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AN OUTBACK MARRIAGE
By Andrew Barton Paterson
Author Of "The Man From Snowy River," And "Rio Grande's Last Race"





CONTENTS



I. In The Club
II. A Dinner For Five
III. In Push Society
IV. The Old Station
V. The Coming Of The Heiress
VI. A Coach Accident
VII. Mr. Blake's Relations
VIII. At The Homestead
IX. Some Visitors
X. A Lawyer In The Bush
XI. A Walk In The Moonlight
XII. Mr. Blake Breaks His Engagement
XIII. The Rivals
XIV. Red Mack And His Sheep Dogs
XV. A Proposal And Its Results
XVI. The Road To No Man's Land
XVII. Considine
XVIII. The Wild Cattle
XIX. A Chance Encounter
XX. A Consultation At Kiley's
XXI. No Compromise
XXII. A Nurse And Her Assistant
XXIII. Hugh Goes In Search
XXIV. The Second Search For Considine
XXV. In The Buffalo Camp
XXVI. The Saving Of Considine
XXVII. The Real Certificate
XXVIII. A Legal Battle
XXIX. Races And A Win




CHAPTER I.

IN THE CLUB.



It was a summer's evening in Sydney, and the north-east wind that
comes down from New Guinea and the tropical islands over leagues
of warm sea, brought on its wings a heavy depressing moisture.  In
the streets people walked listlessly, perspired, mopped themselves,
and abused their much-vaunted climate. Everyone who could manage
it was out of town, either on the heights of Moss Vale or the Blue
Mountains, escaping from the Inferno of Sydney.

In the Cassowary Club, weary, pallid waiters brought iced drinks
to such of the members as were condemned to spend the summer in
town. The gong had sounded, and in ones and twos members shuffled
out of the smoking-room, and went in to dinner. At last only three
were left talking at the far end of the big, empty smoking-room,
like three small stage conspirators at the end of a very large
robbers' cavern.

One was a short, fat, red-faced man, who looked like a combination
of sea-captain and merchant, and who was the local representative of
a big English steamship company. His connection with the mercantile
marine had earned him his nickname of "The Bo'sun." By his side
sat Pinnock, a lean and bilious-looking solicitor; the third man
was an English globe-trotter, a colourless sort of person, of whom
no one took any particular notice until they learnt that he was the
eldest son of a big Scotch whisky manufacturer, and had £10,000 a
year of his own. Then they suddenly discovered that he was a much
smarter fellow than he looked.  The three were evidently waiting
for somebody.  The "Bo'sun" had a grievance, and was relieving
his mind by speech. He walked up and down between the smoking-room
chairs, brandishing a telegram as he talked, while the attorney
and the globe-trotter lay back on the lounge and admired his energy.

"I call it a shame," he said, facing round on them suddenly; "I
could have got up to Moss Vale for a day or two, and now old Grant
of Kuryong wires me to meet and entertain a new chum. Just listen
to this: 'Young Carew, friend of mine, on Carthaginia. Will you
meet him and show him round; oblige me--W. G. Grant.' I met the old
fellow once or twice at dinner, when he was in town for the sheep
sales, and on the strength of that he foists an unknown callow new
chum on to me. People are always doing that kind of thing."

"Leave his friend alone, then," said Pinnock; "don't have anything
to do with him. I know his sort--Government House young man the
first week, Coffee Palace at two shillings a night the second week,
boiler on the wharf the third week, Central Police Court the fourth
week, and then exit so far as all decent people are concerned."

The Bo'sun stuffed the telegram into his pocket and sat down.

"Oh, I don't suppose he'll be so bad," he said.  "I've asked him
here to-night to see what he's like, and if he's no good I'll drop
him. It's the principle I object to. Country people are always
at this sort of thing. They'd ask me to meet an Alderney bull
and entertain him till they send for him. What am I to do with an
unknown new chum? I'd sooner have an Alderney bull--he'd be easier
to arrange for. He'd stop where he was put, anyhow."

Here Gillespie, the globe-trotter, cut into the conversation.  "I
knew a Jim Carew in England," he said, "and if this is the same
man you will have no trouble taking care of him. He was a great
man at his 'Varsity--triple blue, or something of the sort. He can
row and run and fight and play football, and all that kind of thing.
Very quiet-spoken sort of chap--rather pretends to be a simple sort
of Johnny, don't you know, but he's a regular demon, I believe. Got
into a row at a music-hall one night, and threw the chucker-out in
among a lot of valuable pot plants, and irretrievably ruined him."

"Nice sort of man," said the Bo'sun. "I've seen plenty of his sort,
worse luck; he'll be borrowing fivers after the first week. I'll
put him on to you fellows."

The globe-trotter smiled a sickly smile, and changed the subject.
"What's old Grant like--the man he's going to? Squatter man, I
suppose?"

"Oh, yes, and one of the real old sort, too," interposed Pinnock,
"perfect gentleman, you know, but apt to make himself deuced
unpleasant if everything doesn't go exactly to suit him; sort of
chap who thinks that everyone who doesn't agree with him ought to
be put to death at once. He had a row with his shearers one year,
and offered Jack Delaney a new Purdey gun if he'd fire the first
two charges into the shearers' camp at night."

"Ha!" said Gillespie. "That's his sort, eh? Well, if this Carew is
the Carew I mean, he and the old fellow will be well met. They'll
about do for each other in the first week or two."

"No great loss, either," said the Bo'sun. "Anyhow I've asked this
new chum to dinner to-night, and Charlie Gordon's coming too. He
was in my office to-day, but hadn't heard of the new chum.  Gordon's
a member now."

"What's he like?" said Gillespie. "Anything like the gentleman that
wanted the shearers killed?"

"Oh, no; a good fellow," said the Bo'sun, taking a sip of sherry.
"He manages stations for Grant, and the old man has kept him out on
the back-stations nearly all his life. He was out in the Gulf-country
in the early days--got starved out in droughts, swept away in
floods, lost in the bush, speared by blacks, and all that sort of
thing, in the days when men camped under bushes and didn't wear
shirts. Gone a bit queer in the head, I think, but a good chap for
all that."

"How did this Grant make all his money" asked Gillespie. "He's
awfully well off, isn't he?  Stations everywhere? Is he any relation
to Gordon?"

"No; old Gordon--Charlie's father--used to have the money. He had
a lot of stations in the old days, and employed Grant as a manager.
Grant was a new chum Scotchman with no money, but a demon for hard
work, and the most headstrong, bad-tempered man that ever lived--hard
to hold at any time. After he'd worked for Gordon for awhile he
went to the diggings and made a huge pile; and when old Gordon got
a bit short of cash he took Grant into partnership."

"It must have been funny for a man to have his old manager as a
partner!"

"It wasn't at all funny for Gordon," said the lawyer, grimly.
"Anything but funny. They each had stations of their own outside
the partnership, and all Gordon's stations went wrong, and Grant's
went right. It never seemed to rain on Gordon's stations, while
Grant's had floods. So Gordon got short of money again and borrowed
from Grant, and when he was really in a fix Grant closed on him
and sold him out for good and all."

"What an old screw! What did he do that for?"

"Just pure obstinacy--Gordon had contradicted him or something, so
he sold him up just to show which was right."

"And what did Gordon do after he was sold up?"

"Died, and didn't leave a penny. So then Bully Grant wheeled round
and gave Gordon's widow a station to live on, and fixed the two
sons up managing his stations. Goodness knows how much he's worth
now. Doesn't even know it himself."

"And has he no children? Was he ever married?"

The lawyer lit a cigarette and puffed at it.

"He went to England and got married; there's a daughter. The wife's
dead; the daughter is in England still--never been out here. There's
a story that before he made his money he married a bush girl up
on the station, but no one believes that.  The daughter in England
will get everything when he dies. A chance for you, Gillespie. Go
home and marry her--she'll be worth nearly a million of money."

"I'll think about it," said the globe-trotter.

As he spoke a buttony boy came up to the Bo'sun.

"Gentleman to see you, sir," he said. "Mr.  Carew, sir."

The Bo'sun hurried off to bring in his guest, while Pinnock called
after him--"Mind your eye, Bo'sun. Be civil to him. See that
he doesn't kill a waiter or two on the way up. Not but what he'd
be welcome to do it, for all the good they are here," he added,
gloomily, taking another sip of his sherry and bitters; and before
he had finished it the Bo'sun and his guest entered the room.

They had expected to see a Hercules, a fiery-faced, fierce-eyed
man. This was merely a broad-shouldered, well-built, well-groomed
youth, about twenty-three years of age; his face was square and
rather stolid, clean-shaven, brown-complexioned, with honest eyes
and a firm-set mouth. As he stood at the door he adopted the wooden
expression that a University man always wears in the presence
of strangers. He said nothing on being introduced to Pinnock; and
when the globe-trotter came up and claimed acquaintance, defining
himself as "Gillespie of Balliol," the stranger said he didn't
remember him, and regarded him with an aspect of armed neutrality.
After a sherry and bitters he thawed a little, and the Bo'sun
started to cross-examine him.

"Mr. Grant of Kuryong wired to me about you," he said. "I suppose
you came in the Carthaginia?"

"Yes," said the stranger, speaking in the regulation English University
voice, a little deeper than usual. "I left her at Adelaide. I'm out
for some bush experience, don't you know. I'll get you to tell me
some place to stop at till I leave, if you don't mind."

His manner was distinctly apologetic, and he seemed anxious to give
as little trouble as possible.

"Oh! you stop here," said the Bo'sun. "I'll have you made an honorary
member. They'll do you all right here."

"That's awfully good of you. Thanks very much indeed."

"Oh! not at all. You'll find the club not so bad, and a lot better
than where you're going with old Grant. He's a regular demon to
make fellows work. It's pretty rough on the stations sometimes."

"Ah! yes; awf'lly rough, I believe. Quite frightened me, what I
heard of it, don't you know.  Still, I suppose one must expect to
rough it a bit.  Eh, what!"

"Charlie Gordon will he here in a minute," said the Bo'sun. "He
can tell you all about it. Here he is now," he added, as the door
swung open and the long-waited-for guest entered the room.

The newcomer was unmistakably a man from Far Out; tall, wiry-framed,
and very dark, and so spare and lean of figure that he did not
seem to have an ounce of superfluous flesh anywhere. His face was
as hard and impassive as a Red Indian's, and looked almost black
by contrast with his white shirt-front.  So did his hands. He had
thin straight hair, high cheek-bones, and a drooping black moustache.
But the eyes were the most remarkable feature. Very keen and piercing
they were, deep-set in the head; even when he was looking straight
at anyone he seemed to be peering into endless space through the
man in front of him. Such eyes men get from many years of staring
over great stretches of sunlit plain where no colour relieves the
blinding glare--nothing but dull grey clumps of saltbush and the
dull green Mitchell grass.

His whole bearing spoke of infinite determination and self-reliance--the
square chin, the steadfast eyes, telling their tale as plainly
as print. In India he might have passed for an officer of native
cavalry in mufti; but when he spoke he used the curious nasal drawl
of the far-out bushman, the slow deliberate speech that comes to
men who are used to passing months with the same companions in the
unhurried Australian bush. Occasionally he lapsed into reveries, out
of which he would come with a start and break in on other people's
conversation, talking them down with a serene indifference to their
feelings.

"Come out to old man Grant, have you?" he drawled to Carew, when
the ceremonies of introduction were over. "Well, I can do something
better for you than that. I want a mate for my next trip, and
a rough lonely hot trip it'll be. But don't you make any mistake.
The roughest and hottest I can show you will be child's play to
having anything to do with Grant. You come with me."

"Hadn't I better see Mr. Grant first?"

"No, he won't care. The old man doesn't take much notice of
new chums--he gets them out by the bushel. He might meet a man at
dinner in England and the man might say, "Grant, you've got some
stations. I've got a young fellow that's no use at home--or anywhere
else for that matter--can't you oblige me, and take him and keep him
out of mischief for a while?" And if the old man had had about a
bottle of champagne, he'd say, "Yes, I'll take him--for a premium,"
or if he'd had two bottles, he'd say, "Send along your new chum--I'll
make a man of him or break his neck." And perhaps in the next
steamer out the fellow comes, and Grant just passes him on to me.
Never looks at him, as likely as not. Don't you bother your head
about Grant--you come with me."

As he drawled out his last sentence, a move was made to dinner; so
the Englishman was spared the pain of making any comments on his
own unimportance in Mr. Grant's eyes, and they trooped into the
dining-room in silence.




CHAPTER II.

A DINNER FOR FIVE.



A club dining-room in Australia is much like one in any other
part of the world. Even at the Antipodes--though the seasons are
reversed, and the foxes have wings--we still shun the club bore,
and let him have a table to himself; the head waiter usually looks
a more important personage than any of the members or guests;
and men may be seen giving each other dinners from much the same
ignoble motives as those which actuate their fellows elsewhere. In
the Cassowary Club, on the night of which we tell, the Bo'sun was
giving his dinner of necessity to honour the draft of hospitality
drawn on him by Grant. At the next table a young solicitor was
entertaining his one wealthy client; near by a band of haggard
University professors were dining a wandering scientist, all hair
and spectacles--both guest and hosts drinking mineral waters and
such horrors; while beyond them a lot of racing men were swilling
champagne and eating and talking as heartily as so many navvies. A
few squatters, down from their stations, had fore-gathered at the
centre table, where each was trying to make out that he had had
less rain than the others. The Bo'sun and his guests were taken in
hand by the head waiter, who formerly had been at a London Club, and
was laying himself out to do his best; he had seen that Gillespie
had "Wanderers' Club" on his cards, and he knew, and thanked his
stars that he did know, what "Wanderers' Club" on a man's card
meant. His fellow-waiters, to whom he usually referred as "a lot of
savages," were unfortunately in ignorance of the social distinction
implied by membership of such a club.

For a time there was nothing but the usual commonplace talk, while
the soup and fish were disposed of; when they reached the champagne
and the entrées, things become more homelike and conversation flowed.
A bushman, especially when primed with champagne, is always ready
to give his tongue a run--and when he has two open-mouthed new
chums for audience, as Gordon had, the only difficulty is to stop
him before bed-time; for long silent rides on the plain, and lonely
camps at night, give him a lot of enforced silence that he has to
make up for later.

"Where are you from last, Gordon?" said the Bo'sun. "Haven't seen
you in town for a long time."

"I've been hunting wild geese," drawled the man from far back,
screwing up one eye and inspecting a glass of champagne, which he
drank off at a gulp. "That's what I do most of my time now. The
old man--Grant, you know--my boss--he's always hearing of mobs of
cattle for sale, and if I'm down in the south-west the mob is sure
to be up in the far north-east, but it's all one to him.  He wires
to me to go and inspect them quick and lively before someone else
gets them, and I ride and drive and coach hundreds of miles to get
at some flat-sided pike-horned mob of brutes without enough fat on
them to oil a man's hair with. I've to go right away out back now
and take over a place that the old man advanced some money on.  He
was fool enough, or someone was fool enough for him, to advance
five thousand pounds on a block of new country with five thousand
cattle on it--book-muster, you know, and half the cattle haven't
been seen for years, and the other half are dead, I expect. Anyhow,
the man that borrowed the money is ruined, and I have to go up and
take over the station."

"What do you call a book-muster?" said the globe-trotter, who was
spending a month in the country, and would naturally write a book
on it.

"Book-muster, book-muster? Why, a book-muster is something like
dead-reckoning on a ship.  You know what dead-reckoning is, don't
you? If a captain can't see the sun he allows for how fast the ship
is going, and for the time run and the currents, and all that, and
then reckons up where he is. I travelled with a captain once, and
so long as he stuck to dead-reckoning he was all right.  He made
out we were off Cairns, and that's just where we were; because we
struck the Great Barrier Reef, and became a total wreck ten minutes
after. With the cattle it's just the same. You'll reckon the cattle
that you started with, add on each year's calves, subtract all that
you sell,--that is, if you ever do sell any--and allow for deaths,
and what the blacks spear and the thieves steal. Then you work out
the total, and you say, 'There ought to be five thousand cattle
on the place,' but you never get 'em. I've got to go and find five
thousand cattle in the worst bit of brigalow scrub in the north."

"Where do you say this place is?" said Pinnock.  "It's called No
Man's Land, and it's away out back near where the buffalo-shooters
are. It'll take about a month to get there. The old man's in a rare
state of mind at being let in. He's up at Kuryong now, driving my
brother Hugh out of his mind. Hugh would as soon have an attack
of faceache as see old Bully looming up the track.  Every time he
goes up he shifts every blessed sheep out of every paddock, and
knocks seven years' growth out of them putting them through the
yards; then he overhauls the store, and if there's a box of matches
short he'll keep Hugh up half the night to account for it. He sacks
all the good men and raises the wages of the loafers, and then
comes back to Sydney quite pleased; it's a little holiday to him.
You come along with me, Carew, and let old Bully alone. What did
you come out for?  Colonial experience?"

An Englishman hates talking about himself, and Carew rather hesitated.
Then he came out with it awkwardly, like a man repeating a lesson.

"Did you ever meet a man named Considine out here?" he said.

"Lots of them," said Gordon promptly--"lots of them. Why, I had a
man named Considine working for me, and he thought he got bitten
by a snake, so his mates ran him twenty miles into Bourke between
two horses to keep him from going to sleep, giving him a nip of
whisky every twenty minutes; and when he got to Bourke he wasn't
bitten at all, but he died of alcoholic poisoning.  What about this
Considine, anyhow? What do you want him for?"

The Englishman felt like dropping the subject altogether, not
feeling quite sure that he was not being laughed at. However, he
decided to go through with it.

"It's rather a long story, but it boils down to this," he said.
"I'm looking for a Patrick Henry Considine, but I don't know what
he's like. I don't know whether there is such a chap, in fact, but
if there is, I've got to find him. A great-uncle of mine died out
here a long while ago, and we believe he left a son; and if there
is such a son, it turns out that he would be entitled to a heap of
money. It has been heaping up for years in Chancery, and all that
sort of thing, you know," he added, vaguely. "My people thought I
might meet him out here, don't you know--and he could go home and
get all the cash, you see. They've been advertising for him."

"And what good will it do you," drawled Gordon, "supposing you do
find him? Where do you come in?"

"Oh, it doesn't do me much good, except that if there is such
a Johnny, and he dies without making a will, then the money would
all come to my people. But if there isn't, it all goes to another
branch of the family."

Gordon thought the matter over for a while.  "What you want," he
said, "is to find this man, and to find him dead. If we come across
him away in the back country, we'll soon arrange his death for you,
if you make it worth while. Nasty gun accident, or something like
that, you know."

"I wouldn't like anyone to shoot him," said the Englishman.

"Well, you come with me, and we'll find him," said Gordon.

By this time dinner was over. The waiters began to turn out the
lights on the vacant tables; and, as the party rose it was arranged
nem. con., and with much enthusiasm, that Carew should accompany
Gordon on his trip to No Man's Land, and that Gordon should, by all
means in his power, aid and abet Carew in his search for Considine.

Then, all talking together, and somewhat loudly, they strutted into
the smoking-room.




CHAPTER III.

IN PUSH SOCIETY.



The passing of the evening afterwards is the only true test of a
dinner's success. Many a good dinner, enlivened with wine and made
brilliant with repartee, has died out in gloom. The guests have
all said their best things during the meal, and nothing is left
but to smoke moodily and look at the clock. Our heroes were not of
that mettle. They meant to have some sort of fun, and the various
amusements of Sydney were canvassed. It was unanimously voted too
hot for the theatres, ditto for billiards.  There were no supporters
for a proposal to stop in the smoking-room and drink, and gambling
in the card-rooms had no attractions on such a night. At last Gordon
hit off a scent. "What do you say," he drawled, "if we go and have
a look at a dancing saloon--one of these larrikin dancing saloons?"

"I'd like it awfully," said one Englishman.

"Most interesting" said the other. "I've heard such a lot about
the Australian larrikin.  What they call a basher in England, isn't
it? eh, what? Sort of rough that lays for you with a pal and robs
you, eh?"

The Bo'sun rang for cigars and liqueurs, and then answered the
question. "Pretty much the same as a basher," he said, "but with a
lot more science and dog-cunning about him. They go in gangs, and
if you hit one of the gang, all the rest will 'deal with you,' as
they call it. If they have to wait a year to get you, they'll wait,
and get you alone some night or other and set on to you. They jump
on a man if they get him down, too. Oh, they're regular beauties."

"Rather roughish sort of Johnnies, eh?" said the Englishman. "But
we might go and see the dancing--no harm in that."

Pinnock said he had to go back to his office; the globe-trotter
didn't care about going out at night; and the Bo'sun tried to
laugh the thing off. "You don't catch me going," he said. "There's
nothing to be seen--just a lot of flash young rowdies dancing.
You'll gape at them, and they'll gape at you, and you'll feel
rather a pair of fools, and you'll come away. Better stop and have
a rubber."

"If you dance with any of their women, you get her particular
fancy-man on to you, don't you?" asked Gordon. "It's years since
I was at that sort of place myself."

The Bo'sun, who knew nothing about it, assumed the Sir Oracle at
once.

"I don't suppose their women would dance with you if you paid 'em
five shillings a step," he said.  "There'd certainly be a fight if
they did. Are you fond of fighting, Carew?"

"Not a bit," replied that worthy. "Never fight if you can help it.
No chap with any sense ever does."

"That's like me," said Gordon. "I'd sooner run a mile than fight,
any time. I'm like a rat if I'm cornered, but it takes a man with
a stockwhip to corner me. I never start fighting till I'm done
running.  But we needn't get into a row. I vote we go. Will you
come, Carew?"

"Oh, yes; I'd like to," said the Englishman. "I don't suppose we
need get into a fight."

So, after many jeers from the Bo'sun, and promises to come back
and tell him all about it, Carew and Gordon sallied forth, a pair
of men as capable of looking after themselves as one would meet in
a day's march. Stepping into the street they called a cab.

"Where to, sir?" asked the cabman.

"Nearest dancing saloon," said Gordon, briefly.

"Nearest darncin' saloon," said the cabman.  "There ain't no parties
to-night, sir; it's too 'ot."

"We're not expecting to drop into a ballroom without being asked,
thank you," said Gordon. "We want to go to one of those saloons
where you pay a shilling to go in. Some place where the larrikins
go."

"Ho! is that it, sir?" said the cabman, with a grin. "Well, I'll
take you to a noo place, most selectest place I know. Git up,
'orse." And off they rattled through the quiet streets, turning
corners and crossing tramlines every fifty yards apparently, and
bumping against each other in the most fraternal manner.

Soon the cab pulled up in a narrow, ill-lit street, at the open
door of a dingy house. Instructing the cabman to wait, they hustled
upstairs, to be confronted at the top by a man who took a shilling
from each, and then was not sure whether he would admit them. He
didn't seem to like their form exactly, and muttered something to
a by-stander as they went in. They saw a long, low room, brilliantly
lighted by flaring gas jets. Down one side, on wooden forms, was
seated a row of flashily-dressed girls--larrikin-esses on their
native heath, barmaids from cheap, disreputable hotels, shop girls,
factory girls--all sharp-faced and pert, young in years, but old
in knowledge of evil. The demon of mischief peeped out of their
quick-moving, restless eyes. They had elaborate fringes, and their
short dresses exhibited well-turned ankles and legs.

A large notice on the wall stated that "Gentlemen must not dance
with nails in their boots. Gentlemen must not dance together."

"That blocks us," said Gordon, pointing to the notice. "Can't dance
together, no matter how much we want to. Look at these fellows
here."

Opposite the women sat or lounged a score or two of youths--wiry,
hard-faced little fellows, for the most part, with scarcely a
sizeable man amongst them. They were all clothed in "push" evening
dress--black bell-bottomed pants, no waistcoat, very short black
paget coat, white shirt with no collar, and a gaudy neckerchief
round the bare throat.  Their boots were marvels, very high in the
heel and picked out with all sorts of colours down the sides. They
looked "varminty" enough for anything; but the shifty eyes, low
foreheads, and evil faces gave our two heroes a sense of disgust.
The Englishman thought that all the stories he had heard of the
Australian larrikin must be exaggerated, and that any man who was
at all athletic could easily hold his own among such a poor-looking
lot. The whole spectacle was disappointing.  The most elaborately
decorous order prevailed; no excitement or rough play was noticeable,
and their expedition seemed likely to be a failure.

The bushman stared down the room with far-seeing eyes, apparently
looking at nothing, and contemplated the whole show with bored
indifference.

"Nothing very dazzling about this," he said.  "I'm afraid we can't
show you anything very exciting here. Better go back to the club,
eh?"

Just then the band (piano and violin) struck up a slow, laboured
waltz, "Bid me Good-bye and go," and each black-coated male, with
languid self-possession, strolled across the room, seized a lady
by the arm, jerked her to her feet without saying a syllable, and
commenced to dance in slow, convulsive movements, making a great
many revolutions for very little progress. Two or three girls were
left sitting, as their partners were talking in a little knot at
the far end of the room; one among them was conspicuously pretty,
and she began to ogle Carew in a very pronounced way.

"There's one hasn't got a partner," said Gordon.  "Good-looking
Tottie, too. Go and ask her to dance. See what she says."

The Englishman hesitated for a second. "I don't like asking a
perfect stranger to dance," he said.

"Go on," said Gordon, "it's all right. She'll like it."

Carew drew down his cuffs, squared his shoulders, assumed his most
absolutely stolid drawing-room manner, and walked across the room,
a gleaming vision of splendour in his immaculate evening dress.

"May I--er--have the pleasure of this dance?" he said, with elaborate
politeness.

The girl giggled a little, but said nothing, then rose and took
his arm.

As she did so, a youth among the talkers at the other end of the
room looked round, and stared for a second. Then he moistened his
fingers with his tongue, smoothed the hair on his temples, and with
elbows held out from his sides, shoulders hunched up, and under-jaw
stuck well out, bore down on Carew and the girl, who were getting
under way when he came up. Taking not the slightest notice of Carew,
he touched the girl on the shoulder with a sharp peremptory tap,
and brought their dance to a stop.

"'Ere," he said, in commanding tones. "'Oo are you darncin' with?"

"I'm darncin' with 'im," answered the girl, pertly, indicating the
Englishman with a jerk of her head.

"Ho, you're darncin' with 'im, are you? 'E brought you 'ere,
p'r'aps?"

"No, he didn't," she said.

"No," said he. "You know well enough 'e didn't."

While this conversation was going on, the English-man maintained
an attitude of dignified reserve, leaving it to the lady to decide
who was to be the favoured man. At last he felt it was hardly right
for an Oxford man, and a triple blue at that, to be discussed in
this contemptuous way by a larrikin and his "donah," so he broke
into the discussion, perhaps a little abruptly, but using his most
polished style.

"I--ah--asked this lady to dance, and if she--er--will do me the
honour," he said, "I--"

"Oh! you arst 'er to darnce? And what right 'ad you to arst 'er to
darnce, you lop-eared rabbit?" interrupted the larrikin, raising
his voice as he warmed to his subject. "I brought 'er 'ere. I paid
the shillin'. Now then, you take your 'ook," he went on, pointing
sternly to the door, and talking as he would to a disobedient dog.
"Go on, now. Take your 'ook."

The Englishman said nothing, but his jaw set ominously. The girl
giggled, delighted at being the centre of so much observation.
The band stopped playing, and the dancers crowded round. Word was
passed down that it was a "toff darncin' with Nugget's donah," and
from various parts of the room black-coated duplicates of Nugget
hurried swiftly to the scene.

The doorkeeper turned to Gordon. "You 'd best get your mate out o'
this," he said. "These are the Rocks Push, and they'll deal with
him all right."

"Deal with him, will they?" said Gordon, looking at the gesticulating
Nugget. "They'll bite off more than they can chew if they interfere
with him.  This is just his form, a row like this. He's a bit of
a champion in a rough-and-tumble, I believe."

"Is he?" said the doorkeeper, sardonically.  "Well, look 'ere,
now, you take it from me, if there's a row Nugget will spread him
out as flat as a newspaper.  They've all been in the ring in their
time, these coves. There's Nugget, and Ginger, and Brummy--all red
'ot. You get him away!"

Meanwhile the Englishman's ire was gradually rising. He was past
the stage of considering whether it was worth while to have a fight
over a factory girl in a shilling dancing saloon, and the desire
for battle blazed up in his eyes. He turned and confronted Nugget.

"You go about your business," he said, dropping all the laboured
politeness out of his tones. "If she likes to dance--"

He got no further. A shrill whistle rang through the room; a voice
shouted, "Don't 'it 'im; 'ook 'im!" His arms were seized from behind
and pinioned to his sides. The lights were turned out. Somebody in
front hit him a terrific crack in the eye at the same moment that
someone else administered a violent kick from the rear. He was
propelled by an invisible force to the head of the stairs, and
then--whizz!  down he went in one prodigious leap, clear from the
top to the first landing.

Here, in pitch-darkness, he grappled one of his assailants. For
a few seconds they swayed and struggled, and then rolled down the
rest of the stairs, over and over each other, grappling and clawing,
each trying to tear the other's shirt off. When they rolled into
the street, Carew discovered that he had hold of Charlie Gordon.

They sat up and looked at each other. Then they made a simultaneous
rush for the stairs, but the street door was slammed in their faces.
They kicked it violently, but without result, except that a mob of
faces looked out of the first-floor window and hooted, and a bucket
of water was emptied over them. A crowd collected as if by magic,
and the spectacle of two gentlemen in evening dress trying to kick
in the door of a shilling dancing saloon afforded it unmitigated
delight.

"'Ere's two toffs got done in all right," said one.

"What O! Won't she darnce with you?" said another; and somebody
from the back threw banana peel at them.

Charlie recovered his wits first. The Englishman was fairly berserk
with rage, and glared round on the bystanders as if he contemplated
a rush among them. The cabman put an end to the performance.  He
was tranquil and unemotional, and he soothed them down and coaxed
them into the cab. The band in the room above resumed the dreamy
waltz music of "Bid me Good-bye and go!" and they went.

Carew subsided into the corner, breathing hard and feeling his eye.
Charlie leant forward and peered out into the darkness. They were
nearly at the club before they spoke. Then he said, "Well, I'm
blessed! We made a nice mess of that, didn't we?"

"I'd like to have got one fair crack at some of 'em," said the
Englishman, with heartfelt earnestness.  "Couldn't we go back now?"

"No what's the good? We'd never get in. Let the thing alone. We
needn't say anything about it.  If once it gets known that we were
chucked out, we'll never hear the last of it. Are you marked at
all?"

"Got an awful swipe in the eye," replied the other briefly.

"I've got a cut lip, and my head nearly screwed off. You did that.
I'll know the place again.  Some day we'll get a few of the right
sort to come with us, and we'll just go there quietly, as if we
didn't mean anything, and then, all of a sudden, we'll turn in and
break the whole place up! Come and have a drink now."

They had a silent drink in the deserted club. The mind of each was
filled with a sickening sense of defeat, and without much conversation
they retired to bed. They thanked heaven that the Bo'sun, Pinnock,
and Gillespie had disappeared.

Even then Fate hadn't quite finished with the bushman.  A newly-joined
member of the club, he had lived a life in which he had to shift
for himself, and the ways of luxury were new to him. Consequently,
when he awoke next morning and saw a man moving with cat-like tread
about his room, absolutely taking the money out of his clothes before
his very eyes, he sprang out of bed with a bound and half-throttled
the robber. Then, of course, it turned out that it was only the
bedroom waiter, who was taking his clothes away to brush them. This
contretemps, on top of the overnight mishap, made him determined
to get away from town with all speed. When he looked in the glass,
he found his lip so much swelled that his moustache stuck out
in front like the bowsprit of a ship.  At breakfast he joined the
Englishman, who had an eye with as many colours as an opal, not to
mention a tired look and dusty boots.

"Are you only just up?" asked Charlie, as they contemplated each
other.

Carew had resumed his mantle of stolidity, but he coloured a little
at the question. "I've been out for a bit of a walk round town,"
he said. "Fact is," he added in a sudden burst of confidence, "I've
been all over town lookin' for that place where we were last night.
Couldn't find anything like it at all."

Charlie laughed at his earnestness. "Oh, bother the place," he said.
"If you had found it, there wouldn't have been any of them there.
Now, about ourselves--we can't show out like this. We'd better
be off to-day, and no one need know anything about it. Besides,
I half-killed a waiter this morning. I thought he was some chap
stealing my money, when he only wanted to take my clothes away to
brush 'em. Sooner we're out of town the better. I'll wire to the
old man that I've taken you with me."

So saying, they settled down to breakfast, and by tacit agreement
avoided the club for the rest of the day.

Before leaving, Charlie had to call and interview Pinnock, and left
Carew waiting outside while he went in. He didn't want to parade
their injuries, and knew that Carew's eye would excite remark; but
by keeping his upper lip well drawn over his teeth, he hoped his
own trouble would escape notice.

"Seems a harmless sort of chap, that new chum," said Pinnock.

"He'll do all right," said Charlie casually. "I've met his sort
before. He's not such a fool as he lets on to be. Shouldn't wonder
if he killed somebody before he gets back here, anyhow."

"How did you get on at the dancing saloon?" asked Pinnock.

"Oh, slow enough. Nothing worth seeing. Good-bye."

They sneaked on board the steamer without meeting the Bo'sun
or anybody, and before evening were well on their way to No Man's
Land.




CHAPTER IV.

THE OLD STATION.



There are few countries in the world with such varieties of climate
as Australia, and though some stations are out in the great, red-hot,
frying wastes of the Never-Never, others are up in the hills where
a hot night is a thing unknown, where snow falls occasionally, and
where it is no uncommon thing to spend a summer's evening by the
side of a roaring fire. In the matter of improvements, too, stations
vary greatly. Some are in a wilderness, with fittings to match;
others have telephones between homestead and out-stations, the
jackeroos dress for dinner, and the station hands are cowed into
touching their hats and saying "Sir." Also stations are of all
sizes, and the man who is considered quite a big squatter in the
settled districts is thought small potatoes by the magnate "out
back," who shears a hundred and fifty thousand sheep, and has an
overdraft like the National Debt.

Kuryong was a hill-country station of about sixty thousand acres
all told; but they were good acres, as no one knew better than old
Bully Grant, the owner, of whose history and disposition we heard
something from Pinnock at the club. It was a highly improved place,
with a fine homestead--thanks to Bully Grant's money, for in the
old days it had been a very different sort of place--and its history
is typical of the history of hundreds of others.

When Andrew Gordon first bought it, it was held under lease from
the Crown, and there were no improvements to speak of. The station
homestead, so lovingly descanted upon in the advertisement,
consisted of a two-roomed slab hut; the woolshed, where the sheep
were shorn, was made of gumtree trunks roofed with bark. The wool
went down to Sydney, and station supplies came back, in huge waggons
drawn by eighteen or twenty bullocks, that travelled nine miles a
day on a journey of three hundred miles.  There were no neighbours
except at the township of Kiley's Crossing, which consisted of
two public-houses and a store. It was a rough life for the young
squatter, and evidently he found it lonely; for on a visit to Sydney
he fell in love with and married a dainty girl of French descent.
Refined, well-educated, and fragile-looking, she seemed about the
last person in the world to take out to a slab-hut homestead as a
squatter's wife. But there is an old saying that blood will tell;
and with all the courage of her Huguenot ancestry she faced the
roughness and discomforts of bush life. On her arrival at the station
the old two-roomed hut was plastered and whitewashed, additional
rooms were built, and quite a neat little home was the result. Seasons
were good, and the young squatter might have gone on shearing sheep
and selling fat stock till the end of his life but for the advent
of free selection in 1861.

In that year the Legislature threw open all leasehold lands to the
public for purchase on easy terms and conditions. The idea was to
settle an industrious peasantry on lands hitherto leased in large
blocks to the squatters. This brought down a flood of settlement
on Kuryong. At the top end of the station there was a chain
of mountains, and the country was rugged and patchy--rich valleys
alternating with ragged hills. Here and there about the run were
little patches of specially good land, which were soon snapped up.
The pioneers of these small settlers were old Morgan Donohoe and
his wife, who had built the hotel at Kiley's Crossing; and, on their
reports, all their friends and relatives, as they came out of the
"ould country," worked their way to Kuryong, and built little bits
of slab and bark homesteads in among the mountains. The rougher
the country, the better they liked it. They were a horse-thieving,
sheep-stealing breed, and the talents which had made them poachers
in the old country soon made them champion bushmen in their new
surroundings.  The leader of these mountain settlers was one Doyle,
a gigantic Irishman, who had got a grant of a few hundred acres in
the mountains, and had taken to himself a Scotch wife from among
the free immigrants.  The story ran that he was too busy to go to
town, but asked a friend to go and pick a wife for him, "a fine
shtrappin' woman, wid a good brisket on her."

The Doyles were large, slow, heavy men, with an instinct for the
management of cattle; they were easily distinguished from the Donohoes,
who were little red-whiskered men, enterprising and quick-witted,
and ready to do anything in the world for a good horse. Other
strangers and outlanders came to settle in the district, but from
the original settlement up to the date of our story the two great
families of the Doyles and the Donohoes governed the neighbourhood,
and the headquarters of the clans was at Donohoe's "Shamrock Hotel,"
at Kiley's Crossing. Here they used to rendezvous when they went
away down to the plains country each year for the shearing; for they
added to their resources by travelling about the country shearing,
droving, fencing, tanksinking, or doing any other job that offered
itself, but always returned to their mountain fastnesses ready for
any bit of work "on the cross" (i.e., unlawful) that might turn up.
When times got hard they had a handy knack of finding horses that
nobody had lost, shearing sheep they did not own, and branding and
selling other people's calves.

When they stole stock, they moved them on through the mountains
as quickly as possible, always having a brother or uncle, or
a cousin--Terry or Timothy or Martin or Patsy--who had a holding
"beyant." By these means they could shift stolen stock across
the great range, and dispose of them among the peaceable folk who
dwelt in the good country on the other side, whose stock they stole
in return. Many a good horse and fat beast had made the stealthy
mountain journey, lying hidden in gaps and gullies when pursuit
grew hot, and being moved on as things quieted down.

Another striking feature was the way in which they got themselves
mixed up with each other. Their names were so tangled up that no
one could keep tally of them. There was a Red Mick Donohoe (son
of the old publican), and his cousin Black Mick Donohoe, and Red
Mick's son Mick, and Black Mick's son Mick, and Red Mick's son
Pat, and Black Mick's son Pat; and there was Gammy Doyle (meaning
Doyle with the lame leg), and Scrammy Doyle (meaning Doyle with
the injured arm), and Bosthoon Doyle and Omadhaun Doyle--a Bosthoon
being a man who never had any great amount of sense to speak of,
while an Omadhaun is a man who began life with some sense, but lost
most of it on his journey. It was a common saying in the country-side
that if you met a man on the mountains you should say, "Good-day,
Doyle," and if he replied, "That's not my name," you should at once
say, "Well, I meant no offence, Mr. Donohoe."

One could generally pick which was which of the original stock,
but when they came to intermarry there was no telling t'other from
which. Startling likenesses cropped up among the relatives, and
it was widely rumoured that one Doyle who was known to be in jail,
and who was vaguely spoken of by the clan as being "away," was in
fact serving an accumulation of sentences for himself and other
members of the family, whose sins he had for a consideration taken
on himself.

