too stood and watched the
rising clouds.  He evidently did not like the look of things, for he
shook his head, and, in reply to a question from Sax, replied:

"Me no like it.  Me think it storm come up."

To the hot and thirsty white boys the word "storm" had only one
meaning, and they uttered it together: "Rain!"

Yarloo smiled.  "Neh," he replied.  "Rain no come up.  Me think it
wind.  P'raps sand.  Me no like it."  He set about building a little
fire for breakfast, and though his companions were not in the least bit
hungry, they followed his example and ate some damper and dried meat.
Each man was allowed half a quart-pot of tea.  Sax and Vaughan drank
theirs with the meal, but Yarloo took a few sips and then put his
quart-pot away in a safe place.

There was nothing to do all morning.  Yarloo again made a little
sun-shelter, but this became unnecessary after about ten o'clock,
because by that time the rising clouds had covered the face of the sun.
With every succeeding hour the oppressive heat seemed to get more and
more unbearable.  There was not a breath of wind.  It was as if a lot
of thick blankets were slowly smothering every living creature on the
earth.  The clouds were no longer white, except at the front edges and
in places where a few great puffs bulged out.  The rest was grey,
getting darker and darker till it was near the horizon, and then it
turned to brown.  This brown looked like a huge curtain hung from the
sky and trailing over the earth.  Now and again it was lit up by
flashes of lurid red, for all the world as if a furnace were roaring
behind that curtain.

The air was absolutely still, deathlike still, and a sound which was
exactly like the roaring of a furnace came out of the north, with an
occasional louder boom when the pent-up fury of the storm burst through
the brown cloud.  In reality, the sound was made by millions of
particles of sand being hurtled through the air by an electric storm.

The sound came nearer.  The clouds were completely overhead now, from
north to south, from east to west.  There was not a patch of blue to be
seen.  The panting earth waited in abject fear.  A puff of wind came,
hot and stifling, as if an oven door had suddenly been opened.  It
passed over the mulgas, making them sigh and moan, and then was gone
again, leaving the same breathless stillness.  Another puff, this time
cool and fresh.  It also passed away and left the men with dread in
their hearts--the dread of an unknown, unseen foe.

The storm was very near.  Sax was watching it so intently that he
jumped round suddenly when Yarloo touched him on the arm.  The
black-fellow was pointing to the canteen.  "Drink, little drop," he
said, and pointed to the approaching curtain of brown sand.  He
evidently meant that the boys would be better able to stand against the
storm if they had a drink beforehand, so Sax motioned to Vaughan and
poured a little water out into the two pannikins.  Neither of them
spoke.  They were overawed by the might, the majesty, the mystery of

Vaughan drank his water and lay down under the shelter.  Sax did not
screw the top on the canteen for a moment, intending to pour a few
drops back again when he had finished.  He held his hand over the hole
in the canteen and started to drink from his pannikin.

Suddenly the storm burst on them.  Sax heard a terrific rushing sound
and looked round quickly.  He was at once blinded as completely as if
an actual thick brown curtain had been blown around his head.  At the
same time, some tremendous force caught him, nearly lifted him off the
ground, and threw him down sprawling on the sand several yards away.
The pannikin was wrenched from his hand, and the canteen--what of the

Sax lay stunned for a moment, and then his first and only thought was
the canteen.  He tried to crawl, but every effort on his part only gave
the enormous pressure of wind opportunity to drive him back, for as
soon as he lifted his head, it was caught and twisted as if some soft
strangling folds of cloth were being pulled around it from behind.

The light of the sun was blotted out completely, and it was as dark as
a starless midnight.  A screaming sound filled the boy's ears: the
yelling of the storm, the laughter of the furies, the shrill shouts of
fiends.  He had to shield his mouth in order to breathe, and even then
a fine dust choked his throat, and he would have coughed and vomited up
his very life if he had not turned his back to the storm.  Enormous
quantities of sand were crowding the gale.

Have you ever stood under a waterfall and let a solid column of water
fall on you from a height?  You can stand there only for a moment,
because the power of even a liquid is greater than the strength of man.
But here, in the desert, three exhausted men were fighting for their
lives with sand; sand, as solid as it could possibly be without being
actually fixed; sand, as hard as it could possibly be, and yet be
driven by the wind.  The electric gale of wind had scooped the surface
off a thousand miles of desert, and was flinging it at three puny human

It was impossible to face the onslaught.  Sax turned against the storm
and tried to crawl backwards.  At all costs he must find the canteen.
He had no thought but this: the canteen! the canteen!  Three lives
depended on those drops of precious liquid.  Were they safe?  He
crawled backwards inch by inch.  But he had lost all sense of
direction.  The stinging, stifling sand, the shrill-screaming wind, the
pitch-black whirling darkness; how could a man possibly tell where he
was going?

Stobart's senses were all numb with the buffeting of the storm, but he
suddenly felt that one of his legs was being held.  He tried to kick
free but was pulled backwards, and then something flapped and covered
him.  There was instant peace.  He had found a shelter.  Outside this
unknown something which covered him the gale raged past in impotent
fury.  He was safe.  An arm gripped his body and held him close.

The sudden reaction from fighting for his life to this secure peace was
too much for the overwrought boy.  He did not bother to find out who or
what had saved him; he sank down, down, down into unconsciousness, and
as the peaceful darkness closed over his mind, he muttered the words:
"Canteen, canteen, canteen."

No one heard.  No one could possibly hear in such a storm, not even the
man who was holding him so closely.  It was Yarloo.  The boy had found
his master's son, and had covered his head with a coat, and was now
holding the unconscious form in his arms, while Sax drew long,
unhindered breaths.

The storm passed.  It had come upon them suddenly, and it went away in
the same manner.  There was very little lessening of its fury to tell
of the approaching end, but the air grew lighter all at once, the
sounds got fainter quickly, and there was now no longer any stinging
sand.  The brown curtain passed on, trailing its fringe over the
desert, and the back of it could be seen as distinctly as the front had
been a short half-hour before.

A short half-hour before?  Yes.  The sandstorm had lasted barely thirty
minutes.  It was so local, that Mick, riding along towards Sidcotinga
Station only forty miles away, knew nothing about it.  Such tremendous
fury as these electric storms display is possible only when they
concentrate their power on a very small area.  This one had probably
swept across a thousand miles of desert, and might go on for a thousand
more before it spent itself.  It had come across the great tableland
behind the Musgrave Ranges, had been brought to a narrow point down one
of the gorges in the mountains, and had hurled itself at the three
defenceless men.  It was a messenger of death from the Musgrave Ranges,
the mysterious, dreaded, fascinating Musgrave Ranges.

The air behind the storm was cool and bright and clean.  Not a spot of
rain had fallen, but there was the same new-washed freshness about
everything which comes after a sudden summer shower.  The blue of the
sky seemed clearer and more flawless than it had ever seemed before, in
contrast with the depressing sultriness of the morning, and even the
sun, shining down without the thinnest veil to lessen its fiery
strength, seemed to look with a less unfriendly eye than usual.

And what did it see?  Vaughan had been under the sun-shelter when the
storm broke.  The first gust had blown the flimsy structure down flat,
and the weight of sand, which poured immediately on to it, prevented it
from being blown away.  The frightened white boy had been pinned under
the fallen boughs and had been unable to get free while the storm
lasted.  It had been a fortunate accident for him, for he was compelled
to lie still, in perfect safety, while the gale surged over him,
instead of trying, as his friend Sax had done, to match his puny
strength against it.

Poor Sax had been absolutely winded.  In his anxiety to find the
canteen, he had exhausted his strength in fighting the storm, and had
no power left to breathe in such a stifling atmosphere.  He might
easily have been choked if Yarloo had not found him.

The native was desert born and bred, and knew how to act in every
contingency that could possibly occur in the bush.  He had seen Sax
blown down with the first effort of the storm, and though he himself
could neither see nor hear, because of the sand and wind, he had
gradually forced his way towards his master's son, with a sure instinct
which did not stop to wonder what he was doing or why he was doing it.
He had found him at last, and had held his unconscious body tight,
shielding it with his coat and with his own body till the gale should
pass over.

A few minutes afterwards, while Vaughan was fighting his way out of the
broken-down sun-shelter, and Yarloo was bending over the still body of
the other white boy, Sax opened his eyes.

"The canteen," he mumbled.  "The canteen."

His friends thought that he wanted a drink, and Vaughan looked round
for the canteen.  It was nowhere to be seen.  Sax was not really hurt,
and his anxiety restored him to full consciousness in a minute or two.
He sat up and watched Vaughan hunting round for their most precious
possession, the canteen.  At last he staggered to his feet, tottered
about for a step or two because his head was so dizzy, and then began
to help in the search.  He did not dare to tell the others what he
feared, but when he finally stumbled against it, half buried in the
sand about twenty yards away from camp, he found that the worst had

The canteen was empty.

Sax had not screwed down the metal cap when the water-carrier had been
caught by the wind and hurled along the ground.  For several minutes
its own smoothness had kept it moving, and had prevented it from
lodging against anything and being buried, but each roll and jolt had
spilt some of the water, till finally every drop had been wasted on the
parched sand.  Then, when all the harm which was possible had been
done, the useless thing had jammed up against a dead mulga root and had
been slowly covered with sand.

When the truth fully dawned upon them, the two boys sat down on the
ground and stared hopelessly in front of them.  Although they had been
in the North only for a brief period, they knew that they were face to
face with one of the most terrible things which could have happened to
them in the desert.  A man can go without food for several days, but
water is an absolute daily necessity.  The sandstorm had left the white
boys weak, and as they had already stinted themselves of water for the
last day and a half, they were in no condition to meet this new

Gradually the sun exerted its old sway over the earth, and the boys
were obliged to seek some shade.  They helped Yarloo rebuild the old
shelter, and sat down under it, with their only possessions--one
pannikin, one badly torn camp-sheet, and an empty canteen.  Everything
else had been blown away or absolutely spoilt.

Towards the middle of the afternoon, when, nearly sixty miles to the
west of them, Mick was drawing near Sidcotinga Station, Yarloo went out
from the shelter for a few minutes.  He had been very thoughtful for
the last hour, and had evidently just made up his mind on some
important matter.  When he returned he was carrying his quart-pot,
which was a little more than a quarter full of tea.  The boy had jammed
the pannikin lid on tight that morning and had hidden it in the sand,
and the storm had not done it any harm.  He showed the tea to his
companions, but did not give the pot into their eager hands till he had
explained what he intended to do.

"Me go 'way," he said.

The white boys did not pay any attention to this remark.  Here was
something to drink, and they were parched with thirst.

"Me go 'way," repeated Yarloo.  "Me come back by'm bye....  P'raps me
find um water ... p'raps me find um parakelia."

His companions did not reply.  What did it matter?  Why this "perhaps,
perhaps" when here was the certainty of at least a mouthful of tea for
each?  But Yarloo waited for a moment or two, and then went on

"Me come back to-morrow 'bout same time....  White boy stay here ... no
go 'way.  No go 'way, mind....  Sax," he said timidly, using the name
for the first time, "Sax, you no go 'way, eh?"

"No.  No.  Of course we won't go away, Yarloo," was the impatient
answer.  "But how long are you going to keep hold of that quart-pot?"

"Me come back to-morrow 'bout same time," said Yarloo slowly.  "S'pose
me give it quart-pot, you no drink um till to-morrow sunrise? ...
to-morrow sunrise, eh?"

His meaning was perfectly clear.  He was going to leave them the tea on
condition that they didn't touch it till sunrise next day.  The boys
became angry at what they considered a foolish idea.

"What's the good of that to us?" asked Vaughan hastily.

"Yes," agreed Sax.  "Whatever's the good of such a fool idea? ...
Besides, you've got no right to tell us when we're to have a drink and
when we're not to have a drink.  I'm thirsty.  I'm going to have my
share now....  Here, Yarloo, give me that quart-pot."

He held out his hand, but Yarloo stepped back.  "Quart-pot belonga me,"
he said quietly.

The boy's statement was undoubtedly true.  The tea was his, saved from
his fair breakfast allowance, and, if he was good enough to part with
it for the sake of the white boys, surely he had a right to dictate his
own terms.  Sax and Vaughan at once saw their mistake and began to feel
a little foolish because of the attitude they had tried to take up.
Yarloo was evidently in grim earnest, for he repeated his former

"S'pose me gib it quart-pot, you no drink um till to-morrow sunrise,

"All right, Yarloo," agreed Sax.  "We'll not drink it till sunrise
to-morrow....  But, look here," he exclaimed suddenly, realizing for
the first time the tremendous sacrifice the black-fellow was making.
"Look here!  We mustn't take your tea.  It's yours, Yarloo.  Yours," he
repeated, in order to make his meaning clear.

But Yarloo had already begun to scrape a hole in the sand.  When it was
deep enough, he put the precious quart-pot into it so that it could not
be spilt.  "You belonga Boss Stobart," he said slowly.  "Boss Stobart
good fella longa me."

He stood up when he had finished and looked at the two boys.
"Goo-bye," he said, and was turning to go, when something prompted Sax
to hold out his hand.  Yarloo took it instantly and then shook
Vaughan's hand also,[1] and, in another minute, he was almost out of
sight amongst the ragged scrub.

[1] Blacks do not shake hands when they are in their wild state, but
they quickly pick up the habit from the white man.



Sax and Vaughan were very thirsty.  For several days they had been
compelled to drink sparingly, and for the last two they had taken only
enough liquid to keep them just alive.  They were now entirely without
drink of any kind save for that little drop of tea in a dirty and
battered quart-pot, half buried in the sand.  Is it any wonder that
their longing eyes and thoughts were almost constantly fixed on the
pot, which they had promised not to touch till sunrise next day.

While Yarloo had been with them, the white boys had kept up a good
appearance of courage, and had pretended that they were not so thirsty
as they really were, for no man likes to give in before a member of an
inferior race; but when Yarloo went away it became harder and harder
for them to keep up their pluck.  For thirst is the most terrible of
all forms of torture.  The pain comes on slowly but surely, and
increases till it seems impossible that the human body can stand any
more.  Yet the body is such a marvellous thing that it does stand even
the terrible pain of thirst, till it gets beyond endurance and the man
goes mad.  The thirst which kills men in the desert is not the same as
being thirsty.  Down-country, it is quite pleasant to be thirsty, for
it makes a drink taste so nice; but desert thirst--or "perishing", as
it is called--is caused by the drying up of the moisture of the body
till the organs inside actually cease to work, and the blood clogs in
the arteries because it is not liquid enough.

It was such terrible thirst that Sax and Vaughan were experiencing.  In
appearance, Sax was of slighter build than his thick-set friend, Boof,
but the drover's son had inherited from his father a natural toughness
and an ability to endure privation and hardship which Vaughan, although
he was quite as plucky, did not possess.  It happened, therefore, that
though Sax was just able to keep control of himself throughout the
terrible night which followed Yarloo's departure, Vaughan lost
consciousness and became delirious about half an hour before sunset.

The first signs which he gave that he was not in his right senses were
when he began to undress.  Sax was feeling so desperately ill himself
that he did not pay much attention to what his friend was doing till he
saw him throw his shirt outside, and then start to pull off his
trousers.  The poor lad's tongue was swollen in his mouth and was
starting to stick out from between his teeth.  He got his trousers off,
and began fumbling at his boots, but was so weak that he couldn't untie
the knots.  His eyes had a peculiar look in them, something like those
of a man who walks in his sleep, and when his friend spoke to him he
took absolutely no notice at all.

Both lads had been lying stretched out on the sand all the afternoon,
too exhausted to do anything, but, seeing his companion behaving in
such a strange way, Sax tried to sit up.  But he could not do it at
first.  As soon as he lifted himself, sharp pains stabbed him in the
back and stomach, and his head throbbed so violently that he nearly
fainted.  He tried again and again, very gradually, till he was able to
sit up at last.  Vaughan had managed to drag one boot off by this time,
and was feverishly busy with the other; the rest of his body was naked.
Sax called out again, but the effort at sitting up had so much
exhausted the little strength which remained, that his voice was so
weak he hardly heard it himself.  Stobart didn't understand the serious
state his friend was in, but he knew that something must be done at
once, and as there was nobody to do it but himself, he prepared for a
supreme effort.

After several unsuccessful attempts, he managed to stand up, and when
the dizziness in his head had died down a little, he tottered over
towards Vaughan.  He touched him on the arm.  Vaughan took no notice,
but wrenched at the second boot, pulling it off at last, and scrambling
to his feet like a drunken man.  He seemed to have far more strength
than Sax had, but when he started to stagger out from under the
bough-shelter, his friend suddenly remembered a yarn which Mick had
told them one night, about a perishing man who pulled off all his
clothes and walked away into the scrub to die a most terrible death.
Sax was afraid that his companion was going to do the same thing, and
that he wouldn't have the strength to prevent him.

Sax had to put his feet down very carefully or he would have fallen
through sheer weakness, but he caught hold of Vaughan and clung to him.
This forced the delirious lad to look at his companion, but there was
no spark of intelligence in his eyes; he did not recognize who it was;
he only felt something holding him back from what he had determined to
do.  With extraordinary strength, considering his condition, he shook
himself free, and started to walk away.  Sax fell, but as he did so he
stretched out his hands.  They touched the other's bare legs.  Sax
clutched the legs and hung on with all his power, and Vaughan tripped
and came down with a crash.

The sun sank below the horizon and left two perishing white boys
panting in the sand in the fading light.

Sax remembered nothing more for several hours.  When he came to himself
again he was alone.  His fall had rendered him unconscious for a
moment, and this state had been immediately followed by a deep sleep.
The night was cool, and though his thirst was still raging, it did not
seem so bad as it had done under the blazing sun; his sleep also had
refreshed him.  On Central Australian nights it is never too dark to
see the objects around, for the light of the stars comes through the
clear dry air of the desert more brilliantly than it does in any other
part of the world.  Consequently it needed only a hurried glance to
tell Sax that Vaughan was not in the camp.  His clothes were still
lying where he had thrown them, and the boy soon found the tracks of
bare feet leading away from the camp into the scrub.

Vaughan had gone away to die.

Sax listened.  The absolute stillness of death was around him on all
sides.  Not a leaf moved on any of the scraggy mulgas standing near.
Even the star in the deep, deep blue of the night sky seemed to stare
down at him with unblinking eyes.  What did they care for one white boy
dying in delirium in the desert, and another white boy who had to keep
tight hold of his mind to save it from slipping out of his control, and
who would also die of thirst, if not to-day, then surely to-morrow?
There is nothing so unpitying, so absolutely unconcerned, as the desert
is to a perishing man.

Sax was a boy of unusual courage.  He was the son of a pioneer, a
member of that race of men who have opened up the centre of the
Australian continent, and have laid the foundations of the future
Australian nation.  Though he had been reared in the comfort of cities,
the cattle-plains, the scrub, and the desert were his true home, and he
now showed the stuff he was made of by determining to follow after his
friend.  He did not stop to wonder what he would do when he found him;
he only knew that he could not bear to leave him out there to die
without making an effort to save him.

Suddenly he remembered the quart-pot and its precious contents.  He had
made up his mind to find Vaughan before he remembered the tea, and now
this sudden glad thought seemed to confirm his decision, and filled him
with hope.  He would have something to give to the perishing lad when
he found him.  Sax could hardly walk.  The whole middle part of his
body felt as if it was dried up, and when he moved, such terrible pains
shot through him that he could hardly keep from crying out; but he set
his teeth and went over to the quart-pot and dug it out.

Only those who have actually been in the same circumstances as Sax was
that night can have any idea of the temptation it was for him to drink
some of that tea.  The very sound of it swishing about inside the
smoke-blackened pot nearly drove him mad with thirst.  He dared not
open the lid and look in, for, after all, he was so frantically thirsty
that the sight of the liquid might make him forget everything but his
own desire for it.  Never again in his life was he to be called upon to
exercise such supreme self-control as he was that night.

Clutching the precious quart-pot to his breast, he staggered off into
the night, very slowly because of his weakness, and very slowly also
because it was hard for him to read the tracks in the dim light.

Less than half an hour after Sax left the camp to search for his dying
friend, a black form stole silently through the scrub and paused within
sight of the bough-shelter.  If anybody had been lying there awake, he
would not have known how near a fellow human being was to him, for the
native was absolutely motionless, even to the eyelids.  The only part
of hint which moved was the chest, which was so thickly covered with
black hair that its slow rising and falling could not possibly have
attracted attention at night.  Even if any man who might have been in
the shelter had turned and looked straight at the black-fellow, he
would not have distinguished him from the trees, for, with that
wonderful power of imitation known only to the scrub natives of
Australia, the man was standing in such a way that he looked very much
like an old dead mulga stump.

