Authors: Elyne Mitchell
First in the Silver Brumby series
This book was written for
Indi who loves horses
This is the story of a great wild stallion, Thowra the Silver Brumby. Brumbies are the wild horses of Australia, hunted by man to be tamed for their use.
Pursued relentlessly by hunters, only Thowra’s speed and mighty strength save him from capture. This is the first in a series of four books about Silver Brumby.
‘I am certain, absolutely certain, that those of you who like horses will think — as my children did — that this is the best book you have ever read’
B.B.C. CHILDREN’S HOUR
By the same author
All in the Dragon series
Silver Brumby’s Daughter
Silver Brumbies of the South
Silver Brumby Kingdom
THE SILVER BRUMBY
© Elyne Mitchell 1958
First published by Hutchinson & Co. Ltd., 1958
Six editions have appeared.
Dragon edition published in 1968 by
Atlantic Book Publishing Co. Ltd.,
and reprinted 1969.
Reprinted by Mayflower Books, 1970
This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade
, 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.
Dragon Paperbacks are published by
3 Upper James St, London W.1.
Made and printed in Great Britain by
C. Nicholls & Company Ltd.,
The Philips Park Press, Manchester.
Once there was a dark, stormy night in spring, when, deep down in their holes, the wombats knew riot to come out, when the possums stayed quiet in their hollow limbs, when the great black flying phallangers that live in the mountain forests never stirred. On this night, Bel Bel, the cream brumby mare, gave birth to a colt foal, pale like herself, or paler, in that wild, black storm.
Bel Bel had chosen the birthplace of the foal wisely. He was on springy snowgrass under a great overhang of granite that sheltered them from the driving rain. There he lay, only a pale bundle in the black dark, while Bel Bel licked him clean and nuzzled him. The wind roared and howled through the granite tors above in the Ramshead Range, where the snow still lay, but there was no single sound of animal or bird except the mournful howl of a dingo — once, twice, it rang out and its echo answered, weird and wild.
Bel Bel lifted her head at the sound, and her nostrils dilated. From the shadowy mass between her forefeet came a faint nickering cry and she nuzzled him again. She was very alone with her newborn foal, and far from her own herd, but that was how she had felt it must be. Perhaps because of her colour, so much more difficult to hide than bay, or brown, black, or grey or chestnut, she had always led a hunted life, and when a foal was going to be born she was very nervous and hid herself far away. Of the three foals she had had, this was the only one creamy, like herself.
Bel Bel felt a surge of pride, but the pride was followed by fear. Her son would be hunted as she was and as her own cream mother had been before her — hunted by man, since they were so strange-looking in the wild herds. And this colt would have another enemy too, every stallion would be doubly against him because of his colour.
The wind roared and the rain was cold, so cold, as if it would turn to snow. Even with the shelter of the rock, the storm was beating down on them, the moving darkness was becoming a thing of terror. The howl of the dingo came again. Bel Bel nosed the tiny colt to get up.
He heaved up his head, stuck his long forelegs out in front of him, and gave a little snort of fear. Bel Bel pushed him up till he stood, his feet far apart, long legs trembling; then she nosed him, wobbling, bending, step by step to the sandy mouth of a cave, and there, just out of the rain, she let him tumble down again.
Soon it would be time to make him drink, but for the moment, out of the wild storm, he could rest. Dawn must come soon, and in this storm there would be no men abroad to see a cream brumby mare lead her newborn foal through the snow-gums to where there would be grass for her to eat and longed-for water to drink. Bel Bel really knew that there would be very few men in the mountains till all the snow had gone and they came driving their herds of red-and-white cattle, but the fear of Man was never far from her thoughts.
Dawn came very slowly, showing first the dark outline of the cave mouth against a faintly lighter sky, then, on the hillside below them, reaching long fingers of forest right up to the rocks, the wind-tormented heads of snowgums, driven and lashing as though they must tear themselves up by the roots. The rain had stopped.
