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Harry Heathcote of Gangoil
Anthony Trollope


HARRY HEATHCOTE OF GANGOIL
A Tale of Australian Bush-Life.
BY ANTHONY TROLLOPE,
AUTHOR OF
"THE WARDEN", "BARCHESTER TOWERS," "ORLEY FARM," "THE SMALL HOUSE AT
ARLINGTON", "THE EUSTACE DIAMONDS," &c., &c

[ILLUSTRATED.]






CHAPTER I

GANGOIL.


Just a fortnight before Christmas, 1871, a young man, twenty-four
years of age, returned home to his dinner about eight o'clock in the
evening. He was married, and with him and his wife lived his wife's
sister. At that somewhat late hour he walked in among the two young
women, and another much older woman who was preparing the table for
dinner. The wife and the wife's sister each had a child in her lap,
the elder having seen some fifteen months of its existence, and the
younger three months. "He has been out since seven, and I don't think
he's had a mouthful," the wife had just said. "Oh, Harry, you must be
half starved," she exclaimed, jumping up to greet him, and throwing
her arm round his bare neck.

"I'm about whole melted," he said, as he kissed her. "In the name of
charity give me a nobbler. I did get a bit of damper and a pannikin
of tea up at the German's hut; but I never was so hot or so thirsty
in my life. We're going to have it in earnest this time. Old Bates
says that when the gum leaves crackle, as they do now, before
Christmas, there won't be a blade of grass by the end of February."

"I hate Old Bates," said the wife. "He always prophesies evil, and
complains about his rations."

"He knows more about sheep than any man this side of the Mary," said
her husband. From all this I trust the reader will understand that
the Christmas to which he is introduced is not the Christmas with
which he is intimate on this side of the equator--a Christmas of
blazing fires in-doors, and of sleet arid snow and frost outside--but
the Christmas of Australia, in which happy land the Christmas fires
are apt to be lighted--or to light themselves--when they are by no
means needed.

The young man who had just returned home had on a flannel shirt, a
pair of mole-skin trowsers, and an old straw hat, battered nearly out
of all shape. He had no coat, no waistcoat, no braces, and nothing
round his neck. Round his waist there was a strap or belt, from the
front of which hung a small pouch, and, behind, a knife in a case.
And stuck into a loop in the belt, made for the purpose, there was a
small brier-wood pipe. As he dashed his hat off, wiped his brow, and
threw himself into a rocking-chair, he certainly was rough to look
at, but by all who understood Australian life he would have been
taken to be a gentleman. He was a young squatter, well known west of
the Mary River, in Queensland. Harry Heathcote of Gangoil, who owned
30,000 sheep of his own, was a magistrate in those parts, and able to
hold his own among his neighbors, whether rough or gentle; and some
neighbors he had, very rough, who made it almost necessary that a man
should be able to be rough also, on occasions, if he desired to live
among them without injury. Heathcote of Gangoil could do all that.
Men said of him that he was too imperious, too masterful, too much
inclined to think that all things should be made to go as he would
have them. Young as he was, he had been altogether his own master
since he was of age--and not only his own master, but the master also
of all with whom he was brought into contact from day to day. In his
life he conversed but seldom with any but those who were dependent on
him, nor had he done so for the last three years. At an age at which
young men at home are still subject to pastors and masters, he had
sprung at once into patriarchal power, and, being a man determined to
thrive, had become laborious and thoughtful beyond his years.

Harry Heathcote had been left an orphan, with a small fortune in
money, when he was fourteen. For two years after that he had
consented to remain quietly at school, but at sixteen he declared his
purpose of emigrating. Boys less than himself in stature got above
him at school, and he had not liked it. For a twelvemonth he was
opposed by his guardian; but at the end of the year he was fitted
forth for the colony. The guardian was not sorry to be quit of him,
but prophesied that he would be home again before a year was over.
The lad had not returned, and it was now a settled conviction among
all who knew him that he would make or mar his fortune in the new
land that he had chosen.

He was a tall, well-made young fellow, with fair hair and a good-
humored smile, but ever carrying in his countenance marks of what his
enemies called pig-headedness, his acquaintances obstinacy, and those
who loved him firmness. His acquaintances were, perhaps, right, for
he certainly was obstinate. He would take no man's advice, he would
submit himself to no man, and in the conduct of his own business
preferred to trust to his own insight than to the experience of
others. It would sometimes occur that he had to pay heavily for his
obstinacy. But, on the other hand, the lessons which he learned he
learned thoroughly. And he was kept right in his trade by his own
indefatigable industry. That trade was the growth of wool. He was a
breeder of sheep on a Queensland sheep-run, and his flocks ran far
afield over a vast territory of which he was the only lord. His house
was near the river Mary, and beyond the river his domain did not
extend; but around him on his own side of the river he could ride for
ten miles in each direction without getting off his own pastures. He
was master, as far as his mastership went, of 120,000 acres--almost
an English county--and it was the pride of his heart to put his foot
off his own territory as seldom as possible. He sent his wool
annually down to Brisbane, and received his stores, tea and sugar,
flour and brandy, boots, clothes, tobacco, etc., once or twice a year
from thence. But the traffic did not require his own presence at the
city. So self-contained was the working of the establishment that he
was never called away by his business, unless he went to see some lot
of highly bred sheep which he might feel disposed to buy; and as for
pleasure, it had come to be altogether beyond the purpose of his life
to go in quest of that. When the work of the day was over, he would
lie at his length upon rugs in the veranda, with a pipe in his mouth,
while his wife sat over him reading a play of Shakspeare or the last
novel that had come to them from England.

He had married a fair girl, the orphan daughter of a bankrupt
squatter whom be had met in Sydney, and had brought her and her
sister into the Queensland bush with him. His wife idolized him. His
sister-in-law, Kate Daly, loved him dearly--as she had cause to do,
for he had proved himself to be a very brother to her; but she feared
him also somewhat. The people about the Mary said that she was fairer
and sweeter to look at even than the elder sister. Mrs. Heathcote was
the taller of the two, and the larger-featured. She certainly was the
higher in intellect, and the fittest to be the mistress of such an
establishment as that at Gangoil.

When he had washed his hands and face, and had swallowed the very
copious but weak allowance of brandy-and-water which his wife mixed
for him, he took the eldest boy on his lap and fondled him. "By
George!" he said, "old fellow, you sha'n't be a squatter."

"Why not, Harry?" asked his wife.

"Because I don't want him to break his heart every day of his life."

"Are you always breaking yours? I thought your heart was pretty well
hardened now."

"When a man talks of his heart, you and Kate are thinking of loves
and doves, of course."

"I wasn't thinking of loves and doves, Harry," said Kate." I was
thinking how very hot it must have been to-day. We could only bear it
in the veranda by keeping the blinds always wet. I don't wonder that
you were troubled."

"That comes from heaven or Providence, or from something that one
knows to be unassailable, and therefore one can put up with it. Even
if one gets a sun-stroke one does not complain. The sun has a right
to be there, and is no interloper, like a free-selector. I can't
understand why free-selectors and mosquitoes should have been
introduced into the arrangements of the world."

"I s'pose the poor must live somewheres, and 'squiters too," said
Mrs. Growler, the old maid-servant, as she put a boiled leg of mutton
on the table. "Now, Mr. Harry, if you're hungered, there's something
for you to eat in spite of the free-selectors."

"Mrs. Growler," said the master, "excuse me for saying that you jump
to conclusions."

"My jumping is pretty well-nigh done," said the old woman.

"By no means. I find that old people can jump quite as briskly as
young. You have rebuked me under the impression that I was grudging
something to the poor. Let me explain to you that a free-selector may
be, and very often is, a rich man. He whom I had in my mind is not a
poor man. though I won't swear but what he will be before a year is
over."

"I know who you mean, Mr. Harry; you mean the Medlicots. A very nice
gentleman is Mr. Medlicot, and a very nice old lady is Mrs. Medlicot.
And a deal of good they're going to do, by all accounts."

"Now, Mrs. Growler, that will do," said the wife.

The dinner consisted of a boiled leg of mutton, a large piece of
roast beef, potatoes, onions, and an immense pot of tea. No glasses
were even put upon the table. The two ladies had dressed for dinner,
and were bright and pretty as they would have been in a country house
at home; but Harry Heathcote had sat down just as he had entered the
room.

"I know you are tired to death," said his wife, "when I see you eat
your dinner like that."

"It isn't being tired, Mary; I'm not particularly tired. But I must
be off again in about an hour."

"Out again to-night?"

"Yes, indeed."

"On horseback?"

"How else? Old Bates and Mickey are in their saddles still. I don't
want to have my fences burned as soon as they're put up. It's a
ticklish thing to think that a spark of fire any where about the
place might ruin me, and to know at the same time that every man
about the run and every swagsman that passes along have matches in
their pocket. There isn't a pipe lighted on Gangoil this time of the
year that mightn't make a beggar of you and me. That's another reason
why I wouldn't have the young un a squatter."

"--I declare I think that squatters have more trouble than any people
in the world," said Kate Daly.

"--Free-selectors have their own troubles too, Kate," said he.

It must be explained as we go on that Heathcote felt that he had
received a great and peculiar grievance from the hands of one
Medlicot, a stranger who had lately settled near him, and that this
last remark referred to a somewhat favorable opinion which had been
expressed about this stranger by the two ladies. It was a little
unfair, as having been addressed specially to Kate, intending as it
did to imply that Kate had better consider the matter well before she
allowed her opinion of the stranger to become dangerously favorable;
for in truth she had said no more than her sister.

"The Medlicots' troubles will never trouble me, Harry," she said.

"I hope not, Kate; nor mine either more than we can help."

"But they do," said Mary. "They trouble me, and her too, very much."

"A man's back should be broad enough to bear all that for himself,"
said Harry. "I get ashamed of myself when I grumble, and yet one
seems to be surly if one doesn't say what one's thinking."

"I hope you'll always tell me what you're thinking, dear."

"Well, I suppose I shall--till this fellow is old enough to be talked
to, and to be made to bear the burden of his father's care."

"By that time, Harry, you will have got rich, and we shall all be in
England, sha'n't we?"

"I don't know about being rich, but we shall have been free-selected
off Gangoil.--Now, Mrs. Growler, we've done dinner, and I'll have a
pipe before I make another start. Is Jacko in the kitchen? Send him
through to me on to the veranda."

Gangoil was decidedly in the bush--according to common Australian
parlance, all sheep stations are in the bush, even though there
should not be a tree or shrub within sight. They who live away from
the towns live a "bush life." Small towns, as they grow up, are
called bush towns, as we talk of country towns. The "bush," indeed,
is the country generally. But the Heathcotes lived absolutely and
actually in the bush. There are Australian pastures which consist of
plains on which not a tree is to be seen for miles; but others are
forests, so far extending that their limits are almost unknown.
Gangoil was surrounded by forest, in some places so close as to be
impervious to men and almost to animals in which the undergrowth was
thick and tortuous and almost platted, through which no path could be
made without an axe, but of which the greater portions were open,
without any under-wood, between which the sheep could wander at their
will, and men could ride, with a sparse surface of coarse grass,
which after rain would be luxuriant, but in hot weather would be
scorched down to the ground. At such times--and those times were by
far the more common--a stranger would wonder where the sheep would
find their feed. Immediately round the house, or station, as it was
called, about one hundred acres had been cleared, or nearly cleared,
with a few trees left here and there for ornament or shade. Further
afield, but still round the home quarters, the trees had been
destroyed, the run of the sap having been stopped by "ringing" the
bark; but they still stood like troops of skeletons, and would stand,
very ugly to look at, till they fell, in the course of nature, by
reason of their own rottenness. There was a man always at work about
the place--Boscobel he was called--whose sole business was to destroy
the timber after this fashion, so that the air might get through to
the grasses, and that the soil might be relieved from the burden of
nurturing the forest trees.

For miles around the domain was divided into paddocks, as they were
there called; but these were so large that a stranger might wander in
one of them for a day and never discover that he was inclosed. There
were five or six paddocks on the Gangoil run, each of which comprised
over ten thousand acres, and as all the land was undulating, and as
the timber was around you every where, one paddock was exactly like
another. The scenery in itself was fine, for the trees were often
large, and here and there rocky knolls would crop up, and there were
broken crevices in the ground; but it was all alike. A stranger would
wonder that any one straying from the house should find his way back
to it. There were sundry bush houses here and there, and the so-
called road to the coast from the wide pastoral districts further
west passed across the run; but these roads and tracks would travel
hither and thither, new tracks being opened from time to time by the
heavy wool drays and store wagons, as in wet weather the ruts on the
old tracks would become insurmountable.

The station itself was certainly very pretty. It consisted of a
cluster of cottages, each of which possessed a ground-floor only. No
such luxury as stairs was known at Gangoil. It stood about half a
mile from the Mary River, on the edge of a creek which ran into it.
The principal edifice, that in which the Heathcotes lived, contained
only one sitting-room, and a bedroom on each side of it; but in truth
there was another room, very spacious, in which the family really
passed their time; and this was the veranda which ran along the front
and two ends of the house. It was twelve feet broad, and, of course,
of great length. Here was clustered the rocking-chairs, and sofas,
and work-tables, and very often the cradle of the family. Here stood
Mrs. Heathcote's sewing-machine, and here the master would sprawl at
his length, while his wife, or his wife's sister, read to him. It was
here, in fact, that they lived, having a parlor simply for their
meals. Behind the main edifice there stood, each apart, various
buildings, forming an irregular quadrangle. The kitchen came first,
with a small adjacent chamber in which slept the Chinese man-cook,
Sing Sing, as he had come to be called; then the cottage, consisting
also of three rooms and a small veranda, in which lived Harry's
superintendent, commonly known as Old Bates, a man who had been a
squatter once himself, and having lost his all in bad times, now
worked for a small salary. In the cottage two of the rooms were
devoted to hospitality when, as was not unusual, guests, known or
unknown, came that way; and here Harry himself would sleep, if the
entertainment of other ladies crowded the best apartments. Then at
the back of the quadrangle was the store, perhaps of all the
buildings the most important. In here was kept a kind of shop, which
was supposed, according to an obsolete rule, to be open for custom
for half a day twice a week. The exigencies of the station did not
allow of this regularity; but after some fashion the shop was
maintained. Tea was to be bought there, and sugar, tobacco, and
pickles, jam, nails, boots, hats, flannel shirrs, and mole-skin
trowsers. Any body who came might buy, but the intention was to
provide the station hands, who would otherwise have had to go or send
thirty miles for the supply of their wants. Very little money was
taken here, generally none. But the quantity of pickles, jam, and
tobacco sold was great. The men would consume large quantities of
these bush delicacies, and the cost would be deducted from their
wages. The tea and sugar, and flour also, were given out weekly, as
rations--so much a week--and meat was supplied to them after the same
fashion. For it was the duty of this young autocratic patriarch to
find provisions for all who were employed around him. For such
luxuries as jam and tobacco the men paid themselves.

On the fourth side of the quadrangle was a rough coach-house, and
rougher stables. The carriage part of the establishment consisted of
two "buggies"--so called always in the bush--open carriages on four
wheels, one of which was intended to hold two and the other four
sitters. A Londoner looking at them would have declared them to be
hopeless ruins; but Harry Heathcote still made wonderful journeys in
them, taking care generally that the wheels were sound, and using
ropes for the repair of dilapidations. The stables were almost
unnecessary, as the horses, of which the supply at Gangoil was very
large, roamed in the horse paddock, a comparatively small inclosure
containing not above three or four hundred acres, and were driven up
as they were wanted. One horse was always kept close at home with
which to catch the others; but this horse, for handiness, was
generally hitched to a post outside the kitchen door. Harry was proud
of his horses, and was sometimes heard to say that few men in England
had a lot of thirty at hand as he had, out of which so many would be
able to carry a man eighty miles in eight hours at a moment's notice.
But his stable arrangements would not have commanded respect in the
"Shires." The animals were never groomed, never fed, and many of them
never shod. They lived upon grass, and, Harry always said, "cut their
own bread-and-butter for themselves."

Gangoil was certainly very pretty. The veranda was covered in with
striped blinds, so that when the sun shone hot, or when the rains
fell heavily, or when the mosquitoes were more than usually
troublesome, there might be something of the protection of an
inclosed room. Up all the posts there were flowering creepers, which
covered the front with greenery even when the flowers were wanting.
From the front of the house down to the creek there was a pleasant
failing garden--heart-breaking, indeed, in regard to vegetables, for
the opossums always came first, and they who followed the opossums
got but little. But the garden gave a pleasant home-like look to the
place, and was very dear to Harry, who was, perhaps, indifferent in
regard to pease and tomatoes. Harry Heathcote was very proud of the
place, for he had made it all himself, having pulled down a wretched
barrack that he had found there. But he was far prouder of his wool-
shed, which he had also built, and which he regarded as first and
foremost among wool-sheds in those parts. By-and-by we shall be
called on to visit the wool-shed. Though Heathcote had done all this
for Gangoil, it must be understood that the vast extent of territory
over which his sheep ran was by no means his own property. He was
simply the tenant of the Crown, paying a rent computed at so much a
sheep. He had, indeed, purchased the ground on which his house stood,
but this he had done simply to guard himself against other
purchasers. These other purchasers were the bane of his existence,
the one great sorrow which, as he said, broke his heart.

While he was speaking, a rough-looking lad, about sixteen years of
age, came through the parlor to the veranda, dressed very much like
his master, but unwashed, uncombed, and with that wild look which
falls upon those who wander about the Australian plains, living a
nomad life. This was Jacko--so called, and no one knew him by any
other name--a lad whom Heathcote had picked up about six months
since, and who had become a favorite. "The old woman says as you was
wanting me?" suggested Jacko. "Going to be fine to-night, Jacko?"

Jacko went to the edge of the veranda and looked up to the sky. "My
word! little squall a-coming," he said.

"I wish it would come from ten thousand buckets," said the master.

"No buckets at all," said Jacko. "Want the horses, master?"

"Of course. I want the horses, and I want you to come with me. There
are two horses saddled there; I'll ride Hamlet."




CHAPTER II.

A NIGHT'S RIDE.


Harry jumped from the ground, kissed his wife, called her "old girl,"
and told her to be happy, and got on his horse at the garden gate.
Both the ladies came off the veranda to see him start. "It's as dark
as pitch," said Kate Daly.

"That's because you have just come out of the light."

"But it is dark--quite dark. You won't be late, will you?" said the
wife.

"I can't be very early, as it's near ten now. I shall be back about
twelve." So saying, he broke at once into a gallop, and vanished into
the night, his young groom scampering after him.

"Why should he go out now?" Kate said to her sister.

"He is afraid of fire."

"But he can't prevent the fires by riding about in the dark. I
suppose the fires come from the heat."

"He thinks they come from enemies, and he has heard something. One
wretched man may do so much when every thing is dried to tinder. I do
so wish it would rain."