But nobody was in the bough-shelter, and when the man had made quite
sure of this, he stepped out from his hiding.  He was quite naked, and
carried a couple of long spears with stone heads, a woomera
(spear-thrower), a spiked boomerang, and a wooden shield.  His long
hair was plastered up into a bunch at the back, and was kept in place
by rings of rope made of his mother's hair.  He stood for a moment and
looked intently at the shelter, then he stooped and examined the marks
in the sand, following them this way and that till he knew as much
about the tragedy as if he had actually watched it happen.  He was
particularly interested in Yarloo's tracks, and finally stuck a spear
into the middle of one of them and laid his other weapons beside it.

Having rid himself of all encumbrances, he set out on the tracks of the
two white boys.  But what a difference between his methods and theirs!
Instead of the hesitating scrutiny of each footprint which Sax had been
obliged to make, the native walked quickly with his eyes several yards
ahead and did not pause once, though the star-light was dim and

He did not have far to go.  The burst of strength which delirium had
given to Vaughan had not lasted for more than three-quarters of a mile,
and he had then fallen at the foot of a dead mulga.  Sax had come up on
him there, a pitiful object whom the desert was claiming as its own,
his naked body showing up plainly in the dark.  He had forced the tea,
all of it, upon the unconscious lad, with no perceptible result, for
most of it had been spilt because Vaughan's tongue was too swollen to
allow any but a few drops to go down his throat.

It was absolutely certain that, before another sunset, two corpses
would have been lying in the desert scrub if the wild black had not
found the boys when he did.  Sax was still conscious, but was too far
gone to take any interest even in such an unusual sight as the sudden
appearance of a strange naked black-fellow.  Death was claiming him,
anyhow; it did not matter much to him whether it came by a spear-thrust
or by the more lingering method of thirst.

The savage stooped down and looked intently into the face of first one
boy and then the other.  He happened to look at Vaughan first and
grunted his disapproval, but a close scrutiny of Sax's features seemed
to yield him great satisfaction, for he drew himself up straight, and,
with a broad grin of delight, pronounced a word which caught the boy's
dulling ear:

"Bor--s Stoo--bar," he said, in long-drawn tones.  "Bor--s Stoo--bar."

A familiar sound will penetrate to an intelligence which has become too
dull to perceive through sight or touch, and Sax heard this word and
looked up, thinking that his imagination must be playing him a trick.
The man was encouraged to try again, this time adding to the name of
the drover the single word "Musgrave ".  It was a word he had evidently
used before, for it was pronounced quite clearly.

"Bor--s Stoo--bar....  Mus--grave."

The strange coupling of his father's name with that of the mysterious
range of mountains roused sufficient interest in Sax to make him wish
to reply.  He tried to speak, but couldn't.  His tongue was too swollen
and his throat too dry.  The native watched him, and the boy felt that
the man was friendly, for he continued to stretch out his black arm
towards the distant ranges.  Finding that he could not make any sound,
Sax waited till the man again said the words, "Bor--s Stoo--bar," and
then he pointed to himself several times and nodded, and then waved his
hand to the Musgraves.  The native grinned his understanding and again
looked very closely into the white boy's face.  Sax did not know if he
was like his father or not, but felt that a great deal depended on
whether the black stranger decided that he was indeed the son of the
famous Boss Stobart.

The man was quite satisfied at last.  He first of all held his left
hand close to Sax's face; it had been terribly mutilated, and the two
middle fingers were missing.  The native evidently wished to impress
that crippled hand on the boy's memory, for he put it on his hairy
chest and then in front of Sax's face again and again.  He did not say
anything, for his knowledge of English was apparently limited to the
name of the drover and the name of the mountain range.  In spite of his
exhausted condition, Sax could not help remembering that black left
hand, and he had reason to recall it in future days under the most
exciting circumstances.  Then the man lifted Vaughan's limp body on his
shoulders and walked away back to the shelter.  Stobart was not left
alone for long, before he also was carried back to camp.

By this time the sun was just showing over the eastern rim of the land,
and the few trees were casting long shadows on the sand.  The native
gathered up Vaughan's clothes, but did not know how to put them on the
lad; so he covered him over with them.  He had been careful not to
leave the quart-pot behind, and as soon as the boys were safely under
the shelter again, the man took the quart-pot and started off.

He was evidently going for water.  In a few minutes, however, he came
running back to camp at top speed.  He was very excited and only stayed
long enough to put the quart-pot down on the ground, before he grabbed
his weapons and disappeared into the scrub in the opposite direction,
running as hard as he could, yet making no more noise than a cat.

He had not returned the quart-pot exactly as he had found it.  When he
took it away, it was empty, but now it contained a sprig of
sharply-pointed leaves.

Yarloo came on the scene almost as soon as the other black was out of
sight, and was probably the cause of the first man's sudden
disappearance, Yarloo was carrying a small bunch of parakelia leaves.
The first things he noticed were the new tracks, and he stopped dead.
From where he stood, he could not see into the bough-shelter, and so he
waited for a couple of minutes to see if the man who had made the
tracks was anywhere about.  There was absolute silence; the only things
which moved were the shadows, which got shorter very very slowly as the
sun rose.  With minute care Yarloo examined the marks of the stranger.
At first he was upset to find from the tracks that the man was a wild
Musgrave black, but as soon as he came to the place where the warragul
had set up his spear, he smiled and felt no more anxiety, for it is a
sign of perfect goodwill towards a man to dig a spear in his track.
(To find a spear or a boomerang on your track means that the owner of
them likes you so well that he gives you his weapons, because there is
no need for him to carry them when he meets you.)

As soon as Yarloo knew that the stranger native was friendly, he went
over to the shelter.  The two white boys were lying on their backs in
the sand, one of them unconscious and gasping, with his tongue swollen
so much that it was too big for his mouth; the other gasping also, but
still in possession of his senses.  Sax's eyes opened, and a glimmer of
intelligence showed in them, but he couldn't speak, and was too weak to
move.  Yarloo looked down at them, but particularly at Sax, the son of
his master.  Then his glance wandered to the quart-pot, and suddenly
everything else was forgotten.

No prospector who has toiled for years without any luck, and then comes
upon a nugget of gold quite unexpectedly, could have been more glad
than Yarloo was at sight of that little sprig of leaves.  He took it up
and looked at it with huge satisfaction.  The stem was woody and each
leaf was grey, narrow, and not more than half an inch long.  The
peculiarity about them was, however, that each little leaf ended in a
spike.  The black-fellow felt the spikes and grinned to feel the pricks
of pain, for the leaves had only recently been pulled from the tree.
Then he dropped his handful of parakelia and grabbed the quart-pot and
started to run, tracking the other native to find the tree from which
that sprig of leaves had been picked.

On the discovery of that tree rested the salvation of the white boys'
lives.  It was the famous needle-bush.


The Rescue

Yarloo followed the Musgrave native's tracks for about half a mile in a
nearly south direction, and then came upon a stony plain with a few
large bushes growing at one end of it.  He gave a yell of delight.
They were needle-bushes.  The party was saved.  Here was water, stored
by nature right in the middle of an arid desert.

The trees were all about five or six feet high, though some were much
bushier than others.  Yarloo chose one which was very wide-spreading,
and began piling dry bark and twigs and anything which would burn
quickly and easily, right in the middle of the tree, all among the
branches.  He went on till the needle-bush was carrying as big a load
as it possibly could.

Then he made fire.  He pulled two pieces of wood out of his hair; one
was the size of a man's palm, a flat piece of soft bean-wood with a
little hollow in the middle of it; the other was a stick about as thick
as a pencil but nearly twice as long, of hard mulga wood.  He squatted
down and set the soft piece on the ground and held it in place with his
toes, and teased out a few pieces of very dry bark till they were like
tinder, and put it near the hollow.  Then he took the long piece of
mulga and twirled it with his two hands in the hollow.  He did this
faster than any white man could possibly twirl it, and in a couple of
minutes a coil of smoke came up from the pile of bark.  Yarloo blew
this into a flame and made a little fire.  When it was burning well, he
threw the blazing sticks into the needle-bush.  There was a crackling
sound for a moment or two and then a roar, as the flames licked up the
dry fuel, till in a very short time the needle-bush was a blazing

The black-fellow waited till the flames had died down, and then started
to dig around the roots a few feet away from the tree.  He was so
skilful at this that he soon exposed the main roots.  Then he chopped
off one or two of them and set the pieces upright in the quart-pot.  A
thin dark liquid began to drain out of the roots and collect in the pot
till it was half-full.  Yarloo took a drink and chopped up some more
roots, and when the quart-pot was full he returned to camp.

It needed great care and patience to minister to the perishing white
boys, and not many natives would have done what Yarloo did for Sax and
Vaughan during that blazing day.  He made trip after trip to the stony
plain where the needle-bushes were growing, and, with the water
obtained in this way, he gradually revived his two friends.  Sax was
his first care, and after he had softened the boy's tongue so that
drops of liquid could trickle down his throat, the drover's son quickly
revived sufficiently to help Yarloo with the more serious case of
Vaughan.  The powers of recovery which a healthy lad possesses are
wonderful, and before nightfall both lads were sitting up under the
shelter, with their thirst quite quenched, and actually feeling hungry.

Yarloo went away for the last time to get another quart-pot of water
from the needle-bushes.  To do this, he had to fire another tree.  It
was about half an hour after sunset and nearly dark, and the bonfire
lit up the plain and could be seen for miles.

Mick Darby saw it as he rode along at the end of a very tiring day.
When he had reached Sidcotinga Station, late the evening before, the
yards had been full of working horses ready to set out on a big
cattle-muster the next morning.  He could not have struck a more
favourable time.  Before he went to bed that night, he and the manager
drafted off a plant of six good horses, stocked a set of pack-gear with
cooked tucker, and filled two big canteens with water all ready for an
early start the following day.  Mick could easily have slept late the
next morning, but when he woke up, as he always did, at the rising of
the morning star, he did not turn over and go to sleep again, but
roused himself, had a drink of tea and a chunk of bread and meat, and
started out back on his tracks, accompanied by a station black-boy whom
the Sidcotinga manager had lent him.  The horses were fresh; they had
just come in from a six months' spell and would be turned out again
directly they returned.  So Mick did not hesitate to ride hard.  He
rode to such good purpose that he did not expect to pull up till he had
reached the camp where he had left the boys, and was riding along, with
seven miles still to go, when he saw the blazing needle-bush.

He loosened his revolver and rode over at once to investigate.  It was
fortunate that he did so, for he would have reached the old camp and
found it, not only deserted, but also wrecked, with torn gear and
evidences of wanton destruction all over the place.  He would naturally
have thought that his former companions had either been killed or
carried off, and as the sandstorm had covered up all tracks, he would
not have known which way to follow them.

Yarloo was squatting down, watching the roots drain the precious liquid
into the quart-pot, when he heard the sound of hobble-rings striking
one another as they hung from the neck of a horse.  Then a hoof struck
a stone.  Such sounds in the desert meant one thing and one thing only,
white men.  Yarloo stood up and gave the call: "Ca--a--a--w--ay!" (not
coo-ee, as is usually supposed).

It was answered by a white man's voice out of the gathering darkness:

In a few minutes Mick Darby rode up.  He saw Yarloo, and the
smouldering needle-bush, and knew that something was wrong.

"What name?" he asked.

"White boy close up finish," replied Yarloo, still taking care of the
quart-pot of dark water.

"Close up finish?" echoed Mick in surprise.  "What name you no sit down
longa that camp same as me yabber (as I told you)?"

Yarloo tried to explain, but his vocabulary of white man's words was
too small.  He broke off at last and said: "White boy, they yabber
(they'll tell you)."

"But white boy close up finish," objected the drover.

"No finish now," grinned Yarloo, pointing to the other burnt
needle-bushes near.  "No finish now.  Him good fella now, quite."

This relieved Mick's mind greatly, and he set off at once, guided by
Yarloo, to the bough-shelter where Sax and Vaughan were sitting.  It
was a very happy reunion.  The boys were still weak, but the thirst,
which would have killed them if the stranger black-fellow had not put
that sprig of needle-bush in the quart-pot, was quite gone.  They were
very hungry.  A fire was soon lit, and neither of the lads had ever
enjoyed a meal so much as they did that one.  The food was plain,
though much better than what they had been having for the past weeks.
The bread had been made with yeast, which makes it far nicer than
baking-powder damper, and the Sidcotinga cook had included a few
currant buns with the tucker.  The story of their adventures was told
at length and gone over more than once, for each boy supplied what the
other did not remember, and there had been many hours during which
Vaughan's memory had recorded nothing.

One thing, however, remained a secret.  Only Sax knew about it, and he
obeyed his father's injunction not to tell anybody of his whereabouts.
He did not tell Mick that the strange nigger who had saved their lives
had mentioned the name Boss Stobart.

Yarloo came in for his share of praise, and richly did he deserve it.
The black-boy sat down with the white men after tea and listened to
what was said without making any remarks, and with a stolid expression.
But when, just before they all turned in for the night, Mick handed him
a new pipe, a box of matches, and--greatest luxury of all--a tin of
cut-up tobacco, he beamed all over his honest black face and grunted
his supreme satisfaction with the gift.  He did not think that he had
done anything heroic; he had acted so towards the white boys because a
certain white man had treated him well in the past, but these simple
signs of Mick's approval made him the happiest black-fellow in all
Central Australia.


Sidcotinga Station

The morning after Mick Darby had returned to them with water and food,
both Sax and Vaughan felt so much better that they wanted to set out
for Sidcotinga Station right away.  But the drover would not hear of
such a thing.  He knew, better than the boys did, that it would be some
time before even their strong young bodies recovered from the "perish",
and they all stayed where they were for three full days, and made
themselves comfortable by building a more substantial shelter from sun
and wind.  They could have stayed longer if they had wanted to do so,
for Dan Collins, the Sidcotinga manager, had told Mick of a well not
more than six miles away to the north, and the black boys drove the
horses there every day and also renewed the supply of water in the
canteens.  It was evidently from this well that the fierce Musgrave
niggers who had attacked them had obtained water.

On the fourth morning the horses were brought in early, and the party
set out west after breakfast, on its interrupted journey, travelling by
easy stages, and taking three days over a distance which Mick had
accomplished in one.

The cook was the only white man on the station when they reached
Sidcotinga, and he made them welcome with the genuine rough hospitality
for which the back country is famous.  The resources of a desert
cattle-station are very limited, but everything which was possible was
done for the two white boys, and they spent a very restful and
enjoyable week and a half, loafing round the homestead.  It was not
much of a place to look at, but Sax and his friend thought it was
wonderful.  They had travelled across the desert for a month in order
to reach that little collection of buildings, and during that time they
had not seen a fence or a roof of any kind, and the only sign of
civilization had been an artesian bore two days out from Oodnadatta.
Though the iron sheds and strong bough-shelters which comprised the
homestead were very rough, there was a workmanlike air about the place
which seemed to say that white men had taken possession of the
wilderness and meant to stay there.

There was an iron hut divided into two rooms where the manager and the
white stockman lived.  Such a building as this is known throughout the
length and breadth of Australia's cattle-country as "Government House".
A few yards away was the "cook-house", also made of iron, where meals
for the white men were served.  Then there was a store, in which enough
personal and station requirements were stocked to last at least a year,
for the string of camels, which came out from the head of the railway
with loading for Sidcotinga Station, only came once in every twelve
months and was sometimes late.  The horse-gear room was a fascinating
place to these two lovers of horses, and though it was rather empty
when they reached the station, because every available man was out
mustering on the run, they found enough in it to interest them for many
hours.  The blacksmith's shop also came in for its share of attention,
the more so perhaps because neither of the lads knew anything about
blacksmith's work.  Dan Collins, the manager, prided himself on his
blacksmith's shop, and rightly so, for there was no metal work--other
than actual castings--which he could not manage to make or repair for
station use.

Dominating the homestead, by reason of its height, was a large iron
wind-mill mounted on a tall stand, with a huge water-tank raised on a
staging near it.  The mill pumped water from a hundred-foot well into
this tank, which supplied, not only the cattle-troughs, but also the
dwellings, for there were taps outside Government House, the
cook-house, and the blacksmith's shop--a very unusual convenience on
such an outlying station.

It was not the buildings, however, which interested the boys most; it
was the stock-yards.  The whole station seemed to centre in these
yards, and indeed they were of chief importance, and were the real
reason for everything else being there.  At first the mass of yards,
races, pounds, wings, and gates seemed just like a maze to the
new-chums, but they were soon to learn how perfectly everything about
that rough strong stock-yard was arranged for the quick handling of

One morning, a couple of days after their arrival at Sidcotinga
Station, the white boys were sitting in the sand with their backs
against the wall of the horse-gear room, which threw a narrow patch of
shade over them, when Yarloo came up.  They had been so interested in
all the novel sights and sounds around them since coming to the
station, that they had almost forgotten the faithful black-fellow; but
they looked up now with pleasure, and greeted him with a friendly
"Hullo, Yarloo!"

"Goo-day," he said, with a grin of delight at being noticed; but he at
once became serious, and continued, speaking especially to Sax: "Me go
'way....  Me come back by'm by."

"Going away?" asked Sax.  "Whatever for?"

"Me walk longa Musgraves....  Me come back by'm by," he repeated.

"But what'll Mick say?" asked Vaughan.

"Mick good fella," said the native simply.  "Him real good fella,
quite....  Him only little time boss longa me.  Boss alday longa me (my
real boss) sit down over dere," he pointed to the Musgrave Range.  "Me
yabber Boss Stobart."  He said the name with pride.

"I'll go with you," said Sax, starting up as if he meant to set out
immediately.  "I'll go with you to find my father."

"By'm by," replied Yarloo.  "White boy come by'm by.  No come now.
S'pose white boy come now, Boss Stobart, rouse like blazes (would be
very angry).  White boy sit down little time.  Me come back by'm by."

"Well, at any rate, I'll send Father a note," said Sax, and he ran to
Government House to get a pencil and some paper.  He found an old
diary, and tore a sheet out of it and wrote: "We're at Sidcotinga
Station.  I wanted to come out to you, but Yarloo would not let me.
Tell him that we may come out.  Love from Sax."

He ran back to the horse-gear room, but Yarloo had gone.  The boy had
evidently not understood what Sax meant and had already started out for
the Musgrave Ranges.  It was a great disappointment to the boys not to
be allowed to go straight away and find the white drover, yet they had
already experienced enough, both of the hatred of the Musgrave tribes
and of the power of the desert, to convince them that they had better
take the advice of those who knew the conditions so much better than
they did.  They talked a lot about the ranges which appeared to be so
near, seen through the clear dry air, and they went over and over again
the message which they had received in Oodnadatta from Boss Stobart,
trying to find an explanation for the mystery.

"In difficulties.  Musgrave Ranges.  Tell Oodnadatta trooper, but _no
one else_.  He'll understand.  Boy quite reliable.  Don't worry.  Get a
job somewhere.  "STOBART."

Sax and Vaughan had been at Sidcotinga for eleven days, and were not
only feeling recovered from their "perish", but were also beginning to
wish that they had something to do, when the musterers returned one
afternoon with well over a thousand head of cattle.  It was a still
day, and Sax had climbed up the mill tower, and was sitting on the
platform near the big wind-wheel, looking over the barren landscape,
when he saw what looked like a brown stain on the southern sky near the
horizon.  He remembered having seen something similar to that at
Oodnadatta, and he knew at once that it was caused by a big moving mob
of stock.  Vaughan was near the troughs, vainly trying to entice a
galah (a cockatoo with rose-coloured breast and grey wings and back) to
eat bread out of his hand, when Sax startled both him and the bird by
shouting: "They're coming, Boof!  They're coming!"

Vaughan looked up and saw that his venturesome friend had climbed even
higher than the platform, and was standing right on top of the main
casting, and was waving his arms towards the south.

"They're coming, Boof!" he shouted again.  "It's cattle."  To Vaughan's
relief--for Sax had got used to doing things on the mill which Vaughan
was too scared even to attempt--his friend began climbing down, but he
went so fast that his neck and limbs were in danger every moment.  When
he reached the ground, he ran off to Government House to find Mick, who
was lying on his back reading a three-months old copy of _Pals_.

The boys expected their drover friend to be as excited as they were,
but he had seen cattle yarded so many hundreds of times that he took
things very coolly.  He first made sure that the troughs were full of
water, and that the valves were working properly, and then fixed the
stock-yard gates ready for receiving the cattle.

The cloud of dust came nearer, and the lowing of cattle and the
cracking of whips could soon be heard, and the voices of men rose above
the din.  From out of the dust a few leading cattle appeared, then
others and others still, till the astonished white boys saw a bigger
mob of cattle than they had ever seen before.  Sax was on the platform
of the mill again, and Vaughan was about half-way up, so they both got
a good view of what was going on below them.

The thirsty animals smelt the water and tried to rush, but well-mounted
black boys wheeled here, there, and everywhere, checking the restless
cattle, and allowing them to come on slowly without any chance of a
break.  The big voice of a white man on a black horse in the rear was
heard from time to time giving orders which were at once obeyed.
Presently the four long lines of troughing were hidden from sight by
drinking cattle, and the sucking of their lips, the gushing of water
through the valves, and the grumbling of the tired animals all blended
together, and seemed to be part of the dust which rose from the
trampling feet and settled on everything till men and stock were alike

Mick Darby was keeping the trough-valves at full pressure, and the
manager rode over to him.  The white boys followed the mounted man with
their eyes.  This was to be their boss; that is, if he would take them.
They were evidently the subject of conversation, for Mick pointed up at
the mill, and Dan Collins looked up also.  They could not see his face,
and he made no sign, but went off again to keep the waiting cattle
rounded up.