With such neighbours as these fighting him for every block of
land, Andrew Gordon soon came to the end of his resources, and it
was then that he had to take in his old manager as a partner. Before
Bully Grant had been in the firm long, he had secured nearly all
the good land, and the industrious yeomanry that the Land Act was
supposed to create were hiding away up the gullies on miserable
little patches of bad land, stealing sheep for a living. Bully
fought them stoutly, impounded their sheep and cattle, and prosecuted
trespassers and thieves; and, his luck being wonderful, he soon
added to the enormous fortune he had made in mining, while Andrew
Gordon died impoverished. When he died, old Bully gave the management
of the stations to his sons, and contented himself with finding
fault. But one dimly-remembered episode in his career was talked of
by the old hands around Kiley's Hotel, long after Grant had become
a wealthy man, and had gone for long trips to England.

Grant, in spite of the judgment and sagacity on which he prided
himself, had at various times in his career made mistakes--mistakes
in station management, mistakes about stock, mistakes about men,
and last, but not least, mistakes about women; and it was to one
of these mistakes that the gossips referred.

When he was a young man working as Mr.  Gordon's manager, and living
with the horse-breaker and the ration-carrier on the out-station
at Kuryong (in those days a wild, half-civilised place), he had
for neighbours Red Mick's father and mother, the original Mr. and
Mrs. Donohoe, and their family.  Their eldest daughter, Peggy--"Carrotty
Peg," her relations called her--was at that time a fine, strapping,
bush girl, and the only unmarried white woman anywhere near the
station. She was as fair-complexioned as Red Mick himself, with
a magnificent head of red hair, and the bust and limbs of a young
Amazon.

This young woman, as she grew up, attracted the attention of Billy
the Bully, and they used to meet a good deal out in the bush. On
such occasions, he would possibly be occupied in the inspiriting
task of dragging a dead sheep after his horse, to make a trail to
lead the wild dogs up to some poisoned meat; while the lady, clad in
light and airy garments, with a huge white sunbonnet for head-gear,
would be riding straddle-legged in search of strayed cows.  When Grant
left the station, and went away to make his fortune in mining, it
was, perhaps, just a coincidence that this magnificent young creature
grew tired of the old place and "cleared out," too. She certainly
went away and disappeared so utterly that even her own people did
not know what had become of her; to the younger generation her very
existence was only a vague tradition. But it was whispered here and
muttered there among the Doyles and the Donohoes and their friends
and relations, that old Billy the Bully, on one of his visits to
the interior, had been married to this undesirable lady by a duly
accredited parson, in the presence of responsible witnesses; and
that, when everyone had their own, Carrotty Peg, if alive, would
be the lady of Kuryong.  However, she had never come back to prove
it, and no one cared about asking her alleged husband any unpleasant
questions.

So much for the history of its owners; now to describe the homestead
itself. It had originally consisted of the two-roomed slab hut,
which had been added to from time to time. Kitchen, outhouses,
bachelors' quarters, saddle-rooms, and store-rooms had been built
on in a kind of straggling quadrangle, with many corners and unexpected
doorways and passages; and it is reported that a swagman once got
his dole of rations at the kitchen, went away, and after turning
two or three corners, got so tangled up that when Fate led him back
to the kitchen he didn't recognise it, and asked for rations over
again, in the firm belief that he was at a different part of the
house.

The original building was still the principal living-room, but
the house had grown till it contained about twenty rooms. The slab
walls had been plastered and whitewashed, and a wide verandah ran
all along the front. Round the house were acres of garden, with
great clumps of willows and acacias, where the magpies sat in the
heat of the day and sang to one another in their sweet, low warble.

The house stood on a spur running from the hills.  Looking down
the river from it, one saw level flats waving with long grasses,
in which the solemn cattle waded knee-deep. Here and there clumps
of willows and stately poplars waved in the breeze. In the clear,
dry air all colours were startlingly vivid, and round the nearer
foothills wonderful lights and shadows played and shifted, while
sometimes a white fleece of mist would drift slowly across a distant
hill, like a film of snowy lace on the face of a beautiful woman.
Away behind the foothills were the grand old mountains, with their
snow-clad tops gleaming in the sun.

The garden was almost as lacking in design as the house. There were
acres of fruit trees, with prairie grass growing at their roots,
trees whereon grew luscious peaches and juicy egg-plums; long vistas
of grapevines, with little turnings and alleys, regular lovers'
walks, where the scent of honeysuckle intoxicated the senses. At
the foot of the garden was the river, a beautiful stream, fed by
the mountain-snow, and rushing joyously over clear gravel beds,
whose million-tinted pebbles dashed in the sunlight like so many
opals.

In some parts of Australia it is difficult to tell summer from
winter; but up in this mountain-country each season had its own
attractions. In the spring the flats were green with lush grass,
speckled with buttercups and bachelors' buttons, and the willows
put out their new leaves, and all manner of shy dry-scented bush
flowers bloomed on the ranges; and the air was full of the song
of birds and the calling of animals. Then came summer, when never
a cloud decked the arch of blue sky, and all animated nature
drew into the shade of big trees until the evening breeze sprang
up, bringing sweet scents of the dry grass and ripening grain. In
autumn, the leaves of the English trees turned all tints of yellow
and crimson, and the grass in the paddocks went brown; and the big
bullock teams worked from dawn till dark, hauling in their loads
of hay from the cultivation paddocks.

But most beautiful of all was winter, when logs blazed in the
huge fireplaces, and frosts made the ground crisp, and the stock,
long-haired and shaggy, came snuffling round the stables, picking
up odds and ends of straw; when the grey, snow-clad mountains looked
but a stone's throw away in the intensely clear air, and the wind
brought a colour to the cheeks and a tingling to the blood that
made life worth living.

Such was Kuryong homestead, where lived Charlie Gordon's mother and
his brother Hugh, with a lot of children left by another brother who,
like many others, had gone up to Queensland to make his fortune,
and had left his bones there instead; and to look after these young
folk there was a governess, Miss Harriott.




CHAPTER V.

THE COMING OF THE HEIRESS.



The spring--the glorious hill-country spring--was down on Kuryong.
All the flats along Kiley's River were knee-deep in green grass.
The wattle-trees were out in golden bloom, and the snow-water from
the mountains set the river running white with foam, fighting its
way over bars of granite into big pools where the platypus dived,
and the wild ducks--busy with the cares of nesting--just settled
occasionally to snatch a hasty meal and then hurried off, with
a whistle of strong wings, back to their little ones. The breeze
brought down from the hills a scent of grass and bush flowers. There
was life and movement everywhere. The little foals raced and played
all day in the sunshine round their big sleepy mothers; the cattle
bellowed to each other from hill to hill; even those miserable
brutes, the sheep, frisked in an ungainly way when anything startled
them. At all the little mountain-farms and holdings young Doyles
and Donohoes were catching their horses, lean after the winter's
starvation, and loading the pack-saddles for their five-months' trip
out to the borders of Queensland, from shearing-shed to shearing-shed,
A couple of months before they started, they would write to the
squatters for whom they had worked on previous shearings--such
quaint, ill-spelled letters--asking that a pen might be kept for
them.  Great shearers they were, too, for the mountain air bred
hardy men, and while they were at it they worked feverishly, bending
themselves nearly double over the sheep, and making the shears fly
till the sweat ran down their foreheads and dripped on the ground;
and they peeled the yellow wool off sheep after sheep as an expert
cook peels an apple.  In the settled districts such as Kuryong,
where the flocks were small, they were made to shear carefully;
but away out on the Queensland side, on a station with two hundred
thousand sheep to get through, they rushed the wool off savagely.
He was a poor specimen of the clan who couldn't shear his hundred
and twenty sheep between bell and bell; and the price was a pound
a hundred, with plenty of stations wanting shearers, so they made
good cheques in those days.

One glorious spring morning, Hugh Gordon was sitting in his
office--every squatter and station-manager has an office--waiting
with considerable impatience the coming of the weekly mail. The
office looked like a blend of stationer's shop, tobacconist's store,
and saddlery warehouse. A row of pigeon-holes along the walls was
filled with letters and papers; the rafters were hung with saddles
and harness; a tobacco-cutter and a jar of tobacco stood on the
table, side by side with some formidable-looking knives, used for
cutting the sheep's feet when they became diseased; whips and guns
stood in every corner; nails and saws filled up a lot of boxes
on the table, and a few samples of wool hung from a rope that was
stretched across the room.  The mantelpiece was occupied by bottles of
horse-medicine and boxes of cartridges; an elderly white cockatoo,
chained by the leg to a galvanised iron perch, sunned himself
by the door, and at intervals gave an exhibition of his latest
accomplishment, in which he imitated the yowl of a trodden-on cat
much better than the cat could have done it himself.

The air was heavy with scent. All round the great quadrangle of the
house acacia trees were in bloom, and the bees were working busily
among the mignonette and roses in front of the office door.

Hugh Gordon was a lithe, wiry young Australian with intensely
sunburnt face and hands, and a drooping black moustache; a man with
a healthy, breezy outdoor appearance, but the face of an artist,
a dreamer, and a thinker, rather than that of a practical man. His
brother Charlie and he, though very much alike in face, were quite
different types of manhood. Charlie, from his earliest school-days,
had never read a book except under compulsion, had never stayed
indoors when he could possibly get out, had never obeyed an unwelcome
order when by force or fraud he could avoid doing so, and had never
written a letter in his life when a telegram would do. He took the
world as it came, having no particular amount of imagination, and
never worried himself. Hugh, on the other hand, was inclined to
meet trouble half-way, and to make troubles where none existed,
which is the worst misfortune that a man can be afflicted with.

Hugh walked to the door and gazed out over the garden and homestead,
down the long stretch of green paddocks where fat cattle were
standing under the trees, too well fed to bother themselves with
looking for grass. He looked beyond all this to the long drab-coloured
stretch of road that led to Kiley's, watching for the mailboy's
arrival. The mail was late, for the melting snow had flooded the
mountain creeks, and Hugh knew it was quite likely that little Patsy
Donohoe, the mail-boy, had been blocked at Donohoe's Hotel for two
days, unable to cross Kiley's River. This had happened often, and
on various occasions when Patsy had crossed, he, pony and all, had
been swept down quite a quarter of a mile in the ice-cold water
before they could reach land. But that was an ordinary matter in
the spring, and it was a point of honour with Patsy and all his
breed not to let the elements beat them in carrying out the mail
contract, which they tendered for every year, and in which no
outsider would have dared to compete.

At last Hugh's vigil was rewarded by the appearance of a small and
wild-looking boy, mounted on a large and wild-looking horse. The
boy was about twelve years of age, and had just ridden a half-broken
horse a forty-mile journey--for of such is the youth of Australia.
Patsy was wet and dirty, and the big leather mail-bag that he handed
over had evidently been under water.

"We had to swim, Mr. Hugh," the boy said triumphantly, "and this
great, clumsy cow" (the child referred to his horse), "he reared
over on me in the water, twyst, but I stuck to him. My oath!"

Hugh laughed. "I expect Kiley's River will get you yet, Patsy," he
said. "Go in now to the kitchen and get dry by the fire. I'll lend
you a horse to get back on to-morrow. You can camp here till then,
there's no hurry back."

The boy let his horse go loose, dismissing it with a parting whack
on the rump with the bridle, and swaggered inside, carrying his
saddle, to show his wet clothes and recount his deeds to the admiring
cook. Patsy was not one to hide his light under a bushel.

Hugh carried the bag into the office, and shook out the letters
and papers on the table. Everything was permeated with a smell of
wet leather, and some of the newspapers were rather pulpy.  After
sending out everybody else's mail he turned to examine his own.
Out of the mass of letters, agents' circulars, notices of sheep
for sale, catalogues of city firms, and circulars from pastoral
societies, he picked a letter addressed to himself in the scrawling
fist of William Grant. He opened it, expecting to find in it the
usual Commination Service on things in general, but as he read on,
a vivid surprise spread over his face. Leaving the other letters
and papers unopened, he walked to the door and looked out into
the courtyard, where Stuffer, the youngest of his nephews, who was
too small to be allowed to join in the field sports of the others,
was playing at being a railway train. He had travelled in a train
once, and now passed Hugh's door under easy steam, working his
arms and legs like piston-rods, and giving piercing imitations of
a steam-whistle at intervals.

"Stuffer," said Hugh, "do you know where your grandmother is?"

"No" said the Stuffer laconically. "I don't Choo, choo, choo,
Whee-aw!"

"Well, look here," said Hugh, "you just railway-train yourself round
the house till you find her, and let me know where she is. I want
to see her. Off you go now."

The Stuffer steamed himself out with the action of an engine drawing
a long train of cars, and disappeared round the corner of the house.

Before long he was back, drew himself up alongside an imaginary
platform, intimated that his grandmother was in the verandah, and
then proceeded to let the steam hiss out of his safety-valve.

Hugh walked across the quadrangle, under the acacia tree, heavy with
blossoms, in which a myriad bees were droning at their work, and
through the house on to the front verandah, which looked over the
wide sweep of river-flat. Here he found his mother and Miss Harriott,
the governess, peeling apples for dumplings--great rosy-checked,
solid-fleshed apples, that the hill-country turns out in perfection.
The old lady was slight in figure, with a refined face, and a
carriage erect in spite of her years. Miss Harriott was of a languid
Spanish type, with black eyes and strongly-marked eyebrows.  She
had a petite, but well-rounded figure, with curiously small hands
and feet. Though only about twenty-four years of age she had the sedate
and unemotional look that one sees in doctors and nurses---people
who have looked on death and birth, and sorrow and affliction. For
Ellen Harriott had done her three years' course as a nurse; she had
a natural faculty for the business, and was in great request among
the wild folk of the mountains, who looked upon her (and perhaps
rightly) as quite equal to the Tarrong doctor in any emergency.  She
knew them all, for she had lived nearly all her life at Kuryong.
When the family moved there from the back country a tutor was needed
for the boys, and an old broken-down gentleman accepted the billet
at low pay, on condition that he was allowed to bring his little
daughter with him. When he died, the daughter still stayed on, and
was made governess to the new generation of young folk. She was a
queer, self-contained girl, saying little; and as Hugh walked in,
she looked up at him, and wondered what new trouble was bringing
him to his mother with the open letter in his hand.

"Mother," said Hugh, "I have had a most extraordinary letter."

"From Mr. Grant?" said the old lady, "What does he say?"

She saw by her son's face that there was something more than usual
in the wind, but one who had lived her life, from fortune to poverty,
through strife and trial, was prepared to take things much more
easily than Hugh.

"Is it anything very serious?"

"His daughter's coming out to live here."

"What?"

"Yes, here's the letter. It only came this morning. Patsy was late,
the river is up. I'll read it to you."

Seating himself at the table, Hugh spread out the letter, and read
it:--

Dear Gordon,

The last lot of wethers, though they topped the market, only
realised 10/-. I think you would show better judgment in keeping
these sheep back a little. Don't rely upon Satton's advice. He is
generally wrong, and is always most wrong when he is most sure he
is right.

My daughter has arrived from England, and will at once go up to the
station. I have written to your mother on the subject. My daughter
will represent me in everything, so I wish her to learn a little
about stations. Send to meet her at the train on Wednesday next.

                       Yours truly,
                                         W. G. GRANT.

"Wednesday next!" said Hugh, "that letter is three days delayed.
Patsy couldn't cross the river. She'll be there before we can possibly
get down. If no one meets her I wonder if she'll have pluck enough
to get into the coach and come on to Donohoe's."

"I don't envy her the trip, if she does," said Miss Harriott. "The
coach-drive over those roads will seem awful to an English girl."

"I'll have to go down at once, anyhow," said Hugh, "and meet her
on the road somewhere. If she is at the railway, I can get there
in two days.  Have you a letter, Mother?"

"Yes," said the old lady, "but I won't show it to you now. You
shall see it some other time."

"Well, I'll set about making a start," said Hugh. "What trap had
I better take?"

"You'd better take the big waggonette," said the old lady, in her
soft voice. "A young girl just out from England is sure to have a
great deal of luggage, you know. I wonder if she is anything like
Mr. Grant. I hope her temper is a little bit better."

"You'd better come down with me, Miss Harriott, to meet her," said
Hugh. "I don't suppose your luggage would be a load there and back,
anyhow."

"What about crossing the river?" said the old lady.

"Oh, we'll get across somehow," said Hugh, "will you come?"

"I think I'll wait," said the young lady meditatively, "She'll be
tired from travelling and looking after her luggage, and she had
better meet the family one at a time. You go and meet her, and your
mother and I will get her room ready.  Does the letter say any more
about her?"

"No, that's all," said Hugh. "Well, I'll send the boy to run in
the horses. I'll take four horses in the big waggonette; I expect
she'll be waiting at Donohoe's--that is, if she left the railway-station
in the coach--if she is at Donohoe's I'll be back before dark."

With this he went back to the office, and his mother and Miss
Harriott went their separate ways to prepare for the comfort of
the heiress. To Ellen Harriott the arrival was a new excitement, a
change in the monotony of bush life; but to the old lady and Hugh
it meant a great deal more. It meant that they would be no longer
master and mistress of the big station on which they had lived so
long, and which was now so much under their control that it seemed
almost like their own.

Everything depended on what the girl was like.  They had never
even seen a photograph of her, and awaited her coming in a state of
nervous expectancy.  All over the district they had been practically
considered owners of the big station; Hugh had taken on and dismissed
employees at his will, had controlled the buying and selling of
thousands of sheep and cattle, and now this strange girl was to
come in with absolute power over them.  They would be servants and
dependants on the station, which had once belonged to them.

After Hugh had gone, the old lady sat back in her armchair and
read over again her letter from Mr. Grant; and, lest it should be
thought that that gentleman had only one side to his character, it
is as well for the reader to know what was in the letter. It ran
as follows:--

Dear Mrs. Gordon,

I am writing to you about a most important matter. Colonel Selwyn
is dead, and my daughter has come out from England. I don't know
anyone to take charge of her except yourself. I am an old man now,
and set in my ways, and this girl is really all I have to live
for.  Looking back on my life, I see where I have been a fool; and
perhaps the good fortune that has followed me has been more luck
than anything else. Your husband was a smarter man than I am, and
he came to grief, though I will say that I always warned him against
that Western place.

Do you remember the old days when we had the two little homesteads,
and I used to ride down from the out-station of a Saturday and
spend Sunday with you and Andrew, and talk over the fortunes we
were going to make? If I had met a woman like you in those days I
might have been a better man. As it was, I made a fool of myself.
But that's all past praying for.

Now about my girl. If you will take her, and make her as good
a woman as yourself, or as near it as you can, you will earn my
undying thanks.  As to money matters, when I die she will of course
have a great deal of money, so that it is well she should begin now
to learn how to use it; I have, therefore, given her full power to
draw all money that may be required. I may tell you that I intend
to leave your boys enough to start them in life, and they will
have a first-class chance to get on. I am sending Charlie out to
the West, to take over a block which those fools, Sutton and Co.,
got me to advance money on, and on which the man cannot pay his
interest.  He will be away for some time.

Meanwhile, dear Mrs. Gordon, for the sake of old times, do what
you can for the girl. I expect she has been brought up with English
ideas. I can't get her to say much to me, which I daresay is my
own fault. After she has been with you for a bit, I will come up
and stay for a time at the station.

                      Yours very truly,
                                            W. G. GRANT.

Reading this letter called back the whole panorama of the past--the
old days when she and her husband were struggling in the rough,
hard, pioneering life, and the blacks were thick round the station;
the birth of her children, and the ups and downs of her husband's
fortunes; then the burial of her husband out on the sandhills, and
her flight to this haven of rest at Kuryong. Though she had lost
interest in things for herself, she felt keenly for her children,
and was sick at heart when she thought what this girl, who was to
wield such power over them, might turn out to be. But she hoped
that Grant's daughter, whatever else she might be, would at any
rate be a genuine, straight-forward girl; and filled with this
hope, she sat down to answer him:

"Dear Mr. Grant," she wrote, "I have received your letter. Hugh has
gone down to meet your daughter, but the mails were delayed owing
to the river being up, and he may not get to the railway station
as soon as she arrives. I will do what I can for her, and I thank
you for what you say you will do for my boys. I will let you know
the moment she arrives. I wish you would come up and live on the
station for a time. It would be better for you than life in the
club, without a friend to care for you. If ever you feel inclined
to stay here for a time, I hope you will at once let me know. With
thanks and best wishes,

                    Yours truly,
                                    ANNETTE GORDON."




CHAPTER VI.

A COACH ACCIDENT.



The coach from Tarrong railway station to Emu Flat, and then
on to Donohoe's Hotel, ran twice a week. Pat Donohoe was mailman,
contractor and driver, and his admirers said that Pat could hit his
five horses in more places at once than any other man on the face
of the earth. His coach was horsed by the neighbouring squatters,
through whose stations the road ran; and any horse that developed
homicidal tendencies, or exhibited a disinclination to work, was
at once handed over to the mailman to be licked into shape. The
result was that, as a rule, Pat was driving teams composed of animals
that would do anything but go straight, but under his handling
they were generally persuaded, after a day or two, to settle down
to their work.

On the day when Hugh and Mrs. Gordon read Mr. Grant's letter at
Kuryong, the train deposited at Tarrong a self-reliant young lady
of about twenty, accompanied by nearly a truck-full of luggage--solid
leather portmanteaux, canvas-covered bags, iron boxes, and so
on--which produced a great sensation among the rustics. She was
handsome enough to be called a beauty, and everything about her
spoke of exuberant health and vitality.  Her figure was supple, and
she had the clear pink and white complexion which belongs to cold
climates.

She seemed accustomed to being waited on, and watched without emotion
the guard and the solitary railway official--porter, station-master,
telegraph-operator and lantern-man, all rolled into one--haul her
hundredweights of luggage out of the train.  Then she told the
perspiring station-master, etc., to please have the luggage sent
to the hotel, and marched over to that building in quite an assured
way, carrying a small handbag. Three commercial travellers, who had
come up by the same train, followed her off the platform, and the
most gallant of the three winked at his friends, and then stepped
up and offered to carry her bag. The young lady gave him a pleasant
smile, and handed him the bag; together they crossed the street,
while the other commercials marched disconsolately behind. At the
door of the hotel she took the bag from her cavalier, and there and
then, in broad Australian daylight, rewarded him with twopence--a
disaster which caused him to apply to his firm for transfer to some
foreign country at once. She marched into the bar, where Dan, the
landlord's son, was sweeping, while Mrs. Connellan, the landlady,
was wiping glasses in the midst of a stale fragrance of overnight
beer and tobacco-smoke.

"I am going to Kuryong," said the young lady, "and I expected to
meet Mr. Gordon here. Is he here?"

Mrs. Connellan looked at her open-eyed. Such an apparition was not
often seen in Tarrong. Mr.  and Mrs. Connellan had only just "taken
the pub.", and what with trying to keep Connellan sober and refusing
drinks to tramps, loafers, and black-fellows, Mrs. Connellan was
pretty well worn out.  As for making the hotel pay, that idea had
been given up long ago. It was against Mrs. Connellan's instincts
of hospitality to charge anyone for a meal or a bed, and when any
great rush of bar trade took place it generally turned out to be
"Connellan's shout," so the hotel was not exactly a goldmine.  In
fact, Mrs. Connellan had decided that the less business she did,
the more money she would make; and she rather preferred that people
should not stop at her hotel. This girl looked as if she would give
trouble; might even expect clean beds and clean sheets when there
were none within the hotel, and might object to fleas, of which
there were plenty.  So the landlady pulled herself together, and
decided to speed the parting guest as speedily as possible.

"Mr. Gordon couldn't git in," she said. The cricks (creeks) is all
up. The coach is going down to Kiley's Crossing to-day. You had
better go with that."

"How soon does the coach start?"

"In an hour or two. As soon as Pat Donohoe, the mailman, has got
a horse shod. Come in and have a wash, and fix yourself up till
breakfast is ready Where's your bag?"

"My luggage is at the railway-station."

"I'll send Dan over for it. Dan, Dan, Dan!"

"'Ello," said Dan's voice, from the passage, where, with the
wild-eyed servant-girl, he had been taking stock of the new arrival.

"Go over to the station and git this lady's bag.  Is there much to
carry?"

"There are only four portmanteaux and three bags, and two boxes and
a hat-box, and a roll of rugs; and please be careful of the hat-box."

"You'd better git the barrer, Dan."

"Better git the bloomin' bullock-dray," growled Dan, quite keen to
see this aggregation of luggage; and foreseeing something to talk
about for the next three months. "She must ha' come up to start a
store, I reckon," said Dan; and off he went to struggle with boxes
for the next half-hour or so.

Over Mary Grant's experiences at the Tarrong Hotel we will not
linger. The dirty water, peopled by wriggling animalculae, that she
poured out of the bedroom jug; the damp, cloudy, unhealthy-smelling
towel on which she dried her face; the broken window through which
she could hear herself being discussed by loafers in the yard; all
these things are matters of course in bush townships, for the Australian,
having a soul above details, does not shine at hotel-keeping.
The breakfast was enlivened by snatches of song from the big,
good-natured bush-girl who waited at table, and who "fancied" her
voice somewhat, and marched into the breakfast-room singing in an
ear-splitting Soprano:

"It's a vilet from me"--

(spoken.) "What you'll have, there's chops, steaks, and bacon and
eggs"--"Chops, please."

(singer continues.) "Sainted mother's"--

(spoken.) "Tea or coffee"--"Tea, please."

(singer finishes.) --"grave."

While she ate, Miss Grant had an uneasy feeling that she was being
stared at; all the female staff and hangers-on of the place having
gathered round the door to peer in at her and to appraise to the
last farthing her hat, her tailor-made gown, and her solid English
walking-shoes, and to indulge in wild speculation as to who or
what she could be. A Kickapoo Indian in full war-paint, arriving
suddenly in a little English village, could not have created more
excitement than she did at Tarrong.  After breakfast she walked out
on the verandah that ran round the little one-story weatherboard
hotel, and looked down the mile and a-half of road, with little
galvanised-iron-roofed cottages at intervals of a quarter of a
mile or so, that constituted the township. She watched Conroy, the
policeman, resplendent in breeches and polished boots, swagger out
from the court-house yard, leading his horse to water. The town
was waking to its daily routine; Garry, the butcher, took down the
clumsy board that passed for a window-shutter, and McDermott, the
carter, passed the hotel, riding a huge rough-coated draught-horse,
bare-backed. Everyone gave him a "Mornin', Billy!" as he passed,
and he returned the greeting as he did every morning of his life.
A few children loitered past to the little school-house, staring
at her as though she were some animal.

She was in a hurry to get away--English people always are--but
in the bright lexicon of the bush there is no such word as hurry.
Tracey, the blacksmith, had not by any means finished shoeing the
coach-horse yet. So Mrs. Connellan made an attempt to find out who
she was, and why she was going to Kuryong.

"You'll have a nice trip in the coach," she said.  "Lier (lawyer)
Blake's going down. He's a nice feller."

"Yes?"

"Father Kelly, too. He's good company."

"Yes?"

"Are you staying long at Kuryong?"

"Some time, I expect."

"Are you going to teach the children?"

"No, I'm going to live there. My father owns Kuryong. My father is
Mr. Grant."

Mrs. Connellan was simply staggered at this colossal treasure-trove,
this majestic piece of gossip that had fallen on her like rain from
Heaven. Mr.  Grant's daughter! Going out to Kuryong! What a piece
of news! Hardly knowing what she did, she shuffled out of the
room, and interrupted the singing waitress who was wiping plates,
and had just got back to "It's a vilet" when Mrs. Connellan burst
in on her.

"Maggie! Maggie! Do you know who that is? Grant's daughter! The one
that used to be in England. She must be going to Kuryong to live,
with all that luggage. What'll the Gordons say? The old lady won't
like it, will she? This'll be a bit of news, won't it?" And she
went off to tell the cook, while Maggie darted to the door to meet
Dan, and tell him.

Dan told the station-master when he went back for the next load,
and when he had finished carting the luggage he got on a horse and
went round telling everybody in the little town. The station-master
told the ganger of the four navvies who went by on their trolly
down the line to work. At the end of their four-mile length they
told the ration-carrier of Eubindal station, who happened to call
in at their camp for a drink of tea. He hurried off to the head-station
with the news, and on his way told three teamsters, an inspector
of selections, and a black boy belonging to Mylong station, whom
he happened to meet on the road.  Each of them told everybody that
they met, pulling up and standing in their stirrups to discuss the
matter in all its bearings, in the leisurely style of the bush;
and wondering what she had come out for, whether the Gordons would
get the sack from Kuryong, whether she would marry Hugh Gordon,
whether she was engaged already, whether she was good-looking, how
much money she had, and how much old Grant would leave her. In fact,
before twenty-four hours were over, all the district knew of her
arrival; which possibly explains how news travels in Africa among
the Kaffirs, who are supposed to have a signalling system that
no one has yet fathomed; but the way it gets round in Australia
is just as wonderful as among the Kaffirs, in fact, for speed and
thoroughness of information we should be inclined to think that
our coloured brethren run a bad second.

At last, however, Tracey had finished shoeing the coach-horse,
and Miss Grant, with part of her luggage, took a seat on the coach
behind five of Donohoe's worst horses, next to a well-dressed,
powerfully-built man of about five-and-twenty. He looked and talked
like a gentleman, and she heard the coachman address him as "Mr.
Blake." She and he shared the box-seat with the driver, and just
at the last moment the local priest hurried up and climbed on the
coach. In some unaccountable way he had missed hearing who the
young lady was, and for a time he could only look at her back-hair
and wonder.

It was not long before, in the free and easy Australian style, the
passengers began to talk to each other as the coach bumped along
its monotonous road--up one hill, through an avenue of dusty,
tired-looking gum-trees, down the other side through a similar
avenue, up another hill precisely the same as the last, and so on.

Blake was the first to make advances. "Not much to be seen on this
sort of journey, Miss Grant," he said.

The young lady looked at him with serious eyes.  "No," she said,
"we've only seen two houses since we left the town. All the rest
of the country seems to be a wilderness."

Here the priest broke in. He was a broth of a boy from Maynooth,
just the man to handle the Doyle and Donohoe congregation.

"It's the big stations is the roon of the country," he said. "How
is the country to go ahead at all wid all the good land locked up?
There's Kuryong on ahead here would support two hundthred fam'lies,
and what does it employ now?  Half a dozen shepherds, widout a rag
to their back."

"I am going to Kuryong," said the girl; and the priest was silent.

By four in the afternoon they reached Kiley's River, running yellow
and froth-covered with melting snow. The coachman pulled his horses
up on the bank, and took a good, long look at the bearings.  As
they waited, the Kuryong vehicle came down on the other side of
the river.

"There's Mr. Gordon," said the coachman. "I don't think he'll try
it. I reckon it's a trifle deep for me. Do you want to get across
particular, Mr.  Blake?"

"Yes, very particularly, Pat. I've told Martin Donohoe to meet me
down here with some witnesses in a cattle-stealing case."

"What about you, Father Kelly?"

"I'm go'n on to Tim Murphy's dyin' bed. Put 'em into the wather,
they'll take it aisy."

The driver turned to the third passenger.  "It's a bit dangerous-like,
Miss. If you like to get out, it's up to you to say so. The coach
might wash over. There's a settler's place up the river a mile.
You can go and stay there till the river goes down, and Mr. Gordon
'll come and meet you."

"Thanks, I'll go on," said the lady.

Preparations for crossing the river were soon made. Anything that
would spoil by getting wet, or that would float out of the coach,
was lifted up and packed on the roof. The passengers stood up on
the seats. Then Pat Donohoe put the whip on his leaders, and calling
to his two wheelers, old-seasoned veterans, he put them at it.

Snorting and trembling, the leaders picked their way into the yellow
water, the coach bumping over the rubble of the crossing-place. Hugh
Gordon, watching from the far-side of the river, saw the coach dip
and rock and plunge over the boulders.  On it came till the water
was actually lapping into the body of the coach, roaring and swirling
round the horses' legs, up to their flanks and bellies, while the
driver called out to them and kept them straight with voice and
reins. Every spring he had a similar crossing, and he knew almost
to an inch at what height it was safe to go into the river. But this
time, as ill-luck would have it, the off-side leader was a young,
vicious, thorough-bred colt, who had been handed over to him to be
cured of a propensity for striking people with his fore-feet.  As
the horses worked their way into the river, the colt, with the
courage of his breeding, pulled manfully, and breasted the current
fearlessly.  But suddenly a floating log drifted down, and struck
him on the front legs. In an instant he reared up, and threw himself
heavily sideways against his mate, bringing him to his knees; then
the two of them, floundering and scrambling, were borne away with
the current, dragging the coach after them. In a few yards they
were off the causeway; the coach, striking deep water, settled like
a boat, and turned over on its side, with the leaders swimming for
their lives. As for the wheelers, they were pulled down with the
vehicle, and were almost drowning in their harness.

Cool as a cucumber, Blake had turned to the girl.  "Can you swim?"
he said. And she answered him as cooly, "Yes, a little."

"Well, put your hands on my shoulders, and leave everything to me."
Just then the coach settled over with one final surge, and they
were in the water.

Away they went with the roaring current, the girl clinging fast
to his shoulders, while he gave his whole attention to dodging the
stumps and snags that were showing their formidable teeth above
water. For a while she was able to hold on.  Then, with a sickening
sense of helplessness, she felt herself torn from him, and whirled
away like a leaf. The rank smell of the muddy water was in her
nostrils, the fear of death in her heart.  She struggled to keep
afloat. Suddenly a blood-streaked face appeared, and Blake, bleeding
from a cut on the forehead, caught her with a strong grip and drew
her to him. A few more seconds of whirling chaos, and she felt land
under her feet, and Blake half-carrying her to the bank. They had
been swept on to one of the many sand-banks which ran out into the
stream, and were safe.

Half-hysterical, she sat down on a huge log, and waited while Blake
ran up-stream to give help to the coachman. While the two had been
battling in the water, the priest had stayed with the coachman to
cut the horses free, till at last all four got clear of the wreck,
and swam ashore. Then the men followed them, drifting down the
current and fighting their way to shore at about the same place.

Hugh Gordon drove the waggonette down to pick up the party when
they landed. The scene on the bank would have made a good picture.
The horses, dripping with water and shaking with cold, were snorting
and staring, while the coachman was trying to fix up some gear out
of the wreck, so that he could ride one of them. The priest, his
broad Irish face ornamented by a black clay pipe, was tramping up
and down in his wet clothes.  Blake was helping Miss Grant to wring
the water out of her clothes, and she was somewhat incoherently
trying to thank him. As Hugh drove up, Blake looked up and caught
his eye, and there flashed between the two men an unmistakable look
of hostility. Then Hugh jumped from the waggonette, and walked up
to Miss Grant, holding out his hand.

"I'm Hugh Gordon," he said. "We only got your father's letter
to-day, or I would have been down to meet you. I hope you are not
hurt. Jump into the trap, and I'll run down to the Donohoes', and
get you some dry things." Then, turning to Blake, he said somewhat
stiffly, "Will you get in, Mr. Blake?"

"Thanks," said Blake, equally stiffly, "I can ride one of the mail
horses. It's no distance. I wont trouble you."

But the girl turned and put her hand into Blake's, and spoke with
the air of a queen.

"I am very much obliged to you--more than I can tell you. You have
saved my life. If ever I can do anything to repay you I will."

"Oh, nonsense," said Blake, "that's nothing. It was only a matter
of dodging the stumps. You'd better get on now to Donohoe's Hotel,
and get Mrs.  Donohoe to find some dry things for you."

The mere fact of his refusing a lift showed that there was some
hostility between himself and Hugh Gordon; but the priest, who had
climbed into the Kuryong vehicle as a matter of course, settled
the matter off-hand.

"Get in the trap," he said. "Get in the trap, man. What's the use
for two of ye to ride the mail horses, and get your death o' cold?
Get in the trap!"

"Of course I'll give you a lift," said Hugh.  "Jump in, and let
us get away before you all get colds. What will you do about the
coach and the luggage, Pat?"

"I'll borry them two old draught horses from Martin Donohoe, and
they'll haul it out. Bedad, some o' that luggage 'll be washed down
to the Murrumbidgee before night; but the most of it is strapped
on. Push along, Mr. Gordon, and tell Martin I'm coming."

With some reluctance Blake got into the waggonette; before long
they were at Donohoe's Hotel, and Mary Grant was soon rigged out
in an outfit from Mrs. Donohoe's best clothes--a pale-green linsey
bodice and purple skirt--everything, including Mrs. Donohoe's
boots, being about four sizes too big. But she looked by no means
an unattractive little figure, with her brown eyes and healthy
colour showing above the shapeless garments.

She came into the little sitting-room laughing at the figure she
cut, sat down, and drank scalding tea, and ate Mrs. Donohoe's cakes,
while talking with Father Kelly and Blake over the great adventure.

When she was ready to start she got into the waggonette alongside
Hugh, and waved good-bye to the priest and Blake and Mrs. Donohoe,
as though they were old friends. She had had her first touch of
colonial experience.




CHAPTER VII.

MR. BLAKE'S RELATIONS.



As soon as Hugh got his team swinging along at a steady ten miles
an hour on the mountain road, Mary Grant opened the conversation.

"Mr. Gordon," she said, "who is Mr. Blake?"

"He's the lawyer from Tarrong."

"Yes, I know. Mrs. Connellan called him the 'lier.' But I thought
you didn't seem to like him.  Isn't he nice?"

"I suppose so. His father was a gentleman--the police magistrate
up here."

"Then, why don't you like him? Is there anything wrong about him?"

Hugh straightened his leaders and steadied the vehicle over a little
gully.

"There's nothing wrong about him," he said, "only--his mother was
one of the Donohoes--not a lady, you know--and he always goes with
those people; and, of course, that means he doesn't go much with
us."

"Why not?"

"Well, you see, they're selectors, and they look on the station
people as--well, rather against them, you know--sort of enemies--and
he has never come to the station. But there is no reason why he
shouldn't."

"He saved my life," said Mary Grant.

"Certainly he did," said Hugh. "I'll say that for Blake, he fears
nothing. One of the pluckiest men alive. And how did you feel? Were
you much frightened?"

"Yes, horribly. I have often wondered whether I should be brave,
you know, and now I don't think I am. Not the least bit. But Mr.
Blake seemed so strong--directly he caught hold of me I felt quite
safe, somehow. If you don't mind, I would like to ask him out to
the station."

"Certainly, Miss Grant. My mother will only be too glad. She was
sorry that we did not get down to meet you. The letter was delayed."

Mary Grant laughed as she looked down at Mrs.  Donohoe's clothes.
"What a sight I am!" she said.

"But, after all, it's Australia, isn't it? And I have had such
adventures already! You know you will have to show me all about
the station and the sheep and cattle. Will you do that?"

Hugh thought there was nothing in the world he would like better,
but contented himself with a formal offer to teach her the noble
art of squatting.

"You must begin at once and tell me things.  What estate are we on
now?" she asked.

"This is your father's station. All you can see around belongs to
him; but after the next gate we come on some land held by selectors."

"Who are they?"

"Well," said Hugh, a little awkwardly, "they are relations of Mr.
Blake's. You'll see what an Australian farmer's homestead is like."

They drove through a rickety wire-and-sapling gate and across about
a mile of bush, and suddenly came on a little slab house nestling
under the side of a hill. At the back were the stockyards and the
killing-pen, where a contrivance for raising dead cattle--called a
gallows--waved its arms to the sky.  In front of the house there was
rather a nice little garden. At the back were a lot of dilapidated
sheds, leaning in all directions. A mob of sheep was penned in
a yard outside one of the sheds; and in the garden an old woman,
white-haired and wrinkled, with a very short dress showing a lot
of dirty stocking and slipshod elastic-sided boot, was bending over
a spade, digging potatoes.

