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Waitaruna: A Story of New Zealand Life

Chapter XX. — A Pig Hunt

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Chapter XX.
A Pig Hunt .

"Oh! be advised! thou know'st not what it is
With javelin's point a churlish swine to gore,
Whose tusks never sheathed, he whetteth still
Like to a mortal butcher, bent to kill."

Shakespeare .

About a couple of months after the events recorded in the last chapter Gilbert Langton received a note from Dr. Raymond, telling him that the long-talked-of pig-hunt was to come off in a day or two, and asking him to join the party. The hunting ground chosen was over in the direction of Big Creek, where in some of the rough gullies, pigs were reported to be numerous. So after obtaining leave of absence from Mr. Ramshorn, Gilbert started for Muttontown the day before that appointed for the expedition.

Ah! I am so glad you have come," said the doctor on his arrival; "for I was beginning to fear that the whole affair would fall through. But now, we shall have a splendid time of it, I am sure. Old Sam Morrison, who lives out Big Creek way, and who is continually at the pig hunting, will come with us, and his dogs will be a great assistance; and page 268besides that, I have got the loan of another splendid dog from a digger up the Creek."

"And who, besides the dogs, Sam Morrison, and ourselves, are to be of the party?" asked Gilbert.

"Well, that's just it, you know," said the doctor. "I don't think we shall have any one. All the rest of those who were coming have been prevented by one cause or another, and that's why I was afraid the expedition would fall through, for I shouldn't have gone alone with old Sam."

"I suppose we shall make an early start," said Gilbert.

"Yes, we must be away by daylight in the morning," replied the doctor; "we'll pick up Sam Morrison on the way."

"How is Leslie getting on as a benedict?" asked Gilbert, as they went into the "All Nation's Hotel."

"Very well, indeed, and that girl makes him a capital wife. Leslie is very much quieter, and one seldom sees him up town of an evening since he was married. He is doing very well, too, at the mining, and is now a claim holder himself. His wife had a few pounds that she had saved, it seemed, and when little Dan wanted to sell out of the Perseverance Company, who should buy his share, but Leslie. He had to borrow some of the money on the share, but if he keeps steady and works himself, there is no fear of him, and he will soon clear it all off."

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"I should like to go and look him up," said Gilbert; but he had to abandon the idea, for he learned that Arthur's hut was some distance up the gully near the Perseverance Company's claim, so that he had not time to go there before dark. As he did not relish wandering among the workings after nightfall, he therefore decided to defer calling on the bride till his return from the pig-hunt.

Before daylight, next morning, Gilbert was roused by the doctor calling out: "Now then, tumble up, old fellow; it's time we were making a start."

"It is uncommonly cold," said Gilbert, when he got outside; "but what have you got here, doctor?"

"Only a tent and a frying-pan," was the reply. "I don't relish sleeping in the open air altogether, and as I have a pack horse, we may as well do the grand and take our culinary apparatus, and a pack of cards, so that we may have a game of poker in the evening."

"Rather an odd collection, Doctor; but we shall want something more than what you have named, I fancy, if we are to camp out over night."

"I'll take care of that, my boy," said the doctor, who was quite excited, and talked as though he had suddenly regained the power of speech after having lost it for a long time, and was determined that if exercising his tongue would do any good in preserving his linguistic abilities, no effort should be spared on his part.

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They had to saddle their own horses, as no one was stirring about the hotel, and in a short time they were ready to start, and were soon raising the still slumbering Muttontonians as they cantered up the street. Rather more than an hour's ride brought them to a roadside public-house or shanty where they hoped to breakfast. The inhabitants were not long up and breakfast was not ready, but on entering the bar they found a man apparently already under the influence of liquor. He was seemingly a station hand engaged in the insane occupation of "knocking down" his cheque.

The landlady, a stout, jolly-looking woman, was saying to her customer, as the doctor and Gilbert entered, "There's nothing like a good stiff nobbler first thing in the morning for picking you up."

"Right you are, old woman!" was the reply. Then seeing the new-comers he added, "Come and have a drink, it's time you changed your breath this morning."

But though the doctor got the credit at Muttontown of never refusing a drink, and seldom "shouting," he on this occasion was steadfast in his refusal, greatly to the man's disgust.