It takes a long time to water a thousand head of cattle, and by the
time the Sidcotinga troughs were full, with no cattle drinking at them,
the sun had just set.  Gradually the animals were worked away from the
water towards the wing of the yard.  Probably both Sax and his friend
were hoping that there would be a break, for there is nothing more
exciting to watch--or to be in--than a cattle-rush; but these men were
on their own country, and at their own stock-yards.  They eased the big
mob of animals slowly up to the yards, then sat back and let them have
a spell, just holding them within the compass of the wings.  The
leading bullocks nosed the stock-yard rails, went up to the gates and
smelt the air, gave one or two inquiring bellows, and then walked
through.  Finding space on the other side of the gates, they went right
into the yards.  Others followed, till soon the whole mob was filing
through the gates.  Then came the shouting of men, the racket of
stock-whips, the prancing of horses, and the protesting roar of cattle,
as they were jammed up tight.  At last the gates were swung to and
fastened with a chain.


A Mad Bull

The Sidcotinga stock-yards presented a very lively scene next morning.
Sax and Vaughan were there with the rest, heartily glad to have
something to do.  Mick Darby had introduced his young friends to the
manager the night before, and to their earnest request that he would
"take them on at the station" he had replied: "We'll talk about that
to-morrow night.  There's a long day in the yards between now and then.
We'll see how you shape."  Dan Collins looked at them very sternly when
he was speaking.  He had been on cattle-stations all his life, and was
used to judging men by what they could do and not by what they could
say.  He liked both the appearance of the boys and the report which
Mick had given of how they had "shaped" on the way out, but his
weather-beaten face did not relax at all, and the boys thought he was a
hard man.  They were wrong, however.  Dan Collins was a strong man, and
through dealing for many years with blacks, he had come to hide his
thoughts behind an unyielding expression of face, though many a man
knew how kind a heart beat in his big rough body.

So the boys were on their mettle.  There were no other white men in the
yard except Mick and the manager; the rest were blacks.

An hour or two before dawn, as soon as it was light enough to
distinguish one beast from another, all hands went down to the yards
for drafting.  Sax and Vaughan were each given a gate to open and shut
when their particular call came, and they found that it needed every
bit of their attention to do even this simple job well.  By the time
breakfast was announced by the cook, who summoned all hands to the meal
by beating the back of a frying-pan with a wooden spoon, the thousand
cattle had been divided into three lots: about a hundred and twenty
cleanskins (unbranded cattle), over a hundred three-year-old bullocks
which would soon be ready to send to town, and the rest, which were to
be allowed to go bush again.

Breakfast and "Smoke-o" were got over quickly, and everybody was again
at the yards as soon as possible.  A fire was lit outside the rails,
and a half-dozen T.D.3 brands, and as many number brands, were put in
the blaze to get hot.  Green-hide ropes were coiled ready and knives
sharpened.  The cleanskins were attended to first.  Most of them were
about a year old and could be scruffed, which means that one or another
of the black-fellows would watch his opportunity, catch the calf, and
throw it on the ground with a dexterous twist.  As soon as it was down,
he would hook one of its front legs behind its horns and hold it there
till the brand was applied.  Sometimes four calves were being scruffed
at the same time, and the work went on very quickly.  Blacks always
work well in a yard.  Not only is there the personal and sometimes
risky struggle with the animals, which appeals strongly to their savage
minds, but the emulation amongst themselves, each being very anxious to
do better than his fellows.  There is usually a good deal of laughter
and joking talk in a stock-yard, and a good deal of hard, strenuous,
skilful work as well.

The two white boys kept out of the way while scruffing was going on.
They would only have been a hindrance, so they sat together on the
stock-yard fence and looked on, never missing a twist or a turn, and
learning, learning, learning all the time.

At last all young calves had been branded and had rejoined their
mothers.  There still remained about thirty unbranded steers which were
too big to scruff.  One or two of them were nearly four years old, wild
creatures which had refused to be mustered year after year until now.
The ropes were brought into use for these cattle.  The big cleanskins
were driven out of the branding yard into an adjoining one, and
admitted back again one by one.  As soon as a beast rushed through the
gate a green-hide lasso was thrown.  The loop fell over its horns or
neck.  Four or five strong niggers were holding the end of the lasso
outside the yard, and they pulled the captured animal up to the rails.
Front and back leg ropes were flung on and hitched round posts, and the
beast fell helplessly in the sand.  After a couple had been done in
this way, Dan Collins signalled to the white boys to lend a hand.
Their job sounded simple, but it needed all their strength and
watchfulness to do it properly.  If they failed at any point, the
prostrate animal would be free, and the work would have to be done all
over again.

The cleanskin was lassoed and pulled to the rails, the leg ropes were
fixed and hitched, and then the front rope was handed to Sax and the
back one to Vaughan.  They had to hang on and keep the ropes tight;
that was all, but only those who have worked in stock-yards, hour after
hour, know how difficult such an apparently simple task really is.

The work went on.  The hard green-hide ropes blistered the unaccustomed
hands of the new-chum white boys, but they set their teeth and held on.
Beast after beast fell with a bellowing roar, the red-hot T.D.3 was
pressed on its near-side shoulder till the mark was seared right into
the skin, so that it could never wear out.  Then the ropes were pulled
off and the dazed animal scrambled to its feet and was hustled out of
the yard, while another one was being caught and thrown.

A big roan-coloured steer was being saved till last.  He was a fully
matured animal, very powerful and wild.  His bellow had been heard all
night, and he had been more difficult to draft than any other animal in
the yards.  Everybody was looking forward to dealing with this fellow;
it would be a good finish to a good run of work.

He came through the gate with a rush.  Mick Darby had the lasso this
time, and flung it faultlessly over the animal's horns.  There was a
shout of excitement and the blacks outside the rails pulled for all
they were worth.  But no power of man could make such a creature stir
unless it wanted to.  It braced its fore legs and stood immovable, then
shook its mighty head till the lasso twanged like a fiddle-string, but
did not give an inch.  Finally the steer caught sight of its tormentors
outside the yard, and rushed.  At once the rope became slack and the
watchful men pulled it tight again, and soon the great beast was jammed
up against the fence, using all its strength to try and break the
green-hide rope.  But the lasso was made out of the hide of a bull and
could have held any steer that was ever calved.  Leg ropes were thrown,
hitched, and drawn tight, and the steer fell, roaring and plunging for
a moment, and then lying still, but never relaxing the tremendous
strain for a moment.

Dan Collins was branding, and called out: "Brand-o!"  The red-hot iron
was handed through the rails and pressed on the quivering shoulder.

Now came the great test.  Pain added the final ounce to the steer's
strength.  He struggled.  The front leg rope broke.  Through being
constantly hitched round a rough post it had become a little bit
frayed, and this final strain was too much for it.  It snapped and
sprang apart like a collapsed spring.  The chest of the steer was now
free, but the head rope still held it down.  The knowledge that it had
broken one of its bonds gave the animal heart, and it lifted its
curl-crowned head.  The lasso quivered and stretched, quivered and
stretched.  There was a crack!  Had that bull-hide rope broken?  No.
Another crack.  One of the steer's horns broke off at the skull.  With
an agonized bellow it slipped the stump of a horn through the loop and
rose to its fore feet, free except for the back leg rope which Vaughan
was holding.  All the animal's strength, raised to its highest pitch by
the pain of the broken horn, was centred in its captive hind leg.
Vaughan held on manfully, but the rope was gradually pulled through his
hands, tearing the skin till he could not possibly hold it any longer.
With a roar, the steer rose from the ground; but just as it struggled
to its feet, Vaughan seized the rope again and twisted it round his

A yard is no place for a man when an infuriated bull is raging around
it.  Everybody leapt for the rails except Sax.  Was there not some way
of helping his friend?  The steer saw him and charged.  Round the yard
once, twice, it rushed, Vaughan dragging along at the back, and
hindering it so that he undoubtedly saved his friend from a very nasty
accident.  Round the yard the third time.  Sax was too dazed to leap
for the rails, and the animal was too close for him to climb them.

Everybody had been so intent on the sudden turn which events had taken
that they had not noticed an almost naked black-fellow who had left the
lasso and had climbed quickly along the top of the rails.  He was a
stranger, and had come in that morning and had taken a hand at the
yards like any other black would do, hoping for a feed and a stick of
tobacco.  But now he seemed to be full of energy and courage.  When
everybody else was gasping with astonishment, he lay on the top rail as
flat as a lizard.

Sax came round the third time, and the shaggy head of the steer was
lowering for a toss, when the native's black arm reached down suddenly
and grabbed the white boy by the belt and swung him clear off his feet.
He was not a second too soon.  The steer charged by, and Sax was safe.
The stranger native had put out so much of his strength that he could
not recover himself, and he overbalanced, still keeping hold of the
white boy, and rescuer and rescued toppled over backwards into the
other yard.  Sax was winded and the black-fellow was the first to get
up.  He scrambled to his feet and walked away, not only from the yards,
but away from the station altogether, as if he did not want to be
recognized.  But as he was getting between two rails, he put his left
hand on one of them, and Sax saw that the two middle fingers were
missing.  It was the same black who had brought the sprig of

Excitement was by no means over in the branding-yard.  The infuriated
bull, cheated of one victim, now turned its attention to Vaughan.  It
wheeled quickly, and in so doing twisted the rope, which Vaughan was
still holding, round the boy's body.  He could not escape.  He was at
the mercy of a wild steer.

The sudden and unexpected rescue of Saxon Stobart had roused the white
men, so that when the bull turned on its helpless victim, they were
ready.  But what could they do?  What could a mere man possibly do
against a full-grown steer?  It would take too long to set the boy
free, for the hard unyielding rope was hitched tight round him.  There
was only one thing to do, and Dan Collins did it.

He waited till the bull had gathered itself for a final rush, and, when
it had actually started to charge, he dropped to the ground like a
flash.  In a fraction of a second his powerful right arm went out, and
he gripped the nostrils of the bull, pressing his thumb and forefinger
home as far as he could.  Then he twisted, suddenly and unexpectedly.

It was not a matter of strength, but of knack.  The power of the
onrushing bull actually supplied all the strength which was necessary.
Dan Collins twisted.  The animal's wrinkled neck turned.  It could not
help turning, for the pain at its nostrils was unbearable.  The
near-side leg gave under it.  Something had to give under the strain.
The fingers still kept their grip, and the great beast crashed down
with such a thud that the ground seemed to shake.[1]

Every man jumped from the rails and was on the prostrate animal at
once, holding it down till the white boy, who had been in such terrible
danger, was set free.

That night the manager gave his verdict about the two boys.  "You'll
do," he said.  "I'll take you on.  Mick, you'd better take them out on
the run with you.  I want you to go north in a couple of days.  And for
goodness sake teach them that there are some things which even _they_
cannot do."  He did not mean this unkindly, for he had taken a fancy to
the boys, but he saw that they would need to be restrained a great deal
before they could become really first-class stock-men.

[1] The author has seen quite a small man throw a full-sized bull in
this way on a Central Australian cattle-station.


A Night Alarm

It can well be imagined that both lads fell asleep quickly and soundly
that night after their first day in the yards.  Sidcotinga Government
House had a veranda on one side of it, and they spread their swags
under it just outside Mick's room, as there was no place for them
inside, especially in summer.

In the middle of the night a man crept round the corner of the veranda
as silently as a black shadow.  He paused near the boys, and stooped
down and looked into their faces.  The lads were sound asleep and did
not stir.  After a moment's scrutiny the native put his hand on Sax's
shoulder and shook it.  The tired boy only gave a restless murmur, so
the man shook him harder.  He opened his eyes at last and realized that
somebody was bending over him, but he was so sleepy that he did not
call out.

As soon as he saw that Sax was awake, the native held up his left hand,
so that the white boy could see it outlined against the pale night sky.
The two middle fingers were missing.  It was the man who had already
done him more than one good turn.

Stobart sat up, prepared for anything which this black-fellow--who knew
the father, and seemed so devoted to the son--might suggest.  The man
pointed down across the trampled sand towards the cattle-troughs.  He
did it again and again, making little runs in that direction and coming
back at once, like a dog who wants its master to go in a certain

"All right, I'll come," whispered Sax at last, forgetting that the man
probably could not understand him.  Sax had intended to go alone, but
when he stood up, Vaughan opened his eyes and asked sleepily: "What's
all the row about?"

"No row at all," whispered his companion.  "That is, unless you make
it.  There's something wrong somewhere and I'm going to have a look."

"So am I," responded Vaughan quickly, for the chance of an adventure
drove all sleep away from him.  "So am I.  You bet your life."

The silent native led the way, armed with a boomerang and a shield,
creeping from the shelter of one building to that of another, till they
were close to the troughs.  The man held up his finger and listened.
There was a sound of running water.  Sax recognized it as the
ball-valves of the troughs.  There were four of them.  Suddenly the
thought struck him: Why were they running?  From where the three men
were standing the dark lines of the troughs could be seen even at
night, against the light-coloured sand, and it was clear that no stock
were drinking there.  But if the valves were running it showed that the
troughs were empty, and the water must be flowing away somewhere.  It
must be wasting.

The importance of water in the desert had already impressed itself upon
the white boys, and as soon as they realized that precious water was
running away in the sand, they rushed out from behind the shelter
towards the troughs.  The armed native went with them.

There should have been a plug at the end of each trough.  Somebody had
pulled these plugs out, and the water was gushing a full stream through
the four ball-valves and was running to waste over the sand.  This had
apparently not been going on for more than five or ten minutes, but it
was absolutely necessary to stop the waste; for if once the overhead
tank was drained dry, and if there was no wind to work the mill for a
day or two, Sidcotinga Station would be entirely without water.

The boys did not stop to wonder who had done this dastardly deed, but
went to jam the plugs back again into their holes.  But the plugs could
not be found.  Something must be done immediately.  It would waste
precious time to run back to the station and hunt round for something
to make plugs out of, so they started to fill the ends of the troughs
with sand and clay, scooping it up with their hands and ramming it
tight till one after another of the leakages was stopped.

When they were occupied with the fourth, and had nearly made a tight
job of it, Sax looked around for the native who had told them that
something was wrong.  The man was standing a couple of yards away with
his shield raised.  He looked for all the world as if he was defending
them from some attack.  And so he was.  Scarcely had Sax begun to work
again, scooping more sand and clay and plastering it smooth and firm,
when he heard the click of wood against wood, and a spear stuck into
the ground just behind him.  Another followed and another with hardly
any pause between.  The native still maintained his attitude of tense
watchfulness.  He had already turned three messengers of death off with
his shield, and was waiting for more.  None came.

He backed slowly towards the boys, still facing in the direction from
which the spears had come.  Presently he turned quickly and pointed to
Government House, and then took up the same position of attention.  His
meaning was quite clear.  He wanted one of the boys to go up to
Government House and give the alarm.

Vaughan instantly jumped to his feet and ran, leaving Sax to finish the
work at the troughs, guarded by the faithful nigger.  In an incredibly
short time Dan Collins and Mick Darby came running down, armed with
rifles and revolvers.  When the stranger black-fellow saw them he
disappeared.  No one saw him go, and indeed it would have been
dangerous for him if they had; for when two white men with loaded
weapons are looking for a chance to shoot a nigger, they are as likely
to shoot a friend as a foe.  The night seemed to swallow him up, and
the white men and Vaughan, who followed hard after them, found Sax
alone.  Even the three spears had been taken away.

Tracks of naked feet all around the troughs showed that a couple of
Musgrave blacks had wilfully pulled the plugs out of the water troughs,
knowing that this was one of the ways in which they could do most harm
to the hated white man.  If the native with the mutilated hand had not
given the alarm, Sidcotinga Station would have been right out of water
by the morning.  No one knew who this friendly black-fellow was.  Sax
told the others that it was the same man who had put the sprig of
needle-bush in the quart-pot, and who had also saved him from the bull
a few hours before, but he did not explain how he knew this.

"Seems to have taken a fancy to you, whoever he is," remarked Dan
Collins.  "I wonder why."

Sax knew why, but he seemed to feel the influence of his father coming
from the Musgraves, not far away, telling him to keep the matter secret.

The lads went back to bed, and the two white men kept watch at the
troughs till daylight.  But the blacks gave no sign of their presence.
They had evidently been scared away.



If the boys expected that the night alarm would be the chief subject of
conversation next day they were quite mistaken, for the matter was
hardly referred to at all.  Sidcotinga was as far away from
civilization as could possibly be, and its position under the dreaded
and mysterious Musgrave Ranges made it the object of repeated attacks
by little bands of warragul blacks.  Consequently the manager was quite
used to turning out in the middle of the night to guard one portion or
another of the station property, and the mere pulling out of the plugs
from the watering-troughs was forgotten almost as soon as the affair
was over.

Important business was afoot--the chief business of a
cattle-station--mustering.  Station blacks were sent out early in the
morning after working-horses; packs, saddles, canteens, hobbles, and
horse-gear generally were carefully overhauled by Mick, and tucker-bags
were filled with flour, sugar, tea, dried salt meat, and a tin or two
of jam.  Before sunset everything was ready for an early start next
day, for about fifty working-horses had been brought in, out of which
number Mick and the manager chose thirty for the mustering plant.

Dan Collins had sent four station boys to round up the horses: Calcoo,
whose real name went into about ten syllables and was quite impossible
for a white man to pronounce; Uncle, a thoroughly reliable
black-fellow, who was somewhat older than the others; Fiddle-Head, so
called because of his long thin face; and Jack Johnson, a native of
splendid physique from one of the great rivers which flow into the Gulf
of Carpentaria.  Another black stockman had stayed behind to help Mick
Darby and the white boys with the packs.  His name was Poona, and he
understood station ways better than the others, because Dan Collins had
taken him in hand when he was a piccaninny, and taught him to be very

Just before dinner, when Mick was busy mending a pack-bag and Sax and
Vaughan were having their first lesson in making waxed thread for
sewing leather, Poona came up to the drover with another black-fellow.
His companion was naked except for a rope of hair tied round his waist
from which a small apron hung down.  Sax looked up and recognized him
immediately; it was the native with the mutilated hand who had been
such a good friend to the white boy.  Stobart was about to call out,
when the man put his finger on his thick black lips and pointed to the
Musgraves.  He did this three times, and shook his head so earnestly
that Sax knew that, for some reason or another, the black did not want
to be recognized.

Mick Darby finished a row of stitching and then paid attention to the
two men who were standing so silently in front of him, waiting the
pleasure of the white man.  He knew Poona, but the presence of the
other native needed explaining.  "What name, Poona?" he asked.

"You want um 'nother boy go mustering?" asked Poona, pointing to his

Mick looked at the naked man for a moment, and then asked: "Is he any

"Yah.  Him bin good fella," replied Poona eagerly.  "Him bin ride like
blazes.  Him work one time longa Eridunda," mentioning a famous station
farther north.  This was not true.  The warragul black had never worked
on a station in his life and knew very little of the ways of white men.
He was a Musgrave nigger who had recently come down from the Ranges.
Mick wanted as many helpers as he could get, for the muster was to be a
big one, and he engaged the newcomer without further inquiries.

"All right," he said.  "What's his name?"

Poona grinned and pronounced a name which he knew was quite impossible
for a white man's tongue to manage.  Everybody laughed, including the
newcomer, who put up his mutilated hand to cover his grinning mouth.
Mick noticed the deformity at once.  The man's hand, with its three
fingers set wide apart, from which long hard nails stuck out, resembled
the claw of some bird, so the drover turned to the white boys and said:
"What d'you think of that for a name?  They've nearly all got names
like that.  We'll shorten this one down a bit and call him 'Eagle'.
Look at his hand."  He turned to Poona.  "We call that one black-fella
Eagle.  See?  His hand aller same eagle's hand.  Take um round Boss
Collins.  P'raps him give it trouser, shirt, tobac."

In a few minutes the warragul black, duly enrolled as a stockman of
Sidcotinga Station, was strutting about in front of a group of native
women, dressed in a pair of khaki trousers and a striped store shirt,
and was puffing at a new clay pipe.  The novelty of his occupation and
attire made up for their discomfort, and he would probably have been
willing to force his broad feet into boots if they had been given to
him, although he had never worn clothes in his life before, and must
have found that they hindered his movements at every stride.

Next morning, although it was summer and the sun rose very early, the
men had breakfast by the light of a hurricane-lantern, and the
mustering plant was all ready to start out before dawn.  There were
Mick, the two white boys, six niggers, eight packed horses and the rest
spares, making thirty in all.  The white boys were naturally interested
in the horses they were to ride.  Sax had a grey mare named Fair Steel
to ride in the mornings, and Ginger, a gelding, for the afternoons.
Vaughan's two were both geldings: Boxer, a brown, and Don Juan, a tall
black.  All four horses were well-bred and thoroughly suitable for the
month's hard work which lay ahead of them.