The night, in truth, was very dark. It was now midsummer, at which
time with us the days are so long that the coming of the one almost
catches the departure of its predecessor. But Gangoil was not far
outside the tropics, and there were no long summer nights. The heat
was intense; but there was a low soughing wind which seemed to moan
among the trees without moving them. As they crossed the little home
inclosure and the horse paddock, the track was just visible, the
trees being dead and the spaces open. About half a mile from the
house, while they were still in the horse paddock, Harry turned from
the track, and Jacko, of course, turned with him. "You can sit your
horse jumping, Jacko?" he asked.

"My word! jump like glory," answered Jacko. He was soon tried. Harry
rode at the bush fence--which was not, indeed, much of a fence, made
of logs lengthways and crossways, about three feet and a half high--
and went over it. Jacko followed him, rushing his horse at the leap,
losing his seat and almost falling over the animal's shoulders as he
came to the ground. "My word!" said Jacko, just saving himself by a
scramble; "who ever saw the like of that?"

"Why don't you sit in your saddle, you stupid young duffer?"

"Sit in my saddle! Why don't he jump proper? Well, you go on. I don't
know that I'm a duffer. Duffer, indeed! My word!" Heathcote had
turned to the left, leaving the track, which was, indeed, the main
road toward the nearest town and the coast, and was now pushing on
through the forest with no pathway at all to guide him. To ordinary
eyes the attempt to steer any course would have been hopeless. But an
Australian squatter, if he have any well-grounded claim to the
character of a bushman, has eyes which are not ordinary, and he has,
probably, nurtured within himself, unconsciously, topographical
instincts which are unintelligible to the inhabitants of cities.
Harry, too, was near his own home, and went forward through the thick
gloom without a doubt, Jacko following him faithfully. In about half
an hour they came to another fence, but now it was too absolutely
dark for jumping. Harry had not seen it till he was close to it, and
then he pulled up his horse. "My word! why don't you jump away, Mr.
Harry? Who's a duffer now?"

"Hold your tongue, or I'll put my whip across your back. Get down and
help me pull a log away. The horses couldn't see where to put their
feet." Jacko did as he was bid, and worked hard, but still grumbled
at having been called a duffer. The animals were quickly led over,
the logs were replaced, and the two were again galloping through the
forest.

"I thought you were making for the wool-shed," said Jacko.

"We're eight miles beyond the wool-shed," said Harry. They had now
crossed another paddock, and had come to the extreme fence on the
run. The Gangoil pastures extended much further, but in that
direction had not as yet been inclosed. Here they both got off their
horses and walked along the fence till they came to an opening, with
a slip panel, or movable bars, which had been Heathcote's intended
destination. "Hold the horses, Jacko, till I come back," he said.

Jacko, when alone, nothing daunted by the darkness or solitude,
seated himself on the top rail, took out a pipe, and struck a match.
When the tobacco was ignited he dropped the match on the dry grass at
his feet, and a little flame instantly sprang up. The boy waited a
few seconds till the flames began to run, and then putting his feet
together on the ground stamped out the incipient fire. "My word!"
said Jacko to himself, "it's easy done, anyway."

Harry went on to the left for about half a mile, and then stood
leaning against the fence. It was very dark, but he was now looking
over into an inclosure which had been altogether cleared of trees,
and which, as he knew well, had been cultivated and was covered with
sugar-canes. Where he stood he was not distant above a quarter of a
mile from the river, and the field before him ran down to the banks.
This was the selected land of Giles Medlicot--two years since a
portion of his own run, which had now been purchased from the
government--for the loss of which he had received and was entitled to
receive no compensation. And the matter was made worse for him by the
fact that the interloper had come between him and the river. But he
was not standing here near midnight merely to exercise his wrath by
straining his eyes through the darkness at his neighbor's crops. He
put his finger into his mouth to wet it, and then held it up that he
might discover which way the light breath of wind was coming. There
was still the low moan to be heard continually through the forest,
and yet not a leaf seemed to be moved. After a while he thought he
caught a sound, and put his ear down to the ground. He distinctly
heard a footstep, and rising up, walked quickly toward the spot
whence the noise came.

"Who's that?" he said, as he saw the figure of a man standing on his
side of the fence, and leaning against it, with a pipe in his month.

"Who are you?" replied the man on the fence. "My name is Medlicot."

"Oh, Mr. Medlicot, is it?"

"Is that Mr. Heathcote? Good-night, Mr. Heathcote. You are going
about at a late hour of the night."

"I have to go about early and late; but I ain't later than you."

"I'm close at home," said Medlicot.

"I am, at any rate, on my own run," said Harry.

"You mean to say that I am trespassing?" said the other; "because I
can very soon jump back over the fence."

"I didn't mean that at all, Mr. Medlicot; any body is welcome on my
run, night or day, who knows how to behave himself."

"I hope I'm included in that list."

"Just so; of course. Considering the state that every thing is in,
and all the damage that a fire would do, I rather wish that people
would be a little more careful about smoking."

"My canes, Mr. Heathcote, would burn quite as quickly as your grass."

"It is not only the grass. I've a hundred miles of fencing on the run
which is as dry as tinder, not to talk of the station and the wool-
shed."

"They sha'n't suffer from my neglect, Mr. Heathcote."

"You have men about who mayn't be so careful. The wind, such as it
is, is coming right across from your place. If there were light
enough, I could show you three or four patches where there has been
fire within half a mile of this spot. There was a log burning there
for two or three days, not long ago, which was lighted by one of our
men."

"That was a fortnight since. There was no heat then, and the men were
boiling their kettle. I spoke about it."

"A log like that, Mr. Medlicot, will burn for weeks sometimes. I'll
tell you fairly what I'm afraid of. There's a man with you whom I
turned out of the shed last shearing, and I think he might put a
match down--not by accident."

"You mean Nokes. As far as I know, he's a decent man. You wouldn't
have me not employ a man just because you had dismissed him?"

"Certainly not; that is, I shouldn't think of dictating to you about
such a thing."

"Well, no, Mr. Heathcote, I suppose not. Nokes has got to earn his
bread, though you did dismiss him. I don't know that he's not as
honest a man as you or I."

"If so, there's three of us very bad; that's all, Mr. Medlicot. Good-
night; and if you'll trouble yourself to look after the ash of your
tobacco it might be the saving of me and all I have." So saying, he
turned round, and made his way back to the horses.

Medlicot had placed himself on the fence during the interview, and he
still kept his seat. Of course he was now thinking of the man who had
just left him, whom he declared to himself to be an ignorant,
prejudiced, ill-constituted cur. "I believe in his heart he thinks
that I'm going to set fire to his run," he said, almost aloud. "And
because he grows wool he thinks himself above every body in the
colony. He occupies thousands of acres, and employs three or four
men. I till about two hundred, and maintain thirty families. But he
is such a pig that he can't understand all that; and he thinks that I
must be something low because I've bought with my own money a bit of
land which never belonged to him, and which he couldn't use." Such
was the nature of Giles Medlicot's soliloquy as he sat swinging his
legs, and still smoking his pipe, on the fence which divided his
sugar-cane from the other young man's run.

And Harry Heathcote uttered his soliloquy also. "I wouldn't swear
that he wouldn't do it himself, after all;" meaning that he almost
suspected that Medlicot himself would be an incendiary. To him, in
his way of thinking, a man who would take advantage of the law to buy
a bit of another man's land--or become a free-selector, as the term
goes--was a public enemy, and might be presumed capable of any
iniquity. It was all very well for the girls--meaning his wife and
sister-in-law--to tell him that Medlicot had the manners of a
gentleman and had come of decent people. Women were always soft
enough to be taken by soft hands, a good-looking face, and a decent
coat. This Medlicot went about dressed like a man in the towns,
exhibiting, as Harry thought, a contemptible, unmanly finery. Of what
use was it to tell him that Medlicot was a gentleman? What Harry knew
was that since Medlicot had come he had lost his sheep, that the
heads of three or four had been found buried on Medlicot's side of
his run, and that if he dismissed "a hand," Medlicot employed him--a
proceeding which, in Harry Heathcote's aristocratic and patriarchal
views of life, was altogether ungentleman-like. How were the "hands"
to be kept in their place if one employer of labor did not back up
another?

He had been warned to be on his guard against fire. The warnings had
hardly been implicit, but yet had come in a shape which made him
unable to ignore them. Old Bates, whom he trusted implicitly, and who
was a man of very few words, had told him to be on his guard. The
German, at whose hut he had been in the morning, Karl Bender by name,
and a servant of his own, had told him that there would be fire about
before long.

"Why should any one want to ruin me?" Harry had asked. "Did I ever
wrong a man of a shilling?"

The German had learned to know his young master, had made his way
through the crust of his master's character, and was prepared to be
faithful at all points--though he too could have quarreled and have
avenged himself had it not chanced that he had come to the point of
loving instead of hating his employer.

"You like too much to be governor over all," said the German, as he
stooped over the fire in his own hut in his anxiety to boil the water
for Heathcote's tea.

"Somebody must be governor, or every thing would go to the devil,"
said Harry.

"Dat's true--only fellows don't like be made feel it," said the
German, "Nokes, he was made feel it when you put him over de gate."

But neither would Bates nor the German express absolute suspicion of
any man. That Medlicot's "hands" at the sugar-mill were stealing his
sheep Harry thought that he knew; but that was comparatively a small
affair, and he would not have pressed it, as he was without absolute
evidence. And even he had a feeling that it would be unwise to
increase the anger felt against himself--at any rate, during the
present heats.

Jacko had his pipe still alight when Heathcote returned. "You young
monkey," said he, "have you been using matches?"

"Why not, Mr. Harry? Don't the grass burn ready, Mr. Harry? My word!"
Then Jacko stooped down, lit another match, and showed Heathcote the
burned patch.

"Was it so when we came?" Harry asked, with emotion. Jacko, still
kneeling on the ground, and holding the lighted match in his hand,
shook his head and tapped his breast, indicating that he had burned
the grass. "You dropped the match by accident?"

"My word! no. Did it o' purpose to see. It's all just one as
gunpowder, Mr. Harry."

Harry got on his horse without a word, and rode away through the
forest, taking a direction different from that by which he had come,
and the boy followed him. He was by no means certain that this young
fellow might not turn against him; but it had been a part of his
theory to make no difference to any man because of such fears. If he
could make the men around him respect him, then they would treat him
well; but they could never be brought to respect him by flattery. He
was very nearly right in his views of men, and would have been right
altogether could he have seen accurately what justice demanded for
others as well as for himself. As far as the intention went, he was
minded to be just to every man.

It seemed, as they were riding, that the heat grew fiercer and
fiercer. Though there was still the same moaning sound, there was not
a breath of air. They had now got upon a track very well known to
Heathcote, which led up from the river to the wool-shed, and so on to
the station, and they had turned homeward. When they were near the
wool-shed, suddenly there fell a heavy drop or two of rain. Harry
stopped and turned his face upward, when, in a moment, the whole
heavens above them and the forest around were illumined by a flash of
lightning so near them that it made each of them start in his saddle,
and made the horses shudder in every limb. Then came the roll of
thunder immediately over their heads, and with the thunder rain so
thick and fast that Harry's "ten thousand buckets" seemed to be
emptied directly over their heads.

"God A'mighty has put out the fires now," said Jacko.

Harry paused for a moment, feeling the rain through to his bones--for
he had nothing on over his shirt--and rejoicing in it. "Yes," he
said; "we may go to bed for a week, and let the grass grow, and the
creeks fill, and the earth cool. Half an hour like this over the
whole run, and there won't be a dry stick on it."

As they went on, the horses splashed through the water. It seemed as
though a deluge were falling, and that already the ground beneath
their feet were becoming a lake.

"We might have too much of this, Jacko."

"My word! yes."

"I don't want to have the Mary flooded again."

"My word! no."

But by the time they reached the wool-shed it was over. From the
first drop to the last, there had hardly been a space of twenty
minutes. But there was a noise of waters as the little streams washed
hither and thither to their destined courses and still the horses
splashed, and still there was the feeling of an incipient deluge.
When they reached the wool-shed, Harry again got off his horse, and
Jacko, dismounting also, hitched the two animals to the post and
followed his master into the building. Harry struck a wax match, and
holding it up, strove to look round the building by the feeble light
which it shed. It was a remarkable edifice, built in the shape of a
great T, open at the sides, with a sharp-pitched timber roof covered
with felt, which came down within four feet of the ground. It was
calculated to hold about four hundred sheep at a time, and was
divided into pens of various sizes, partitioned off for various
purposes. If Harry Heathcote was sure of any thing, he was sure that
his wool-shed was the best that had ever been built in this district.

"By Jimini! what's that?" said Jacko.

"Did you hear any thing?"

Jacko pointed with his finger down the centre walk of the shed, and
Harry, striking another match as he went, rushed forward. But the
match was out as soon as ignited, and gave no glimmer of light.
Nevertheless he saw, or thought that he saw, the figure of a man
escaping out of the open end of the shed. The place itself was black
as midnight, but the space beyond was clear of trees, and the
darkness outside being a few shades lighter than within the building,
allowed something of the outline of a figure to be visible. And as
the man escaped, the sounds of his footsteps were audible enough.
Harry called to him, but of course received no answer. Had he pursued
him, he would have been obliged to cross sundry rails, which would
have so delayed him as to give him no chance of success.

"I knew there was a fellow about," he said; "one of our own men would
not have run like that."

Jacko shook his head, but did not speak.

"He has got in here for shelter out of the rain, but he was doing no
good about the place."

Jacko again shook his head.

"I wonder who he was?"

Jacko came up and whispered in his ear, "Bill Nokes."

"You couldn't see him."

"Seed the drag of his leg." Now it was well known that the man Nokes
had injured some of his muscles, and habitually dragged one foot
after another.

"I don't think you could have been sure of him by such a glimpse as
that."

"Maybe not," said the boy, "only I'm sure as sure."

Harry Heathcote said not another word, but getting again upon his
horse, galloped home. It was past one when he reached the station,
but the two girls were waiting up for him, and at once began to
condole with him because he was wet. "Wet!" said Harry; "if you could
only know how much I prefer things being wet to dry just at present!
But give Jacko some supper. I must keep that young fellow in good
humor if I can."

So Jacko had half a loaf of bread, and a small pot of jam, and a
large jug of cold tea provided for him, in the enjoyment of which
luxuries he did not seem to be in the least impeded by the fact that
he was wet through to the skin. Harry Heathcote had another nobbler--
being only the second in the day--and then went to bed.




CHAPTER III.

MEDLICOT'S MILL.


As Harry said, they might all now lie in bed for a day or two. The
rain had set aside for the time the necessity for that urgent
watchfulness which kept all hands on the station hard at work during
the great heat. There was not, generally, much rest during the year
at Gangoil. Lambing in April and May, washing and shearing in
September, October, and November, with the fear of fires and the
necessary precautions in December and January, did not leave more
than sufficient intervals for looking after the water-dams, making
and mending fences, procuring stores, and attending to the ailments
of the flocks. No man worked harder than the young squatter. But now
there had suddenly come a day or two of rest--rest from work which
was not of itself productive, but only remedial, and which,
therefore, was not begrudged.

But it soon was apparent that the rest could be only for a day or
two. The rain had fallen as from ten thousand buckets, but it had
fallen only for a space of minutes. On the following morning the
thirsty earth had apparently swallowed all the flood. The water in
the creek beneath the house stood two feet higher than it had done,
and Harry, when he visited the dams round the run, found that they
were fall to overflowing, and the grasses were already springing, so
quick is the all but tropical growth of the country. They might be
safe, perhaps, for eight-and-forty hours. Fire would run only when
the ground was absolutely dry, and when every twig or leaf was a
combustible. But during those eight-and-forty hours there might be
comparative ease at Gangoil.

On the day following the night of the ride Mrs. Heathcote suggested
to her husband that she and Kate should ride over to Medlicot's Mill,
as the place was already named, and call on Mrs. Medlicot. "It isn't
Christian," she said, "for people living out in the bush as we are to
quarrel with their neighbors just because they are neighbors."

"Neighbors!" said Harry; "I don't know any word that there's so much
humbug about. The Samaritan was the best neighbor I ever heard of,
and he lived a long way off, I take it. Anyway, he wasn't a free-
selector."

"Harry, that's profane."

"Every thing I say is wicked. You can go, of course, if you like it.
I don't want to quarrel with any body."

"Quarreling is so uncomfortable," said his wife.

"That's a matter of taste. There are people whom I find it very
comfortable to quarrel with. I shouldn't at all like not to quarrel
with the Brownbies, and I'm not at all sure it mayn't come to be the
same with Mr. Giles Medlicot."

"The Brownbies live by sheep-stealing and horse-stealing."

"And Medlicot means to live by employing sheep-stealers and horse-
stealers. You can go if you like it. You won't want me to go with
you. Will you have the baggy?"

But the ladies said that they would ride. The air was cooler now than
it had been, and they would like the exercise. They would take Jacko
with them to open the slip-rails, and they would be back by seven for
dinner. So they started, taking the track by the wool-shed. The wool-
shed was about two miles from the station, and Medlicot's Mill was
seven miles farther, on the bank of the river.

Mr. Giles Medlicot, though at Gangoil he was still spoken of as a
new-comer, had already been located for nearly two years on the land
which he had purchased immediately on his coming to the colony. He
had come out direct from England with the intention of growing sugar,
and, whether successful or not in making money, had certainly
succeeded in growing crops of sugar-canes and in erecting a mill for
crushing them. It probably takes more than two years for a man
himself to discover whether he can achieve ultimate success in such
an enterprise; and Medlicot was certainly not a man likely to talk
much to others of his private concerns. The mill had just been built,
and he had lived there himself as soon as a water-tight room had been
constructed. It was only within the last three months that he had
completed a small cottage residence, and had brought his mother to
live with him. Hitherto he had hardly made himself popular. He was
not either fish or fowl. The squatters regarded him as an interloper,
and as a man holding opinions directly averse to their own interests-
-in which they were right. And the small free-selectors, who lived on
the labor of their own hands--or, as was said of many of them, by
stealing sheep and cattle--knew well that he was not of their class.
But Medlicot had gone his way steadfastly, if not happily, and
complained aloud to no one in the midst of his difficulties. He had
not, perhaps, found the Paradise which he had expected in Queensland,
but he had found that he could grow sugar; and having begun the work,
he was determined to go on with it.

Heathcote was his nearest neighbor, and the only man in his own rank
of life who lived within twenty miles of him. When he had started his
enterprise he had hoped to make this man his friend, not
comprehending at first how great a cause for hostility was created by
the very purchase of the land. He had been a new-comer from the old
country, and, being alone, had desired friendship. He was Harry
Heathcote's equal in education, intelligence, and fortune, if not in
birth--which surely, in the Australian bush, need not count for much.
He had assumed, when first meeting the squatter, that good-fellowship
between them, on equal terms, would be acceptable to both; but his
overtures had been coldly received. Then he, too, had drawn himself
up, had declared that Heathcote was an ignorant ass, and had
unconsciously made up his mind to commence hostilities. It was in
this spirit that he had taken Nokes into his mill, of whose
character, had he inquired about it, he would certainly have heard no
good. He had now brought his mother to Medlicot's Mill. She and the
Gangoil ladies had met each other on neutral ground, and it was
almost necessary that they should either be friends or absolute
enemies. Mrs. Heathcote had been aware of this, and bad declared that
enmity was horrible.

