Delahoy's Mile

Chapter 6 | Contents | Chapter 8

(C) Copyright 1970 Robert Gordon Delahoy
and Roger Vaughan Carr.

 


Chapter 7

Speed – Sea Lake

We built the new stables with stalls for twenty horses, and not a nail went into the entire building.

We framed it from pine posts we cut and carted in from the reserve out Patchewollock way, the rafters held in place with wire twitches, and the roof thatched with broom bushes.

"A really first class job," Harry decided as we put the feeders in, but we had yet to convince the horses.

Since the night of the fire when Geeba Singh had died they had become used to feeding in the open, and perhaps some memory of that night lingered in their minds. When we drove them up to their new stable they absolutely refused to set one foot in the door. They just stood at the entrance snorting and stamping their feet, then turned and walked away, and each time Bill would herd them back, and they would repeat the performance.

Harry had out feed in the troughs and was calling them hopefully. "Cup-cup. Cup-cup. C'mon, cup-cup ….."

"Git in there!" Bill demanded, putting his shoulder against the great hind quarters of Congo, one of the Clydesdales. But even Bill couldn't push a ton of horse flesh, no matter how he strained.

"Ah – leave them," Harry said in disgust. "We'll go and have a cup of tea."

As we started back for the house Rupe arrived home from school on Snowy, unaware of our difficulties.

"Jove! Can I put Snowy in the new stable?"

"Eh? Oh, yes. Of course." Bill nudged Harry. "Good idea."

Rupe slipped from Snowy's back. "Jove, it does look good," he said, and led Snowy straight in to a stall.

Chester, who had turned from the mob when Snowy arrived, snorted, then walked into the stall beside Snowy and dropped her head to feed, and the Clydesdales, pausing just a moment to watch, followed. There were a few well placed kicks and some jostling while they sorted themselves out in the new stalls, then they buried their noses in the chaff.

Bill looked at Harry. "Well, I'll be damned!"

"What?" asked Rupe, coming out.

"Aw – nothing," Bill said. We were just going back to the house for a cup of tea."

Mother took the cups as Harry poured them, and put them on the table. "I don't think we should mention having to send the new drill back in front of Tom or Mary. They might feel they shouldn't take our old one."

"Here they come now," Bill said, holding the door open for them and calling. "Just in time for a cup of tea."

They had just arrived back from visiting their farm, and were bubbling with excitement. There was a new house, new stable, new fences, and three hundred acres of burnt mallee disced up ready for sowing.

The working bees had certainly not been idle.

"We'll be able to shift over tomorrow!"

"That's right," said Harry. "Tomorrow's the day."

"The day?" Tom was surprised.

"Yep. The day. Everyone in the district's coming over to your new place tomorrow night for the house warming. She'll be quite a time. I believe they're even crowning the Queen of the Red Cross Queen Carnival."

"Well," said Tom slowly, looking somewhat dazed. "I'm glad you told me."

Mary was really in love with her new house. The whole two rooms. But there was a verandah back and front, with the ends of the back verandah filled in to make a sleep-out and kitchen, and with two 'thousand gallon tanks on stands with a pipe actually running to a tap in the kitchen …..!

"I just can't ….., well I just can't get over it," Mary kept repeating. "I just can't!"

"You wait till tomorrow night ….."

They left us for their new home early the next day, and we finished up work about three in the afternoon in time to have a bath and get dressed up, leaving for the Burns' place after an early tea with Mother and Harry in the jinker, and the rest of us in the buggy.

Their place was crowded with vehicles, the whole district there milling about the house and verandahs.

Mr Whitecross and his family were just stepping down from their buggy. Charlie McDougall was talking to someone, his accordion held in one hand, and Paddy Ryan, violin case under his arm, crossed over to speak to him.
It was sure going to be a big night.