The plant made straight for the Musgraves.  It was a brilliantly clear
day, and when the sun rose the range of mountains ahead of them seemed
to be only a day's ride away.  But at the end of the second day, when
the packs were pulled off near a water-hole, the Musgraves did not look
to be any nearer.  Mick and the white boys rode in the lead all day,
and the plant, driven by the black-boys, followed behind; this is the
method of travel all over Central and North Australia.

On the morning of the third day they started to muster.  All around the
water-hole were the recent tracks of hundreds of cattle, and the day's
work consisted of riding out on these tracks till the limit was reached
beyond which no cattle had gone from that particular water.  Then the
stockmen rode in, gathering cattle as they came.  The party split up
into three in order to muster the district thoroughly, and before
sunset a mob of over four hundred cattle was bellowing round the
water-hole.  The nearest stock-yard was two days away, so the cattle
had to be watched that night.  Sax and Vaughan had done some night
watching on the way from Oodnadatta to Sidcotinga, when wild blacks had
been about, but a few tired, broken-in horses were very easy to watch
in comparison with a mob of nearly half a thousand wild desert cattle.

The usual precautions were taken.  The men made their camp on the slope
of a little clay-pan out of sight of the water-hole, so that their
movements in the night would not startle the cattle.  All fires were
put out before dark, and no man was allowed to shake his camp-sheet or
make any sudden noise.  Watches were arranged so that two stockmen were
riding round the cattle all night long.

The moon was full enough to vaguely light the scene, which was very
typical of Central Australia and could not possibly be met with in any
other part of the world.  Mick and Vaughan took first watch and Sax and
Poona took the second.  When Sax came off watch, and was riding up the
little hill, looking forward to rolling himself up in his blankets, the
sound of singing made him turn and look back.  It was a wonderful sight
which met his gaze, and those who have once seen a similar one are
never really satisfied in any other place.  The water looked flat like
a mirror, and one or two cattle stood knee-deep in the edges of it.
All around, just a vague black mass from which a warm mist of breath
and hot bodies was rising, were the cattle, mostly lying down and
contentedly chewing the cud, while a few wandered slowly about looking
for one another and quietly murmuring.  One of the black-boys, whose
turn at watching had just come, was already riding round with one leg
cocked lazily over the pommel of the saddle, and chanting a coroboree
dirge, both to let the cattle know that he was about and because he was

The other boy was waiting for Sax's horse.  Sax dismounted and noticed
that the man standing near him was Eagle.  The native grinned as he
climbed awkwardly on the horse, for he was not used to riding, and, as
he moved off, he pointed with his mutilated hand in the direction of
the Musgrave Ranges and uttered the words: "Bor--s Stoo--bar."

Sax sat down for a moment.  These words reminded him that indeed this
was his home, the land of his father, the place where perhaps he had
been actually born.  The magic of the desert night bewitched him; the
half-moon, the few stars in the pale sky, the sense of limitless space
across the sand, the water-hole and the camped cattle, the quavering
voice of the chanting nigger which was now joined by another voice,
wilder and more exultant--these things and the consciousness that his
father was somewhere near, guarded by these mysterious desert forces
and desert men--thrilled him, and when he stood up again and walked
over to his swag, he knew in a way that he had never known before that
the blood of the North was in his veins, and that he was the descendant
of a race of heroes--the Australian bushmen.

The cattle were quiet all night.  Mick was an old stockman and had
given strict orders to his boys not to hurry the cattle, so that they
arrived at the water-hole almost in the same mood as they would have
done if they had come for a drink of their own accord.  They were on
their own country also, and there was not a strange stick or stone or
tree to frighten them.  Cattle very seldom rush at night when they are
on their own feeding-grounds, and though Mick took no chances, and
double-watched them all night, he did not expect anything unpleasant to
happen.  "It's better to be sure than sorry," he told the boys at

Immediately the meal was over they started to "handle the cattle".
That was Mick's way of expressing it, and, indeed, at one part of the
proceedings the cattle were actually "handled".  But before they
reached that stage many things had to be done.  Each man was mounted on
the best horse possible, and the party rode down the hill to the
water-hole, spreading out like a fan, and slowly working the cattle
away from the water till they were on an open plain about a quarter of
a mile away.

Now came one of the most difficult things that a stockman ever has to
do.  It is called "cutting out".  Man and horse have to be of the very
best to perform this feat properly or else the whole operation results
in confusion.  Mick was mustering the north of Sidcotinga run in order
to brand all cleanskins, and there were probably not more than a
hundred unbranded cattle in that mob of nearly half a thousand.  Most
of these were calves which were still running with their mothers,
though there was a sprinkling of larger stock which had been missed the
year before.  The first job was to separate the cows and calves and
other cleanskins from the main herd, thus dividing it into two mobs.

The mounted stockmen put the cattle together tightly and held them.
Mick was riding a bright chestnut gelding with high wither and an
intelligent head, whose name was Hermes and who was reputed to be a
famous camp-horse.[1]  Signalling to his boys to be ready, Mick rode
straight into the mob of cattle.  Almost at once he saw an unbranded
steer and pointed his whip towards it.  The horse did the rest.  With
wonderful skill, Hermes worked alongside the steer, shouldered it to
the outside of the mob, and cut it out from the other cattle.
Immediately two other stockmen came in behind it and drove it a few
hundred yards away, where it was kept by three mounted boys who had
been detailed for the purpose.  It is far easier to keep a hundred
cattle in one place than it is to do the same to a single beast, but
Mick and Hermes were now cutting out cleanskins one after another
without any pause, thus increasing the second mob very quickly.  It is
a splendid sight to see cattle being cut out by a good man on a good
horse.  The man needs to have a quick eye and never to hesitate once,
for he is right in the midst of several hundred wild cattle who are
afraid of him, and are ready to wreak their vengeance on him at the
first opportunity.  He must be a faultless rider, for a camphorse can
turn right round at full gallop in its own length, and woe to the man
who loses his seat at that time.  He is amongst the feet and horns of
desert cattle.  Mick never made a mistake.  He took the matter as
quietly as it could possibly be done, and gradually worked the
clean-skins out and made up the other mob.

When a thing is done well it looks easy to a spectator, and the white
boys thought that this work of cutting out, which they had heard so
much talk about, was a very simple matter indeed.  Mick saw them edging
nearer and nearer, and knew that they were very keen to try their
hands, so he shouted out: "Have a shot at working on the face of the
camp.[2]  Be steady, though," he warned them.  "It's not as easy as it

They soon found out that the drover was right.  Their horses knew far
more about the matter than they did, but the men on their backs were
clumsy, and started to pull them this way and that, till the horses got
worried, and didn't know what to do.  Mick brought a young steer out to
the edge of the mob where the boys were standing, and shouted: "Here
you are.  Come in behind me."

Their horses started to do the right thing, which is to come in between
the steer and the mob, but Sax rode straight at the beast, drove it
towards Vaughan, who tried to turn his horse suddenly and only made
matters worse, for the steer galloped back into the mob.  Mick swore
and cut it out again, and drove it several yards out from the other
cattle and gave it a parting cut with his stock-whip.  Sax and Vaughan
galloped after it.  It dodged and tried to get back, but, more by luck
than good management, the boys kept it out in the open.  At last they
got it on the run towards the second mob and were feeling very pleased
with their success, when it suddenly turned.

Sax was in the lead.  His horse was an old stock-horse, and as soon as
the beast turned, it turned too, quickly, and in its own length.  But
the boy on the horse's back did not turn!  Sax had been going for all
he was worth, standing up in the stirrups and leaning forward
excitedly, when, all of a sudden, the horse under him jerked round on
its fore feet.  Sax went straight on over the animal's head and came to
the ground all in a heap, while the horse galloped on for a few yards
and then stopped and looked round at its fallen rider.  Vaughan did not
fare quite so badly.  His horse did not turn at full gallop.  It
propped and then turned.  When it propped, it flung Vaughan forward.
He clutched the horse's neck to save himself from coming off, and when
the horse turned he hung on still tighter.

The steer got away easily and was making back to the mob when Uncle and
Fiddle-head came to the rescue.  Everybody laughed at the two white
boys, but they took the fun in good part and learnt their first
important lesson in handling cattle: it's never so easy that it doesn't
need care.

[1] A camp-horse is a horse which has been especially trained for
cutting out cattle on a cattle-camp.

[2] Working on the face of the camp means taking cattle which have been
cut out from the man who is doing this particular job, and driving them
away to the second mob.


The Branded Warragul

By noon the cattle were in two mobs, clean-skins and branded.  Leaving
the clean-skins in charge of three boys, with instructions to keep them
from straying, Mick and the other stockmen drove the branded cattle
right away and let them go, and then rode back to camp for dinner.  A
fire was lit, the nine quart-pots put in the blaze, the damper and bag
of meat brought out, and soon everybody was munching the hard tucker
with a relish which can be gained only by a vigorous life in the open
air.  As soon as three of the black-boys had finished, they were sent
out to relieve the ones who were watching the cattle, and at the end of
the hour's middle-day "camp", everybody was ready for the branding.

There were one or two trees on the plain, and a suitable one was chosen
with a strong bough about five feet from the ground.  A pile of wood
was collected and a fire lit and the brands made red-hot.  Green-hide
ropes were uncoiled to get the kinks out and coiled again ready for
instant use, and every horseman saw to the tightness of his
saddle-girth.  Mick stood near the tree waiting to brand and cut, and
with him were Fiddle-head and Jack Johnson for the front and back leg
ropes, and Eagle to keep the brands hot and hand them when required.
Poona and Uncle were each armed with a long pliant bull-hide lasso, and
the two white boys and Calcoo rode round the cattle, keeping them well
bunched up.

Mick looked round to see that every man was in his place, gave his
knife an extra rub or two on his boot, and then shouted: "Right-o!"

Poona and Uncle rode forward at once to different ends of the mob.
Each of them singled out a cleanskin, and almost at the same time two
lassoes whirled through the air.  The thin bull-hides uncoiled and
uncoiled as they sped over the heads of the cattle, and the loops kept
wide open and fell around the necks of the chosen victims.  Both horses
propped immediately, and the lasso-men sat back to take the strain.  It
came, but the horses knew their work and lay back, almost sitting on
their tails, till the bucking, bellowing animals on the end of the
ropes ceased their first efforts to escape.  Then, bit by bit, as
carefully as an angler plays a game fish, the beasts were drawn out of
the mob, while Sax, Vaughan, and Calcoo kept the others from breaking

There is always keen rivalry between lasso-men as to who pulls his
beast up to the fire first.  Poona won this time, for the young bull on
the end of Uncle's rope lay down and had to be dragged by main force,
just as if it had been a bag of flour.  When Poona reached the fire,
Mick jerked the lasso over the outstanding bough in order to keep the
clean-skin from running round.  Meanwhile Fiddle-head and Jack Johnson
were on the alert with their ropes, and in a few seconds they had flung
them on and had drawn the loops tight, and pulled the animal down and
held it.  Mick at once loosened the lasso and Poona went back to the
mob to rope another.  "Brand-o!" was called, Eagle handed up a T.D.3
and a number brand, the head-stockman pressed these on to the near-side
shoulder of the prostrate beast, and with a shout of "Let her go!" the
leg ropes were taken off, and the dazed animal staggered to its feet
and rejoined its companions.  By this time Uncle had pulled his animal
up near the tree, and as soon as it was branded, Poona had caught his
second.  And so the work went on without interruption, everybody
working as hard as he could.

After about an hour Uncle threw his lasso and missed.  The beast he was
after was a three-year-old red bull with wide horns which he kept on
tossing angrily.  The animal saw the green-hide coming and ducked its
head, and the whirling rope fell and flicked it in the eye.  It was not
Uncle's fault that he had missed, but it was a failure all the same,
and nobody likes to come off second best when it is a case of such keen
rivalry.  He looked round and saw that his ill-luck had been observed
by all his companions, for there was a lull in the work just at that
time, and all hands were watching.  The black-boy was on his mettle to
redeem his reputation, and his blood was up to perform a feat which he
had learnt on a northern cattle-station, but which had never been seen
on Sidcotinga.  The lasso had flicked the bull in the eye.  With a roar
of pain, it lifted its great horns and shook them and rushed out of the
mob.  Sax wheeled to turn it back, but Uncle signed to him to leave it
alone.  When the wild red bull was clear of the mob, the black stockman
coiled the lasso on his left arm and made after it.

Everybody expected him to fling the lasso, but instead of doing that,
he galloped up on the near-side of the animal and kept level with its
rump for a yard or two.  It was on the tip of Mick's tongue to shout
out and tell the boy not to "play the fool", when Uncle leaned over
with his hand spread out wide.  Suddenly he grabbed the galloping
bull's tail near the root and gave it a dexterous twist.  Over went the
animal.  It crashed to the ground and threw up a cloud of dust.  Uncle
flung himself instantly off his horse and held the fallen beast for a
moment, while he slipped the noose of the lasso over its head.  Then he
remounted and lay back to take the strain.  It was all done so quickly
that the red bull was on its feet again and was tugging at the rope
before anybody realized what the stockman had done.  He could have
easily lassoed the escaping beast in the ordinary way, but his blood
was up and he did this wonderful feat just to show his companions that
though he had missed once with the lasso, he could do things with
cattle which they had never thought of.

Eagle's first experience of cattle-branding was the recent day in the
Sidcotinga yards when he had saved Sax from the horns of the infuriated
bull, and the present work was so entirely new to him that he was very
clumsy.  Mick did not take this into consideration.  Cattle were being
dragged up to the tree one after another, and the brands had to be hot
when he called out for them.  That was the only thing Mick cared about
just then.  It is not at all an easy job to keep six pairs of brands
red-hot in a fire of very fiercely burning wood on a blazing day in the
desert with a north wind blowing.  Everybody tries to avoid being made
brand-man, for it is hard hot work with no praise and plenty of blame.

Poor Eagle made one or two mistakes, was sworn at, and became flustered
and made more and worse mistakes, till Mick began to lose patience.
The boy was really doing his best, and he had even taken off his
much-prized trousers and shirt in order not to be hindered by them.
But somehow he didn't get on at all well; the brands were either not
hot enough, or he hadn't succeeded in keeping the handles cool, or he
was short of wood, or an extra strong gust of wind had blown his fire
nearly all away.

At last Mick got angry.  "You useless smut!" he shouted, when Eagle
handed him a couple of brands which were not hot enough.  "You useless
smut!  I thought you said you'd worked on Eridunda.  What work did you
do there?  Kitchen jin?"[1]

Eagle did not understand what Mick said, but he saw that the white man
was angry, so he hurried back to the fire and took out two other
brands, hoping that these would please the drover.  They were
absolutely red-hot.  Mick caught hold of them, but dropped them with a
yell.  Eagle had forgotten to pile sand over the handles to keep them
cool, and had allowed the heat to run up the whole length of the shaft.

Mick dropped the brands and vented his rage on the luckless Eagle.  The
native was a big powerful man, but Mick took him by surprise.  With a
sudden twist the white man sent him sprawling on the ground, and,
before he had a chance to get up again, was holding the black down with
a wrestling grip he had learnt when he was a lad.  He grabbed his hat
with his free hand and reached for the red-hot branding-iron.  He
pressed the fiery T.D.3 into the flank of the naked black-fellow.  The
man yelled and squirmed with pain, but his captor held him tight.  It
was a cruel thing to do, but Mick's Irish temper had got the better of
him, and he held the brand on the flesh till it had burnt a mark which
would never come off.

Then he released his grip and stood up.  Instantly the tortured black
sprang to his feet and reached for a stick.  But before his hand could
close on it a shot rang out, and Eagle jumped back as if he had been
mortally wounded.  The man was unharmed, however, for Mick had only
fired into the air as a warning, but he now covered the native with his
automatic pistol.  The warragul knew enough about white men to
understand that sudden death could spit out of that little barrel which
Mick held in his hand, and if there had been any doubt in his mind as
to what he ought to do, it was dispelled by the shouts of warning of
the other blacks.

Looking at Mick with fierce hatred, he backed slowly step by step till
he was about fifty yards away, when he turned and ran for his life.
Mick fired a parting shot after him, but it was not necessary.  The
branded black-fellow did not stop till he was out of sight over the
first sand-hill.

The work of branding was quietly resumed after this interruption, but
the spirit of laughter and good-natured rivalry had gone.  The blacks
were nervous and the white boys were frankly scared at the unexpected
turn of events, and even Mick himself, after a few minutes had passed,
was sorry for what he had done.  But he worked every man in the plant
to the full limit of his powers, never once easing the strain, for any
sign of relenting would have been misunderstood by the natives, who
think that a white man's kindness is the same as weakness, for they
respect one thing and one thing only, and that is power.  In this they
are not unlike white men.

[1] It is a great insult to a native to suggest that he is a woman or
that he does woman's work.



Just before sunset, after a long and tiring day's work, the last of the
clean-skins was branded, and staggered to its feet and made off to
rejoin the other cattle.  Mick wiped his knife on his trousers and then
used it to cut up a fill of tobacco.  Sax had taken over the management
of the brands after the adventure with Eagle, and was very glad to pull
the irons out of the fire and let them cool in the sand.  In fact,
everybody was pleased to "knock off", both because they were thoroughly
tired, and more especially because Mick's cruelty to the warragul had
caused an unpleasant feeling to take the place of the former spirit of
hearty good fellowship.

The men let the cattle go and rode dejectedly back to camp, and even
Mick's efforts to start a conversation with his two white companions
was not a great success.  A fire was lit, the quart-pots were boiled
and "tea-ed", and the damper and meat served out all round, and soon
afterwards the stockmen unrolled their swags and lay down for the night.

Sax could not sleep.  He turned over on one side and then on another,
but did not seem able to find a comfortable position.  During the
excitement of his fall from the horse in the morning he had not noticed
any injuries, but now, when he wanted to forget everything and go to
sleep, he felt a large bruise on his hip and a sore place on each
shoulder.  The moon shone in his face and kept him awake, and he lay on
his swag in a very unhappy frame of mind.

Mick's behaviour to Eagle worried him.  His body was too tired and sore
to rest, but his mind was unusually active, and kept on turning over
and over the incidents of the day, and especially the short struggle
between the white man and the warragul native.

Sax had been on the other side of the mob of cattle when the incident
had occurred, but he had seen enough to make him very angry at the
injustice.  Eagle had proved himself to be Sax's friend on three
occasions, and the lad consequently took the present matter to heart.
He quite forgot that Mick did not know who Eagle was, and merely
thought him to be a more than ordinarily useless black-fellow.  Sax had
found out to his cost what an exceedingly unpleasant task it is to keep
brands hot on a blazing north-wind summer's day in the Australian

The tired lad's indignant thoughts became confused as sleep gradually
claimed him, and at last his aching body was at rest, though his mind
still kept active and started to build dreams.  Just after midnight,
when everything was still, and the last of the cattle had ceased to
splash in the water-hole and had gone out on one or another of the long
cattle-pads which stretched away into the silent desert, when the
half-moon looked down on the motionless and soundless world, a dark
face peeped over the top of the sandhill above the sleeping stockmen.
The man's naked body lay flat as a snake on the sand and wriggled
forward with movements like the waving of a shadow on a wall, till the
native could gain a clear view of the place where his unconscious enemy

It was Eagle.

He had come to kill.

The T.D.3 brand, which still throbbed on his flank, was to him a mark
of shame, and he knew only one way of washing that shame away--with the
life-blood of the man who had put it there.

Slowly he raised his head and looked, remaining for a minute or two
without any sign of life at all, not even the blinking of an eyelid.
If everybody on the camp had been awake and had chanced to look that
way, they would not have been able to distinguish the black-fellow's
head from the scraggy bushes which grew here and there on the
sand-hill.  But all the men were asleep, and after Eagle had noted
carefully where Mick was lying, he ducked down again behind the
sand-hill and worked his way round till he was directly above the
sleeping white man.

Just to one side of Mick's swag was a row of pack-saddles and bags, and
leaning against one of the saddles was the axe which had been used to
chop wood for the branding fire that afternoon.  In fact Eagle had been
the one who had chiefly used it.  He was now going to use that axe
again, but for a purpose more dear to his savage heart than cutting
dead branches: he was going to cut the live body of a hated white man,
and cut it again and again till no semblance of humanity remained.

He crept forward down the slope inch by inch.  No snake in the grass is
more silent and no fox is more stealthily alert than a black-fellow
creeping on an enemy.  The body is held tense for instant action, and
the limbs move slowly and are put forward just a little bit at a time
with that slinking movement which is known only to beasts of prey and
to savage men.  He reached the packs at last and lay down flat, not
moving for fully five minutes.  Gradually a black hand stretched out
and a supple arm glided silently over the sand.