The old woman straightened herself as they drove up.

"Good daah to you, Misther Gordon," she said.  "Good daah to you,
Miss."

"Good day, Mrs. Doyle," said Hugh. "Hard work that, this weather.
How's all the family?"

"Mag--Marg'rut, I mane--she's inside. That's her playin' the pianny.
She just got it up from Sydney."

"And where's Peter?"

"Peter's shearin' the sheep. He's in that shed there beyant. He's
the only shearer we have, so we tell him he's the ringer of the
shed. He works terr'ble hard, does Peter. He's not--" and the old
woman dropped her voice--"he's not all there in the head, is Peter,
you know."

"And where's Mick?"

"Mick, bad scran to him! He's bought a jumpin' haarse (horse),
and he's gone to hell leppin! Down at one of the shows he is, some
place. He has too much sense to work, has Mick. Won't you come in
and have a cup of tay?"

"No, we must get on, thank you," and Hugh and Mary drove off, watched
by the old lady and the lanky-legged, shock-headed youth--Peter
himself--who came to the door of the big shed to stare at them.

As they drove off Hugh was silent, wondering what effect the sight
of the selectors might have had on Miss Grant.

She seemed to read his thoughts, and after a little while she spoke.

"So those are Mr. Blake's poor relations, are they?  Well, that
is not his fault. My father was poor once, just as poor as those
people are. And Mr. Blake saved my life."

Hugh felt that she was half-consciously putting him in the wrong
for having more or less disapproved of Mr. Blake; so he kept silence.

As the team bore them along at a flying trot, they climbed higher
and higher up the range; at last, as they rounded a shoulder of
the hillside, the whole valley of Kiley's River lay beneath them,
stretching away to the far blue foothills. Beyond again was a great
mountain, its top streaked with snow. At their feet was a gorgeous
scheme of colour, greens and greys of the grass, bright tints of
willow and poplar, and the speckled forms of the cattle, so far
down that they looked like pigmy stock feeding in fairy paddocks.
Across the valley there came now and again, softened by distance,
the song of the river; and up in the river-bend, on a spur of the
hills, were white walls rising from clustered greenery.

"How beautiful!" said the girl, half standing up in the waggonette,
"and is that--"

"That's Kuryong, Miss Grant. Your home station."




CHAPTER VIII.

AT THE HOMESTEAD.



Miss Grant's arrival at Kuryong homestead caused great excitement
among the inhabitants. Mrs.  Gordon received her in a motherly way,
trying hard not to feel that a new mistress had come into the house;
she was anxious to see whether the girl exhibited any signs of her
father's fiery temper and imperious disposition. The two servant-girls
at the homestead--great herculean, good-natured bush-girls, daughters
of a boundary-rider, whose highest ideal of style and refinement
was Kuryong drawing-room--breathed hard and stared round-eyed, like
wild fillies, at the unconscious intruder. The station-hands--Joe,
the wood-and-water boy, old Alfred the groom, Bill the horse-team
driver, and Harry Warden the married man, who helped with sheep,
mended fences, and did station-work in general--all watched for a
sight of her. They exchanged opinions about her over their smoke
at night by the huge open fireplace in the men's hut, where they
sat in a semicircle, toasting their shins at the blaze till their
trousers smoked again, each man with a pipe of black tobacco going
full swing from tea till bedtime. But the person who felt the most
intense excitement over the arrival of the heiress was Miss Harriott.

For all her nurse's experience, Ellen Harriott was not a woman of
the world. Except for the period of her hospital training, she had
passed all her life shut up among the mountains. Her dream-world
was mostly constructed out of high-class novels, and she united
a shrewd wit and a clever brain to a dense ignorance of the real
world, that left her like a ship without a rudder. She was, like
most bush-reared girls, a great visionary--many a castle-in-the-air
had she built while taking her daily walk by the river under the
drooping willows. The visions, curiously enough, always took the
direction of magnificence.  She pictured herself as a leader of
society, covered with diamonds, standing at the head of a broad
marble staircase and receiving Counts by the dozen (vide Ouida's
novels, read by stealth); or else as a rich man's wife who dispensed
hospitality regally, and was presented at Court, and set the fashion
in dress and jewels. At the back of all her dreams there was always
a man--a girl's picture is never complete without a man--a strong,
masterful man, whose will should crush down opposition, and whose
abilities should make his name--and incidentally her name--famous
all over the world. She herself, of course, was always the foremost
figure, the handsomest woman, the best-dressed, the most admired;
for Ellen Harriott, though only a girl, and a friendless governess
at Kuryong, was not inclined to put herself second to anyone. Having
learnt from her father's papers that he was of an old family, she
considered herself anybody's equal. Her brain held a crazy enough
jumble of ideas, no doubt; but given a strong imagination, no
experience, and omnivorous reading, a young girl's mind is exactly
the place where fantastic ideas will breed and multiply. She went
about with Mrs. Gordon to the small festivities of the district,
and was welcomed everywhere, and deferred to by the local settlers;
she had yet to know what a snub meant; so the world to her seemed a
very easy sort of place to get along in. The coming of the heiress
was as light over a trackless ocean. Here was someone who had seen,
known, and done all the things which she herself wished to see, know,
and do; someone who had travelled on the Continent, tobogganed in
Switzerland, ridden in Rotten Row, voyaged in private yachts, hunted
in the shires; here was the world at last come to her door--the
world of which she had read so much and knew so little.

On the second morning after Miss Grant's arrival, that young lady
turned up at breakfast in a tailor-made suit with short skirt and
heavy boots, and announced her intention of "walking round the
estate;" but as Kuryong--though only a small station, as stations
go--was, roughly, ten miles square, this project had to be abandoned.
Then she asked Hugh if he would have the servants mustered. He
told her that the two servants were in the kitchen, but it turned
out that she wanted to interview all the station hands, and it had
to be explained that the horse-driver was six miles out on the run
with his team, drawing in a load of bark to roof the hay shed, and
that Harry Warden was down at the drafting yards, putting in a new
trough to hold an arsenical solution, through which the sheep had
to tramp to cure their feet; and that everybody else was away out
on some business or other. But the young lady stuck to her point,
and had the groom and the wood-and-water boy paraded, they being
the only two available. The groom was an English importation, and
earned her approval by standing in a rigid and deferential attitude,
and saying "Yes, Miss," and "No, Miss," when spoken to; but the
wood-and-water boy stood with his arms akimbo and his mouth open,
and when she asked him how he liked being on the station he said,
"Oh, it's not too bad," accompanying his remark with a sickly grin
that nearly earned him summary dismissal.

The young lady returned to the house in rather a sharp temper, and
found Hugh standing by a cart, which had just got back with her
shipwrecked luggage.

"Well, Miss Grant," he said, "the things are pretty right. The
water went down in an hour or so, and the luggage on the top only
got a little wetting--just a wave now and again. How have you been
getting on?"

"Not at all well," she laughed. "I don't understand the people
here. I will get you to take me round before I do another thing.
It is so different from England. Are you sure my clothes are all
right?"

"I can't be sure, of course, but you can unpack them as soon as
you like."

It was not long before the various boxes were opened. Ellen Harriott
was called in to assist, and the two girls had a real good afternoon,
looking at and talking over clothes and jewellery. The things had
come fairly well out of the coach disaster. When an English firm
makes a water-tight cover for a bag or box, it is water-tight;
even the waters of Kiley's River had swept over the canvas of Miss
Grant's luggage in vain. And when the sacred boxes were opened,
what a treasure-trove was unveiled!

The noblest study of mankind is man, but the most fascinating study
of womankind is another woman's wardrobe, and the Australian girl
found something to marvel at in the quality of the visitor's apparel.
Dainty shoes, tailor-made jackets, fashionable short riding-habits,
mannish-looking riding-boots, silk undergarments, beautiful
jewellery, all were taken out of their packages and duly admired.
As each successive treasure was produced, Ellen Harriott's eyes grew
rounder with astonishment; and when, out of a travelling bag, there
appeared a complete dressing-table outfit of silverware--silver-backed
hair-brushes, silver manicure set, silver handglass, and so forth--she
drew a long breath of wonder and admiration.

It was her first sight of the vanities of the world, the things that
she had only dreamed of. The outfit was not anything extraordinary
from an English point of view, but to the bush-bred girl it was a
revelation.

"What beautiful things!" she said. "Now, when you go visiting to
a country-house in England, do you always take things like these,
all these riding-boots and things?"

"Oh, yes. You wouldn't ride without them."

"And do you take a maid to look after them?"

"Well, you must have a maid."

"And when you travel on the Continent, do you take a maid?"

"I always took one."

"What is Paris like? Isn't it just a dream? Did you go to
the opera?--Have you been on the Riviera?--Oh, do tell me about
those places--is it like you read about in books?--all beautiful,
well-dressed women and men with nothing to do--and did you go to
Monte Carlo?"

This was all poured out in a rush of words; but in Mary's experience
the Continent was merely a place where the Continentals got the
better of the English, and she said so.

"Travelling is so mixed up with discomfort, that it loses half
its plumage," she said. "I'll tell you all I can about Paris some
other time. Now you tell me," she went on, folding carefully a
silk blouse and putting it in a drawer, "are there any neighbours
here? Will anyone come to call?"

"I'm afraid you'll find it very dull here," said Ellen. "There are
no neighbours at all except Poss and Binjie, two young fellows on
the next station.  The people in town are just the publicans and
the storekeeper, and all the selectors around us are a very wild
lot. Very few strangers come that we can have in the house. They
are nearly all cattle and sheep buyers, and they are either too
nervous to say a word, or they talk horses. They always come just
after mealtime, too, and we have to get everything laid on the
table again--sometimes we have ten meals a day in this house. And
the swagmen come all day long, and Mrs. Gordon or I have to go and
give them something to eat; there's plenty to do, always. So you
see, there are plenty of strangers, but no neighbours."

"What about Mr. Blake?" said Miss Grant.  "Isn't he a neighbour?"

It would have needed a much quicker eye than Mary's to catch the
half-involuntary movement Ellen Harriott made when Blake's name
was mentioned.  She flashed a look of enquiry at the heiress that
seemed to say, "What interest do you take in Mr.  Blake? What is
he to you?"

Then the long eyelashes shut down over the dark eyes again, and
with an air of indifference she said--

"Oh Mr. Blake? Of course I know him. I dance with him sometimes at
the show balls, and all that. I have been out for a ride with him,
too. I think he's nice, but Hugh and Mrs. Gordon won't ask him here
because he belongs to the selectors, and his mother was a Miss
Donohoe. He takes up their cases--and wins them, too. But he never
comes here.  He always stays down at the hotel when he comes out
this way."

"I intend to ask him here," said Miss Grant.  "He saved my life."

Again the long eyelashes dropped so as to hide the sparkle of the
eyes.

"Of course, if you like to ask him--"

"Do you think he'd come?"

"Yes, I'm sure he would. If you like to write and ask him, Peter
could ride down to Donohoe's to-day with a note."

From which it would seem that one, at any rate, of the Kuryong
household was not wholly indifferent to Mr. Blake.




CHAPTER IX.

SOME VISITORS.



After breakfast next morning Mary decided to spend the day in the
company of the children, who were having holidays.

"Just as well for you to learn the house firsts" said Hugh, "before
you tackle the property. The youngsters know where everything
is--within four miles, anyhow."

Two little girls were impressed, and were told to take Miss Grant
round and show her the way about the place; and they set off together
in the bright morning sunlight, on a trip of exploration.

Now, no true Australian, young or old, ever takes any trouble or
undergoes any exertion or goes anywhere without an object in view.
So the children considered it the height of stupidity to walk simply
for the sake of walking, and kept asking where they were to walk
to.

"What shall we see if we go along this road?" asked Miss Grant,
pointing with her dainty parasol along the wheel-track that meandered
across the open flat and lost itself in the timber.

"Nothing," said both children together.

"Then, what is there up that way?" she asked, waving her hand up
towards the foothills and the blue mountains. "There must be some
pretty flowers to look at up there?"

"No, there isn't," said the children.

"Well, let us go into the woods and see if we can't find something,"
she said determinedly; and with her reluctant guides she set off,
trudging across the open forest through an interminable vista of
gum trees.

After a while one of the girls said, "Hello, there's Poss!"

Miss Grant looked up, and saw through the trees a large and very
frightened bay horse, with a white face. On further inspection, a
youth of about eighteen or twenty was noticed on the horse's back,
but he seemed so much a part of the animal that one might easily
overlook him at a first glance. The horse had stopped at the sight
of them, and was visibly affected with terror.

They advanced slowly, and the animal began snorting and sidling
away among the timber, its rider meanwhile urging it forward. Then
Emily cried,

"Hello, Poss!" and the horse gave a snort, wheeled round, jumped
a huge fallen tree, and fled through the timber like a wild thing,
with its rider still apparently glued to its back. In half a second
they were out of sight.

"Who is it? and why does he go away?" asked Miss Grant.

"That's Poss," said Emily carelessly. "He and Binjie live over at
Dunderalligo. He often comes here. They and their father live over
there That's a colt he's breaking in. He's very nice. So is Binjie."

"Well, here he comes again," said Miss Grant, as the horseman
reappeared, riding slowly round them in ever-lessening circles;
the colt meanwhile eyeing them with every aspect of intense dislike
and hatred, and snorting between whiles like a locomotive.

Emily waited till the rider came fairly close, and said, "Poss,
this is Miss Grant."

The rider blushed, and lifted his hand to his hat.  Fatal error! For
the hundredth-part of a second the horse seemed to cower under him
as if about to sink to the ground, then tucked his head in between
his front legs, and his tail in between the hind ones, forming
himself into a kind of circle, and began a series of gigantic
bounds at the rate of about a hundred to the minute; while in the
air above him his rider described a catherine wheel before he came
to earth, landing on his head at Miss Grant's feet.  The horse was
soon out of sight, making bounds that would have cleared a house
if one had been in the way. The rider got up, pulled his hat from
over his eyes, brushed some mud off his clothes, and came up to
shake hands as if nothing had happened; his motto apparently being
toujours la politesse.

"My word, can't he buck, Poss!" said the child.  "He chucked you
all right, didn't he?"

"He got a mean advantage," said the young fellow, in a slow drawl.
"Makes me look a fair chump, doesn't it, getting chucked before a
lady? I'll take it out of him when I get on him again. How d' you
do?"

"I'm very well, thank you," said Miss Grant.  "I hope you are not
hurt. What a nasty beast! I wonder you aren't afraid to ride him."

"I ain't afraid of him, the cow! He can't sling me fair work, not
the best day ever he saw. He can't buck," he added, in tones of
the deepest contempt, "and he won't try when I've got a fair hold
of him; only goes at it underhanded. It's up to me to give him a
hidin' next time I ride him, I promise you."

"Where will he go to?" said Miss Grant, looking for the vanished
steed. "Won't he run away?"

"He can't get out of the paddick," drawled the youth. "Let's go
up to the house, and get one of the boys to run him in. He had a
go-in this morning with me--the bit came out of his mouth somehow,
and he did get to work proper. He went round and round the paddick
at home, with me on him, buckin' like a brumby. Binjie had to come
out with another horse and run me back into the yard. He's a pretty
clever colt, too. The timber is tremendous thick in that paddick,
and he never hit me against anything.  Binjie reckons any other
colt'd have killed me. Come on up to the house, or he'll have my
saddle smashed before I get him."

As they hurried home, Miss Grant had a good look at the stranger--a
pleasant, brown-skinned brown-handed youth, with the down of a
black moustache growing on his upper lip. His frank and open face
was easy to read. He looked with boyish admiration at Miss Grant,
who immediately stooped to conquer, and began an animated conversation
about nothing in particular--a conversation which was broken in
upon by one of the girls.

"Where is Binjie?" she asked. "Isn't he coming over?"

"Not he," said the youth, with an air of great certainty. We're
busy over at our place, I tell you.  The water is all gone in the
nine-mile paddick. Binj an me and Andy Kelly had to muster all the
sheep and shift 'em across to the home paddick. Binj is musterin'
away there now. I just rode over to see Hugh about some of your
sheep that's in the river paddick."

"Won't Binjie be over, then?" persisted Emily.

"No, of course he won't. Don't I tell you he's got three days' work
musterin' there? I must be off at daylight to-morrow, home again,
or the old man'll know the reason why."

By this time they had reached the homestead, and Poss went off
with the children to the stables. Here he secured the "knockabout"
horse, always kept saddled and bridled about the station for
generally-useful work, and set off at a swinging canter up the
paddock after his own steed. Miss Grant went in and found Mrs.
Gordon at her jam-making.

"Well, and have you found anything to amuse you?" asked the old
lady in her soft, even voice.

"Oh, I've had quite a lot of experiences; and I went for a walk
and met Poss. Who is Poss?"

The old lady laughed as she gave the jam a stir.  "He's a young
Hunter," she said. "Was Binjie there?"

"No; and he isn't coming either; he has work to do. I learnt that
much. But who is Poss? and who is Binjie? I'm greatly taken with
Poss."

"He's a nice-looking young fellow, isn't he? His father has a small
station away among the hills, and Poss and Binjie help him on it.
Those are only nick-names, of course. Poss's name is Arthur, and
Binjie's is George, I think. They're nice young fellows, but very
bushified; they have lived here all their lives.  Their father--well,
he isn't very steady; and they like to get over here when they can,
and each tries to come without the other knowing it. Binjie will
be here before long, I expect. They're great admirers of Miss
Harriott, both of them, and they come over on all sorts of ridiculous
pretexts. Poor fellows, it must be very dull for them over there.
Fancy, week after week without seeing anyone but their father,
the station-hands, and the sheep! Now that you're here, I expect
they'll come more than ever."

As she spoke, the tramp of a horse's hoofs was heard in the yard
and, looking out, Miss Grant saw a duplicate of Poss dismounting
from a duplicate of Poss's horse. And Mrs. Gordon, looking over
her shoulder, said, "Here's Binjie. I thought he'd be here before
long."

"Why do they call him Binjie?" asked Miss Grant, watching the new
arrival tying up his horse. "What does it mean?"

"It's a blackfellow's word, meaning stomach," said the old lady. "He
used to be very fat, and the name stuck to him. Good day, Binjie!"

"Good day, Mrs. Gordon. Hugh at home?"

"No, he won't be back till dark," said the old lady.  "Won't you
let your horse go?"

"Well, I don't know if I can," replied the new arrival thoughtfully.
"I've left Poss at home clearing the sheep out of that big paddock
at the Crossing.  There's five thousand sheep, and no water there;
I'll have to go back and help him. I only came over to tell Hugh
there were some of his weaners in the river paddock. I must go
straight back, or Poss'll make a row. We've a lot of work to do."

"I think Poss is here," said Mrs. Gordon.

"Poss is here, is he? Well, if that don't beat everything! And when
we started to muster that paddock I went to the top, and he went
the other way, and he reckoned to be at it all day. He's a nice
fellow, he is! I wonder what the old man'll say?"

"Oh, I expect he won't mind very much. This is Mr. George Hunter,
Miss Grant."

Binjie extended much the same greeting as Poss had done; and by
dinner-time that evening--or, as it is always called in the bush,
tea-time--they had all made each other's acquaintance, and both
the youths were worshipping at the new shrine.

At tea the talk flowed freely, and the two bush boys, shy at first,
began to expand as Mary Grant talked to them. Put a pretty girl and
a young and impressionable bushman together, and in the twinkling
of an eye you have a Sir Galahad ready to do anything for the
service of his lady.

Lightheartedly they consented to stay the night, in the hope
of seeing Hugh, to deliver their message about the weaners--they
seemed to have satisfactorily arranged the question of mustering.
And when Miss Grant said, "Won't your sheep be dying of thirst
in that paddock, where there is no water?" both brothers replied,
"Oh, we'll be off at crack of dawn in the morning and fix 'em up
all right."

"They always say that," said the old lady, "and generally stay
three days. I expect they'll make it four, now that you're here."




CHAPTER X.

A LAWYER IN THE BUSH.



Gavan Blake, attorney and solicitor, sat in his office at Tarrong,
opening his morning's letters. The office was in a small weatherboard
cottage in the "main street" of Tarrong (at any rate it might
fairly claim to be the main street, as it was the only street that
had any houses in it). The front room, where he sat, was fitted
up with a table and a set of pigeon-holes full of dusty papers, a
leather couch, a small fire-proof safe, and a book-case containing
about equal proportions of law-books and novels. A few maps of
Tarrong township and neighbouring stations hung on the walls. The
wooden partition of the house only ran up to the rafters, and over
it could plainly be heard his housekeeper scrubbing his bedroom.
Across the little passage was his sitting-room, furnished in the
style of most bachelors' rooms, an important item of furniture
being a cupboard where whisky was always to be found. At the back
of the main cottage were servants' quarters and kitchen.  Behind
the house, on a spare allotment, were two or three loose-boxes for
racehorses, a saddle-room and a groom's room. This was the whole
establishment.  A woman came in every day to do up his rooms from
the hotel, where he had his meals. It was an inexpensive mode
of life, but one that conduced to the drinking of a good many
whiskies-and-sodas at the hotel with clients and casual callers,
and to a good deal of card-playing and late hours. The racehorses,
too, like most racehorses, ate up more money than they earned. So
that Mr. Gavan Blake, though a clever man, with a good practice,
always seemed to find himself hard up.

It was so on this particular morning. Every letter that he opened
seemed to have some reference to money. One, from the local storekeeper,
was a pretentious account embracing all sorts of items--ammunition,
stationery, saddlery and station supplies (the latter being on
account of a small station that Blake had taken over for a bad debt,
which seemed likely to turn out an equally bad asset). Station
supplies, even for bad stations, run into a lot of money, and the store
account was approaching a hundred pounds. Then there was a letter
from a horse-trainer in Sydney to whom he had sent a racehorse, and
though this animal had done such brilliant gallops that the trainer
had three times telegraphed him that a race was a certainty--once
he went so far as to say that the horse could stop to throw a
somersault and still win the race--on each occasion it had always
come in among the ruck; and every time forty or fifty pounds of
Blake's money had been lost in betting.  For Blake was a confirmed
gambler, a heavy card-player and backer of horses, and he had
the contempt for other people's skill and opinions which seems an
inevitable ingredient in the character of brilliant men of a certain
type.

He was a man of splendid presence, with strong features and clear
blue-grey eyes--the type of face that is seen on the Bench and among
the Queen's Counsel in the English Courts. He was quick-witted,
eloquent, and logical of mind. Among the Doyles and Donohoes he
was little short of a king.  Wild, uneducated, and suspicious, they
believed in him implicitly. They swore exactly the things that he
told them to swear, spoke or were silent according as he ordered,
and trusted him with secrets which they would not entrust to their
own brothers.  In that district he wielded a power greater than
the law.

On this particular day, after opening the trainer's letter asking
for cheque to pay training expenses (£50), and one from a client,
saying "I got your note, and will pay you when I get the wool
money," he came upon a letter that startled him. It was written in
an old-fashioned, lady's hand, angular and spidery. It ran--

Kuryong Station, Monday.

Dear Mr. Blake,

Miss Grant tells me that she owes her life to your bravery in saving
her from the coach accident.  It would give me great pleasure if
you would come and stay here next Saturday, as I suppose you will be
passing down this way to the Court at Ballarook. With best wishes,

                       Yours truly,
                                    ANNETTE GORDON.

Blake put the letter down and walked about his office for a while
in thought. "Invited to the old station?" he mused. "I must go, of
course, Too good a chance to miss."

"Might have written herself!" he muttered, as he turned the letter
over to see if by chance Miss Grant had written a line anywhere;
then, laying it on one side, he took up carelessly a square
business-like envelope, addressed to him in a scrawly, illiterate
fist.  The letter that he took out of it was a strange jewel to
repose in so rude a casket. It also was from Kuryong--from Ellen
Harriott, who had taken the precaution of addressing it in a feigned
hand so that the postmaster and postmistress at Kiley's Crossing,
who handled all station letters, would not know that she was
corresponding with Blake. The letter was a great contrast to Mrs.
Gordon's. It was a girl's love letter, a gushing, impulsive thing,
full of vows and endearments; but the only part of it with which
we are concerned ran in this way:--

And so the heiress has arrived at last--and you saved her life!
When you swam with her, didn't you feel that you had the weight
of a hundred thousand sovereigns on your back? For oh, Gavan dear,
she is nice, but she is very stolid! And so you saved her--what luck
for you! But you always have luck, don't you? And don't you think
that my love is the best bit of luck you have ever had! Everyone
says you are making a fortune--hurry up and make it, for I am so
anxious to get away out of this place, and we can have our trip
round the world together.

And now I am waiting for next Saturday.  Fancy having you in the
house all day long and in the evening! We must slip away somewhere
for just a little while, so that we can have each other all to
ourselves. Hugh is still worrying about some sheep that he thinks
are stolen. He is always worrying about something or other, and
now that she has come I suppose he will be worse than ever. Now
goodnight, dearest...

Blake read the letter, and threw it down carelessly on the table;
then, leaning back in his chair, cut up a pipeful of tobacco. He
thought over his position with Ellen Harriott. There was a secret
understanding between them, a sort of informal affair born of
moonlight rides and country dances. He had never actually asked
her to marry him, but he had kissed her as he had kissed scores
of others, and the girl had at once taken it for granted that they
were to be engaged. It had not seemed such a bad thing for him at
the time. He was fond of her in a ballroom-and-moonlight-ride kind
of way, but there it stopped. Still, it was not a bad match for
him.  The girl was a lady, with friends all over the district.  He
was rather near the border-line of respectability, and to marry
her would have procured him a position that he had little chance
of reaching otherwise.  He had let things drift on, and the girl,
with her fanciful ideas, was, of course, only too ready to fall in
with the suggestion of secrecy; it seemed such a precious secret
to her. So now he was engaged while still up to his neck in debt;
but worse remained behind.  In his business he had sums of money
for investments and for settlements of cases passing through his
hands; and from time to time he had, when hard pushed, used his
clients' money to pay his own debts.  Beginning with small sums,
he had muddled along, meaning to make all straight out of the first
big case he had; and each time he had a big case the money seemed
to be all spent before he earned it. He was not exactly bankrupt,
for he was owed a great deal of money, enough perhaps to put him
straight if he could get it in; but the mountain folk expected
long credit and large reductions, and it was pretty certain that he
would never get even half of what he was owed. Therefore, be went
about his business with a sort of sword of Damocles hanging over
his head--and now the heiress had come, and he had saved her life!

His musings were cut short by a tap at the door; a long, gawky
youth, with a budding moustache, entered and slouched over to a
chair. He was young Isaacstein, son of the Tarrong storekeeper, a
would-be sportsman, would-be gambler, would-be lady-killer, would-be
everything, who only succeeded in making himself a cheap bar-room
loafer; but he was quite satisfied that he was the right thing.

"What's doing, Gav?" he said. "Who's the letter from?"

"Oh, business--business" said Gavan Blake.

"What's doing with you?"

"Doing! By Gad, I'm broke. The old man won't give me a copper. What
about Saturday?  Are you going to the Court at Ballarook?"

"Yes. I've got a couple of cases there. And I've just got a letter
from Mrs. Gordon, asking me to stay the night at Kuryong."

"Ho! My oath! Stop at Kuryong, eh? That's cause you saved the
heiress? Well, go in and win.  You won't know us when you marry
the owner of Kuryong. What's she like, Gav? Pretty girl, ain't she?
Has she any sense?"

"Much as you have," growled Blake.

"Oh, don't get nasty. Only I thought you were a bit shook on the
governess there--what about that darnce at the Show ball, eh? I
say, you couldn't lend us a tenner till Saturday?"

"No, I could not--" And this was the literal truth, for Gavan Blake
had run himself right out of money, and was living on credit--not
an enviable position at any time, and one doubly insupportable to
a man of his temperament. And again his thoughts went back to the
girl he had saved, and he pondered how different things might have
been--might, perhaps, still be.




CHAPTER XI.

A WALK IN THE MOONLIGHT.



The Court at Ballarook was over, and Gavan Blake turned his horses'
heads in a direction he had never taken before--along the road to
Kuryong. As he drove along, his thoughts were anything but pleasant.
Behind him always stalked the grim spectre of detection and arrest;
and, even should a lucky windfall help to pay his debts, he could
not save the money either to buy a practice in Sydney or to maintain
himself while he was building one up. He thought of the pitiful
smallness of his chances at Tarrong, and then of Ellen Harriott.
What should he do about her? Well, sufficient unto the day was
the evil thereof. He would play for his own hand throughout.  With
which reflection he drove into the Kuryong yard.

When he drove up, the family had gathered round the fire in the
quaint, old-fashioned, low-ceiled sitting-room; for the evenings
were still chilly. The children were gravely and quietly sharpening
terrific-looking knives on small stones; the old lady had some
needlework; while Mary and Ellen and Poss and Binjie talked about
horses, that being practically the only subject open to the two
boys.

After a time Mrs. Gordon said, "Won't you sing something?" and Mary
sat down to the piano and sang to them. Such singing no one there
had ever heard before. Her deep contralto voice was powerful,
flexible, and obviously well-trained; besides which she had the great
natural gift of putting "feeling" into her singing. The children
sat spellbound. The station-hands and house-servants, who had been
playing the concertina and yarning on the wood-heap at the back of
the kitchen, stole down to the corner of the house to listen; in
the stillness that wonderful voice floated out into the night. So
it chanced that Gavan Blake, arriving, heard the singing, stole
softly to the door, and looked in, listening for a while, before
anyone saw him.

The picture he saw was for ever photographed on his mind. He saw
the quiet comfort and luxury--for after Tarrong it was luxury to
him--of the station drawing-room; caught the scent of the flowers
and the glorious tones of that beautiful voice; and, as he watched
the sweet face of the singer, and listened to the words of the song,
a sudden fierce determination rose in his mind. He would devote
all his energies to winning Mary Grant for his wife; combative
and self-confident as he was by nature, he felt no dismay at the
difficulties in his way. He had been on a borderline long enough.
Here was his chance to rise at a bound, and he determined to succeed
if success were humanly possible.

As the song came to an end, he walked into the drawing-room and
shook hands all round, Mary being particularly warm in her welcome.

"You are very late," said the old lady. "Was there much of a Court
at Ballarook?"

"Only the usual troubles. You know what those courts are. By the
way, Miss Grant, I came over the famous crossing-place where we
got turned out, and nearly had another swim for it. Martin Donohoe
and his wife haven't yet finished talking about how wet you looked."

"I'm sure I haven't finished thinking about it.  I don't suppose
you had to swim with anyone on your back this time?"

"No such luck, I'm sorry to say."

"It was very lucky, indeed--that you were there," put in Miss
Harriott. "You are really quite the district hero, Mr. Blake. You
will have to save somebody next, Hugh."

"My word," said Poss, "I've seen Hugh swim in to fetch a sheep,
let alone a lady. You remember, Hugh, the time those old ewes got
swept down and one of 'em was caught on the head of a tree, and
you went in--"

"Oh, never mind about that," said Hugh. "Did Pat Donohoe lose
anything out of the coach?"

"Only a side of bacon and a bottle of whisky. The whisky was for
old Ned the 'possum trapper, and they say that Ned walked fourteen
miles down the river in hopes that it might have come ashore.
Ned reckons he has never done any tracking, but if he could track
anything it would be whisky."

"What about going out after 'possums down the garden?" said Binjie.
"Now, you youngsters, where are your 'possum dogs? I think they
ought to get some in the garden."

Everyone seemed to welcome the idea. There had been a sort
of stiffness in the talk, and Gavan Blake felt that a walk in the
moonlight might give him a chance to make himself a little more
at home with Mary Grant, while Ellen Harriott had her own reasons
for wanting to get him outside. With laughter and haste they all
put on hats and coats, for it had turned bitterly cold; then with
ear-piercing whistles the children summoned their 'possuming dogs,
who were dreaming happy hours away in all sorts of odd nooks, in
chimney-corners, under the table in the kitchen, under the bunks in
the men's hut, anywhere warm and undisturbed. But at the whistles
each dog dashed out from his nook, tearing over everything in front
of him in his haste not to be left behind; and in three seconds
half a dozen of them were whining and jumping round the children,
waiting for orders which way to go.

A majestic wave of the hand, and the order "Go and find him!" from
the eldest of the children, sent a hurricane of dogs yapping with
excitement off to the creek, and the hunters followed at a brisk
run.  Gavan Blake and Mary Grant trotted along together in the
bright moonlight. Just in front were Ellen and Hugh, he laughing
at the excitement of the dogs and children, she looking over her
shoulder and hoping to hear what Blake was saying to the heiress.
As a matter of fact, he was making the most of his chances, and
before long they were getting on capitally.  Mary found herself
laying aside her slow English way, and laughing and joking with
the rest. There is something intoxicating in moonlight at any time;
and what with the moon and the climate, and the breeze whistling
through the gum-boughs, it was no wonder that even the staidly-reared
English girl felt a thrill of excitement, a stirring of the primeval
instincts that civilization and cultivation had not quite been able
to choke.

"When you go back to England, Miss Grant," said Blake, "you will
be able to tell them that you have hunted 'possums, anyhow. That
will sound like the real bush, won't it?"

"Yes. And I can say I have been upset in a river and nearly drowned,
too. I'm becoming quite an experienced person. But what makes you
think I shall go back to England?"

"I thought you would be sure to go back."

"Oh, no. We have no friends in England at all.  My mother's people
are nearly all living in India, and father wouldn't live in England.
He hates it."

"And do you like Australia?"

"I've only seen about a week of it. Do you know, it seems to me
a more serious life than in England.  Look at Mrs. Gordon, what a
lot of people she has dependent on her. The station-hands and their
wives, all come to her. In England she might visit them and give
them tracts and blankets, but here what they want is advice and
help in all sorts of things. You know what I mean?"

"Yes. She is a fine old lady, isn't she? A real character. You will
be sure to like her."

"Yes. I think I shall be very happy here. Father is anxious I
should like this place, as he may come up here to live, and I'm sure
I shall like it. You see, there is work to do here. Miss Harriott
and Mrs. Gordon are at work from daylight till dark; what with the
children, the house, the store and visitors, there really isn't
time to feel lonely. Don't you think people are much happier when
they have a lot to do? Do you live--"

"I live in two rooms and get my meals at an hotel, Miss Grant. I
have never had any home life. I never knew what it meant till now."

"You must come out again when you are down this way. The--what's
that?"

A dog barked furiously in the distance, and the others rushed to
join him from all directions, yelping and squealing with excitement.
The whole party set off at a run, amid cheers and laughter.

"What is it, what is it?" said Mary.

"One of the dogs has found a 'possum up a tree, and the children
will try to get him down. Come on! Mind where you go. The black
shadows are very hard to judge, and sometimes a log or a bush is
hidden in them. There goes Poss over a log," he added, in explanation
of a terrific crash and a shout of laughter from the others. "What
is it, Emily?" he asked as one of the children ran past.

"It's Thomas Carlyle has found one," she said, "and he never barks
when the 'possums are up big trees. He knows we can't get them then,
so he only looks in the saplings. The other dogs find them in the
big trees, but that's no good."

A sharp run brought the party to the foot of a small tree, surrounded
by a circle of dogs, all sitting on their tails and staring with
whimpers of anxiety up to the topmost branches, where a small furry
animal was perched. Mary Grant, under Blake's directions, got the
animal silhouetted against the moon, and saw clearly enough the
sharp nose, round ears, plump body, and prehensile tail of the
unfortunate creature who, as Poss said, looked as if he were wishing
for a pair of wings.

Blake turned to Mary. "Do you want to stop and see it killed?" he
said. "It's rather a murderous business. The 'possum has no chance.
One of the boys will go up the tree and shake the branch till the
'possum falls off, and when it falls the dogs will kill it."

"No, I don't think I would like to see it. I have seen so many things
killed since I came here. Let us walk back towards the house."

"I'll tell Gordon. Gordon," he said, "Miss Grant doesn't care to
see the massacre. We will walk back towards the house."

Ellen Harriott made a sudden step forward. "I will go back too,"
she said.

"Why, Miss Harriott!" said Poss in astonishment, "You've seen lots
of 'em killed. Native cats, too.  Watch me knock him out of that
with a stick."

"No, no, I'll go back, too. I don't feel like killing anything
to-night. You come back too, Hugh."

So the four walked back together, and as Blake had monopolised Mary
on the way out, she now put herself beside Hugh, and the others
walked behind.  Hugh and Mary soon began to talk, but the other
pair walked in silence for a while. Then Ellen Harriott said in a
low voice, "Go a little slower, Gavan. Let them get away." As they
passed under the dense shadows of a huge wild-apple tree, Ellen
stopped and, turning to Blake, held up her face to be kissed.

"Gavan, Gavan!" she said. "I was wondering when I would ever get
a chance to speak to you. To think of you being here in the same
house with me!  It's too wonderful, isn't it?"

Gavan Blake kissed her. It was almost an effort to him at first,
as his mind and heart were on fire with the thoughts of the other
girl.

"My darling, my darling!" she said. "All the while you were walking
with that girl, I knew you were dying to come and kiss me!" For
such is the faith of women.

They stopped for a little while, and then moved on after the others,
pausing now and again in the shadows. The girl poured out all her
artless tale--how she had been awake night after night, waiting
for the day he should come. Then she told him how the heiress had
praised his pluck and strength. "And oh! Gavan, I was so proud, I
could have hugged her!"

Thus she rattled on, while he, because it was his nature found it
no trouble to reply in kind, with a good imitation of sincerity.
On such a night, with such a girl clinging to him, it would have
been a very poor specimen of a man who could not have trumped up a
sort of enthusiasm. But in his heart he was cursing his luck that
just as chance had thrown the heiress in his way, and put her under
an obligation to him, he was held to his old bargain--the bargain
that he had made for position's sake, and which he would now have
liked to break for the same reason.

It would be wearisome to record their talk, all the way up to the
house. The girl--impetuous, hot-blooded, excitable--poured out her
love-talk like a bird singing. Happiness complete was hers for the
time; but Gavan's heart was not in the wooing, and he listened and
was silent.

Hugh and Mary, walking on ahead, knew nothing of the love scenes
just behind them. They talked of many things, of the moonlight and
the river and the scent of the flowers, but all the time Hugh felt
diffident and tongue-tied. He had not the glib tongue of Gavan
Blake, and he felt little at ease talking common-places. Mary Grant
thought he must be worried over something, and, with her usual
directness, went to the point.

"You are worrying over something," she said.  "What is it?"

"Oh, no; nothing."

"It is not because I asked Mr. Blake here, is it?"

"Oh no! Goodness, no! Why, he is fifty times better than most of
the people that come here. It just happens we had never asked him
before. I think he is a very nice fellow."

"I'm glad of that. I have asked him to come out again. He seems to
know Miss Harriott quite well, though he doesn't know your mother."

"Yes, he met Miss Harriott at some of the race-balls, I think. She
is a queer girl, full of fancies."

"She seems a very quiet sort of girl to me," said Miss Grant. But
if she could have known what was going on about two hundred yards
behind her, she might have altered her opinion.




CHAPTER XII.

MR. BLAKE BREAKS HIS ENGAGEMENT.