The breakfast which was put before the pig-hunters was far from inviting either in itself or its surroundings, especially as the half-tipsy man sat down opposite them, and made a pretence of eating. page 271However, after taking a mouthful or two of tea, he said he must have something better than that, and called for some whisky. But even the fact that the chops had a strong flavour of bacon, evidently owing to the frying-pan not having been cleaned since it had been used for cooking ham and eggs, it did not prevent their making a hearty meal, for the travellers were too hungry to be fastidious.

"That is about the roughest place I ever was in," remarked Gilbert as they rode away.

"Yes, it is not an inviting place, by any means," replied the doctor; "and yet the landlord has made money; chiefly, I fear, by poisoning with bad grog a number of his customers. The way some of these land-sharks will keep an unfortunate man in a state of intoxication for weeks, so long as he has any money, is horrible to contemplate, and then when his money is done they will kick him out remorselessly. The rubbish, too, which they keep in the way of spirits is something abominable, and is, I am sure, a source of a good deal of lunacy. But come, let us get off again."

Another hour's riding brought them to the gully where Sam Morrison lived, and as they approached they could hear his dogs yelping eagerly, as though they already knew there was to be some sport for them. The gully was a rocky one. Here and there huge masses of grey rock rose in fantastic shapes, page 272now resembling a carved column, and again suggesting a monumental pyramid. Sometimes they stood singly, sometimes in groups, and generally the elements had worn them to such an extent that their jagged points and sharp serrated edges on a close inspection presented a most weird appearance. Old Sam, in the choice of a dwelling-place, had availed himself of two of those masses of rock which stood in juxtaposition, one of which leaned towards and partially against the other. A wall of turf at either end of the rocks enclosed the space between them, excepting at the top, where the rocks did not meet, and this Sam had closed by fixing up a tent-like roof of canvas. In the back wall there was a large chimney, while in that opposite to the fireplace was the doorway. This was closed with a door formed of manuka poles covered with sacking.

Old Sam stood in the doorway smoking a short black pipe, and as the riders halted he muttered something which sounded like "Morning."

"Good morning, Sam," said the doctor. "I suppose you are ready. We had better move on, had we not?"

"I'm ready this long time," said Sam; "but you'll have a pannikin of tea and something to eat before you go on, won't you?"

"No, thank you," replied the doctor; "we had breakfast not long since, and as we have a good bit to go, we should not waste any time."

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"Very well," said Sam, fastening his door behind him with a piece of string, and proceeding towards a rough-looking little horse which was tethered and grazing close at hand. The horse was soon saddled, and Sam and his dogs joined the party.

One of his dogs, however, had seemingly some old score to settle with the dog accompanying the doctor, so the two engaged in a fierce battle, and were with difficulty separated.

"The pigs have been here not long since," remarked Sam after they had ridden for some distance; "but I think we should camp in a gully I'll show you, a mile or two from this."

"How do you know that the pigs have been here lately?" asked Gilbert.

"Can't you see where they have been rooting among the spear grass over there?" was Sam's reply.

"There is a pig over on the spur there," remarked Sam after they had ridden some distance further; "there's a chance for you, doctor. As you blow about what you can do with the rifle at a long range, let us see what you can do with that fellow. Lie down, dogs."

The pig was quietly rooting, apparently oblivious of the proximity of danger; and the doctor in answer to old Sam's challenge dismounted, and putting a cartridge in his rifle, lay down on the ground and, taking a steady aim, fired.

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The report startled the pack-horse, and caused it to kick and plunge to the imminent danger of his load. "Woa! stand, you brute!" roared Gilbert, who happened to be holding the halter at the time, and who was by the jerk nearly dragged out of his saddle. Fortunately his own steed was a quiet one, or he would have been compelled to let the pack-horse go, but as it was he was enabled to keep his seat and quieten the other animal with some assistance from Sam.

When this was accomplished they looked to where the pig had been, and found that it had disappeared.

"What has come of the pig, doctor?" asked they.

"Oh! he is off over the ridge," was the reply. "I am sure I hit him, for I fancy I saw the beggar limp."

"You must have frightened him, at any rate," said Sam.

"I did more than that," replied the doctor; "for I am positive I hit him, and can't imagine how he travelled as he did. Ah, well! let us get on, or we shan't reach our camping place to-night."

When they arrived at the place where Sam proposed that they should pitch their tent, they found that the spot he had chosen was at the junction of two gullies of almost equal size, one of which was bare and ferny, while the other was in some parts overgrown page 275with manuka scrub, with here and there a few dells in which were some small trees of different kinds.