He grasped the axe.  He did not drag it.  Even that slight noise might
spoil the night's work.  He lifted and rose gently on his knees and one
hand, and held the axe close to his body with the other.

Eagle is six yards from Mick.  The critical time has come.  No one can
see him move, for he changes his position such a little and such a
little more that he is in a new place without seeming to have left the
old one.  His actions are as imperceptible as those of water.  Five
yards.  Four and a half.  Four.  Nearer and nearer.  Three.  Two.
Surely he will strike now!  He is on hands and knees.  He waits for a
moment or two and then straightens his body, pulls up one knee, and
poises the axe behind him.  He is like a spring.  In another second the
terrible tension will be relaxed and that supple black body will launch
itself at the sleeping man.  The axe will split the skull in two from
forehead to chin, and not a sound will tell that the forces of the
desert have claimed another invader as their victim.

The silence of the night is shattered by a shot.  The poised axe falls
to the ground.  The crouching native springs into the air with a yell
and puts a broken finger in his mouth.  There is a mighty shout, and
Mick hurls himself at his would-be murderer.  A blow under the chin
which would have felled a bull sends the black-fellow spinning to the
ground several yards away.  The white man follows like an incarnate
fury and grapples at his enemy's throat.  A terrible struggle ensues.
Over and over they roll.  Now the black is on top, now the white, but
Mick never relaxes his hold on the man's throat.  Gradually the
native's struggles weaken.  The white stockman digs deeper with his
thumbs into the neck of the gasping man and waits the inevitable end.
Finally all resistance ceases.  The black body grows limp and the head
falls back.

The green-hide ropes are lying near.  Mick reaches for them and binds
his captive more securely than any clean-skin cattle have ever been
bound.  Then he looks up and meets the startled gaze of Sax and Vaughan.


Chivalry in the Desert

Mick had expected to be attacked.  He had worked with natives for
thirty years and had had many narrow escapes for his life, and had come
to anticipate danger and thus avoid it.  When Eagle's head had poked up
over the opposite sandhill, Mick had been lying in that half-sleep
which cattle-men get used to and from which they are instantly awakened
by the slightest unusual sight or sound.  He had seen the native and
had known from experience exactly what the man would do.  With nearly
closed eyes he had followed the stealthy movements of the man down to
the packs, had seen him take the axe, and had waited till the very last
moment with pistol-barrel pointing through a fold in the camp-sheet.
Then he had fired at the hand which was grasping the axe.

At the sound of the shot the two white boys had been startled awake,
but they had been so heavily asleep before, that it took them a moment
or two to realize what was happening.  By that time it was all over,
and when they arrived on the scene, Mick was giving the last hitch to
the bull-hide rope.  In answer to their eager questions, the stockman
told the lads of his adventure.  It seemed terrible to them that Mick
had been so near death, and they wondered at his letting the native get
so near.  But the white man treated the matter lightly, and all three
of them stood round the bound native and watched him slowly recover

The five black-boys were standing in a group on the other side of the
smouldering fire, not knowing whether the white man's anger would vent
itself on them, but they were reassured when he called out to them,
pointing to the bound man: "This one, Eagle.  Him try to kill white
man.  No good at all.  Silly fella quite.  You all good fella.  You go
back longa swag.  You lie down.  You all good fella."

Eagle's eyelids fluttered and then opened, and he looked up into the
face of Sax.  The light of the moon was strong enough to show the boy
what intense appeal there was in the captive's eyes.  The man evidently
thought that he was going to be killed.  He looked beseechingly at Sax
and then rolled his eyes to the north, towards the Musgraves, and
muttered the syllables: "Stoo-bar."

The sound drew Mick's attention to him.  "So yer've recovered, have
yer?" he asked, stooping down to pick up a quart-pot of water.  "P'raps
that'll help yer."  He dashed the cold water into the man's face.  It
certainly brought him round to complete consciousness, and the dark
eyes no longer looked appealingly at Sax, but gazed with hatred at his

"Yer don't like having a decent brand on yer hide, don't yer?" sneered
Mick.  "Like me to take it off, would yer?  Well, I'll have a try."

The white boys had no idea what the drover intended to do, and stood
back when he asked them to do so, He rolled the helpless man over till
his flank was uppermost and showed the recent brand-mark T.D.3.  The
brand was outlined with thick burns which stood up from the black
flesh.  Mick went over to his swag for his whip.  It was long and
supple, made of plaited kangaroo-hide, and ended in a well-rounded
lash.  He drew it once or twice through his fingers and then cracked it
in the air.  The sound was like the sudden banging together of two flat
wooden boards.  Mick stood back from the prostrate native and measured
the distance with his eye.

"Don't like to be branded, don't yer?" he asked.  "Well, I'll take it
off for yer."

He drew back the whip and swung it forward.  There was a yell of pain
from Eagle.  The lash had bitten right in the middle of the brand.  The
whip fell again and again, each time unerringly.

Sax sprang forward.  He acted on the spur of the moment.  With clenched
fists and blazing eyes he stood between the drover and the bound man.
For a moment there was silence except for the moaning of the tortured
man.  Mick looked at Sax and said, with a cruel smile: "Well, and who
told you to interfere?"

"But, Mick," gasped the lad, surprised at his own audacity, but
determined to see the matter through--"but, Mick, you can't do it.
He's tied up."

"Can't do it, indeed!" shouted Mick.  "Can't do it!  That nigger wanted
to kill me, he did.  Look out.  I'm going to chop that brand out of his
side with this whip."

The thong whistled through the air over the drover's head and came
forward.  But Sax stood his ground.  The falling whip coiled round his
legs and jerked him off his feet, sending him backwards over the body
of the bound native.  Mick laughed and raised the whip again; but
before it came down, the lad was on his feet and had cleared Eagle's
body at a bound.  The lash caught Sax's right leg.  It slashed through
the thin cloth of the trousers and left a bleeding cut from ankle to
knee.  The boy did not cry out.  He grabbed at the whip and missed it,
but before it could be raised again, Vaughan rushed forward and caught
it.  He twisted the plaited hide round his wrist and hung on.  Sax
joined him immediately, but they tried in vain to wrench the handle out
of the infuriated man's hand.  The unequal tussle was soon over.  Mick
was a big heavy man, and the lads were light and were not used to
matching their strength against the endurance of a man.  First one and
then the other was thrown back.  They came on again, however, till,
with a sudden jerk, Mick flung the whip away from him, and faced them
with his bare hands.

Sax and his friend were breathless.  They stood panting beside the
native on the ground, and looked at the drover.

"You young whipper-snappers!" he shouted, advancing with threatening
gestures.  "You young whipper-snappers!  I'll teach you to mind your
own business.  Get out of my way."

But the exhausted boys stood firm.  At all costs they meant to protect
the bound man from the drover's anger.  Mick hesitated for a moment.
He looked at the lads who were so new to the back country and who had
played the game so well.  They seemed so young and small to him just
then.  Because of his man's strength he could easily have killed them
both, but their very weakness made their obstinate resistance and pluck
seem all the greater.  His anger began to die slowly, and his clenched
fists fell to his sides and opened.  "I can thrash that nigger in the
morning," he said to himself.  And then his real manhood, which anger
had hidden for a time, asserted itself, and he felt ashamed.  "After
all," he thought again, "a chap shouldn't hit a man when he's down,
nigger or no nigger."

Finally he spoke aloud.  "All right, you boys.  I won't touch him
to-night.  Leave him where he is till morning.  I'm going back to bed."


The Bull-roarer

In half an hour the camp was asleep again.  Men like Mick, who live in
the desert and who are constantly facing death in many forms, dismiss
an adventure from their minds as soon as it has happened.  The black
stockmen were pretty much like animals, scared out of their wits one
minute and forgetting all about it the next.  Sax and Vaughan were sure
that the drover would keep his word, and were so utterly tired out when
they lay down again on their swags, that, in spite of what had just
happened, they fell asleep at once.  In fact, Sax did not bother to
wipe the blood off his leg where the whip had cut it.

All the men were soon asleep except one.  Eagle, the bound and tortured
warragul, was wide awake.  For the first time in his life he was
helpless.  Those supple limbs of his had never been bound before, and
he tugged and tugged to be free till he cut his skin against the hard,
unyielding bull-hide ropes.  It was no good.  Mick was too old a
cattle-man to leave a rope so that it could be loosened by pulling.
The black tried to twist his body till he could touch the green-hide
with his teeth and gnaw it through, but he was bound too tightly to
allow him to do this.  Finally a he lay still with the fear of a
captured animal in his heart, and bitter hatred against the man who had
brought him to this condition.

Suddenly he heard a dry stick crackle.  He was lying with his face
uphill, away from the fire, but at the sound he turned over and looked
toward the few smouldering embers of the camp-fire.  Instantly hope
blazed up in his heart.  He was saved!  In his previous struggles he
had been reckless, not caring how much noise he made, but with the
return of hope came cunning and stealth.  For a few minutes after
hearing that welcome crackle of fire, he lay still and gazed at the
thin smoke which coiled lazily up in one or two spirals from a glowing
wood-coal here and there.  Then he began to move forward.  His limbs
were bound so tightly that they had no power of separate movement, but
he succeeded in twisting his body in such a way that, very slowly and
with an expenditure of great energy, he managed to get nearer and
nearer the fire.  It took the bound man two hours to cover a distance
of three yards.  Once the mind of a savage is made up to do a thing,
time is of no object at all.  An eye-blink, the hours between sunrise
and sunset, a moon, or a season, it doesn't matter.  He will persist in
his intention though he die with the thing unfinished.  It is
civilization which breeds impatience.

At last Eagle was up against the fire.  His hands were bound behind
him.  For a minute or two he looked intently at the grey ashes in which
a few little red-hot embers were glowing, till he decided on one which
was larger and hotter than any of the others.  Then he deliberately
rolled over till his bound wrists were right in the ashes.  There is no
pain worse than burning.  A man will draw his hand away from fire at
all costs.  Several parts of the man's body were actually in the fire,
but he endured it all and steeled himself to fight back the greater
agony which throbbed at his wrists.  The fire touched the green-hide
and singed the white bull hair, giving off a pungent smell.  Eagle
sniffed it greedily.  It helped him to bear the terrible pain, for it
was a proof that the fire was doing its work.

It is impossible to tell how long that wild man endured such fearful
torture for freedom's sake.  Agony is not measured by the clock.  His
eyelids were shut tight, his teeth were clenched, his breath came in
deep gasps, and every nerve and sinew in his body seemed to be
quivering.  He would rather die than call out, yet the effort to keep
back the yells of pain was almost worse than death.  In spite of what
it must have cost him, he kept up a constant strain with his arms.  The
smell of burning became stronger, but who could say whether it was the
burning of the skin of a bull or of the skin of a man?

At last he realized, through the torture which was clouding his mind,
that the strain was relaxing.  He put forth a mighty effort.  His body
could stand it no longer, and gathered all its forces for one last bid
for freedom.  A green-hide strand parted.  Another loosened itself.  A
third uncoiled from his burnt wrist.

His hands were free!

Cunning is as natural to a savage as breathing.  With the freeing of
his hands it would have been natural for the man to jerk himself out of
the fire, struggle out of his bonds, and make a dash for liberty.  But
no.  Eagle had a superstitious fear of white men.  He must do nothing
to arouse the suspicions of his enemy.  Almost as slowly as he had
approached the fire, he now wormed his way from it till he was out of
reach of its heat, and then lay still, his body racked with the pain of
being burnt and bound.  Gradually he reached down with his burned hands
and loosened the rope which fettered his legs.  It took some time, for
he had almost lost the use of his hands, and the rope was very stiff
and tightly drawn.  But patience and perseverance triumphed, and at
last the man was free.

His next moves were the most risky of all.  Eagle was convinced that
Mick was possessed of supernatural powers, for how else could he have
seen the black-fellow and fired at him when he was fast asleep?
Consequently it was with a caution which was the outcome of deadly fear
that he began to crawl.  He dared not take too long, for the short
summer night was nearly over, and the white stockman would certainly
awake at the rising of the morning star.  But Mick was soundly asleep
this time, and did not notice the black form which went slowly round
the fire and then started up the hill near the white boys.

When Eagle came opposite to Sax he stopped.  This boy was not a devil
like the other white man.  He had saved him from the torture of the
whip.  He was the son of Boss Stobart and was therefore to be guarded
from all danger.  A black remembers cruelty and will avenge it; he also
remembers kindness and will pay it back if he possibly can.  But what
could a naked savage, fleeing for his life, do to show his gratitude to
the son of Boss Stobart?

Eagle put his poor mutilated hand up to his mass of tangled hair and
pulled out a piece of wood with a string attached to it.  The object
was about five inches long, thin and flat, and tapered to a point at
each end, something like a thick cigar except that it was not round.
Both sides were marked with straight lines cut across the breadth of
the wood and with circles inside one another, all filled in with a
mixture of grease and red ochre.  At one end was a hole through which
passed a string made of native women's hair.  The thing was a
luringa--a bull-roarer--a sacred charm, the most precious object which
Eagle could possibly give to his white friend.  With this luringa the
white boy could travel unharmed amongst the most savage tribes of the
desert, and could even enter the wildest of the Musgrave fastnesses and
return, a thing which no white man had ever yet done.

Eagle looked long at the piece of wood and muttered certain words over
it, and then unfastened the hair string and put it round the neck of
the sleeping boy.  He had no fear of any evil power which Sax might
possess, and when the lad stirred uneasily, the black-fellow went on
with his work till he had tied the string quite securely.

A flap of Sax's camp-sheet was spread out on the sand, and when Eagle
had finished with the luringa, he spread out his mutilated hand on the
piece of white canvas and made an imprint.  His hand was all covered
with blood and ashes, and the mark of the two fingers and the
projecting thumb was left very plainly on the camp-sheet.

When Eagle was quite satisfied that Sax would know who had hung that
strange symbol round his neck, he crawled on up the hill, disappeared
on the other side, and fled for his life.


Horseshoe Bend

In order fully to understand the position in which Sax and his friend
were soon to be placed, it is necessary to go back several weeks and
find out what had happened to the famous Boss Stobart.

Joe Archer, the storekeeper at Oodnadatta who had been so kind to the
boys, had told them that the drover had not been heard of since he had
called in at Horseshoe Bend.  It is possible to connect up with the
Overland Telegraph Line at Horseshoe Bend, and Stobart had taken
advantage of this opportunity of getting into touch with Oodnadatta.

Boss Stobart, with a thousand Queensland cattle, reached the Finke
about midday.  The Finke is a wide river of soft white sand, bordered
on each side by gnarled and ancient gum trees.  Not once in the memory
of white man had the Finke carried water from its source in the
Macdonnel Ranges to its mouth in the great dry salt Lake Eyre, and the
trees which mark its course, and can be seen from many, many miles away
scattered about the landscape, gain their nourishment from a
water-supply fifty or sixty feet below the arid surface.

The drover saw the cattle safely over the dry creek, put them on camp
in a clay-pen surrounded by sandhills, and then rode up to the little
group of rough buildings which, because the Finke makes an almost
complete turn on itself just there, goes by the name of Horseshoe Bend.
The Horseshoe Bend licensed store is a low iron building ornamented on
two sides by a broad veranda.  Clustered at the back are a hut of split
box logs thatched with cane, an iron-roofed cellar, and a few primitive
outbuildings.  These, with a large set of yards and troughs for
watering cattle, make what is not only the homestead of a
six-thousand-square-mile cattle station, but also an important depot on
the Great North Stock Route, a postal and telegraph station, and the
residence--when he is not away on the run--of a justice of the peace.
In a cramped and dusty office, where, amid the buzzing of innumerable
flies, while the temperature climbs above 110° F. every day for five
months in the year, the news of Europe and Asia can be heard
tick-tacked in code by inserting a little plug.  The reports of a war
in India, of an active volcano in South America, or of a cricket match
in England could be heard at Horseshoe Bend in the centre of the
Australian desert before people in Melbourne knew anything about it.
The only thing necessary is to insert a little metal plug and make the
current run through the recorder.

But the plug hangs idle on its nail; the recorder is covered with dust;
no one bothers about either Europe or Asia.  What chiefly concerns the
few white men who are able to live in Central Australia are the price
of stock, the best place to find a little dried grass or bush, and
water.  Always water, water, water--everything else is of secondary
importance--cattle-feed and water.

The conversation between Stobart and the man behind the bar was all
about the needs and the ways of stock.  The drover hitched his horse to
a veranda-post and walked into the dark drinking-room stiffly, for he
had been in the saddle since three o'clock that morning, and had done
some hard riding after restless cattle.

"Good-day," said Stobart.

"Good-day," replied Tom Gibbon.  "Travelling?"

"Yes.  Cattle.  How's the water down the road?"

The man consulted a paper nailed on a board.  It contained the names of
all the water-holes from Alice Springs to Oodnadatta.  He began to
read, running his finger below the words and pronouncing them slowly:
"Yellow--dry.  Sugar-Loaf--dry.  Anvil Soak--dry.  One Tree Well--only
enough for a plant; makes very slow.  Simpson's Hole--dry.  In fact the
whole lot are dry till you get as far as the Stevenson Bore.  You're
right after that.  How many've you got?"

"A thousand."

"Holy sailor!  You'll never get through.  Bob Hennesy was the last man
down with cattle.  He got as far as the Crown and had to leave them on
a well there.  They were as poor as wood.  No stock passed this way for
three months."

Boss Stobart had been a drover in Central Australia for thirty years,
and the names of the water-holes which Tom Gibbon had read out were
very familiar to him.  Tom, however, was new to the country and did not
know who his visitor was.  Stobart did not show any surprise at the
state of the country to the south of him, but merely remarked casually:
"Oh, well, I'll have to go round then.  I'm a good month ahead of time."

The barman did not know what going round meant, but had no wish to
display an ignorance which was really quite evident to the drover, so
he asked: "What'll you drink?"

"Got any sarsaparilla?"

Tom Gibbon laughed.  It seemed a good joke to him that a bushman should
ask for a teetotal drink.  "Yes, any amount of it," he answered.
"'Johnny Walker', 'Watson's No. 10', 'King George'--any brand you like."

"I said sarsaparilla, not whisky," said Stobart.

The laugh died out on Tom Gibbon's face.  "D'you mean it?" he asked.

"Why, yes.  What d'you think I'd ask for it for if I didn't want it?"

The sarsaparilla bottle was taken down from the shelf and put on the
counter, together with a glass and a water-bag.  "Have one with me?"
invited the drover.

"No, thanks," replied the other.  "I don't care for that stuff.  A man
needs something with a nip to it in this country."

Stobart poured out his drink and watered it.  "Does he?" he asked
quietly.  "When you've been in this country as long as I have, you'll
know what's good for you."

When his visitor had gone, Tom Gibbon asked a black-fellow who the man
was that preferred sarsaparilla to whisky.  He got rather a shock when
the native told him that the man was not a namby-pamby new-chum as he
had suspected, but was one whose name and deeds were known and talked
about from one end of the country to the other.

"That one?" exclaimed the black-fellow in surprise.

"You no bin know um that one, eh?  Him Boss Stobart.  Big fella drover.
Him bin walk about this country since me little fella.  Him big fella
drover all right, altogether, quite."

The "big fella" drover rode over to the cattle and, instead of starting
them due south along the Great North Stock Route, he gave them a drink
at Horseshoe Bend troughs and then set out west.  For several days he
and his black-boys travelled the mob through country which he knew
well, and he managed to find enough dry grass and bush to keep the
animals in fair condition, and enough water to give them a drink every
other day.

He was making towards the Musgrave Ranges, knowing that the great mass
of high country which loomed on the western horizon day after day was
sure to have water-holes and gullies full of cattle-feed along the base
of it.  One day he watered the cattle at a little water-hole surrounded
by box trees, under a low stony rise, and put them on camp in the open
and arranged the watches.  It was still an hour before sunset when Boss
Stobart, after giving the cattle a final inspection, was riding back to
camp to make a damper and cook a bucket of meat, when he was startled
by seeing a boot track.  They were in totally uninhabited country, and
the sight was just as startling as a naked black-fellow in the middle
of Sydney in the busy part of the day would be.

He followed it for a yard or two.  The footprints turned outwards.  A
white man had made those tracks.  They were only about a day old.  What
was a white man on foot doing in such a place?  The drover stopped and
looked back.  The line of tracks was crooked and seemed as if a
staggering man had made it, but the general direction was from the
north.  Stobart rode on slowly and thoughtfully.  The wandering tracks
led to a little clump of mulga trees about a couple of hundred yards
away from the water-hole.

Suddenly the old stock-horse which the man was riding drew back and
snorted with alarm.  Something was moving in those trees.  Stobart
urged the horse on.  Just at the edge of the clump of scraggy timber
the animal shied again.  A man's shirt was lying on the ground.
Trousers and boots were a little distance away, and then an old
battered felt hat was found upturned in the sand.  Finally the horse
became so much afraid that Stobart was obliged to dismount and tie it
to a tree while he followed the tracks on foot.  He had only a little
farther to go before he too saw what his horse had already seen--a
naked white man staggering round and round in a small clearing among
the trees.

