“Just as well for you to learn the house first,” said Hugh, “before you tackle the property. The youngsters know where everything is—within four miles, anyhow.”
Two little girls were impressed, and were told to take Miss Grant round and show her the way about the place; and they set off together in the bright morning sunlight, on a trip of exploration. Now, no true Australian, young or old, ever takes any trouble or undergoes any exertion or goes anywhere without an object in view. So the children considered it the height of stupidity to walk simply for the sake of walking, and kept asking where they were to walk to.
“What shall we see if we go along this road?” asked Miss Grant, pointing with her dainty parasol along the wheel-track that meandered across the open flat and lost itself in the timber.
“Nothing,” said both children together.
“Then, what is there up that way?” she asked, waving her hand up towards the foothills and the blue mountains. “There must be some pretty flowers to look at up there?”
“No, there isn’t,” said the children.
“Well, let us go into the woods and see if we can’t find something,” she said determinedly; and with her reluctant guides she set off, trudging across the open forest through an interminable vista of gumtrees.
After a while one of the girls said, “Hello, there’s Poss!”
Miss Grant looked up, and saw through the trees a large and very frightened bay horse, with a white face. On further inspection, a youth of about eighteen or twenty was noticed on the horse’s back, but he seemed so much a part of the animal that one might easily overlook him at a first glance. The horse had stopped at the sight of them, and was visibly affected with terror.
They advanced slowly, and the animal began snorting and sidling away among the timber, its rider meanwhile urging it forward. Then Emily cried, “Hello, Poss!” and the horse gave a snort, wheeled round, jumped a huge fallen tree, and fled through the timber like a wild thing, with its rider still apparently glued to its back. In half a second they were out of sight.
“Who is it? and why does he go away?” asked Miss Grant.
“That’s Poss,” said Emily carelessly. “He and Binjie live over at Dunderalligo. He often comes here. They and their father live over there. That’s a colt he’s breaking in. He’s very nice. So is Binjie.”
“Well, here he comes again,” said Miss Grant, as the horseman reappeared, riding slowly round them in ever-lessening circles; the colt meanwhile eyeing them with every aspect of intense dislike and hatred, and snorting between whiles like a locomotive.
Emily waited till the rider came fairly close, and said, “Poss, this is Miss Grant.”
The rider blushed, and lifted his hand to his hat. Fatal error! For the hundredth-part of a second the horse seemed to cower under him as if about to sink to the ground, then tucked his head in between his front legs, and his tail in between the hind ones, forming himself into a kind of circle, and began a series of gigantic bounds at the rate of about a hundred to the minute; while in the air above him his rider described a catherine wheel before he came to earth, landing on his head at Miss Grant’s feet. The horse was soon out of sight, making bounds that would have cleared a house if one had been in the way. The rider got up, pulled his hat from over his eyes, brushed some mud off his clothes, and came up to shake hands as if nothing had happened, his motto apparently being toujours la politesse.
“My word, can’t he buck, Poss!” said the child. “He chucked you all right, didn’t he?”
“He got a mean advantage,” said the young fellow, in a slow drawl. “Makes me look a fair chump, doesn’t it, getting chucked before a lady? I’ll take it out of him when I get on him again. How d’ you do?”
“I’m very well, thank you,” said Miss Grant. “I hope you are not hurt. What a nasty beast! I wonder you aren’t afraid to ride him.”
“I ain’t afraid of him, the cow! He can’t sling me fair work, not the best day ever he saw. He can’t buck,” he added, in tones of the deepest contempt, “and he won’t try when I’ve got a fair hold of him; only goes at it underhanded. It’s up to me to give him a hidin’ next time I ride him, I promise you.”
“Where will he go to?” said Miss Grant, looking for the vanished steed. “Won’t he run away?”
“He can’t get out of the paddick,” drawled the youth. “Let’s go up to the house, and get one of the boys to run him in. He had a go-in this morning with me—the bit came out of his mouth somehow, and he did get to work proper. He went round and round the paddick at home, with me on him, buckin’ like a brumby. Binjie had to come out with another horse and run me back into the yard. He’s a pretty clever colt, too. The timber is tremendous thick in that paddick, and he never hit me against anything. Binjie reckons any other colt’d have killed me. Come on up to the house, or he’ll have my saddle smashed before I get him in.”
As they hurried home, Miss Grant had a good look at the stranger—a pleasant, brown-skinned brown-handed youth, with the down of a black moustache growing on his upper lip. His frank and open face was easy to read. He looked with boyish admiration at Miss Grant, who immediately stooped to conquer, and began an animated conversation about nothing in particular—a conversation which was broken in upon by one of the girls.