On Monday, Hugh, Poss, and Binjie had to go out to an outlying paddock
to draft a lot of station-sheep from a mob of travelling-sheep. As
this meant a long, hard job, the three breakfasted by candlelight--a
good old fashion, this, but rather forgotten lately--and Blake also
turned out for early breakfast, as he wanted to get his drive to
Tarrong over while the weather was cool. Of the women-folk, Ellen
alone was up, boiling eggs, and making tea on a spirit-lamp;
laughing and chattering meanwhile, and keeping them all amused;
while outside in the frosty dawn, the stable boy shivered as he
tightened the girths round the ribs of three very touchy horses.
Poss and Binjie were each riding a station horse to "take the
flashness out of him," and Binjie's horse tried to buck him off,
but might as well have tried to shed his own skin; so he bolted
instead, and disappeared with a snort and a rattle of hoofs over
the hill. The others followed, with their horses very much inclined
to go through the same performance.

After they had gone, Ellen Harriott and Blake were left alone in
the breakfast-room. Outside, the heedless horse-boy was harnessing
Blake's ponies; but inside no one but themselves was awake, and as
he finished his breakfast, Ellen stepped up to the table and blew
out the two candles, leaving the room in semi-darkness. She caught
his hand, and he drew her to him. It was what she had been waiting
for all night. She had pictured a parting, which was to be such
sweet sorrow. Blake had also pictured it to himself, but in quite
a different way.

He was determined to make an end of his engagement (or entanglement,
whichever it could be called), and yet when the chance came he
almost put it off; but the thought of what exposure and disgrace
would mean, if his affairs were investigated, drove him on.

He stroked her hair for a while in silence, and then, with a laugh,
said, "We'll have to give up this sort of thing, you know; it'll
be getting you talked about, and that'll never do."

She hardly knew what he meant. Having lived so long in a fool's
paradise, she could not realise that her world was coming down
about her ears.

"We'll have to be proper in future," he said.  "I've had the most
fiendish run of bad luck lately, and it's just as well there never
was any engagement between us. It would have had to come to nothing."

She drew back, and looked at him with frightened eyes. He had great
power over her--this big, masterful man, whom she had looked upon
as her lover; and she could not believe that a little trouble
about money could really make any difference to him. She believed
him able to overcome any such difficulty as that of earning a living
for her and himself.

"But, Gavan," she said, "what have I done?"

"Done, little girl? you've done nothing. It's all my fault. I've
lost heart over things lately, and it will only harm you if we keep
up this pretence of being engaged. Nothing can come of it."

"Why not? Why can't we wait?"

"Wait! To be stuck in Tarrong all my life among these people, and
up to my neck in debt!  No, little woman, as soon as ever I can
get things squared up, I'm off out of this, and I dare say we'll
never see each other again. I've made a mess of things here, and
I'm off somewhere else."

It seemed almost incredible to her that a man could so throw up
the fight; and then a thought flashed into her mind.

"It is not because Miss Grant has come that you do this?"

He laughed with a well-simulated indifference.

"Miss Grant!" he said, "I have only seen her twice--that day on
the coach and last night."

She seemed to study the question, still holding his hands, and
looking up into his face. The light in the room was stronger, and
there were sounds as if some of the household were stirring.

"So we must say 'Good-bye!'" she said, "just because you are short
of money. Gavan, I would have thought more of you, had you told me
you were tired of me and were going in for the other girl. I think
I could have respected you at any rate; but to sneak out on the
story of not being able to afford it--"

His face darkened, and he began to speak, but she stopped him,
and went on in a passionless sort of voice. "Some one is coming,"
she said, "and we must say good-bye; and since you wish it, it is
Good-bye.' But I'm not a child, to change my fancies in a day, so
I won't promise to forget. And I think you have treated me very
badly, so neither will I promise to forgive. I had set my heart
on you, Gavan. You seemed to me--but there, it's no use talking.
I suppose I should be meek and mild, and--"

"But, Ellen--"

"No, don't interrupt me. It is the last talk together we shall
have. I suppose I can go governessing, or nursing, to the end of
the chapter.  It seems a dreary outlook, doesn't it? Now go, and
remember that I do not forgive easily. I had built such castles,
Gavan, and now--" She slipped quietly from the room, and was gone.

Gavan Blake drove home, feeling a trifle uneasy.  He had expected
some sort of outburst, but the curious way in which she had taken
it rather non-plussed him.

"She won't stick a knife in herself, I suppose," he mused. "Just
like her to do something unusual.  Anyway, she has too much pride
to talk about it--and the affair had to come to an end sooner or
later."

And feeling that if not "on with the new love," he was, at any
rate, satisfactorily "off with the old," Blake drove his spanking
ponies off to Tarrong, while Ellen Harriott went about her household
work with a face as inscrutable and calm as though no stone had
ruffled the mill-pond of her existence.




CHAPTER XIII.

THE RIVALS.



For the next couple of weeks, affairs at Kuryong flowed on in usual
station style. A saddle-horse was brought in for Miss Grant, and
out of her numerous boxes that young lady produced a Bond Street
outfit that fairly silenced criticism. She rode well too, having
been taught in England, and she, Poss, Binjie and Hugh had some great
scampers after kangaroos, half-wild horses, or anything else that
would get up and run in front of them.  She was always so fresh,
cheerful, and ready for any excitement that the two boys became
infatuated in four days, and had to be hunted home on the fifth, or
they would have both proposed. Some days she spent at the homestead
housekeeping, cooking, and giving out rations to swagmen--the
wild, half-crazed travellers who came in at sundown for the dole
of flour, tea and sugar, which was theirs by bush custom. Some days
she spent with the children, and with them learnt a lot of bush
life. It being holiday-time, they practically ran wild all over
the place, spending whole days in long tramps to remote parts in
pursuit of game.  They had no "play," as that term is known to English
children. They didn't play at being hunters. They were hunters in
real earnest, and their habits and customs had come to resemble
very closely those of savage tribes that live by the chase.

With them Mary had numberless new experiences.  She got accustomed
to seeing the boys climb big trees by cutting steps in the bark
with a tomahawk, going out on the most giddy heights after birds'
nests, or dragging the opossum from his sleeping-place in a hollow
limb. She learned to hold a frenzied fox-terrier at the mouth of
a hollow log, ready to pounce on the kangaroo-rat which had taken
refuge there, and which flashed out as if shot from a catapult on
being poked from the other end with a long stick. She learned to
mark the hiding-place of the young wild-ducks that scuttled and
dived, and hid themselves with such super-natural cunning in the
reedy pools. She saw the native companions, those great, solemn,
grey birds, go through their fantastic and intricate dances, forming
squares, pirouetting, advancing, and retreating with the solemnity
of professional dancing-masters. She lay on the river-bank with
the children, gun in hand, breathless with excitement, waiting for
the rising of the duck-billed platypus--that quaint combination of
fish, flesh and fowl--as he dived in the quiet waters, a train of
small bubbles marking his track. She fished in deep pools for the
great, sleepy, hundred-pound cod-fish that sucked down bait and hook,
holus-bolus, and then were hauled in with hardly any resistance,
and lived for days contentedly, tethered to the bank by a line
through their gills.

In these amusements time passed pleasantly enough, and by the time
school-work was resumed Mary Grant had become one of the family.

Of Hugh she at first saw little. His work took him out on the
run all day long, looking after sheep in the paddocks, or perhaps
toiling day after day in the great, dusty drafting-yards. In the
cool of the afternoon the two girls would often canter over the
four miles or so of timbered country to the yards, and wait till
Hugh had finished his day's work. As a rule, Poss or Binjie, perhaps
both, were in attendance to escort Miss Harriott, with the result
that Hugh and Mary found themselves paired off to ride home together.
Before long he found himself looking forward to these rides with
more anxiety than he cared to acknowledge, and in a very short time
he was head over ears in love with her.

Any man, being much alone with any woman in a country house, will
fall in love with her; but a man such as Hugh Gordon, ardent,
imaginative, and very young, meeting every day a woman as beautiful
as Mary Grant, was bound to fall a victim.  He soon became her
absolute worshipper. All day long, in the lonely rides through the
bush, in the hot and dusty hours at the sheep-yards, through the
pleasant, lazy canter home in the cool of the evening, his fancies
were full of her--her beauty and her charm. It was happiness enough
for him to be near her, to feel the soft touch of her hand, to catch
the faint scent that seemed to linger in her hair. After the day's
work they would stroll together about the wonderful old garden, and
watch the sunlight die away on the western hills, and the long
strings of wild fowl hurrying down the river to their nightly haunts.
Sometimes he would manage to get home for lunch, and afterwards, on
the pretext of showing her the run, would saddle a horse for her,
and off they would go for a long ride through the mountains. Or
there were sheep to inspect, or fences to look at--an excuse for
an excursion was never lacking.

For the present he made no sign; he was quite contented to act as
confidant and adviser, and many a long talk they had together over
the various troubles that beset the manager of a station.

It would hardly be supposed that a girl could give much advice
on such matters, and at first her total ignorance of the various
difficulties amused him; but when she came to understand them better,
her cool common-sense compelled his admiration.  His temperament
was nervous and excitable, and he let things fret him. She took
everything in a cheery spirit, and laughed him out of his worries.
One would not expect to find many troubles in rearing sheep and
selling their wool; but the management of any big station is a
heavy task, and Kuryong would have driven Job mad.

The sheep themselves, to begin with, seem always in league against
their owners. Merinos, though apparently estimable animals, are
in reality dangerous monomaniacs, whose sole desire is to ruin the
man that owns them. Their object is to die, and to do so with as
much trouble to their owners as they possibly can. They die in the
droughts when the grass, roasted to a dull white by the sun, comes
out by the roots and blows about the bare paddocks; they die in
the wet, when the long grass in the sodden gullies breeds "fluke"
and "bottle" and all sorts of hideous complaints.  They get burnt
in bush fires from sheer malice, refusing to run in any given
direction, but charging round and round in a ring till they are
calcined.  They get drowned by refusing to leave flooded country,
though hunted with frenzied earnestness.

It was not the sheep so much as the neighbours whose depredations
were drawing lines on Hugh Gordon's face. "I wouldn't care," he
confided to Miss Grant, "if they only took a beast or two. But the
sheep are going by hundreds. We mustered five hundred short in one
paddock this month. And there isn't a Doyle or a Donohoe cow but
has three calves at least, and two of each three belong to us."

He dared not prosecute them. No local jury would convict in face
of the hostility that would be aroused. They had made "alibis" a
special study; the very judges were staggered by the calmness and
plausibility with which they got themselves out of difficulties.

A big station with a lot of hostile neighbours is like a whale
with the killers round it; it is open to attack on all sides, and
cannot retaliate. A match dropped carelessly in a patch of grass
sets miles of country in a blaze. Hugh, as he missed the stock,
and saw fences cut and grass burnt, could only grind his teeth and
hope that a lucky chance would put some of the enemy in his power.
To Mary it seemed incredible that in the nineteenth century people
should be able to steal sheep without suffering for it; and Hugh
soon saw that she was a true daughter of William Grant, as far as
fighting was concerned. She listened with set teeth to all stories
of depredation and trespass, and they talked over many a plan
together. But though they became quite friendly their intimacy
seemed to make no progress.  To her he was rather the employee than
the friend.  In fact he did not get on half so far as did Gavan
Blake, who came up to Kuryong occasionally, and made himself so
agreeable that already his name was being coupled with that of the
heiress. Ellen Harriott always spoke to Blake when he came to the
station, and gave no sign of jealousy at his attentions to Mary
Grant; but she was waiting and watching, as one who has been a nurse
learns to do.  And things were in this state when an unexpected
event put an altogether different complexion on affairs.




CHAPTER XIV.

RED MICK AND HIS SHEEP DOGS.



When Hugh came home one day with his face, as usual, full of trouble,
Mary began to laugh him out of it.

"Well, Mr. Hugh, which is it to-day--the Doyles or the Donohoes?
Have they been stealing sheep or breaking gates?"

"Oh, it's all very well for you to laugh," he said; "you don't
understand. Some of that gang up the river went into the stud paddock
yesterday to cut down a tree for a bee's nest, and left the tree
burning; might have set the whole run--forty thousand acres of dry
grass--in a blaze. Then they drove their dray against the gate,
knocking it sideways, and a lot of the stud sheep got out into the
other paddock, and I'll have to be off at day-break to-morrow to
get 'em back."

"Why don't you summon the wretches, and have them put in gaol, or
go and break their gates, and cut down their trees?" she said, with
a cheerful ignorance of details.

"I daren't--simply daren't. If I summoned one of them, I'd never
have dry grass but there'd be fires. I'd never have fat sheep but
there'd be dogs among 'em. They ride all over the run; but if a bird
belonging to the station flew over one of their selections they'd
summon me for trespass.  There's no end to the injury a spiteful
neighbour can do you in this sort of country. And your father would
blame me."

"Why?"

"Oh, it's part of the management of a station to get on with your
neighbours. Never quarrel if you can help it. But since shearing
troubles started we have no friends at all."

"Well," she said, "I should like to have a look at those desperate
neighbours I hear so much about.  Red Mick Donohoe rode past the
other day on such a beautiful horse, and he opened the gate for us,
and asked if he might come down to hear me sing.  Think of that,
now."

"Very well," he said. "We'll go for a ride up that way to-morrow
afternoon. We might find Red Mick killing some of our sheep, and
you can go into the box as the lady detective. If you'll only sing
him into gaol, the station will pay you at the same rate as Patti
gets!"

Next afternoon they cantered away up the river towards the mountains.
Poss and Binjie had long ago laid their dearest possessions at
her feet, begging her to ride them--horses so precious that it had
hitherto been deemed sacrilege to put a side-saddle on them. She
had the divine gift of "hands," and all manner of excitable, pulling
horses went quietly and smoothly under her management.  Her English
training had taught her to ride over jumps, and she was very anxious
to have a try at post-and-rail fences.

After much pressing, Hugh had this day allowed her to try Obadiah,
Binjie's celebrated show jumper, an animal that could be trusted
to jump anything he could see over; so during their ride to the
habitat of the Donohoes they left the regular track, and followed
one of the fences for a mile or two, looking for a suitable place
to try the horse. No good place offered itself, as the timber was
thick, and the country so rugged that she would have had to ride
at a stiff post-and-rail either up or down a steep slope. Loitering
along, far off the track, they crossed a little ridge where stringybark
trees, with an undergrowth of bushes and saplings, formed a regular
thicket.

Suddenly Hugh gave a whistle of surprise, and jumped from his horse.

"Hold this horse a minute, please," he said.  "There has been a
mob of sheep driven here."

"Whereabouts?" said she, staring round her.

"All about here," he said, pointing to the ground. "Don't you see
the tracks? Hundreds of 'em. But I can't see what they were up to.
There's no place they could get 'em out without cutting the wires,
and the fence is sound enough.  Good heavens, I see it now! Well,
that's smart he continued, leaning against a post and giving it a
shake.

"What have they done I don't understand.  How have they got the
sheep through without breaking the fence?"

"They've dug up four or five posts," he said, kicking over some red
earth with his foot, "laid that piece of fence flat on the ground,
driven the sheep over it, and then put the fence up again. No
wonder we are missing sheep! Two or three hundred have gone out
here! Here's a chance at last--the chance I've been waiting for
all these years! What a lucky thing we came here! And now, Miss
Grant," he said, remounting, "we won't have any jumping to-day.
I'll have to follow these tracks till I come on the sheep somewhere,
if it's in Red Mick Donohoe's own yard. Do you think you can find
your way back to the homestead?"

"What for?"

"To tell them to send Poss and Binjie after me.  I don't expect
they've gone home yet. I want a witness with me when I catch Red
Mick with these sheep, or else fifty of his clan will swear that
he has been in bed for six weeks, or something like that."

"Then," she said firmly, gathering up the reins in her daintily
gloved hands as she spoke, "I'm going with you. I'm just as good
a witness as Poss or Binjie."

"No, no, no," said Hugh, "that won't do. There may be a row. It's
a rough sort of place, and a rough lot of people. Now look here,
Miss Grant, oblige me and go home. The horse will take you straight
back."

Her eyes glowed with excitement. "Please let me come," she said.
"You don't know how much I want to come. I'll do whatever you tell
me!"

He argued and expostulated and entreated. He knew well enough
there was a good deal of risk in the matter, and he tried hard to
make her go back.  But she was determined to go with him, and the
argument ended in the only possible manner--she went. She promised
to do exactly what she was told, to keep out of the way if so
ordered, and, above all, not to speak except when spoken to.

So off they went through the scrub on the track of the sheep, plain
as print to the young bushman, though invisible to his companion.
They rode at a walk for the most part, for fear of being heard.
Now and again, when they could see for a good distance ahead, they
let the horses canter; Hugh riding in front, she, like a damosel
of old, in assumed submission a few lengths behind, and thoroughly
enjoying the adventure.

Of course she could not keep silence long, and after a while she
drew alongside, and whispered, "Do you think we shall catch them?"

"I hope so. But it's a very curious thing; there has been a dog
after these sheep--see, there's his track," pointing to foot-prints
plainly marked in wet sand--"but no track of man or horse to be
seen. By Jove, look there!"

They had come to the crest of a small hill, and were looking down
a long valley. To right and left of them towered the blue, rugged
peaks; straight in front the valley opened out, and they got a fairly
clear view for a mile or more. About half a mile ahead, travelling
in a compact mass down the valley, was a mob of some two or three
hundred sheep. At their heels trotted two sheep-dogs of the small
wiry breed common in the mountains.  Hugh looked about to see who
was in charge of them; but no one was visible. The dogs were taking
the sheep along without word or sign from anyone, hurrying them
at a good sharp pace, each keeping on his own flank of the mob, or
occasionally dropping behind to hurry up the laggards.

It was a marvellous exhibition of sagacity. They came to a place
where it was necessary to turn sharply to the right to cross
a small creek; one of the dogs shot forward, and sent the leading
sheep scurrying down the bank, while the other fell back a few yards
and prevented the mob turning back. After a moment's hesitation the
sheep plunged into the shallow water, splashed across the creek,
and set off again in their compact march down the valley, urged
and directed by their silent custodians--who paused to lap a few
mouthfuls of water, and then hurried on with an air of importance.

"Look at that," said Hugh, in open admiration.  "Isn't that
wonderful? Those are Red Mick's dogs. I knew they were good dogs,
but this is simply marvellous, isn't it? What are we to do now? If
I take the sheep from them they'll run home, and I can't prosecute
Red Mick because they picked up a mob of sheep."

"Oh, but he must be near them somewhere," said Mary, to whom
the whole affair appeared uncanny.  "They wouldn't drive sheep by
themselves, surely?"

"Oh, of course, he started them. Once he got the sheep out of the
paddock, he started the dogs for home, and rode off. You see his
plan. If anyone finds the dogs with them, of course he had nothing
to do with it. Sheep-dogs will often go into a paddock, and bring
a mob of sheep up to the yard on their own account. It's an instinct
with them. Look at those two now, forcing the sheep over that bad
crossing. Isn't it wonderful?"

"Well," she said, triumphantly, "what about the fence? They couldn't
dig up that."

"Oh, Red Mick did; but who's to prove it? He'll swear he never was
near the fence, and that his dogs picked up these sheep and brought
them home on their own account. The jury would find that I dug up
my own fence, and they'd acquit Red Mick, and give him a testimonial.
No, I'll tell you what we'll do. We'll cut across the range, and
sneak up as near Red Mick's as we can. Then we'll hide and watch
his house; and when the dogs come up, if he takes the sheep from
them, or starts to drive them anywhere, we've got him. Once he takes
charge of those sheep he's done. Of course there may be a bit of
trouble when we spring up and accuse him. Are you afraid?"

"No," she replied. "I'm not afraid--with you.  I like it. Come on."

No sooner said than done. They set their horses in motion, and went
at a steady trot for a mile or so, crossing the valley at right
angles, over a sharp rise and down a small hill, till Hugh again
pulled up.

"There's Red Mick's homestead," he said, pointing to a speck far
away down a gully. "The sheep will come up the creek, because it
is the smoothest track. Now, we must tie our horses up here, sneak
down the creek bed, and get as near the house as we can."

They tied their horses up in a clump of trees, and made the rest
of the journey on foot, hurrying silently for half a mile down the
bed of the creek, hidden by its steep banks. Here and there, to
escape observation, they had to walk in the water, and Hugh, looking
round, saw his companion wading after him, with face firm-set and
eyes ablaze. It was a man-hunt, the most exciting of all hunting.

He laughed silently at the girl's flushed and excited face. As
he reached out to help her over some fallen timber, she took his
hand with a firm grip that set his nerves tingling. They pushed on
until almost abreast of Red Mick's dwelling; then Hugh, standing on
a projecting stump, peered over the high bank to see how the land
lay, while his companion sat down and watched his movements with
wide open eyes.

He saw the cottage drowsing in the bright afternoon sunlight. It
was a picturesque little building, made of heavy red-gum slabs,
with a bark roof; the windows were merely square holes cut in the
slabs, fitted with heavy wooden covers that now hung open, giving
a view of the interior. In one room could be seen a rough dresser
covered with plates and dishes, and a saddle hung from a tie-beam; in
the other there was a rough plank bed with blue blankets. The door
was shut, and there was no sign of life about the place. There
was no garden in front of the house, merely the bare earth and
a dust-heap where ashes were thrown out, on which a few hens were
enjoying the afternoon sun and fluffing the dust over themselves.

At the back was a fair-sized garden, with fine, healthy-looking trees;
and about a quarter of a mile away was the straggling collection
of bark-roofed sheds and corkscrew-looking fences that served Red
Mick as shearing-sheds for his sheep, and drafting and branding-yards
for his cattle and horses. After a hurried survey Hugh dropped
lightly down into shelter, and whispered, "There's no one moving
at all. There's a newly-fallen tree about a hundred yards down the
creek; we'll get among its branches and watch."

They crept along the creek until opposite the fallen tree; there
Hugh scaled the bank and pulled Mary up after him. Silent as shadows,
they stole through a little patch of young timber, and ensconced
themselves among the fragrant branches.  The grass was long where
the tree had fallen, and this, with the green boughs, made a splendid
couch and hiding-place.

They settled close together and peered out like squirrels, first
up at the house, then down the valley for the arrival of the sheep.
Both were shaking with excitement--she at the unwonted sensation of
attacking a criminal in his lair, and he with anxiety lest some
unlucky chance should bring his plan to nought, and make him a
failure in the eyes of the woman he loved.

"There is no one about," he whispered. "I expect Red Mick has told
the family to keep indoors, so that they can swear they saw nothing.
You aren't afraid, are you?"

She pressed his arm in answer, gave a low laugh, and pointed down
the flat. There, far away among the trees, they saw the white
phalanx of the approaching sheep, and the little lean dogs hunting
them straight towards the house.

Still no sign from Red Mick. No one stirred about the place; the
fowls still fluttered in the dust, and a dissipated looking pet
cockatoo, perched on the wood-heap repeated several times in a
drowsy tone, "Good-bye, Cockie! Good-bye, Cockie!" Then the door
opened, and Red Mick stepped out.

He was the acknowledged leader of the Doyle-Donohoe faction in all
matters of cunning, and in all raids on other folks' stock; and not
only did he plan the raids, but took a leading part in executing
them. He was the finest and most fearless bush rider in the district,
and could track like a black fellow. If he left a strange camp at
sundown, and rode about the bush all night, he could at any time
go back straight across country to his starting point, or to any
place he had visited during his wanderings. Such bushmanship is a
gift, and not to be learnt. If once he saw a horse, he would know
it again for the rest of his life--fat or lean, sick or well. Which
is also a gift.

In appearance he was a tall, lanky, large-handed, slab-sided
cornstalk, about thirty-five years of age, with a huge red beard
that nearly covered his face, and a brick-dust complexion variegated
with large freckles. His legs were long and straight; he wore
tight-fitting white moleskin trousers, a coloured Crimean shirt,
and a battered felt hat.

Miss Grant felt almost sorry for this big, simple-looking bushman,
who came strolling past their hiding-place, his eyes fixed on the
sheep, and his hands mechanically occupied in cutting up tobacco.
Behind him gambolled a half-grown collie pup, evidently a relative
of the dogs in charge of the sheep.

They brought the sheep up to a little corner of land formed by a
sharp bend of the creek, then stopped, squatting on their haunches
as sentinels, and the sheep, fatigued with their long, fast run,
settled in under the trees to get out of the sun.  Behind the
sheep, Hugh caught a glimpse of two horsemen coming slowly up the
road towards the house.

"Look! Here's Mick's nephews," he whispered, "come to take the sheep
away. By George, we'll bag the whole lot! Sit quiet: don't make a
sound."

The crisis approached. Miss Grant, with strained attention, saw
Red Mick strike a match, and light his pipe. Strolling on towards
the sheep, he passed about thirty yards from where they lay hidden.
Already she was thinking how exciting it would be when they rose
out of the bushes, and faced him in quite the best "We are Hawkshaw,
the detective" style.

But they had to reckon with one thing they had overlooked, and that
was the collie pup. That budding genius, blundering along after
his master, suddenly stopped, turned towards the fallen tree, and
sniffed the air. Then he ran a few steps towards them, and stopped,
his ears pricked and his eyes fixed on the tree; barked sharply,
drew back a pace or two, bristled up the hair on his neck, and
growled.

Red Mick turned round; "'Ello, pup," he drawled, "what's up?"

The puppy came forward again, quite close to the tree this time, and
barked sharply. "Good pup," said Mick, "fitch him out, pup!--What
is it--native cat? Goo for 'im!"

Thus encouraged, the puppy darted forward barking, and Red Mick
stopped leisurely, picked up a large stone, and sent it crashing
among the branches. It passed between Hugh and Miss Grant, and came
near enough to stunning one or other of them. They jumped to their
feet hurriedly, and without dignity climbed out of the branches,
and advanced on Red Mick, while the puppy ran yelping behind his
master.

It is only reasonable to suppose that Mick was somewhat astonished
at the apparition. He could scarcely have expected his shot to
disturb two such fine birds from such an extraordinary nest; but
before they had extricated themselves from the branches his face
had assumed the stolid, cow-like, unintelligent look which had
so often baffled judges and Crown Prosecutors. He was bland and
child-like as Bret Harte's Chinee.

He spoke as if he were quite accustomed to unearthing young couples
out of trees. His voice had a sort of "I quite understand how it
is" tone, and he spoke cheerfully.

"Good-day, Misther Hugh! Where's your horses? Have you had a fall?"

"Fall! No!" snapped Hugh, whose temper was gradually rising as the
absurdity of the situation dawned on him. "We haven't had a fall.
We ran the tracks of a lot of our sheep from the big paddock, and
here they are now. I'd like to know what this means?"

"Is thim your sheep?" said the bland Mick, surprised.  "I wuz
wondherin' whose sheep they wuz, comin' up the flat. I knew they
wuzn't travellin' sheep, 'cause of gettin' no notice, an me bein'
laid up in the house this two days--"

"Oh, that's all very fine, Mick Donohoe?" said the young man angrily.
"Your own dogs have brought them here."

Red Mick laughed gaily. "Ah, thim dogs is always yardin' up things.
They never see a mob of sheep, but they'll start to dhrive 'em
some place.  When I was travellin' down the Darlin', goin' through
Dunloe Station, in one paddock I missed th' old slut, and when
I see her again, she had gethered fifteen thousand sheep, and was
bringin' 'em after me. But, Lord bless your heart, Mr.  Hugh,"
he added with a comforting smile, "she wouldn't hurt a hair of a
sheep's head, nor the young dog ayther. Them sheep'll be all right.
Sorra sheep ever she bit in her life. I wonder where they gethered
them?"

"I'll tell you where they gathered them," said Hugh. "The fence of
our paddock was dug up, and the sheep were run out, and then the
fence was put up again. That's how they gathered them."

"The fence wuz dug up! Ah, look at that now.  Terrible, ain't it.
An' who done it, do ye think?  Some of them carriers, I expect,
puttin' their horses in unbeknownst to you. I'll bet 'twas them
done it. Or, perhaps," he added, with an evident desire to assist
in solving the difficulty, "perhaps the wind blew it down."

"What!" said Hugh scornfully. "Wind blow down a fence! What next!"

"Well it does blow terrible hard sometimes in these parts," said
Red Mick, shaking his head dolefully; "look at me crop of onions I
planted--the wind blew 'em out of the ground, and hung 'em on the
fence. But wait now, till we have a look at these sheep."

"No, we won't wait," said Hugh angrily. "We will be off home now,
and send a man for them.  And I advise you to be very careful, Mick
Donohoe, for I have my own idea who dug up that fence."

"Well, you don't suppose that I done it, do you?" said Red Mick.
"I've been in the house this three days. Besides, I wouldn't steal
my brother-in-law's sheep, anyhow. Won't ye come up, and have a
dhrink of tea now, you and the lady?  It's terrible hot."

"No, thank you," said Hugh stiffly. "Come along, Miss Grant." And
they marched off towards the horses.

"It beats all who could have took them posts down, doesn't it?"
said Mick. "I'd offer a reward, if I was you. Them fellows about
here would steal the eyes out of your head. Good day to ye, Mr.
Hugh."

And the cockatoo added, "Good-bye, Cockie," in a sepulchral voice,
as they trudged off, smitten hip and thigh.

Hugh was suffering intensely at his defeat, and when Mary Grant
said, "I suppose you will have him put in gaol at once?" he muttered
that he would have to think it over. "It wouldn't do to prosecute
him and fail, and we have no proof that he dug up the fence."

"But why did he say that the sheep belonged to his brother-in-law?"

Hugh started. "Did he say that? Well, he--he must have wanted to
make out that he did not know whose sheep they were" but he thought
to himself, "Is Red Mick going to bring up that old scandal?"

Mick, as he watched them go, winked twice to himself, and then
stooped and patted the head of the collie pup. The other dogs, in
answer to a silent wave of his hand, had slunk off quietly. The
riders had disappeared. It had been a narrow escape, and Red Mick
knew it; and even as things had turned out, there was still ample
chance of a conviction.

On the way back to the homestead Hugh began to talk of the chance
of a conviction, and the delight it would be to give Mick seven
years, but his ideas were disturbed by thoughts of Mick's face as
he said, "Why should I steal my brother-in-law's sheep?" He looked
at the girl alongside him, and prayed that the old story might
never be resurrected.




CHAPTER XV.

A PROPOSAL AND ITS RESULTS.



The question whether Mick Donohoe should be prosecuted was not likely
to be prejudiced by his claim of kinship. Billy the Bully would as
soon prosecute his own brother-in-law as anybody else--sooner, in
fact. So Hugh, having reached home very crest-fallen and angry,
wrote a full account of the affair in his report of the station
work, and asked whether he should lay an information.

Grant's reply was brief and to the point; he seldom wrote letters,
always telegraphing when possible. On this occasion the telegram
said, "Prosecute at once; offer reward informers;" which, leaking
out (as telegrams frequently did at the local office) put Red Mick
considerably on the qui vive. The old man actually paid him the
compliment of writing a letter about him later on, saying that it
would be a good thing to prosecute--it would give Red Mick a good
scare, even if it didn't get him into gaol. Circumstances, no doubt,
justified a prosecution, and it was hard to see bow Mick could make
a counter-move.

But that gentleman was not without resource; an anonymous letter
arrived for Hugh by the mailboy, a dirty, scrawled epistle, unsigned
and undated, running as follows:--

"Mr. Gordon i herd you was gone to summons Michael Donohoe for
sheep stealing. You better bewar there is some seen you and that
girl in the bush you will get a grate shown up and her two."

This precious epistle was signed "A Friend," and on first reading
it Hugh laughed heartily; but the more he thought it over the less
he liked it. It was all very well to put Red Mick in the dock, but
it was evident that part of the defence would be, "How came you
to be under the boughs of a fallen tree with an attractive young
woman when Red Mick's dogs came up with the sheep?" At the very
least they would look ridiculous; and the unknown correspondent who
promised them a "grate shown up" would probably take care that the
story was as highly-coloured as possible. He shuddered to think
what the Donohoes would say, and heartily wished he had let Red
Mick alone.

He fretted for some hours, and then decided to talk it over with
the girl herself. He did not care to let Red Mick think that the
anonymous letter had stopped the prosecution; at the same time, he
was determined to do nothing that would cause Miss Grant the least
annoyance. He opened the discussion that evening while strolling
about the garden.

"About this business of Red Mick's," he said.  "I am rather worried."

"Why?"

"Well, the trouble is this: I've got an anonymous letter from Red
Mick or some of his people, saying that they are going to give you
and me a great showing-up about being hidden in the tree together."

"What can they say?" she asked, uncomprehendingly.

"Well, of course, they will talk about our being in the tree
together--and--all that kind of thing, you know. They will make
things as unpleasant for us as they can. They may want you to give
evidence, and all that sort of thing--and I thought, perhaps you
mightn't like it."

She froze into dignity at once. "I certainly shouldn't like it,"
she said. "About being in the tree, that does not matter, of course,
but I hope you will keep my name out of the affair altogether. I
must ask you to do that for me."

Then he rushed on his fate. Many a time he had pictured how he would
wait till they were alone together in the garden on some glorious
moonlit night, and he would take her hand, and tell her how much
he loved her; and now, seeing the girl standing before him flushed
with insulted dignity, he suddenly found himself gasping out, in
what seemed somebody's else's voice, "Couldn't we--look here, Miss
Grant, won't you be engaged to me? Then it won't matter what they
say."

He tried to take her hand, but she drew back, white to the lips.

"No, no; let me go; let me go," she said. Then the colour came back
to her face, and she drew herself up, and spoke slowly and cuttingly:

"I thank you very much for what you have just said. But I really
think that I shall be able to put up with anything these people
may choose to say about me. It won't hurt me, and I shouldn't like
you to sacrifice yourself to save me from the talk of such people.
Let us go back to the house, please."

He stared helplessly at her, and could not find his voice for a
moment. At last he blurted out:

"It's not because of that. I don't care about them any more than
you do. Don't think it's that, Miss Grant. Why--"

"Let us go back to the house, please," she said quietly, "and don't
say anything more about it. And whatever happens, I must ask you
to keep my name out of the affair altogether. You'll do that, won't
you? Let us go back now, if you don't mind."

They walked back in silence. He looked at her once or twice, but
her face was stern and rigid, and she would not give him even one
glance. At the door she gave him her hand, with a matter-of-fact
"I will say good-night now," and disappeared into her room, where
she threw herself on the bed and sobbed bitterly; for the truth
was that she was very, very fond of him. She, too, had built her
little castles in the air as to what she would say and do when he
put the momentous question. Girls do foresee these things, somehow;
although they do pretend to be astonished when the time arrives.

She had pictured him saying all sorts of endearing things, and
making all sorts of loving protestations; and now it had come to
this--she had been asked as if it were merely a matter of avoiding
scandal.  It was too great a shock. She lay silently crying, while
Hugh, his castles in the air having crumbled around him, was trying
in a dazed way to frame a letter to Mr. Grant.

His thoughts were anything but pleasant. What a fool he had been,
talking to her like that! Making it look as if he had only proposed
to her because he ought to protect her good name! Why hadn't
he spoken to her before--in the tree, on the ride home, any other
time? Why hadn't he spoken differently?  To him the refusal seemed
the end of all things. He thought of asking Mr. Grant to give him
the management of the most out-back place he had, so that he could go
away and bury himself. He even thought of resigning his position
altogether and going to the goldfields. Red Mick and his delinquencies
seemed but small matters now; and, after what had passed, he must,
of course, see that Miss Grant was not dragged into the business.
So he sat down and began to write.

The letter took a good deal of thinking over. It had got about the
station that Red Mick had at last been caught in flagrante delicto;
the house-cook had told the cook at the men's hut, and he had told
the mailman, who stopped on the road to tell the teamsters ploughing
along with their huge waggons to Kiley's Crossing; they told the
publican at Kiley's, and he told everybody he saw. The children
made a sort of play out of it, the eldest boy personating Red Mick,
while two of the younger ones hid in a fallen tree, and were routed
out by Thomas Carlyle. The station-hands were all excitement; the
prospect of a big law-case was a real godsend to them. To drop the
matter would be equivalent to a confession of defeat, but, after
what had passed, Hugh had no option. So he told Mr. Grant that, on
thinking it over, he did not consider it advisable to go on with
the case against Red Mick; Miss Grant would have to go into the
box to give evidence, which would be very unpleasant for her.

Poor Hugh! He was too honourable to give any false reason, and too
shy to tell the whole truth. If he had said that there was no hope
of a conviction, it would have been all right. But consideration
for the feelings of anyone, even his own daughter, was to Billy the
Bully quite incomprehensible, and he wrote back, on a letter-card,
"Go on with the prosecution."

This put Hugh in a frightful dilemma. He had no trouble whatever in
making up his mind to disobey the order, as he was bound to stand
by his promise to Miss Grant. But what answer should he send to
her father? He was in a reckless mood, but he knew well enough that
Grant would order him off the place, neck and crop, if he dared
to disobey; and he owed it to his mother and sister to avoid such
a thing. The more he looked at the position of affairs, the less
he liked it. He wrote a dozen letters, and tore them up again.

He thought of making Red Mick a sporting offer of, say, a couple of
hundred pounds, to disappear altogether--Mick could have arranged
that easily enough.  Then he thought of going down to see Mr. Grant
to explain; but the more he thought of that the less he liked it.
He worried and worried over it, and when he went to bed lay awake
thinking about it. He fell into dozes, and dreamt that Mr. Grant
had turned him off the place, and had made Red Mick manager, and
that Miss Grant was going to marry Red Mick; then he woke with
a start, and heard through the darkness the rapid hoof-beats of a
horse ridden at speed up the road from Kiley's, and the barking of
dogs that announced the arrival of a stranger.

He went out and found in the yard one of the telegraph operators
from Kiley's, on a smoking horse.  "Very important telegram, Mr.
Gordon," he said.  "I borrowed the horse, and brought it over as
fast as I could."

Hugh opened the envelope hurriedly. The operator struck a match
and held it up while he read. The message was from the secretary
of Grant's club, and ran as follows:

"William Grant died suddenly this morning.  Pinnock taking charge
of affairs; am making arrangements funeral. Better come down at
once."

Her father dead! The question of Red Mick and his prosecution became
at once a matter of no moment.  How absurd his worry and vexation
now seemed.  On the other hand, what new complications might arise?
All these years the Gordons had lived on the assumption that Mr.
Grant would provide for them, without having any promise or agreement
from him; and, owing to the old man's violent temper, they had been
in daily risk of being ordered off the place.  They had got used
to this as people get used to living on the side of a volcano. But
now--?

Her father dead! He could not bear to see her grief, and the thought
of it made him determined to get away as quickly as possible.
Quietly he awoke his mother, and told her what had happened, and
by dawn was well on his way to Tarrong to catch the train to Sydney.




CHAPTER XVI.

THE ROAD TO NO MAN'S LAND.



Now we must follow for a time the adventures of Charlie Gordon
and the new chum, whom we left just starting out for 'far back',
Charlie to take over a cattle-station for Old Man Grant, and Carew
to search for Patrick Henry Considine. After a short sea-journey
they took train to a dusty back-blocks township, where Gordon
picked up one of the many outfits which he had scattered over the
country, and which in this case consisted of a vehicle, a dozen or
so of horses, and a black boy named Frying Pan.

Thy drove four horses in a low, American-made buggy, and travelled
about fifty miles a day. Frying Pan was invaluable. He seemed to
have a natural affinity for horses. He could catch them anywhere,
and track them if they got lost. Carew tried to talk to him, but
could get little out of him, for he knew only the pidgin English,
which is in use in those parts, and said "No more" to nearly every
question. He rode along behind the loose horses, apparently quite
satisfied with his own company.  Every now and then he came alongside
the vehicle, and said "Terbacker." Charlie threw him a stick of
the blackest, rankest tobacco known to the trade, and off he went
again.

