Along the Finke
Copyright© 2010 by Pedant
"Are you okay, dear?" I asked Weena.
"I love it! This is the best honeymoon I've ever been on!" She laughed and flashed one of those megawatt smiles.
I twisted around a bit. "Looks like Charlie's having a good time, too."
Weena turned. "The old horndog! Isn't he the sly one!" We rode on in silence, the bulls heavy breathing was the loudest sound.
After a while, I realized that herding here was a matter of containment. As long as one of the bulls didn't wander off to the side, we could just walk along. An hour later, Maddy rode up.
"I'm sending Arnie to see whether the cows have cleared the tank. I don't want these boys to smell the water. So Charlie'll hold 'em till Arnie gets back. Okay?"
"No problems, Maddy. You folks havin' a good ride?"
"Yep. That big bull seems real happy to be on an open range."
"How about that bull on the horse? The one you've been chattin' with?"
She turned red, wheeled her horse and rode back to Charlie.
"You're so-o-o mean," Weena said.
"Oh, yeah. Teasin' only goes one way, hunh?"
Andy came riding up to Charlie, but we could hear him. "Charlie, Arnie tol' me to come back and say the last cows were clearin' the bore."
"Thanks, Andy." You okeh?"
"Yessir. Herdin' cows is easy an' fun. Sure is red aroun' here."
"You know, Andy, this is called the 'Red Center'," remarked Maddy.
"Oh. No ma'am, I didn' know that."
"Do you know why it's red?" I asked.
Kirkin lured Wyju to his camp. While Wyju was asleep, Kirkin fire-hardened long sticks and planted them, points up, in the ground and tucked grass around them. He put a dead animal on top. In the morning, Wyju took up his hunting weapons. 'You don't need weapons, ' laughed Kirkin. 'All you have to do is jump on the nest with your feet.' They searched and Wyju said 'I think I see the nest.' 'Jump on it now, ' said Kirkin. Wyju jumped with both feet on the nest. As the spikes pierced his feet he threw himself forward in agony. 'Kirkin, Kirkin, help me!' 'You are an easy victim, Wyju, ' Kirkin said maliciously. 'I have much to do, so I must leave you.' And he went away, laughing. Wyju rolled about in agony, but the sticks had been buried so deep that he couldn't pull them out. And the earth became saturated with his blood as he thrashed. And it is still red.
"My mama's father tells stories like that."
"Yes, I'm sure." Charlie, Maddy and Weena had been listening.
"You know many?" Maddy asked.
"Some. I heard them as a kid in Queensland and when I did fieldwork I met many bands. Sometimes, the old men would let me listen. They're the stories that tell about the land and the people."
"He told some when we went to Uluru," said Charlie. "They were a lot like Comanche tales."
"Well," I said, "Let's go on to the bore."
We were just in sight of the windmill when the big bull caught the scent of the water, snorted, twitched his muzzle, and broke into a trot. The others followed, but he was already drinking by the time they'd arranged themselves around the tank.
"No problem there," remarked Charlie.
"Andy!" called Maddy.
"Ride ahead an' ask whether we should stop at Horse Paddock or go on to Cottonbush. Got it? Horse Paddock or Cottonbush."
"Yessem. Horse Paddock or Cottonbush." And he took off.
"Horse Paddock's just before we get to the Horseshoe Bend route," she told us. "Cottonbush's about halfway to my place. Bit less to Charlie's. We're gonna head a bit south from here to hit the route to the Bend."
"Ayup. We'll do it your way, Maddy. 'Specially as I sure don't know any better." She laughed and hit him on the arm.
"You sure know the right way to behave. Well-trained." This time, Charlie blushed.
"Teenagers," muttered Weena.
"Maddy," I said. "What about something to eat?"
"Dern. I knew I forgot somethin'." And she reached into her saddlebag and came up with four sandwich-sized parcels. Weena rode over and got two. "Want one, Charlie?"
"Is it poisoned?"
"Nope. I hadn't met you yet. Nex' time." Maddy handed him one. "There's a drinking tap at the base of the mill," she continued. "Mos' likely you won't want to try the tank." Only one bull was still drinking. "When everyone's done, Gordy, you want to disengage the mill?" I nodded and did so.
"Okay. Let's git!" and Charlie hit the big bull with his hat. "Yup, you." The bull started to walk and the others just fell in. They knew who was boss. "Andy, you stay back here and make sure they all come along. Gordy, you an' Weena stay on that side and Maddy an' me 'll lead."
"Yessir, Charlie." "No problem."
And we were off. Though it wasn't like a road, the route was pretty clear. Soon, even the top of the windmill at the bore was gone. Just red dirt, tufts of grass, an occasional rock ledge, and a yellow-white sun.