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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 11, Issue 3 (June 1, 1936)

Cross Creek

page 42

Cross Creek

The traveller who had been at Cross Creek for twentyfour hours trying to form a Club to buy canteens of cutlery at eighteen guineas a case, sat down despairingly on his bags as he waited for the train to take him to pastures new, and—he hoped—more fertile. Among the hard-working, happy railway families which compose “The Creek,” none had that amount to spend on luxuries.

“Does anything ever happen here?” he asked of the humorous-faced trainexaminer who, though he appeared to have plenty to do, even when there was no train in sight, now seemed slack for a few minutes.

The examiner straightened up, wiping his hands on the inevitable piece of cotton waste. “Yes, things happen all right,” he replied. “Why, only last Tuesday week, Hippo Hunt killed a rabbit—he slipped when out mushrooming and sat on it.”

The traveller took a surprised glance at the narrator. This, for excitement, was priceless. Then seeing the grin that disappeared quickly from the examiner's face, he guessed that he was having his leg pulled.

“But honestly, what do you people here do for amusement? Not a shop of any kind—can't even buy tobacco; no pictures, no pub, no billiard saloon. What do you do?”

The examiner spoke seriously. “Well, we have a good swimming pool, and there are the tennis courts which we hope to extend shortly. We are making a children's playground and gardens and hope soon to have the settlement the talk of the service. We are all pulling together fine.”

“When did the last real incident happen? Does anyone ever die here, or is anyone ever born?”

“No, the mountain air is too healthy,” was the reply. “If we wanted to start a cemetery—you notice we have none—we would have to run over some one with the heavy engine. But births have been known to occur.” The string of little faces hanging round the examiner and calling him “Daddy,” gave point to his remarks.

“There was once—some time ago, though—a real incident took place here,” he went on. “See that hardfaced old driver over at the tank? Charlie Brusher is his name, and he was the hero of the exploit—though don't tell him I called him a hero; that's just to give the yarn a literary touch.”

“Come and have a…” began the traveller. “Oh, I forgot there are no hotels here,” he ended lamely.

“Never mind. I come of a talking family and I think I can spin the yarn without lubrication,” answered the railwayman with a grin.

“I've forgotten the exact date, but trains were fewer along this line than they are now. Charlie had just come to this area with a great name for horsemanship. Horses were of more account then.

“Charlie had no horse of his own and no occasion had arisen for him to show his prowess, but the yarn had drifted in that he was little short of a marvel. He said nothing about it himself.

“Well, the season had been very dry —in fact we were not entitled to our name, for the creek was empty. The water to fill our tanks had to come by train over the mountain.

“It was near the end of February and school was taking up in a day or two. A kiddie from The Creek—Janet Ann something or other—had been stopping with relatives near where the Pigeon Bush station now stands. Her mother received a letter saying that the kiddie was coming home on the evening train on this particular night. As she had a fair distance to go and wanted to be home in time to milk, the Aunt said she would leave her at the station to wait for the train.”

“How old was the youngster?” asked the traveller.

“Oh, about four, I think, but it was safe enough to leave her. The kids here are train-wise, and you couldn't run over them if you tried. There was nothing else to harm her—or so it was thought. Once on the train, of course, she was as safe as the Bank of New Zealand.

“As it turned out, she was anything but safe. Some farmers, taking advantage of the dry spell and a wind from the North, decided to burn off a bit of bush down by the lake. If you know anything about Wellington weather, you know it is liable to change at any moment to Southerly, and this is just what happened as soon as the bush got going nicely.”

“I can guess the rest,” interrupted the traveller. “The fire spread; the child's life was endangered and your famous horseman sped to the rescue. Is that it?”

“That's a bare outline, leaving out the most interesting part,” replied the railwayman. “The fire certainly spread and became the most disastrous one in the history of the Wairarapa. When they saw how the fire was going someone tried to phone ‘Featherston for assistance but the wires were down. They tried to get through on a jigger but ran into an inferno where a bridge was on fire. They were able to get word to stop the train, by 'phoning Wellington who rang through the Manawatu to Masterton. But this was too slow to help the kiddie.