Once they saw him get off his horse near a lagoon, plunge his arm
into a hole, and pull out a mud-turtle, an evil-smelling beast;
this he carried for several miles over his shoulder, holding its
head, and letting the body swing at the end of the long neck--a
proceeding which must have caused the turtle intense suffering.
After a while his horse shied, and he dropped the turtle on the
ground with a dull thud.

"Aren't you going to pick him up again?" cried Carew.

"No more," replied Frying Pan, carelessly. Then he grinned, and
volunteered a remark. "Make that feller plenty tired walk home
again," he said.  And this was his only conversation during a
two-hundred-mile journey.

At night they usually managed to reach a station, where the man
in charge would greet them effusively, and beg them to turn their
horses out and stay a week--or a year or two, just as long as they
liked. They met all sorts at these stations, from English swells
to bushmen of the roughest.  Sometimes they camped out, putting
hobbles on the horses, and spreading their blankets under the buggy
on a bed of long grass gathered by Frying Pan.

As they got further out, the road became less and less defined,
stations fewer, and everything rougher.  They left the sheep-country
behind them and got out into cattle-land, where "runs" are measured
by the hundred square miles, and every man is a law unto himself.
They left their buggy after a time, and pushed on with pack-horses;
and after travelling about two hundred miles, came to the outer
edge of the settled district, where they stayed with two young
Englishmen, who were living under a dray, and building their
cattle-yards themselves--the yards being a necessity, and the house,
which was to come afterwards, a luxury. The diet was monotonous--meat
"ad libitum," damper and tea.  They had neighbours within sixty
miles, and got letters once in two months by riding that distance.
"Stay here a while," they said to the travellers, "and take up some
of the country near by."

"We're to take over the country Redman took up," said Charlie. "It
joins you doesn't it?"

"Yes. See those far blue ranges? Well, we run to them on this side,
and Redman's block runs to them on the other."

"Don't your cattle make out that way?" asked Charlie.

"No fear," replied he, laughing. "We've some good boundary riders
out there."

"What do you mean?"

"The wild blacks," answered the Englishman.  "They're bad out on
those hills. You'll find yourselves in a nice shop when you take
that block over.  There's a pretty fair humpy to live in, that's
one thing. What do you call the place?"

"No Man's Land."

"Good name, too," said the other. "It's not fit for any man. I
wish you'd stop with us a while, but I suppose we'll see you coming
back."

"I suppose so," said Charlie. "We won't be there longer than we can
help. Who's on the block now? Redman sold his rights in it after
he'd mortgaged it to my uncle."

"There's old Paddy Keogh there now--greatest old character
in the North. Lives there with his blacks and a Chinaman. Regular
oldest-inhabitant sort of chap. Would have gone with Noah in the
Ark, but he swore so badly they wouldn't have him on board. You'll
find him great fun."

"I suppose he'll give us possession all right. We don't want any
trouble."

"He'd fire at you just as soon as look at you, I think," said the
other. "But I don't fancy he wants to stay there much. It's not the
first time he's been broke, so I don't expect he'll take it very
hard.  Well, if you won't stay, good-bye and good luck!  Give my
best wishes to old Paddy."

They resumed the weary journey, and after another two days' riding
sighted away over the plain a small iron house, gleaming in the
setting sun. "Here we are!" said Charlie. "That's No Man's Land."

The arrival was not inspiriting. They rode their tired horses up
to the low-roofed galvanised-iron house, that looked like a huge
kerosene-tin laid on its side, with a hole cut for a door and two
holes for windows. There was no garden and no fenced yard. It was
stuck down in the middle of the wilderness, glaring forlornly out of
its windows at a wide expanse of dry grass and dull-green bushes.
Behind it was a small duplicate, which served as kitchen and store.
A huge buffalo-head was nailed to a tree near by. In front was a
rail on which were spread riding-saddles, pack-saddles, hobbles,
surcingles, pannikins, bridles, empty bags, and all manner of
horse-gear; and roundabout were a litter of chips, an assortment
of empty tins, bits of bullock-hide, empty cartridge-cases, and
the bare skulls of three or four bullocks, with neat bullet-holes
between the eyes.

Amidst this congenial debris roamed a herd of gaunt pigs,
fierce-eyed, quarrelsome pigs, that prowled restlessly about, and
ever and again returned disconsolately to the stinking carcasses of
some large birds of prey that had been thrown out in the sun. They
were flat-sided, long-legged, long-nosed, and had large bristling
manes--showed, in fact, every sign of reverting to the type of the
original pig that yachted with Noah. Living with them, in a state
of armed neutrality, were three or four savage-looking cattle dogs,
who honoured the strangers with deep growls, not condescending to
bark.

Charlie pulled up in front of the house, and cooeed. A Chinaman
put his head out of the kitchen door, smiled blandly, said "'Ello!"
and retired. Gordon and Carew unsaddled the horses, put the hobbles
on, and carried all the gear into the house. By this time the Chinee
had donned a dirty calico jacket, and began in silence to put some
knives, forks, and pannikins on the table.

"Where's the old man?" roared Charlie, as if he thought the Chinee
were deaf.

"No more," he replied.

"Don't understand any English, eh?"

"No more," said he.

Just then a tramping of hoofs was heard; and looking out of the back
door they saw, about two hundred yards away, a large horse-yard,
over which hung a cloud of dust. Under the dust were signs of a
struggle.

"He's in the yard," said Charlie. "Let's go up."

The cloud of dust shifted from place to place, and out of it came
a medley of weird oaths, the dull thudding of a waddy, and the heavy
breathing of men and animals in combat. Suddenly a lithe, sinewy
black boy, dressed in a short blue shirt, bounded like a squirrel
to the top of the fence and perched there; and through the mist they
saw a very tall old man, holding on like grim death to the end of
a long rope, and being hauled about the yard in great jumps by a
half-grown steer. Behind the steer another black boy dodged in and
out, welting and prodding it from time to time with a bamboo pole.
Maddened by the blows, the steer would dash forward and narrowly
miss impaling the man on his horns; then, taking advantage of his
impetus, the old man would try to haul him into a smaller yard.
Every time he got to the gate the steer yanked him out again by a
series of backward springs that would have hauled along a dromedary,
and the struggle began all over again.  The black boy on the fence
dropped down with the agility of a panther, took up the rope behind
the old man, and pulled for all he was worth.

"Hit him there, Billy! Whack him! Come on, you son of a cow! I'll
pull you in if I have to pull your head off. Come on, now!" And
once more the struggle raged furiously.

Charlie clambered up on the fence and sat there for a moment. The
old man saw him, but evinced no surprise. He just said, "Here,
Mister Who-ever-you-are, kitch hold of that rope." Their united
forces were too much for the steer, and he was hauled in by main
strength under a fusillade of bamboo on his stern. Once in the
small yard, he abandoned the struggle, and charged wildly at his
captors. The old man slipped nimbly to one side, Gordon darted up
the nearest fence, while Carew and the black boy got tangled up
with the rope.

In the sauve qui peut which ensued, Carew pushed the black down
on the ground right in front of the steer, which immediately fell
over him, and tangled him up more than ever. Then it turned on
him with a roar of rage, butted him violently, rolled him over and
over in the dirt, knelt on him, bellowed in his ear, and slobbered
on him. It looked as if the boy must be killed. His mate dashed
in with a bamboo, and welted and whacked away without making any
impression, till the animal of its own accord withdrew gloomily
to a corner of the yard, dragging the rope after it. Carew watched
the prostrate boy in agonised suspense, hardly daring to hope that
he was alive. With a gasp of satisfaction he saw him rise to his
feet, rub some of the dirt off his face, and look round at the
steer. Then he gave his shirt a shake and began to brush himself
with his hands, saying in an indignant tone, "Flamin' bullock!
Spoil my new chirt!"

Now all hands seized the rope again; in a trice the bullock was
hauled up against the fence, thrown to the ground, and held there
while the old man sawed off the point of one horn, which was growing
into the animal's eye. When the job was done he straightened himself
up, and through the covering grime and dust they had a good look
at him.

He had a long, red nose, a pair of bright hazel eyes, and a bushy,
grizzled beard and moustache hiding all the lower part of his face.
On his head was a shapeless felt hat, from which a string passed
under his nose. His arms were hairy and baboon-like; his long thin
legs seemed intended by Nature to fit the sides of a horse. He
wore tweed pants, green with age, and strapped on the inside with
a lighter-coloured and newer material; also a very dirty coloured
cotton shirt, open in front, and showing a large expanse of
hairy chest. His voice was husky from much swearing at profligate
cattle, and there was a curious nasal twang in his tone, a sort of
affectation of Americanism that was a departure from the ordinary
bush drawl.

Charlie introduced himself. "My name's Gordon," he said, "and this
is a friend of mine. We've come to take this block over."

"You're welcome to it, Mister," said the old man promptly. "It's
about broke me, and if you don't look out it'll break you. Any man
that gits this place will hump his swag from it in five years, mark
me! Come on down to the house," he continued, picking up the rope
and other gear lying about the fence. "Now, you boys, let that
steer out, and then go and help the gins bring the cattle in. Look
lively now, you tallow-faced crawlers. Come on, Mister. Did you
bring any square-face with you?"

"We brought a drop o' rum," replied Charlie.

"Ha! That'll do. That's the real Mackay," said the veteran, slouching
along at a perceptibly quicker gait.

"But, look, see here now, Mister!" he continued, anxiously, "you
didn't let Ah Loy get hold of it, did you? He's a real terror, that
Chow of mine.  Did you see him when you came in?"

"Yes, we saw him. He couldn't speak any English, seemingly."

"That's him," said the old man. "That's him!  He don't savvy much
English. He knows all he wants, though. He can lower the rum with
any Christian ever I see. It don't do to let him get his hands on
a bottle of anythink in the spirit line.  It'll come back half-empty.
Now then, cook," he roared, seating himself at the rough slab table,
and drumming on it with a knife, "let's have some grub, quick, and
you'll get a nip of rum. This new boss b'long you, you savvy. All
about station b'long him. I go buffalo-shooting. Me stony broke.
Poor fellow me! Been fifteen years in this God-forgotten country,
too," he said reminiscently, placing his elbows on the table,
and gazing at the wall in front of him. "Fifteen years livin'
mostly with the blacks and the Chineyman, and livin' like a black
or a Chineyman, too. And what have I got to show for it? I've got
to hump my bluey out of this, and take to the road like any other
broken-down old swagman."

"It's a bit rough," said Charlie. "How did you come to grief?"

"Oh, I came out here with a big mob of cattle," said the old man,
filling his pipe, as Ah Loy placed some tin plates, a tin dish,
and a bottle of Worcester sauce on the table, and withdrew to the
kitchen for the provender. "I lived here, and I spent nothing, and
I let 'em breed. I just looked on, and let 'em breed. Oh, there was
no waste about my management.  I hadn't an overseer at two pounds
ten a week, to boss a lot of flash stockmen at two pounds.  I jest
got my own two gins and three good black boys, and I watched them
cattle like a blessed father. I never saw a stranger's face from
year's end to year's end. I rode all over the face of the earth,
keepin' track of 'em. I kep' the wild blacks from scarin' 'em to
death, and spearin' of 'em, as is their nature to, and I got speared
myself in one or two little shootin' excursions I had."

"Shooting the blacks?" interpolated Gordon.

"Somethin' like that, Mister. I did let off a rifle a few times,
and I dessay one or two poor, ignorant black feller-countrymen that
had been fun' my cattle as full of spears as so many hedgehogs--I
dessay they got in the road of a bullet or two. They're always
gettin' in the road of things.  But we don't talk of shootin' blacks
nowadays These parts is too civilised--it's risky. Anyhow, I made
them blacks let my cattle alone. And I slaved like a driven nigger,
day in and day out, brandin' calves all day long in the dust, with
the sun that hot, the brandin' iron 'ud mark without puttin' it in
the fire at all. And then down comes the tick, and kills my cattle
by the hundred, dyin' and perishin' all over the place. And what
lived through it I couldn't sell anywhere, because they won't let
tick-infested cattle go south, and the Dutch won't let us ship 'em
north to Java, the wretches! And then Mr. Grant's debt was over
everything; and at last I had to chuck it up. That's how I got
broke, Mister. I hope you'll have better luck."

While he was delivering this harangue, Carew had been taking notes
of the establishment. There was just a rough table, three boxes
to sit on, a meat safe, a few buckets, and a rough set of shelves,
supporting a dipper and a few tin plates, and tins of jam, while in
the corner stood some rifles and a double-barrelled gun. Saddlery
of all sorts was scattered about the floor promiscuously.

Certainly the owner of No Man's Land had not lived luxuriously.
A low galvanised-iron partition divided the house into two rooms,
and through the doorway could be seen a rough bunk made of bags
stretched on saplings.

As the old man finished speaking, Ah Loy brought in the evening
meal--about a dozen beautifully tender roast ducks in a large tin
dish, a tin plate full of light, delicately-browned cakes of the
sort known as "puftalooners," and a huge billy of tea.  There were
no vegetables; pepper and salt were in plenty, and Worcester sauce.
They ate silently, as hungry men do, while the pigs and cattle-dogs
marched in at the open-door, and hustled each other for the scraps
that were thrown to them.

"How is it the pigs have no tails?" asked Carew.

"Bit off, Mister. The dogs bit them off. They've got the ears pretty
well chawed off 'em too."

Just then a pig and a dog made a simultaneous rush for a bone, and
the pig secured it. The dog, by way of revenge, fastened on to the
pig, and made him squeal like a locomotive engine whistling. The
old man kicked at large under the table, and restored order.

"You ain't eatin', Mister," he said, forking a duck on to Carew's
plate with his own fork. "These ducks is all right. They're thick
on the lagoon.  The Chow only had two cartridges, but he got about
a dozen. He lays down and fires along the water, and they're floatin'
very near solid on it.  But here's the cattle comin' up."

Looking out of the door, they saw about two hundred cattle coming
in a long, stringing mob up the plain, driven by four black figures
on horse-back.  As they drew near the yards, several cattle seemed
inclined to bolt away; but the sharp fusillade of terrific whips
kept them up to the mark, and, after a sudden halt for a few minutes,
the mob streamed in through the gates. A number of rails were put
in the posts, and made fast with pegs.  The riders then remounted,
and came cantering and laughing down to the homestead. All four
were aboriginals, two were the boys that had been seen at the yard.
The two new boys were dressed in moleskins, cotton shirts, and soft
felt hats, and each had a gaudy handkerchief tied round his throat.

One was light, wiry, and graceful as a gazelle--a very handsome
boy, the embodiment of lightness and activity. The other was short
and squat, with a broad face. Both grinned light-heartedly as they
rode up, let their horses go, and carried their saddles on to the
verandah, without bothering about the strangers.

"Those are nice-looking boys," said Carew. "I mean the two new boys
just coming in."

"New boys!" said the old man. "Them!  They're my two gins. And
see here, Mister, you'll have to keep off hangin' round them while
you're camped here. I can't stand anyone interferin' with them.
If you kick my dorg, or go after my gin, then you rouse all the
monkey in me. Those two do all my cattle work. Come here, Maggie,"
he called, and the slight "boy" walked over with a graceful, easy
swing.

"This is new feller?" he said, introducing Carew, who bowed gracefully.
"He b'long Sydney. You think him plenty nice feller, eh?"

"Yowi," said the girl laughing. "He nice feller. You got 'em
matches?" she said, beaming on Carew, and pulling a black pipe out
of her trousers' pocket. "Big fool that Lucy, drop 'em matches."

Carew handed over his match-box in speechless amazement.

"They've been out all day with the cattle," said the old man.
"I've got a lot of wild cattle in that there mob. I go out with a
few quiet ones in the moonlight, and when the wild cattle come out
of the scrubs to look at 'em we rush the whole lot out into the
plain. Great hands these gins are--just as good as the boys."

"Good Lord!" said Carew, looking at the two little figures, who had
now a couple of ducks each, a puftalooner or two, and a big pannikin
of tea, and were sitting on the edge of the verandah eating away
with great enjoyment; "what have they been doing with the cattle
to-day?"

"Minding them lest the wild ones should clear out. They dropped
their matches somehow; that's what fetched 'em home early. They'll
have to sleep on the verandah to-night. We'll make that their
boodore, as they say in France."

The dark was now falling; the sunlight had left long, faint, crimson
streaks in the sky. The air was perceptibly cooler, and flights
of waterfowl hurried overhead, making their way to the river.  The
Chinaman lighted a slush-lamp, by whose flickering light Charlie
produced from his swag a small bundle of papers, and threw them on
the table.

"We might as well get our business over, Keogh," he said. "I've
got the paper here for you to sign, making over your interest in
the block and the cattle, and all that."

He pored over the document, muttering as he read it. "Your name'll
have to be filled in, and there's a blank for the name of the person
it's transferred to."

"That'll be Mr. Grant's name," suggested Carew.

"I don't know so much about that," said Charlie.  "I don't think,
if a man has a mortgage over a place, that he can take it in his
own name. That fool Pinnock didn't tell me. He was too anxious
to know how we got on with the larrikins to give me any useful
information. Anyhow, I'll fill in my own name--for all the block
is worth I ain't likely to steal it. I can transfer it to Mr. Grant
afterwards."

"I don't care," said the old man indifferently, "I'll transfer my
interest to anyone you like. I'm done with it. I'm signing away
fifteen of the best years of my life. But my name ain't Keogh, you
know, though I always went by that. My father died when I was a
kiddy, and my mother married again, so I got called by my stepfather's
name all my life. This is my right name, and it's a poor man's
name to-day." And as the two men bent over him in the light of the
flickering slush-lamp, he wrote, with stiff, uncertain fingers,
"Patrick Henry Considine."




CHAPTER XVII.

CONSIDINE.



For a few seconds no one spoke. Carew and Gordon stared at the
signature, and then looked at each other. The newly-found Considine
looked at his autograph in a critical way, as if not quite sure he
had spelled it right, and then stood up, handing the deed to Gordon.

"There y'are," he said. "There's my right, title and intrust in
all this here block of land, and all the stock what's on it; and
if you're ever short of a man to look after the place in the wet
season I'll take the job. I might be glad of it."

"I think it's quite likely you won't want any job from me," said
Charlie. "I'll be asking you for a job yet. Are you sure that's
your right name?  What was your father?"

"My name? O' course it's my name. My father was billiard-marker at
Casey's Hotel, Dandaloo," said the old man with conscious pride.
"A swell he had been, but the boose done him up, like many a better
man. He used to write to people over in England for money, but they
never giv him any."

"Where did he write to?" asked Carew, looking at the uncouth figure
with intense interest. "Do you know what people he wrote to?"

"Yairs. He wrote to William Considine. That was his father's name.
His father never sent any money, though. Told him to go to hell,
I reckon."

"What was your father's name?"

"William Patrick Considine."

Carew dashed out to his saddle, hurriedly unstrapped a valise, and
brought in a small packet of papers.

"Here you are," he said, opening one, and showing it to Gordon.
"Those are the names, Patrick Henry Considine, son of William Patrick
Considine.  Entitled under his grandfather's will--by Jove, do you
know there's a lot of money waiting for you in England?"

"There's what?"

"A lot of money left you. In England. Any amount of it. If you are
the right man, you're rich, don't you know. Quite a wealthy man."

"How much money d'you say, Mister?"

"Oh, a great deal. Thousands and thousands.  Your grandfather left
it. No one knew for certain where you were, or if you were alive."

"I'm alive all right, I believe," said Considine, staring hard at
them. "But look, Mister--you aren't trying to take the loan of me?
Is this straight?"

"Yes, it's straight," said Charlie. "You'll have to go to England
to make your claim good, I expect.  It's straight enough. That's
what brought Mr.  Carew out here, to try and find you."

For some time the bushman smoked in silence, looking at each man
in turn, perhaps expecting them to laugh. He muttered once or twice
to himself under his breath. Then he turned on Gordon again.

"Now, look here, Mr. Gordon, is this square?  Because, if it ain't,
it'll be a poor joke for some of you!"

"Man alive, why should we want to fool you?  What good could it do
us? It's all right."

"Well, if it's all right, we'll all have a drink on it. Here,
Maggie, Lucy, Billy, come here. Get it pannikin. You won't mind me
treatin' 'em with your rum, I suppose, Mister?" he said, turning
to Gordon. "I don't come in for a fortune every day, you know, and
there ain't a drop of lush in the place, only yours."

"Fire away," said Charlie.

"Come on, Lucy. Come on, Maggie. Where's Ah Loy? Watch their faces,
Mister, it's as good as a play. Now then, ladies, I bin poor fella
longa teatime, now rich feller longa bedtime. You savvy?"

The gins grinned uncomprehendingly, but held out their pannikins,
and into each he poured a three-finger nip of raw overproof rum
that would have burnt the palate of Satan himself. They swallowed
it neat, in two or three quick gulps. The tears sprang to their
eyes, and they contorted their faces into all sorts of shapes; but
they disdained to take water after it.

"My word, that strong feller, eh?" said Considine.  "Burn your
mouth, I think it. Now then, Ah Loy, how much you wantee? That
plenty, eh?"

Ah Loy peered into the tin pannikin with a dejected air, and turned
it on one side to show that there wasn't much in it.

"Here y'are, then," said his boss. "Have a bit more. We don't come
in for a fortune every day. Watch him take it, Mister."

Ah Loy put the fiery spirit to his lips, and began to drink in slow
sips, as a connoisseur sips port wine.

"Good heavens," said Carew, "it'll burn the teeth out of his head."

The Chinee sipped away, pausing to let the delicate fluid roll well
into the tender part of his mouth and throat.

"Welly stlong!" he said at last; but he finished the lot. The two
black boys had their share, and retired again to their camp. Then
the three white men sat out in front of the house on some logs,
smoking, and looking at the blazing stars.

Considine had fifty questions to ask, and the more Carew tried,
the more helpless it was to explain things to him.

"D'you say there's a house left me with this here money?"

"Yes," replied Carew. "Beautiful old place.  Old oaks, and all
that sort of thing. You'll like it, I'm sure. Used to be a pack of
hounds there."

"Ha!" said Considine with contempt. "I don't think much of this
huntin' they have in England.  Why, I knew a chap that couldn't
ride in timber a little, and he went to England and hunted, and
d'you know what he said? He said he could have rode in front of
the dogs all the way, if he'd have liked. But the owner of the dogs
asked him not to, so he didn't."

"I suppose I could take Maggie and Lucy there," he went on, looking
doubtfully at his hearers.  "They wouldn't mind a chap havin' a
couple of black lady friends, would they? Yer see, they've stuck
with me well, those two gins, and I wouldn't like to leave 'em
behind. They'd get into bad hands. They're two as good handy gins
as there is in the world. That little fat one--you start her out
with a bridle and enough tobacker after lost horses, and she'll
foller 'em till she gets 'em, if it takes a week. Camps out at
night anywhere she can get water, and gets her own grub--lizards
and young birds, and things like that. There ain't her equal as
a horse-hunter in Australia. Maggie ain't a bad gin after horses,
but if she don't find 'em first day, she won't camp out--she gets
frightened. I'd like to take 'em with me, yer know."

As he spoke the two moleskin-trousered, cotton-shirted little figures
passed in front of the hut.  "There they go," he said. "Two real
good gins.  Now, as man to man, you wouldn't arst me to turn them
loose, would you?"

Carew looked rather embarrassed, and smoked some time before
answering.

"Well, of course," he said at last, "they'd put up with a good
deal from you, bein' an Australian, don't you know. Fashion just
now to make a lot of fuss over Australian chappies, whatever they
do.  But two black women--rather a large order. You might get
married over there, and then these two black ladies--"

He was interrupted by a startled exclamation from Considine. "Married!"
he said. "Married!  I forgot all about my wife. I am married!"

"What!" said Charlie. "Are you married?"

"Yairs. Married. Yairs! Should just think I was."

"Not to a lubra, I suppose?"

"Lubra, no! A hot-tempered faggot of a woman I met at Pike's pub.
I lived with her three weeks and left her there. I haven't seen
her this six years."

"Did you and she have some er--differences, then?" said Carew.

"Differences? No I We had fights--plenty fights. You see, it was
this way. I hadn't long got these two gins; and just before the
rains the wild geese come down in thousands to breed, and the blacks
all clear out and camp by the lagoons, and kill geese and eat eggs
and young ones all day long, till they near bust. It's the same
every year--when the wild geese come the blacks have got to go,
and it's no use talkin'. So I was slavin' away here--out all day
on the run with the cattle--and one night I comes home after being
out three days, and there at the foot of the bunk was the two gins'
trousers and shirts, folded up; they'd run away with the others.

"So I goes after 'em down the river to the lagoons, and there was
hundreds of blacks; but these two beauties had heard me coming,
and was planted in the reeds, and the other blacks, of course, they
says, "No more" when I arst them. So there I was, lonely. Only me
and the Chinaman here for two months, 'cause his gin had gone too.
So one day I ketches the horses, and off I goes, and travels for
days, till I makes Pike's pub, and there was this woman.

"It seems from what I heard afterwards that she'd just cleared out
from some fellow she'd been livin' with for years--had a quarrel
with him.  Anyhow, I hadn't seen a white woman for years, and she
was a fine lump of a woman, and I got on a bit of a spree for a
week or so, you know--half-tight all the time; and it seems some
sort of a parson--a mish'nary to the blacks--chanced along and
married us. She had her lines and everything all right, but I don't
remember much about it. So then I'm living with her for a bit; but
I don't like her goin's on, and I takes the whip to her once, and
she gets snake-headed to me, and takes up an axe; and then one
day comes a black from this place and he says to me, he says, "Old
man," he says, "Maggie and Lucy come back." So then I says to my
wife, "I'm off back to the run," I says, "and it's sorry I am that
ever I married you." And she says, "Well, I'm not goin' out to yer
old run, to get eat up with musketeers." So says I, "Please yourself
about that, you faggot," I says, "but I'm off." So off I cleared,
and I never seen her from that day till this. I married her under
the name of Keogh, though. Will that make any difference?"

This legal problem kept them occupied for some time; and, after
much discussion, it was decided that a marriage under a false name
could hardly be valid.

Then weariness, the weariness of open-air, travelling, and hard
work, settled down on them, and they made for the house. On the
verandah the two gins lay sleeping, their figures dimly outlined under
mosquito nets; the dogs crouched about in all sorts of attitudes.
Considine turned in all standing in the big rough bunk, while Carew
and Gordon stretched their blankets on the hard earth floor, made
a pillow of their clothes, and lay down to sleep, after fixing
mosquito nets. Gordon slept as soon as he touched the blankets,
but Carew tumbled and tossed. The ground was deadly hard. During
the journey Frying Pan had got grass for their beds; here he had
not been told to get it, and it would have looked effeminate to ask
for grass when no one else seemed to want it. The old man heard him
stirring and rolling, and sat up in his bunk.  "What's up, Mister?"
he said kindly. "D'you find it a hard camp?"

"Not too easy," said the Englishman. "Always seems to be a deuced
hard place just under your hip, don't you know?"

"I'll put you right in a brace of shakes," said Considine. "I've
got the very thing to make a soft bed. Half a minute now, and I'll
get it for you."

He went out to the back of the house, and returned with a dry white
bullock-hide, as rigid as a sheet of iron. This he threw down at
Carew's feet.

"Here y'are, Mister; put that under you for a hipper, and you'll
be all right."

Carew found the hide nearly as hard as the bare floor, but he
uttered profuse thanks, and said it was quite comfortable; to which
the old man replied that he was sure it must be, and then threw
himself back on his bunk and began snoring at once. But Carew lay
long awake.




CHAPTER XVIII.

THE WILD CATTLE.



Carew awoke next morning to find that it was broad daylight, and
the horses had been run in, caught, and saddled, all ready for a
start to the run.  Breakfast was soon disposed of, and the cavalcade
set out. Naturally, the old man had heaps of questions to ask about
his inheritance, and made the Englishman ride alongside while he
questioned him.

"If I go to England after this money, Mister, I suppose they won't
be handin' me out ten years for perjury, same as they done for
Roger Tichborne, eh? I won't have no law case, will I?"

"Shouldn't think so. You've been advertised for all over the place,
I believe."

"Ha! Well, now they've got me they mightn't like me, don't you
see? I never took no stock in them unclaimed-money fakes. I never
see any money goin' beggin' yet, long as I've lived, but what some
chap had his hands on it quick enough. But I s'pose it's all right."

"It's me wife I'm troublin' about. I'm no dandy, Goodness knows,
but if people'll let me alone I'll let them alone, and I don't
interfere with anyone.  But if old Peg turns up she'll want to be
right in front of the percession. If she follows me, I'll realise
everything by public auction, unreserved sale, for spot cash, and
I'll sneak back here to a place I knows of, where there's no trooper
can find me. I ain't goin' halves with that woman, I tell you. She
wouldn't stick to me if I was poor, and I ain't goin' to take her
up again now. You'd better come back with me, Mister, and show me
the way round a bit."

"There's a mob of cattle, Gordon." he went on, changing the subject
quickly; "let's ride up here, while the boys bring 'em into camp."
And off they went at a carter, leaving the question of his social
prospects in abeyance for the time being.

The ceremony of taking delivery lasted some days, Considine's
signature to the deed of transfer being only the first step. This
long document, prepared in Sydney, kept them going in literature
for about a week; and they were delighted to find that, through
the carelessness of a clerk, in one part of the deed there figured
"one bull of mixed sexes and various ages."

They rode out, day after day, through interminable stretches of dull
timbered country, or over blazing plains waving with long grass.
Here they came on mobs of half-wild cattle, all bearing the same
brand, a huge RL5. These were not mustered into a yard or counted,
except roughly. Gordon was not completing a purchase, but simply
taking over what were there--many or few; good or bad, he could
only take what he found.

Miles and miles they rode, always in the blazing heat, camping for
a couple of hours in the middle of the day. To the Englishman it
seemed always the merest chance that they found the cattle, and
accident that they got home again. At rare intervals they came
upon substantial mustering-yards, where the calves were brought
for branding; near these a rough hut had been constructed, so that
they could camp there at night, instead of returning to the head
station.

They always slept out of doors. In the intense heat it was no
hardship, and the huts, as a rule, fairly jumped with fleas. Once
they camped alongside a big lagoon, on whose surface were huge pink
and blue water-lilies and rushes, and vast flocks of wild fowl.
After the stretches of blazing plain and dull timber this glimpse
of water was inexpressibly refreshing.

On their way back they struck new country, great stretches of almost
impenetrable scrub, tropical jungle, and belts of bamboo. In this
cover wild cattle evidently abounded, for they frequently heard
the bellow of the bulls.

"There should be a terrible lot of wild cattle here," said Charlie.
"Don't you ever get any out of the scrubs?"

"Oh, yes, we moonlight for 'em." said Considine.  "We take coachers
out. We have a very fair coaching mob. Some of our coachers are as
quick as racehorses, and they'll hustle wild cattle away from the
scrub just as if they understood."

"What do you mean by coachers?" asked Carew.  "Not cattle that go
in carts, eh?"

"Carts, no. The way we get wild cattle here-abouts is to take out
a mob of quiet cattle, what we call coachers, and let 'em feed in
the moonlight alongside the scrub, while we wait back out o' the
road and watch 'em. When the wild cattle come out, they run over
to see the coachers, and we dash up and cut 'em off from the scrub,
and hustle 'em together into the open. It's good sport, Mister.
We might try a dash at it, if you like, before we go back; it's
moonlight now."

"Let's have a try to-night" said Gordon. "Are your coachers handy?"

"Yairs. They feed near the house. I'll send 'em on with the gins
to-night."

When they got back that evening, Carew was so dead-tired that he
wished the wild cattle expedition at Jericho. But Considine and
Charlie were in great form, directing, arguing, and planning the
expedition. One of the black boys rode out, and returned driving
a big mob of horses that dashed into the yard at full gallop. The
gins and the black boys caught fresh mounts out of these and started
away, driving some fifty head of cattle selected from a mob that
made their headquarters within a few miles of the house. Most of them
were old stagers, and strung away in the evening quite tranquilly,
while the blacks, always smoking, rode listlessly after. Considine
produced two stockwhips, and gave one to Charlie.

"No good givin' you one. Mister," he said to Carew. "You'd hang
yourself with it most likely.  I've got a rare good horse for
you--old Smoked Beef. He'd moonlight cattle by himself, I believe.
You'd better have a pistol, though."

"What for?" asked Carew, as Considine produced three very heavy
navy revolvers and a bag of cartridges.

"To shoot any beast that won't stay with the mob. Some of 'em won't
be stopped. They have to go. Well, if one goes, the rest keep trying
to follow, and no forty men will hold 'em. You just keep your eyes
open, and if a beast breaks out in spite of the whips, you shoot
him if the blacks tell you. See?"

"Where am I to shoot him?"

"Shoot him any place. In the earhole, or the shoulder, or the ribs,
or the flank. Any place at all. Shoot him all over if you like.
One or two bullets don't hurt a beast. It takes a lead-mine to kill
some of 'em."

"Do the blacks shoot?" asked Charlie.

"No, I don't never trust no blacks with firearms.  One boy knifes
well, though. Races alongside and knifes 'em."

This seemed a fairly difficult performance; while the Englishman
was wondering how it would be carried out, they made a start. They
rode mile after mile in the yellow moonlight, until they discerned
a mob of cattle feeding placidly near some big scrub. They whistled
to the blacks, and all rode away down wind to a spot on the edge
of the plain, a considerable distance from the cattle.

Here they dismounted and waited, Considine and Charlie talking
occasionally in low tones, while the blacks sat silent, holding
their horses. Carew lay down on the long dry grass and gazed away
over the plain. His horse stood over him with head down, apparently
sleeping. Far away under the moon, in vague patches of light and
shade, the cattle were feeding. Hours seemed to pass, and Carew
almost fell asleep.

Suddenly a long-drawn bellow, the angry challenge of a bull, broke
the silence. A mob of wild cattle were evidently coming along the
edge of the scrub, and had caught scent of the strangers. Again
the bull roared; there is no animal on earth with so emphatically
warlike a note as the wild bull when advancing to meet a strange
mob. The quiet cattle answered with plaintive, long-drawn lowings,
and the din became general as the two lots met.

"Let 'em get well mixed up," said Considine quietly, tightening
his girths, and swinging into the saddle. Everyone followed his
example. Carew was shaking with excitement. Angry bellowing now arose
from the cattle, which were apparently horning one another--such
being their manner of greeting.

Considine said, "There's a big lot there. Hope to blazes we can
hold 'em. Are you ready, Mister?"

"Yes, I'm ready," replied Carew.

"Come on, then. We'll sneak up slowly at first, but once I start
galloping let your horse go as fast as he likes, and trust him
altogether. Don't pull him at all, or he'll break your neck."

They started slowly in Indian file, keeping well in the shadow of
the scrub. The horses picked their way through the outlying saplings
and bushes, until suddenly Considine bent forward on his horse's
neck, and said, "Come on!"

What a ride that was! The inexperienced reader is apt to imagine
that because a plain is level, it is smooth, but no greater fallacy
exists. The surface of a plain is always bad galloping. The rain
washes away the soil from between the tussocks, which stand up
like miniature mountains; the heat cracks the ground till it opens
in crevices, sometimes a foot wide and a yard or two deep; fallen
saplings lie hidden in the shadows to trip the horse, while the
stumps stand up to cripple him, and over all is the long grass
hiding all perils, and making the horse risk his own neck and his
master's at every stride.

They flew along in the moonlight, Considine leading, Charlie next,
then the two black boys, and then Carew, with a black gin on each
side of him, racing in grim silence. The horses blundered and
"peeked," stumbled, picked themselves up again, always seeming to
have a leg to spare. Now and again a stump or a gaping crack in
the ground would flash into view under their very nose, but they
cleared everything--stumps, tussocks, gaps, and saplings.

In less time than it takes to write, they were between the mob
and the scrub; at once a fusillade of whips rang out, and the men
started to ride round the cattle in Indian file. The wild ones were
well mixed up with the tame, and hardly knew which way to turn.
Carew, cantering round, caught glimpses of them rushing hither and
thither--small, wiry cattle for the most part, with big ears and
sharp, spear-pointed horns. Of these there were fifty or sixty,
as near as Considine could judge--three or four bulls, a crowd of
cows and calves and half-grown animals, and a few old bullocks that
had left the station mobs and thrown in their lot with the wild
ones.

By degrees, as the horses went round them, the cattle began to
"ring," forming themselves into a compact mass, those on the outside
running round and round. All the time the whips were going, and the
shrill cries of the blacks rang out, "Whoa back! Whoa back, there!
Whoa!" as an animal attempted to break from the mob. They were
gradually forcing the beasts away from the scrub, when suddenly,
in spite of the gins' shrill cries, some of the leaders broke out
and set off up the plain; with the rush of a cavalry charge the
rest were after them, racing at full speed parallel with the edge
of the scrub, and always trying to make over towards it.

Old Considine met this new development with Napoleonic quickness.
He and the others formed a line parallel with the course of the
cattle, and raced along between them and the timber, keeping up
an incessant fusillade with their whips, while the old man's voice
rang out loudly in directions to the blacks behind.

"Keep the coachers with 'em! Flog 'em along!  Cut the hides off
'em!"

In the first rush the quiet cattle had dropped to the rear,
but the blacks set about them with their whips; and, as they were
experienced coachers, and had been flogged and hustled along in
similar rushes so often that they knew at once what was wanted,
they settled down to race just as fast as the wild ones. As the
swaying, bellowing mass swept along in the moonlight, crashing and
trampling through the light outlying timber, some of the coachers
were seen working their way to the lead, and the wild cattle having
no settled plan, followed them blindly.  Considine, on his black
horse, was close up by the wing of the mob, and the others rode in
line behind him, always keeping between the cattle and the scrub.

"Crack your whips!" he yelled. "Crack your whips! Keep 'em off the
scrub! Go on, Billy, drive that horse along and get to the lead!"

Like a flash one of the black boys darted out of the line, galloped
to the head of the cattle, and rode there, pursued by the flying
mob, the cracks of his heavy stockwhip sounding above the roar of
hoofs and the bellowing of the cattle. Soon they steadied a little,
and gradually sobered down till they stopped and began to "ring"
again.

"That was pretty pure, eh, Mister?" roared Considine to Carew.
"Ain't it a caution the way the coachers race with 'em? That old
bald-face coacher is worth two men and a boy in a dash like this."

Suddenly an old bull, the patriarch of the wild herd, made towards
one of the gins, whose shrill yells and whip-cracking failed to
turn him. Considine dashed to her assistance, swinging his whip
round his head.

"Whoa back, there! Whoa back, will you!" he shouted. The bull paused
irresolute for a second, and half-turned back to the mob, but the
sight or scent of his native scrub decided him. Dropping his head,
he charged straight at Considine. So sudden was the attack that
the stock-horse had barely time to spring aside; but, quick as it
was, Considine's revolver was quicker. The bull passed--bang! went
the revolver, and bang! bang! bang!  again, as the horse raced
alongside, Considine leaning over and firing into the bull's ribs
at very short range.

The other cattle, dazed by the firing, did not attempt to follow,
and at the fourth shot the bull wheeled to charge. He stood a
moment in the moonlight, bold and defiant, then staggered a little
and looked round as though to say, "What have you done to me?" Bang
went the revolver again; the animal lurched, plunged forward, sank
on his knees, and fell over on his side, dead.

"There, you swab," said the old man, "that'll larn you to break
another time." Then he took once more his place in the patrol
round the mob.  They circled and eddied and pushed, always staring
angrily at the riders. Suddenly a big, red bullock gave a snort
of defiance, and came out straight towards Carew. He stopped once,
shook his head ominously, and came on again. One of the gins dashed
up with the whip; but the bullock had evidently decided to take
all chances, and advanced on his foes at a trot.