The man took no notice when Stobart appeared.  He was quite
unconscious.  The drover shouted, but there was no more response than
if the desert silence had remained unbroken.  By the tracks of his
shuffling bare feet he must have been drawing that terrible circle for
several hours, while the pitiless sun beat down on his unprotected
head.  His tongue lolled out of his mouth and was dark-coloured and
swollen, his head jerked forward loosely with each stride, and his
tottering legs were bent almost double at the knees.  If he sank just a
little lower, his hanging hands would touch the ground, and he would
crawl over the burning sand like any other dying beast, round and
round, round and round, for nothing but utter exhaustion would stop
that parade of death.

Boss Stobart stood directly in the path of the shambling figure.  It
came on unheeding, with glazed eyes and spent senses, and bumped into
the drover as if the hour had been pitch-dark midnight instead of a
summer afternoon.  Stobart caught it before it fell, and laid the limp
body down very gently and looked into the man's face.  He uttered an
exclamation of amazement.  It was Patrick Dorrity, a man whom he had
seen only a few months before, cooking on Tumurti Station.

Pat Dorrity and Stobart were old friends.  Pat had a fondness for a
spree and had consequently never risen above the level of a casual
station cook, wandering about in this capacity over the huge area of
the north, where his friend the drover, who did not have the same
weakness, had gone on earning the confidence and respect of every
stock-owner in the country, till he was now a shareholder in more than
one prosperous station property.

But bushman friendships are not based on bank balances, and the two had
remained good friends.  As a proof of this, the last time they had met,
Pat had told the drover about a gold-mine he knew of in the Musgrave
Ranges.  At first Stobart laughed at the old Irishman, for there were
as many reputed gold-mines in the Musgraves as there were men who had
gone after them and not come back.  But gradually Pat had won him over,
for in the veins of every bushman runs enough gambler's blood to make
the sporting risk of a gold-mine very alluring.  The two men wrote to
Sergeant Scott, of Oodnadatta, who was a great friend of both of them,
and arranged that they would start out for the Musgraves as soon as
Stobart had delivered the cattle.

Since coming to this decision, the care of a thousand bush cattle had
taken up so much of Boss Stobart's attention that he had none to give
to the proposed trip, and he was, therefore, all the more amazed to
come across one of the partners in the venture in such a pitiable

The man was perishing.  Water in abundance was only two hundred yards
away, yet here he was dying of thirst.  Such is the irony of the desert.

Pat Dorrity's horse had been abandoned ten miles back, and the
tottering man had walked on, till, when he had managed to stagger to
the top of the last sandhill, and had seen two clumps of timber, one of
box and one of mulga, his senses had played him false and he had gone
to the mulgas.

Stobart did not stop to wonder how his old friend had come to such a
pass.  He needed water.  Everything else must wait.  The strong man
lifted the weak one and walked away to his horse, leading it to the
camp near the water-hole.  At the sight of that little pool of muddy
liquid, the closing eyes of the perishing man opened and his weak body
struggled to be free; his mouth tried to shape sounds but could not do
so, for his tongue was swollen and his throat dry.

The drover was too old a bushman to allow the perishing man to have all
the water he wished for.  Gradually the swelling of the tongue was
reduced, then the parched throat was relieved by driblets of water, and
even then, when Pat Dorrity could have swallowed, he was only allowed
to take a sip at a time, or he would have vomited so badly that some
internal rupture would have resulted.

Before Boss Stobart went on watch that night, his old friend was
sleeping peacefully, with his thirst quenched, and having had a small
meal of soaked damper also.


Facing Death

Boss Stobart could not afford to spend more than one day at the
water-hole where he had found his friend Patrick Dorrity, because the
water was practically a thin solution of mud, and the feed was soon
eaten out within a radius of a few miles.  There was really no need for
delay, for the old station cook recovered quickly, and "dodging along"
behind cattle, as it is called, is not hard work for a man who has
nothing to do.  The recuperative powers of the Australian bushman are
wonderful.  It is only men of the toughest fibre and the stoutest heart
who can live in the central deserts, and when one of these is overtaken
by sickness or disaster, he never stops fighting, and wins through in
the shortest possible time.  There comes a day, however, when it is not
possible to win through, and the brave man dies fighting, and the sand
gradually covers up the body of yet another pioneer.

Dorrity was what is called a "hatter".  He had lived for long periods
in the north absolutely alone; at other times his only companions had
been blacks.  Too much of this sort of life is not good for a man.
Moreover, the deadly monotony of Pat's life was broken at long
intervals by the most violent sprees, when he drank steadily for three
weeks on end, finishing the bout by several days of delirium tremens.
None but the strongest constitution could stand such treatment time
after time, and though the Irishman's tough body had not yet shown any
signs of breaking up under the strain, his mind was liable to fits of
moodiness which amounted almost to madness.  Such a man is not rare in
Central Australia, and he goes by the name of "hatter".

After Boss Stobart's last visit to Tumurti Station, when Pat and he had
arranged for the trip to the Musgraves in search of gold, the old cook
had been attacked by fits of moodiness which he could not shake off.
He could not rid his mind of the thought that his friend the drover was
going to defraud him of his share in the gold-mine.  He blamed himself
for telling anybody about it, and at last worked himself up into such a
state that he set out, alone except for an old horse, to go to the
Musgrave Ranges.  The men on Tumurti Station were used to Pat's sudden
comings and goings, and took them as a matter of course and did not
inquire what he intended to do.  He would not have told them if they
had asked, for his feeble mind was set on reaching the supposed mine
before the men whom he thought were going to rob him of it.

It was some weeks after he had started out from Tumurti with the old
horse that Boss Stobart had found him perishing in a clump of mulgas.
When he recovered, under the drover's kind and wise treatment the
hatter mood had left him for a time.

The party travelled on slowly from the Box water-hole for several days,
still keeping the high mass of the Musgrave Ranges in front of them,
till at last they came into country which Boss Stobart did not know.
The mountains sent out spurs far into the plains, and when the drover,
who was riding a mile or two ahead of the cattle, came upon a rocky
water-hole in a valley tolerably covered with low bushes, he decided to
camp there for a day or two and explore the surrounding district to
find the best route to take with the cattle.

It was early in the afternoon when the lowing mob came up to the water;
so when they had had a drink, Stobart gave directions to his black-boys
and rode off, leaving Pat Dorrity to look after the camp.  He took with
him a boy named Yarloo.  This boy was a Musgrave black whom Stobart had
picked up on one of his droving trips years before and had kept ever
since.  The native was devoted to the white man, and Stobart had
responded to this faithfulness in such a way that Yarloo would have
willingly given his life for his hero.  The boy's services at this time
were invaluable, for the party had now reached the country in which he
had been born.  Before many days his services were to prove more
valuable still, and his devotion was to be put to a very great test.

The two men rode up the gully to the top, crossed over the spur, dipped
down into a larger gully, and struck out south-west for a plain
stretching towards Oodnadatta which Yarloo remembered, where there were
one or two good water-holes and plenty of cattle-feed for many days.
Darkness came on before they had completed their investigations, and as
there was no need to get back to camp that night, they hobbled their
horses on a patch of dry grass and lay down, each man pillowing his
head on his upturned saddle.

Next morning they reached the plain, found it to be all that could be
expected considering the drought-stricken state of the country, and
then turned their horses' heads towards camp.

They had not gone more than half-way when they saw that something was
wrong, for they came across one or two of the cattle which they had
been driving.  The animals had evidently been badly scared, for they
galloped away as soon as they caught sight of the two horsemen.  It
took some time to round them up, and by that time others were in sight
and others still.  Boss Stobart always selected good black stockmen and
trusted them, and he knew that something quite out of the ordinary had
happened to scatter the cattle in this way, and that it was not due to
any carelessness on the boys' part.  At last he came upon a bullock
which was tottering along, hardly able to keep on its feet.  It tried
to dash away when it saw the mounted men, but the effort was too much
for it.  It fell over, tried to get up but couldn't, and lay in the
sand, panting and moaning with pain.

The point of a spear was sticking in its side just behind the

Yarloo pulled it out and looked at it.  The shaft, which had broken off
about a foot from the end was made of lance-wood.  The head of the
spear was broad and flat, and was made of red mulga, a hard, tough,
poisonous wood.  It was bound to the shaft with kangaroo sinews and
spinifex gum in such a way that the black-boy had no hesitation in
pointing to the mountain range to the left of them.  "Musgrave
black-fella," he said.  "Me know um this one."

Stobart left the cattle which they had collected in charge of Yarloo
and galloped ahead.  He met other cattle, dead or dying, but was not
prepared for what he saw when he topped the rise just above the
water-hole where the camp had been.

A crowd of about fifty blacks squatted round a fire.  Their naked
bodies were smeared with red ochre and clay in fantastic designs, and
many of them had feathers or grass or the claws of large birds in their
bunched-up hair.  Great bleeding chunks of meat and entrails were
smoking and sizzling in the fire, and all around them were the
carcasses of dead cattle.  It seemed incredible that fifty men armed
only with boomerangs and wooden spears should have been able to commit
such a slaughter.  The white man took all this in at a glance, and then
his face hardened and he knew that he was nearer death than he had ever
been before, for a little distance away were the bodies of six clothed
black-boys and a white man, laid out in a row.  The sun beat down
pitilessly on that terrible scene, but not one of the seven put his
hand up to drive away the flies or to protect his head from the glare.
They were dead!

The feasting natives saw him at once and rose to their feet with a
yell.  Stobart did not ride away.  Such an act of fear would have made
his death sure, and probably more hideous than it would be if he faced
those shouting, dancing, gesticulating fiends.

He took a fresh grip of the reins and urged his unwilling horse to go
down the hill to meet the blacks.  This act of courageous audacity
checked them for a moment.  They collected in a bunch and yabbered
excitedly.  Stobart understood several aboriginal languages, but this
one was wild and harsh and quiet strange to him.

Sitting firmly but easily in the saddle, the white man rode quietly up
to the savages.  When he was only a horse's length away, he drew rein
and looked at them.  Several of the men stepped back, flung their
spear-arms behind their heads, fastened the woomeras, and prepared to
throw.  But the long quivering shafts never left their hands.  One or
two jumped out from the crowd and swayed back their supple black bodies
to give additional force to a boomerang.  But the heavy curved weapon
never started on its death-dealing course.  Here and there a man sprang
up in the air and waved his spears wildly over his head, and shouted
words of hatred towards the white man and of encouragement to his
companions.  But the result of it all was nothing worse than
threatening and noise.

Stobart sat and looked at them.  He was a famous horse-breaker and a
noted man with cattle, and had found, in dealing both with animals and
with men, the power which his eye possessed.  It was the focusing-point
of all the force and personality of a remarkable man.

But who can quell and keep on quelling the passions of fifty savages
who have tasted blood?  One man broke the spell of the drover's steady
glance.  He jumped to one side and hurled a boomerang.  Stobart dodged.
It passed him and whizzed on, turning and turning for nearly two
hundred yards, so great had been the force behind it.  The man had put
so much energy into the throw that his body was jerked forward till he
was standing beside the horseman.

A great shout went up when the weapon left the hand of the
black-fellow, but it was cut off suddenly to amazed silence when the
boomerang passed on and left the white unharmed.  This man must be a
devil.  At once every spear was raised, poised in the woomera, and
directed, not at the white man, but at the native who had dared to pit
his strength against a supernatural power.  Stobart understood the
situation immediately, and so did the unfortunate black, who hunched
his shoulders ready for death.

Suddenly one of those reckless impulses came to the drover which come
only to great men, and which are often the turning-points of their
lives.  He jabbed spurs into his horse's flanks and wheeled it like a
flash between the cringing native and his would-be murderers.  At the
same time he raised his hand and shouted:


Not one of them had ever heard the word before, but they understood
what it meant by the white man's tone and gesture of command.  They
instantly obeyed.  Before the sound of Stobart's voice had come back in
echo from the mountains, every spear was lowered.

The white man backed his horse and looked down at the native whose life
he had saved.  The man was grovelling in the sand in abject fear and
gratitude.  Stobart motioned to him to get up and return to the others.
He did so, and as he slunk away, the drover noticed that the middle two
fingers of his left hand were missing.


A Friend and a Foe

Boss Stobart had had too much experience with blacks to think that he
was safe.  He had escaped instant death and seemed to have gained some
sort of control over those savage minds, but he knew that at any time
the long quivering spears, which had just been lowered at his command,
might be hurled at him and bury their poisonous heads in his body.  So
he continued to sit on his horse and look steadily at the naked savages.

When they had got over their surprise, both at the white man having
power to turn aside a boomerang--as they thought--and at his saving the
life of his enemy, they began to yabber and gesticulate.  They pointed
to the seven dead men and then at Stobart with fear in their faces;
they looked round at the slaughtered cattle and wondered what revenge
this supernatural man would take; the sound and smell of cooking meat
grew very tantalizing, but they did not dare to continue the feast till
the white man made some sign of anger or pleasure.

The drover did not turn his head.  There were those in the crowd who
had not come under the spell of his authority, and he knew it;
therefore he kept on facing them.  He looked steadily at one man in
particular; a tall, well-proportioned native with a commanding head and
features.  Through the septum of the man's nose a little bundle of thin
bones had been thrust, and this, together with a particular design
painted on his chest, proclaimed him to be a man of power, the doctor
of the tribe.  He regarded Stobart with a scowl of hatred, and went
about amongst his companions telling them that there was no difference
between this white man and other men of his colour, and that he would
be as easy to kill as the poor sick Irishman who was now lying so
quietly in the sand.  The natives, however, did not know what to do.
Stobart's life hung by a thread.

This state of uncertainty was suddenly cut short by a native appearing
on the top of the hill immediately behind Stobart.  He had been running
and had hardly breath enough to shout the news to the men below.  He
had seen Yarloo and the little mob of cattle.  Most of the blacks at
once ran up the hill and looked back in the direction where he was
pointing.  The native doctor and the man with the mutilated left hand
were amongst those who stayed near the fire, and Stobart felt sure that
the man whom he had saved was there on purpose to see that his rescuer
came to no harm.

After a great deal of noise and waving of arms and stamping of feet,
the party on the hill disappeared down the other side, and presently
some cattle came straggling over the top and ran down to the water-hole
for a drink.  Yarloo followed, escorted by the blacks who had gone out
to meet him.  He had evidently established friendly relations with his
fellow-tribesmen, for they were all laughing and talking excitedly, and
already one or two of them were adorned with articles of Yarloo's
clothing which he had given them.  The much-envied recipients of these
gifts were probably relations or members of the same totem, and the
wise boy had made the most of his opportunities for showing goodwill,
for his master's sake.

Yarloo was evidently very much relieved to find Boss Stobart safe.  He
went up to the drover and showed so plainly that the white man was his
honoured friend, that the other natives at once changed their attitude,
and gave every sign of favour to the man whom they had so recently
wanted to kill.

Stobart was invited to join the feast.  His own tucker-packs had not
been interfered with, for the blacks had started to cut up and eat meat
as soon as the slaughter was over; so to the only item on the primitive
menu he added a few tins of jam and treacle, a bottle or two of tomato
sauce, and all the damper which was left.  Afterwards, when all had
gorged themselves to their fullest capacity, he handed round small
plugs of tobacco, which the men accepted eagerly and started to chew at
once.  The doctor kept aloof from these proceedings and would not touch
the white man's food or tobacco, so Stobart gave the man whom he had
rescued from death a double share, and thereby cemented a friendship
which he thought might be useful in the future.

Feasting went on into the night and did not stop till the morning star
was rising.  Everybody crawled under bushes and stunted trees and went
to sleep.  Now was Stobart's chance.  He signed to Yarloo.  The
faithful boy had not followed his natural desires to eat as fully as
his fellow-tribesmen had done, but had kept himself ready for any
emergency which might occur.

"We go 'way now, Yarloo, I think," whispered Stobart.  "Which way
horses go?"

The boy pointed in a certain direction.  "Me go find um nantu (horses),
boss," he said.  "Me tie um up 'nother side sand-hill.  By'm-by sun
come up, black-fella sleep, aller same dead; sleep like blazes.  You
bring um two fella saddle 'nother side sand-hill.  Little bit tucker.
We clear out.  Me know um this country."  He looked round at the naked
blacks, all smeared with blood and grease and dirt, and snoring in
profound sleep, and laughed quietly.  "Silly fella," he remarked.  "All
about sleep long time.  My word, too much long time."

Soon afterwards Yarloo went off on the tracks of the horses, which he
had had the forethought to hobble before letting them go the previous
afternoon, and when Stobart was quite sure that everybody was soundly
sleeping, he went over to the packs, stuffed his pockets with tucker,
and carried his own and Yarloo's saddles out of sight over the
sand-hill.  He returned for his rifle and water-bag, for he did not
know whether their lives might not depend on one or the other of these.
He did not dare to stay away too long from the sleeping blacks, for
fear that one of them should wake and notice that he had gone, so he
returned and lay down under a tree and waited for Yarloo.

It was nearly noon when the boy returned, and the expression on his
face clearly indicated disaster.

"Nantu dead," he announced sorrowfully.

"Dead?" exclaimed Stobart.  "What, all of them?"

"Yah.  All about."

The drover was too much amazed to ask any more questions for a time.
The blacks had certainly made a thorough work of their first slaughter,
but surely they had not killed the two horses which had been let go
since friendly relations were established.  He looked so perplexed that
the boy started to explain.

"Nantu killed aller same cattle," he said.

"Yes, but what about Billy and Ginger?" asked the white man.  (These
were the horses Stobart and Yarloo had ridden the previous day.)

"Dead," said Yarloo emphatically.  "Me bin see um."

"How?  Speared?" asked Stobart.

The native looked round stealthily as if afraid of being heard.  Then
he lowered his voice and whispered: "Neh.  Nantu no bin speared.
Throat bin cut this way."  He poked his finger into his neck at the
side of the gullet and made a cutting movement.

There was only one man in the tribe who would have done the killing in
that way, and Stobart asked: "Doctor-man, eh?"

Yarloo looked again.  The drover had never seen the boy look so
startled.  Then he pointed to his nose and indicated the decoration of
the native doctor, and to his chest and drew the distinguishing marks
of his calling, and nodded.  He did not dare to speak.  The man with
the bunch of bones stuck through his nose, the man who had tried his
best to stir up his companions to kill Stobart and had persistently
repulsed all overtures of friendship, this man had tracked up the two
horses in the night and had cut their throats.  The white man was his
enemy; he must not be allowed to escape, for he would sooner or later
be put to death.  Stobart knew that he had a powerful foe.

The drover had succeeded in making a friend of the man with the
mutilated left hand, but had not been able to overcome the hatred of
the most influential man in the tribe.

The upshot of the adventure was that Boss Stobart was forced to
accompany the tribe of Musgrave warraguls back to their mountain
fastnesses.  In the ranges he found fertile valleys watered with
permanent springs, game and birds in abundance, and many indications of
the gold which so many daring prospectors had sought for at the price
of their lives.


A Prisoner

The famous drover was a prisoner.  He was free to come and go when and
where he liked, but he soon found that he was being closely watched,
and that, until he was quite certain of success, any attempt to escape
would be worse than useless.  It would result in his death.

At first Stobart couldn't understand what they wanted to keep him for,
and why they didn't kill him right away, but after a time he found out
that Yarloo had told them so many wonderful things about his "white
boss", that his captors' opinion as to his supernatural powers was
confirmed.  In his zeal to save his master's life, the faithful boy had
gone a little too far, for the warragul tribe decided that they must
keep such a marvellous man with them at all costs, and that his
presence would be sure to bring them plenty of the good things of
life--water, tucker, and healthy children.

As soon as possible without arousing suspicion, Stobart sent Yarloo to
Oodnadatta with a note for Sax, hoping that Sergeant Scott would be
able to send out a rescue party at once.  But, as we have seen, the
trooper was away from home and nobody knew when he would be back again.

The camp where the drover was obliged to live consisted of thirty or
forty wurlies on the side of a little hill above a spring.  The
dwellings were temporary and primitive, as blacks' dwellings are:
branches stuck into the ground and drawn together at the top to make a
shape like an inverted bowl.  Stobart could have had one of these, but
as the former occupant had not left it as clean as a white man likes
his home to be, he chose a small cave a few yards above the camp.  This
gave him the considerable advantage of being away from the dogs and
smell which are inseparable from a blacks' camp.

A bushmen always makes the best of a bad job, and Stobart did not see
why he should not have as good a time as he possibly could while
waiting for the chance to escape.  He never for one moment doubted that
his adventure would end successfully, and his chief sorrow was for the
loss of the cattle.  In the thirty years during which he had driven
stock from one end of Central Australia to the other, he had never had
one real disaster.  Of course there had been small losses, sometimes
because of drought, once by flood, and once also because of a band of
marauding blacks which he had succeeded in driving off before they had
done much damage; but he had never failed to deliver his charges at
their destination better in condition and in greater numbers than could
be expected under the circumstances.  It speaks well for the man's
stern sense of duty that, though he was a captive in a camp of the
wildest savages in Australia, and liable to death at any time, he
worried, not about his own safety, but about the lost cattle.