It did not take long to choose a sheltered nook as a site for the tent, which was speedily fixed and a fire kindled before the door. While this was being done, Gilbert, after having hobbled the pack-horse and also the doctor's, and turned the whole of them adrift, took the billy down to the creek to fill it, but as he was getting the water he was startled by the barking of the dogs in the scrub close by. He at once dropped the billy and ran in the direction of the sound. He had scarcely entered the scrub when old Sam joined him.

"Look out for the pig," muttered he, as he came up. "By George! a sow and litter," he exclaimed immediately; and at the same time Gilbert descried the cause of the disturbance in the shape of an old sow with her back against an impenetrable clump of scrub, and several young ones by her, while she resolutely kept the dogs at bay. Gilbert drew his revolver and was about to fire, when Sam said, "Don't, you might kill the dogs—leave her to me;" adding, "Catch her, boys," to the dogs.

Thus encouraged, one of them made a feint as though to spring at the pig, and as she turned towards him, the other quick as lightning sprang in and caught her by the ear. Sam drew a small tomahawk from his belt, and stepping up to the pig, page 276struck her a sharp blow with the hatchet on the small of her back, which placed the poor brute completely at his mercy, and enabled him quickly to despatch her.

"Now for the squealers," said he, and both he and Gilbert set to work chasing the little pigs, and cutting their throats as they caught them. They succeeded in securing seven, but though one or two escaped, they were satisfied, and returned to the camp with a portion of their spoil.

The doctor was rather irate when he found he had, as he phrased it, "missed the fun," and was only pacified when Sam told him they were sure to get a boar or two the next day, which were worth his while to look at, and that an old sow and young ones were hardly good enough for him.

That evening after supper they proceeded by Sam's directions to cut a large quantity of the dry bracken, with which they covered the ground in the tent; and by the time it was dark they had made everything very snug and comfortable.

"I've seen the time when I would not have bothered so much," said Sam, as they sat in the gathering darkness round the fire smoking; "but I have had a touch of rheumatism, so I always like to be as snug as possible."

By and by the doctor proposed that they should light the candles and have a game at euchre in the page 277tent—a proposal which found a ready seconder in old Sam, and was thereupon immediately unanimously carried into effect. They played some hours, and when tired of so doing they turned in for the night with their saddles for pillows, but still they talked and yarned for a long time.

"You think it a queer way of killing a pig with a tomahawk, do you?" said Sam. "Ah, well! many's the one I've polished off in that way. But once I put a tomahawk to a different use, for I tried it on a man over on the other side."

After giving utterance to this piece of information Sam lay silently sucking his pipe, which made an audible noise, and this, besides the smell, was the only indication that he was smoking, as it was too dark to see the smoke, and a cap which he had on the pipe he used hid any glow from the burning weed. Gilbert was lying next to the old fellow, and he waited in silence expecting him to resume his "yarn," but Sam said no more.

"Perhaps I am rubbing shoulders with a murderer," thought Gilbert, and he felt an eerie, indescribable feeling come over him; but he wished to know the worst of it, so he asked Sam what was the occasion of his trying the tomahawk in the manner he had spoken about.

"Well, you see," said Sam, "it was in this way. I was on the Ironbark diggings once, and we had page 278done pretty well. One day my mate got on the spree. I expect he had been blowing a bit at the shanty, but that I don't know. I got him up to where we were camped, and he went to sleep right away, and snored enough for a dozen. He was so busy driving his pigs to market that I could not get to sleep; and it was just as well that I could not, for I fancied I heard a noise between the snores, as though some one was about, and though there was very little moonlight, there was enough to show me the shadow of a man at the end of the tent. I could see him stoop down, and I saw that he was fumbling with the strings that tied the end of it where the door was. I did not know how many of them there might be about, so I thought I would open the door for them, and I just came down on the tent strings with the tomahawk. I cut more than the strings, for the fellow outside swore some, and in the morning I found one of his fingers lying on the ground. They fired a shot through the tent, but it did no harm, and as there were a good few men camped not far off who would have turned out if there had been many shots fired, I suppose they were afraid to do more, and cleared out. My mate slept through it all, and knew nothing about it till the morning; and the other chap never looked in for his finger."

"I should think not," said Gilbert, laughing at the cool style in which Sam narrated the adventure. page 279"But," he added, "the doctor seems to be driving his pigs to market, and I am very sleepy. Good night."

"Good night," replied Sam; and they were all soon fast asleep.

