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Chapter XI. On the Wallaby Track.

JACK MILTON made his exit from Sydney by the side streets, going at an easy canter until he reached the suburbs, then he put spurs to his horse and through the long night only rested long enough to breathe the animal.

He skirted the town of Penrith soon after midnight, and crossing the Emu Plains, when morning dawned, was able to seek a shelter for the day amongst the sheltered and secluded gullies of the Blue Mountains. Here amongst the ferns, wild flowers, rocks and overhanging gum trees, he led his tired horse to the banks of a clear stream, where it could spend the daylight feeding to its heart's content, while he likewise lit a fire and boiled his billy, after which he lay on his back and enjoyed the rest he needed.

He had hobbled the horse, which was a good one, so that it could not wander far, nor was it likely to do so with herbage and water so close at hand. Here also he could sleep with security, for although he was not far from the team road, a wayfarer asleep was too ordinary an event for any one who might penetrate this seclusion to pay any heed to. The police, as he calculated, would be still hunting after him about Sydney, or watching the roads between Queensland and Victoria.

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He had the advantage of being able to take time by the forelock, for the police could hardly expect, after his betrayal, that he would be aided by his betrayers. They knew that he had been run to earth, and would be searching for him amongst the criminal quarters in Sydney, and this must occupy them for some days, after which the search would be extended.

Once, however, over the Blue Mountains he did not reckon on having much trouble in eluding the country police. West Australia was drawing many towards its gold fields, and he would as likely as not meet many adventurers taking the same route as he was doing. If he fell upon any of these explorers he would join them and so be able to escape scrutiny.

Thousands were rushing from all quarters to the golden West. Those who could afford it going by steamer round the coast, others trecking across the country.

In the days of the early explorers such a journey as he was taking was looked upon as well-nigh hopeless. The want of water generally stopped them, while the desert claimed its countless victims.

But the conundrum of penetrating the interior had been solved by the most ordinary of bushmen, while the scientific and learned explorers had failed, through depending too entirely upon what ought to be, and failing to take advantage of what actually was.

Jack Milton in his varied past experiences had

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known all sorts of men, while he invariably kept his eyes and ears open. He knew the water-tree by sight, and had been told that even in the driest and most arid tracks it grew and flourished for the benefit of the initiated. Where the water-tree grew no man need suffer thirst, for its roots were unfailing taps. If therefore he succeeded in getting past the surveillance of the police, he was not afraid of the desert.

When night once again fell upon him, he remounted his horse and pursued his way, and at the end of the second evening had reached Forbes, on the Lachlan River.

He had passed many people on that second day, for, relying upon his disguise, he considered that he would be less likely to be stopped and questioned if he travelled by daylight.

He rested that night in one of the small outlying shanties of Forbes, and laying in a fresh stock of provisions, pushed rapidly forward to Booligal, which he reached on the eighth day after his departure from Sydney.

He had now covered over four hundred miles of his long journey, going at the rate of nearly sixty miles per day with one horse and without a relay, which for endurance equalled, if it did not eclipse, Turpin's famous ride to York.

English owners of horses might well think this to be an impossible feat for either horse or man, even on the well-ordered highways of delightful old England, with cool green lanes and refreshing breezes wafting over the grassy downs, but here in

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hot and parching Australia, with powdered dust instead of grass blades and fiery sunbeams shooting down like heated darts, it would have raised no special remarks. It was a good pace, certainly, to keep up over these rough and dust-choked roads during such a dry and hot season, and not over merciful to the beast that carried him so enduringly and pluckily. Yet men so circumstanced as Jack Milton was, do not generally study the bridge that carries them over the stream, more than to consider whether it is sound enough for their purpose.

Yet I defy any man, no matter how unimpassioned his temperament may be, who is forced by fate to have a dumb companion and no other, to remain selfishly indifferent to the feelings of that companion. It may be a cat or a dog, or any other specimen of that life which we call the lower world. When the man is cut off from higher companionship he will cling to and consider that.

Jack Milton had been with his horse for eight days, and although he had urged him on, and on, yet after the second day he had cast from him his spurs and whip. When a good rider gets a horse that he knows understands him, and the horse gets a rider who can manage him, there is no need for spur or whip. The pressure of a knee, the touch of a hand and the single word are enough; for the horse and rider are en rapport.

They were chums, these two, by this time—the horse and the man. Jack had reached forward often on the ride to brush the flies from the face of his mate, and the horse knew enough of men to

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appreciate that kindness. He had mind enough to feel that such a friend would not urge him on, unless there was a good cause for sweltering under these blistering sun-rays—trust any sensible horse who feels the clasp of an experienced pair of legs to know that. He will exert himself cheerfully for such a rider, yet he knows that the entire game depends upon him not over-exerting himself, but reserving his strength for the emergency; therefore he will keep steadily on, resting when he requires to rest, yet doing his best to please his rider, that is unless he is a cynical and man-hating quadruped, which few horses are.

It is as natural for a good, young, healthy horse to want to gallop as it is for a boy to run, and, like Sancho Panza, so long as he has a good master to serve he is quite content with what is going, good hay or juicy grass when he can get it, or gum leaves and grass roots to fill up the vacuum when the luxuries of life are not to be had.