Tea was being served on the front verandah with cakes, sandwiches and poultry on a long table, people taking plates and helping themselves to the food, then crossing to where the younger ladies served cups of tea, two boiling coppers of water keeping up the supply. It was so inviting we decided we were hungry again and joined the others with plates, talking and laughing and exchanging district news.

As evening stole across the lonely bush it seemed to heighten the sense of enjoyment, and we cleared the front verandah ready for the dance, Charlie McDougall and Paddy Ryan taking their places and playing a snappy little two-step to give us a taste of what was to come.

But the ladies were still working, and had set up business in the kitchen now.

"Select your partners for a circular waltz," Mr Jack Hayden, the Master of Ceremonies from over Tempy way, called, and Charlie and Paddy struck up a tune as couples formed on the verandah and the main room and the dance was under way.

From the waltz to a square dance, then the Alberts, and with the crowd warmed up the MC called for attention and announced the crowning of the Queen. Even the ladies in the kitchen downed tools to listen to the announcements.

"Miss Valerie McDonald – five hundred pounds!"

A great burst of cheering, a fanfare run of notes from the violin, and a different set from the accordion (a glance of surprise between Charlie and Paddy), and Valerie came blushing forward to be crowned.

Three other girls had raised other sums, four hundred pounds, three hundred and fifty, and three hundred. One thousand five hundred and fifty pounds raised for the Red cross in our district.

"A very worthy effort," the MC informed us, and led Valerie, the other girls about her, to the front verandah for the crowning.

Then on with the dance, Valerie and her partner leading off, the musicians back in full swing.

At supper time the ladies came around with sandwiches and cakes, cups of tea and coffee, and when they had been cleared Mr Whitecross called for our attention.

"Ladies and gentlemen ….."

"Shhh ….."

"Quiet ….."

"Ladies and gentlemen. It is with the greatest of pleasure that, on behalf of the working bee committee, I thank you for your efforts in assisting Tom and Mary."
He turned and gestured for them to come forward, the three children clutching their parents' hands, eyes wide at the burst of clapping that greeted them.

"Tom and Mary, on behalf of all these people gathered here tonight, I present you with the key to your new home."

The crowd clapped.

"You may notice," Mr Whitecross said to them, "we have left plenty of room for extensions in case the family grows. We hope it does."

Mary blushed, and Mr Whitecross stepped back and nodded to Tom.

"Friends ….." Tom looked at his wife a moment. "Friends, after the fire Mary and I thought we would have to return to the Wimmera. That fire was the end for us; until you stepped forward." He cleared his throat, and I saw Mary take his hand and squeeze it. "I ….., I want to say, right here and now, that as far as we are concerned wild horses could not get us there after your wonderful hospitality and the generous, no, more than generous way you have set us up again."

"We belong to the Mallee now where we have found a degree of friendship we did not know existed in this troubled world. And ….., and now we feel one of you." He looked down at his wife and children, then faced us again. "Thank you. Thank you and God bless you all."

"Good on you Tom – "

"Very nice – "

"How about a word from Mary …..?"

Mary glanced up at her husband, then took a small, hesitant step forward. "In reply to ….., to Mr Whitecross' suggestion about extending the house, well, quite frankly, yes Mr Whitecross. Tom and I would like to have a larger family as we could think of no better place to raise children than amongst you wonderful people." She took out a small handkerchief and dabbed at her eyes. But the tears kept falling, and looking up through them she faltered, "I'm that happy ….. that's why I'm crying ….. please, excuse me ….."

We clapped and cheered her and our orchestra struck up with its two instruments into another waltz, and it was three in the morning before our MC called for a circle of hands, and we raised our voices in chorus after chorus of Auld Lang Syne.

"Thank you, thank you," Tom said as each person came up to shake his hand before leaving to join the crowd around the horses and vehicles.

"Goodnight!"

"Cheerio!"

Cries echoed through the night as horses snuffled and stamped, the clank of bits and chains, the quick fall of hooves as horses pulled forward eagerly as they were turned for home, and we rolled off into the night.

"C'mon Bob."