"Upon my word," said Harry, "I sometimes think that friendship is
more so. I suppose I'm fitted for bush life, for I want to see no one
from year's end to year's end but my own family and my own people."
And yet this young patriarch in the wilderness was only twenty-four
years old, and had been educated at an English school!

Medlicot's cottage was about a hundred and fifty yards from the mill,
looking down upon the Mary, the banks of which at this spot were
almost precipitous. The site for the plantation had been chosen
because the river afforded the means of carriage down to the sea, and
the mill had been so constructed that the sugar hogsheads could be
lowered from the buildings into the river boats. Here Mrs. Heathcote
and Kate Daly found the old lady sitting at work, all alone, in the
veranda. She was a handsome old woman, with gray hair, seventy years
of age, with wrinkled face, and a toothless mouth, but with bright
eyes, and with no signs of the infirmity of age.

"This is gey kind of you to run so far to see an auld woman," she
said.

Mrs. Heathcote declared that they were used to the heat, and that
after the rain the air was pleasant.

"You're two bright lassies, and you're hearty," she said. "I'm auld,
and just out of Cumberland, and I find it's hot enough--and I'm no
guid at horseback at all. I dinna know how I'm to get aboot."

Then Mrs. Heathcote explained that there was an excellent track for a
buggy all the way to Gangoil.

"Giles is aye telling me that I'm to gang aboot in a bouggey, but I
dinna feel sure of thae bouggeys."

Mrs. Heathcote, of course, praised the country carriages, and the
country roads, and the country generally. Tea was brought in, and the
old lady was delighted with her guests. Since she had been at the
mill, week had followed week, and she had seen no woman's face but
that of the uncouth girl who waited upon her. "Did ye ever see rain
like that!" she said, putting up her hands. "I thought the Lord was
sending his clouds down upon us in a lump like." Then she told them
that some of the men had declared that if it went on like that for
two hours the Mary would rise and take the cottage away. Giles,
however, had declared that to be trash, as the cottage was twenty
feet above the ordinary course of the river.

They were just rising to take their leave, when Giles Medlicot
himself came in out of the mill. He was a man of good presence, dark,
and tall like Heathcote, but stoutly made, with a strongly marked
face, given to frowning much when he was eager; bright-eyed, with a
broad forehead--certainly a man to be observed as far as his
appearance was concerned. He was dressed much as a gentleman dresses
in the country at home, and was therefore accounted to be a fop by
Harry Heathcote, who was rarely seen abroad in other garb than that
which has been described. Harry was an aristocrat, and hated such
innovations in the bush as cloth coats and tweed trowsers and neck-
hand-kerchiefs.

Medlicot had been full of wrath against his neighbor all the morning.
There had been a tone in Heathcote's voice when he gave his parting
warning as to the fire in Medlicot's pipe which the sugar grower had
felt to be intentionally insolent. Nothing had been said which could
be openly resented, but offense had surely been intended; and then he
had remembered that his mother had been already some months at the
mill, and that no mark of neighborly courtesy had been shown to her.
The Heathcotes had, he thought, chosen to assume themselves to be
superior to him and his, and to treat him as though he had been some
laboring man who had saved money enough to purchase a bit of land for
himself. He was, therefore, astonished to find the two young ladies
sitting with his mother on the very day after such an interview as
that of the preceding night.

"The leddies from Gangoil, Giles, have been guid enough to ride over
and see me," said his mother.

Medlicot, of course, shook hands with them, and expressed his sense
of their kindness, but he did it awkwardly. He soon, however,
declared his purpose of riding part of the way back with them.

"Mr. Heathcote must have been very wet last night," he said, when
they were on horse-back, addressing himself to Kate Daly rather than
to her sister.

"Indeed he was--wet to the skin. Were you not?"

"I saw him at about eleven, before the rain began. I was close home,
and just escaped. He must have been under it all. Does he often go
about the run in that way at night?"

"Only when he's afraid of fires," said Kate.

"Is there much to be afraid of? I don't suppose that any body can be
so wicked as to wish to burn the grass." Then the ladies took upon
themselves to explain. "The fires might be caused from negligence or
trifling accidents, or might possibly come from the unaided heat of
the sun; or there might be enemies."

"My word! yes; enemies, rather!" said Jacko, who was riding close
behind, and who had no idea of being kept out of the conversation
merely because he was a servant. Medlicot, turning round, looked at
the lad, and asked who were the enemies.

"Free-selectors," said Jacko.

"I'm a free-selector," said Medlicot.

"Did not jist mean you," said Jacko.

"Jacko, you'd better hold your tongue," said Mrs. Heathcote.

"Hold my tongue! My word! Well, you go on."

Medlicot came as far as the wool-shed, and then said that he would
return. He had thoroughly enjoyed his ride. Kate Daly was bright and
pretty and winning; and in the bush, when a man has not seen a lady
perhaps for months, brightness and prettiness and winning ways have a
double charm. To ride with fair women over turf, through a forest,
with a woman who may perhaps some day be wooed, can be a matter of
indifference only to a very lethargic man. Giles Medlicot was by no
means lethargic. He owned to himself that though Heathcote was a pig-
headed ass, the ladies were very nice, and he thought that the pig-
headed ass in choosing one of them for himself had by no means taken
the nicest.

"You'll never find your way back," said Kate, "if you've not been
here before."

"I never was here before, and I suppose I must find my way back."
Then he was urged to come on and dine at Gangoil, with a promise that
Jacko should return with him in the evening. But this he would not
do. Heathcote was a pig-headed ass, who possibly regarded him as an
incendiary simply because he had bought some land. This boy of
Heathcote's, whose services had been offered to him, had not scrupled
to tell him to his face that he was to be regarded as an enemy. Much
as he liked the company of Kate Daly, he could not go to the house of
that stupid, arrogant, pig-headed young squatter. "I'm not such a bad
bushman but what I can find my way to the river," he said.

"Find it blindful," said Jacko, who did not relish the idea of going
back to Medlicot's Mill as guide to another man. There was a weakness
in the idea that such aid could be necessary, which was revolting to
Jacko's sense of bush independence.

They were standing on their horses at the entrance to the wool-shed
as they discussed the point, when suddenly Harry himself appeared out
of the building. He came up and shook hands with Medlicot, with
sufficient courtesy, but hardly with cordiality, and then asked his
wife as to her ride. "We have been very jolly, haven't we, Kate? Of
course it has been hot, but every thing is not so frightfully parched
as it was before the rain. As Mr. Medlicot has come back so far with
us, we want him to come on and dine."

"Pray do, Mr. Medlicot," said Harry. But again the tone of his voice
was not sufficiently hearty to satisfy the man who was invited.

"Thanks, no: I think I'll hardly do that.--Good-night, Mrs.
Heathcote; good-night. Miss Daly;" and the two ladies immediately
perceived that his voice, which had hitherto been pleasant in their
ears, had ceased to be cordial.

"I am very glad he has gone back," said Heathcote.

"Why do you say so, Harry? You are not given to be inhospitable, and
why should you grudge me and Kate the rare pleasure of seeing a
strange face?"

"I'll tell you why. It's not about him at this moment; but I've been
disturbed.--Jacko, go on to the station, and say we're coming. Do you
hear me? Go on at once." Then Jacko, somewhat unwillingly, galloped
off toward the house. "Get off your horses, and come in."

He helped the two ladies from their saddles, and they all went into
the wool-shed, Harry leading the way. In one of the side pens,
immediately under the roof, there was a large heap of leaves, the
outside portion of which was at present damp, for the rain had beaten
in upon it, but which had been as dry as tinder when collected; and
there was a row or ridge of mixed brush-wood and leaves so
constructed as to form a line from the grass outside on to the heap.
"The fellow who did that was an ass," said Harry; "a greater ass than
I should have taken him to be, not to have known that if he could
have gotten the grass to burn outside, the wool-shed must have gone
without all that preparation. But there isn't much difficulty now in
seeing what the fellow has intended."

"Was it for a fire?" asked Kate.

"Of course it was. He wouldn't have been contented with the grass and
fences, but wanted to make sure of the shed also. He'd have come to
the house and burned us in our beds, only a fellow like that is too
much of a coward to run the risk of being seen."

"But, Harry, why didn't he light it when he'd done it?" said Mrs.
Heathcote.

"Because the Almighty sent the rain at the very moment," said Harry,
striking the top rail of one of the pens with his fist. "I'm not much
given to talk about Providence, but this looks like it, does it not?"

"He might have put a match in at the moment?"

"Rain or no rain? Yes, he might. But he was interrupted by more than
the rain. I got into the shed myself just at the moment--I and Jacko.
It was last night, when the rain was pouring. I heard the man, and
dark as was the night, I saw his figure as he fled away."

"You didn't know him?" said Miss Daly.

"But that boy, who has the eyes of a cat, he knew him."

"Jacko?"

"Jacko knew him by his gait. I should have hardly wanted any one to
tell me who it was. I could have named the man at once, but for the
fear of doing an injustice."

"And who was it?"

"Our friend Medlicot's prime favorite and new factotum, Mr. William
Nokes. Mr. William Stokes is the gentleman who intends to burn us all
out of house and home, and Mr. Medlicot is the gentleman whose
pleasure it is to keep Mr. Nokes in the neighborhood."

The two women stood awe-struck for a moment, but a sense of justice
prevailed upon the wife to speak. "That may be all true," she said.
"Perhaps it is as you say about that man. But you would not therefore
think that Mr. Medlicot knows any thing about it?"

"It would be impossible," said Kate.

"I have not accused him," said Harry; "but he knows that the man was
dismissed, and yet keeps him about the place. Of course he is
responsible."




CHAPTER IV.

HARRY HEATHCOTE'S APPEAL.


For the first mile between the wool-shed and the house Heathcote and
the two ladies rode without saying a word. There was something so
terrible in the reality of the danger which encompassed them that
they hardly felt inclined to discuss it. Harry's dislike to Medlicot
was quite a thing apart. That some one had intended to burn down the
wool-shed, and had made preparation for doing so, was as apparent to
the women as to him. And the man who had been balked by a shower of
rain in his first attempt might soon find an opportunity for a
second. Harry was well aware that even Jacko's assertion could not be
taken as evidence against the man whom he suspected. In all
probability no further attempt would be made upon the wool-shed; but
a fire on some distant part of the run would be much more injurious
to him than the mere burning of a building. The fire that might ruin
him would be one which should get ahead before it was seen, and scour
across the ground, consuming the grass down to the very roots over
thousands of acres, and destroying fencing over many miles. Such
fires pass on, leaving the standing trees unscathed, avoiding even
the scrub, which is too moist with the sap of life for consumption,
but licking up with fearful rapidity every thing that the sun has
dried. He could watch the wool-shed and house, but with no possible
care could he so watch the whole run as to justify him in feeling
security. There need be no preparation of leaves. A match thrown
loosely on the ground would do it. And in regard to a match so
thrown, it would be impossible to prove a guilty intention.

"Ought we not to have dispersed the heap?" said Mrs. Heathcote at
last. The minds of all of them were full of the matter, but these
were the first words spoken.

"I'll leave it as it is," said Harry, giving no reason for his
decision. He was too full of thought, too heavily laden with anxiety,
to speak much. "Come, let's get on; you'll want your dinner, and it's
getting dark." So they cantered on, and got off their horses at the
gate, without another word. And not another word was spoken on the
subject that night. Harry was very silent, walking up and down the
veranda with his pipe in his mouth--not lying on the ground in idle
enjoyment--and there was no reading. The two sisters looked at him
from time to time with wistful, anxious-eyes, half afraid to disturb
him by speech.

As for him, he felt that the weight was all on his own shoulders. He
had worked hard, and was on the way to be rich. I do not know that he
thought much about money, but he thought very much of success. And he
was by nature anxious, sanguine, and impulsive. There might be before
him, within the next week, such desolation as would break his heart.
He knew men who had been ruined, and had borne their ruin almost
without a wail--who had seemed contented to descend to security and
mere absence from want. There was his own superintendent, Old Bates,
who, though he grumbled at every thing else, never bewailed his own
fate. But he knew of himself that any such blow would nearly kill
him--such a blow, that is, as might drive him from Gangoil, and force
him to be the servant instead of the master of men. Not to be master
of all around him seemed to him to be misery. The merchants at
Brisbane who took his wool and supplied him with stores had advanced
money when he first bought his run, and he still owed them some
thousands of pounds. The injury which a great fire would do him would
bring him to such a condition that the merchants would demand to have
their money repaid. He understood it all, and knew well that it was
after this fashion that many a squatter before him had been ruined.

"Speak a word to me about it," his wife said to him, imploringly,
when they were alone together that night.

"My darling, if there were a word to say, I would say it. I must be
on the watch, and do the best I can. At present the earth is too damp
for mischief."

"Oh that it would rain again!"

"There will be heat enough before the summer is over; we need not
doubt that. But I will tell you of every thing as we go on. I will
endeavor to have the man watched. God bless you! Go to sleep, and try
to get it out of your thoughts."

On the following morning he breakfasted early, and mounted his horse
without saying a word as to the purport of his journey. This was in
accordance with the habit of his life, and would not excite
observation; but there was something in his manner which made both
the ladies feel that he was intent on some special object. When he
intended simply to ride round his fences or to visit the hut of some
distant servant, a few minutes signified nothing. He would stand
under the veranda and talk, and the women would endeavor to keep him
from the saddle. But now there was no loitering, and but little
talking. He said a word to Jacko, who brought the horse for him, and
then started at a gallop toward the wool-shed.

He did not stop a moment at the shed, not even entering it to see
whether the heap of leaves had been displaced during the night, but
went on straight to Medlicot's Mill. He rode the nine miles in an
hour, and at once entered the building in which the canes were
crushed. The first man he met was Nokes, who acted as overseer,
having a gang of Polynesian laborers under him--sleek, swarthy
fellows from the South Sea Islands, with linen trowsers on and
nothing else--who crept silently among the vats and machinery,
shifting the sugar as it was made.

"Well, Nokes," said Harry, "how are you getting on? Is Mr. Medlicot
here?"

Nokes was a big fellow, with a broad, solid face, which would not
have condemned him among physiognomists but for a bad eye, which
could not look you in the face. He had been a boundary rider for
Heathcote, and on an occasion had been impertinent, refusing to leave
the yard behind the house unless something was done which those about
the place refused to do for him. During the discussion Harry had come
in. The man had been drinking, and was still insolent, and Harry had
ejected him violently, thrusting him over a gate. The man had
returned the next morning, and had then been sent about his business.
He had been employed at Medlicot's Mill, but from the day of his
dismissal to this he and Harry had never met each other face to face.

"I'm pretty well, thank ye, Mr. Heathcote. I hope you're the same,
and the ladies. The master's about somewhere, I take it.--Picky, go
and find the master." Picky was one of the Polynesians, who at once
started on his errand.

"Have you been over to Gangoil since you left it?" said Harry,
looking the man full in the face.

"Not I, Mr. Heathcote. I never go where I've had words. And, to tell
you the truth, sugar is better than sheep. I'm very comfortable here,
and I never liked your work."

"You haven't been at the wool-shed?"

"What, the Gangoil shed! What the blazes 'd I go there for? It's a
matter of ten miles from here."

"Seven, Nokes."

"Seven, is it? It is a longish seven miles, Mr. Heathcote. How could
I get that distance? I ain't so good at walking as I was before I was
hurt. You should have remembered that, Mr. Heathcote, when you laid
hands on me the other day."

"You're not much the worse for what I did; nor yet for the accident,
I take it. At any rate, you've not been at Gangoil wool-shed?"

"No, I've not," said the man, roughly. "What the mischief should I be
doing at your shed at night-time?"

"I said nothing about night-time."

"I'm here all day, ain't I? If you're going to palm off any story
against me, Mr. Heathcote, you'll find yourself in the wrong box.
What I does I does on the square."

Heathcote was now quite sure that Jacko had been right. He had not
doubted much before, but now he did not doubt at all but that the man
with whom he was speaking was the wretch who was endeavoring to ruin
him. And he felt certain, also, that Jacko was true to him. He knew,
too, that he had plainly declared his suspicion to the man himself.
But he had resolved upon doing this. He could in no way assist
himself in circumventing the man's villainy by keeping his suspense
to himself. The man might be frightened, and in spite of all that had
passed between him and Medlicot, he still thought it possible that he
might induce the sugar grower to co-operate with him in driving Nokes
from the neighborhood. He had spent the night in thinking over it
all, and this was the resolution to which he had come.

"There's the master," said Nokes. "If you've got any thing to say
about any thing, you'd better say it to him."

Harry had never before set his foot upon Medlicot's land since it had
been bought away from his own run, and had felt that he would almost
demean himself by doing so. He had often looked at the canes from
over his own fence, as he had done on the night of the rain; but he
had stood always on his own land. Now he was in the sugar-mill, never
before having seen such a building. "You've a deal of machinery here,
Mr. Medlicot," he said.

"It's a small affair, after all," said the other. "I hope to get a
good plant before I've done."

"Can I speak a word with you?"

"Certainly. Will you come into the office, or will you go across to
the house?"

Harry said that the office would do, and followed Medlicot into a
little box-like inclosure which contained a desk and two stools.

"Not much of an office, is it? What can I do for you, Mr. Heathcote?"

Then Harry began his story, which he told at considerable length. He
apologized for troubling his neighbor at all on the subject, and
endeavored to explain, somewhat awkwardly, that as Mr. Medlicot was a
new-comer, he probably might not understand the kind of treatment to
which employers in the bush were occasionally subject from their men.
On this matter he said much, which, had he been a better tactician,
he might probably have left unspoken. He then went on to the story of
his own quarrel with Nokes, who had, in truth, been grossly impudent
to the women about the house, but who had been punished by instant
and violent dismissal from his employment. It was evidently Harry's
idea that a man who had so sinned against his master should be
allowed to find no other master--at any rate in that district; an
idea with which the other man, who had lately come out from the old
country, did not at all sympathize.

"Do you want me to dismiss him?" said Medlicot, in a tone which
implied that that would be the last thing he would think of doing.

"You haven't heard me yet." Then Harry went on and told of the fires
in the heat of summer, and of their terrible effects--of the easy
manner of revenge which they supplied to angry, unscrupulous men, and
of his own fears at the present moment.

"I can believe it all," said Medlicot, "and am very sorry that it
should be so. But I can not see the justice of punishing a man on the
merest, vaguest suspicion. Your only ground for imputing this crime
to him is that your own conduct to him may have given him a motive."