"Choot him, that feller!" screamed the gin to Carew. "You choot
him! He bin yan away!  No more stop! Choot him!"

Carew lugged out his revolver, and tried to pull his horse to a
standstill, but the wary old veteran knew better than to be caught
standing by a charging bullock; just as Carew fired, he plunged forward,
with the result that the bullet went over the mob altogether, and
very nearly winged Charlie, who was riding on the far side. Then
the bullock charged in earnest; and Carew's horse, seeing that
if he wished to save human life he must take matters into his own
hands, made a bolt for it. Carew half-turned in the saddle, and
fired twice, only making the black boys on the far side cower down
on their horses' necks. Then the horse took complete charge, and
made off for the scrub with the bullock after him, and every animal
in the mob after the bullock.

Nothing in the world could have stopped them.  Considine and
Charlie raced in front, alongside Carew, cracking their whips and
shouting; the blacks flogged the coachers up with the wild cattle;
but they held on their way, plunged with a mighty crash into the
thick timber, and were lost. No horseman could ride a hundred yards
in that timber at night. Coachers and all were gone together, and
the dispirited hunters gathered at the edge of the scrub and looked
at each other.

"Well, Mister, you couldn't stop him," said the old man.

"I'm afraid I made--rather a mess of things, don't you know," said
the Englishman. "I thought I hit him the second time, too. Seemed
to be straight at him."

"I think you done very well to miss us! I heard one bullet whiz past
me like a scorpyun. Well, it can't be helped. Those old coachers
will all battle their way home again before long. Gordon, I vote
we go home. They're your cattle now, and you'll have to come out
again after 'em some day, and do a little more shootin'. Get a suit
of armour on you first, though."

As they jogged home through the bright moonlight, they heard loud
laughter from the blacks, and Carew, looking back, found the fat
gin giving a dramatic rehearsal of his exploits. She dashed her
horse along at a great pace, fell on his neck, clutched wildly at
the reins, then suddenly turned in her saddle, and pretended to
fire point-blank at the other blacks, who all dodged the bullet.
Then she fell on the horse's neck again, and so on ad lib.

This made the Englishman very morose. He was quite glad when
Charlie said he had seen enough of the cattle, and they would all
start next day for civilisation--Charlie to resume the management
of Mr. Grant's stations, Carew to go with him as "colonial experiencer,"
and Considine to start for England to look after his inheritance.




CHAPTER XIX.

A CHANCE ENCOUNTER.



The black boys went in with them to Pike's store to take back
supplies on the pack-horse. They travelled over the same country
that they had seen coming up; the men at the stations greeted them
with the same hospitality. Nothing was said about Considine's good
fortune. It was thought wise to be silent, as he didn't know how
soon his wife might hear of it.

They left the gins at the blacks' camp, which they chanced on by
a riverside. The camp was a primitive affair, a few rude shelters
made by bending bamboo sticks together and covering them with strips
of paper bark. Here the sable wariors sat and smoked all day long,
tobacco being their only civilised possession. Carew was very
anxious to look at them, a development of curiosity that Considine
could not understand.

"Most uninteresting devils, I call 'em," he said.  "They're stark
naked, and they have nothing.  What is there to look at?"

Having parted with Maggie and Lucy, they pushed onwards, the old
man beguiling the time with disquisitions on the horse-hunting
capabilities of his gins, whom he seemed really sorry to leave. As
they got near Pike's, he became more restless than ever.

"See here, Mister," he said at last, "my wife's here, I expect,
and if she gets wind of this, I'll never get rid of her. The only
thing to do is to slip away without her knowing, and she might never
hear of it. I won't go into the place at all. I'll go on and camp
down the creek, and get the coach there after it leaves the town,
and she'll never know."

The town of "Pike's" consisted of a hotel, a store, a post-office,
a private residence, and coach-stables; these were all combined in
one establishment, so the town couldn't be said to be scattered.
Pike himself was landlord of the "pub," keeper of the store, officer
in charge of the post-office, owner of the private residence, holder
of the mail contract, and proprietor of the coach-stables. Behind
him was only wilderness and "new" country.

Nobody ever saw him at home. Either he was on the road with a
bullock-team, bringing up supplies for the hotel and store, or he
was droving cattle down on a six months' journey to market; or he
was away looking at new country, or taking supplies out to men on
the half-provisioned stations of the "outer-back;" or else he was
off to some new mining camp or opal-field, to sell a dray-load of
goods at famine prices.

When Charlie and Carew rode up to the store they did not see Pike,
nor did they expect to see him. By some mysterious Providence they
had arrived the very day the coach started on its monthly trip
down to Barcoo; and in front of the hotel were congregated quite a
number of people--Pike's wife and his half-wild children, a handful
of bushmen, station hands, opal miners, and what-not, and last,
but not least, a fat lady of about forty summers, with flaring red
hair.

She was a fine "lump" of a woman, with broad shoulders, and nearly
the same breadth all the way down to her feet. She wore a rusty
black dress, which fitted perilously tight to her arms and bust; on
her head was a lopsided, dismantled black bonnet with a feather--a
bonnet that had evidently been put away in a drawer and forgotten
for years.  Any want of colour or style in her dress was amply
made up for by the fact that she positively glowed with opals. Her
huge, thick fingers twinkled with opal rings; from each of her ears
there dangled an opal earring the size of a form; her old dress
was secured round her thick, muscular neck by a brooch that looked
like an opal quarry, and whenever she turned to the sun she flashed
out rays like a lighthouse.

Her face was fat and red, full of a sort of good-humoured ferocity;
she moved like a queen among the bystanders, and shook hands
gravely with each and all of them. She was hot, but very dignified.
Evidently she was preparing to start in the coach, for she packed
into the vehicle with jealous care a large carpet-bag of garish
colouring that seemed to harmonise well with the opals. While she
was packing this away, Charlie and Carew went into the store, and
bought such supplies as were needed for the establishment at No
Man's Land. Gordon took the opportunity to ask the shock-headed
old storekeeper, Pike's deputy, some questions about the lady, who
was still scintillating between the coach and the house, carrying
various small articles each trip.

"Don't yer know 'er?" said the man, in much the same tone that Bret
Harte's hero must have used when he was so taken aback to find that
a stranger--

                    "Didn't know Flynn,--
                    Flynn of Virginia."

"Don't yer know 'er?" he repeated, pausing in his task of scooping
some black cockroachy sugar from the bottom of a bin. "That's the
Hopal Queen! She's hoff South, she is. Yer'll be going in the coach,
will yer?"

"Yes," said Charlie. "We're going in the coach. There's no extra
fare for travelling with such a swell, is there? Where on earth
did she get all those opals?"

"Ho, blokes gives 'em to 'er, passin' back from the hopal fields.
In the rough, yer know! Hopal in the rough, well, it's 'ard to
tell what it'll turn out, and they'll give 'er a 'unk as sometimes
turns out a fair dazzler. She's a hay-one judge of it in the rough,
too. If she buys a bit of hopal, yer bet yer life it ain't a bad
bit when it's cut. What about these 'ere stores? Goin' to take 'em
with yer?"

"No," said Charlie. "The black boy is here for them. He's going to
take them back with him."

"What, Keogh's black boy! Well, I don't know as Pike'll stand old
Paddy Keogh any longer.  Paddy's 'ad a dorg tied hup 'ere" (i.e.,
an account outstanding) "this two years, and last time Pike was
'ome 'e was reck'nin' it was about hup to Keogh to pay something."

"They're not for Keogh," said Charlie.  "They're for me. I've taken
Keogh's block over."

The old man looked at him dubiously.

"Well, but y'aint goin' to tie hup no dorg on us for 'em, are yer?
I s'pose it's all right, though?"

"Right, yes," said Gordon. "It's for Mr.  Grant, Old Man Grant,--you've
heard of Grant of Kuryong?"

"Never 'eard of him," said the aged man, "but it makes no hodds.
Pay when yer like. Yer'd better git on the coach, for I see the
Hopal Queen's ready for a start. Yer'll know her all right before
long, I bet. Some of the fellers from round about 'as come in to
give her a send-off like. There's the coach ready; yer'd better
git aboard, and yer'll hear the-the send-off like. Young Stacy out
there reckons 'e's going to make a speech."

Charlie and Carew climbed upon the coach. The fat lady kissed
Pike's wife and children with great solemnity. "Good-bye, Alice!
Good-bye, Nora darlin'," she said. Then she marched in a stately
way towards the vehicle, with the children forming a bodyguard
round her. A group of men hung about uneasily, looked sheepish, and
waved large, helpless red hands, till a young fellow about seven
feet high--who looked more uneasy and had even larger hands than
the rest--was hustled forward, and began to mutter something that
nobody could hear.

"Speak up, George," said a friend. The young man raised his voice
to a shout, and said--

"And so I propose three cheers and long life to the Hopal Queen!"

As he spoke he ran two or three paces forward towards a stump,
meaning, no doubt, to get on it and lead the cheering; but, just
as he was going to jump, a wretched little mongrel that had been in
and out among the people's feet made a dash at him, fixed its teeth
in the calf of his leg, and ran away howling at its own temerity.
The young giant rushed after it, but the Opal Queen interposed.

"George," she said, "don't ye dare go for to kick my dog!"

"Well, what did he bite me for, then?" said the giant, speaking
out now in a voice that could be heard half a mile off. "What did
he bite me for?"

"Never mind, George! Don't ye go for to kick him, that's all."

The Opal Queen, snorting like a grampus, climbed into the coach;
the driver cracked his whip, and off they went, leaving the audience
spellbound, and the gigantic young man rubbing his leg. Soon Pike's
faded away in the distance. As the coach jolted along, Carew and
Charlie on the box seat occasionally peered in at the large swaying
figure, half-hidden in the dust.

About two miles out of town Considine, with all his earthly belongings
in a small valise, stopped the coach and got on board, sitting in
front with them.

"Have a look inside," said Charlie. "There's a woman in there looks
rather like--the lady you were talking about."

Considine looked in. Then he sank back in his seat, with a white
face. "By Heavens!" he said, "it's my wife."

"This is funny," said Charlie. "Wonder what she's after. She must
have heard, somehow. She'll never lose sight of you, now, Considine."

Here the driver struck into the conversation.  "See her inside?"
he said, indicating the inside passenger with a nod of his head.
"She's off to Sydney, full rip. She reckons her husband's dead,
and she's came in for a fortune."

"Oh, she reckons he's dead, does she?" said Charlie carelessly.
"Didn't know she had a husband."

"Ho yes," said the driver. "She came up here passin' by the name
of Keogh, but it seems that ain't her husband's name at all."

"Oh, indeed! Do you happen to have heard what her husband's name
is? And when did he die?"

"I never heard the noo husband's name," replied the driver. "Keogh
was her name. I dessay if I arst her she'd tell me. Shall I arst
her?" "No," said Considine firmly. "Don't annoy her at all. Leave
well alone, young feller. What odds is it to you how many husbands
the poor woman has had?"

"No," said the driver dispassionately. "It's no odds to me, nor yet
to you, I don't suppose. She's in for a real big thing, I believe.
A telegram came to the telegraph station after I left last trip,
and young Jack Sheehan, he brought it on after me--rode a hundred
miles pretty well, to ketch me up.  He reckoned she was coming in
for a hundred thousand pounds. I wouldn't mind marryin' her meself,
if it's true; plenty worse-looking sorts than her about. What do
you think, eh, Mister?" addressing Considine.

"Marry her, and be blowed," said that worthy, sociably; and the
driver stiffened and refused to talk further on the subject.

Meanwhile the three discussed the matter in low tones. It was
practically impossible that anyone could have heard of the identity
of Keogh with the missing Considine. How then had the story got
about that her husband was dead, and that she had come into money?
She must have seen Considine get on the coach, but she had made
no sign.  Their astonishment was deeper than ever when the coach
stopped for a midday halt. It was quite impossible for Considine
to conceal himself. The house, where the coach changed horses, was
a galvanised-iron, one-roomed edifice in the middle of a glaring
expanse of treeless plain, in which a quail could scarcely have
hidden successfully. It was clear that Considine and his wife would
have to come face to face.

Carew and Charlie looked expectantly at each other, and clambered
down quickly when the coach stopped. Considine descended more
slowly; straightening his figure and looking fixedly before him,
he marched up to the door of the change-house.

His wife got leisurely out of the coach, put on her bonnet, and walked
straight over to him; then she looked him full in the face for at
least three seconds, and passed by without a sign of recognition.

The three men looked at each other.

"Well, this bangs all," said Considine. "She knew me all right. Why
didn't she speak? She's afraid I'll clear out, and she's shammin'
not to know me, so's she'll have me arrested as soon as she sights
a bobby. I know her. Perhaps I'd better offer her something to go
back and leave me alone, hey?"

This was vetoed by a majority of two to one, and once more the coach
started. They plodded away on the weary, dusty journey, until the
iron roofs and walls of Barcoo gleamed like a mirage in the distance,
and the coach rolled up to the hotel. A telegraph official came
lounging forward.

"Anyone here the name of Charles Gordon?" he said.

"That's me," said Charlie.

"Telegram for you," he said. "It's been all over the country after
you."

Gordon tore it open, read it, and stood spellbound.  Then he silently
handed it to Carew. It was several weeks old, and was from Pinnock,
the solicitor. It read as follows--"William Grant died suddenly
yesterday. Will made years ago leaves everything to his wife.
Reported that he married Margaret Donohoe, and that she is still
alive. Am making all inquiries. Wire me anything you know."

Charlie's face never changed a muscle.

"That's lively!" he said. "He never married that woman; and, if he
did, she died long ago."

As he spoke, the lady passenger, having had some talk with the hotel
people, came over to him with a beaming smile. "And ye're Charlie
Gordon," she said with a mellifluous mixture of brogue and bush-drawl.
"An' ye don't know me now, a little bit? Ye were a little felly when
we last met. I'm Peggy Donohoe that was--Peggy Grant now, since I
married poor dear Grant that's dead. And, sure, rest his sowl!"--here
she sniffed a little--"though he treated me cruel bad, so he did!
Ye'll remember me brother Mick--Mick with the red hair?"

"Yes," said Charlie, slowly and deliberately, "I remember him
well; and you too. And look here, Peggy Donohoe--or Peggy Keogh,
whichever you call yourself--you and Red Mick will have the most
uphill fight you ever fought before you get one sixpence of William
Grant's money. Why, your real husband is here on the coach with
us!"

He turned and pulled Considine forward, and once more husband
and wife stood face to face.  Considine, alias Keogh, smiled in a
sickly way, tried to meet his wife's eyes, and failed altogether.
She regarded him with a bold, unwinking stare.

"Him!" she said. "Him me husban'! This old crockerdile? I never
seen him before in me life."

A look of hopeless perplexity settled on Considine's features for
a moment, and then a ray of intelligence seemed to break in on him.
She repeated her statement.

"I never seen this man before in me life. Did I? Speak up, now,
and say, did I?"

Considine hesitated for a moment in visible distress.  Then, pulling
himself together, and looking boldly from one to the other, he
replied--

"Now that you mention it, ma'am, I don't think as ever you did. I
must ha' made some mistake."

He walked rapidly away, leaving Gordon and Peggy face to face.

"There y'are," she said, "what did I tell ye?  Husban'? He's no
husban' o' mine. Ye're makin' a mistake, Charlie."

Charlie looked after the retreating bushman, and back at the good
lady who was beaming at him.

"Don't call me Charlie," he said. "That old man has come in for
a whole lot of money in England.  His name is Considine, and he
pretends he isn't your husband so that he can get the money and
leave you out of it. Don't you be a fool. It's a lot better for you
to stick to him than to try for William Grant's money. Mr. Carew
and I can prove he said you were his wife."

"Och, look at that now! Said I was his wife!  And his name was
Considine, the lyin' old vaggybond.  His name's not Considine, and
I'm not his wife, nor never was. Grant was my husban', and I'll
prove it in a coort of law, so I will!" Her voice began to rise
like a south-easterly gale, and Charlie beat a retreat. He went to
look for the old man, but could not find him anywhere.

Talking the matter over with Carew he got no satisfaction from the
wisdom of that Solon.  "Deuced awkward thing, don't you know," was
his only comment.

Things were even more awkward when the coach drew up to start, and
no sign of the old man could be found. He had strolled off to the
back of the hotel, and vanished as absolutely as if the earth had
swallowed him.

The Chinese cook was severely cross-questioned, but relapsed into
idiotic smiles and plentiful "No savee"s. A blackfellow, loafing
about the back of the hotel, was asked if he had seen a tall, thin
old man with a beard going down the street. He said, "Yowi, he bin
go longa other pub;" but as, on further questioning, he modified
his statement by asserting that the man he saw was young, short and
very fat, no heed was paid to his evidence--it being the habit of
blacks to give any answer that they think will please the questioner.

"He'll play us some dog's trick, that old fellow," said Charlie. "I
can't wait here looking for him, though. I'll find him when I want
him if he's above ground. Now let's go on. Can't keep the coach
waiting for ever while we unearth him. Let's get aboard."

Just as the coach was about to start a drover came out of the bar
of the hotel, wiping his lips with the back of his hand. He stared
vacantly about him, first up the street and then down, looked hard
at a post in front of the hotel, then stared up and down the street
again. At last he walked over, and, addressing the passengers in
a body, said, "Did any of you's see e'er a horse anywheres? I left
my prad here, and he's gorn."

A bystander, languidly cutting up a pipeful of tobacco, jerked his
elbow down the road.

"That old bloke took 'im," he said. "Old bloke that come in the
coach. While yous was all talking in the pub, he sneaks out here
and nabs that 'orse, and away like a rabbit. See that dust on the
plain? That's 'im."

The drover looked helplessly out over the stretch of plain. He
seemed quite incapable of grappling with the problem.

"Took my horse, did he? Well, I'm blowed!  By Cripes!"

He had another good stare over the plain, and back at the party.

"My oath!" he added.

Then the natural stoicism of the bushman came to his aid, and he
said, in a resigned tone,

"Oh, well, anyways, I s'pose--s'pose he must have been in a hurry
to go somewheres. I s'pose he'll fetch him back some time or other."

Gordon leant down from the box of the coach.

"You tell him," he said, "when he does fetch him back, that if
I'd had a rifle, and had seen him sneaking off like that he'd have
wanted an ambulance before he got much farther. Tell him I'll find
him if I have to hunt him to death. Tell him that, will you?"

"All right, Mister!" said the drover, obligingly, "I'll tell him!"

The horses plunged into their collars; off went the coach into long
stretches of dusty road, with the fat red lady inside, and our two
friends outside.  And in course of time they found themselves once
more in Sydney, where they took the earliest opportunity to call
on Pinnock, and hold a council of war against Peggy.




CHAPTER XX.

A CONSULTATION AT KILEY'S.



Within twenty-four hours after Peggy got back to her old home, it
was known all over the mountains that she meant business, and would
make a claim on William Grant's estate. Rumour, of course, supplied
all the needful details. It was said, and even sworn to, that
Peggy had her marriage lines put by in a big iron box, ready to
be produced at the proper time. Other authorities knew for a fact
that she had no proofs, but that the family at Kuryong were going
to give her any sum from a thousand pounds to a million, to cancel
her claim and save exposure.

As a matter of fact, none of those who talked knew anything
whatever. Peggy confided in no one but Red Mick, and that worthy
had had enough legal experience of a rough and ready sort to know
that things must be kept quiet till the proper time.  But by way of
getting ready for action Red Mick and his sister one fine morning
rode up to Gavan Blake's office to consult him as to what they
should do.

Blake was not at all surprised to see them. He, of course, had heard
all the rumours that were afloat, and knew that if Peggy brought
forward any claim he would be asked to act for her professionally.
He had not quite decided whether he would act or not. In his hard
commonsense mind he saw next to no possibility of Peggy having a
bonâ fide case. He did not suppose for a moment that William Grant
would have run his neck into a bigamy noose; and it would put the
young lawyer in a very awkward position with Mary Grant if, after
saving her life and posing as her friend, he carried on a blackmailing
suit against her. At the same time, he felt that it could do no
harm to either side to investigate Peggy's case; there might be
awkward things that he could help to suppress. So with expectancy
and not a little amusement he saw his clients ride up and tie their
horses to the fence outside his office, and watched Peggy straighten
her ruffled plumage before entering.

They came in at the door with a seriousness worthy of the occasion.
Peggy heaved a subdued sigh and settled in a chair. Red Mick opened
the conversation.

"Mornin' to you, Gavan," he said.

By virtue of his relationship Mick was privileged to call his
brilliant nephew by his Christian name.  To the rest of the clans
Gavan was Mr. Blake.

"Good-morning, Mick. Good-morning, Peggy.  Have you had any rain?"

In the bush no one would think of introducing discussion without
a remark about the weather.

"Jist a few drops," said Red Mick gloomily.  "Do us no good at
all. Things is looking terrible bad, so they are. But we want to
see ye--" and here he dropped his voice, rose, and cautiously closed
the door--"Peggy here, Mrs. Grant, d'ye see,"--Mick got the name
out without an effort--"she wants to see ye about making a claim
on the estate. 'Tis time she done somethin'. All these years left
to shift for herself--"

Here Blake broke in on him. He meant to probe Peggy's case thoroughly,
and knew that it would be no easy matter to get at the truth while
she had Red Mick alongside to prompt her. He had not dealt with the
mountain folk for nothing, and handled his clients in a way that
would astonish a more conservative practitioner.

"Mick," he said, "You go over to Isaacstein's store and wait till
I send for you."

"I want Mick to be wid me," began Peggy.

Blake blazed up. He knew that he must keep his ascendancy over
these wild people by force of determination.

"You heard what I said," he thundered, turning fiercely on Peggy.
"You want this and you want that! It's not what you want, it's what
I want!  You do what you're told. If you don't--I won't help you.
Mick, you go over to the store, and wait till I send for you." And
Mick shambled off.

Peggy, still inclined to be defiant, settled herself in her chair.
She had battled in North Queensland so long that she neither feared
nor respected anybody; but her native shrewdness told her she had
all to gain and nothing to lose by doing what her lawyer advised.

"Now, Peggy," he said, "do you want to make a claim against William
Grant's estate?"

"Yis."

"On the ground that you're his widow?"

"Yis. I'll tell yer--"

"No, you won't tell me anything. I'll tell you.  If you are to have
any hope of succeeding in this case, you must furnish me with the
name of the priest or parson who married you, the place where you
were married, and the date. It must be a real priest or parson, a
real place, and a real date. It's no use coming along with a story
of a marriage by a parson and you've forgotten his name, at a place
you can't remember where it was, and a date that's slipped your
memory. You must have a story to tell, and it must hold water. Now,
can you tell such a story? Have you got any proofs at all?"

Peggy shifted about uneasily.

"Can I see Mick?" she said.

"No, you can not. You must out with it here and now. Listen to me,
Peggy," he went on, sinking his voice suddenly and looking hard at
her.  "I've got to know all about this. It's no use keeping anything
back. Were you ever married to William Grant?"

Peggy dropped her voice too.

"Yis. I was married twenty-five years ago at a place called Pike's
pub, out in the Never-never country."

"Who read the service, parson or priest?"

"Neither. A mish'nary. Mish'nary to the blacks."

"Is he alive?"

"No, he died out there. He was sick then, wid the Queensland fever."

"What was his name?"

"Mr. Nettleship."

"Was the marriage ever registered?"

"Sorra one of me knows. He giv us each a bit of paper--our marriage
lines. 'Twas written in pencil.  He had no ink in the place, and he
had no books wid him. He tore the sheet of paper and give us each
half, wid the writing on it; his horses got stole and he had to
camp there. He stayed round wid Pike and the blacks till he died."

"And where is the certificate? Have you lost it?"

"I sint mine down to Mick to keep for me--jist a bit of paper
written in pencil it was--and it got lost some ways; but I have a
copy of it I med at the time."

"Where is the copy now?"

"At Mick's place."

"You must tell Mick to bring it in. Now where is this place, Pike's?"

"Out this side of the opal-fields. It's wild and rough now, but
what it was then--well 'twas more like a black's camp nor a white
man's place at all."

Blake thought the story had gone far enough. He did not believe
a word of it.  "Look here, Peggy," he said, "You have given the
place, the date, the name of the parson, and everything. Now you
know that if you are telling a lie it will be easily found out.
They will soon find out if there was such a missionary, and if he
was up there at the time, and if Mr. Grant was up there; and if
you are caught out in a lie it may go hard with you. Have you any
witnesses?"

"Martin Doyle was there, Black Martin's son."

"What! Martin Doyle that's out at the nine-mile?"

"Yis. He was up driving the buggy and horses for Grant. He can
swear to the wedding.

"He can."

"Yis."

Blake sat back in his chair and looked at her.  "Do you mean to tell
me," he said, "that you can show me a certificate and a witness to
your marriage with William Grant?"

Peggy looked doggedly down at the floor and said, in the tones
of one who is repeating the burial service or some other solemn
function, "I can prove the marriage."

Blake was puzzled. He had known the mountain folk all his life,
and knew that for uneducated people--or perhaps because they were
uneducated people--they were surprisingly clever liars. But he
never dreamt that any of them could hoodwink him; so he put Peggy
once more through the whole story,--made her describe all her actions
on the day of the wedding, where she stood, where the witness stood,
what the parson said, what her husband said. He went through the
whole thing, and could see no flaw in it. He knew that Peggy would
not scruple to lie to him; but, with the contempt of a clever man,
he felt satisfied that he could soon upset any concocted story.
This story seemed to hold water, and the more he cross-examined
her the more sure he was that there was something genuine about it;
at the same time, he was sure that it was not all genuine. Then a
thought occurred to him.

"Would you settle this case if they offered you something?" he
said.

"I'll do whatever you say," said Peggy, rising.  "'Tis for you to
say what I ought to do. 'Tis not for the like of me, that is no
scholar."

"Leave it to me," said Blake. "I'll do what is best for you. Send
Martin Doyle in to see me, Martin that was the witness. And about
this copy of the certificate, tell Mick to bring it in here.  Now
you go home, and don't you say to one living soul one word of what
has passed in here. Tell them you are going on with the case, but
don't say any more, or you may land yourself in gaol. Do you hear
me?"

And the cowed and flustered Peggy hurried away to join her brother,
who was far too wise to ask questions.

"Least said soonest mended," he said, when told that Blake required
silence.

After his clients had gone, Gavan Blake sat for half an hour almost
dazed. If Peggy's story was true, then Mary Grant was an outcast
instead of a great heiress. And while he had become genuinely fond
of her (which he never was of Ellen Harriott), he had no idea of
asking her to share his debts with him. He puzzled over the affair
for a long time, and at last his clear brain saw a way out of all
difficulties. He would go over to the old station, put the whole
case before Mary Grant, and induce her for peace' sake to give
Peggy money to withdraw her claim. Out of this money he himself
would keep enough to pay all his pressing debts.  He would be that
much to the good whatever happened, and afterwards would have an
added claim on Mary Grant's sympathies for having relieved her of
a vast lawsuit in which her fortune, and even her very name, were
involved.

This plan seemed to him the best for all parties--for himself
especially, which was the most important thing. If he could get a
large sum to settle the case, he could make Peggy give him a big
share for his trouble, and then at last be free from the haunting
fear of exposure and ruin. He felt sure that he was doing quite
right in advising Mary Grant to pay.

Again and again he ran over Peggy's case in his mind, and could
see no flaw in it. In the old days haphazard marriages were rather
the rule than the exception, and such things as registers were
never heard of in far-out parts. His trained mind, going through
the various questions that a cross-examiner would ask, and supplying
the requisite answers, decided that, though it might seem a trifle
improbable, there was nothing contradictory about Peggy's story.
A jury would sympathise with her, and the decisions of the Courts
all leaned towards presuming marriage where certain circumstances
existed. By settling the case he would do Mary Grant a real
kindness. And afterwards--well, she would probably be as grateful
as when he had saved her life. He saw himself the hero of the hour:
ever prompt to decide, he saddled a horse, and at once rode off to
Kuryong to put the matter before her.




CHAPTER XXI.

NO COMPROMISE.



While Gavan Blake was conferring with his clients, a very different
sort of conference was being held at Kuryong. The return of Charlie
Gordon, accompanied by Carew, had been voted by common consent an
occasion for holiday; and although, according to theory, a bush
holiday is invariably spent in kangaroo-hunting, yet the fact is
that men who are in the saddle from daylight to dark, from week-end
to week-end, generally spend a holiday resting legs that are cramped
from the saddle, and arms that ache from lifting sheep over hurdles
or swinging the gates of drafting-yards.

Thus it was that, on the holiday at Kuryong, the Bachelors' Quarters--two
large dormitory-like rooms that opened into one another--were full
of athletic male figures sprawling on the beds, smoking black pipes
all day, and yarning interminably. The main topic of conversation
was Peggy's claim against the estate. They had all heard the rumours
that were going round; each had quietly been trying to find out what
Peggy had to go on, and this pow-wow was utilised for the purpose
of comparing notes. They had one advantage over Gavan Blake--they
knew all about Considine, which Blake did not.

On one bed lay Pinnock, who had come up to make arrangements for
carrying on the station till the will was proved. On another bed
sprawled Carew, who, by virtue of his trip out back, was looked
upon as a bit of an oracle by Poss and Binjie, who had never been
further than the mountains.  Poss and Binjie had dragged an old
couch out of the next room and were stretched on that, listening
to the talk, and occasionally throwing in a word of such wisdom
as they had. Hugh sat in an armchair by the window, smoking and
dreaming.

Poss's voice cut knife-like through a cloud of tobacco smoke. He
spoke as one on the defensive.

"Well, I believe there's something in it, anyhow.  Briney Donohoe
told me--"

Charlie Cordon's cold drawl interrupted the youth. "It's all rot,"
he said. "Briney Donohoe told you--what does he know about it? You
two boys and Hugh have been stuck at home here so long, you believe
anything. I tell you, they'll do nothing. It's all talk, just to
make themselves big people. They have nothing to do just now, so it
comes in handy as an excuse to ride from one selection to another
all day long and leave our gates open. We have Peggy's measure,
haven't we, Carew? That long-lost relation of yours, old Considine!"

"I wish you did have him," said the lawyer. "He might come in very
handy. With a big property like this to go for, they are nearly
sure to have a try at it."

Poss took heart at finding himself supported by this new champion.
"Yes," he said. "Red Mick and Peggy are down at Gavan Blake's
to-day. I saw their horses hanging up outside as I came through.
And Briney Donohoe told me--"

"What do you think, Carew?" said Charlie, cutting Briney Donohoe
off again. "Don't you think that old fellow was telling the truth
when he said he married Peggy?"

"Sure he was," said the Englishman. "Never saw a fellow in such a
funk in my life."

"What about Peggy?" said Pinnock. "How did she take it?"

"Bold as brass! I thought she was going to kiss Charlie there, when
she found out who he was."

Pinnock laughed. "Funny thing," he said, "a woman like Peggy having
the chance to choose between two fortunes. Pity we couldn't induce
her to take the old bushman and be done with it.  How much money
has he come into, Carew?"

"Oh, plenty of money. But of course there's an old place to keep
up, and the death duties are very heavy. Very expensive thing having
money left you in England, you know."

Charlie Gordon turned to Pinnock. "What you ought to do," he said
(the far-out man who has to shift for himself is always quite sure
he can settle all difficulties better than those whose profession
it is), "what you ought to do," he repeated, "is to send someone
to Peggy and tell her not to be such a fool. Tell her to stick to
old Considine.  That's what you ought to do."

"Well, suppose you go and do it. You know the lady better than
anyone here, seemingly. But if she has been to see Blake, I expect
the fat's in the fire by this time."

"I don't think much of Blake takin' up the case," said Binjie,
"after the old lady asked him here.  It's doing the black-snake act,
I call it. I don't suppose he'll come here any more after this."

Hugh still sat looking out of the window, smoking silently. "Here
comes Blake now, anyhow," he said. "He's just coming up the flat."

"Wants to see me, I expect," said Pinnock.  "We'll know all about
it now. Must have heard I was here, and is come to declare war or
sue for peace. Someone had better go and meet him, I suppose."

"Dashed if I'll go," said Poss. "I don't care about a chap that
doesn't act white. I saw Red Mick's and Peggy's horses at his office
to-day, and now he comes up here as bold as brass."

"Let him go round to the front," said Hugh, "and then he can ask
the servants for whoever he wants. If we go out and meet him, we'll
have to ask him to stay."

The approach to houses in the bush is generally by way of the yard
where the horses arrive, and it is very unusual for anyone, except
a stranger making a formal visit, to be allowed to find their way
round to the front.

Blake rode up and gave his horse to the horse-boy.  "Put him in
the stable for a while," he said. "I may want him again." Then he
went round to the front door and asked for Mrs. Gordon.

"I have come to see Miss Grant on very important business," he
said when the old lady came in.  "Would you ask her if she would
see me?"

The old lady was in a quandary. She had heard all the rumours that
were going about, but she knew that they had been kept from Mary
Grant, and she thought that if Blake meant to talk business he
might shock or startle the girl terribly.

"Mr. Pinnock the lawyer is here," she said.  "Perhaps you had better
see him. Miss Grant does not know--"

"I am come as a friend of Miss Grant's, Mrs.  Gordon," he said.
"But, if Mr. Pinnock is here, perhaps it would be better for me to
see him first.  Shall I wait for him here?"

"If you will go into the office I will send him in there," and the
old lady withdrew to talk of commonplace matters with Mary, all
the time feeling that a great crisis was at hand.

Soon the two lawyers faced one another over the office table, and
Blake got to business at once.

"Mr. Pinnock," he said, "I am asked to act for Margaret Donohoe,
or Margaret Grant as she claims to be; and I want you to believe
that I am seriously telling you what I believe to be the truth,
when I say that Miss Grant had better settle this case."

"Why should she pay one penny? What proofs have you? It looks to
me, with all respect to you, Mr. Blake, like an ordinary case of
blackmail."

"If it were blackmail," said Blake quietly, "do you think that
I would be here, giving you particulars of the case? I tell you,
man, I am ready now to give you all particulars, and you can soon
see whether to advise a settlement or not."

"Fire away, then," said Pinnock. "It will take a lot to convince
me, though, and so I tell you."

Blake gave him the particulars gleaned from Peggy. "I have examined
and cross-examined and re-cross-examined her, and I can't shake
her story."

Pinnock listened with an immovable face, but his mind was working
like lightning. As the name of the missionary and Pike's Hotel were
mentioned, he remembered that he had seen these very names on the
butts of Grant's cheque-books. Getting Blake to excuse him for a
moment, he hurried to his room and pulled out a bundle of cheque-butts.
The best diary of many a man is found in his cheque-butts. There
he saw on the very date mentioned by Blake, cheques drawn to "Self
and P.", also one drawn to "Pike accommodation," and one simply
to the name of Nettleship for five pounds.  Of course it was quite
possible that the latter was only a donation to charity, such as
old Bully was occasionally very free with; but, taken together, the
whole lot made Blake's story look unpleasantly probable. Pinnock
whistled to himself as he tied the bundle up again. "Case of settle
or be sorry," he said to himself. "I wonder how much will settle
it?"

When he faced Blake again, he had pulled the mask of professional
stolidity over his features; also he lied boldly.

"I can see nothing to corroborate this story," he said; "but it
may be that Miss Grant would rather pay a few pounds than have the
unpleasantness of a trial. I will get her in and ask her if you
like, but I don't think it will lead to anything."

They were holding their conference in the office.  Outside, the
station was dozing in the sun. The house dog slept in the yard,
and a stray wild pigeon had come down into the quadrangle, and was
picking at some grain that was spilt there. From the garden came
the shouts of the children and the happy laughter of Mary Grant.

"There she is now," said Pinnock. "Hadn't I better get her to come
in and get the thing over?"

He went out, and came back very soon. "Mrs.  Gordon and Miss Grant
are coming," he said. "She said she would like Mrs. Gordon to be
with her."

Before long they came in and sat down. Mary Grant had no idea what
she was wanted for. She greeted Blake with a glad smile, and waited
to hear what Pinnock had to say. It did not take the lawyer long
to put the story before her: but it was some time before she could
understand it. Nothing so tragic had ever entered her life before,
and she seemed almost stunned.

Mrs. Gordon moved to her side and took her hand.

"It is very terrible for you--for us all, dear," she said. "You
must listen to what Mr. Pinnock says, and make up your mind. He
can advise you best what to do."

Again Pinnock went through the case. As a full understanding broke
in on her, she drew herself up; the look of distress and perplexity
left her face, and her eyes were full of scorn and anger.

"Hello, what's coming now?" thought Pinnock.  "I hope she says
nothing rash."

She tried to speak once or twice, but the words seemed to choke
her.

"What do you advise me to do, Mr. Pinnock?" she said, turning to
him suddenly.

"I advise you to give me power to act for you in the matter as I
think best," said Pinnock, who saw that matters were likely to slip
beyond his control.  "From what Mr. Blake tells me, I daresay this
woman can give you a lot of trouble and annoyance.  Whatever you
pay her, you won't miss the money. You will save the family here
from being turned out; you will avoid scandal; and if there should
be any foundation for Mr. Blake's story, it may mean that if you
don't settle you lose everything."

From him Mary Grant turned to the old lady.

"Mrs. Gordon," she said, "do you advise me to pay this money?"

"My dear, I don't advise at all. Don't consider us in the matter
at all. It is for you to say."

"Then I will pay nothing. It is a cruel, infamous, wicked slander.
These poor, ignorant people don't know what they are doing. Sooner
than pay one penny in compromise, I will walk off this station
a pauper. God will not let such villainy win. Mrs. Gordon, surely
you don't think that I ought to blacken my father's and mother's
name by paying money to keep this claim quiet?"

Here Pinnock broke in on her speech. "But if they should manage to
produce evidence--"

"Let them produce it, and let the judge believe it if he likes.
You and I and everybody know that it is a lie; even if they win the
case, it is still a lie.  I will pay nothing--not one halfpenny. My
mother's name is more than all the money in the world, and I will
not blacken it by compromises.  Mr. Pinnock, the case is to be
fought out, and if we lose we shall still know that justice is on
our side; but if we pay money--"

Mrs. Gordon took her hand, and lifted it to her lips.

"I think you are quite right, my dear. You put us all to shame for
even thinking of it."

"I am very sorry, Mr. Blake," the girl went on, "very sorry indeed
that you should have come here on such an errand. You saved my
life, and if I could pay you for that I would; but this offer is
an insult, and I hope that you will never come here again. Whether
I am turned out of the old station or not, I hope that you will
never come here again." And with that the two ladies walked out,
leaving the lawyers looking at each other.

"I am afraid, Mr. Blake" said Pinnock at last, "that we have lost
any hope we might ever have had of settling this case."

But Blake, as he rode homewards, felt that he had lost for ever
a much higher hope. He had played for a high stake on two chances.
One of them had failed him. There remained only the chance of pulling
Peggy's case through; and he swore that if hard work, skill, and
utter unscrupulousness could win that case, it should be won.




CHAPTER XXII.

A NURSE AND HER ASSISTANT.