I woke with a start, daylight, and I was in my own bed, and only the vaguest recollection of getting into it the night before.

"Get up will you? Breakfast's ready and we're waiting for you to bring the horses in."

After breakfast I walked slowly out into the yard, still sleepy, and caught and saddled Chester.

"Bring them all in will you Bob. We'll start hand feeding to get them in condition for the cropping."

"Right'o Bill." I turned Chester for the back paddock, letting her make her own pace, Clyde, the cattle dog, running alongside.

I sighted the horses across the paddock and sent Clyde out after them, letting Chester stand as I watched the cattle dog circle around the them and begin working the mob towards me. But there did not seem enough. Congo was missing, and Gyp, Bell, Nugget ….. Prince? No, he wasn't there.

I whistled Clyde off as they came towards me, and leaving them to graze rode around the paddock boundary, searching the surrounding country with my eyes. But I could see no sign of them, so turned and started the draughts I had found back for the homestead.

Bill and Harry came out of the machinery shed when they heard me arrive and watched the horses file into the stable.

"Where's the rest?"

"Don't know. There's no sign of them"

"Ah hell," Bill said. "Don't suppose you looked in Dick McNally's stubble?"

"I looked from the boundary."

"Well you better ride into McNally's place, and if they're not there try Charlie McDougall's."

"Right'o." I turned Chester away, riding out to the back paddock again and through Dick McNally's stubble and into Charlie McDougall's without seeing a sign of them, and made across to Charlie's house to ask him.

"No Bob, haven't seen any of your horses about." He glanced up at the sun. "Better stay and have some lunch now you're here."

As we ate he asked if we had had a visit from a horse buyer.

"No-one's mentioned it."

"Big bloke with a wide brimmed Stetson hat. He called on me last week wanting to buy horses. Said he was a horse dealer from Texas in America." Charlie's face creased in thought. "Think he said his name was Cassidy. Driving a brake with a big fifteen hand horse. Said he was breaking it in."

"There were two blokes with him. A blonde Swedish looking chap, and a little dark, ferrety faced bloke." Charlie nodded to himself, and turned to me. "Anyway, that's not helping you. Where're you heading after lunch?"

I rode off to the south, and kept going until late in the afternoon, but I still saw no sign.

"Strange," Bill said during tea when I had told them where I had looked. "First time they've ever strayed like that. Harry, if you and I have a look around the place tomorrow Bob can ride over to the east." He turned to me. "Better make over Nyarrin way towards the Myall."

Early the next morning, a couple of clean shirts strapped in a roll to the saddle, I rode away to the east, searching all day for tracks, and towards evening turned into the Irwin's place.

"No," said Mrs Irwin. "We haven't seen them around here. You will stay the night with us?"

"Why – thank you."

"Well you boys take Bob down and see his horse is fed and stabled," Mrs Irwin instructed her sons.

After tea we played cards for a time, then Tom played the accordion until it was time for bed, ready for an early start in the morning.

"We do hope you find them," Mrs Irwin said, handing me up a packet of lunch. "Good luck."

Leaving the Irwin's property I turned Chester towards Sea Lake, riding from farm to farm all through the day without learning anything of the horses.

Late in the afternoon I cam up with a girl coming home from school at the Myall.

"Eva Miners!" I called when I recognised her. "You were with your brothers at the Myall picnic."

"Yes, and I know you too Bob Delahoy. You beat my brother in the fourteen and under race!"

I climbed stiffly down from Chester, glad to have an excuse to walk. Eva was about my age, and we chatted happily. I told her about the horses, and she told me about their school at the Myall. They had to make up a poem for homework that night.

"Let's hear it."

"No ….. I couldn't. It's only started anyway, and you'd only laugh."

"No. I'd like to see what you've done."

We came to their gate and stopped, their house not far in from the road and visible from where we stood.

"Please?"

"Oh – alright. But you mustn't laugh." She handed me an exercise book. "I'll never speak to you again if you do."