Harry had schooled himself vigorously during the ride as to his own
demeanor, and had resolved that he would be cool. "I was going on to
tell you," he said, "what occurred that night after I saw you up by
the fence." Then he described how he and his boy had entered the
shed, and had both seen and heard a man as he escaped from it; how
the boy had at once declared that the man was Nokes; how the
following day he had discovered the leaves, which Nokes no doubt had
deposited there just before the rain, intending to burn the place at
once; and how Nokes's manner to him within the last half hour had
corroborated his suspicions.

"Is he the boy you call Jacko?"

"That's the name he goes by."

"You don't know his real name?"

"I have never heard any other name."

"Nor any thing about him?" Harry owned, in answer to half a dozen
such questions, that Jacko had come to Gangoil about six months ago--
he did not know whence--had been kept for a week's job, and had then
been allowed to remain about the place without any regular wages.
"You admit it was quite dark," continued Medlicot.

Harry did not at all like the cross-examination, and his resolution
to be cool was quickly fading. "I told you that I saw myself the
figure of a man."

"But that you barely saw a figure. You did not form any opinion of
your own as to the man's identity."

Harry Heathcote was as honest as the sun. Much as he disliked being
cross-examined, he found himself compelled not only to say the exact
truth, but the whole truth. "Certainly not. I barely saw a glimpse of
a figure, and, till I spoke to Nokes just now, I almost doubted
whether the lad could have distinguished him. I am sure he was right
now."

"Really, Mr. Heathcote, I can't go along with you. You are accusing a
man of committing an offense, which I believe is capital, on the
evidence of a boy of whom you know nothing, who may have his own
reasons for spiting the man, and whom you yourself did not believe
till you had looked this man in the face. I think you allow yourself
to be guided too much by your own power of intuition."

"No, I don't," said Harry, who hated his neighbor's methodical
argument.

"At any rate, I can't consent to take a man's bread out of his mouth,
and to send him away tainted as he would be with this suspicion,
either because Jacko thought that he saw him in the dark, or because-
-"

"I have never asked you to send him away."

"What is it you want, then?"

"I want to have him watched, so that he may feel that if he attempts
to destroy my property his guilt will be detected."

"Who is to watch him?"

"He is in your employment."

"He lives in the hut down beyond the gate. Am I to keep a sentry
there all night, and every night?"

"I will pay for it."

"No, Mr. Heathcote. I don't pretend to know this country yet, but
I'll encourage no such espionage as that. At any rate, it is not
English. I dare say the man misbehaved himself in your employment.
You say he was drunk. I do not doubt it. But he is not a drunkard,
for he never drinks here. A man is not to starve forever because he
once got drunk and was impertinent. Nor is he to have a spy at his
heels because a boy whom nobody knows chooses to denounce him. I am
sorry that you should be in trouble, but I do not know that I can
help you."

Harry's passion was now very high, and his resolution to be cool was
almost thrown to the winds. Medlicot had said many things which were
odious to him. In the first place, there had been a tone of
insufferable superiority, so Harry thought, and that, too, when he
himself had divested himself of all the superiority naturally
attached to his position, and had frankly appealed to Medlicot as a
neighbor. And then this new-fangled sugar grower had told him that he
was not English, and had said grand words, and had altogether made
himself objectionable. What did this man know of the Australian bush,
that he should dare to talk of this or that as being wrong because it
was un-English! In England there were police to guard men's property.
Here, out in the Australian forests, a man must guard his own, or
lose it. But perhaps it was the indifference to the ruin of the women
belonging to him that Harry Heathcote felt the strongest. The
stranger cared nothing for the utter desolation which one
unscrupulous ruffian might produce, felt no horror at the idea of a
vast devastating fire, but could be indignant in his mock
philanthropy because it was proposed to watch the doings of a
scoundrel!

"Good-morning," said Harry, turning round and leaving the office
brusquely. Medlicot followed him, but Harry went so quickly that not
another word was spoken. To him the idea of a neighbor in the bush
refusing such assistance as he had asked was as terrible as to us is
the thought of a ship at sea leaving another ship in distress. He
unhitched his horse from the fence, and galloped home as fast as the
animal would carry him.

Medlicot, when he was left alone, took two or three turns about the
mill, as though inspecting the work, but at every turn fixed his eyes
for a few moments on Noke's face. The man was standing under a huge
caldron regulating the escape of the boiling juice into the different
vats by raising and lowering a trap, and giving directions to the
Polynesians as he did so. He was evidently conscious that he was
being regarded, and, as is usual in such a condition, manifestly
failed in his struggle to appear unconscious. Medlicot acknowledged
to himself that the man could not look even him in the face. Was it
possible that he had been wrong, and that Heathcote, though he had
expressed himself badly, was entitled to some sympathy in his fear of
what might be done to him by an enemy? Medlicot also desired to be
just, being more rational, more logical, and less impulsive than the
other, being also somewhat too conscious of his own superior
intelligence. He knew that Heathcote had gone away in great dudgeon,
and he almost feared that he had been harsh and unneighborly. After a
while he stood opposite Nokes and addressed him.

"Do the squatters suffer much from fires?" he said.

"Heathcote has been talking to you about that," said the man.

"Can't you say Mr. Heathcote when you speak of a gentleman whose
bread you have eaten?"

"Mr. Heathcote, if you like it. We ain't particular to a shade out
here as you are at home. He has been telling you about fires, has
he?"

"Well, he has."

"And talking of me, I suppose?"

"You were talking of having a turn at mining some day. How would it
be with you if you were to be off to Gympie?"

"You mean to say I'm to go, Mr. Medlicot?"

"I don't say that at all."

"Look here, Mr. Medlicot. My going or staying won't make any
difference to Heathcote. There's a lot of 'em about here hates him
that much that he is never to be allowed to rest in peace. I tell you
that fairly. It ain't any thing as I shall do. Them's not my ways,
Mr. Medlicot. But he has enemies here as'll never let him rest."

"Who are they?"

"Pretty nigh every body round. He has carried himself that high they
won't stand him. Who's Heathcote?"

"Name some who are his enemies."

"There's the Brownbies."

"Oh, the Brownbies. Well, it's a bad thing to have enemies." After
that he left the sugar-house and went across to the cottage.




CHAPTER V.

BOSCOBEL.


Two days and two nights passed without fear of fire, and then Harry
Heathcote was again on the alert. The earth was parched as though no
drop of rain had fallen. The fences were dry as tinder, and the
ground was strewed with broken atoms of timber from the trees, each
of which a spark would ignite. Two nights Harry slept in his bed, but
on the third he was on horseback about the run, watching, thinking,
endeavoring to make provision, directing others, and hoping to make
it believed that his eyes were every where. In this way an entire
week was passed, and now it wanted but four days to Christmas. He
would come home to breakfast about seven in the morning, very tired,
but never owning that he was tired, and then sleep heavily for an
hour or two in a chair. After that he would go out again on the run,
would sleep perhaps for another hour after dinner, and then would
start for his night's patrol. During this week he saw nothing of
Medlicot, and never mentioned his name but once. On that occasion his
wife told him that during his absence Medlicot had been at the
station.

"What brought him here?" Harry asked, fiercely.

Mrs. Heathcote explained that he had called in a friendly way, and
had said that if there were any fear of fire he would be happy
himself to lend assistance.

Then the young squatter forgot himself in his wrath. "Confound his
hypocrisy!" said Harry, aloud. "I don't think he's a hypocrite," said
the wife.

"I'm sure he's not," said Kate Daly.

Not a word more was spoken, and Harry immediately left the house. The
two women did not as usual go to the gate to see him mount his horse,
not refraining from doing so in any anger, or as wishing to exhibit
displeasure at Harry's violence, but because they were afraid of him.
They had found themselves compelled to differ from him, but were
oppressed at finding themselves in opposition to him.

The feeling that his wife should in any way take part against him
added greatly to Heathcote's trouble. It produced in his mind a
terrible feeling of loneliness in his sorrow. He bore a brave outside
to all his men, and to any stranger whom in these days he met about
the run--to his wife and sister also, and to the old woman at home.
He forced upon them all an idea that he was not only autocratic, but
self-sufficient also--that he wanted neither help nor sympathy. He
never cried out in his pain, being heartily ashamed even of the
appeal which he had made to Medlicot. He spoke aloud and laughed with
the men, and never acknowledged that his trials were almost too much
for him. But he was painfully conscious of his own weakness. He
sometimes felt, when alone in the bush, that he would fain get off
his horse, and lie upon the ground and weep till he slept. It was not
that he trusted no one. He suspected no one with a positive
suspicion, except Nokes, and Medlicot as the supporter of Nokes. But
he had no one with whom he could converse freely--none whom he had
not been accustomed to treat as the mere ministers of his will--
except his wife and his wife's sister; and now he was disjoined from
them by their sympathy with Medlicot! He had chosen to manage every
thing himself without contradiction and almost without counsel; but,
like other such imperious masters, he now found that when trouble
came the privilege of dictatorship brought with it an almost
unsupportable burden.

Old Bates was an excellent man, of whose fidelity the young squatter
was quite assured. No one understood foot-rot better than Old Bates,
or was less sparing of himself in curing it. He was a second mother
to all the lambs, and when shearing came watched with the eyes of
Argus to see that the sheep were not wounded by the shearers, or the
wool left on their backs. But he had no conversation, none of that
imagination which in such a time as this might have assisted in
devising safeguards, and but little enthusiasm. Shepherds, so called,
Harry kept none upon the run; and would have felt himself insulted
had any one suggested that he was so backward in his ways as to
employ men of that denomination. He had fenced his run, and dispensed
with shepherds and shepherding as old-fashioned and unprofitable. He
had two mounted men, whom he called boundary riders, one an Irishman
and the other a German--and them he trusted fully, the German
altogether, and the Irishman equally as regarded his honesty. But he
could not explain to them the thoughts that loaded his brain. He
could instigate them to eagerness; but he could not condescend to
tell Karl Bender, the German, that if his fences were destroyed
neither his means nor his credit would be sufficient to put them up
again, and that if the scanty herbage were burned off any large
proportion of his run, he must sell his flocks at a great sacrifice.
Nor could he explain to Mickey O'Dowd, the Irishman, that his peace
of mind was destroyed by his fear of one man. He had to bear it all
alone. And there was heavy on him also the great misery of feeling
that every thing might depend on own exertions, and that yet he did
not know how or where to exert himself. When he had ridden about all
night and discovered nothing, he might just as well have been in bed.
And he was continually riding about all night and discovering
nothing.

After leaving the station on the evening of the day on which he had
expressed himself to the women so vehemently respecting Medlicot, he
met Bates coming home from his day's work. It was then past eight
o'clock, and the old man was sitting wearily on his horse, with his
head low down between his shoulders, and the reins hardly held within
his grasp.

"You're late, Mr. Bates," said Harry; "you take too much out of
yourself this hot weather."

"I've got to move slower, Mr. Heathcote, as I grow older. That's
about it. And the beast I'm on is not much good." Now Mr. Bates was
always complaining of his horse, and yet was allowed to choose any on
the run for his own use.

"If you don't like him, why don't you take another?"

"There ain't much difference in 'em, Mr. Heathcote. Better the devil
you know than the devil you don't. It's getting uncommon close
shaving for them wethers in the new paddock. They're down upon the
roots pretty well already."

"There's grass along the bush on the north side."

"They won't go there; it's rank and sour. They won't feed up there as
long as they can live lower down and nearer the water. Weather like
this, they'd sooner die near the water than travel to fill their
bellies. It's about the hottest day we've had, and the nights a'most
hotter. Are you going to be out, Mr. Heathcote?"

"I think so."

"What's the good of it, Mr. Heathcote? There is no use in it. Lord
love you, what can yon do? You can't be every side at once."

"Fire can only travel with the wind, Mr. Bates."

"And there isn't any wind, and so there can't be any fire. I never
did think, and I don't think now, there ever was any use in a man
fashing himself as you fash yourself. You can't alter things, Mr.
Heathcote."

"But that's just what I can do--what a man has to do. If a match were
thrown there at your feet, and the grass was aflame, couldn't you
alter that by putting your foot on it? If you find a ewe on her back,
can't you alter that by putting her on her legs?"

"Yes, I can do that, I suppose."

"What does a man live for except to alter things? When a man clears
the forest and sows corn, does he not alter things?"

"That's not your line, Mr. Heathcote," said the cunning old man.

"If I send wool to market, I alter things."

"You'll excuse me, Mr. Heathcote. Of course I'm old, but I just give
you my experience."

"I'm much obliged to you; though we can't always agree, you know.
Good-night. Go in and say a word to my wife, and tell them you saw me
all right."

"I'll have a crack with 'em, Mr. Heathcote, before I turn in."

"And tell Mary I sent my love."

"I will, Mr. Heathcote; I will."

He was thinking always of his wife during his solitary rides, and of
her fear and deep anxiety. It was for her sake and for the children
that he was so care-worn, not for his own. Had he been alone in the
world he would not have fretted himself in this fashion because of
the malice of any man. But how would it be with her should he be
forced to move her from Gangoil? And yet, with all his love, they had
parted almost in anger. Surely she would understand the tenderness of
the message he had just sent her.

Of a sudden, as he was riding, he stopped his horse and listened
attentively. From a great distance there fell upon his accustomed ear
a sound which he recognized, though he was aware that the place from
whence it came was at least two miles distant. It was the thud of an
axe against a tree. He listened still, and was sure that it was so,
and turned at once toward the sound, though in doing so he left his
course at a right angle. He had been going directly away from the
river, with his back to the wool-shed; but now he changed his
course, riding in the direction of the spot at which Jacko had nearly
fallen in jumping over the fence. As he continued on, the sounds
became plainer, till at last, reining in his horse, he could see the
form of the woodman, who was still at work ringing the trees. This
was a job which the man did by contract, receiving so much an acre
for the depopulation of the timber. It was now bright moonlight,
almost as clear as day--a very different night, indeed, from that on
which the rain had come--and Harry could see at a glance that it was
the man called Boscobel still at work. Now there were, as he thought,
very good reasons why Boscobel at the present moment should not be so
employed. Boscobel was receiving wages for work of another kind.

"Bos," said the squatter, riding up, and addressing the man by the
customary abbreviation of his nickname, "I thought you were watching
at Brownbie's boundary?" Boscobel lowered his axe, and stood for a
while contemplating the proposition made to him. "You are drawing
three shillings a night for watching; isn't that so?"

"Yes, that's so. Anyways, I shall draw it."

"Then why ain't you watching?"

"There's nothing to watch that I knows on--not just now."

"Then why should I pay you for it? I'm to pay you for ringing these
trees, ain't I?"

"Certainly, Mr. Heathcote."

"Then you're to make double use of your time, and sell it twice over,
are you? Don't try to look like a fool, as though you didn't
understand. You know that what you're doing isn't honest."

"Nobody ever said as I wasn't honest before."

"I tell you so now. You're robbing me of the time you've sold to me,
and for which I'm to pay you."

"There ain't nothing to watch while the wind's as it is now, and that
chap ain't any where about to-night."

"What chap?"

"Oh, I know. I'm all right. What's the use of dawdling about up there
in the broad moonlight, and the wind like this?"

"That's for me to judge. If you engage to do my work and take my
money, you're swindling me when you go about another job as you are
now. You needn't scratch your head. You understand it all as well as
I do."

"I never was told I swindled before, and I ain't a-going to put up
with it. You may ring your own trees, and watch your own fences, and
the whole place may be burned for me. I ain't a-going to do another
turn in Gangoil. Swindle, indeed!" So Boscobel shouldered his axe,
and marched off through the forest, visible in the moonlight till the
trees hid him.

There was another enemy made! He had never felt quite sure of this
man, but had been glad to have him about the place as being
thoroughly efficient in his own business. It was only during the last
ten days that he had agreed to pay him for night-watching, leaving
the man to do as much additional day-work as he pleased--for which,
of course, he would be paid at the regular contract price. There was
a double purpose intended in this watching--as was well understood by
all the hands employed: first, that of preventing incendiary fire by
the mere presence of the watchers; and secondly, that of being at
hand to extinguish fire in case of need. Now a man ringing trees five
or six miles away from the beat on which he was stationed could not
serve either of these purposes. Boscobel therefore had been
fraudulently at work for his own dishonest purposes, and knew well
that his employment was of that nature. All this was quite clear to
Heathcote; and it was clear to him, also, that when he detected fraud
he was bound to expose it. Had the man acknowledged his fault and
been submissive, there would have been an end of the matter.
Heathcote would have said no word about it to any one, and would not
have stopped a farthing from the week's unearned wages. That he had
to encounter a certain amount of ill usage from the rough men about
him, and to forgive it, he could understand; but it could not be his
duty, either as a man or a master, to pass over dishonesty without
noticing it. No; that he would not do, though Gangoil should burn
from end to end. He did not much mind being robbed. He knew that to a
certain extent he must endure to be cheated. He would endure it. But
he would never teach his men to think that he passed over such
matters because he was afraid of them, or that dishonesty on their
part was indifferent to him.

But now he had made another enemy--an enemy of a man who had declared
to him that he knew the movements of "that chap," meaning Nokes! How
hard the world was! It seemed that all around were trouble to him. He
turned his horse back, and made again for the spot which was his
original destination. As he cantered on among the trees, twisting
here and there, and regulating his way by the stars, he asked himself
whether it would not be better for him to go home and lay himself
down by his wife and sleep, and await the worst that these men could
do to him. This idea was so strong upon him that at one spot he made
his horse stop till he had thought it all out. No one encouraged him
in his work. Every one about the place, friend or foe, Bates, his
wife, Medlicot, and this Boscobel, spoke to him as though he were
fussy and fidgety in his anxiety. "If fires must come, they will
come; and if they are not to come, you are simply losing your labor."
This was the upshot of all they said to him. Why should he be wiser
than they? If the ruin came, let it come. Old Bates had been ruined,
but still had enough to eat and drink, and clothes to wear, and did
not work half as hard as his employer. He thought that if he could
only find some one person who would sympathize with him and support
him, he would not mind. But the mental loneliness of his position
almost broke his heart.

Then there came across his mind the dim remembrance of certain old
school words, and he touched his horse with his spur and hurried
onward: "Let there be no steps backward." A thought as to the
manliness of persevering, of the want of manliness in yielding to
depression, came to his rescue. Let him, at any rate, have the
comfort of thinking that he had done his best according to his
lights. After some dim fashion, he did come to recognize it as a fact
that nothing could really support him but self-approbation. Though he
fell from his horse in utter weariness, he would persevere.

As the night wore on he came to the German's hut, and finding it
empty, as he expected, rode on to the outside fence of his run. When
he reached this he got off his horse, and taking a key out of his
pocket, whistled upon it loudly. A few minutes afterward the German
came up to him.

"There's been no one about, I suppose?" he asked.

