A meeting of selectors had been held; war declared against the marsupial; and a hunt on a grand scale arranged for this particular Sabbath. Of course those in the neighbourhood hunted the kangaroo every Sunday, but “on their own,” and always on foot, which had its fatigues. This was to be a raid en masse and on horseback. The whole country-side was to assemble at Shingle Hut and proceed thence. It assembled; and what a collection! Such a crowd! such gear! such a tame lot of horses! and such a motley swarm of lean, lank, lame kangaroo-dogs!
We were not ready. The crowd sat on their horses and waited at the slip-rails. Dogs trooped into the yard by the dozen. One pounced on a fowl; another lamed the pig; a trio put the cat up a peach-tree; one with a thirst mounted the water-cask and looked down it, while the bulk of the brutes trotted inside and disputed with Mother who should open the safe.
Dad loosed our three, and pleased they were to feel themselves free. They had been chained up all the week, with scarcely anything to eat. Dad did n’t believe in too much feeding. He had had wide experience in dogs and coursing “at home” on his grandfather’s large estates, and always found them fleetest when empty. Ours ought to have been fleet as locomotives.
Dave, showing a neat seat, rode out of the yard on Bess, fresh and fat and fit to run for a kingdom. They awaited Dad. He was standing beside his mount—Farmer, the plough-horse, who was arrayed in winkers with green-hide reins, and an old saddle with only one flap. He was holding an earnest argument with Joe . . . Still the crowd waited. Still Dad and Joe argued the point . . . There was a murmur and a movement and much merriment. Dad was coming; so was Joe—perched behind him, “double bank,” rapidly wiping the tears from his eyes with his knuckles.
Hooray! They were off. Paddy Maloney and Dave took the lead, heading for kangaroo country along the foot of Dead Man’s Mountain and through Smith’s paddock, where there was a low wire fence to negotiate. Paddy spread his coat over it and jumped his mare across. He was a horseman, was Pat. The others twisted a stick in the wires, and proceeded carefully to lead their horses over. When it came to Farmer’s turn he hesitated. Dad coaxed him. Slowly he put one leg across, as if feeling his way, and paused again. Joe was on his back behind the saddle. Dad tugged hard at the winkers. Farmer was inclined to withdraw his leg. Dad was determined not to let him. Farmer’s heel got caught against the wire, and he began to pull back and grunt—so did Dad. Both pulled hard. Anderson and old Brown ran to Dad’s assistance. The trio planted their heels in the ground and leaned back.
Joe became afraid. He clutched at the saddle and cried, “Let me off!” “Stick to him!” said Paddy Maloney, hopping over the fence, “Stick to him!” He kicked Farmer what he afterwards called “a sollicker on the tail.” Again he kicked him. Still Farmer strained and hung back. Once more he let him have it. Then—off flew the winkers, and over went Dad and Anderson and old Brown, and down rolled Joe and Farmer on the other side of the fence. The others leant against their horses and laughed the laugh of their lives. “Worse ’n a lot of d—d jackasses,” Dad was heard to say. They caught Farmer and led him to the fence again. He jumped it, and rose feet higher than he had any need to, and had not old Brown dodged him just when he did he would be a dead man now.
A little further on the huntsmen sighted a mob of kangaroos. Joy and excitement. A mob? It was a swarm! Away they hopped. Off scrambled the dogs, and off flew Paddy Maloney and Dave—the rest followed anyhow, and at varying speeds.
That all those dogs should have selected and followed the same kangaroo was sad and humiliating. And such a waif of a thing, too! Still, they stuck to it. For more than a mile, down a slope, the weedy marsupial outpaced them, but when it came to the hill the daylight between rapidly began to lessen. A few seconds more and all would have been over, but a straggling, stupid old ewe, belonging to an unneighbourly squatter, darted up from the shade of a tree right in the way of Maloney’s Brindle, who was leading. Brindle always preferred mutton to marsupial, so he let the latter slide and secured the ewe. The death-scene was most imposing. The ground around was strewn with small tufts of white wool. There was a complete circle of eager, wriggling dogs—all jammed together, heads down, and tails elevated. Not a scrap of the ewe was visible. Paddy Maloney jumped down and proceeded to batter the brutes vigorously with a waddy. As the others arrived, they joined him. The dogs were hungry, and fought for every inch of the sheep. Those not laid out were pulled away, and! when old Brown had dragged the last one off by the hind legs, all that was left of that ewe was four feet and some skin.
