Authors: Elyne Mitchell
Baringa, grandson of the mighty Silver Brumby, Thowra, becomes The Stallion of Quambat Flat. But first he has to defeat Lightning, his own dam’s brother, and then there are floods, and trouble with a black stallion who seeks a silver horse that has stolen his roan mares.
This Elyne Mitchell’s fourth book about the wild horses of the Australian bush.
For Honor and John
Granada Publishing Limited
Published in 1968 by Dragon Books
Frogmore, St Albans, Herts AL2 2NF
Reprinted 1973, 1975, 1976, 1977
First published in Great Britain by
Hutchinson & Co Ltd 1966
Copyright © Elyne Mitchell 1966
Made and printed in Great Britain by
C. Nicholls & Company Ltd
The Philips Park Press, Manchester
Set in Intertype Plantin
This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
This book is published at a net price and is supplied subject to the Publishers Association Standard Conditions of Sale registered under the Restrictive Trade Practices Act, 1956.
Deep snow lay all over the mountains and on the lower foothills for many weeks, so that spring came late. Down on the Murray River the wattles bloomed close to the glittering snow, but the grass and low-growing bushes were still lifeless and there was not much food for the animals and birds that had come down out of the higher mountains to escape the heavy winter. Grey thrushes flitted through the bush, eating any food they could find; gang-gangs cracked what gumnuts were left on the trees; most of the kangaroos hopped further and further down the rivet nibbling, browsing; some of the brumbies, like Baringa, silver grandson of Thowra, seemed to draw strength from the air and the sunshine, or the fierce wind of the blizzards.
Benni, the little silver-grey kangaroo, friend to Baringa and all the silver horses, sneezed as a warm gust of wind showered his coat with the wattles’ golden fluff, and he hopped over towards Baringa. It had been the heaviest winter he had ever known, and now something in this hot wind worried him, though it should mean that spring was coming. Baringa, he knew, had felt the coming of spring for days — felt strong and full of vigour.
At that moment Baringa was enjoying the warm wind on his coat and wishing that the snow had gone and that he was able to take his mares to Quambat Flat, to gallop and play on that great, open space, without fear of them being stolen from him by his own dam’s brother, Lightning, who grazed there. Lightning was a silver stallion, like himself, but one year older.
Anyway, feet of snow still lay everywhere, and Lightning and his mares should be somewhere a good deal further up the river, striving to live on a small area of grass and on the tops of the bushes, just like he and his herd were doing.
Rumours had often come, carried by the birds or wandering kangaroos, of half a herd of beautiful mares who were grazing even higher up the river than Lightning, and parted from their stallion by snow. Baringa thought of them now, while he was thinking of Lightning.
The warmth made Baringa sleepy, but he noticed again how the wind was making the snow melt, and that water was running down every slope. Perhaps the snow would go soon. It would be good to be racing and playing with Dawn and Moon, his two white mares, at Quambat Flat. His own Canyon, which hid them all so well, higher up in the mountains, was a good place, but he longed to have space. Now, as spring was coming, and he was a three-year-old, there was really no horse of whom Baringa was afraid. In the next two years he would grow stronger still, but already he had greater strength and resilience than any of the stallions he had seen — and far greater agility. Of Lightning he had some fear, because Lightning wanted his white and silver Dawn — would want Moon, when he saw her — and Baringa did not wish to have to fight and beat his dam’s full brother, the son of Thowra.
He flexed his muscles, standing there by the gold-glittering snow, and dreamt of galloping at Quambat, but it was no good standing in the sun, dreaming. He would go up the river to see what Lightning was doing. He had stayed in the one place so long, and now everything was telling him that the time was coming to gallop and play, see new country, see new horses. He would go! And he went with springing strides. A few miles through melting snow, over soggy, wet ground, over rocks, round steep crags, and he would see the other horses: perhaps he would go round them quietly and see if the beautiful mares further up the river were just a story that the birds cried aloud.
Night fell before he reached Lightning’s grazing ground, and he slept under some thick wattles, then moved on at the first light. Travelling was slow because there was much more snow than bare ground, and this was the second day of the warm wind so the snow was becoming very soft, as though there were no bottom to it. From a ridge, he looked out through the leaves on to the place where Lightning and his mares had been grazing when he last saw them. The mares were there, but there was no sign of Lightning. Baringa took a good look around. Yes, all the mares were there — the sweet, red roan. Goonda, whom Lightning had fought for and won, way up on Stockwhip Gap, and her foal, and the pale grey mares he had won from a big iron-grey stallion, Steel. Lightning’s tracks could be seen on the snow, going up the valley. Perhaps he, too, had gone to see if those beautiful mares were there. Baringa moved quietly away from the edge of the trees, and went on upstream.
In places he had to go through very thick snow. It was impossible not to leave almost a ploughed track, the snow was so soft, but he tried to keep among trees so that the track would not be seen from afar. It was heavy going, but it must be heavy going for Lightning too, and it was fun to be wandering about again.