"Not a one," said the man.

"You've been across on Brownbie's run?"

"We're on it now, Mr. 'Eathcote." They were both on the side of the
fence away from Gangoil station.

"I don't know how that is, Karl. I think Gangoil goes a quarter of a
mile beyond this. But we did not quite strike the boundary when we
put up the fence."

"Brownbie's cattle is allays here, Mr. 'Eathcote, and is knocking
down the fence every day. Brownbie is a rascal, and 'is cattle as bad
as 'isself."

"Never mind that, Karl, now. When we've got through the heats, we'll
put a mile or two of better fencing along here. You know Boscobel?"

"In course I know Bos."

"What sort of a fellow is he?" Then Harry told his German dependent
exactly what had taken place between him and the other man.

"He's in and in wid all them young Brownbies," said Karl.

"The Brownbies are a bad lot, but I don't think they'd do any thing
of this kind," said Harry, whose mind was still dwelling on the
dangers of fire.

"They likes muttons, Mr. 'Eathcote."

"I suppose they do take a sheep or two now and then. They wouldn't do
worse than that, would they?"

"Not'ing too 'ot for 'em; not'ing too 'eavy," said Karl, smoking his
pipe. "The vind, vat there is, comes just here, Mr. 'Eathcote." And
the man lifted up his arm, and pointed across in the direction of
Brownbie's run.

"And you don't think much of Boscobel?"

Karl Bender shook his head.

"He was always well treated here," said Harry, "and has had plenty of
work, and earned large wages. The man will be a fool to quarrel with
me."

Karl again shook his head. With Karl Bender, Harry was quite sure of
his man, but not on that account need he be quite sure of the
correctness of the man's opinion.

Thence he went on till he met his other lieutenant, O'Dowd, and so,
having completed his work, he made his way home, reaching the station
at sunrise.

"Did Bates tell you he'd met me?" he asked his wife.

"Yes, Harry; kiss me, Harry. I was so glad you sent a word. Promise
me, Harry, not to think that I don't agree with you in every thing."




CHAPTER VI.

THE BROWNBIES OF BOOLABONG.


Old Brownbie, as he was usually called, was a squatter also, but a
squatter of a class very different from that to which Heathcote
belonged. He had begun his life in the colonies a little under a
cloud, having been sent out from home after the perpetration of some
peccadillo of which the law had disapproved.

In colonial phrase, he was a "lag"--having been transported; but this
was many years ago, when he was quite young; and he had now been a
free man for more than thirty years. It must be owned on his behalf
that he had worked hard, had endeavored to rise, and had risen. But
there still stuck to him the savor of his old life. Every one knew
that he had been a convict; and even had he become a man of high
principle--a condition which he certainly never achieved--he could
hardly have escaped altogether from the thralldom of his degradation.
He had been a butcher, a drover, part owner of stock, and had at last
become possessed of a share of a cattle-run, and then of the entire
property, such as it was. He had four or five sons, uneducated, ill-
conditioned, drunken fellows, who had all their father's faults
without his energy, some of whom had been in prison, and all of whom
were known as pests to the colony. Their place was called Boolabong,
and was a cattle-run, as distinguished from a sheep-run; but it was a
poor place, was sometimes altogether unstocked, and was supposed to
be not unfrequently used as a receptable for stolen cattle.

The tricks which the Brownbies played with cattle were notorious
throughout Queensland and New South Wales, and by a certain class of
men were much admired. They would drive a few head of cattle, perhaps
forty or fifty, for miles around the country, across one station and
another, traveling many hundreds of miles, and here and there, as
they passed along, they would sweep into their own herd the bullocks
of the victims whose lands they passed. If detected on the spot, they
gave up their prey. They were in the right in moving their own
cattle, and were not responsible for the erratic tendencies of other
animals. If successful, they either sold their stolen beasts to
butchers on the road, or got them home to Boolabong. There were
dangers, of course, and occasional penalties. But there was much
success. It was supposed, also, that though they did not own sheep,
they preferred mutton for their daily uses, and that they supplied
themselves at a very cheap rate.

It may be imagined how such a family would be hated by the
respectable squatters on whom they preyed. Still there were men, old
stagers, who had know Moreton Bay before it was a colony--in the old
days when convicts were common--who almost regarded the Brownbies as
a part of the common order of things, and who were indisposed to
persecute them. Men must live; and what were a few sheep? Of some
such it might be said, that though they were above the arts by which
the Brownbies lived, they were not very scrupulous themselves; and it
perhaps served them to have within their ken neighbours whose
morality was lower even than their own. But to such a one as Harry
Heathcote the Brownbies were utterly abominable. He was for the law
and justice at any cost. To his thinking, the Colonial Government was
grossly at fault, because it did not weed out and extirpate not only
the identical Brownbies, but all Brownbieism wherever it might be
found. A dishonest workman was a great evil, but, to his thinking, a
dishonest man in the position of master was the incarnation of evil.
As to the difficulties of evidence, and obstacles of that nature,
Harry Heathcote knew nothing. The Brownbies were rascals, and should
therefore be exterminated.

And the Brownbies knew well the estimation in which their neighbour
held them. Harry had made himself altogether disagreeable to them.
They were squatters as well as he--or at least so they termed
themselves; and though they would not have expected to be admitted to
home intimacies, they thought that when they were met out-of-doors or
in public places, they should be treated with some respect. On such
occasions Harry treated them as though they were dirt beneath his
feet. The Brownbies would be found, whenever a little money came
among them, at the public billiard-rooms and race-courses within one
hundred and fifty miles of Boolabong. At such places Harry Heathcote
was never seen. It would have been as easy to seduce the Bishop of
Brisbane into a bet as Harry Heathcote. He had never even drank a
nobbler with one of the Brownbies. To their thinking, he was a proud,
stuck-up, unsocial young cub, whom to rob was a pleasure, and to ruin
would be a delight.

The old man at Boolabong was now almost obsolete. Property, that he
could keep in his grasp, there was in truth none. He was the tenant
of the run under the Crown, and his sons would not turn him out of
the house. The cattle, when there were cattle, belonged to them. They
were in no respect subject to his orders, and he would have had a bad
life among them were it not that they quarreled among themselves, and
that in such quarrels he could belong to one party or to the other.
The house itself was a wretched place--out of order, with doors and
windows and floors shattered, broken, and decayed. There were none of
womankind belonging to the family, and in such a house a decent
woman-servant would have been out of her place. Sometimes there was
one hag there and sometimes another, and sometimes feminine aid less
respectable than that of the hags. There had been six sons. One had
disappeared utterly, so that nothing was known of him. One had been
absolutely expelled by the brethren, and was now a vagabond in the
country, turning up now and then at Boolabong and demanding food. Of
the whole lot Georgie Brownbie, the vagabond, was the worst. The
eldest son was at this time in prison at Brisbane, having on some
late occasion been less successful than usual in regard to some
acquired bullocks. The three youngest were at home--Jerry, Jack, and
Joe. Tom, who was in prison, was the only stanch friend to the
father, who consequently at this time was in a more than usually
depressed condition.

Christmas-day would fall on a Tuesday, and on the Monday before it
Jerry Brownbie, the eldest of those now at home, was sitting, with a
pipe in his mouth, on a broken-down stool on the broken-down veranda
of the house, and the old man was seated on a stuffy, worn-out sofa
with three legs, which was propped against the wall of the house, and
had not been moved for years. Old Brownbie was a man of gigantic
frame, and had possessed immense personal power--a man, too, of will
and energy; but he was now worn out and dropsical, and could not move
beyond the confines of the home station. The veranda was attached to
a big room which ran nearly the whole length of the house, and which
was now used for all purposes. There was an exterior kitchen, in
which certain processes were carried on--such as salting stolen
mutton and boiling huge masses of meat, when such work was needed.
But the cookery was generally done in the big room. And here also two
or three of the sons slept on beds made upon stretchers along the
wall. They were not probably very particular as to which owned each
bed, enjoying a fraternal communism in that respect. At the end of
this chamber the old man had a room of his own. Boolabong was
certainly a miserable place; and yet, such as it was, it was
frequented by many guests. The vagabondism of the colonies is
proverbial. Vagabonds are taken in almost every where throughout the
bush. But the welcome given to them varies. Sometimes they are made
to work before they are fed--to their infinite disgust. But no such
cruelty was exercised at Boolabong. Boolabong was a very Paradise for
vagabonds. There was always flour and meat to be had, generally
tobacco, and sometimes even the luxury of a nobbler. The Brownbies
were wise enough to have learned that it was necessary for their very
existence that they should have friends in the land. On the Sunday
the father and Jerry Brownbie were sitting out in the veranda at
about noon, and the other two sons, Jack and Joe, were lying asleep
on the beds within.

The heat of the day was intense. There was a wind blowing, but it was
that which is called there the hot wind, which comes dry, scorching,
sometimes almost intolerable, over the burning central plain of the
country. No one can understand without feeling it how much a wind can
add to the sufferings inflicted by heat. The old man had on a dirty,
wretched remnant of a dressing-gown, but Jerry was clothed simply in
trowsers and an old shirt. Only that the mosquitoes would have flayed
him, he would have dispensed probably with these. He had been
quarreling with his father respecting a certain horse which he had
sold, of the price of which the father demanded a share. Jerry had
unblushingly declared that he himself had "shaken" the horse--
Anglice, had stolen him--twelve months since on Darnley Downs, and
was therefore clearly entitled to the entire plunder. The father had
rejoined with animation that unless "half a quid"--or ten shillings--
were given him as his contribution to the keep of the animal, he
would inform against his son to the squatter on the Darnley Downs,
and had shown him that he knew the very run from which the horse had
been taken. Then the sons within had interfered from their beds,
swearing that their father was the noisiest old "cuss" unhung, they
having had their necessary slumbers disturbed.

At this moment the debate was interrupted by the appearance of a man
outside the veranda. "Well, Mr. Jerry, how goes it?" asked the
stranger. "What, Bos, is that you? What brings you up to Boolabong? I
thought you was ringing trees for that young scut at Gangoil? I'll be
even with him some of these days! He had the impudence to send a man
of his up here last week looking for sheep-skins."

"He wasn't that soft, Mr. Jerry, was he? Well, I've dropped working
for him.--How are you, Mr. Brownbie? I hope I see you finely, Sir.
It's stiffish sort of weather, Mr. Brownbie, ain't it, Sir?"

The old man grunted out some reply, and then asked Boscobel what he
wanted.

"I'll just hang about for the day, Mr. Brownbie, and get a little
grub. You never begrudged a working-man that yet."

Old Brownbie again grunted, but said no word of welcome. That,
however, was to be taken for granted, without much expression of
opinion.

"No, Mr. Jerry," continued Boscobel, "I've done with that fellow."

"And so has Nokes done with him."

"Nokes is at work on Medlicot's Mill. That sugar business wouldn't
suit me."

"An axe in your hand is what you're fit for, Bos."

"There's a many things I can turn my hand to, Mr. Jerry. You couldn't
give a fellow such a thing as a nobbler, Mr. Jerry, could you? I'd
offer money for it, only I know it would be taken amiss. It's that
hot that a fellow's very in'ards get parched up."

Upon this Jerry slowly rose, and going to a cupboard, brought forth a
modicum of spirits, which he called Battle-Axe, but which was
supposed to be brandy. This Boscobel swallowed at a gulp, and then
washed it down with a little water.

"Come, Jerry," said the old man, somewhat relenting in his wrath,
"you might as well give us a drop, as it's going about." The two
brothers, who had now been thoroughly aroused from their sleep, and
who had heard the enticing sound of the spirit bottle, joined the
party, and so they drank all round.

"Heathcote's in an awful state about them fires, ain't he?" asked
Jerry.

Boscobel, who had squatted down on the veranda, and was now lighting
his pipe, bobbed his head.

"I wish he was clean burned out--over head and ears," said Jerry.

Boscobel bobbed his head again, sucking with great energy at the
closely staffed pipe.

"If he treated me like he does you fellows," continued Jerry, "he
shouldn't have a yard of fencing or a blade of grass left--nor a ewe,
nor a lamb, nor a hogget. I do hate fellows who come here and want to
be better than any one about 'em--young chaps especially. Sending up
here to look for sheep-skins, cuss his impudence! I sent that German
fellow of his away with a flea in his ear."

"Karl Bender?"

"It's some such name as that."

"He's all in all with the young squire," said Boscobel. "And there's
a chap there called Jacko--he's another. He gets 'em down there to
Gangoil, and the ladies talks to 'em, and then they'd go through fire
and water for him. There's Mickey--he's another, jist the same way. I
don't like them ways, myself."

"Too much of master and man about it, ain't there, Bos?"

"Just that, Mr. Jerry. That ain't my idea of a free country. I can
work as well as another, but I ain't going to be told that I'm a
swindler because I'm making the most of my time."

"He turned Nokes out by the scruff of his neck?" said Jerry. Boscobel
again bobbed his head. "I didn't think Nokes was the sort of fellow
to stand that."

"No more he ain't," said Boscobel.

"Heathcote's a good plucked un all the same," said Joe.

"It's like you to speak up for such a fellow is that," said Jerry.

"I say he's a good plucked un. I'm not standing up for him. Nokes is
half a stone heavier than him, and ought to have knocked him over.
That's what you'd've done, wouldn't you, Bos? I know I would."

"He'd 've had my axe at his head," said Boscobel.

"We all know Joe's game to the backbone," said Jerry.

"I'm game enough for you, anyway," said the brother. "And you can try
it out any time you like."

"That's right; fight like dogs, do," said the old man.

The quarrel at this point was interrupted by the arrival of another
man, who crept up round the corner on to the veranda exactly as
Boscobel had done. This was Nokes, of whom they had that moment been
speaking. There was silence for a few moments among them, as though
they feared that he might have heard them, and Nokes stood hanging
his head as though half ashamed of himself. Then they gave him the
same kind of greeting as the other men had received. Nobody told him
that he was welcome, but the spirit jar was again brought into use,
Jerry measuring out the liquor, and it was understood that Nokes was
to stay there and get his food. He too gave some account of himself,
which was supposed to suffice, but which they all knew to be false.
It was Sunday, and they were off work at the sugar-mill. He had come
across Gangoil run, intending to take back with him things of his own
which he had left as Bender's hut, and having come so far, had
thought that he would come on and get his dinner at Boolabong. As
this was being told, a good deal was said of Harry Heathcote. Nokes
declared that he had come right across Gangoil, and explained that he
would not have been at all sorry to meet Master Heathcote in the
bush. Master Heathcote had had his own way up at the station when he
was backed by a lot of his own hands; but a good time was coming,
perhaps. Then Nokes gave it to be understood very plainly that it was
the settled practice of his life to give Harry Heathcote a thrashing.
During all this there was an immense amount of bad language, and a
large portion of the art which in the colony is called "blowing."
Jerry, Boscobel, and Nokes all boasted, each that on the first
occasion he would give Harry Heathcote such a beating that a whole
bone should hardly be left in the man's skin.

"There isn't one of you man enough to touch him," said Joe, who was
known as the freest fighter of the Brownbie family.

"And you'd eat him, I suppose," said Jerry.

"He's not likely to come in my way," said Joe; "but if he does, he'll
get as good as he brings. That's all."

This was unpleasant to the visitors, who, of course, felt themselves
to be snubbed. Boscobel affected to hear the slight put upon his
courage with good humor, but Nokes laid himself down in a corner and
sulked. They were soon all asleep, and remained dozing, snoring,
changing their uncomfortable positions, and cursing the mosquitoes,
till about four in the afternoon, when Boscobel got up, shook
himself, and made some observation about "grub." The meal of the day
was then prepared. A certain quantity of flour and raw meat, ample
for their immediate wants, was given to the two strangers, with which
they retired into the outer kitchen, prepared it for themselves, and
there ate their dinner, and each of the brothers did the same for
himself in the big room--Joe, the fighting brother, providing for his
father's wants as well as his own. One of them had half a leg of cold
mutton, so that he was saved the trouble of cooking, but he did not
offer to share this comfort with the others. An enormous kettle of
tea was made, and that was common among them. While this was being
consumed, Boscobel put his head into the room, and suggested that he
and his mate wanted a drink. Whereupon Jerry, without a word, pointed
to the kettle, and Boscobel was allowed to fill two pannikins. Such
was the welcome which was always accorded to strangers in Boolabong.

After their meal the men came back on to the veranda, and there were
more smoking and sleeping, more boasting and snarling. Different
allusions were made to the spirit jar, especially by the old man; but
they were made in vain. The "Battle-Axe" was Jerry's own property,
and he felt that he had already been almost foolishly liberal. But he
had an object in view. He was quite sure that Boscobel and Nokes had
not come to Boolabong on the same Sunday by any chance coincidence.
The men had something to propose, and in their own way they would
make the proposition before they left, and would make it probably to
him. Boscobel intended to sleep at Boolabong, but Nokes had explained
that it was his purpose to return that night to Medlicot's Mill. The
proposition no doubt would be made soon--a little after seven, when
the day was preparing to give way suddenly to night. Nokes first
walked off, sloping out from the veranda in a half-shy, half-cunning
manner, looking nowhither, and saying a word to no one. Quickly after
him Boscobel jumped up suddenly, hitched up his trowsers, and
followed the first man. At about a similar interval Jerry passed out
through the big room to the yard at the back, and from the yard to a
shed that was used as a shambles. Here he found the other two men,
and no doubt the proposition was made.

"There's something up," said the old man, as soon as Jerry was gone.

"Of course there's something up," said Joe. "Those fellows didn't
come all the way to Boolabong for nothing."

"It's something about young Heathcote," suggested the father.

"If it is," said Jack, "what's that to you?"

"They'll get themselves hanged, that's all about it."

"That be blowed," said Jack; "you go easy and hold your tongue. If
you know nothing, nobody can hurt you."

"I know nothing," said Joe, "and don't mean. If I had scores to quit
with a fellow like Harry Heathcote, I should do it after my own
fashion. I shouldn't get Boscobel to help me, nor yet such a fellow
as Nokes. But it's no business of mine. Heathcote's made the place
too hot to hold him. That's all about it." There was no more said,
and in an hour's time Jerry returned, to the family. Neither the
father nor brother asked him any questions, nor did he volunteer any
information.

Boolabong was about fourteen miles from Medlicot's Mill. Nokes had
walked this distance in the morning, and now retraced it at night--
not going right across Gangoil, as he had falsely boasted of doing
early in the day, but skirting it, and keeping on the outside of the
fence nearly the whole distance. At about two in the morning he
reached his cottage outside the mill on the river-bank; but he was
unable to skulk in unheard. Some dogs made a noise, and presently he
heard a voice calling him from the house. "Is that you, Nokes, at
this time of night?" asked Mr. Medlicot. Nokes grunted out some
reply, intending to avoid any further question. But his master came
up to the hut door and asked him where he had been.

"Just amusing myself," said Nokes.

"It's very late."