I took the book and looked at the few lines she had written:

"To foreign lands and distant shores,
I often yearn to be,
But how can I leave this land of mine?
My heart is a prisoner, see.

The rolling hills, the countryside,
The mallee trees, sweet- scented earth – "

"That's all I've done. It's awful, isn't it?"

"I think it's beaut – "

"You're just saying that ….."

"No. Honest Eva. I've often thought like that, but I could never put it into words."

"I bet you could," she said, and turned away, suddenly embarrassed, taking her exercise book with a quick little movement of the hand. I've got to go."

"Goodbye!" I called as she ran, and waited until she turned and waved before I mounted Chester and moved on towards Sea Lake.

Some way further down the road I met a swagman, a big roll on his back, just the sort of person to ask about horses on the road.

"How do, young man," he said as I stopped.

"Good day." I swung down from the saddle.

The swaggie, ready for a yarn, gave himself a heave and deposited his swag on the ground, undid the tucker bag from around his neck, sat down on the swag, brushed the flies from his face with a mallee bush, and looked up at me. "How far d'you reckon it is to the Nandaly?"

"Aw – about twenty five miles. Say, have you seen any loose horses on the road?"

The swaggie scratched the back of his neck, thinking. "Well, no ….., I haven't today. But there was a hell of a lot where I camped at Sea Lake last night. Couldn't get any sleep." He reversed the mallee bush and picked something from his teeth with it.

"Yairs – big horse sale there tomorrow. Saw the sign. Charlie Lockwood's conducting it."

"What sort of horses?"

"Aw, big draughts. Ponies. Hacks. Real mixture."

We talked on a while about the weather and the road, then I climbed back into the saddle. "Well, better be going. Glad to say g'day."

He gave me a lift of the hand in farewell, and sat watching me as I rode on towards Sea Lake. I decided to go on into the town and have a look at the horses for sale in case any of ours had become boxed up with a travelling mob. It was getting late, anyway, and I wanted to have somewhere to sleep.

It was just on dusk when I rose into the town, and made my way around to the sale yards, tying Chester to a fence while I had a look around. There were certainly a lot of horses in the yards.

I climbed up onto the top rail and studied a mob of Clydesdales, not recognising any until my eyes came to rest on a mob of five sticking together in one corner. Bell, Gyp, Nugget, Congo and Prince!

"Interested in the horses son?"

I started in surprise and looked down, stopping myself from saying the words that came quickest to mind, that five of them belonged to my family. "Ah ….., yes. Are these the ones for sale?"

"Sure thing," the man drawled, pushing the wide brimmed Stetson back on his head.

The bloke Charlie McDougall was talking to! I climbed down from the fence, not sure what to say. "Are these, these all yours Mister?"

"Sure thing, and for sale tomorrow."

"Oh ….. Good." I untied Chester and mounted. What was I supposed to do?

"You seem a bit interested son?"

"Ah, yes. Yes, I am. But it's getting a bit dark now."

"Come back tomorrow then."

I nodded and turned Chester away. Shut up, I told myself. Don't say anything.

Chester moved from the yards and I turned her up the main street. The hotel was just closing, six o'clock, all out, and men were coming from the door and gathering in casual groups on the verandah.

If there was only someone amongst the crowd I knew. I searched the faces, and felt a sudden rush of relief. Standing there by the kerb was Constable Tom Knight.

"Tom! How do?" I called as I rode up. "Remember me?"

"Young Bob Delahoy. What are you doing here?"

"Well, I'm glad to see you Tom," and I told him the story of our horses.

Tom rubbed his chin reflectively, and looked up and down the street. "I don't think anything will happen tonight. Better come back to the station with me."

I dismounted and walked with him, leading Chester in to the station grounds.

"There's a spare stall 'round the back. Put your pony in there. Get the saddle and gear off and I'll get her some feed. The water trough's over there in the yard."

