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CHAPTER IX.

An Invitation-Expedition in Pursuit of Stray Cattle—Amos the Native

A day in the Gullies, Australian Night Scene- Tracking a Wild Herd -The Chase and Return.

BEYOND the undulating plains which formed our district, lay a vast expanse of broken country, consisting of dry creeks, gullies, wooded hills, and grassy flats, jumbled confusedly together, so as to produce the most remarkable scenery, and fit for nothing but to afford a secure retreat for hundreds of wild cattle, of which mention has been previously made as being wholly irreclaimable, and perfectly distinct in their habits from the halfwild herds. In these almost inaccessible regions they have long bred, and never voluntarily venture out on the open ground. There they remain unmolested, except when any of the branded or domesticated cattle, having strayed from the level country and joined them in their haunts, attract thither the settler and his men in their pursuit ; for, if they are not speedily sought and reclaimed, they soon become as intractable as the rest, and eventually past all recovery. An occurrence of this sort, which usually takes place soon after the winter, the time when cattle are most apt to stray, would occasion a note something like the following: DEAR

Some of our cattle have been seen among the wild ones in the gullies at the back of our station, and I am going to take a turn at them to-morrow. They have been missed several months, and it is high time that they were taught the way out again. Will you join us ? I dare say there are some of your own astray too. Come over in the evening, and bring a stockkeeper with you. We can then arrange plans with “ Amos," who will meet us here, and make one of the party.

a case of this sort it is not neighbourly to refuse assistance ;

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so, on the occasion in question, as soon as we could catch our horses, we jogged down in the afternoon to answer the invitation in person.

Our arrangements were soon completed. It was decided that the most judicious, or, as Amos called it, the most “judgematical plan, was to go into the gullies that very evening, and encamp there during the night, so as to have the whole of the following day for our work. Our party consisted of five horsemen, most of them well qualified for the expedition ; and my friend, the author of the note, as he threw open his enclosures at starting, felt confident that we should require the use of them on our return.

But our most powerful ally, our sheet-anchor, was Amos," a short description of whom, as a man sui generis,” will serve to beguile the way, as we ride onward to the gullies. a native-born white, and had been a stockowner all his life. His parents had given him a few cows and brood-mares at his birth, and he was now, by dint of time and industry, the owner of marıy thousands of cattle. But though fully possessed of the means,

he had no wish to alter his style of living for the better, or to rest in any way from his hard and laborious employment. He

was, in fact, a man who could not be wholly domesticated ; his slab hut was all that he required at night, and his home was abroad in the saddle, an article which seldom lasted him more than a year. Sparing of his speech, and possessed of little curiosity upon any extraneous subject, it was his maxim—a most. excellent one" always to mind his own business ;” and though he was ever most ready to assist, he never interfered with his neighbours. His whole ambition seemed to be what he wasan oracle upon all subjects connected with his own peculiar occupation, and the most fearless rider in the district, one who, let the animals pursued go where they might, had never yet failed to “ head them,” or refused to follow them down anything “ short of a precipice.” Every inch of plain, forest, and gully was known to him for miles round, and for months together he would pursue the same daily routine of life, mounting his horse at an early hour and sallying forth to all parts of his

run :" while his “ hut-keeper” had one reply to all inquiries—“ his master was out after stock."

An overdose of tea, the usual beverage on these expeditions, drove sleep from my eyes, and it was midnight before I could follow the example of my companions, who, one after another, had sunk into a state of oblivion around me; but I could not envy them, for I was amply repaid for the want of rest by the wild and unreclaimed beauty of the scene.

We had encamped in a verdant gully, between two prettily wooded hills, skirted by a river, which, like most Australian streams, at times a roaring torrent, was now a series of placid lakes, across which the midsummer moon cast its gentle lane of light. Our horses were grazing on an adjacent flat, and the clink of their “ hobble” chains grew fainter and fainter as they receded in the distance. The forest, so oppressively silent by day, now seemed replete with life: bats fitted around us on every side; the opossum and flying-squirrel darted from tree to tree, responding with their sharp cry to the croak of the bullfrog from the river-bank, and the call of the wild drake as he alighted on the water. Above all, the deep rumbling note or shrill scream of a bull would every now and then be heard in the distance, as if assuring us that our chase on the morrow would not be unsuccessful.