"It's not later for me than for you, Mr. Medlicot."

"That's true. I've just ridden home from

"From Gangoil? I didn't know you were so friendly there, Mr.
Medlicot."

"And where have you been?"

"Not to Gangoil, anyway. Good-night, Mr. Medlicot." Then the man took
himself into his hut, and was safe from further questioning that
night.




CHAPTER VII.

"I WISH YOU'D LIKE ME."


All the Saturday night Heathcote had been on the run, and he did not
return home to bed till nearly dawn on the Sunday morning. At about
noon prayers were read out on the veranda, the congregation
consisting of Mrs. Heathcote and her sister, Mrs. Growler, and Jacko.
Harry himself was rather averse to this performance, intimating that
Mrs. Growler, if she were so minded, could read the prayers for
herself in the kitchen, and that, as regarded Jacko, they would be
altogether thrown away. But his wife had made a point of maintaining
the practice, and he had of course yielded. The service was not long,
and when it was over Harry got into a chair and was soon asleep. He
had been in the saddle during sixteen hours of the previous day and
night, and was entitled to be fatigued. His wife sat beside him,
every now and again protecting him from the flies, while Kate Daly
sat by with her Bible in her hand. But she, too, from time to time,
was watching her brother-in-law. The trouble of his spirits and the
work that he felt himself bound to do touched them with a strong
feeling, and taught them to regard him for the time as a young hero.

"How quietly he sleeps!" Kate said. "The fatigue of the last week
must have been terrible."

"He is quite, quite knocked up," said the wife.

"I ain't knocked up a bit," said Harry, jumping up from his chair.
"What should knock me up? I wasn't asleep, was I?"

"Just dozing, dear."

"Ah, well; there isn't any thing to do, and it's too hot to get out.
I wonder Old Bates didn't come in for prayers."

"I don't think he cares much for prayers," said Mrs. Heathcote.

"But he likes an excuse for a nobbler as well as any one. Did I tell
you that they had fires over at Jackson's yesterday--at Goolaroo?"

"Was there any harm done?"

"A deal of grass burned, and they had to drive the sheep, which won't
serve them this kind of weather. I don't know which I fear most--the
grass, the fences, or the sheep. As for the buildings, I don't think
they'll try that again."

"Why not, Harry?"

"The risk of being seen is too great. I can hardly understand that a
man like Nokes should have been such a fool as he was."

"You think it was Nokes?"

"Oh yes, certainly. In the first place, Jacko is as true as steel. I
don't mean to swear by the boy, though I think he is a good boy. But
I'm sure he's true in this. And then the man's manner to myself was
conclusive. I can not understand a man in Medlicot's position
supporting a fellow like that. By Heavens! it nearly drives me mad to
think of it. Thousands and thousands of pounds are at stake. All that
a man has in the world is exposed to the malice of a scoundrel like
Nokes! And then a man who calls himself a gentleman will talk about
it being un-English to look after him. He's a 'new chum;' I suppose
that's his excuse."

"If it's a sufficient excuse, you should excuse him," said Kate, with
good feminine logic.

"That's just like you all over. He's good-looking, and therefore it's
all right. He ought to have learned better. He ought, at any rate, to
believe that men who have been here much longer than he has must know
the ways of the country a great deal better."

"It's Christmas-time, Harry," said his wife, "and you should endeavor
to forgive your neighbors."

"What sort of a Christmas will it be if you and I, and these young
fellows here, and Kate, are all burned out of Gangoil? Here's Bates.-
-Well, Mr. Bates, how goes it?

"Tremendous hot, Sir."

"We've found that out already. You haven't heard where that fellow
Boscobel has gone?"

"No; I haven't heard. But he'll be over with some of those Brownbie
lads. They say Georgie Brownbie's about the country somewhere. If so,
there'll be a row among 'em."

"When thieves fall out, Mr. Bates, honest men come by their own."

"So they say, Mr. Heathcote. All the same, I shouldn't care how far
Georgie was away from any place I had to do with." Then the young
master and his old superintendent sauntered out to his back premises
to talk about sheep and fires, and plans for putting out fires. And
no doubt Mr. Bates had the glass of brandy-and-water which he had
come to regard as one of his Sunday luxuries. From the back premises
they went down to the creek to gauge the water. Then they sauntered
on, keeping always in the shade, sitting down here to smoke, and
standing up there to discuss the pedigree of some particular ram,
till it was past six.

"You may as well come in and dine with us, Mr. Bates," Harry
suggested, as they returned toward the station.

Mr. Bates said that he thought that he would. As the same invitation
was given on almost every Sunday throughout the year, and was
invariably answered in the same way, there was not much excitement in
this. But Mr. Bates would not have dreamed of going in to dinner
without being asked.

"That's Medlicot's trap," said Mr. Bates, as they entered the yard.
"I heard wheels when they were in the horse paddock."

Harry looked at the trap, and then went quickly into the house.

He walked with a rapid step onto the veranda, and there he found the
sugar grower and his mother. Mrs. Heathcote looked at her husband
almost timidly. She knew from the very sound of his feet that he was
perturbed in spirit. Under his own roof-tree he would certainly be
courteous; but there is a constrained courtesy very hard to be borne,
of which she knew him to be capable. He first went up to the old
lady, and to her his greeting was pleasant enough. Harry Heathcote,
though he had assumed the bush mode of dressing, still retained the
manners of a high-bred gentleman in his intercourse with women. Then,
turning sharply round, he gave his hand to Mr. Medlicot.

"I am glad to see you at Gangoil," he said; "I was not fortunate
enough to be at home when you called the other day. Mrs. Medlicot
must have found the drive very hot, I fear."

His wife was still looking into his face, and was reading there, as
in a book, the mingled pride and disdain with which her husband
exercising civility to his enemy. Harry's countenance wore a look not
difficult of perusal, and Medlicot could read the lines almost as
distinctly as Harry's wife.

"I have asked Mrs. Medlicot to stay and dine with us," she said, "so
that she may have it cool for the drive back."

"I am almost afraid of the bush at night," said the old woman.

"You'll have a full moon," said Harry; "it will be as light as day."
So that was settled. Heathcote thought it odd that the man whom he
regarded as his enemy, whom he had left at their last meeting in
positive hostility, should consent to accept a dinner under his roof;
but that was Medlicot's affair, not his.

They dined at seven, and after dinner strolled out into the horse
paddock, and down to the creek. As they started, the three men went
first, and the ladies followed them; but Bates soon dropped behind.
It was his rest day, and he had already moved quite as much as was
usual with him on a Sunday.

"I think I was a little hard with you the other day," said Medlicot,
when they were alone together.

"I suppose we hardly understand each other's ideas," said Harry. He
spoke with a constrained voice, and with an almost savage manner,
engendered by a determination to hold his own. He would forgive any
offense for which an apology was made, but no apology had been made
as yet; and, to tell the truth, he was a little afraid that if they
got into an argument on the matter Medlicot would have the best of
it. And there was, too, almost a claim to superiority in Medlicot's
use of the word "hard." When one man says that he has been hard to
another, he almost boasts that, on that occasion, he got the better
of him.

"That's just it," said Medlicot; "we do not quite understand each
other. But we might believe in each other all the same, and then the
understanding would come. But it isn't just that which I want to say;
such talking rarely does any good."

"What is it, then?"

"You may perhaps be right about that man Nokes."

"No doubt I may. I know I'm right. When I asked him whether he'd been
at my shed, what made him say that he hadn't been there at night-
time? I said nothing about night-time. But the man was there at
night-time, or he wouldn't have used the word."

"I'm not sure that that is evidence."

"Perhaps not in England, Mr. Medlicot, but it's good enough evidence
for the bush. And what made him pretend he didn't know the distances?
And why can't he look a man in the face? And why should the boy have
said it was he if it wasn't? Of course, if you think well of him
you're right to keep him. But you may take it as a rule out here that
when a man has been dismissed it hasn't been done for nothing. Men
treated that way should travel out of the country. It's better for
all parties. It isn't here as it is at home, where people live so
thick together that nothing is thought of a man being dismissed. I
was obliged to discharge him, and now he's my enemy."

"A man may be your enemy without being a felon."

"Of course he may. I'm his enemy in a way, but I wouldn't hurt a hair
of his head unjustly. When I see the attempts made to burn me out, of
course I know that an enemy has been at work."

"Is there no one else has got a grudge against you?"

Harry was silent for a moment. What right had this man to cross-
examine him about his enmities--the man whose own position in the
place had been one of hostility to him, whom he had almost suspected
of harboring Nokes at the mill simply because Nokes had been
dismissed from Gangoil? That suspicion was, indeed, fading away.
There was something in Medlicot's voice and manner which made it
impossible to attribute such motives to him. Nevertheless the man was
a free-selector, and had taken a bit of the Gangoil run after a
fashion which to Heathcote was objectionable politically, morally,
and socially. Let Medlicot in regard to character be what he might,
he was a free-selector, and a squatter's enemy, and had clinched his
hostility by employing a servant dismissed from the very run out of
which he had bought his land. "It is hard to say," he replied at
length, "who have grudges, as against whom, or why. I suppose I have
a great grudge against you, if the truth is to be known; but I
sha'n't burn down your mill."

"I'm sure you won't."

"Nor yet say worse of you behind your back than I will to your face."

"I don't want you to think that you have occasion to speak ill of me,
either one way or the other. What I mean is this--I don't quite think
that the evidence against Nokes is strong enough to justify me in
sending him away; but I'll keep an eye on him as well as I can. It
seems that he left our place early this morning; but the men are not
supposed to be there on Sundays, and of course he does as he pleases
with himself."

The conversation then dropped, and in a little time Harry made some
excuse for leaving them, and returned to the house alone, promising,
however, that he would not start for his night's ride till after the
party had come back to the station. "There is no hurry at all," he
said; "I shan't stir for two hours yet, but Mickey will be waiting
there for stores for himself and the German."

"That means a nobbler for Mickey," said Kate. "Either of those men
would think it a treat to ride ten miles in and ten miles back, with
a horse-load of sugar and tea and flour, for the sake of a glass of
brandy-and-water."

"And so would you," said Harry, "if you lived in a hut by yourself
for a fortnight, with nothing to drink but tea without milk."

The old lady and Mrs. Heathcote were soon seated on the grass, while
Medlicot and Kate Daly roamed on together. Kate was a pretty, modest
girl, timid withal and shy, unused to society, and therefore awkward,
but with the natural instincts and aptitudes of her sex. What the
glass of brandy-and-water was to Mickey O'Dowd after a fortnight's
solitude in a bush hut, with tea, dampers, and lumps of mutton, a
young man in the guise of a gentleman was to poor Kate Daly. A
brother-in-law, let him be ever so good, is after all no better than
tea without milk. No doubt Mickey O'Dowd often thought about a
nobbler in his thirsty solitude, and so did Kate speculate on what
might possibly be the attractions of a lover. Medlicot probably
indulged in no such speculations; but the nobbler, when brought close
to his lips, was grateful to him as to others. That Kate Daly was
very pretty no man could doubt.

"Isn't it sad that he should have to ride about all night like that?"
said Kate, to whom, as was proper, Harry Heathcote at the present
moment was of more importance than any other human being.

"I suppose he likes it."

"Oh no, Mr. Medlicot; how can he like it? It is not the hard work he
minds, but the constant dread of coming evil."

"The excitement keeps him alive."

"There's plenty on a station to keep a man alive in that way at all
times."

"And plenty to keep ladies alive too?"

"Oh, ladies! I don't know that ladies have any business in the bush.
Harry's trouble is all about my sister and the children and me. He
wouldn't care a straw for himself."

"Do you think he'd be better without a wife?"

Kate hesitated for a moment. "Well, no. I suppose it would be very
rough without Mary; and he'd be so lonely when he came in."

"And nobody to make his tea."

"Or to look after his things," said Kate, earnestly. "I know it was
very rough before we came here. He says that himself. There were no
regular meals, but just food in a cupboard when he chose to get it."

"That is not comfortable, certainly."

"Horrid, I should think. I suppose it is better for him to be
married. You've got your mother, Mr. Medlicot."

"Yes: I've got my mother."

"That makes a difference, does it not?"

"A very great difference. She'll save me from having to go to a
cupboard for my bread and meat."

"I suppose having a woman about is better for a man. They haven't got
any thing else to do, and therefore they can look to things."

"Do you help to look to things?"

"I suppose I do something. I often feel ashamed to think how very
little it is. As for that, I'm not wanted at all."

"So that you're free to go elsewhere?"

"I didn't mean that, Mr. Medlicot; only I know I'm not of much use."

"But if you had a house of your own?"

"Gangoil is my home just as much as it is Mary's; and I sometimes
feel that Harry is just as good to me as he is to Mary."

"Your sister will never leave Gangoil."

"Not unless Harry gets another station."

"But you will have to be transplanted some day."

Kate merely chucked up her head and pouted her lips, as though to
show that the proposition was one which did not deserve an answer.

"You'll marry a squatter, of course, Miss Daly?"

"I don't suppose I shall ever marry any body, Mr. Medlicot."

"You wouldn't marry any one but a squatter? I can quite understand
that. The squatters here are what the lords and the country
gentlement are at home."

"I can't even picture to myself what sort of life people live at
home." Both Medlicot and Kate Daly meant England when they spoke of
home.

"There isn't so much difference as people think. Classes hang
together just in the same way; only I think there's a little more
exclusiveness here than there was there."

In answer to this, Kate asserted with innocent eagerness that she was
not at all exclusive, and that if ever she married any one she'd
marry the man she liked.

"I wish you'd like me," said Medlicot.

"That's nonsense," said Kate, in a low, timid whisper, hurrying away
to rejoin the other ladies. She could speculate on the delights of
the beverage as would Mickey O'Dowd in his hut; but when it was first
brought to her lips she could only fly away from it. In this respect
Mickey O'Dowd was the more sensible of the two. No other word was
spoken that night between them, but Kate lay awake till morning
thinking of the one word that had been spoken. But the secret was
kept sacredly within her own bosom.

Before the Medlicots started that night the old lady made a
proposition that the Heathcotes and Miss Daly should eat the
Christmas dinner at Medlicot's Mill. Mrs. Heathcote, thinking perhaps
of her sister, thoroughly liking what she herself had seen of the
Medlicots, looked anxiously into Harry's face. If he would consent to
this, an intimacy would follow, and probably a real friendship be
made.

"It's out of the question," he said. The very firmness, however, with
which he spoke gave a certain cordiality even to his refusal. "I must
be at home, so that the men may know where to find me till I go out
for the night." Then, after a pause, he continued, "As we can't go to
you, why should you not come to us?"

So it was at last decided, much to Harry's own astonishment, much to
his wife's delight. Kate, therefore, when she lay awake, thinking of
the one word that had been spoken, knew that there would be an
opportunity for another word.

Medlicot drove his mother home safely, and, after he had taken her
into the house, encountered Nokes on his return from Boolabong, as
has been told at the close of the last chapter.




CHAPTER VIII.

"I DO WISH HE WOULD COME!"


On the Monday morning Harry came home as usual, and, as usual, went
to bed after his breakfast. "I wouldn't care about the heat if it
were not for the wind," he said to his wife, as he threw himself
down.

"The wind carries it so, I suppose."

"Yes; and it comes from just the wrong side--from the northwest.
There have been half a dozen fires about to-day."

"During the night, you mean."

"No; yesterday--Sunday. I can not make out whether they come by
themselves. They certainly are not all made by incendiaries."

"Accidents, perhaps."

"Well, yes. Somebody drops a match, and the sun ignites it. But the
chances are much against a fire like that spreading. Care is wanted
to make it spread. As far as I can learn, the worst fires have not
been just after midday, when, of course, the heat is greater, but in
the early night, before the dews have come. All the same, I feel that
I know nothing about it--nothing at all. Don't let me sleep long."

In spite of this injunction, Mrs. Heathcote determined that he should
sleep all day if he would. Even the nights were fearfully hot and
sultry, and on this Monday morning he had come home much fatigued. He
would be out again at sunset, and now he should have what rest nature
would allow him. But in this resolve she was opposed by Jacko, who
came in at eleven, and requested to see the master. Jacko had been
over with the German; and, as he explained to Mrs. Heathcote, they
two had been in and out, sometimes sleeping and sometimes watching.
But now he wanted to see the master, and under no persuasion would
impart his information to the mistress. The poor wife, anxious as she
was that her husband should sleep, did not dare in these perilous
times to ignore Jacko and his information, and therefore gently woke
the sleeper. In a few minutes Jacko was standing by the young
squatter's bedside, and Harry Heathcote, quite awake, was sitting up
and listening. "George Brownbie's at Boolabong." That at first was
the gravamen of Jacko's news.

"I know that already, Jacko."

"My word!" exclaimed Jacko. In those parts Georgie Brownbie was
regarded almost as the Evil One himself, and Jacko, knowing what
mischief was, as it were, in the word, thought that he was entitled
to bread and jam, if not to a nobbler itself, in bringing such
tidings to Gangoil.

"Is that all?" asked Heathcote.

"And Bos is at Boolabong, and Bill Nokes was there all Sunday, and
Jerry Brownbie's been out with Bos and Georgie."

"The old man wouldn't say any thing of that kind, Jacko."

"The old man! He knows nothing about it. My word! they don't tell him
about nothing."

"Or Tom?"

"Tom's away in prison. They always cotches the best when they want to
send 'em to prison. If they'd lock up Jerry and Georgie and Jack! My
word! yes."

"You think they're arranging it all at Boolabong?"

"In course they are."

"I don't see why Boscobel shouldn't be at Boolabong without intending
me any harm. Of course he'd go there when he left Gangoil. That's
where they all go."

"And Bill Nokes, Mr. Harry?"

"And Bill Nokes too. Though why he should travel so far from his work
this weather I can't say."

"My word! no, Mr. Harry."

"Did you see any fires about your way last night?"

Jacko shook his head.

"You go into the kitchen and get something to eat, and wait for me. I
shall be out before long now."

Though Heathcote had made light of the assemblage of evil spirits at
Boolabong which had seemed so important to Jacko, he by no means did
regard the news as unessential. Of Nokes's villany he was convinced.
Of Boscobel he had imprudently made a second enemy at a most
inauspicious time. Georgie Brownbie had long been his bitter foe. He
had prosecuted and, perhaps, persecuted Georgie for various offenses;
but as Georgie was supposed to be as much at war with his own
brethren as with the rest of the world at large, Heathcote had not
thought much of that miscreant in the present emergency. But if the
miscreant were in truth at Boolabong, and if evil things were being
plotted against Gangoil, Georgie would certainly be among the
conspirators.