What he likes are friendship and experience, and Jack had both of these qualities to bind his horse to him. The first night's canter had made them chums, and nothing in the world could ever alter that. Both animals and horses will exert themselves and count the effort as nothing if they have sympathy to carry them along. Bad luck, scorching sun-rays, choking dust, and short commons are easy to endure so long as harmony prevails.

Jack rubbed down his chum Billy each night when the day's work was over, and gave him the best he could to make him comfortable. Billy

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reached round his velvety if dusty nose and touched the human cheek to show that he understood those attentions and would do his best to deserve them. The lustrous brown eyes of Billy looked affectionately and trustfully into the black eyes of Jack whenever they stood face to face, so that no words were needed to cement that mutual bond. Jack wanted to get away and Billy was ready to serve him with his life, for this is ever the compact between man and beast. The beast offers his life to the man he has learnt to trust and the man accepts the sacrifice—sometimes selfishly and sometimes sentimentally, yet always unreservedly, for this is the way of man and his slave.

It was a hot and trying journey, for the summer season was at its height and no rain had fallen for months, so that everything was parched and withered.

They passed through a landscape arid and bare as ploughed fields, with furnace-like wafts of burning air and gaseous, quivering heat-fumes that raised mirages on every side of them. The cloudless bleached sky arched overhead with that fierce and relentless orb moving from east to west, without a change, and beating down upon them heavy beams of white fire. The grey dust went with them constantly and enveloped them from morn till night, filling their nostrils with that impalpable powder and making them like flour-coated millers, yet westward they rushed with hardly a pause.

Jack thought sometimes about his wife, Rosa, yet no longer with bitterness. She had become a vague

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and misty shadow of the past, something like a game of cards that he had lost and which he need not mourn about. Chester was the winner, and he did not grudge him his luck. He did not think much about the money he had relinquished. The world was before him with its chances of good and evil.

The man whom he had done to death no longer troubled him. No ghost followed in his tracks. It had been an accident which he was now paying for, and the fiercer the sun rays beat and the thirstier the dust made him, the more lightly throbbed his heart. The man had left no one behind him whom his death was likely to hurt. Jack had read this from the papers, therefore that remorse was spared him. It would have been different if he had killed Rosa in his rage, whom he had kissed and fondled in his love. This man's death woke no memories, and it is only memory that raises ghosts. Cain would never have felt accursed if he had not grown up with Abel, and as Jack felt now, he would be more likely to mourn over the death of his horse, Billy, than he was likely to do about that defunct bank clerk.

He stayed two days at Booligal, purchasing a pack horse and some other articles that he required, also making enquiries about his route. He fixed upon the Hanson county from the map he had provided himself with, and gave that out as his ultimate destination to the residents of Booligal.

They were a kindly, simple and hospitable lot of settlers in this little township of Booligal, to whom the advent of a stranger was a welcome

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sight. News were pretty stale before they reached them, and fashions were not greatly considered, lying as they did out of the line of railway traffic.

Money, of course, was at a discount, as the depression of the market for the past several years gave them, but small inducement for exertion or competition, yet they were able to jog along fairly comfortable, in a primitive sort of way. They had plenty of cattle and good grazing land, and grew what they required in garden produce and cereals.

The account of the Bank robbery had not yet reached them, and Jack Milton was not likely to relate that bit of news, yet he was able to satisfy their curiosity by informing them what had occurred for a few days after their last batch of weekly papers, therefore he was made much of by these pioneers of civilization.

He paid for what he had honestly, yet was careful to keep up his character by not being lavish, parting with his coins prudently and behaving himself discreetly, so that when he said good-bye he left behind him quite a number of hearty friends and well-wishers.

It was a long and not very interesting ride after this until he reached Tacnall, and after that Pooncaria, on the River Darling.

He was now seven hundred and eighty miles west from Sydney, and about to enter upon the most trying part of his journey.

Hitherto he had avoided railway tracks as far as possible, striking from small township to township. He was now little more than a hundred miles from

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Silverton on the New South Wales border land, where possibly the police were already on the lookout, therefore if he wanted to escape their scrutiny, he must turn his course now due north towards Cooper's Creek, avoiding the Broken Hill district, and depending entirely upon his own exertions after this.

Six hundred miles to Cooper's Creek, and after that two thousand five hundred miles before he could hope again to touch civilization.

He made his calculations with great care, and reckoning that it would take him two good months, he provided himself with two more pack-horses, which he loaded with flour, tea, sugar and matches.

He had a good fowling-piece with him and a Winchester, also enough ammunition to carry him along besides his revolver; and as his pocket compass was in correct condition, and his map of the latest date, he had little fear of losing his road.

Water might be scarce, until the rains came on, but as soon as he got over the borders, he meant to take it easy, so that his own beard and hair might grow to a proper length before he showed himself to his fellow-men. He would live as the aboriginals do, and make his way from water-hole to water-hole and risk it, as so many had done before him.

Therefore, congratulating himself that hitherto he had escaped detection, he started on his arduous journey with a light heart.