Page:Picturesque New Guinea.djvu/107

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33
FIRST EXCURSION IN NEW GUINEA.

plined to this kind of travelling would care to face the precipitous native paths. The intervening gullies were covered with an almost impenetrable scrub, so that the party experienced all the troubles as well as the delights of travelling in the Papuan "forest primeval," Our foot-men having joined us, and Mr. Hunter leading, we traversed some of the roughest territory it has ever been my hap to explore in the Southern World.

About eleven a.m. we reached a creek fringed on both sides with wild tropical verdure of a quite gorgeous description. Here we had an opportunity of testing the capabilities, and noting the behaviour of our steeds. At the crossing-place the banks were fearfully steep and slippery from the previous night's rain; so, dismounting and slinging the bridles to the stirrup-leathers, we let loose the horses to find their own way across, two of the boys preceding to catch them up. I have had much experience of crossing creeks in Australia, but all my previous trials in that way were but a pleasant diversion compared with the present one. Our sagacious animals, freed from their riders and left to themselves, addressed themselves to their difficult task with a serene cautiousness that would have been admirable in the most expert explorer. Down the almost perpendicular descent they went, step by step, carefully setting each hoof upon some slight projection that just afforded footing, and avoiding every stumbling block in the nature of gnarled roots and tortuous loops of creeping vegetation. Arrived at the bottom, they had a long, deep drink, and then commenced the ascent, scaling the precipitous bank with all the courage and sure-footedness of mountain goats. My own apprehensions of any casuality occurring from a stumble during the journey were very materially diminished by the time I had remounted.

Emerging into the open once more, we speedily found that our journey lay across a succession of similar rugged gullies, each successive one being still steeper and more dangerous-looking than the preceding. At noon we reached a practicable water-course, having made, according to our reckoning, about fifteen miles since starting. The spot was the site of a native hunting-camp, and here we called a halt for luncheon.