Dad shook his head and looked grave—so did Anderson. After a short rest they decided to divide into parties and work the ridges. A start was made. Dad’s contingent—consisting of himself and Joe, Paddy Maloney, Anderson, old Brown, and several others—started a mob. This time the dogs separated and scampered off in all directions. In quick time Brown’s black slut bailed up an “old man” full of fight. Nothing was more desirable. He was a monster, a king kangaroo; and as he raised himself to his full height on his toes and tail he looked formidable—a grand and majestic demon of the bush. The slut made no attempt to tackle him; she stood off with her tongue out. Several small dogs belonging to Anderson barked energetically at him, even venturing occasionally to run behind and bite his tail. But, further than grabbing them in his arms and embracing them, he took no notice. There he towered, his head back and chest well out, awaiting the horsemen. They came, shouting and hooraying. He faced them defiantly. Anderson, aglow with excitement, dismounted and aimed a lump of rock at his head, which laid out one of the little dogs. They pelted him with sticks and stones till their arms were tired, but they might just as well have pelted a dead cow. Paddy Maloney took out his stirrup. “Look out!” he cried. They looked out. Then, galloping up, he swung the iron at the marsupial, and nearly knocked his horse’s eye out.
Dad was disgusted. He and Joe approached the enemy on Farmer. Dad carried a short stick. The “old man” looked him straight in the face. Dad poked the stick at him. He promptly grabbed hold of it, and a piece of Dad’s hand as well. Farmer had not been in many battles—no Defence Force man ever owned him. He threw up his head and snorted, and commenced a retreat. The kangaroo followed him up and seized Dad by the shirt. Joe evinced signs of timidity. He lost faith in Dad, and, half jumping, half falling, he landed on the ground, and set out speedily for a tree. Dad lost the stick, and in attempting to brain the brute with his fist he overbalanced and fell out of the saddle. He struggled to his feet, and clutched his antagonist affectionately by both paws—standing well away. Backwards and forwards and round and round they moved. “Use your knife!” Anderson called out, getting further away himself. But Dad dared not relax his grip. Paddy Maloney ran behind the brute several times to lay him out with a waddy, but each time he turned and fled before striking the blow. Dad thought to force matters, and began kicking his assailant vigorously in the stomach. Such dull, heavy thuds! The kangaroo retaliated, putting Dad on the defensive. Dad displayed remarkable suppleness about the hips. At last the brute fixed his deadly toe in Dad’s belt.
It was an anxious moment, but the belt broke, and Dad breathed freely again. He was acting entirely on the defensive, but an awful consciousness of impending misfortune assailed him. His belt was gone, and—his trousers began to slip—slip—slip! He called wildly to the others for God’s sake to do something. They helped with advice. He yelled “Curs!” and “Cowards!” back at them. Still, as he danced around with his strange and ungainly partner, his trousers kept slipping—slipping. For the fiftieth time and more he glanced eagerly over his shoulder for some haven of safety. None was near. And then—oh, horror!—down they slid calmly and noiselessly. Poor Dad! He was at a disadvantage; his leg work was hampered. He was hobbled. Could he only get free of them altogether! But he could n’t—his feet were large. He took a lesson from the foe and jumped—jumped this way and that way, and round about, while large drops of perspiration rolled off him. The small dogs displayed renewed and ridiculous ferocity, often mistaking Dad for the marsupial. At last Dad became exhausted—there was no spring left in him. Once he nearly went down. Twice he tripped. He staggered again—down he was going—down—down, down and down he fell! But at the same moment, and, as though they had dropped from the clouds, Brindle and five or six other dogs pounced on the “old man.” The rest may be imagined.
Dad lay on the ground to recover his wind, and when he mounted Farmer again and silently turned for home, Paddy Maloney was triumphantly seated on the carcase of the fallen enemy, exultingly explaining how he missed the brute’s head with the stirrup-iron, and claiming the tail.