While they were waiting for the great case to come on a sort of
depression seemed to spread itself over the station. The owner was
mostly shut up in her room with her thoughts; the old lady was
trying to comfort her, and Ellen Harriott, with sorrow always at her
heart, went about the household work like an automaton. No wonder
that as soon as breakfast was over all the men cleared out to work
on the run. But one day it so happened that Carew did not go out
with the others. The young Englishman was a poor correspondent, and
had promised himself a whole quiet day to be spent in explaining
by letter to his people at home the mysterious circumstances under
which he had found and lost Patrick Henry Considine. Ellen Harriott
found him in the office manfully wrestling with some extra long
words, and stopped for a few minutes' talk. She had a liking for
the young Englishman, and any talk was better than to be left alone
with her thoughts.

"These are bad times for the old station, Mr.  Carew," she said.
"We don't know what is going to happen next."

Carew was not going to haul down the flag just yet. "I believe
everything 'll come all right in the long run, don't you know," he
said. "Never give up first hit, you know; see it out--eh, what?"

"I want to get away out of this for a while," she said. "I am run
down. I think the bush monotony tells on women. I don't want anyone
to fall sick, but I do wish I could get a little nursing to do
again--just for a change. I would nurse Red Mick himself."

Is there anything in telepathy? Do coming events sometimes send
warnings on ahead? Certain it is that, even as she spoke, a rider
on a sweating horse was seen coming at full speed up the flat; he
put his horse over the sliprails that led into the house paddock
without any hesitation, and came on at a swinging gallop.

"What is this?" said Ellen Harriott, "more trouble? It is only
trouble that comes so fast.  Why, it is one of Red Mick's nephews!" By
this time the rider was up to them; without dismounting he called
out Miss! Please, Miss! There's been an accident. My uncle got run
agin a tree and he's all smashed in the head. I'm off to the Doctor
now; I'll get the Doctor here by to-morrow night, and would you
go out and do aught you can for Mick? There's no one out there but
old Granny, and she's helpless like. Will you go?"

"Is he much hurt?"

"I'm afraid he's killed, Miss. I found him, He'd been out all night
and the side of his head all busted. After a dingo he was--I seen
the tracks.  Coming back from Gavan Blake's he must 'a' seen the
dorg off the track, and the colt he was on was orkard like and must
have hit him agen a tree. The colt kem home with the saddle under
his belly, and I run the tracks back till I found him. Will you go
out, Miss?"

"Yes," said Ellen, "I will go. And you hurry on now, and get the
Doctor. Tell the Doctor I've gone out there." Like an arrow from
the bow the young fellow sent his big thoroughbred horse across the
paddocks, making a bee line over fences and everything for Tarrong,
while Ellen Harriott hurried in to pack up a few things.

"Can I help you at all?" said Carew, following her into the house.
I'd like to be some use, don't you know; but in this country I seem
to be so dashed useless.

"You will be a lot of use if you will come out with me. I shall
want someone to drive the trap out, and I may want help with the
patient. You are big and strong.

"Yes, and it's about the first time my strength has even been of any
use to anybody. I will go and get the trap ready while you dress."

Hurriedly they packed food and blankets into the light buggy, and
set off. Miss Harriott knew the tracks well, and the buggy fairly
flew along till they came up the flat to Red Mick's. As they drew
near the hut a noise of talking and crying came through the open
door.

"What's up now?" said Carew. "Crowd of people there."

"No"--Ellen Harriott listened for a second.  "No," she said, "he is
delirious. That is the old woman crying. Hurry up, Mr. Carew--take
the horse out of the buggy and put him in the stable, and then come
in as quickly as you can. I may want help."

Leaving Carew to unharness the horse, she went inside. In the inner
roomy on a bunk, lay Red Mick. Eye, nose, forehead, and mouth were
all one unrecognisable lump, while fragments of bark and splinters
still stuck to the skin. In the corner sat the old mother, crying
feebly. Disregarding the old woman, Ellen made a swift examination
of Mick's injuries, but as soon as he felt her touch on his face
he sprang to his feet and struck at her.

Just as he did so, Carew rushed in and threw his arms round the
madman. In that grip even Red Mick had no power to move.

"Just hold him quiet," said Ellen, "till I have a look"--and she
rapidly ran her fingers over the wound. "Very bad. I think there
must be a bit of the skull pressing on the brain. We can't do much
till the Doctor comes. I think he will be quiet now. Will you make
a fire and boil some water, so that I can clean and dress the wound
That will ease him a little. And get the blankets in; we can make
up some sort of place on the floor to sleep. One of us will have
to watch all night.  Cranny, you must go to bed, do you hear? Come
and sit by Mick till I put Granny to bed."

By degrees they got things shipshape--put the old woman to bed,
and cleaned and dressed Mick's wounds. Then they settled down for
the long night in the sick-room. A strange sick-room it was; but
many a hospital is less healthy. Through wide cracks between the
slabs there came in the cool, fresh air that in itself is worth
more than all the medicines in the pharmacopoeia. The patient had
sunk into an uneasy slumber when Ellen made her dispositions for
the night.

"You go and lie down now," she said, "in the other room, on the
sofa. I will call you if I want you. Get all the sleep you can,
and in a couple of hours you can take my place. He may talk, but
don't let that disturb you. I will call out loud enough if I want
you."

"Mind you do," said the Englishman. "I sleep like a blessed top,
you know. Sleep anywhere.  Well, good-night for the present. He
looks a little better since you washed him, doesn't he?"

He threw himself on the couch in the inner room, and before long a
titanic snore showed that he had not over-rated his sleeping powers.

Ellen Harriott sat by Red Mick's bedside and thought over the
events of the last few weeks. As she thought she half-dozed, but
woke with a start to find her patient broad awake again and trying
to get at something that was under his bunk.  Quietly she drew him
back, for his struggles with Carew had left him weak as a child.

He looked at her with crazed eyes.

"The paper," he said, "for the love of God, the paper. I have to
take it to Gavan. 'Twill win the case. The paper."

She tried to pacify him, but nothing would do but that she should
get the mysterious paper. At last, to humour him, she dived under
the bunk and found an iron camp-oven, and in it a single envelope.
Just to see what was exciting him she opened the envelope, and
found a crumpled piece of paper which she read over to herself. It
was the original certificate of the marriage between Patrick Henry
Keogh and Margaret Donohoe; if Ellen had only known it, she held
in her hand the evidence to sweep away all her friend's troubles.
It so happened, however, that it conveyed nothing to her mind. She
had heard much about Considine, but not a word about Keogh, and
the name "Margaret Donohoe" did not strike her half-asleep mind as
referring to Peggy. She put the paper away again in the camp-oven;
then, feeling weary, she awoke Carew and lay down on the couch
while he watched the patient.

Next morning the Doctor arrived with a trail of Red Mick's relations
after him; among them they arranged to take him into Tarrong to
be operated on, and Ellen Harriott and Carew drove back to Kuryong
feeling as if they had known each other all their lives.

As they drove along she wondered idly which of Red Mick's innumerable
relatives the paper referred to, and why Mick was so anxious about
it; but by the time they arrived at home the matter passed from
her mind, except that she remembered well enough what was written
on the odd-looking little scrap.

"I will give you a certificate as a competent wardsman if ever you
want one," she said to Carew as he helped her out of the buggy. "I
don't know what I'd have done without you."

"You'd have managed somehow, I'll bet," he said, looking at the
confident face before him.  "Quite a bit of fun, wasn't it? I hope
we have a few more excursions together."

And she felt that she rather hoped so, too.




CHAPTER XXIII.

HUGH GOES IN SEARCH.



Who does not remember the first exciting news of the great Grant
v. Grant will case? The leading Q.C.'s. watched eagerly for briefs;
juniors who held even the smallest briefs in connection with it
patronised their fellows, and explained to them intricate legal
dodges which they themselves had thought out and "pumped into" their
learned leaders. "Took me a doose of a time to get him to see it,
but I think he has got it at last," they used to say. The case
looked like lasting for years, for there would be appeals and
counter-appeals, references, inquiries and what not; and in getting
ready for the first fight the lawyers on each side worked like
beavers.

Blake let it be known among the clans that he was going to fight
the case for Peggy, and that there was going to be a lawsuit such
as the most veteran campaigner of them all had never even dimly
imagined--a lawsuit with the happiness of a beautiful woman and
the disposal of a vast fortune at stake.  Word was carried from
selection to selection, across trackless mountain-passes, and over
dangerous river crossings, until even Larry, the outermost Donohoe,
heard the news in his rocky fastness, miscalled a grazing lease,
away in the gullies under the shadows of Black Andrew mountain.  By
some mysterious means it even reached Briney Doyle, who was camped
out near the foothills of Kosciusko, running wild horses into
trap-yards.  This occupation had taken such hold on him that he
had become as wild as the horses he pursued, and it was popularly
supposed that the other Doyles had to go out with horses to run
him in whenever they wanted him.

Peggy brought in the copy of her marriage certificate, an old and
faded piece of paper which ran--"This is to certify that I, Thomas
Nettleship, duly ordained clergyman of the Church of England, have
this day solemnized a marriage between William Grant, Bachelor,
and Margaret Donohoe, Spinster."

The name of Pike's Hotel and the date were nearly illegible, but there
the document was; and though it was not the original certificate,
it was pretty clear that Peggy could never have invented it. Its
production made a great impression. It certainly went far to convince
Blake.

He had cross-examined all the witnesses, had checked their accounts
by each other, had followed William Grant's career at that time,
had got on to the history of the bush missionary; and everything
fitted in. Martin Doyle--Black Martin's son Martin--was
letter-perfect in his part. Peggy could give the details of the
ceremony with unfaltering accuracy fifty times a day if need be,
and never contradict herself. So at last he gave up trying to find
holes in the case, and determined to go in and win.

On the other side there was trouble in the camp--no witnesses could
be found, except Martin Doyle, and he was ready to swear to the
wedding. At last it became evident that the only chance of overthrowing
Peggy's case was to find Considine; but the earth seemed to have
swallowed him up.

The influence of the Chief of Police was brought to bear, and many
a weary mile did the troopers of the Outer Back ride in search of
the missing man.  One of them followed a Considine about two hundred
miles across country, and embodied the story of his wanderings in
a villainously written report; brief and uncouth as the narrative
was, it was in itself an outline picture of bush life. From
shearers' hut to artesian borers' camp, from artesian well to the
opal-fields, from the opal-fields to a gold-rush, from the gold-rush
to a mail-coach stable, he pursued this Considine, only to find
that, in the words of the report, "the individual was not the same."

Things looked hopeless for Mary Grant, when help came from an
unexpected quarter. A letter written in a rugged, forcible fist,
arrived for Charlie Gordon from a young fellow named Redshaw, once
a station-hand on Kuryong, who had gone out to the back-country
and was rather a celebrity in his way. His father was a pensioner
at the old station, and Redshaw junior, who was known as Flash
Jack, evidently kept in touch with things at Kuryong. He wrote

Dear Sir,

I hear from Gannon the trooper that you want to find Keogh. When he
left the coach that time, he went back to the station and got his
horses, and cleared out, and he is now hiding in Reeves's buffalo
camp at the back of Port Faraway.  If I hear any more will let you
know.

J. REDSHAW, alas 'Flash Jack.'

"What's all this?" said Pinnock, when Charlie and Carew brought him
the letter. "Who is J.  Redshaw, and why does he sign "alas Flash
Jack?"

"He means Alias, don't you see? Alias Flash Jack. He is a man we
used to have on the station, and his father used to work for us--I
expect he wants to do us a good turn."

"It will be a good turn in earnest, if he puts you in the way of
finding Considine," said the lawyer.  "You will have to send Hugh
up. The old man knows you and Carew, and if he saw you coming he
would take to the woods, as the Yankees say.  Even when you do get
him the case isn't over, because the jury will side with Peggy.
They'll sympathise with her efforts to prove herself an honest woman.
It isn't marrying too much that will get her into trouble--it's
the other thing. But we have the date and place of her alleged
marriage with William Grant; and if this old Considine can prove,
by documents, mind you, not by his own simple word--because it's
a hundred to one the jury wouldn't believe him--I say, if he can
prove that she married him on that very day and at that very place,
then she's beaten. No one on earth could swallow the story of her
marrying two different people on the same day."

"Hugh can go," said Charlie. "He'll have to do his best this time.
It all depends on getting hold of this Considine, eh? Well, Hugh
'll have to get him. If he fails he needn't show his face amongst
us any more."

Mary Grant was called in and told the great news, and then Pinnock
started out to find Hugh. But before the lawyer could see him, Mary
met him in the garden.

Hugh did not see that he could be of any use in the case, and wanted
to be quit of Kuryong for good. Seeing Mary day after day, he had
become more and more miserable as the days went by. He determined
at last to go away altogether, and, when once he had made up his
mind, only waited for a chance to tell her that he was going. The
chance came as she left the office after consulting with Pinnock.

"Miss Grant," he said, "if you don't mind, I think I will resign
my management of this station.  I will make a start for myself or
get a job somewhere else. You will easily get someone to take my
place."

She looked at him keenly for a while.

"I didn't expect this of you," she said, bitterly.  "The rats leave
the sinking ship. Is that it?"

His face flushed a dull red. "You know better than that," he said.
"I would stop if I could be of any use, but what is there I can
do?"

"Why do you want to leave?"

"I want to get away from here--I want to get out of the hills for
awhile."

Mary knew, as well as if he had told her, that what he wanted was
to go where he could forget her and see whether absence would break
the chain; and triumph lit up her eyes, for it was pleasant even
in the midst of her troubles to know that he still cared. Then she
came to a swift decision.

"Will you do something for me away from the hills, then?" she said.

"Where?"

"Up North. I want some one to find that man Considine that your
brother and Mr. Carew met.  You know how important it is to me.
Will you do it for me?"

Hugh would have jumped at the chance to risk his life for her
lightest wish.

"I will go anywhere and do my best to find anyone you want," he
said; "When do you want me to start?"

"See Mr. Pinnock and your brother about that.  They will tell you
all about it; and if you do manage to find this man, why, you can
talk about leaving after that if you want to. Will you go for me?"

"Yes. I will go, Miss Grant; and I will never come back till I find
this man--if he is alive."

She laid her hand on his arm.

"I know you will do all you can," she said, "but in any case,
whether you find him or not--come back again!"




CHAPTER XXIV.

THE SECOND SEARCH FOR CONSIDINE.



Before leaving Hugh was fully instructed what to do if he compassed
the second finding of Considine.  He was to travel under another
name, for fear that his own would get about, and cause the fugitive
to make another hurried disappearance.

He took a subpoena to serve on the old man as a last resource.

Charlie was emphatic. "Go up and get hold of the old vagrant, and
find out all about it. Don't make a mess of it, whatever you do.
Remember the old lady, and Miss Grant, and the youngsters, and
all of us depend on you in this business.  Don't come back beaten.
Don't let anything stop you. Get him drunk or get him sober--friendly
or fighting--but get the truth, and get the proofs of it. Choke it
out of the old hound somehow."

Hugh said that he would, and departed, weighed down by responsibility,
to execute his difficult mission.  He had to go into an untravelled
country to get the truth out of a man who did not want to tell it;
and the time allowed was short, as the case could not be postponed
much longer.

He travelled by sea to Port Faraway, a tropical sweltering township
by the Northern seas of Australia, and when he reached it felt like
one of the heroes in Tennyson's Lotus Eaters--he had come "into a
land wherein it seemed always afternoon."

Reeves, the buffalo shooter, was a well-known man, but to find his
camp was another matter. No one seemed to have energy enough to
take much interest in the quest.

Hugh interviewed a leading citizen at the hotel, and got very little
satisfaction. He said, "I want to get out to Reeves's camp. Do you
know where it is, and how one gets there?"

"Well," said the leading citizen, putting his feet up on the arms
of his long chair and gasping for air, "Le's see! Reeves's camp--ah!
Where is he camped now?"

"I don't know," said Hugh. "I wish I did.  That's what I want to
find out."

"Hopkins'd know. Hopkins, the storekeeper.  He sends out the
supplies. Did you ask him?"

"No," said Hugh. "I didn't. I'll go and ask him now."

"Too hot to bustle round now," said the leading citizen, lighting
his pipe. "What'll you have to drink? Have some square; it's the
best drink here."

Hugh thought it well to fall in with the customs of the inhabitants,
so he had a stiff gin-and-water at nine in the morning, a thing
he had never done, or even seen done, in his life before. Then he
went over in the blazing sunlight to the storekeeper, and asked
whether he knew where Reeves' camp was.

"That I don't," said the storekeeper. "I send out what they want
by a Malay who sails a one-masted craft round the coast, and goes
up the river to their camp, and brings the hides back. They send a
blackfellow to let me know when they want any stuff, and where to
send it."

"Perhaps I could go out with the next lot of stuff," said Hugh.
"When will they want it, do you think?"

"Well, they mightn't want any more. They might go on now till the
wet season, and then they'll come in."

"When is the wet season, then?"

"Oh, a couple of months, likely. Perhaps three months. Perhaps
there won't be none at all to speak of. What'll you have?"

"Oh, I have just had a drink, thanks. Fact is, I'm a bit anxious
to get out to this camp. It's a bit important. You don't know where
they are for certain?"

"Lord knows! Anywhere! Might be on one river, might be on another.
They'll come in in the wet season. Better have a drink, anyhow.
You must have something. What'll it be--square?  Beer? Can't stand
beer in this climate, myself."

"Oh, well," said Hugh desperately, "I'll have another square. Make
it a light one. Do you think I can get anyone who knows where they
are camped to go out with me?"

"Tommy Prince'd know, I expect. He was out in that country before.
But he's gone with a bullock-team, drawing quartz to the new
battery at the Oriental. At least I saw him start out three weeks
ago. Said he was in a hurry, too, as the battery couldn't start
until he got the quartz hauled."

"Perhaps he didn't start," said Hugh; "perhaps he put it off till
after the wet season?"

"Well," said the storekeeper, meditatively, "he might, but I don't
think he would. There's no one else, that I know of, can find them
for you.  Lord knows where they are. They camp in one place till
the buffalo are all shot, and then they shift to new ground. Perhaps
ten miles, perhaps thirty. Have another drink? What'll you have?"

"No, not any more, thanks. About this Tommy Prince, now; if I can
find him he might tell me where to go. Where can I find him?"

"Down at the Margaret is where he camps, but I think he's gone to
the Oriental by this time--sure to be. That's about forty miles
down past the Margaret. There was a fellow came in from the Margaret
for supplies, and he'll be going back to-morrow--if he can find
his pack-horses."

"And supposing he can't?"

"Well, then, he'll go out next week, I expect, unless he gets on
the drink. He's a terrible chap to drink."

"And if he starts to drink, when will he go?"

"Lord knows. They'll have to send in after him. His mates'll
be pretty near starved by now, anyhow. He's been in town, foolin'
round that girl at the Royal this three weeks. He'll give you a
lift out to the Margaret--that's forty miles."

"What is there out at the Margaret when I get there? Is it a town,
or a station, or a mine? What is it?"

"Oh, it's not so bad. There's a store there, and a few mines
scattered about. Mostly Chinese mines.  The storekeeper there's
a great soaker, nearly always on the drink. Name's Sampson. He'll
tell you where to find Tommy Prince. Prince and his mates have a
claim twelve miles out from there, and if Tommy ain't gone to the
Oriental, he might go down with you."

"Supposing Tommy's at his claim, twelve miles out," said Hugh, "how
can I get out?"

"I dunno," said the storekeeper, who was getting tired of talking
so long without a drink. "I dunno how you'll get out there. Better
have a drink--what'll you have?"

Hugh walked out of the store in despair. He found himself engaged
in what appeared to be an endless chase after a phantom Considine,
and the difficulties in his way semed insuperable. Yet how could
he go back and tell them all at home that he had failed? What
would they think of him?  The thought made him miserable; and he
determined, if he failed, never to go back to the old station at
all.

So he returned to his hotel, packed his valise, and set out to look
for the pack-horse man. He found him fairly sober; soon bargained
to be allowed to ride one of the horses, and in due course was
deposited at the Margaret--a city consisting of one galvanised-iron
building, apparently unoccupied.  His friend dismounted and had a
drink with him out of his flask. They kicked at the door unavailingly;
then his mate went on into the indefinite, leaving him face to face
with general desolation.

The Margaret store was the only feature in the landscape--a small
building with a heap of empty bottles in the immediate foreground,
and all round it the grim bush, a vista of weird twisted trees
and dull grey earth with scanty grass. At the back were a well, a
windlass, and a trough for water, round which about a hundred goats
were encamped.  Hugh sat and smoked, and looked at the prospect.
By-and-by out of the bush came two men, a Chinaman and a white man.
The Chinaman was like all Chinamen; the white man was a fiery,
red-faced, red-bearded, red-nosed little fellow. The Chinee
was dragging a goat along by the horns, the goat hanging back and
protesting loudly in semi-human screams; every now and again a black
mongrel dog would make sudden fiendish dashes at the captive, and
fasten its teeth in its neck. This made it bellow louder; but the
Chinaman, with the impassibility of his race, dragged goat, dog,
and all along, without the slightest show of interest.

The white man trudged ahead, staring fixedly in front; when they
reached the store he stared at Hugh as if he were the Bunyip, but said
no word.  Then he unlocked the door, went in, and came out with a
large knife, with which he proceeded to murder the goat scientifically.
The Chinee meanwhile bailed up the rest of the animals, and caught
and milked a couple of "nannies," while a patriarchal old "billy"
walked fragrantly round the yard, uttering hoarse "buukhs" of
defiance.

It was a truly pastoral scene, but Hugh took little interest in
it. He was engrossed with the task of getting out to the buffalo
camp, finding Considine, and making him come forward and save the
family.  He approached the white, or rather red man, who cocked a
suspicious eye at him, and went on tearing the hide off the goat.
Hugh noticed that his hand trembled a good deal, and that a sort
of foam gathered on his lips as he worked.

"Good day," said Hugh.

The man glared at him, but said nothing.

"My name is Lambton," said Hugh. "I want to go out to the buffalo
camp. I want to find Tommy Prince, to see if he can go out with
me. Do you know where he is?"

The man put the blade of the butcher's knife between his teeth,
and stared again at Hugh, apparently having some difficulty in
focussing him. Then his lips moved, and he was evidently trying to
frame speech. He said, "Boo, Boo, Boo," for a few seconds; then he
pulled himself together, and said,

"Wha' you want?"

"I want to get to the buffalo camp," said Hugh.  "You know Reeves's
camp."

Here a twig fell to the ground just behind the man; he gave
one blood-curdling yell, dropped the knife, and rushed past Hugh,
screaming out, "Save me! Save me! They're after me! Look at 'em;
look at 'em!" His hair stood perfectly erect with fright, and, as
he ran, he glanced over his shoulder with frightened eyes. He didn't
get far.  In his panic he ran straight towards the well, banged his
head against the windlass, and went thundering down the twenty or
thirty feet of shaft souse into the water at the bottom, where he
splashed and shrieked like a fiend, the noise reverberating up the
long shaft.

Hugh and the Chinaman ran to the well-top, Hugh cursing under his
breath. Every possible obstacle that could arise had arisen to
block his journey; every man that could have helped him was away,
or dead, or otherwise missing; and now, to crown all, after getting
thus far, he had apparently struck a prize lunatic, and would have
to stay in that awful desolation, perhaps for a week, with him and
a Chinaman. Perhaps he would have to give evidence on the lunatic's
dead body, and even be accused of causing his death. All these
thoughts flashed through his mind as he ran to the well-head. From
the noise he made the man was evidently not dead yet, and, looking
down, he saw his eyes glaring up as he splashed in the water.

"What's up with him?" roared Hugh to the Chinaman.

"Him, dlink, dlink--all-a-time dlink, him catchee hollows."

They had started to lower the bucket, when suddenly the yells
ceased, a loud bubbling was heard, and looking down they saw only
a dim, round object above the water. Without an instant's delay
Hugh put his foot in the bucket and signed to the Chinee to lower
him. Swiftly and silently he descended the well, jumped out of
the bucket, and grabbed the floating body of the drunkard with one
hand, holding on to the rope with the other. The man had collapsed,
and was as limp as a rag. Hugh made the rope fast under his armpits,
and gave the old mining cry, "On top there, haul away."

Heavily the windlass creaked. Mightily the Chinee strained. The
unconscious figure was drawn out of the water and up the shaft,
inch by inch. The weight of a man in wet clothes is considerably
more than that of a bucket of water, and it seemed a certainty that
either the old windlass would break or the Chinaman's arms give
out.  Slowly, slowly, the limp wet figure ascended the shaft, while
Hugh supported himself in the water, by gripping the logs at the
side of the well, praying that the tackle would hold. The creaking
of the windlass ceased, and the ascending body stopped--evidently
the Chinee was pausing to get his breath.

"Go on!" screamed Hugh. "Keep at it, John!  Don't let it beat you!
Wind away!"

Faintly came the gasped reply, "No can! No more can do!"

He lowered himself in the water as far as he could, to deaden
the blow in case of the fellow falling back on him, and screamed
encouragement, threats, and promises up the well. Suddenly from
above came a new voice altogether, a white man's voice.

"Right oh, boss! We've got him."

The windlass recommenced its creaking, and the figure at the end
of the rope continued its slow, upward journey. Hugh saw the body
hauled slowly to the top and grabbed by a strong hand; then it
disappeared, and the sunlight once more streamed, uninterrupted,
down the shaft. The bucket came down again, and Hugh clutched it
and yelled out, "Haul away!" He could hear the men grunting above
as they turned the handle.

When he had been hauled about fifteen feet there was a crack; the
old windlass had collapsed, and he went souse, feet first, into
the water. He sank till he touched the bottom, then rose gasping
to the surface. A head appeared, framed in the circle of the well,
and a slow, drawling colonial voice said:

"Gord! boss, are you hurt? The windlass is broke."

"No, I'm not hurt. Can't you fix that windlass?" roared Hugh.

"No!" came the answer sepulchrally down the well. "She's cooked."

"Well, hold on," said Hugh. "I believe I can get up." He braced
his feet against one side of the well, and his shoulders against
the other, and so, working them alternately, he raised himself inch
by inch. It is a feat that requires a good man to perform, and the
strain was very great. Grimly he kept at it, and drew nearer and
nearer to the top.  Then, at last, a hand seized him; half-sick
with over-exertion, he struggled out and fell gasping to the ground.
For a minute or two the universe was turning round with him. The
Chinee and the strange white man moved in a kind of flicker, unreal
as the figures in a cinematograph. Then all was blank for a while.

When he came to, he was lying by the well with a bag under his head,
and the strange white man was trying to pour some spirits down his
throat.

"I'm--all right--thanks!" gasped Hugh.

"By Gord, Mister, it's lucky I happened to come along," said the
stranger. "You an' Sampson'd ha' both been drownded. That Chow
couldn't haul him up. Dead beat the Chow was when I came.  I jis'
come ridin' up, thinkin' to get a few pound of onions to take out
to the camp, and I see the Chow a-haulin' and a-haulin' at that
windlass like as if he was tryin' to pull the bottom out of the
well. I rides up and sings out "What ho! Chaney, what yer got?" And
he says, "Ketch hold," he says, and that was all he could say; he
was fair beat.  And then I heard you singing out, and I says to
meself, "Is the whole popperlation of the Northern Territory down
this here well? How many more is there, Chancy?" I says. And then
bung goes the old windlass, and lucky it ketched in the top of the
well; if it had fell down on the top of you, it'd ha' stiffened
you all right. And how you got up that well beats me. By Cripes,
it does."

"How's the--man that--was down with me?" said Hugh slowly.

"What, Sampson? 'E's all right. Couldn't kill'm with a meat-axe.
He must ha' swallowed very near all the water in that well. Me an'
the Chow emptied very near two buckets out of him.  He's dead to
the world jes' now. How do you feel, boss?"

"I'll be all right in a minute," said Hugh.  "What's your name?"

"I'm Tommy Prince," said the stranger. "I jist kem in from my camp
to-day for them onions."

Hugh drew a long breath. The luck had turned at last.




CHAPTER XXV.

IN THE BUFFALO CAMP.



"You're just the man I was looking for," said Hugh, taking in the
stranger with his eyes. "I want to get out to Reeves's buffalo camp,
and I hear you're the only man who knows that country at all.  Can
you get time to come down with me? I'll make it worth your while."

He waited for the reply with a beating heart.  If this man failed
him he saw nothing for it but to go back. The stranger lit his pipe
with the leisurely movements of a man who had never been in a real
hurry in his life.

Then he spoke slowly.

"Well, it's this way, boss, you see. I'm just startin' off in no
end of a hurry to go and take a team of bullocks to the Oriental
to draw quartz."

"Can't you put it off for a while?" said Hugh.  "It's getting near
the wet season."

"Well, I'd like to go with you, boss, but I couldn't chuck 'em
over--not rightly I couldn't." He stroked his beard and relapsed
into thought.

"Let's go in and get a drink," said Hugh. "I suppose there is some
square-face inside."

The square-face settled it. They had one drink, and the stranger
began to think less of the needs of the Oriental. They had another,
and he said he didn't suppose it'd matter much if the Oriental had
to wait a bit for their stone, and the bullocks were all over the
bush and very poor, and by the time he got them together the wet
season would be on.  They had a third, and he said that the Oriental
had been hanging on for six months, and it wouldn't hurt it to hang
on for seven, and he wouldn't see a man like Hugh stuck.

So the shareholders in that valuable concern, the Oriental Mine,
were kept in pleasing suspense for some months longer, while the
mine-manager (whose salary was going on all the time) did nothing
but smoke, and write reports to the effect that "a very valuable
body of stone was at grass, awaiting cartage to the battery, when
a splendid crushing was a certainty." Meanwhile Tommy Prince was
gaily journeying with Hugh down to the buffalo camp.

Prince, a typical moleskin-trousered, cotton-shirted, cabbage-tree-hatted
bushman, soon fixed up all details. He annexed the horses belonging
to the store, sagely remarking that, as Hugh had saved their owner's
life, he could afford to let him have a few horses. He also helped
himself to pack-saddles, camping gear, supplies, and all sorts of
odds and ends--not forgetting a couple of gallons of rum, mosquito-nets
made of cheese cloth, blankets, and a rifle and cartridges. They
fitted out the expedition in fine style, while unconscious Sampson
slept the sleep of the half-drowned. The placid Chinese cook fried
great lumps of goat for them to eat, heedless of all things except
his opium-pipe, to which he had recourse in the evening, the curious
dreamy odour of the opium blending strangely with the aromatic
scent of the bush.

At daylight they started, and for three days rode through the
wilderness, camping out at night, while the horses with bells and
hobbles grazed round the camp. Tommy Prince steered a course by
instinct, guided as unerringly as the Israelites by their pillar
of fire.

By miles of trackless, worthless wilderness, by rolling open plains,
by rocky ranges and stony passes, they pushed out and ever further
out, till at last, one day, Tommy said, "They ought to be hereabouts,
some place." So saying, he dropped a lighted match into a big patch
of grass, and in a few seconds a line of fire half a mile wide was
roaring across the plain; above it rose smoke as of a burning city.

"They'll see that," said Tommy, "without the buff'loes have got
'em." So they camped for the day under a huge banyan-fig tree and
awaited developments.  About evening, away on the horizon, there
arose an answering cloud of smoke, connecting earth and sky, like
a waterspout.

"That's them," said Tommy. They climbed once more into their saddles,
and set out. Just as the sun was setting, they saw a singular
procession coming towards them. In front rode two small, wiry,
hard-featured, inexpressibly dirty men on big well-formed horses.
They wore dungaree trousers, which had once been blue, but were
now begrimed and bloodstained to a dull neutral colour.  Their
shirts--once coloured, but now nearly black--were worn outside the
trousers, like a countryman's smock frock, and were drawn in at
the waist by broad leathern belts full of cartridges. Their faces
were half-hidden by stubbly beards, and their bright alert eyes
looked out from under the brims of two as dilapidated felt hats
as ever graced head of man.  Each carried a carbine between thigh
and saddle.  These were the buffalo shooters.

Behind them rode an elderly, grizzled man, whom Hugh had no
difficulty in recognising as Keogh, or Considine. Following him
were some seven or eight packhorses, all heavily laden with hides.
And behind the packhorses rode three or four naked blacks and a
Chinaman.

Hugh's guide at once made himself welcome in his happy-go-lucky
style. He introduced Hugh as Mr. Lambton, from New South Wales.
The buffalo shooters made him welcome after the fashion of their
kind; but Considine was obviously uneasy, and avoided him, riding
with Tommy Prince for a while, and evidently trying to find out
what Hugh had come for.

That night, when they got to the buffalo shooters' camp, Hugh
opened fire on Considine. The veteran was in a cheerful mood after
his meal, and Hugh wanted to start diplomatically, thinking he
might persuade him. If that failed he would give him the summons;
but he would start with the suaviter in modo. When it came to the
point, however, he forgot his diplomacy, and plunged straight into
trouble.

"I'll tell you what I've come up here for, Considine," he said.
"My name's Hugh Gordon, and I want to find out something about your
marriage with Peggy Donohoe."

"Well, if that's what you come for, Mister," said the veteran,
pulling a firestick out of the fire, and slowly lighting his pipe,
"if that's what you come for"--puff, puff, puff--"you've come on
a wild goose chase. I never knew no Peggy Donohoe in my life. My
wife"--puff--"was a small, dark woman, named Smith."

"I thought you told my brother that you married Peggy Donohoe."

"So I might have told him," assented the veteran.  "Quite likely
I did, but I must ha' made a mistake.  A man might easy make a
mistake over a thing like that. What odds is it to you who I married,
anyhow?"

"What odds? Why look here, Considine, it means that my old mother
will be turned out of her home. That's some odds to me, isn't it?"

"Yairs, that's right enough, Mister," said the courteous Considine;
"it's lots of odds to you, but what I ask you is--what odds is
it to me? Why should I go and saddle myself with a she-devil just
when I'm coming into a bit of money? I'd walk miles to do her a
bad turn."

"Well, if you want to do her a bad turn, come down and block her
getting Mr. Grant's estate."

"Yes, an' put her on to meself What next?  I tell you, Mister,
straight, I wouldn't have that woman tied to me for all the money
in China. That English bloke said there was a big fortune for me
in England. Well, if I have to take Peggy Donohoe with it, it can
stay. I'll live here with the blacks and the buffalo shooters, and
I'll get my livin' for meself, same as I got it all my life; but
take on Peggy again I will not. Now, that's Domino--that's the dead
finish. I won't go with you, and I won't give you no information.
And I'm sorry too, 'cause you seem a good sort of a young feller--but
I won't do anything that'll mix me up with Peggy any more."

Hugh ground his teeth with mortification. Then he played his next
card.

"There's a man they call Flash Jack--do you know him?"

"Perhaps I do, and perhaps I don't," said the sage in a surly tone.

"Well, he told me to ask you to help us. He said to tell you that
he particularly wanted you to give evidence if you can."

"Want'll be his master, then," snarled the old man.

"He said he would put the police on to a job about some cattle at
Cross-roads," said Hugh.

The rage fairly flashed out of Considine's eyes.

"He said that, did he?" he yelled. "The rotten informer! Well,
you tell Flash Jack from me that where he can put me away for one
thing I can put him away for half-a-dozen; and if I go into gaol
for a five-stretch he goes in for ten. I ain't afraid of Flash
Jack, nor you either. See that, now!"

Hugh felt that his mission had failed. He pulled out the summons
as a last resource, and passed it to the old man.

"What's this?" he said.

"Summons to give evidence," said Hugh.

"Victoria by the Grace of God," read the old man, by the flickering
firelight. "Victoria by the Grace of God, eh? Well, see here," he
continued, solemnly putting the summons in the fire and watching
it blaze, "if Victoria by the Grace of God wants me, she can send
for me--send a coach and six for Patrick Henry Considine, late
Patrick Henry Keogh! And then I mightn't go! There'll be only one
thing make me go where I don't want to go, and that's a policeman
at each elbow and another shovin' behind. I'd sooner do a five-stretch
than take Peggy back again. And that's the beginning and the end
and the middle of it.  And now I'll wish you good night."




CHAPTER XXVI.

THE SAVING OF CONSIDINE.



At grey dawn all the camp was astir. Hugh looked from under his
mosquito-net, and saw old Considine over the fire, earnestly frying
a large hunk of buffalo meat. He was without a trouble in the world
as he turned the hissing steak in the pan. Two black gins in brief
garments--a loin cloth and a villainously dirty pyjama-jacket
each--were sitting near him, languidly killing the mosquitoes which
settled on their bare legs. These were Maggie and Lucy, but they
had degenerated with their surroundings. Tommy Prince was oiling
a carbine, and one of the shooters was washing his face at a basin
formed by scratching a small hole in the ground and pressing a
square of canvas into the depression.

The Chinese skinner was sitting on a log, rubbing a huge butcher's
knife on a sharpening stone. Away up the plain the horses, about
thirty or forty in number, were slowly trooping into camp, hunted
by a couple of blackfellows, naked except for little grass armlets
worn above the elbow, and sticks stuck through their noses. When
the horses reached the camp they formed a squadron under the shade
of some trees, and pushed and shoved and circled about, trying to
keep the flies off themselves and each other.

Hugh walked over to Tommy Prince at his rifle-oiling, and watched
him for a while. That worthy, who was evidently a true sportsman
at heart, was liberally baptising with Rangoon oil an old and much
rusted Martini carbine, whose ejector refused to work. Every now
and then, when he thought he had got it ship-shape, Tommy would
put in a fresh cartridge, hold the carbine tightly to his shoulder,
shut his eyes, and fire it into space. The rusty old weapon kicked
frightfully, after each discharge the ejector jammed, and Tommy
ruefully poked the exploded cartridge out with a rod and poured on
more oil.

"Blast the carbine!" said Tommy. "It kicks upwards like; it's
kicking my nose all skewwhiff."

"Don't put it to your shoulder, you fool," said one of the shooters;
"it'll kick your head off. Hold it out in one hand."

"Then it'll kick my arm off," said Tommy.

"No, it won't; you won t feel it at all," said the shooter. "Your
arm will give to the recoil. Blaze away!"

"What are you up to with the carbine?" said Hugh.

"I'm going to have a blaze at some of these 'ere buff'loes," said
Tommy gaily. "Bill's lent me a horse. They's got a rifle for you,
and one for the old man. "We'll give them buff'loes hell to-day.
Five rifles--they'll think the French is after them." "Well, but
I want to get back," said Hugh. "We mustn't waste any time. What
about the store-keeper's horses?"

"Ho! it'd never do to take them straight back again," said Tommy.
"Never do. They must have a spell. Besides, what's the hurry?"

And Hugh, recognising that for all the good he could do he might just
as well not hurry back again, resigned himself to the inevitable,
picked up his bridle, went into the shuffling herd of horses,
and caught the one pointed out to him. It was a big, raw-boned,
ragged-hipped bay, a horse that would have been a gentleman under
any other conditions, but from long buffalo-hunting had become a
careless-going, loose-jointed ruffian, taking his life in his hands
every day. He bit savagely at Hugh as he saddled him, and altogether
proclaimed himself devoid of self-respect and the finer instincts.

Breakfast was despatched almost in silence. The shooters knew
vaguely that Hugh's visit was in some way connected with Considine,
and that Considine had refused to do what Hugh wanted. But the
hospitality of the buffalo camp is as the hospitality of the Arabs
of old--the stranger is made welcome whatever his business, and
may come and go unquestioned.

Hugh had little desire to talk on the subject of his visit, and
Considine maintained a dogged silence. Tommy Prince alone chatted
away affably between large mouthfuls of buffalo beef, damper, and
tea, airing his views on all subjects, but principally on the fair
sex.  Meanwhile the blacks were catching the pack-horses, and
sharpening their skinning knives. The two horses used by the shooters
were brought over to the camp fire and given a small feed each of
much-prized maize and oats and bran, that had been brought round
in the lugger from Port Faraway with the camp supplies, landed on
the river-bank twelve miles off, and fetched in on pack-horses.