He became proficient with both boomerang and spear, and could soon
knock over a rock wallaby or a cockatoo as neatly as any man in the
tribe, and, because of his greater strength, he was more than a match
for the natives at any kind of sport.  He had been a good tracker for
many years, but he now found that he had much to learn from these
natives, who for generation after generation had hunted for their food
by tracking it.  Sometimes he was away from camp for days together with
a hunting expedition, and in this way he became perfectly familiar with
the lay of the country.  By his constant association with the
warraguls, he picked up a good deal of their speech, and was soon able
to carry on conversations with them, supplying anything he did not know
by gestures, which are the same all over the world.

After several weeks had gone by in this way, and he had made no attempt
to escape, he started to go hunting with only a few natives instead of
with a big party.  The man with the mutilated left hand was always one
of these, and Stobart gradually made his companions fewer and fewer,
till it became quite the recognized thing for him to go off with only
this one native.  The man's name was a long one, and Stobart shortened
it to Coiloo.  At first his companion, though he very much appreciated
the honour of being with his hero, was shy, and did no more than fulfil
the white man's wishes faithfully and well.  But Stobart had learnt how
to win the confidence of blacks, and before long the man had ceased to
fear his master--for so he considered the man who had saved him from
death--and was devoted to him with all his heart.

Soon after this Coiloo told Stobart about the expedition which was
about to set out against Mick's party travelling to Sidcotinga Station.
With the wonderful power which the blacks possess of conveying
information over tremendous distances by means of smoke signals, the
tribes in the Musgrave Ranges knew all about Mick Darby and his
companions, and Stobart was very much concerned when he heard that two
white boys were of the number.  He knew at once who they were.  Not
twice in a man's lifetime do boys, fresh from a city school, travel up
into Central Australia and leave the few little centres of civilization
which are there, and strike out west into the desert; so the drover was
certain that one of those white boys was his son.

He spent a whole day describing the boy to Coiloo.  He only had an old
photograph to guide him, and even this had been left behind in the
packs near the fatal water-hole; but the father had so often pictured
his son in his own mind, that the description which he gave again and
again to the warragul was so good that the man had no difficulty in
recognizing Sax when he saw him.  Then Stobart told Coiloo to join the
marauding-party and to see that the boys came to no harm.  The result
of the native's faithfulness is already known.

When Coiloo had gone, Stobart frequently went out alone.  He was such a
successful hunter, and was so willing to add the result of his prowess
to the general food-supply of the camp, that nobody objected to his
solitary expeditions.  But Stobart had a more important reason for his
wanderings than bringing home dead game.  He was looking forward to the
day when everything would be ready for a successful escape from the
Musgrave Ranges, and he was determined to take away with him something
more than his bare life: he meant to take the secret of the Musgrave

At first, when he started to go out alone, he always returned at night,
but gradually he accustomed the camp to his absence for longer periods,
till he was able at last to carry out his investigations unhindered.
He found many traces of gold, but as he had no tools, and did not want
to arouse any suspicions as to the real object of his journeys, he was
not able to tell whether the traces lead to any larger deposits.  There
were little gullies which ran water in times of storm, where specks of
the glittering metal could easily be seen in the sand; and quartz
boulders stained with what looked like rust, here and there on a
scrub-covered hill-side; and little cracks in the sheer face of a cliff
where veins of dirty red ran about like the marks in marble.  The
Ranges were evidently a very rich "prospect", and it was no wonder that
white men had braved the desert and the men who lived there, for the
lure of gold is the strongest of all, and men die willingly in
answering its call.


The Outpost of Death

One day Stobart set out in a new direction.  His only articles of dress
were a pair of trousers, so ragged and torn that they did not reach
below his knees, and an old felt hat.  His shirt had been torn up into
strips to bandage his bleeding feet before they had become accustomed
to walking without boots.  He carried two spears, a woomera, and a
boomerang, while an appliance for making fire hung at his belt.

He walked till it was nearly dark that day, then made a fire near a
rock-hole, cooked and ate a lizard, and went to sleep.  When he awoke
the sun had not yet risen.  The surrounding mountains were clearly
outlined against the pale early morning sky, and when the white man had
stooped to drink and had made up the fire, he sat down and looked idly
around him, waiting for it to be light enough for him to hunt for his

It was a strange position for a white man to be in, and if Stobart had
not had a stout heart he would have given way to despair, and either
"gone bush" entirely, as some white men have done, and become a full
member of the warragul tribe, or he would have committed suicide.  But
Boss Stobart did not give up hope.  The unaccustomed food was beginning
to tell upon his superb health and strength, and as he sat by the
little flame which seemed to get fainter and fainter as daylight
increased, he knew that he could not afford to put off his bid for
freedom much longer.

All at once his listless gaze was arrested.  He leaned forward eagerly
and stared at one of the rocky peaks.  From where he was sitting, its
outline against the light eastern sky looked exactly like the nose of a
man lying down.  It was so perfectly clear that Stobart laughed.  But
he was not laughing at its striking resemblance to a man's nose;
certain words of the old Irishman who had been murdered by the blacks
came to him.  Pat Dorrity had talked in his sleep a great deal the
first night after the drover had saved him from perishing.  The man was
feverish, and the sentences had been jumbled up and meaningless at the
time, but Stobart's memory now recalled certain words which he had
scarcely noticed at the time.

"Man's nose.  Man's nose," the old fellow had muttered.  "Man's nose
seen looking east.  Waterhole on other side.  Look out!  Look out!"
Then he had become very excited, and such words as blacks and spears
and gold and skulls had been mixed up in hopeless confusion.

The peak which Stobart was now looking at was certainly exactly like a
man's nose, and he was also looking east.  One direction was as good as
another to him that morning, and, as his curiosity was aroused, he
forgot about his breakfast and began to climb the hill-side towards the
rocky top.  Before he was half-way up the sun shone over the rim of the
mountains, and he was very hot and thirsty when he finally reached the
mass of rock on the summit.  He looked down on the other side for the
expected water-hole, but the valley was covered with dense scrub, and
he saw nothing to give him hope of a drink.  However, the ranges were
so well watered that he started at once to go down the hill, hoping to
find a spring or rock-hole somewhere in the valley.

He was disappointed for some time.  The trees thinned as he reached the
bottom of the hill and gave place to a broad stretch of sand.  This
surface showed no sign of water whatever, which was strange, for there
had been several storms in the hills since Stobart had been taken
prisoner, and the steep rocky slopes of the valley would certainly run
off most of the rain which fell upon them.  The drover had come across
instances of the same thing in the Macdonnel Ranges, away to the north,
and he knew that the rain soaked in at the extreme edges of the valley
and ran away in a stream many feet below the surface, and never
disturbed the sand on top.  There is usually a water-hole at the head
of such a valley as this, and Stobart was on his way up to look for it,
when he received such a shock that he dropped his weapons and stood
staring at the sand, his mouth and eyes wide open with amazement.  He
did not believe his sight.  He rubbed his hand over his eyes and looked
away, but when his gaze came back again, there was the same sign in the

The tracks of a shod horse!

It was impossible to tell how old the marks were.  There were only
three or four of them, and they ran up a little strip of clay which the
wind had blown clear of sand.  They had evidently been made when the
clay was soft during rain, and the imprints had been baked hard by the
sun and would remain clear for a very long time.

Stobart gazed with utter astonishment at those few prints of a shod
horse.  They meant one thing, one thing supremely, a white man--a gold
prospector most likely, one of the dauntless pioneers who had crossed
the desert and had not returned.

The tracks led up the valley.  Stobart picked up his weapons and
hurried on.  Soon he came to a natural embankment of sand which
stretched across from one rocky slope to another.  He climbed it.  The
other side was clear of timber.  A glint of water caught his eye.  The
sun had just penetrated the cool shade of that silent place and was
striking keen light from a water-hole at the foot of a boulder-strewn
knoll right in the middle of the valley.

The white man's thirst was now so great that he was about to start
running down to the water which lay so invitingly some twenty yards
away, when something white caught his eye.

It looked like the Southern Cross worked out in perfectly white stones
on the surface of the sand near the water-hole.  Stobart did not run.
An uncanny feeling came over him.  Those hoof-marks, and now this
design--surely the thing must be the work of man.

Suddenly he stumbled.  His bare feet caught in something and he
tripped.  He looked down at his toe.  It was cut and bleeding slightly.
He went back to find the thing which had tripped him.

It was the blade of a shovel!

One edge was sticking up.  With shaking hands Stobart pulled it out of
the sand.  It came away easily, for the handle was burnt.  He groped
about near it and uncovered, one after another, a gold-washing dish, a
pick-head, a couple of wedges, and a hammer.  The sand had drifted over
them and made a mound.  Then he laid bare a truly gruesome
sight--charred embers of wood and half-burnt human bones.

Stobart did not disturb the sand any more.  He knew now why the gold
prospectors, who had penetrated into the Musgrave fastnesses in search
of the wealth which was reputed to be there, had never returned.  Would
_he_ ever return, he wondered.  The place was haunted by the spirits of
the murdered dead, and was guarded by black devils in human form.  Even
now one of them might be watching him, waiting an opportunity of adding
his bones to the collection which the sand had covered up.

He rose to his feet.  He was thirsty, and the sight he had just seen
made him want to soak his whole body in the cool clean water of the
pool.  He laughed harshly.  What were all these fancies which were
coming into his head?  He would not give way to them.  This life in a
blacks' camp was upsetting his nerves.  What were a few dead men after
all?  He had seen plenty of them.  _He_ was alive and would soon escape
from this outpost of death.  He laughed again.  The rocky walls sent
back an echo of his laugh.  It sounded like an evil spirit mocking him.
He walked a few paces, till he was near those white things which had
been laid out so carefully in the design of the Southern Cross.  He
looked at them.  He looked again, astonished beyond measure.  Yes!  No!
Yes, they were!

They were human skulls--white men's skulls!

Stobart staggered away.  He lay down on the edge of the water.  He
needed its cool touch to save him from madness.  He drank deep, deep
satisfying draughts.  He bathed his head and face and plunged his arms
in it, splashing the life-giving drops over his naked chest.  The sense
of horror gradually began to leave him, and he realized that he had
reached the object of his search.  He had found the Musgrave gold-mine.
From where he lay he looked up at the boulder-strewn knoll behind the
water-hole.  Even at the distance of several yards he could see that
every boulder was more richly studded with the precious metal than any
he had ever seen.  It did not surprise him.  The events of the last
hour had robbed him of the power to be surprised.  He just looked up at
all that wealth and knew it was his--his, if only he could take it away.

He turned his head and looked at the skulls.  Each bleached remains of
what had once been the head of a courageous man was looking at him out
of empty eye-sockets.  The jaws had been propped open and seemed to be
laughing with ghastly dead mirth into the face of the living man.
Stobart's imagination began to play tricks with him, for when he turned
his eyes away, the glances of the skulls seemed to turn also.

He plunged his head once more into water and leaned over till his chest
and arms were covered.  His hands groped about in the cool sand, and
when he pulled them out again they were full of wet sand.  The sun's
rays caught it and struck a thousand flashes from the grains.  They
looked unusually yellow and bright.  Stobart turned the sand over and
let it run between his fingers.  It was like grains of sunlight.  He
thought that his overwrought nerves were deceiving him, and picked up
another handful.  It behaved exactly in the same way.  It glinted and
flashed yellow in a way that no sand could ever do.  All at once it
dawned upon him.  This was no trick of sunlight on wet sand.  This was
no make-believe of tired nerves.

The sand of that water-hole was gold!

The white man stood up.  He had no tools with which to work at the
boulders for specimens to take away with him when he escaped.  But here
was gold, some of which could easily be hidden on his person to prove,
to anybody who might doubt his story, that he alone of all men had
solved the mystery of the Musgraves and had returned again to the
haunts of men of his own colour.  He stooped to gather another handful,
and as he did so something whirled through the air and fell in the
water in front of him.  He jumped back quickly.  The water was clear,
for the grains of golden sand had settled and left no mud.

It was an old horseshoe!  Surely the place was bewitched.  He looked
round, wondering what next would happen.  Suddenly another horseshoe
came from a clump of low bushes nearly a hundred yards up the gully.
Stobart saw it coming and dodged it.  It fell at his feet and he picked
it up.  He was a good tracker and knew it at once.  That shoe had made
one of the tracks which he had seen in the clay.  There was no doubt
about it.

The sense of a supernatural foe, which was making a coward of the brave
white man, left him all at once.  Evil spirits do not play with old
rusty metal.  A human arm must have thrown that horseshoe.  He had seen
the second one leave the bushes where the man was in ambush.  Now was
the time for action.  Grasping a boomerang he ran at full speed up the
valley.  He reached the bushes.  Nobody was there.  But, leading to and
from the hiding-place, were the recent tracks of a man's bare feet.
Stobart recognized them at once.  The warragul doctor had thrown those


Arrkroo, the Hater

The native doctor fled, like the evil black spirit that he was, up the
valley.  Although an old man, he was still in the prime of his
strength, and he knew the path to and from the Pool of Skulls so well,
that he had the advantage over Stobart, who had never been there
before.  For the first few yards the marks of his naked feet were
clearly seen, and the white man ran swiftly, but the tracks soon became
confused in a mass of loose stones which had fallen from the cliffs,
and were finally lost altogether on the rocky sides of the valley, till
Stobart could not possibly tell which way his enemy had gone.  He had
heard no sound and seen no sign of the running man, yet he knew that he
was close upon him when he was forced to give up the chase, and, as if
to confirm this opinion, when Stobart finally stood still and looked at
the great boulders above him, hoping to see a black human form flit
from one to another, a stone came out of the silence, hurled with
deadly force and aim.  Years of danger with wild cattle had made the
drover's actions as quick as lightning.  The stone was totally
unexpected, but he jerked his head aside just in time.  Instead of
striking him in the face, it caught the brim of his hat and sent the
old felt spinning from his head.  He jumped back, picked it up, and
crouched behind a rock.

Absolute silence reigned.  The sun was very near its zenith, but in
that deep valley the air was still cool.  Across the clear flawless
blue sky sailed an eagle on wide-spread motionless wings, wheeling
round and round in slow circles, wondering when another human victim
would be provided for him down there beside the water-hole.

After a time Stobart went back to the place of horror, with its charred
bones, its terrible design in skulls, and its golden-sanded pool.  He
knew what fear natives have of dead bodies, and that there was only one
man in all the Musgrave tribes who would dare to play such a gruesome
trick with the remains of his enemies, and that man was the native
doctor--Arrkroo, the Hater.  Even he, powerful and feared though he
was, dared not actually kill Stobart.  The other natives would track
their white hero and would soon know everything that had happened, and
Arrkroo was afraid of what they might do to him.  The Hater did not
mind so long as Stobart merely hunted and behaved like a native, but
when he started to wander around alone and search for signs of the
glittering yellow metal, Arrkroo became alarmed, and, though the white
man did not know it, his enemy had followed and watched him closely for

Arrkroo understood that if once the secret of the ranges was known
beyond the desert, many white men would come with weapons which make a
noise like thunder in the hills and which kill a long way off.  They
would drive out the natives who owned the mountain fastnesses, for,
thought the doctor, what does a white man care so long as he can put
that heavy yellow sand in little bags and take it away?

So, for the safety of his people, as well as because he was jealous of
Stobart's power, the Hater was determined that the white man should die.

Stobart stood by the pool and looked at the golden sand.  He was more
than ever determined to escape, and now he wanted to take away with him
just enough of that precious metal to prove to others that his story
was true.  He wanted so many men to believe him that there would be
such a rush to the Musgraves that they would escape, by sheer force of
numbers, from the terrible fate of the lonely prospectors.

But how could he take that golden sand away?  His only garment was a
tattered pair of trousers with the pockets torn out, and a belt at
which hung his fire-sticks, and where he still kept his old black pipe,
though it had been cold and empty for many weeks.  He could not
possibly tear his trousers to make a bag, for there was not a single
piece of good cloth left; his hat was no good for the purpose.  But his
pipe--ah! that was the thing!

He scraped his pipe clean and then jammed the bowl full of fine gold.
To make sure that the gold was pure, he panned it off in the old rusty
dish which he had unearthed near the half-burnt bones.  When he had
filled the pipe nearly to the top, he daubed it over with stiff clay so
that none of the sand could fall out.  Then he picked up his weapons
and started back for the camp.

A surprise was waiting for him.  The marauding band, which had gone out
against Mick Darby's party, had returned.  They were in high spirits
and reported that they had killed all the horses of the plant, and that
a white man and two white boys had been left to perish.  Stobart did
not hear the whole story at once, for, as soon as he walked into camp,
the excitement died down, and nobody cared to tell this white man that
three other white men had just met the most lingering of all deaths in
the desert scrub.  But blacks are like children and cannot keep a
secret, and Stobart soon knew all that he wanted to know.

The light of his life went out.  The drover was devoted to his son.  He
was one of those splendid men who do things as well as they possibly
can in order to satisfy their own stanch sense of honour; but there can
be no doubt that one of the main springs of Boss Stobart's life was the
thought that he would one day share it with his son.  And now Sax was
dead!  Just when he had found the object of his search, just when the
time of his escape had almost come and he was only waiting for the
return of the faithful Yarloo, just when hope was highest, these fiends
had killed his son.

He looked round at their savage black faces.  He caught sight of
Arrkroo, the man who hated him.  He saw the naked women and children,
he noticed the dogs and the filth on all sides, and his hand tightened
on the huge boomerang which he held.  Why shouldn't he rush in amongst
these men and deal out death, right, left, in front, behind.  His anger
was rising to madness.  He felt that he could overcome the whole tribe
of them.  And if he failed, what matter?  At least he would have had
his revenge.

He dropped his spears and got ready.  A fire was burning in front of
him.  With a few lighted sticks he could set the camp ablaze.  He
imagined the wurlies roaring up to heaven, while he, a captive white
man, mad with rage, ran shouting through the crowd, dealing out death
with every blow of his boomerang.

Not one of the natives suspected what he was going to do.  He had
already chosen a suitable blazing stick, and was stooping to pick it
out of the fire, when he heard Coiloo's name mentioned.  He waited for
a moment and listened.  The men were saying that Coiloo had not come
back.  Nobody seemed to know what had become of him, and it struck
Stobart as strange that Yarloo was not referred to as being one of the
party, till he remembered that the boy would be riding a horse and
would therefore leave no tracks which his fellow-tribesmen could

This moment of thought saved the drover from an act of madness which
would certainly have ended in his death.  Stobart trusted Yarloo
implicitly, and also felt sure that Coiloo was doing his best to carry
out the white man's wishes.  Therefore he knew that it would be foolish
to vent his rage at this particular time, and perhaps spoil what the
two faithful natives were doing for him.  So he picked up his weapons
again, took his share of the horse-flesh, and went up to his cave.

He was very down-hearted.  He was a man of action, and here he was,
impelled to wait while others did things for him which he knew nothing
about.  He was very tired, but could not sleep because of his restless
thoughts, so he went outside his cave after cooking and eating his
dinner, and started to walk about in the cool evening air.  He walked
as silently as a native, and presently heard the sound of a voice
chanting quietly and earnestly in the native tongue.  He crept nearer.
A man was crouching down on all four like an animal, swaying his body
and muttering.  Stobart was standing up and could not see who it was,
so he stooped down till the man's body and head were silhouetted
against the sky.  It was Arrkroo, the Hater.

Inch by inch Stobart worked his way nearer, till he heard the words and
saw what the native doctor was doing.  There was a small pointed bone,
called an irna, about eight inches long, sticking upright in the sand.
At one end was a knob of hardened gum from spinifex grass, and a long
string made of the hair of a lubra was attached to it.  The man was
stooping over the irna and muttering:

"Okinchincha quin appani ilchi ilchi-a."  (May your head and throat be
split open.)

He said this three times, moved the irna to a new place, and then began
a new curse:

"Purtulinga apina-a intaapa inkirilia quin appani intarpakala-a."  (May
your backbone be split open and your ribs torn asunder.)

This went on for some time and then Arrkroo got up and walked away,
leaving the irna in the ground.  Next night he would return for it, and
whoever the man pointed that bone at would most certainly die.  Natives
do not think that any man dies from a natural cause; it is always a
case of magic, and if a big strong healthy black-fellow happens to be
"boned" by his enemy in the proper way, he gets weaker and weaker,
either with or without some special disease, till at last he dies.  He
always dies.

Arrkroo was afraid to kill Stobart openly, therefore he had prepared
powerful magic and was going to "bone" him.  Stobart guessed this, and
took the chance of showing his power over the native doctor.  He caught
hold of the irna by the string, pulled it out of the sand, and walked
back to the camp with it.

