29 August 1911
A DAUGHTER OF THE BUSH, JIM KELLY'S STERN AND THANKLESS TASK
In a minute or two tall, gaunt Jim Kelly, upon whose grave and bearded face also the big sorrows of his family have set an indelible stamp of melancholy, is dismounting at the gate, and wondering gravely what on earth all the fuss is about. He has been away for six weeks at his work and he is going away again on a journey of unknown duration that night. He greets his mother with affection and respect, tells her in a few words - for he is a taciturn man - what he has been about and what his plans for the tauntedjate future are, and quickly ascertains, by means of a few brief but pertinent questions, all of interest that has transpired in his absence. He is wet through, but greets the visitors, whom he had met earlier in the day warmly. There is whisky handy, and it is good and plentiful, and the stalwart brother of the celebrated bushrangers puts his glass down with satisfaction audibly expressed. He next finds time to listen to the importunate demands of little Miss Kate to be permitted a ride. There is only one answer to this request, and whilst her uncle is readjusting the stirrup leathers, the young lady is making her few and simple preparations in something as near an ecstasy of pleasure as a small child brought up in the solitudes can realise. Her long hair, fastened in some order, a cap thrust becomingly - by accident - atop of it, and she is ready. With one bound she is in the saddle. A momentary trial of the stirrups and this blithesome daughter of the bush is fading off the wet landscape in a mist of splash and spray from the chestnut's flying hoofs. Away down at the foot of a declivity is a gully, dimly visible now in the rain. There is no seeing whether the jump is a good one or not. But the small centre of rapidly-moving wetness. Brightened at times by a glimpse of scarlet skirt, is soon seen streaking up the bare green rise on the other side. The uncle matches gravely and contentedly, for he knows the horse - he quotes its pedigree briefly and with the air of one who has said all that there is to say on that subject. It will not stumble, nor fall, nor falter. Hundreds of miles it has borne him - jog trot, canter, or wild, whirling express, all gaits are alike to this small chestnut. And he knows the small rider also. "She'll never ride like her mother, though." He mutters sadly. "Here she comes now." And, surely enough, the small moving area of splash and colour reappears on the distant rise and comes sailing homeward at express speed. Logs, fences, obstructions of all sorts pass cleanly and safely beneath the flying pony's careful hoofs. Breathless, scintillating with the wild exhilaration of the ride, the small daughter of the bush draws rein at the yard gate in one final splash of all four feet of her charger in the soaked and sodden ground, and drops lightly from the saddle. "Oh, Uncle Jim, when are you going to let me have a pony - one all to myself, I mean?"
There was a quiver in the girl's voice as she patted the little chestnut on the forehead and flung an arm lovingly round his neck; for that pony represented to that small lady of the bush the utmost limit of human desire. To possess a pony like that would be to possess the whole world - for there would be room for nothing else in her affections. And now, throbbing with the glorious pleasure and excitement of her wild, wet ride, little Miss Kate looks into the sombre face of her Uncle Jim with a wistful expression of entreaty that would have undone a sterner man than he.
Being a man of action and of few words, he accepts the inevitable. "You can have him - have him now," he says.
The girl's face pales with the, to her, hope has incredibility of what she hears.
"Uncle Jim !" she cries: "you don't mean it - oh, you don't mean it, do you?"
"The horse is yours," is the brief reply. "Take care of him."
Astonishment, wide and boundless, and incredible struggle with an intoxicating idea of the realisation of the impossibility, form expression on the child's white face. And now she has the pony's neck clasped firmly in a tight embrace.
"Uncle, dear," and the large eyes open pathetically, "do you really mean it?"
"Yes," is the terse reply. "I shant want him any more," and Jim turns into the cottage to make his final arrangements for the new journey. But out in the rain a small daughter of the bush is weeping tears of astonishment and joy upon the cheek of the shapely chestnut pony, caressing him the while, and the pony's large eyes seem to reflect a perfect knowledge of the situation and a perfect agreement with it. And as the evening closes in wet and discomforting, Uncle Jim wanders forth abroad on his business of droving.
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