Soon after noon Harry was on horseback and Jacko was at his heels.
The heat was more intense than ever. Mrs. Heathcote had twisted round
Harry's hat a long white scarf, called a puggeree, though we are by
no means sure of our spelling. Jacko had spread a very dirty fragment
of an old white handkerchief on his head, and wore his hat over it.
Mrs. Heathcote had begged Harry to take a large cotton parasol, and
he had nearly consented, being unable at last to reconcile himself to
the idea of riding with such an accoutrement even in the bush. "The
heat's a bore," he said, "but I'm not a bit afraid of it as long as I
keep moving. Yes, I'll be back to dinner, though I won't say when,
and I won't say for how long. It will be the same thing all day to-
morrow. I wish with all my heart those people were not coming."

He rode straight away to the German's hut, which was on the
northwestern extremity of his further paddock in that direction. From
thence the western fence ran in a southerly direction, nearly
straight to the river. Beyond the fence was a strip of land, in some
parts over a mile broad, in others not much over a quarter of a mile,
which he claimed as belonging to Gangoil, but over which the
Brownbies had driven their cattle since the fence had been made,
under the pretense that the fence marked the boundary of two runs.
Against this assumption Heathcote had remonstrated frequently, had
driven the cattle back, and had exercised the ownership of a Crown
tenant in such fashion as the nature of his occupation allowed.
Beyond this strip was Boolabong; the house at Boolabong being not
above three miles distant from the fence, and not above four miles
from the German's hut. So that the Brownbies were in truth much
nearer neighbors to the German than was Heathcote and his family. But
between the German and the Brownbies there raged an internecine feud.
No doubt Harry Heathcote, in his heart, liked the German all the
better on this account; but it behooved him both as a master and a
magistrate to regard reports against Boolabong coming from the German
with something of suspicion. Now Jacko had been introduced to Gangoil
under German auspices, and had soon come to a decision that it would
be a good thing and a just to lock up all the Brownbies in the great
jail of the colony at Brisbane. He probably knew nothing of law or
justice in the abstract, but he greatly valued law when exercised
against those he hated. The western fence of which mention has been
made ran down to the Mary River, hitting it about four miles west of
Medlicot's Mill; so that there was a considerable portion of the
Gangoil run having a frontage to the water. As has been before said,
Medlicot's plantation was about fourteen miles distant from the house
at Boolabong, and the distance from the Gangoil house to that of the
Brownbies was about the same.

The oppressiveness of the day was owing more to the hot wind than to
the sun itself. This wind, coming from the arid plains of the
interior, brought with it a dry, suffocating heat. On this occasion
it was odious to Harry Heathcote, not so much on account of its own
intrinsic abominations, as because it might cause a fire to sweep
across his run from its western boundary. Just beyond the boundary
there lay Boolabong, and there were collected his enemies. A fire
that should have passed for a mile or so across the pastures outside
and beyond his own farm would be altogether unextinguishable by the
time that it had reached his paddock. The Brownbies, as he knew well,
would care nothing for burning a patch of their own grass. Their
stock, if they had any at the present moment, were much too few in
number to be affected by such a loss. The Brownbies had not a yard of
fencing to be burned; and a fire, if once it got a hold on the edge
of their run, would pass on away from them, right across Harry's
pastures and Harry's fences. If such were the case, he would have
quite enough to do to drive his sheep from the fire, and it might be
that many of them also would perish in the flames. The catastrophe
might even be so bad, so frightful, that the shed and station and all
should go; though, in thinking of all the fires of which he had
heard, he could remember none that had spread with fatality such as
that.

He found Karl Bender in his hut asleep. The man was soon up,
apologizing for his somnolence, and preparing tea for his master's
entertainment. "It is not Christmas like at home at all; is it, Mr.
'Eathcote? Dear, no! Them red divils is there ready to give us a
Christmas roasting." Then he told how he had boldly ridden up to
Boolabong that morning, and had seen Georgie and Boscobel with his
own eyes. When asked what they had said to him, he replied that he
did not wait till any thing had been said, but had hurried away as
fast as his horse could carry him.

"I'll go up to Boolabong myself," said Harry.

"My word! They'll just about knock your head off," suggested Jacko.

Karl Bender also thought that the making of such a visit would be a
source of danger. But Heathcote explained that any personal attack
was not to be apprehended from these men. "That's not their game," he
said, arguing that men who premeditated a secret outrage would not
probably be tempted into personal violence. The horror of the
position lay in this--that though a fire should rise up almost under
the feet of men who were known to be hostile to him, and whose
characters were acknowledged to be bad, still would there be no
evidence against them. It was known to all men that, at periods of
heat such as that which was now raging, fires were common. Every day
the pastures were in flames, here, there, and every where. It was
said, indeed, that there existed no evidence of fires in the bush
till men had come with their flocks. But then there had been no
smoking, no boiling of pots, no camping out, till men had come, and
no matches. Every one around might be sure that some particular fire
had been the work of an incendiary, might be able to name the culprit
who had done the deed; and yet no jury could convict the miscreant.
Watchfulness was the best security, watchfulness day and night till
rain should come; and Heathcote calculated that it would be better
for him that his enemies should know that he was watchful. He would
go up among them and show them that he was not ashamed to speak to
them of his anxiety. They could hear nothing by his coming which they
did not already know. They were well aware that he was on the watch,
and it might be well that they should know also how close his watch
was kept. He took the German and Jacko with him, but left them with
their horses about a mile on the Boolabong side of his own fence,
nigh to the extreme boundary of the Debatable Land. They knew his
whistle, and were to ride to him at once should he call them.

He had left the house about noon, saying that he would be home to
dinner--which, however, on such occasions, was held to be a feast
movable over a wide space of time. But on this occasion the women
expected him to come early, as it was his intention to be out again
as soon as it should be dark. Mrs. Growler was asked to have the
dinner ready at six. During the day Mrs. Heathcote was backward and
forward in the kitchen. Then was something wrong she knew, but could
not quite discern the evil. Sing Sing, the cook, was more than
ordinarily alert; but Sing Sing, the cook, was not much trusted. Mrs.
Growler was "as good as the Bank," as far as that went, having lived
with old Mr. Daly when he was prosperous; but she was apt to be
downhearted, and on the present occasion was more than usually low in
spirits. Whenever Mrs. Heathcote spoke, she wept. At six o'clock she
came into the parlor with a budget of news. Sing Sing, the cook, had
been gone for the last half hour, leaving the leg of mutton at the
fire. It soon became clear to them that he had altogether absconded.

"Them rats always does leave a falling house," said Mrs. Growler.

At seven o'clock the sun was down, though the gloom of the tropical
evening had not yet come. The two ladies went out to the gate, which
was but a few yards from the veranda, and there stood listening for
the sound of Harry's horse. The low moaning of the wind through the
trees could be heard, but it was so gentle, continuous, and unaltered
that it seemed to be no more than a vehicle for other sounds, and was
as death-like as silence itself. The gate of the horse paddock
through which Heathcote must pass on his way home was nearly a mile
distant; but the road there was hard, and they knew that they could
hear from there the fall of his horse's feet. There they stood from
seven to nearly eight, whispering a word now and then to each other,
listening always, but in vain. Looking away to the west every now and
then, they fancied that they could see the sky glow with flames, and
then they would tell each other that it was fancy. The evening grew
darker and still darker, but no sound was heard through the moaning
wind. From time to time Mrs. Growler came out to them, declaring her
fears in no measured terms. "Well, marm, I do declare I think we'd
better go away out of this."

"Go away, Mrs. Growler! What nonsense! Where can we go to?"

"The mill would be nearest, ma'am, and we should be safe there. I'm
sure Mrs. Medlicot would take us in."

"Why should you not be safe here?" said Kate.

"That wretched Chinese hasn't gone and left us for nothing, miss, and
what would we three lone women do here if all them Brownbies came
down upon us? Why don't master come back? He ought to come back;
oughtn't he, ma'am? He never do think what lone women are."

Mrs. Heathcote took her husband's part very strongly, and gave Mrs.
Growler as hard a scolding as she knew how to pronounce. But her own
courage was giving way much as Mrs. Growler's had done. "We are bound
to stay here," she said; "and if the worst comes, we must bear it as
others have done before us." Then Mrs. Growler was very sulky, and,
retreating to the kitchen, sobbed there in solitude. "Oh, Kate, I do
wish he would come," said the elder sister.

"Are you afraid?"

"It is so desolate, and he may be so far off, and we couldn't get to
him if any thing happened, and we shouldn't know."

Then they were again silent, and remained without exchanging more
than a word or two for nearly half an hour. They took hold of each
other, and every now and then went to the kitchen door that the old
woman might be comforted by their presence, but they had no
consolation to offer each other. The silence of the bush, and the
feeling of great distances, and the dread of calamity almost crushed
them. At last there was a distant sound of horse's feet. "I hear
him," said Mrs. Heathcote, rushing forward toward the outer gate of
the horse paddock, followed by her sister.

Her ears were true, but she was doomed to disappointment. The
horseman was only a messenger from her husband--Mickey O'Dowd, the
Irish boundary rider.

He had great tidings to tell, and was so long telling them that we
will not attempt to give them in his own words. The purport of his
story was as follows: Harry had been to Boolabong House, but had
found there no one but the old man. Returning home thence toward his
own fence, he had smelled the smoke of fire, and had found within a
furlong of his path a long ridge of burning grass. According to
Mickey's account, it could not have been lighted above a few minutes
before Heathcote's presence on the spot. As it was, it had got too
much ahead for him to put it out single-handed; a few yards he might
have managed, but--so Mickey said, probably exaggerating the matter--
there was half a quarter of a mile of flame. He had therefore ridden
on before the fire, had called his own two men to him, and had at
once lighted the grass himself some two hundred yards in front,
making a second fire, but so keeping it down that it should be always
under control. Before the hinder flames had caught him, Bender and
Jacko had been with him, and they had thus managed to consume the
fuel which, had it remained there, would have fed the fire which was
too strong to be mastered. By watching the extremities of the line of
fire, they overpowered it, and so the damage was for the moment at an
end.

The method of dealing with the enemy was so well known in the bush,
and had been so often canvassed in the hearing of the two sisters,
that it was clearly intelligible to them. The evil had been met in
the proper way, and the remedy had been effective. But why did not
Harry come home?

Mickey O'Dowd, after his fashion, explained that too. The ladies were
not to wait dinner. The master felt himself obliged to remain out at
night, and had gotten food at the German's hut. He, Mickey, was
commissioned to return with a flask full of brandy, as it would be
necessary that Harry, with all the men whom he could trust, should be
"on the rampage" all night. This small body was to consist of Harry
himself, of the German, of Jacko, and, according to the story as at
present told, especially of Mickey O'Dowd. Much as she would have
wished to have kept the man at the station for protection, she did
not think of disobeying her husband's orders. So Mickey was fed, and
then sent back with the flask--with tidings also as to the desertion
of that wretched cook, Sing Sing.

"I shall sit here all night," said Mrs. Heathcote to her sister. "As
things are, I shall not think of going to bed."

Kate declared that she would also sit in the veranda all night; and,
as a matter of course, they were joined by Mrs. Growler. They had
been so seated about an hour when Kate Daly declared that the heavens
were on fire. The two young women jumped up, flew to the gate, and
found that the whole western horizon was lurid with a dark red light.




CHAPTER IX.

THE BUSH FIGHT.


Harry Heathcote had on this occasion entertained no doubt whatever
that the fire had been intentional and premeditated. A lighted torch
must have been dragged along the grass, so as to ignite a line many
yards long all at the same time. He had been luckily near enough to
the spot to see almost the commencement of the burning, and was
therefore aware of its form and circumstances. He almost wondered
that he had not seen the figure of the man who had drawn the torch,
or at any rate heard his steps. Pursuit would have been out of the
question, as his work was wanted at the moment to extinguish the
flames. The miscreant probably had remembered this, and had known
that he might escape stealthily without the noise of a rapid retreat.

When the work was over, when he had put out the fire he had himself
lighted, and had exterminated the lingering remnants of that which
had been intended to destroy him, he stood still a while almost in
despair. His condition seemed to be hopeless. What could he do
against such a band of enemies, knowing as he did that, had he been
backed even by a score of trusty followers, one foe might still
suffice to ruin him? At the present moment he was very hot with the
work he had done, as were also Jacko and the German. O'Dowd had also
come up as they were completing their work. Their mode of
extinguishing the flames had been to beat them down with branches of
gum-tree loaded with leaves. By sweeping these along the burning
ground the low flames would be scattered and expelled. But the work
was very hard and hot. The boughs they used were heavy, and the air
around them, sultry enough from its own properties, was made almost
unbearable by the added heat of the fires.

The work had been so far done, but it might be begun again at any
moment, either near or at a distance. No doubt the attempt would be
made elsewhere along the boundary between Gangoil and Boolabong--was
very probably being made at this moment. The two men whom he could
trust and Jacko were now with him. They were wiping their brows with
their arms and panting with their work.

He first resolved on sending Mickey O'Dowd to the house. The distance
was great, and the man's assistance might be essential. But he could
not bear to leave his wife without news from him. Then, after
considering a while, he made up his mind to go back toward his own
fence, making his way as he went southerly down toward the river.
They who were determined to injure him would, he thought, repeat
their attempt in that direction. He hardly said a word to his two
followers, but rode at a foot-pace to the spot at his fence which he
had selected as the site of his bivouac for the night.

"It won't be very cheery, Bender," he said to the German; "but we
shall have to make a night of it till they disturb us again."

The German made a motion with his arms intended to signify his utter
indifference. One place was the same as another to him. Jacko uttered
his usual ejaculation, and then, having hitched his horse to the
fence, threw himself on his back upon the grass.

No doubt they all slept, but they slept as watchers sleep, with one
eye open. It was Harry who first saw the light which a few minutes
later made itself visible to the ladies at the home station. "Karl,"
he exclaimed, jumping up, "they're at it again--look there."

In less than half a minute, and without speaking another word, they
were all on their horses and riding in the direction of the light. It
came from a part of the Boolabong run somewhat nearer to the river
than the place at which they had stationed themselves, where the
strip of ground between Harry's fence and the acknowledged boundary
of Brownbie's run was the narrowest. As they approached the fire,
they became aware that it had been lighted on Boolabong. On this
occasion Harry did not ride on up to the flames, knowing that the use
or loss of a few minutes might save or destroy his property. He
hardly spoke a word as he proceeded on his business, feeling that
they upon whom he had to depend were sufficiently instructed, if only
they would be sufficiently energetic.

"Keep it well under, but let it run," was all he said, as, lighting a
dried bush with a match, he ran the fire along the ground in front of
the coming flames.

A stranger seeing it all would have felt sure that the remedy would
have been as bad as the disease, for the fire which Harry himself
made every now and again seemed to get the better of those who were
endeavoring to control it. There might perhaps be a quarter of a mile
between the front of the advancing fire and the line at which Harry
had commenced to destroy the food which would have fed the coming
flames. He himself, as quickly as he lighted the grass, which in
itself was the work but of a moment, would strain himself to the
utmost at the much harder task of controlling his own fire, so that
it should not run away from him, and get, as it were, out of his
hands, and be as bad to him as that which he was thus seeking to
circumvent. The German and Jacko worked like heroes, probably with
intense enjoyment of the excitement, and, after a while, found a
fourth figure among the flames, for Mickey had now returned.

"You saw them," Harry said, panting with his work.

"They's all right," said Mickey, flopping away with a great bough;
"but that tarnation Chinese has gone off."

"My word! Sing Sing. Find him at Boolabong," said Jacko.

The German, whose gum-tree bough was a very big one, and whose every
thought was intent on letting the fire run while he still held it in
hand, had not breath for a syllable.

But the back fire was extending itself, so as to get round them.
Every now and then Harry extended his own line, moving always forward
toward Gangoil as he did so, though he and his men were always on
Brownbie's territory. He had no doubt but that where he could succeed
in destroying the grass for a breadth of forty or fifty yards he
would starve out the inimical flames. The trees and bushes without
the herbage would not enable it to travel a yard. Wherever the grass
was burned down black to the soil, the fire would stop. But should
they, who were at work, once allow themselves to be outflanked, their
exertions would be all in vain. And then those wretches might light a
dozen fires. The work was so hard, so hot, and often so hopeless,
that the unhappy young squatter was more than once tempted to bid his
men desist and to return to his homestead. The flames would not
follow him there. He could, at any rate, make that safe. And then,
when he had repudiated this feeling as unworthy of him, he began to
consider within himself whether he would not do better for his
property by taking his men with him on to his run, and endeavoring to
drive his sheep out of danger. But as he thought of all this, he
still worked, still fired the grass, and still controlled the flames.
Presently he became aware of what seemed to him at first to be a
third fire. Through the trees, in the direction of the river, he
could see the glimmering of low flames and the figures of men. But it
was soon apparent to him that these men were working in his cause,
and that they, too, were burning the grass that would have fed the
advancing flames. At first he could not spare the minute which would
be necessary to find out who was his friend, but, as they drew
nearer, he knew the man. It was the sugar planter from the mill and
with him his foreman.

"We've been doing our best," said Medlicot, "but we've been terribly
afraid that the fire would slip away from us."

"It's the only thing," said Harry, too much excited at the moment to
ask questions as to the cause of Medlicot's presence so far from his
home at that time of the evening. "It's getting round us, I'm afraid,
all the same."

"I don't know but it is. It's almost impossible to distinguish. How
hot the fire makes it!"

"Hot, indeed!" said Harry. "It's killing work for men, and then all
for no good! To think that men, creatures that call themselves men,
should do such a thing as this! It breaks one's heart." He had paused
as he spoke, leaning on the great battered bough which he held, but
in an instant was at work with it again. "Do you stay here, Mr.
Medlicot, with the men, and I'll go on beyond where you began. If I
find the fire growing down, I'll shout, and they can come to me." So
saying, he rushed on with a lighted bush torch in his band.

Suddenly he found himself confronted in the bush by a man on
horseback, whom he at once recognized as Georgie Brownbie. He forgot
for a moment where he was. and began to question the reprobate as to
his presence at that spot.

"That's like your impudence," said Georgie. "You're not only
trespassing, but you're destroying our property willfully, and you
ask me what business I have here. You're a nice sort of young man."

Harry, checked for a moment by the remembrance that he was in truth
upon Boolabong run, did not at once answer.

"Put that bush down, and don't burn our grass," continued Georgie,
"or you shall have to answer for it. What right have you to fire our
grass?"

"Who fired it first?"

"It lighted itself. That's no rule why you should light it more. You
give over, or I punch your head for you."

Harry's men and Medlicot were advancing toward him, trampling out
their own embers as they came; and Georgie Brownbie, who was alone,
when he saw that there were four or five men against him, turned
round and rode back.

"Did you ever see impudence like that?" said Harry. "He's probably
the very man who set the match, and yet he comes and brazens it out
with me."

"I don't think he's the man who set the match," said Medlicot,
quietly; "at any rate there was another."

"Who was it?"

"My man, Nokes. I saw him with the torch in his hand."

"Heaven and earth!"

"Yes, Mr. Heathcote. I saw him put it down. You were about right, you
see, and I was about wrong."