Chester was thirsty, and after nuzzling the water a moment drank and drank, then got down and had a roll, stood up, shook herself, and looked to me for some tucker.

We went through into the stable, Chester moving into the stall where Tom Knight was tipping the chaff and oats, dropping her head into the feeder and snuffling in the feed.

"Have a go at that," Tom said, slapping her on the shoulder, and came out with the tin.

"I'll go 'round to the hotel and see if I can get myself a bed Tom," I said as he put the kerosene tin away.

"Like hell you will." He came back and motioned me forward. "You'll stay the night with us. Come on, I want you to meet my boss, Sergeant wall."

We walked towards the house as he came out towards us.

"I want you to meet young Bob Delahoy. Remember me telling you about him when Miss Andrews was lost?"

"Well, well, I'm pleased to meet you young man. Come on in and meet the wife. Staying the night is he Tom?"

"Yes, Sergeant. I'll explain in a minute."

Mrs Wall turned from the stove in greeting. "We've all heard of you and your brothers. Now come on, you look as though you've been riding all day. I'll run a bath."

She was an affectionate woman, mothering me. "Now get undressed and pop into this." She tested the water with the back of her wrist. "I'll bring you a towel."

I stood there and waited for her to bring it, and she realised my embarrassment and laughed. "Why, I've a son about your age."

But son or no son, I kept my clothes on.

"Alright," she said. "I'm going!"

The bath was a luxury after the long ride, and I lay in it until the water began to chill before putting on a new shirt and doing my hair.

When tea was nearly over, Tom Knight, who boarded with the Walls, suggested I tell the Sergeant about our horses. He listened without interrupting, and when I had finished asked if I was quite sure the ones I had seen in the yards were ours.

"Aw, yes, they're ours alright. I'd know them anywhere. And we've got them branded. A 'D' in a circle, and anyone around our way could identify them too."

There was a knock at the door, and Mrs Wall went to answer it, coming back with a young man. "My word Father," she said to the Sergeant, "you are in for a busy time. Here's another young man found his horses down at the sale yards."

"Good heavens!" Sergeant Wall was quite taken aback.

Ten of them. I've been looking for them for days, and thought I better come and see you when I found them and saw the sale signs. I'm Tom Pritchard by the way. We've got a place over Berriwillock way."

Tom was about eighteen years old, and did not look as though he had had much rest for quite some time, the dust of the road heavy on his clothes and skin, and in his hair.

"I'll get you some tea Tom," Mrs Wall said. "You go into the bathroom and have a wash up."

"I don't want to put you out – "

"You do what the missus says Tom. You and Bob here are sleeping in one of the gaols tonight. You can warm it up for those horse thieves. I'll soon put a stop to this tommy-rot."

After tea Constable Knight put stretchers up in one of the cells, and we carried over the mattresses Mrs Wall gave us, standing there talking while she made up the beds with sheets and blankets.

"I know three gentlemen who'll be sleeping on the floor tomorrow night," Sergeant Wall said. "Now listen Bob, Tom. I want you both to stay here until morning, then I'll tell you what I want you to do. I'm going 'round to have a talk with the auctioneer. I'm quite sure Charlie doesn't know those horses are stolen. He'd have nothing to do with a thing like this."

After they had gone Tom and I turned in, both tired from our riding, lying there talking for a while before we went to sleep.

"Looks like Sea Lake'll see some excitement tomorrow."

"Yeah. Goodnight."

"Goodnight Tom."

The gaol door was open, and I could hear my little mates the willy wagtails chirping as they flitted about in the moonlight. Mustn't tell secrets while they're about, I thought, and turned over to sleep.

The morning broke fresh and crisp, the sort of autumn morning early in March the people of the Mallee looked forward to and remembered. The silver gulls were in the yard and circling above the houses, and I stood in the doorway of the cell admiring them. They were a part of Sea Lake.

"Nest out at Lake Tyrrell," Tom said. "They often come into our paddocks and follow the plough looking for grubs and worms."