The men were all feasting round the fire.  Arrkroo was amongst them,
eating sparingly, as is the habit with the native doctors, and no doubt
thinking what he was going to do to-morrow when he boned the hated
white man.  Everybody looked up when Stobart came into the firelight.
One or two of the men saw the irna and called out, and at once the
whole tribe was on its feet in alarm.  Arrkroo saw it also and shook
with fear.  The white man was indeed a devil, for how else could he
have found a little bone stuck in the sand on a dark night?  In an
instant the fire was deserted.  The frightened natives crouched behind
wurlies and breakwinds, dreading least the white man should point that
deadly bone at them.  But Stobart swung it by its hair string till it
was over the hottest part of the fire and then let it drop.  The string
frizzled instantly, the knob of spinifex melted and flared up, and the
bone was soon reduced to white powder.


The Dance of Death

Arrkroo, the Hater, had failed again.  Stobart had openly triumphed
over him by burning his deadly irna.  The native feared this white man,
but hated him more than he feared him, and was more than ever resolved
to bring about his death.

Several days later, an old man of the tribe, named Wuntoo, became ill.
Blacks have a great respect for age, and the sickness of Wuntoo caused
great sorrow.  A solemn gathering of all the men was called.  Arrkroo
was there and so was Stobart, for the white captive did not want to
arouse suspicion or unfriendly feelings by staying away.  The sickness
of Wuntoo was, of course, attributed to magic; some enemy of the old
man had boned him.  It was, therefore, the duty of the gathering to
find out and to punish the man who had done this, whether he was a
member of their own tribe or whether he lived several hundred miles

Arrkroo was the only man present who really knew what ailed Wuntoo, for
he himself had put poison in the old man's food--the juice of a
narrow-leafed vine which grew only in the Valley of the Skulls.  He had
used this same poison to kill every prospector who had found the
golden-sanded pool.  After a lot of talk, which got more and more
excited and incoherent as the meeting went on, Stobart volunteered to
go and see the sick man.  He knew that the natives would only sing over
the invalid, or give him sand to eat, or practise a repulsive and
harmful magic upon him, and he thought that perhaps some simple
treatment might make him right again.  Stobart had gained influence
over the minds of the tribesmen, and was allowed to go.  This was just
what Arrkroo had hoped for.

Next day Wuntoo was worse, due to another dose of the poison which the
crafty Arrkroo had administered.  A second meeting was called.  The old
man was dying.  Arrkroo arrived with freshly painted body and new
feathers in his hair, and addressed the men with all the powers at his
command.  He felt that, if he failed to defeat the white man this time,
his authority in the tribe would be gone for ever.  He danced before
his listeners, lifting his striped legs high, and swaying his body this
way and that till the designs in white and red hypnotized the natives
and held them spell-bound.

Even Stobart felt the evil power of the man.  When he had got their
minds under his control, he chanted to them of the great days of the
Alcheringa when they were a powerful fair-skinned race of giants, and
had everything that their hearts could desire.  He went on to tell of
one misfortune after another which had befallen them: their bodies had
grown small, their skins black, and droughts had changed the earth from
a garden into a desert.  The warraguls listened, swaying their bodies
as Arrkroo swayed his, and breaking out at times in wild shouts of
agreement.  Arrkroo was an orator in his primitive way, and he now had
his audience completely at his command.  He could do what he liked with

He began to talk of white men: of the way in which they had invaded the
country and driven the natives back and back till now a mere handful of
them survived in such places as the Musgrave Ranges.  But the hated
white men were never satisfied.  They wanted the Musgraves too.  They
wanted the gold which was there.  Everybody present knew the fate of
the white prospectors, and that if once the secret was known, such a
rush would set in that the warraguls would be driven out of this, their
last great stronghold.

Arrkroo turned towards Stobart.  Every man in the gathering looked at
him also.  "See," shouted the Hater in the native tongue.  "See.  White
man.  He find gold.  His tracks all around Pool of Skulls.  He want run
away.  He come back soon.  Nintha (one), thama (two), urapitcha
(three), therankathera (four)--many, many more.  Kill black-fellow.
Kill black-fellow.  Kill black-fellow."

He stopped speaking and stretched out his painted arm towards the
drover.  The warraguls leapt to their feet, their eyes blazing, and
their bodies ready to spring upon the white man.  Stobart got up from
the ground very slowly and faced his enemies, staring steadily at them.
His hour had come.  He would face death without flinching.

The blacks paused.  Arrkroo feared that even now the white man would
escape by the tremendous power of his dauntless eye.  So he started to
speak again, very excitedly.

"He bone Wuntoo.  He burn bone, make death sure.  You all see him burn
bone.  He go in last night, make him worse.  You see him go in last
night.  Wuntoo die.  You all die.  You all die.  You all die."

He had succeeded.  A roar of fear and hatred went up from the assembly.
Every man goaded his neighbour to be the first to spring upon the
defenceless captive.  Arrkroo's heart was glad.  He started to dance
again, but this time it was the Dance of Death.  Stobart knew that he
was a doomed man, but not a muscle of his face altered.  The crowd of
frenzied warraguls, eager to pull him limb from limb, leaned forward,
but he still held them with his fearless eye.  How long would it last?

Arrkroo danced nearer and nearer.  When one of those whirling arms of
his touched the victim, the spell would be broken, and Boss Stobart,
the bravest drover of Central Australia, would go down before the
onslaught of a hundred yelling fiends.

Arrkroo's spinning and swaying body came nearer and nearer.  There was
tense stillness.  Men held their breath.  Stobart faced the future as
he had always faced every difficulty--with clear open-eyed courage.
Arrkroo's hand passed his face so closely that he felt the wind of it.
The next time it would touch him.

Stobart did not move, but every muscle of his powerful body gathered
itself for the supremest effort of his life.  The head of the Hater
swayed towards him, back, and then forward again.  Then Stobart acted!
Like a flash his fist shot out.  His body was like a spring suddenly
released.  The weight of every ounce of him, the force of every nerve
and sinew, and all the gathered knowledge of years went into that
terrific blow.  It caught Arrkroo on the point of the chin.  There was
a sickening click.  The man's head went back like the lid of a box.  He
fell to the ground, quivered for a moment, and then lay still.

It all happened in the time taken to blink twice.

The crowd surged back.  A gasp of astonishment went up.  In a couple of
seconds Stobart was alone with his fallen enemy.  The man was gasping.
If Stobart had not been weakened by the life and food of the blacks'
camp, that blow would have killed Arrkroo, although the neck of a
native is as strong as the neck of a bull.  The drover stood looking
down at the grotesquely painted figure huddled up on the ground at his
feet.  It began to twitch.  The eyes rolled round and then fixed their
gaze on Stobart.  Strength returned quickly to the native and he
staggered to his feet.  For a moment he faced the white man, swaying
unsteadily, then he turned and went away to his wurley, leaving the
drover victor on the field where he had so nearly met his death.



That night Yarloo returned to camp.  The sky was so thickly covered
with stars that it looked as if powdered silver had been dusted over a
tremendous and very dark blue dome.  Stobart was fast asleep at the
entrance to his cave when Yarloo crept up noiselessly and touched him.
He was awake and alert in a moment.  The boy's head showed up dark
against the stars and the white man recognized him at once.

"Me come back, Misser Stobart," whispered Yarloo.

"Good boy," replied the drover.  "Good boy.  Does the camp know you're

"Neh.  Me come longa you first time.  They all about sleep."

Then Yarloo told all that he had done since he went away.  Stobart was
overjoyed to hear that his son was safe, and hope, which had burnt down
very low recently, once more flamed up brightly in his heart.  Yarloo
had hurried out from Sidcotinga Station, and was too exhausted to
undertake the return trip immediately or they would have escaped that
very night.  They decided to wait for a day or two.

In this they made a great mistake.  If Stobart had disappeared that
night, while every native in the camp was overawed by his victory over
the powerful Arrkroo, he would probably have got clean away, but as it
was, he found himself more of a prisoner than ever next morning.
Yarloo's return aroused suspicion.  Every native in the tribe was
afraid of the white man and nobody dared to kill him.  Yet they were
all perfectly convinced that he was the cause of Wuntoo's illness.  If
Wuntoo died without the others taking full vengeance on the one who had
bewitched him, the old man's spirit would haunt the camp and bring
terrible disaster upon it.  Therefore, if Wuntoo died, Stobart must die
too.  So the white man was kept a close prisoner, and was even obliged
to keep inside his cave.  No one had sufficient courage to harm him,
though all their former admiration for him was turned to fear and
hatred; but, by sheer force of numbers, they made it impossible for him
to escape.

One night Wuntoo was evidently dying.  All the men of the tribe who
were not actually guarding the prisoner were sitting in a circle with
the women, making noisy lamentation.  They beat their naked thighs with
their open palms, and mournful chants rose from low weird mutterings to
high shrill screams as they tried to frighten the evil spirits out of
the dying man.  A big fire was blazing and sending sparks and smoke
high into the darkness, and lightening up the excited faces of the men
and women all around.

Suddenly in the middle of the wildest demonstration of grief Coiloo
appeared--Coiloo, whom Stobart had saved from death, and whom Mick had
treated with such cruelty.  He was in a shocking state.  The
brand-marks had started to fester, and there were burns all over his
body.  He had come at a critical time.  The wailing warraguls looked at
his wounds and their excitement got more and more intense.  They vowed
terrible vengeance against the white man who had done this; against all
white men; against Stobart who was at their mercy.  If Coiloo himself
had not prevented them they would have rushed off immediately to the
cave and carried out their designs while the heat of the moment gave
them courage.  He craftily pointed out that it was far better to kill
the white man to appease the spirit of the dead Wuntoo than to kill him
before the old man died.  The savages listened, hesitated, and then
agreed, and returned to the interrupted ceremony of mourning.  And all
this time the emaciated figure of Wuntoo lay out flat on the sand, lit
weirdly by the leaping flames, his chest rising and falling with great
effort, and his eyes rolling round with pain.

In the middle of all this excitement Yarloo escaped.  He realized that
he could do no good for his master by staying in the blacks' camp; so
when he gathered from the excited shouts that three white men and some
horses were camped out on the plains not far away, he slipped out in
the darkness and made the fastest journey of his life.  He arrived at
Mick's camp in the early morning of the next day, just as the working
horses were being driven in.  He told his tale.  Mick and the boys
listened attentively.  The drover had trusted Yarloo from the very
first day he had engaged him, and he had never had cause to regret it.
So, after making sure of all the necessary facts of the case, he
responded to the boy's appeal for help immediately and fully.

He cut two thick slabs of damper, put a chunk of meat between them, and
handed it to Yarloo.  "Here, get that inside you, me son," he said
heartily.  "Eat all you want.  There's lots more where that came from."
The whites had already had their breakfast, and Mick at once set about
packing the gear, muttering: "If I don't let daylight through half a
dozen of those devils, I'll call meself a Chow, I will, straight.  Now,
you boys, look alive," he shouted to the blacks who were crowding round
Yarloo.  "You can yabber all you want when we've rounded up that tribe
of black cleanskins."

The native stockmen laughed.  Everybody was eager for the task.  The
boys were all from a sand-hill tribe who bitterly hated the wild
warraguls from the mountains, and they were overjoyed at the thought of
fighting on the same side as white men.  Sax and Vaughan were more
serious but none the less eager, especially Sax, who would have
willingly gone out alone against the whole tribe, if only it would have
been a help to his father.

They did not take the whole plant with them.  Each man of the advance
party had two good saddle-horses; there was one all ready saddled and
bridled for Boss Stobart; and a swift pack-horse, lightly loaded,
carried all the tucker and water they would need.  There were Mick and
the two white boys, Yarloo, Poona, Calcoo, and Jack Johnson, all
mounted on the best horses in the plant.  They had only two firearms
for all the party: Mick's rifle which he carried, and his revolver,
which he gave to Vaughan.  Their chief weapon was "bluff", for a party
of seven could do nothing against nearly a hundred armed natives,
except surprise them long enough to let their prisoner escape.

They rode hard till about two o'clock, stopped and took a hunk of
damper and meat each and a drink of water, and then put their saddles
on fresh horses and pushed on.  The sun was still an hour high when
they came to a thick clump of timber at the entrance to a gully
running, up into the mountains.  Yarloo, who was the real leader of the
party, advised that the horses be left here.  The camp was not far off,
and the approach to it was quite free from any cover for a mounted man.
So they hitched their horses to separate trees in such a way that they
could be unfastened in the shortest possible time.

They walked stealthily through the timber to the side of the valley,
where they began to crawl from boulder to boulder.  It was slow work.
They dared not wait till dark.  Each moment might decide the fate of
the man they had come to rescue.  For half a mile they approached the
camp in this way, noiselessly, and completely hidden by the rocks.
They saw no sign of natives.

All at once a thin, high, quavering sound rose just ahead of them.
Others joined it like a pack of dingoes howling in the night.  Then the
note trembled and came down, getting louder as it descended the scale
till it was a deep muttering of great anguish.  It started again and
again.  Every native of the little party shivered.  It was a death-wail.

Yarloo turned to Mick, and said hoarsely: "Old man bin die.  We hurry,
I think."

The rescuers sprang to their feet and ran, stooping low and keeping out
of sight.  They need not have taken these precautions.  Every warragul
of the tribe was engaged at the camp, where death-wails rose and fell.

Suddenly a Musgrave native confronted the rescue party.  He lifted his
left hand and signed to them to stop.  There were only two fingers and
a thumb on that hand.  It was Coiloo.  He was armed with spears and
boomerangs and a shield.  Mick raised his rifle, but Yarloo leaped in
front of it.  A shot at this time would warn the camp and spoil any
chance of success.  It was more important to rescue Stobart than to
settle a private quarrel.

Coiloo cast a look of deadly hatred towards Mick.  He longed to hurl
one of these slender spears of his at his enemy, and bury the poisonous
head deep in the white man's heart.  But he too had a more important
task to perform just then.  He grabbed Sax by the wrist and sprang up
the valley with incredible swiftness.  The startled white boy was
carried along and quickly outdistanced the others.  Coiloo gave no
explanation of his strange behaviour.  He must reach the blacks' camp
as soon as possible.  The wailing became louder and louder, and
presently Sax heard a sound which gave such fleetness to his limbs that
his wiry companion could hardly keep up with him.  It was a booming
voice which rose above the turmoil of native cries like a strong
swimmer battling with the waves.

It was a white man's voice.

Sax recognized it as his father's.

Suddenly the camp burst into view.  The lad would have dashed across
the open space at once, but Coiloo pulled him behind a rock.  A
terrible tragedy was about to be enacted in front of that cluster of
sordid wurlies.  The dead body of Wuntoo lay out naked on the sand.  At
the head of it stood Stobart, bound hand and foot, and clad in nothing
but his tattered trousers.  He was about to die.  He knew it well, but
held his head proudly and looked round at the yelling fiends with great
scorn.  From time to time his strong voice boomed defiance at his
enemies.  All around, dancing in almost delirious excitement, were the
warragul men, while an outer ring was formed by the women, who kept
time with their hands to the chanting which was gradually working their
men up to a state of frenzy.  Chief figure of all was Arrkroo, once
more restored to authority, and about to have his revenge upon his
rival.  He strode up and down in front of the victim, armed with a huge
carved and painted club.

Sax struggled in Coiloo's detaining grasp.  He was but a lad, and the
odds were a hundred savages against one white boy, but he wanted to
leap across the intervening space and stand beside his father.
Coiloo's hand was at Sax's neck.  He unfastened the string of the
luringa and stood up, still hidden from sight.  Slowly he whirled the
thin slab of wood round his head, hitting it on the ground once or
twice to make it spin.  The thing gave out a droning sound.  The crowd
of yelling fiends around the corpse became suddenly quiet.  The droning
increased to a loud humming.  Every eye was turned.

Coiloo handed the luringa to Sax and disappeared.  The boy had seen the
effect of the peculiar note which the whirling luringa made.  He
stepped out into the open, swinging the strangely carved fillet of wood
round and round his head.  The sound grew louder and louder.  It seemed
impossible that such a small thing should make so far-carrying a sound.
The dancing men stood petrified.  The women leaped to their feet and
became motionless.  Arrkroo stopped with up-lifted club.  Stobart stood
amazed.  Sax walked forward slowly.

The tension increased.  He was twenty yards from them--fifteen--ten.  A
movement of horror ran through the crowd.  Before he had gone two paces
more a shout went up in a hundred terror-stricken voices:

"The voice of Tumana!  It is the voice of Tumana!"[1]

Sax kept on.  Suddenly the tension broke.  Like dead leaves before a
gale, the natives scattered and fled.  Stobart, Sax, Arrkroo, and the
corpse of Wuntoo were left alone.

Arrkroo feared the bull-roarer, which spoke with the dreaded voice of
Tumana, as much as anyone.  Yet he stood his ground with uplifted club.
The helpless white man was within easy reach.  Arrkroo would not miss
his vengeance this third time.  He would strike his enemy dead even
though it was his last act, for no one can do such a thing when Tumana
is speaking without terrible consequences.  The sound of the
bull-roarer went on.  Arrkroo swayed back to gain force for a smashing
blow.  Then he uttered a wild shout of triumph and jerked his black
painted body forward.  The club swung----

A shot rang out.  The club dropped from the murdering warragul's
nerveless hand.  It missed Stobart's head by a fraction of an inch.
Sax picked it up and rushed forward.  But death had already come.
Arrkroo's tall figure tottered for a moment, then crumpled up and fell
to the ground.  Mick immediately dashed across the open space, followed
by Yarloo and the three other boys.  Coiloo was nowhere to be seen.

Two slashes of a sharp knife cut the hair rope which bound the captive
white man and he was free.  There was no time for thanks or
congratulations.  Sax had stopped swinging the luringa; the voice of
Tumana had ceased.  Already the natives were reassembling, and it was
only a matter of moments before they would swarm down on the rescue
party, outnumbering it by fifteen to one.  A flight of spears fell from
the rocks above, doing no harm, but warning the white men of their
terrible danger.

They dashed down the valley towards the clump of timber where the
saddle-horses had been tied.  At one place the track narrowed as it
passed between two great masses of rock.  Mick was in the rear with the
rifle.  As he passed this spot, a spear came out from behind one of the
boulders.  He was not expecting an ambush, and the spear struck his
shoulder, entering the top of the lungs and breaking off.  He dropped
the rifle.  As it left his hand he must have pulled the trigger, for
there was a report.  Sax was running just in front of Mick.  He heard
the report, looked round, and saw the stockman stagger.  He dashed
back.  His act saved Mick's life, for, as the white boy stooped to pick
up the rifle, he saw Coiloo standing behind the rock with another spear
ready to throw.  Sax jumped in front of his friend and the native
paused.  Mick was badly wounded, but when he too saw the ambushed
nigger, he pulled himself together and dashed ahead after his
companions.  Sax was now carrying the rifle and he kept in the rear of
the party, and prevented Coiloo from throwing that second spear.

Fierce shouting at the camp urged them to their greatest efforts.  The
Musgrave blacks had got over their scare.  They found Arrkroo's dead
body lying beside the corpse of Wuntoo.  They thirsted for revenge and
started in pursuit, not a hundred yards behind the escaping white men.

Stobart and his friends reached the clump of timber.  Sax looked back.
The pursuit had been checked for a few moments.  Coiloo was standing in
the narrow gap, holding it against a hundred of his fellow tribesmen.
Spears whizzed around him on all sides, but for a time he dexterously
escaped death.  At last one struck him and he fell, but not before his
purpose was accomplished.  He had attempted to revenge himself on Mick,
and, failing this, he held up the chase long enough to give Stobart,
the man who had saved his life, a good chance of escaping.

His gallant death was not in vain.  Before the Musgrave blacks reached
the trees the rescue party was galloping across the plains.  Mick's
wound was troublesome for several days, but the man's perfect health
stood him in good stead.  One night in camp he was bewailing the fact
that they had not been able to make a stand against the blacks, but had
been forced to beat an ignominious retreat.  "I'd like to go back and
have a real good scrap," he said.

Boss Stobart looked at him with a peculiar smile for a moment or two,
and then took an old black pipe from his belt.  It was smeared with
clay.  Mick and the two white boys looked on with great curiosity.  The
drover made a little hole in the clay and poured out a few grains of
golden sand into his palm.

"Look at this," he said, holding out his hand to Mick.  "If you'd care
to go back to the Musgrave Ranges with me for some more of this stuff,
I can promise you as many scraps with the niggers as you want."

The gold was handed round.  "I'm with you," said Mick.  "I'm with you,
Boss Stobart, whether its gold or niggers you're after."

"And so am I if you'll let me," said Vaughan.  "I want to buy back my
father's sheep station."

Sax said nothing.  He was content to be with his father, and knew that
he was sure to be included in any expedition which his father
undertook; but no thought of the future could rob him of the supreme
joy of knowing that he had been instrumental in saving his father from
death in the Musgrave Ranges.

[1] Australian blacks believe that the sound made by the _luringa_, or
bull-roarer, is the voice of a strong spirit named Tumana.

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+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.