I am no advocate for the advantages of savage life. After some experience, I am satisfied that a certain degree of restraint is most conducive to our improvement and happiness; but there is certainly a powerful charm in this free and wandering state, beneath the sunny skies and clear moonlight nights of Australia, lit up by the beautiful stars of the southern hemisphere; and as I rolled myself in my cloak upon my couch of grass, I felt that I could sympathize with those who are wedded to the wilder and less artificial existence of the settler, and pity the man who could only connect hardship with the idea of a night in the Bush.”

On the foilowing morning we were stirring at dawn, and under weigh at sunrise, so as to have full time for tracking, of which I was informed we might expect two or three hours before we caught sight of the chase; and as it is usual on an expedition of this kind to appoint one to be the leader of the party, we unanimously elected to that office our able, though somewhat eccentric neighbour, “ Amos the native."

After about an hour's search, during which we had scarcely ever removed our eyes from the ground, or raised our bodies

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from a sloping position, a track was discovered on the side of a hill, but the long, wiry grass made it very indistinct, and we proceeded but slowly for some time, until in a dry creek we stumbled upon several other more “ likely" footprints making for the low grounds, and probably for the water, where we expected to meet with cattle ; but no such thing. At last a flat in the vicinity of a narrow rill, rising out of some rich dark soil, known in Australia as a “ black spring,” showed us innumerable footprints, crossing and recrossing each other in every direction. Farther on we came to a spot which had recently been the scene of an encounter, so frequent in the wild state, between two of the bulls; for the earth was torn up, and the grass

levelled around it, but how long ago was the question, for the birds were flown.

They were down here before daybreak this morning,” said Amos; 66 that track's as fresh as paint. The best thing we can do now is to separate, and ride round the spring on every side, until one of us hits it off again.”

Wild cattle, I may mention, usually come to water by night, and not during the heat of midday, as is the habit of those herds which are in more domesticated state.

After a delay of about ten minutes' duration, the track led us away down a gully so narrow, that two horsemen could not ride abreast; so we jogged on in single file, expecting every moment to come upon the chase, with a feeling of subdued excitement that was very invigorating. At length we stopped again.

“ Well, here's a pleasure to come,” said our foremost man, as he pulled in his horse at the foot of a high range, and looked up dismally at its sides, bristling with rocks, and low, thick bushes, known in Australia as scrub;" they're gone straight up here. I thought they'd lead us a dance when we didn't catch them near the water.” There was no help for it; we all did our best to make out something like a track beyond the fatal spot, but it would not do, and so up the hill we must needs go, dragging our horses after us.

It was my fate that day to have a horse that " would not lead,” but regularly jerked me back two steps for every three that I advanced ; this, when one is climbing up a hill so steep that there is much ado to get on at all, is no slight trial to the temper, not

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to mention the fatigue; and I remember that while I was thus struggling and“ progressing backwards.” I was heartily out of conceit with hunting wild cattle.

But I got on somehow; the track, after leading us up and up far beyond our first expectations, again became indistinct on a stony ridge, and we once more came to a stand. " We are close

upon them now,” said our leader; “they were here not five minutes ago : one of them was basking there,(I looked at the place to which he pointed, but could see no difference between it and the adjacent spot); “ and, if they've not heard us and made off the other way, we shall be up with them in the crack of a stockwhip."

He had scarcely said the words, when we heard a deep tramping sound close to us, and caught a momentary glimpse of a number of cattle stealing rapidly away on the other side of the ridge, above which their backs and the tips of their horns alone were visible, and in an instant we were after them, helter-skelter.

Unpractised as I then was, —for it was my first attempt at “gully-raking," as it is called—I soon found myself completely thrown out; so, leaving my stock-keeper to do his master's share of the work as well as his own, I contented myself with keeping within a moderate distance of the scene of action, while I took a general view of the chase.

Cattle when pursued invariably make for falling ground, for which their formation peculiarly fits them; so much so, that, although an animal should be nearly exhausted on ascending a hill, yet if he can only just manage to surmount it, the weight of his own body carries him down on the other side as speedily as ever.

Down hill, therefore, went man and beast. At the foot of the range there was a dry creek, in which, at a little distance on the left, the bases of two precipitous hills, nearly meeting each other from opposite quarters, formed a narrow pass ; for this, knowing it to be their nearest outlet, the wild cattle, some fifty in number, shaped their course : unluckily it happened to lead in the wrong direction, and the race was, therefore, whether pursuers or pursued would get first to the gap.

The range grew steeper and steeper towards the bottom, and it was very exciting to see the whole party going down it together, rattling the loose stones from under their horses' feet,

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