During breakfast Sergeant Wall set out what we were to do. "We'll go out to the sale yards, and one at a time I want you to go into the yards as though you were buyers. When you come to your own horses, put a hand on each one as you pass. I'll be watching."

There was a big crowd down there as Charlie Lockwood read out the conditions of the sale, farmers from as far away as Manangatang, and as Charlie was reading Sergeant Wall gave the nod first to me, then to Tom, and we walked in amongst the horses, patting our own as we passed them.

"Splendid!" the Sergeant said when we came back, and walked across to Mr Cassidy and his associates, the blonde chap and the little fellow with the ferrety eyes.

"Mr Cassidy, are these horses you're offering for sale all yours?"

"Sure thing Sergeant. They all belong to me and my partners here. Want to see the receipts?"

Sergeant Wall shook his head. "No gentlemen, and I'm sorry to say there'll be no sale here today as at least fifteen of these horses are stolen, and I arrest you Mr Cassidy, and your two friends, as horse thieves. I have a warrant here taken out this morning."

There was a long moment of silence, then Cassidy stepped angrily up to the Sergeant. "You're mad! Where's your evidence?"

The Sergeant pointed to Tom and me. "Here."

Cassidy looked across at me, his mouth twisting. "You! I saw you snooping around here yesterday. Why you little whipper-snapper - !" and before I could move back the back of his hand smashed across my face.

Stars exploded in my head, and I hit the ground, seeing through a haze Tom step forward, and with a single straight left, drop Cassidy in the dirt.

Constable Knight grabbed the other two and they turned on him, throwing wild punches, which seemed to suit Tom Knight fine. He hit the little chap in the solar plexus, and caught the blonde one an uppercut under the jaw, and before they knew it had them handcuffed together.

"Now," the Constable said in satisfaction, "get walking," and he planted a kick in the seat of the blond man's pants to show him the way.

As Cassidy got up Sergeant Wall snapped the handcuffs on him and face him after the others, starting him off with a shove.

It was the quickest horse sale Sea Lake ever saw.

As they moved off Tom Pritchard helped me to my feet. "How d' you feel?"

"Aw – a bit dizzy." I leaned on his arm to steady myself. "Never even saw it coming." I shook my head to try and clear it. "That was a beauty you dropped Cassidy with."

The crowd was milling around, the farmers talking in excitement, passing on what had happened to those who had not been close enough to see.

"Hey!" yelled little Paddy Ryan. "Let's hang the horse thieves!"

"By jove yes!"

"Damned good idea!"

The men were becoming angry, and chorused their agreement of Paddy's suggestion, but the two policemen had got quickly away with their prisoners.

"Come on!" someone shouted. "After them!"

Tom and I ran with the crowd, arriving at the police station after the prisoners had been hustled through the gate and around the side.

"Hand them over to us!"

"We'll save you a lot of time Sergeant – "

"Let's string –em up!"

They stopped at the front gate and called angrily for Cassidy and his men until Sergeant Wall opened the front door and faced them.

"Now you men listen to me. Those three men have been gaoled. They were arrested in the name of the law and will be protected by the law until they can stand trial before a court. There'll be no hanging here, and if you men don't clear off they won't be the only ones in gaol."

Someone swore at the Sergeant, the words taken up by others amongst them. But the heat which had generated the unreasoned anger began to leave the older men, and they moved amongst the crowd.

"Come on boys – "

"The law's the law ….."

"Let's break it up."

Slowly the older men had their effect, and the crowd began to settle down, the shouting becoming a subdued muttering, men breaking away from the crowd and starting back down the street towards the hotel.

"Ah – the hell with them. Come on boys."

When they had all left Tom and I walked around to the back of the station, stopping short when we sighted Tom Knight. He was standing guard outside the cells with a double barrelled shotgun!

"Have they gone Bob?"

I nodded and he relaxed, breaking the gun and taking out the shells.

"When can we take our horses out of the yard?" Tom Pritchard asked.