“Where is Binjie?” she asked. “Isn’t he coming over?”
“Not he,” said the youth, with an air of great certainty. “We’re busy over at our place, I tell you. The water is all gone in the nine-mile paddick. Binj an’ me and Andy Kelly had to muster all the sheep and shift ’em across to the home paddick. Binj is musterin’ away there now. I just rode over to see Hugh about some of your sheep that’s in the river paddick.”
“Won’t Binjie be over, then?” persisted Emily.
“No, of course he won’t. Don’t I tell you he’s got three days’ work musterin’ there? I must be off at daylight tomorrow, home again, or the old man’ll know the reason why.”
By this time they had reached the homestead, and Poss went off with the children to the stables. Here he secured the “knockabout” horse, always kept saddled and bridled about the station for generally useful work, and set off at a swinging canter up the paddock after his own steed. Miss Grant went in and found Mrs Gordon at her jam-making.
“Well, and have you found anything to amuse you?” asked the old lady in her soft, even voice.
“Oh, I’ve had quite a lot of experiences; and I went for a walk and met Poss. Who is Poss?”
The old lady laughed as she gave the jam a stir. “He’s a young Hunter,” she said. “Was Binjie there?”
“No; and he isn’t coming either; he has work to do. I learnt that much. But who is Poss? And who is Binjie? I’m greatly taken with Poss.”
“He’s a nice-looking young fellow, isn’t he? His father has a small station away among the hills, and Poss and Binjie help him on it. Those are only nicknames, of course. Poss’s name is Arthur, and Binjie’s is George, I think. They’re nice young fellows, but very bushified; they have lived here all their lives. Their father—well, he isn’t very steady; and they like to get over here when they can, and each tries to come without the other knowing it. Binjie will be here before long, I expect. They’re great admirers of Miss Harriott, both of them, and they come over on all sorts of ridiculous pretexts. Poor fellows, it must be very dull for them over there. Fancy, week after week without seeing anyone but their father, the station-hands, and the sheep! Now that you’re here, I expect they’ll come more than ever.”
As she spoke, the tramp of a horse’s hoofs was heard in the yard and, looking out, Miss Grant saw a duplicate of Poss dismounting from a duplicate of Poss’s horse. And Mrs Gordon, looking over her shoulder, said, “Here’s Binjie. I thought he’d be here before long.”
“Why do they call him Binjie?” asked Miss Grant, watching the new arrival tying up his horse. “What does it mean?”
“It’s a blackfellow’s word, meaning stomach,” said the old lady. “He used to be very fat, and the name stuck to him. Good day, Binjie!”
“Good day, Mrs Cordon. Hugh at home?”
“No, he won’t be back till dark,” said the old lady. “Won’t you let your horse go?”
“Well, I don’t know if I can,” replied the new arrival thoughtfully. “I’ve left Poss at home clearing the sheep out of that big paddock at the Crossing. There’s five thousand sheep, and no water there; I’ll have to go back and help him. I only came over to tell Hugh there were some of his weaners in the river paddock. I must go straight back, or Poss’ll make a row. We’ve a lot of work to do.”
“I think Poss is here,” said Mrs Gordon.
“Poss is here, is he? Well, if that don’t beat everything! And when we started to muster that paddock I went to the top, and he went the other way, and he reckoned to be at it all day. He’s a nice fellow, he is! I wonder what the old man’ll say?”
“Oh, I expect he won’t mind very much. This is Mr George Hunter, Miss Grant.”
Binjie extended much the same greeting as Poss had done; and by dinner-time that evening—or, as it is always called in the bush, tea-time—they had all made each other’s acquaintance, and both the youths were worshipping at the new shrine.
At tea the talk flowed freely, and the two bush boys, shy at first, began to expand as Mary Grant talked to them. Put a pretty girl and a young and impressionable bushman together, and in the twinkling of an eye you have a Sir Galahad ready to do anything for the service of his lady.
Light-heartedly they consented to stay the night, in the hope of seeing Hugh, to deliver their message about the weaners—they seemed to have satisfactorily arranged the question of mustering.
And when Miss Grant said, “Won’t your sheep be dying of thirst in that paddock, where there is no water?” both brothers replied, “Oh, we’ll be off at crack of dawn in the morning and fix ’em up all right.”
“They always say that,” said the old lady, “and generally stay three days. I expect they’ll make it four, now that you’re here.”