Will Jones and the Blue Dog by Greg Barron
When that Warrumbungle country filled with the yellow glow of dawn, refracting from the cliff faces, and glowing iridescent on the trees, wedge-tailed eagle flew from his perch on Bluff Mountain. Flying north over the Pilliga he spotted a horseman, one of the people he had known from his time as a fledgling; a man from the old clans of the plains.
It was obvious, even from a height, that the rider was wounded, for he held a hand to his gut, and sometimes gave a cry of pain when his horse stumbled hard or the ground grew rough. He rode fast, even so, and the reason for that was obvious. Some miles back, a big white man rode hard in pursuit.
Interested in the contest, the eagle shadowed the pair as they hurried north towards the Namoi River. Conditions for flying were perfect, with strong thermals as the day wore on, and the eagle remained aloft without effort.
Wounded or not, though, that Gamilaroi man was clever and brave. He swum his horse across the big river near the junction with Spring Creek, but the man who chased him baulked at the deep water. Instead he rode around through the town of Narrabri to the road bridge, then went back to find the trail, which had been cleaned and anti-tracked by then, with clever hands and bushcraft.
When the white man gave up—turned around and took the road south again to Coonabarabran, the eagle flew high above, and watched him until the night drew close and it was time to return to his perch.
Old dingo was sniffing ’round his country north of the Namoi later that night when he caught the scent of fresh blood, and followed it along to the banks of a waterhole, where red clay banks were lighted by the flames of a small fire.
There, on the banks the dingo saw a brown man, hunched over, tears of pain running down his cheeks in bitter furrows. His fingers were red from delving into a wound in his gut. At length the man looked up, and saw the dingo. He did not seem shocked, but his horse, tethered to an overhanging tree just behind him, nickered nervously.
‘Hullo there, warrigal dog,’ said the man. ‘Don’t look at me like I’m a lump of tucker old feller. I’m a long way from that yet.’
The dingo stopped, maybe fifteen paces away. When the man made no hostile move, the animal settled onto his haunches.
‘I was a pretty careless fella ya know,’ said the man. ‘This bugger called Tom Brody put a bullet in me with a sneaky little derringer he had hidden. Now I’ve got to get that slug out so things can heal up inside – ‘an this hole’s still not big enough for me fingers. I reckon that if I can widen the hole I’ll likely be able to grasp it. Them derringers are easy to hide but they don’t pack much punch.’
The dingo watched as the brown man took a little knife from a sheath and gripped it carefully, leaning down to place the point into the hole in his gut—the source of the blood—then crying out in agony as he cut sideways, letting the knife fall beside him as he gathered himself for an even greater effort—forcing his fingers inside, the blood smell saturating the air now.
Finally, the brown man went into some kind of paroxysm, shaking like a dying bird. This time it took a while for him to recover. At length, however, the shaking stopped, and he held up a bloody thumb and forefinger, something small gripped between them. ‘Just a little bit of lead,’ said the man. ‘But one of these will kill you dead, old warrigal. You watch out for men with guns, and the bullets that fly from them. You keep clear of them orright?’
The brown man seemed to be in no hurry to stand, but rowed himself on his bottom to the water where he washed the wound, though a fresh flow kept coming. When this was done he dug a hole on the bank and plugged the wound with a handful of clay, forcing it deep inside.
‘This clay very special,’ Jim told the dingo. ‘My people been using it for a long time. Stops that bleeding right up, and it’s got strong medicine in it besides.’
Finally, with an effort that showed on his face, and the muscles on his bare chest and stomach standing proud, the man stood up: moving away to where his horse was tethered, and the dingo watched as he mounted up.
‘I’ve got mates to catch up with. Long, long way, so I can’t stop. See you later old fella,’ said the man.
And he rode off into the night.
© Greg Barron 2022
New chapter next Sunday.
Photo by Toby Woolley, courtesy State Library of South Australia