Great massing clouds kept racing up over the mountains, but, as the light grew strong, the sky began to look as if it was being torn in shreds by the wind. Flying streamers of rain-washed blue sky appeared and Bel Bel, feeling very hungry herself, decided it was time the foal should drink and that the day would be fair enough for a newborn colt to go with his mother to some better pastures.
‘I will call you Thowra,’ she said, waking him with her nose, ‘because that means wind. In wind were you born, and fleet as the wind must you be if you will live.’
On that first day, while the storm blew itself out, Bel Bel did not take Thowra far, only down through the snowgums to a long glade that led to a heather-banked creek where she could drink. That night they went back to the opening of the cave and the foal slept on the dry sand curled up against his mother’s flank.
The next day she decided to take him farther, to a wide, open field in the snowgum forest, where the grass grew very sweetly, even as early in the spring as this, and where the creek ran shallow over a sand and mica bottom.
The storm had died in the night and there was warm spring sunshine. Bel Bel noticed with pride how the foal trotted more strongly by her side. She did not hurry him, often stopping to graze as they moved under the snowgums or in the long glades. She never left the shelter of the trees without first pausing and looking carefully into the open country ahead. Thus it was through a curtain of the leathery snowgum leaves that she looked out on to the wide, sunny field, and saw a bay brumby grazing in the distance by the creek.
Bel Bel became completely still, watching: then she recognized the bay as a mare of her own herd, Mirri, who had been caught by a stockman as a yearling, and managed to get free. Mirri, for this reason, was very nervous of men, and she and Bel Bel had often run together, away from the herd, when they thought the others were too close to the stockmen’s huts.
Now Bel Bel made out a dark shape on the ground near Mirri and knew that the bay mare, too, had her foal. Unafraid, she led Thowra out to join them.
When Mirri saw them coming she gave a whinny of greeting, and Bel Bel arched her neck a little and stepped proudly beside her creamy son, thinking how his mane and tail were silver and would someday look like spray from a waterfall as he galloped.
Mirri was pleased to see her.
‘Well met, Bel Bel,’ she said, ‘and what a fine foal you have — creamy too! I must stir my sleepy-head to show him off!’ And she nosed the bright bay at her feet.
The bay raised his head sleepily, but, seeing strangers, he became wide awake and struggled to his feet.
‘A fine intelligent head,’ Bel Bel said. ‘What do you call him?’
‘Storm,’ Mirri answered. ‘He was born in the worst of the weather, two nights ago. And yours?’
‘Thowra, for the wind. He was born then too. They will be great mates for a year or so,’ and both mothers nodded wisely, for was it not the way of the wild horses that the young colts should run together, after they left their dams, until they had reached the age and strength to fight for a mare or two of their own and start their own herd.
Storm and Thowra sniffed at each other curiously and then both turned back to their mothers for a drink.
Sunny spring days came, day after day, and the grass grew fresh, and green, and sweet. The two mares stayed in Snow-grass Plain, eating, basking in the sun, drinking the cold, clear water, growing strong and sleek after the hard winter, and giving their foals plenty of milk. The foals grew strong, too, and romped and galloped, and rolled in the sun.
Soon they learned to recognize the great wedge-tail eagles floating in the blue arch of sky above them, knew the call of kurrawongs, and were unafraid of the friendly grey kangaroos or little brown wallabies.
The two foals were equal in strength and size, and when they were able to follow their mothers for quite a long distance, Bel Bel and Mirri, who had become restless to rejoin the herd, started moving off to the south.
For an hour or so they travelled across the ridge tops, in the fringe of the snowgums, and by mid-morning they came out on an immense open hillside, which was half of a great basin in the hills. Bel Bel and Mirri checked the foals at the edge of the tree line.
‘Never run out into clear country without first taking a very good look,’ they Warned.
The foals could see nothing except steep snowgrass and rocks dropping down, down beyond their sight, and away over opposite, a rough, timbered hillside.
‘That’s where we will spend some of the summer,’ Bel Bel said. ‘It is too rough for the men and their cattle, but we get a good picking there.’
Neither Thowra nor Storm knew what she meant.