"A little more beef, Mister? No? Well, all aboard for the Buffalo
Brigade! That's your rifle by the tree. Put this cartridge-belt on
and buckle it real tight; if you leave it loose, when you start to
gallop it will shake up and down, and shake the soul out of you.
Come, Paddy, what are you riding?"

"I'm going to ride the boco."

[Footnote: One-eyed horse.]

"I wouldn't if I was you. He's all right to race up to a buffalo,
but that blind eye of his'll fetch him to grief some day. Ride the
old grey."

"No fear," said the old man obstinately, "the boco's one eye's
worth any horse's two. Me an' the boco will be near the lead when
the whips are crackin', take it from me."

"Come along, then!"

Hugh clambered on to his raw-boned steed, known as "Close Up,"
because he would go so close to the buffaloes, and the procession
started. The five white men rode ahead, all smoking with great
enjoyment.  Hugh was beside one of the shooters, and opened conference
with him.

"I've heard a lot about this business," said Hugh, "but never hoped
to see it. What are these Australian buffaloes? I thought they were
just humped cattle like those little Brahmin cattle."

"People reckon they're the Indian buffalo," said the bushman. "They
were fetched here about fifty years ago from Java--just a few pair,
and they were let go and went wild, and now they're all over the
face of the earth about here. We've shot six hundred of 'em--just
the two rifles--in six months.  It's not play, I tell you, to shoot
and skin six hundred and cure their hides in that time. We'll get
a thousand this season."

"Good Lord," said Hugh. "Won't they be shot out?"

"Not they. There's about eight thousand of 'em shot every year
for their hides, and it's just like the ordinary increase of a big
cattle station.  They're all over these plains, and for miles and
miles away down the coast, and in the jungles there's thousands of
'em. There's jungles here that are a hundred miles round, and no
animal but a buffalo will go into 'em. The blacks say that inside
them there's big patches of clear plain, with grass and water, where
there's buffaloes as thick as bees; but you can't get at 'em."

"How do you shoot 'em?" said Hugh.

"Race right up alongside 'em, and put the carbine out with one
hand, and shoot downwards into the loin. That's the only way to
drop 'em. You can shoot bullets into 'em by the hatful everywhere
else, and they just turn and charge; and while you are dodging round,
first you huntin' the buffalo, and then the buffalo huntin' you, the
rest of the mob are out of sight. You must go right up alongside,
close enough to touch 'em with the barrel, and fire down--so." He
illustrated with the carbine as he spoke. "And whatever you do,
don't pull your horse about; he knows the game, if you don't. Never
stop your horse near a wounded buffalo, either. They make a rush
as sudden as lightnin'. They look clumsy and big; but, my oath, a
wounded one can hop along something wonderful!  They'll surprise
you for pace any time; but most of all when they're wounded."

"Do they always come at you when they're wounded?" said Hugh.

"Always," said the shooter, "and very often when they're not wounded
they'll turn and charge if you've run 'em a long way. You want to
look out, I tell you. They'll wheel very sudden, and if they ketch
your horse they'll grind him into pulp.  Ben, my mate here, had
a horse killed under him last week--horse we gave five and twenty
quid for, and that's a long shot for a buffalo horse. I believe in
Injia they shoot 'em off elephants, but that's 'cause they won't
come out in the open like they do here. There's hundreds of toffs
in England and Injia'd give their ears for a day after these, you
know. Hello! Look! See there!"

Far away out on the plain Hugh saw fifteen or twenty bluish-grey
mounds in a line rising above the grass; it was a herd of buffalo
feeding. The animals never lifted their heads, and were curiously
like a lot of railway trucks covered with grey tarpaulin.  It was
impossible to tell which was head and which was tail. A short halt
was made while girths were tightened, cartridges slipped into place,
and hats jammed on; they all mounted and rode slowly towards the
herd, which was at least half a mile off, and still feeding steadily.
Everyone kept his horse in hand, ready for a dash the moment the
mob lifted their heads.

"How fast will they go?" whispered Hugh to the nearest shooter.

"Fast as blazes. You've no idea how fast they are. They're the
biggest take-in there is. When they lift their heads they'll stare
for half a minute, and then they'll run. The moment they start,
off you go. Watch 'em! There's one sees us!  Keep steady yet--don't
rush till they start."

One of the blue mounds lifted a huge black-muzzled head, decorated
with an enormous pair of sickle-shaped horns that stretched right
back to the shoulders. He stared with great sullen eyes and trotted
a few paces towards them; one after another, the rest lifted their
heads and stared too.  Closer drew the horsemen at their steady,
silent jog, the horses pricking their ears and getting on their
toes as race-horses do at the start of a race.

"Be ready," said the shooter. "Now!"

The mob, with one impulse, wheeled, and set off at a heavy lumbering
gallop, and the horses dashed in full gallop after them. It was a
ride worth a year of a man's life. Every man sat down to his work
like a jockey finishing a race, and the big stock horses went through
the long grass like hawks swooping down on a flock of pigeons. The
men carried their carbines loaded, holding them straight up over
the shoulder so as to lessen the jerking of the wrist caused by
the gallop.

The surface of the plain was level enough, but frightfully bad
going; the sun had baked the black soil till great gaping cracks,
a couple of feet wide and ten feet deep, were opened in the ground. The
buffaloes had wallowed in the wet season and made round well-like
holes that were now hard, dry pitfalls. Here and there a treacherous,
slimy watercourse wound its slinking way along, making a bog in
which a horse would sink to his shoulders; and over all these traps
and pitfalls the long waving jungle-grass drew a veil. Every now
and then belts of small bamboo were crossed, into which the horses
dashed blindly, forcing their way through by their weight. When
they started the buffaloes had a lead of a quarter of a mile, and
judging by their slogging, laboured gallop, it looked as though
the horses would run into them in half a mile; but on that ground
the buffaloes could go nearly as fast as the horses, and it was
only after a mile and a quarter of hard riding that they closed
in on the mob, which at once split into several detachments.  A
magnificent old bull, whose horns measured ten feet from tip
to tip, dashed away to the right with six or seven cows lumbering
after him. Hugh and one of the shooters followed this lot. Another
mob went away to the left, pursued by the other shooter and Considine;
while one old cow, having had enough running, suddenly wheeled in
her tracks, and charged straight at Tommy Prince, whose horse at
once whipped round and carried his rider, with the old cow at his
tail, into a clump of bamboos.  Hugh followed his mate as hard as
he could, both horses feeling the pace, and pecking and blundering
every now and again in the broken ground. Once Hugh saw a buffalo-wallow
suddenly appear right under his horse's nose, and half-flinched,
expecting a certain fall; but old "Close Up" strode over it,
apparently having a leg to spare for emergencies of the sort.

Just ahead of him the shooter, sitting down in his saddle, lifted
his horse with a drive of the spurs, and came right alongside the
hindmost animal, a fat blue cow, which at once swerved at right
angles; but the horse followed her every movement, and drew up till
horse and buffalo were racing side by side. Then without fuss or
hurry, up went the elbow of the rider and bang! the buffalo fell
as if paralysed, shot through the lions. The horse swung away from
the falling animal as it crashed to the ground; and the shooter,
still going at full gallop, methodically ejected the used cartridge
and put in another without losing his place at the tail of the
flying mob. The noise of the carbine made the mob divide, and Hugh
found himself going full speed after three that came his way. Wild
with excitement, he drove Close Up after the nearest, and made
ready to fire at the right moment. The long gallop had winded him;
his arm was almost numbed with the strain of carrying the carbine,
which now seemed to weigh a ton.

Close Up, true to his name, made a dash at the nearest buffalo,
and got close enough in all conscience; but what with the jerking
to and fro of the gallop, and the rolling gait and sudden swerves
of the buffalo, and the occasional blunderings of the horse in
broken ground, Hugh never seemed to have the carbine pointed right.
Close Up, finding it did not go off when he expected, began to
slacken pace and gallop in an undecided way. It sounds easy enough
to gallop up to an animal which you can beat for pace, but anyone
who has ever tried to lay a whip on the back of a bullock knows it
is not so easy as it looks to get more than one or two clips home.
Hugh found the buffalo holding its own for pace, and every time he
drew up it dodged before he could make sure of hitting the loin.
Cover seemed to be getting very near.  At last he leaned out as far
as he could, held the rifle in one hand, and took a "speculator"
at the flying buffalo. He hit it somewhere, but hadn't time to see
where; for, with a snort like a grampus, the beast wheeled in its
tracks and charged so suddenly that old Close Up only just dodged
it by a yard or two. It rushed him for a couple of hundred yards,
and then stopped. Hugh managed to eject the cartridge and load,
and then cantered after the animal, which had started again at a
sullen trot, with the blood pouring from its flank. As he galloped
up to administer the "coup de grace," meaning to make no mistake
about hitting the loin this time, the buffalo suddenly wheeled and
charged him again, and Close Up executed another hurried retreat.
For a while they took it up and down--first buffalo hunting man,
then man hunting buffalo--while Hugh fired whenever he had the
chance, without seeming to discompose the brute at all. At last
a lucky shot struck some vital spot inside; the beast stopped,
staggered, and fell dead without a sound. Hugh looked round. He
was alone; his mate was just visible far away over the plain, still
following at full speed a blue mound that struggled doggedly on
towards the timber. The grey horse drew up to his quarry, the man
leant forward, there was a sudden spurt of white smoke, and the
animal fell as if struck by lightning. It was very pretty to watch,
and looked as simple as shelling peas. The shooter rode over to
Hugh, and congratulated him on his first kill.

"I got all that mob that came our way," he said, "seven of 'em.
Yours makes eight. There's Ben after some still, and there's Tommy
Prince back at the bamboos firing at something. Firing this way,
too, damn him! Look at Ben!"

Far away on the plain, like puppets in the distance, went the
swiftly gliding figures of man and horse. In front of them dimly-seen
objects tore through the grass; every now and again out went an arm,
there was a spurt of smoke, and another buffalo fell. The blacks
and the Chinaman were away behind, gathered in a cluster, skinning
the first beast killed, while the pack-horses cropped the grass
and bit at the flies. Considine was nowhere to be seen.

"Let's go back and see what Tommy is up to," said the shooter.
"He's a hard case, is Tommy.  If there's any trouble about he'll
get into it, or get somebody else into it. He'll wing one of us in
a minute, the way he's blazing. What's he firing at?"

Suddenly the festive Tommy was seen to dash hurriedly out of the
patch of bamboo, with the old original buffalo cow so close to his
horse's tail that, if the horse stumbled, the cow had him at her
mercy.

"She'll have 'im!" yelled the shooter. "Good cow! Can't she steam?
Come on, and let's see the fun!"

For a while it looked any odds on the cow; then she slackened pace,
wheeled round, and bolted back to the bamboos. They found Tommy very
excited.  He had used about eighteen cartridges, and had nothing
to show for it.

"That's the most underhand cow ever I seen!" said Tommy. "She runs
into them there bamboos and pretends she's going to run right clean
through to Queensland, and when I go in after her, she wheels round
and hunts me for my life. Near had me twice, she did. Every time
I fire the old carbine, it jams, and I have to get the rod to it.
Gimme your rifle, Walter, and I'll go in and finish her."

"She must have a lead mine in her already," said the shooter. "Mind
she don't ketch you, Tommy."

Tommy went in, but couldn't find a sign of the cow. While they were
talking she had slipped along the belt of bamboos, and was then,
no doubt, waiting for a chance to rush somebody. As no one cared
to chance riding on to her in that jungle, she escaped with the
honours of war. The other shooter came up, having shot nine, and
reported that Considine had had a fall; his horse, not being used
to the country, had plunged up to his shoulders in a concealed
buffalo-wallow, and turned right over on him. Luckily, the buffalo
he was after was well ahead, and did not turn to charge him, but
he was very much shaken; when he came up, however, he insisted on
going on. They set to work to find the rest of the dead buffaloes--no
easy matter in that long grass--and all hands commenced skinning.
This job kept them till noonday, when they camped under some trees
for their midday meal, hobbling the horses. Then they rested for
an hour or two, packed the hides on the pack-horses (and heavily
loaded they were, each hide weighing about a hundredweight), and
went back to the hunt, scanning the plain carefully.

They were all riding together through a belt of timber, the blacks
and the Chinaman being well up with the pack-horses, when suddenly
the blacks burst out with great excitement.

"Buff'lo! Buff'lo!"

Sure enough, a huge blue bull--a regular old patriarch, that had
evidently been hunted out of a herd, and was camping by himself
in the timber--made a rush out of some thick trees, and set off
towards a dense jungle, that could be seen half a mile or so away.
Hugh and Considine were nearest him, each with his rifle ready,
and started after him together, full gallop through the timber. The
old man was evidently anxious to make up for his morning's failure,
and to take Hugh down a peg, for he set a fearful pace through the
trees, grazing one and gliding under the boughs of another as only
a trained bush-rider can. Hugh, coming from the mountains, was no
duffer in timbered country either, and the two of them went at a
merry pace for a while. The bull was puzzled by having two pursuers,
and often in swerving from one or the other would hit a tree with
his huge horns, and fairly bounce off it. He never attempted to
turn, but kept straight on, and they drew on to him in silence,
almost side by side, riding jealously for the first shot. Considine
was on the wrong side, and had to use the carbine on the near side of
his horse; but he was undeniably a good rider, and laughed grimly
as he got first alongside, and, leaning over, prepared to fire.
Then a strange thing happened.  Before he could fire, the buffalo
bull tripped on a stump and fell on his knees, causing Considine's
horse to shoot almost past him. As the bull rose again, he sprang
savagely sideways, bringing his huge head up from beneath, and
fairly impaled the horse on his horn. It gave a terrible scream,
and reared over.

The old man never lost his nerve. Almost as he fell he fired down
into the buffalo's shoulder, but the bullet had no effect. Man and
horse were fetched smashing to the ground, the man pinned under the
horse's body. The bull hesitated a second before hurling himself
upon the two; and in that second Hugh jumped from his horse, ran
up, stood over the fallen man, holding out the rifle like a pistol
with the muzzle an inch off the bull's head, and fired. A buffalo's
skull is an inch and a half thick, solid bone, as hard as granite;
but a Martini carbine, sighted for a thousand yards, will pierce
it like paper at short range. The smoke had not cleared away when
the huge beast fell to the ground within two feet of his intended
victims.  Hugh pulled Considine from under the horse. The unfortunate
beast struggled to his feet, with blood gushing from a terrible
wound in the belly, ran fifty yards, and fell dead.

The old man looked round him in silence. "Serve me damn well right,"
he said at last. "I ought to have got the other side of the buffalo!"

Not another word did he say, as he transferred his saddle to one of
the blacks' horses. But in the camp, that night, the old man came
over to Hugh holding a paper in his hand.

"I've got something for you," he said. "Here's the certificate of
my weddin' with Peggy Donohoe.  The parson gev us each one. That
ought to do you, oughtn't it? I'll come down with you, as soon as
you like, and give all the evidence you want.  I'll chance how I
get on with Peg. I'll divorce her, or poison her, or get shut of
her somehow. But after what you done to-day I'm on Grant's side,
I am."

And off he stalked to bed, while Hugh talked long with Tommy Prince
and the buffalo-shooters of the best way to get down to the wire
and send the news of his success. He went to bed the happiest man
south of the line; and next day, saying good-bye to his hospitable
friends, he started off with Considine and Tommy on the road to
the telegraph, and thence to civilisation.




CHAPTER XXVII.

THE REAL CERTIFICATE.



As the day of the great case approached Blake got more and more
restless and irritable. He had heard of Hugh's going away to look
for a witness; but Peggy and Red Mick, in their ignorance, had
thought it best to keep all knowledge of the Considine flaw from
their lawyer--a mistake that wiser people than they sometimes make.
Blake suspected nothing. He had more than once seen Mary Grant and
Ellen Harriott in Tarrong, but he was again an outcast, relegated
to the society of such as Isaacstein.

Well, he would see it out, and would yet make these people glad to
crawl to him. Ellen Harriott he never spoke to. However the case
went and whoever won, she could be of no use to him, so he decided
to include her among his enemies; and though she went deathly
white when she saw him she made no sign of recognition. There was
one thing, however, which he had to do before taking the case into
Court, and that was to secure a fair share of the spoil for himself.
He had no intention of slaving at the case, perhaps for years, for
what he would get as costs. So, a week or two before the case was
due to come on, he sent for Peggy and Red Mick.

It was a hot summer day when Peggy came in.  Out of doors there
was a blinding glare, and the heat had drawn the scent out of the
unseasoned pine with which Tarrong was mostly built, till the air
was filled with a sort of incense. Peggy came in hot and short-tempered.
The strain was beginning to tell on her nerves, and, from a remark
or two she let fall, Blake saw that she might be inclined to give
trouble if not promptly brought into subjection.

"I've sent for you," he said.

"Yis, and the fust thing--"

He interrupted her sharply.

"The first thing is, how much am I going to get out of this case
if I win it That is the first thing. You don't suppose I am going
to spend time and money and fight this case through all the Courts
in the land, and get nothing out of it, do you? How much am I to
get? We'll settle that before we go any further."

"Well, I'll ask Mick."

"You'll ask nobody. Mick isn't Grant's widow, and you are of age,
goodness knows. How much?"

"How much d'ye want?"

"I want one-third of what you get. That'll leave you nearly a million
of money. There will be well over a million to divide. There will
be a big lawsuit, and lots of appeals, and if I am to see it through
it will cost a great lot of money; so if I win I mean to make it
pay me. That's my figure.  One-third. Take it or leave it."

Peggy wriggled about, but knew that she would have to give in. It
was a reasonable proposal, as things stood; but she did not like
the way in which she had been bullied. She looked at Blake queerly.

"If we have to give ye a third, ye may as well know all about it.
Ye'll be a partner like."

Blake stared at her. He could not guess what she was driving at.
Peggy slowly drew out of a handbag a faded piece of paper and handed
it to him without a word. It was the original marriage certificate,
the same that Ellen Harriott had seen at Red Mick's. He unfolded
it and spread it out on the table.

"What's this?"

"Read it."

"I certify that I, Thomas Nettleship," he mumbled through the
formula, then, sharply "What's this name doing here? Who is Patrick
Henry Keogh? Is there such a person?"

"Yis," said Peggy, boiling up. "A long slab-sided useless feller.
He's gone to live wid the blacks. He'll never come back no more.
Most like he's dead by this time, speared or the like of that!"

For a few seconds Blake, the cool, audacious gambler, was dazed,
in spite of his natural self-confidence.  He saw how he had been
duped. Peggy had married this other man, whoever he was, and had
used the facts of the real marriage to give her the details for
her imaginary one, while in copying the certificate she had, with
considerable foresight, filled in Grant's name instead of that of
Keogh.

All Blake's castles in the air, his schemes for revenge, his hopes
of wealth, had vanished at one fell swoop. "Patrick Henry Keogh"
seemed to grin up at him out of the paper. His case had crumbled
about his ears; his defeat would be known all over the district,
and nothing could much longer stave off the inevitable exposure
of his misappropriations.  But he was a fighter all over, and he
still saw a chance to pull things through.

He wasted no words on Peggy. "Go and get Mick to come here," he
said, and Mick, still somewhat lopsided about the face from his
accident, was soon in the room.

"Mick," said Blake, "your sister has told me something very important
that ought to have been told me before. It's no good crying over
spilt milk.  There's still a chance. If Peggy and Martin tell the
same story they told me at first, they will win the case. This
Keogh must be dead, or too frightened to show up. If you stick to
your story you will win. It's a million of money. Will you chance
it?"

"What about the sertiffykit?" said Mick.

"Leave that to me," said Blake. "I'll see to that. I suppose no
one knows the rights of this but you and Peggy!"

"Never a soul."

"Well, it's a million of money. Will you chance it?"

Mick and his sister rose. "We'll go on wid the case," said Mick.
"But supposin' Keogh turns up--"

"You've got to take chances in this life," said Blake, "if you're
after a million that doesn't belong to you. Will you chance it?
Share and share alike?"

"A million," said Mick. "Of course we'll go on wid the case. I daresay
William Grant took the name of Keogh that day he was married," and
with this ingenious suggestion Mick took his sister home, leaving
Blake alone in the office.

After his clients were gone Blake looked at the certificate for a
long time, asking himself, "Shall I take the risk or not?" He was
about to do a criminal act, and though it was not his first, he
flinched every time he crossed the border-line. He lifted his hand,
and hesitated; then he remembered his dismissal from Kuryong, and
caught sight of a dunning letter lying on his table. That decided
him.  The risk was worth taking. The danger was great, but the stake
was worth it. He took an eraser, made a few swift light strokes
on the paper over the almost illegible writing, and "Patrick Henry
Keogh" disappeared; on the space that it had occupied he wrote
"William Grant," in faint strokes of a pencil. He had crossed the
border-line of crime once more.




CHAPTER XXVIII.

A LEGAL BATTLE.



And now, after hauling the reader pretty well all over Australia--from
mountain-station to out-back holding, from cattle-camp to buffalo
run--we must ask him to take a seat in the Supreme Court at Sydney,
to hear the trial of the "great Grant Will Case."

Gavan Blake had made no effort towards compromise.  He knew the
risk he was running, but he had determined to see it through. The
love, the ambition, the hope that had once possessed him had turned
to a grim desperate hatred, and he would risk everything rather
than withdraw the case. He kept Red Mick and Peggy up to the mark
with assurances that she was certain to win.  Neither he nor they
knew that Considine had been found. Even the most respectable
solicitors sometimes display acuteness, and the old man's return
had been kept secret by Pinnock, so that public opinion anticipated
Peggy's victory.

At last came the day of trial. Every seat in the Court was filled,
and a mass of the unwashed hung over the gallery rail, gazing
at the show provided for their entertainment. Mary Grant and Mrs.
Gordon went into Court at the suggestion of their leading Counsel,
Bouncer, Q.C., who was nothing if not theatrical. He wanted them
there to see the overthrow of the enemy, and to lend point to his
invective against the intruders who were trying to take away their
birthright. A small army of Doyles and Donohoes, who had come down
for the case, were hanging about dressed in outlandish garments,
trying to look as if they would not tell a lie for untold gold.
The managing clerks were in and out like little dogs at a fair,
hunting up witnesses, scanning the jury list, arranging papers for
production, and keeping a wary eye on the enemy.  Punctually as
the clock struck ten, the Judge strutted into Court with as much
pomp as a man-of-war sailing into a small port; depositing himself
on the Bench, he glared round for a few seconds, and said to the
associate, "Call the first case," in a matter-of-fact tone, just
as if he did not know what the first case was going to be. A little
rustle went round the Court as people settled themselves down for
the battle.

The case for Peggy was set forth by the great Jewish barrister,
Manasseh, Q.C. He was famous for his skill in enlisting the
sympathies of the jury from the outset. He drew a moving picture
of the sorrows of Peggy, disowned by her husband's relatives and
the case proceeded so far that he had put the marriage certificate
in evidence when Blake, who had been away for a few minutes rushed
into Court and touched Manasseh on the shoulder, bringing him to
an abrupt stop.

Manasseh asked the Judge to excuse him for a moment while he conferred
with his juniors and Blake. After a short but excited conference
he rose again and--but first we must hear what had happened outside.

While all concerned were in Court listening to Manasseh, Considine
had been smuggled into the witnesses' room and, being bored and
worried, had strayed into the verandah of the Court buildings.  He
had been hauled into consultations with barristers, and examined and
badgered and worried to death. The hard Sydney pavements had made
his feet sore. The city ways were not his ways, and the mere mental
effort of catching trains and omnibuses, and keeping appointments,
and having fixed meal-times, was inexpressibly wearing to a man
who had never been tied to time in his life.

And what a dismal prospect he had before him!  To go over to England
and take up a position for which he was wholly unfitted, without a
friend who would understand his ideas, and in whom he could confide.
Then his thoughts turned to Peggy--Peggy, square-built, determined,
masterful, capable; just the very person to grapple with difficulties;
a woman whose nerve a regiment of duchesses would fail to shake. He
thought of her many abilities, and admitted to himself that after
all was said and done, if he had only been able to gratify her
wishes (and they did not seem so extravagant now) she would have
been a perfect helpmate for him.  His mind went back to the weird
honeymoon at Pike's pub., to the little earthen-floored dining-room,
with walls of sacking and a slab table, over which Peggy presided
with such force of character.  He thought of the two bushmen whom
Peggy had nursed through the fever with rough tenderness; and then,
turning suddenly, he found Peggy standing at his elbow.

For a second neither spoke. Then Considine said, with an air of
forced jauntiness, "Well, Peggy, you won't be comin' to England
with me, then?"

"Haven't been asked," said Peggy.

"I heard you was goin' to settle at Kiley's Crossin', lending money
to the cockatoos."

Peggy looked at him with a meaning glance.

"Ye should know me better nor that, Paddy," she said.

This cleared the way tremendously. The gaunt bushman hitched himself
a little nearer, and spoke in an insinuating way. "I'm pretty tired
of this case meself, I dunno how you feel about it."

"Tired!" said Peggy. "I'm wore out. Fair wore out," and she heaved
a sigh like an elephant.

That sigh did for old Considine. Hurriedly he unburdened his mind.

"Well, look'ee here, Peggy--I've got whips of stuff now, and I've
got to go to England for it.  You come along o' me again, and we'll
knock all this business on the head. Let the Gordons alone--they're
decent young fellows, the both of 'em--and come along o' me to
England. That young English feller reckons we'd be as good as the
Prince of Wales, very near. Will you come, Peggy?"

It is the characteristic of great minds to think quickly, and act
promptly. Peggy did both.

"Mick!" she said, calling to her brother in a sharp, authoritative
voice: "Mick! I've been talking to Paddy here, and we've reckoned
we've had enough of this fooling, and we're off to England. You go
in and tell old Fuzzy-Head" (she meant the Judge) "that I'm tired
of this case, and I ain't goin' on wid it. Come on, Paddy, will we
go and get some tea?"

"Yes, and there's some tremenjus fine opals in a shop down this way
I'll buy you!" said Considine, as they started to walk away from
the Court.

At that moment Blake came out of Court, saw them, and stepped in
front of Peggy.

"Who is this man?" he said.

Peggy had never quite forgiven his domineering at Tarrong, and
turned on him with a snap.

"This is my 'usband," she said, "Mr. Patrick Henery Considine. Him
whose name is put down as Keogh on the marriage stiffykit I give
you."

Then Blake knew that he had played and lost--lost hopelessly,
irretrievably. But there was yet something to do to secure his own
safety. He rushed back into Court, and whispered a few words to
Manasseh; and Manasseh, after the short conference we mentioned some
pages back, rose and informed the Court that his client withdrew
her claim. Now, while Blake was out of Court, Mr. Bouncer, Mary's
counsel, had got from the Judge's Associate the certificate that
had been put in evidence. Ellen Harriott, sitting with Mary and
Mrs. Gordon behind him, gave a little cry of surprise when she saw
the paper. She touched Mr. Bouncer on the shoulder, and for a few
seconds they held an excited dialogue in whispers.

So Mr. Bouncer rose as Manasseh sat down, with a smile of satisfaction
on his face.

"I must object to any withdrawal, your Honor," he said. "My client's
vast interests are still liable to be assailed by any claimant. I
wish your Honor to insist that the case be heard. A claim has been
made here of a most dastardly nature, and I submit that your Honor
will not allow the claimants to withdraw without some investigation.
I will ask your Honor to put Gavan Blake in the box."

Mr. Manasseh objected. He said that there was no longer any case
before the Court; and Gavan Blake, white to the lips, waited for
the Judge's decision.  As he waited, he looked round and caught
the eye of Ellen Harriott. Cool, untroubled, the heavy-lidded eyes
met his, and he saw no hope there.  She had neither forgiven nor
forgotten.

Now, it so happened that the Judge felt rather baulked at the sudden
collapse of the big case, in which he had intended to play a star
part.

"Why do you want to put plaintiff's attorney in the box, Mr.
Bouncer?" he said.

"I want to examine him as to how and when the name of William Grant
got on that certificate. I have evidence to prove that the name on
it, only a few months ago, was that of Patrick Keogh."

"Ha, hum!" said the little Judge. "I don't see--eh--um--that I can
decide anything--ah--whatever. Case is withdrawn. Ha, hum. But in
the interests of justice, and seeing--seeing, I say," he went on,
warming to his work as the question laid itself open before him,
"that there is serious suspicion of fraud and forgery, it would be
wrong on my part to allow the case to close without some investigation
in the interests of justice. As to Mr.  Manasseh's objection, that
the Court is functus officio so far as this case is concerned,
I uphold that contention; but, in exercise of the power that the
Court holds over its officers, I consider that I have the power--and
that I should exercise the power--of putting the solicitor in the
box to explain how this document came into its present state. Let
Mr. Blake go into the box."

But while the little Judge was delivering his well-rounded sentences,
Blake had slipped out of Court and made off to his lodgings. He
had failed in everything. He might perhaps keep out of gaol; but
the blow to his reputation was fatal. He had played for a big stake
and lost, and he saw before him only drudgery and lifelong shame.

He had reached his lodgings, half-turned at the door, and saw behind
him the Court tipstaff, who had been sent after him.

"The Judge wants you back at the Court, Mr.  Blake," said the
tipstaff.

"All right. Wait till I run up to my room for some papers. I'll be
down in a minute," and he ran upstairs.

The tipstaff waited cheerfully enough, until he heard the crack of
a revolver-shot echo through the passages of the big boarding-house.
Then he rushed upstairs--to find that Gavan Blake had gone before
another Court than the one that was waiting for him so anxiously.




CHAPTER XXIX.

RACES AND A WIN.



After the great case was over life at Kuryong went on its old round.
Mary Grant, now undisputed owner, took up the reins of government,
and Hugh was kept there always on one pretext or another.

Considine and his wife stayed a while in the district before
starting for England, and were on the best of terms with the folk
at the homestead, Peggy's daring attempt to seize the estate having
been forgiven for her husband's sake.

Mary seemed to take a delicious pleasure in making Hugh come to her
for orders and consultations.  She signed without question anything
that Charlie put before her, but Hugh was constantly called in
to explain all sorts of things. The position was difficult in the
extreme, although Peggy tried to give Hugh good advice.

"Sure, the girl's fond of you, Mr. Hugh!" she said, "Why don't you
ask her to marry you? See what a good thing it'd be? She's only
waitin' to be asked."

"I'll manage my own affairs, thank you," said Hugh. "It isn't likely
I'm going to ask her now, when I haven't got a penny." He was as
miserable as a man could well be, and was on the point of leaving
the station and going back to the buffalo camp in search of solitude,
when an unexpected incident suddenly brought matters to a climax.
A year had slipped by since William Grant's death, and the glorious
Spring came round again; the river was bank-high with the melting
of the mountain-snows, the English fruit-trees were all blossoming,
and the willows a-bud. One day the mailman left a large handbill,
anouncing the Spring race-meeting at Kiley's, a festival sacred,
as a rule, to the Doyles and the Donohoes, at which no outsider
had any earthly chance of winning a race.

In William Grant's time the handbill would have soon reached the
fire-place; he did not countenance running station horses at the
local meetings. Under the new owner things were different. Charlie
Gordon was spoiling for a chance to run Revoke, a back-block purchase,
against the locals, and suggested it in an off-hand sort of way
while reading the circular. Hugh opposed the notion altogether.
His opposition apparently made Miss Grant determined to go on with
the scheme, and she gave Charlie carte blanche in the matter.

When race-day arrived, there was quite a merry party at the homestead.
Carew was making himself very attentive to Ellen Harriott, Mary
was flirting very openly with Charlie Gordon, to Hugh's intense
misery; and it was whispered about the station that the younger
brother would be deposed in favour of the elder.

Hugh did not want to go to the races, but Mary asked him so directly
that he had no option.

It was a typical Australian Spring day. The sky was blue, the air
was fresh, the breeze made great, long, rippling waves in the grass,
and every soul in the place--Mary in particular--seemed determined
to enjoy it to the utmost.

Revoke, the station champion, came in first in his race, and was
promptly disqualified for short weight, but Mary didn't care.

"What is the use of worrying over it?" she said.  "It doesn't really
matter."

"I have been done," said the bushman. "Red Mick lent me the lead-cloth,
and helped me saddle up, and I believe he took some lead out while
we were saddling. It never dropped out. That I'm sure of."

"Oh, never mind, Mr. Gordon! Forget it!  There's your brother, Hugh,
thinks we ought not to have come, and now you are turning sulky.
Why do all you Australian people amuse yourselves so sadly?"

"I don't know what you mean by sadly," said Charlie, huffed. "I
think you ladies had better go home soon. Things are likely to be
a bit lively later on. They have got a door off its hinges and laid
on the ground, and a fiddler playing jigs, and the men and women
are dancing each other down; it won't be long till there'll be a
fight, and somebody will get stretched out."

Sure enough, they could see an excited crowd of people gathered
round a fiddler, who was playing away for dear life, and the yells
and whoops told them that partisanship was running high. All
the young "bloods" of the ranges were there in their very best
finery--cabbage-tree hat (well-tilted back, and secured by a string
under the nose), gaudy cotton shirt, and tweed trousers of loud
pattern, secured round the waist by flaring red or green sashes. In
this garb such as fancied themselves as dancers were taking their
turns on the door. They began by ambling with a sort of strutting
walk once or twice round the circumscribed platform; then, with
head well back and eyes closed, dashed into the steps of the dance,
each introducing varied steps and innovations of his own, which,
if intricate and neatly executed, were greeted with great applause.
So it happened that after Jerry the Swell, the recognised champion
of the Doyles, had gone off with an extremely self-satisfied air,
some adherents of young Red Mick, the opposition champion, took
occasion to criticise Jerry's performance.  "Darnce!" they said.
"Jerry the Swell, darnce! Why, we've got an old poley cow would
darnce him blind! Haven't we, Mick?"

"Yairs," said young Mick, with withering emphasis.  "Darnce! He can't
darnce. I'll run, darnce, jump, or fight any man in the district
for two quid."

Before the challenge could be accepted there was an unexpected
interruption. Hugh had put the big trotting mare in the light trap
for Miss Harriott and Mary to drive home. "Gentle Annie" was used
to racing, and Hugh warned the girls to be careful in starting
her, as she would probably be excited by the crowd, and then turned
back to pack up the racing gear and start the four-in-hand with
the children. As they were putting the racing saddle, bridles,
and other gear into the vehicle, Charlie, who had been fuming ever
since his defeat, caught sight of the missing lead-bag. He picked
it up without a word, and with a fierce gleam in his eye, started
over to the group of dancers, followed hurriedly by Carew. Just
as young Mick was repeating his challenge to run, jump, dance, or
fight anybody in the district, Gordon threw the lead-bag, weighing
about six pounds, full in Red Mick's face.

"There's your lead, you thief!" he said.  "Dance on that!"

Red Mick staggered back a pace or two, picked up an empty bottle
from the ground, and made a dash at Gordon. The latter let out
a vicious drive with his left that caught Mick under the ear and
sent him down like a bullock. In a second the whole crowd surged
together in one confused melée, everybody hitting at everybody
amid a Babel of shouts and curses. The combat swayed out on to the
race-course, where half a dozen men fell over the ropes and pulled
as many more down with them, and those that were down fought on
the ground, while the others walked on them and fought over their
heads. Carew, who was quite in his element, hit every head he saw,
and knocked his knuckles to pieces on Black Andy Kelly's teeth.
The fight he put up, and the terrific force of his hitting, are
traditions among the mountain men to this day. Charlie Gordon was
simply mad with the lust of fighting, and was locked in a death-grip
with Red Mick; they swayed and struggled on the ground, while the
crowd punched at them indiscriminately. In the middle of all this
business, the two ladies and Alick, the eldest of the children,
had started Gentle Annie for home, straight down the centre of the
course. The big mare, hearing the yelling, and recognising that she
was once more on a race-track, suddenly caught hold of the bit, and
came sweeping up the straight full-stretch, her great legs flying
to and fro like pistons. Alick, who was sitting bodkin between the
ladies, simply remarked, "Let her head go!" as she went thundering
into the crowd, hurling Doyles and Donohoes into the air, trampling
Kellys under foot--and so out the other side, and away at a 2.30
gait for at least half a mile before the terrified girls could pull
her up, and come back to see what damage had been done.

That ended the fight. The course was covered with wounded and
disabled men. Some had been struck by the mare's hoofs; others had
been run over by the wheels; and a great demand for whisky set in,
under cover of which Gordon and Carew retired to the four-in-hand.

No one was seriously hurt, except "Omadhaun" Doyle, who had
been struck on the head by the big mare's hoof. He lay very still,
breathing stertorously, and Jerry the Swell took the trouble
to come over to the four-in-hand, and inform them that he thought
"Omadhaun" had got percussion of the brain, and that things looked
very "omnibus" for him. However, as soon as he could swallow whisky
he was pronounced out of danger, and the Kuryong party was allowed
to depart in peace for home, glad enough to get away. But the two
girls were afraid to drive the big mare, as she was thoroughly roused
after her dash in among the Doyles and Donohoes, and was inclined
to show a lot of temper. A hurried consultation was held, with
the result that Ellen Harriott and Alick were received into the
four-in-hand, while Hugh was entrusted with the task of driving
his employer home in the sulky.

Now, a sulky is a vehicle built to accommodate two people only,
and those two people have to sit fairly close together. For a few
miles they spun along in silence, Hugh being well occupied with
steadying the mare. From time to time he looked out of the corner
of his eye at his companion; she looked steadily, almost stolidly,
in front of her. Then she began to tap on the floor of the sulky
with her foot. At last she turned on him.

"Well, we didn't win," she said. "I suppose you are glad."

"Why should I be glad, Miss Grant?"

"Oh! you said we oughn't to go and race among those people. And
you were right. It served them just right that the mare ran over
them. I hope that none of them are going to die."

"They wouldn't be much missed," said Hugh wearily. "They have
started stealing the sheep again."

"Can't you catch them?" she said, with pretended asperity. "If you
went out and hid in a fallen tree, don't you think you could catch
them?"

Hugh looked at her to see if she were in earnest, but she looked
straight in front again and said nothing, still keeping up the slight
tapping of her foot. He flushed a little, and spoke very quietly.

"I think I'll have to resign from your employment, Miss Grant. I
don't care about stopping any longer; and I will go out back and
take up one of those twenty-thousand-acre leases in Queensland.
You might put Poss or Binjie on in my place. They would be glad of
a billet, and they might catch Red Mick for you."

"Do you really want to go?" she said, looking straight at him for
the first time. "Why do you want to go?"

"Why?" he burst out. "Because I can't bear being with you and near
you all day long, when I care for you, and you don't care for me.
I can't eat, or sleep, or rest here now, and it's time I was away.
You might give me a good character as a station-manager," he went
on grimly, "even though I can't catch Red Mick for you. I'll get
you to make out my cheque, and then I'll be off up North."

She was looking down now. The sun had gone, and the stars were
peeping out, and in the dusk he could catch no glimpse of her face.
There was silence for a few moments, then he went on talking, half
to himself. "It's best for me, anyhow. It's time I made a start
for myself. I couldn't stay on here as manager all my life."

Then she spoke, very low and quietly.

"You wouldn't care to stay on--for anything else, then?"

"How do you mean for anything else, Miss Grant? You don't want me
for anything except as manager, do you?"

"Well," she said, "you haven't asked me yet whether I do or not!"




THE END





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