Lightning must have got a start very early in the morning, because Baringa had been travelling for some time before he caught a glimpse of him. Knowing that he, himself, had grown, was stronger and felt ready to leap and gallop with joy — in spite of very little food throughout the winter — Baringa was anxious to get a good look at Lightning to see how much he had changed. It was so important that Lightning should realise that he could no longer steal Baringa’s mares . . .
Lightning did not appear to have grown very much. If anything, he looked a little more set, but be was indeed a very handsome horse.
Baringa lost sight of him then, as they climbed yet another ridge. Beyond this there was a wide, splaying-out spur, turned to the sun, and bare of snow. Here five mares grazed. Baringa saw them, their colour, shape, age, in one quick, excited glance, and then looked round for Lightning.
Lightning was standing out in clear country gazing at the mares. Baringa watched him saunter down a rock rib that was free of snow and on which he could move easily, showing off his beauty.
The mares were all good looking, but two blue roans were outstanding. They were well built, with fine legs, and as they heard Lightning coming and threw up their heads to look at him, Baringa could tell that they were gay and spirited. He wondered what was going to happen. Their own stallion must have been away a long time. Did they think that he was gone for ever? Were they glad to see another stallion? Was he a nasty brute for whom they had no affection?
Was he, perhaps, handsome and spirited too, so that they would remember him for always, and resist any other horse’s efforts to take them?
Baringa’s ears pricked and he watched.
What did Lightning look like to those mares?
Lightning stopped, reared and called. To any mares be would have looked exciting. The five stood in absolute silence and not one moved, except for the flickering of their ears which Baringa could just see because they were outlined against snow.
Lightning dropped to his four feet and went closer, stepping high and cavorting, neck arched and tail held up to catch the sunlight and to ripple in the wind. The mares still stood without moving. Lightning got closer and closer to them. Baringa could see that he had picked the two best looking. Presently he was extending his nose first to one and then the other. The mares neither welcomed nor repulsed him. It was as though they were trying to size him up.
Lightning drew near to one and she suddenly snapped at him. He moved over to the other, and she kicked.
Baringa thought neither of them really meant it, and he wondered how far away the other stallion was. Even if he were quite some distance off, provided he had survived the winter, he must soon be able to get about because the snow was certainly thawing in this hot wind. Then he heard a kurrawong cry:
Yes, there could be trouble if Lightning stole these mares — and it looked to Baringa as if the mares probably thought Lightning a very fine horse. He watched. He soon became certain, even from where he stood, that the biting and kicking was only half-hearted; and, by the way the other mares gathered closer, he guessed they would have liked to be chosen too.
Lightning began edging the two mares away from the others. Now they seemed more afraid, and the other mares kept closing in around them.
“All or nothing,” thought Baringa. Now what would Lightning do?
Six kurrawongs came over, circled round, and began to cry:
At least the kurrawongs were certain that the stallion was still alive and would come seeking his mares when the snow went. With this hot wind, the snow would go soon, even all this snow. Baringa looked at the hill-tops opposite, and they
glittered white-gold in the sun.
Lightning now tried charm and blandishments, but when be walked away, all five mares followed him. He would have to take the lot, Baringa thought. Anyway, they were not bad lookers.
Lightning must have felt that five were too many. He tried to chase the others back, but after all it was not possible really to be nasty to three pretty little mares . . . And the five stuck close together, so he succeeded in chasing them all. That was no good. Lightning stopped and called, not an imperious call, but a gentle one.
The five mares stopped. He called again. They half-turned, then they turned right round . . . and all followed him.
“They are his!” thought Baringa. “All of them. Those mares have stuck out the winter together, and they’re not going to be parted!” Baringa’s eyes were gleaming with amusement as he went down off the hill and headed back for his own little herd which contained the two most beautiful mares in the mountains — Dawn, whom Lightning had wanted from the moment he saw her dancing in the spiral of silver mist on Quambat Flat, nearly two years ago, and Moon, her half-sister, still more of a dream than a reality to Lightning because be had only seen her clearly once, when she was running with a mad bay stallion, the Ugly One. Moon, then, had been only a hall-believed dream to the horses of the south — the Hidden Filly — perhaps never seen, but now Baringa owned her.
A horse that owns the most beautiful mares in the mountains must either keep them hidden or be so splendid and strong himself that none can take them. Baringa knew this. He could hide them still, in his Canyon, below the High Plateau, but the time had come for him to roam wide and free, and there was only the thought of Lightning stopping him — Lightning whom he must not fight. Lightning for whom he still felt great affection.
The snow had become even softer, and the shine had gone from it. The heat was oppressive. For one moment Baringa wondered what was going to happen, but he was too taken up with his thoughts of the future and also of all he had just seen. He ploughed on through the deep slush. If Lightning saw his tracks they would not be recognisable. Perhaps he might get a fright thinking they had been made by the other stallion coming to find his mares!
The kurrawongs flew over again. “Trouble! Trouble!” sounded in their cry: “For theft there is trouble.”