"Better leave them until tomorrow. I'll look after them if you don't want to stay the night here again."

Mrs Wall came from the back door, and caught sight of my bruise. Just look at your eye!"
"Ah, it's alright."

But Mrs Wall insisted on taking me into the kitchen and bathing the swelling in hot foments and borasic. "You're going to have quite a black eye!"

Going back out into the yard I could hear Constable Knight talking. He seemed to be having difficulty controlling laughter as a voice with an Irish brogue pleaded with him. "Ploise Constable. Ploise?"

Paddy Ryan was dancing around the yard and shadow boxing, stopping every now and then to beg again. "Ploise Constable, let that big Cassidy fellow out. Just for a few minutes!"

He danced around the yard again, snapping punches. "O'il show him you don't hit kids in this country!"

"Come on Paddy." Constable Knight's voice was quite unsteady as he struggled to hold back the laughter. "Stop this and get off home or I'll have to lock you up."

Paddy was dancing around the horse trough as these words were spoken. He froze, his face lighting up with hope. "Sure and that will suit me just foin! Put me in with that big baboon and oi'l thrash the ears off him!"

"Paddy – "

"Ploise Constable. Ploise just lock me up as you're often want to do – "

"Paddy! This time you'll get a kick in the pants if you don't clear off. Look, go back to the hotel. You can get as drunk as you like and I promise I won't bring you in."

Paddy walked back from the horse trough and looked up at the policeman. "All-roit, but you lot have no broins at all! Sure and I could settle with these horse thieves in ten minutes, but it'll take you weeks."

Paddy shook his head sadly, looked longingly towards the cell, threw a couple of half-hearted punches in their direction, and went off muttering to himself about silly bloody coppers.

Tom Knight watched him out of sight, then turned towards the kitchen, his body shaking with silent laughter.

After a cup of tea Tom Pritchard and I saddled our horses and led them around to the kitchen door to thank Mrs Wall and the policemen.

"Don't worry about the horses down in the sale yards," Tom Knight said. "They'll be alright."

"Goodbye then!"

Out on the road I said goodbye to Tom Pritchard. "Hope Berriwillock run out premiers in the footy this year."

"Come and watch us," he invited, and lifted a hand. "So-long Bob."

I touched Chester lightly with my heels and rode slowly up along the main street. The hotels were doing a fine trade, so the horse sale had done someone some good, but even the extra crowd did not seem to disturb the silver gulls, hopping about the street searching for tit-bits in the hot sunlight.

I glanced up into the sky. Must be getting late. "Come on Chester."

She broke into a canter, eager for home, heading out towards the Myall, then across north to Nyarrin, five miles from home.

I let Chester slow to a walk for another rest, watching the frill-necked lizards on top of the fence posts, the sudden dart of a tongue, another insect gone for tucker.

Must be rain coming. It's always a good sign when the frillies are sitting on top of the posts.

The sun was setting when I climbed down and opened the home gate. There were golden streaks probing upwards into the western sky, shafts that would take on a tint of red as the earth turned us towards the night.

"Any luck?" Bill called as I rode down to the stable. "Jove! Where'd you get the black eye?"

"And I've been in gaol too."

Bill rocked back. "What!"

I grinned. "Anyway, I've got the horses."

Harry came out onto the back verandah and called into Mother that I was home, then came down to the stables.

"Well," Bill said when I had told them the story. "That beats all."

"Bob and I'll go back in the jinker with the winkers and get them tomorrow," Harry said, "Someone has to keep him out of trouble." He studied my eye a moment. "Might get a look at those blokes in the gaol who did that."

I told the whole story over again during tea, and then I went off to bed, lying there listening to the mo-poke and the curlew, a dingo somewhere off in the distance.

And then the patter of rain drops on the iron, a slow, erratic sound, growing steadily into the hammering beat of a steady, soaking rain.

The sound of music out there in the mallee.

Chapter 6 | Contents | Chapter 8