‘Down there,’ said Mini, ‘is the Crackenback River. A nice, cool stream to drink at on hot days, and good sandy beaches, in places, for young ones to roll on.’
They moved out on to the clear hillside, but never went far from the shelter of the trees. Thowra and Storm were too pleasantly tired to want to play and soon dropped to sleep in the sunshine. Bel Bel and Mirri grazed contentedly, a little distance off. All was quiet. There was the far-off sound of the river, running full and strong with water from the melted snows, and the sound of kurrawongs, but otherwise a profound silence. Even the mares had grown sleepy, when all of a sudden there was a shrill whinny of fear from Thowra.
Bel Bel whipped round in time to see Thowra and Storm leaping up from their sleep, and there, grabbing at Thowra as he leapt, was a man. She neighed, calling her foal to come quickly, and started galloping towards them, ready to strike at the man. The foals, with long legs flailing, were racing towards her, wild with fear.
She heard Mirri scream with rage behind her. Then the man turned and ran into the trees.
The mares stopped in their headlong chase to snuff their trembling foals all over and make sure they were unhurt.
Bel Bel was all for chasing the man.
‘He was no stockman, he had no rope or whip,’ she said.
‘No,’ answered Mirri, ‘but even a man alone, walking through the mountains, sometimes has a gun. No, we will thankfully take our foals and go.’ She turned to Storm. ‘See, my son, that was a man. Never go near Man, nor his huts, nor his yards where he fences in cattle and his own tame horse. Man will hurt you and capture you; put straps of leather rope upon your head, tie you up, fence you in, beat you if you bite or kick. . . .’ She was sweating with fear as she spoke, and the two foals’ trembling increased.
‘And you, Thowra,’ said Bel Bel, ‘I told you you would have to be as fleet as the wind. For your creamy coat and your silver mane and tail they will hunt you, so that they may ride astride your back over your own mountains. Beware of Man!’
Still sweating with fear, the two mares led their foals away, slipping like wraiths between the trees, trotting steeply down, trotting, trotting.
After quite a long way they were getting near the head of the stream. Here the mares went more slowly, stopping to sniff the air.
‘It is from this hut he must have come, but he is not back yet,’ Bel Bel said.
‘There may be others.’ Mirri’s nostrils were quivering.
‘I can smell no fresh smoke.’
‘But, still, let us drop much lower down and cross the stream there, rather than follow the track near the hut.’
Bel Bel rubbed one ear on a foreleg.
‘The foals are very tired,’ she said. ‘We had better spend the night near water. A drink for us will make more milk for them too.’
They slept that evening well below the head of the Crackenback, with the singing stream beside them, but occasionally when the north wind blew, the two mares would wrinkle their nostrils and mutter between their teeth, ‘Smoke!’ So when the moon rose, they nosed the foals up on their tired legs and started the long climb up the Dead Horse Ridge. Once up on top, they could afford to rest again, but it took the poor foals hours to climb it, and when they found a soak of water to drink, just beyond the top, the mares let the little ones drop down on the soft ground and sleep undisturbed till daybreak.
From there on the travelling was easy, and Bel Bel and Mirri were not so anxious. They were a long way from the hut, and getting very close to the wild horses’ winter and spring grazing grounds where, until the snows had all gone, they were never bothered by men.
There had been a time once, years and years ago, when four people had come whizzing down the snow-covered ridges with great wooden boards on their feet, and one of them had a lasso and had roped a bay colt; but they had been laughing, laughing — mad, in fact — for all they wanted was to cut off some of his tail to wear plaited and pinned on their coats. This was a legend among the wild horses, a tale every foal heard . . . but it had happened a long time ago, and Man was not expected in the Cascades until the herds of cattle came for summer grazing.
It was evening when the four of them looked down into a narrow valley off the Cascades, and saw their own herd grazing. Just then the great golden chestnut stallion, leader of the herd, raised his head and saw them and let out a shrill trumpeting cry of greeting.
The two mares neighed in reply and started trotting down the long slope, followed by their nervous foals.