“The road was clear though the line was not, but there were no cars in those days—not here anyway—and it would take hard riding to get there in time. Although there were near enough to a dozen horses in the settlement, only one, Perry's ‘Darkle,’ would have a chance of doing the job in time.

“The mother knew the kiddie would not leave the waiting shed, as the aunt had impressed it on her that she must stay there.”

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“The boy stood on the Burning Deck,’ all over again, eh?” commented the traveller.

“Of course, there was no question who should go. Perry was laid up with a broken leg at the time and in any case he was no rider.

“‘Darkie is down in the gully paddock,’ he said to Charlie Brusher. ‘He is easy to manage. Just go up to him and put the saddle on. He will manage the distance all right if you handle him right.’

“A youngster who had just started here went with Charlie to give any assistance necessary, and he reported to Perry that they had had a hard job to catch the horse and that when
“Sir, I'd like to shake hands with you,” he said to that worthy.

“Sir, I'd like to shake hands with you,” he said to that worthy.

Brusher got on it, the thing played up something terrible. The last the lad saw was the neddy getting the bit between his teeth and bolting right out of sight at express speed but, fortunately, in the right direction.

“‘It's a marvel to me if he's not thrown within a mile or two,’ he finished.

“The whole settlement was worried to death about the matter, but we were short-handed and in any case it would be too late to start anyone else off on a slower horse. Late that night word came through Wellington that the kiddie was O. K., but it was not known if Charlie got her or not.

“Next day, however, Charlie rode in as large as life with the kiddie on the saddle in front of him. The horse was a bit lame, but showed no trace of its former restiveness.

“Perry had managed to hobble down on crutches and when he saw his horse limping he looked pretty black. All thought of the rescue slipped from his mind and he spoke sharply.

“‘Fine horseman you are. First you can't catch a quiet horse like Darkie; then you can't manage him, and then you bring him home lame.’

“‘Sorry about him going lame,’ said Charlie, who was not quick-tempered, ‘but I think it was because of him not being shod—the boulder road played up with him.’

“‘Not shod?’ shouted Perry. ‘Why I had him shod only last week; you must have done some funny riding to make him cast his shoes so soon.’

“Charlie looked at him curiously. ‘He's not only not shod, but he never has been,’ he said.

“They all turned to look at the horse, which was covered with dust and sweat. At first glance he answered the description of Darkie. Black all over except for a white star on his forehead and one white stocking. Perry picked up first one hoof and then another. What Charlie said was right. The horse had never been shod! Perry looked again at the white stocking; then he yelled, ‘He's got the stocking on the right instead of the left leg. Good lord! he's ridden Gipsy!'

“He was right. Gipsy was Darkie's full brother and was identical with him except for the stocking being on the opposite leg and except for his temper. Three years before, Perry had given up the job of trying to break Gipsy, and no one had laid hands on him since till Charlie caught and saddled him and rode him 30 miles or so and back. Now he was like a lamb. Darkie had been in the same paddock, but out of sight in some bush.”

As the examiner finished, the train for which the traveller had been waiting came round the bend.

“Well, I must say, a most interesting tale,” said the traveller, getting up and going over to Charlie Brusher. “Sir, I'd like to shake hands with you,” he said to that worthy and did so, with great vigour.

As he stepped on to the train he remarked, “Well, I'm sorry I am not taking anything away from Cross Creek, but everyone has been very nice to me and I enjoyed my stay.”

“Don't go away empty-handed,” said the examiner, as he slipped something into the man's hand. When he had taken his seat and placed his bags in the rack, the traveller looked at his souvenir. It was a buffer-tag stamped “Cross Creek,” and he chuckled as he slipped it into his pocket.

“What did that old geyser want to shake hands with me for?” asked Charlie Brusher a little later.

“Oh, well,” said the examiner, “he sort of put me on my mettle about nothing happening in The Creek, and I had to use what poor material was handy, and I made you into a hero. Did you shake hands with him?”

“Of course,” was the reply. “Don't instructions say we're to do everything possible that a passenger asks?”

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