Next morning, after an early breakfast, they set out in search of pigs, but without much success in the early part of the day; for though the doctor got a shot at an old boar and hit him on the shoulder, yet such was the thickness of the "shield" of pig-skin that the ball glanced off, leaving the animal apparently unharmed.

Later in the day, as Gilbert and the doctor were wandering over a ferny spur, Sam having gone to saddle the horses, they heard the dogs giving tongue in the gully below; and the doctor, who had not yet accounted for a pig, ran towards the sound, exclaiming excitedly, "I shall have this one, and I'll bet it is a boar!" Gilbert followed the doctor, who soon came to the edge of a steep gully with apparently a level bottom, in which grew an impenetrable mass of scrub interlaced with bush-lawyers round the edge, and from the midst of this thicket the noise of the dogs' barking came. Without a moment's hesitation, and without pausing to look for a spot whereby he might gain an entrance, the doctor leaped down the bank and sprang upon a thick tangled growth of bush-lawyers which sustained his page 280weight for two or three steps, and then allowed his feet to slip through, when he sank to his waist and remained stuck fast with his toes barely touching the ground, unable to extricate himself either one way or the other. He stormed and he swore, while Gilbert could do nothing for laughing, and the more he laughed the more irate the doctor grew, till at length he changed his tone and gave vent to a yell of fear. "The confounded pigs are at my legs! I'll be eaten alive! Help! Murder!" bawled the unfortunate medico; but as one of the dogs peered out of a hole in the bush where the doctor was struggling and disappeared again, Gilbert felt very sure that the doctor had nothing to fear, especially as he called, "There they are again," as soon as the dog retired into the bush again.

"It's only one of the dogs, doctor," said Gilbert; "there's nothing to hurt you there."

The doctor's only reply was a renewed struggle, by which he succeeded in partially extricating himself, and with Gilbert's assistance he was dragged out of his awkward position, with torn clothes and scratched limbs, but he was in such an abominable temper that Gilbert speedily left him to the amusement of extracting thorns innumerable from his bleeding wounds.

Selecting an opening between two bushes, Gilbert was able to gain an entrance into the thicket, but it was so dense that he had to proceed in a crouching page 281position for some distance, when he got into a kind of run or track made by the pigs, and looking along this, he saw at no great distance a fierce-looking boar whetting his huge tusks and disdainfully regarding the dogs which were yelping at him. The advent of a new enemy on the scene attracted the boar's attention, and immediately two dogs fastened on his ears, but he succeeded in shaking them off, and at the same time advanced somewhat nearer Gilbert, who felt his position an exceedingly uncomfortable one, hemmed in as he was by surrounding scrub. He was afraid to fire in case he should hit the dogs, and he felt that if either of them was rendered hors de combat in any way, his own chances of getting out of the gully alive were small. Yet though tempted to retreat at once, he did not like to do so; he thought he would risk a shot, and did it. From the position of the boar, Gilbert was unable to take aim at any place but its head; he waited for some minutes in the hope that he would get a chance of shooting it behind the shoulder, but it was no use, so he resolved to aim at its eye. He lay down and took as steady an aim as he could, seeing he was haunted by the dread of being ripped by the savage-looking tusks of the creature if he missed. Gilbert fired; he heard a shriek from the pig, accompanied by the sound of a rush and crashing of branches, and through the smoke he saw the huge boar hurling itself towards him. He thought his hour was come, page 282yet he could do nothing. He drew his revolver and lay close to the ground, in the hope that the brute would pass over him. Before he had time almost to do this the boar was upon him, but just as it reached him it fell dead, with its fierce snout touching him, while the blood spurted from the wound in its head over him. It gave one more convulsive struggle, and then lay perfectly still.

Gilbert heaved a sigh of relief when he realised that the formidable animal was really dead. He stayed a few seconds to examine its long tusks and bristly mane, which told that the boar was a patriarch of its kind. "He is evidently what the doctor calls 'one of Captain Cook's original lot,'" muttered Gilbert to himself, as he crept out from among the bushes. He found the doctor had gone back to the camp, whither he followed to get old Sam's assistance to aid him in securing the tusks as a trophy. When this had been done they rejoined the doctor, who was still in an abominable temper, which was not improved by a little quiet chaff from Gilbert and Sam, as they rode homewards.

Not counting the youngsters, they had killed only six pigs among them, and not one of them all owed its death to the doctor. So the subject of pig-hunting was for long one which was carefully avoided by him, yet it was at times thrust somewhat obtrusively under his notice by some of the would-be witty Muttontonians.