Harry had not a word to say, unless it were tell the man that he
loved him for the frankness of his confession. But the moment was
hardly auspicious for such a declaration. There was no excuse for
them to pause in their work, for the fire was still crackling at
their back, and they did no more than pause.

"Ah!" said Harry, "there it goes; we shall be done at last." For he
saw that he was being outflanked by the advancing flames. But still
they worked, drawing lines of fire here and there, and still they
hoped that there might be ground for hope. Nokes had been seen; but,
pregnant as the theme might be with words, it was almost impossible
to talk. Questions could not be asked and answered without stopping
in their toil. There were questions which Harry longed to ask. Could
Medlicot swear to the man? Did the man know that he had been seen? If
he knew that he had been watched while he lit the grass, he would
soon be far away from Medlicot's Mill and Gangoil. Harry felt that it
would be a consolation to him in his trouble if he could get hold of
this man, and keep him, and prosecute him--and have him hung. Even in
the tumult of the moment he was able to reflect about it, and to
think that be remembered that the crime of arson was capital in the
colony of Queensland. He had endeavored to be good to the men with
whom he had dealings. He had not stinted their food, or cut them
short in their wages, or been hard in exacting work from them. And
this was his return! Ideas as to the excellence of absolute dominion
and power flitted across his brain--such power as Abraham, no doubt,
exercised. In Abraham's time the people were submissive, and the
world was happy. Harry Heathcote, at least, had never heard that it
was not happy. But as he thought of all this he worked away with his
bush and his matches, extinguishing the flames here and lighting them
there, striving to make a cordon of black bare ground between
Boolabong and Gangoil. Surely Abraham had never been called on to
work like this!

He and his men were in a line covering something above a quarter of a
mile of ground, of which line he was himself the nearest to the
river, and Medlicot and his foreman the farthest from it. The German
and O'Dowd were in the middle, and Jacko was working with his master.
If Harry had just cause for anger and sorrow in regard to Nokes and
Boscobel, he certainly had equal cause to be proud of the stanchness
of his remaining satellites. The men worked with a will, as though
the whole run had been the personal property of each of them. Nokes
and Boscobel would probably have done the same had the fires come
before they had quarreled with their master. It is a small and narrow
point that turns the rushing train to the right or to the left. The
rushing man is often turned off by a point as small and narrow.

"My word!" said Jacko, on a sudden, "here they are, all o'
horseback!" And as he spoke, there was the sound of half a dozen
horsemen galloping up to them through the bush. "Why, there's Bos,
his own self," said Jacko.

The two leading men were Joe and Jerry Brownbie, who, for this night
only, had composed their quarrels, and close to them was Boscobel.
There were others behind, also mounted--Jack Brownbie and Georgie,
and Nokes himself; but they, though their figures were seen, could
not be distinguished in the gloom of the night. Nor, indeed, did
Harry at first discern of how many the party consisted. It seemed
that there was a whole troop of horsemen, whose purpose it was to
interrupt him in his work, so that the flames should certainly go
ahead. And it was evident that the men thought that they could do so
without subjecting themselves to legal penalties. As far as Harry
Heathcote could see, they were correct in their view. He could have
no right to burn the grass on Boolabong. He had no claim even to be
there. It was true that he could plead that he was stopping the fire
which they had purposely made; but they could prove his handiwork,
whereas it would be almost impossible that he should prove theirs.

The whole forest was not red, but lurid, with the fires, and the air
was laden with both the smell and the heat of the conflagration. The
horsemen were dressed, as was Harry himself, in trowsers and shirts,
with old slouch hats, and each of them had a cudgel in his hand. As
they came galloping up through the trees they were as uncanny and
unwelcome a set of visitors as any man was ever called on to receive.
Harry necessarily stayed his work, and stood still to bear the brunt
of the coming attack; but Jacko went on with his employment faster
than ever, as though a troop of men in the dark were nothing to him.

Jerry Brownbie was the first to speak. "What's this you're up to,
Heathcote? Firing our grass? It's arson. You shall swing for this."

"I'll take my chance of that," said Harry, turning to his work again.

"No, I'm blessed if you do. Ride over him, Bos, while I stop these
other fellows."

The Brownbies had been aware that Harry's two boundary riders were
with him, but had not heard of the arrival of Medlicot and the other
man. Nokes was aware that some one on horseback had been near him
when he was firing the grass, but had thought that it was one of the
party from Gangoil. By the time that Jerry Brownbie had reached the
German, Medlicot was there also.

"Who the deuce are you?" asked Jerry.

"What business is that of yours?" said Medlicot.

"No business of mine, and you firing our grass! I'll let you know my
business pretty quickly."

"It's that fellow, Medlicot, from the sugar-mill," said Joe; "the man
that Nokes is with."

"I thought you was a horse of another color," continued Jerry, who
had been given to understand that Medlicot was Heathcote's enemy.
"Anyway, I won't have my grass fired. If God A'mighty chooses to send
fires, we can't help it. But I'm not going to have incendiaries here
as well. You're a new chum, and don't understand what you're about,
but you must stop this."

As Medlicot still went on putting out the fire, Jerry attempted to
ride him down. Medlicot caught the horse by the rein, and violently
backed the brute in among the embers. The animal plunged and reared,
getting his head loose, and at last came down, he and his rider
together. In the mean time Joe Brownbie, seeing this, rode up behind
the sugar planter, and struck him violently with his cudgel over the
shoulder. Medlicot sank nearly to the ground, but at once recovered
himself. He knew that some bone on the left side of his body was
broken; but he could still fight with his right hand, and he did
fight.

Boscobel and Georgie Brownbie both attempted to ride over Harry
together, and might have succeeded had not Jacko ingeniously inserted
the burning branch of gum-tree with which he had been working under
the belly of the horse on which Boscobel was riding. The animal
jumped immediately from the ground, bucking into the air, and
Boscobel was thrown far over his head. Georgie Brownbie then turned
upon Jacko, but Jacko was far too nimble to be caught, and escaped
among the trees.

For a few minutes the fight was general, but the footmen had the best
of it, in spite of the injury done to Medlicot. Jerry was bruised and
burned about the face by his fall among the ashes, and did not much
relish the work afterward. Boscobel was stunned for a few moments,
and was quite ready to retreat when he came to himself. Nokes during
the whole time did not show himself, alleging as a reason afterward
the presence of his employer Medlicot.

"I'm blessed if your cowardice sha'n't hang you," said Joe Brownbie
to him on their way home. "Do you think we're going to fight the
battles of a fellow like you, who hasn't pluck to come forward
himself?"

"I've as much pluck as you," answered Nokes, "and am ready to fight
you any day. But I know when a man is to come forward and when he's
not. Hang me! I'm not so near hanging as some folks at Boolabong." We
may imagine, therefore, that the night was not spent pleasantly among
the Brownbies after these adventures.

There were, of course, very much cursing and swearing, and very many
threats, before the party from Boolabong did retreat. Their great
point was, of coarse, this--that Heathcote was willfully firing the
grass, and was, therefore, no better than an incendiary. Of course
they stoutly denied that the original fire had been intentional, and
denied as stoutly that the original fire could be stopped by fires.
But at last they went, leaving Heathcote and his party masters of the
battle-field. Jerry was taken away in a sad condition; and, in
subsequent accounts of the transaction given from Boolabong, his fall
was put forward as the reason of their flight, he having been the
general on the occasion. And Boscobel had certainly lost all stomach
for immediate fighting. Immediately behind the battle-field they come
across Nokes, and Sing Sing, the runaway cook from Gangoil. The poor
Chinaman had made the mistake of joining the party which was not
successful.

But Harry, though the victory was with him, was hardly in a mood for
triumph. He soon found that Medlicot's collar-bone was broken, and it
would be necessary, therefore, that he should return with the wounded
man to the station. And the flames, as he feared, had altogether got
ahead of him during the fight. As far as they had gone, they had
stopped the fire, having made a black wilderness a mile and a half in
length, which, during the whole distance, ceased suddenly at the line
at which the subsidiary fire had been extinguished. But while the
attack was being made upon them the flames had crept on to the
southward, and had now got beyond their reach. It had seemed,
however, that the mass of fire which had got away from them was
small, and already the damp of the night was on the grass; and Harry
felt himself justified in hoping not that there might be no loss, but
that the loss might not be ruinous.

Medlicot consented to be taken back to Gangoil instead of to the
mill. Perhaps he thought that Kate Daly might be a better nurse than
his mother, or that the quiet of the sheep station might be better
for him than the clatter of his own mill-wheels. It was midnight, and
they had a ride of fourteen miles, which was hard enough upon a man
with a broken collarbone. The whole party also was thoroughly
fatigued. The work they had been doing was about as hard as could
fall to a man's lot, and they had now been many hours without food.
Before they started Mickey produced his flask, the contents of which
were divided equally among them all, including Jacko.

As they were preparing to start home Medlicot explained that it had
struck him by degrees that Heathcote might be right in regard to
Nokes, and that he had determined to watch the man himself whenever
he should leave the mill. On that Monday he had given up work
somewhat earlier than usual, saying that, as the following day was
Christmas, he should not come to the mill. From that time Medlicot
and his foreman had watched him.

"Yes," said he, in answer to a question from Heathcote, "I can swear
that I saw him with the lighted torch in his hand, and that he placed
it among the grass. There were two others from Boolabong with him,
and they must have seen him too."




CHAPTER X.

HARRY HEATHCOTE RETURNS IN TRIUMPH.


When the fight was quite over, and Heathcote's party had returned to
their horses, Medlicot for a few minutes was faint and sick, but he
revived after a while, and declared himself able to sit on his horse.
There was a difficulty in getting him up, but when there he made no
further complaint. "This," said he, as he settled himself in his
saddle, "is my first Christmas-day in Australia. I landed early in
January, and last year I was on my way home to fetch my mother."

"It's not much like an English Christmas," said Harry.

"Nor yet as in Hanover," said the German.

"It's Cork you should go to, or Galway, bedad, if you want to see
Christmas kep' after the ould fashion," said Mickey.

"I think we used to do it pretty well in Cumberland," said Medlicot.
"There are things which can't be transplanted. They may have roast
beef, and all that, but you should have cold weather to make you feel
that it is Christmas indeed."

"We do it as well as we can," Harry pleaded. "I've seen a great
pudding come into the room all afire--just to remind one of the old
country--when it has been so hot that one could hardly bear a shirt
on one's shoulders. But yet there's something in it. One likes to
think of the old place, though one is so far away. How do you feel
now? Does the jolting hurt you much? If your horse is rough, change
with me. This fellow goes as smooth as a lady." Medlicot declared
that the pain did not trouble him much. "They'd have ridden over us,
only for you," continued Harry.

"My word! wouldn't they?" said Jacko, who was very proud of his own
part in the battle. "I say, Mr. Medlicot, did you see Bos and his
horse part company? You did, Mr. Harry. Didn't he fly like a bird,
all in among the bushes! I owed Bos one; I did, my word! And now I've
paid him."

"I saw it," said Harry. "He was riding at me as hard as he could
come. I can't understand Boscobel. Nokes is a sly, bad, slinking
follow, whom I never liked. But I was always good to Bos; and when he
cheated me, as he did, about his time, I never even threatened to
stop his money."

"You told him of it too plain," said the German.

"I did tell him--of course--as I should you. It has come to that now,
that if a man robs you--your own man--you are not to dare to tell him
of it! What would you think of me, Karl, if I were to find you out,
and was to be afraid of speaking to you, lest you should turn against
me and burn my fences?" Karl Bender shrugged his shoulders, holding
his reins up to his eyes. "I know what you ought to think! And I wish
that every man about Gangoil should be sure that I will always say
what I think right. I don't know that I ever was hard upon any man. I
try not to be."

"Thrue for you, Mr. Harry," said the Irishman.

"I'm not going to pick my words because men like Nokes and Boscobel
have the power of injuring me. I'm not going to truckle to rascals
because I'm afraid of them. I'd sooner be burned out of house and
home, and go and work on the wharves in Brisbane, than that."

"My word! yes," said Jacko, "and I too."

"If the devil is to get ahead, he must, but I won't hold a candle to
him. You fellows may tell every man about the place what I say. As
long as I'm master of Gangoil I'll be master; and when I come across
a swindle I'll tell the man who does it he's a swindler. I told Bos
to his face; but I didn't tell any body else, and I shouldn't if he'd
taken it right and mended his ways."

They all understood him very well--the German, the Irishman,
Medlicot's foreman, Medlicot himself, and even Jacko; and though, no
doubt, there was a feeling within the hearts of the men that Harry
Heathcote was imperious, still they respected him, and they believed
him.

"The masther should be the masther, no doubt," said the Irishman.

"A man that is a man vill not sell hisself body and soul," said the
German, slowly.

"Do I want dominion over your soul, Karl Bender?" asked the squatter,
with energy. "You know I don't, nor over your body, except so far as
it suits you to sell your services. What you sell you part with
readily--like a man; and it's not likely that you and I shall
quarrel. But all this row about nothing can't be very pleasant to a
man with a broken shoulder."

"I like to hear you," said Medlicot. "I'm always a good listener when
men have something really to say."

"Well, then, I've something to say," cried Harry. "There never was a
man came to my house whom I'd sooner see as a Christmas guest than
yourself."

"Thankee, Sir."

"It's more than I could have said yesterday with truth."

"It's more than you did say."

"Yes, by George! But you've beat me now. When you're hard pressed for
hands down yonder, you send for me, and see if I won't turn the mill
for you, or hoe canes either."

"So 'll I; my word! yes. Just for my rations."

They had by this time reacted the Gangoil fence, having taken the
directest route for the house. But Harry, in doing this, had not been
unmindful of the fire. Had Medlicot not been wounded, he would have
taken the party somewhat out of the way, down southward, following
the flames; but Medlicot's condition had made him feel that he would
not be justified in doing so. Now, however, it occurred to him that
he might as well ride a mile or two down the fence, and see what
injury had been done. The escort of the men would be sufficient to
take Medlicot to the station, and he would reach the place as soon as
they. If the flames were still running ahead, he knew that he could
not now stop then, but he could at least learn how the matter stood
with him. If the worst came to the worst, he would not now lose more
than three or four miles of fencing, and the grass off a corner of
his run. Nevertheless, tired as he was, he could not bear the idea of
going home without knowing the whole story. So he made his proposal.
Medlicot, of course, made no objection. Each of the men offered to go
with him, but he declined their services. "There is nothing to do,"
said he, "and nobody to catch; and if the fire is burning, it must
burn." So he went alone.

The words that he had uttered among his men had not been lightly
spoken. He had begun to perceive that life would be very hard to him
in his present position, or perhaps altogether impossible, as long as
he was at enmity with all those around him. Old squatters whom he
knew, respectable men who had been in the colony before he was born,
had advised him to be on good terms with the Brownbies. "You needn't
ask them to your house, or go to them, but just soft-sawder them when
yon meet," an old gentleman had said to him. He certainly hadn't
taken the old gentleman's advice, thinking that to "soft-sawder" so
great a reprobate as Jerry Brownbie would be holding a candle to the
devil. But his own plan had hardly answered. Well, he was sure, at
any rate, of this--that he could do no good now by endeavoring to be
civil to the Brownbies. He soon came to the place where the fire had
reached his fence, and found that it had burned its way through, and
that the flames were still continuing their onward course. The fence
to the north, or rather to the northwestward--the point whence the
wind was coming--stood firm at the spot at which the fire had struck
it. Dry as the wood was, the flames had not traveled upward against
the wind. But to the south the fire was traveling down the fence. To
stop this he rode half a mile along the burning barrier till he had
headed the flames, and then he pulled the bushes down and rolled away
the logs, so as to stop the destruction. As regarded his fence, there
was less than a mile of it destroyed, and that he could now leave in
security, as the wind was blowing away from it. As for his grass,
that must now take its chance. He could see the dark light of the low
running fire; but there was no longer a mighty blaze, and he knew
that the dew of the night was acting as his protector. The harm that
had been as yet done was trifling, if only he could protect himself
from further harm. After leaving the fire, he had still a ride of
seven or eight miles through the gloom of the forest--all alone. Not
only was he weary, but his horse was so tired that he could hardly
get him to canter for a furlong. He regretted that he had not brought
the boy with him, knowing well the service of companionship to a
tired beast. He was used to such troubles, and could always tell
himself that his back was broad enough to bear them; but his
desolation among enemies oppressed him. Medlicot, however, was no
longer an enemy. Then there came across his mind for the first time
an idea that Medlicot might marry his sister-in-law, and become his
fast friend. If he could have but one true friend, he thought that he
could bear the enmity of all the Brownbies. Hitherto he had been
entirely alone in his anxiety. It was between three and four when he
reached Gangoil, and he found that the party of horsemen had just
entered the yard before him. The sugar planter was so weak that he
could hardly get off his horse.

The two ladies were still watching when the cavalcade arrived, though
it was then between three and four in the morning. It was Harry's
custom on such occasions to ride up to the little gate close to the
veranda, and there to hang his bridle till some one should take his
horse away; but on this occasion he and the others rode into the
yard. Seeing this, Mrs. Heathcote and her sister went through the
house, and soon learned how things were. Mr. Medlicot, from the mill,
had come with a bone broken, and it was their duty to nurse him till
a doctor could be procured from Maryborough. Now Maryborough was
thirty miles distant. Some one must be dispatched at once. Jacko
volunteered, but in such a service Jacko was hardly to be trusted. He
might fall asleep on his horse, and continue his slumbers on the
ground. Mickey and the German both offered; but the men were so
beaten by their work that Heathcote did not dare to take their offer.

"I'll tell you what it is, Mary," he said to his wife, "there is
nothing for it but for me to go for Jackson." Jackson was the doctor.
"And I can see the police at the same time."

"You sha'n't go, Harry. Yon are so tired already you can hardly stand
this moment."

"Get me some strong coffee--at once. You don't know what that man has
done for us. I'll tell you all another time. I owe him more than a
ride into Maryborough. I'll make the men get Yorkie up"--Yorkie was a
favorite horse he had--"while you make the coffee; and I'll lead
Colonel"--Colonel was another horse, well esteemed at Gangoil.
"Jackson will come quicker on him than on any animal he can get at
Maryborough." And so it was arranged, in spite of the wife's tears
and entreaties. Harry had his coffee and some food, and started, with
his two horses, for the doctor.

Nature is so good to us that we are sometimes disposed to think we
might have dispensed with art. In the bush, where doctors can not be
had, bones will set themselves; and when doctors do come, but come
slowly, the broken bones suit themselves to such tardiness. Medlicot
was brought in and put to bed. Let the reader not be shocked to hear
that Kate Daly's room was given up to him, as being best suited for a
sick man's comfort, and the two ladies took it in turn to watch him.
Mrs. Heathcote was, of course, the first, and remained with him till
dawn. Then Kate crept to the door and asked whether she should
relieve her sister. Medlicot was asleep, and it was agreed that Kate
should remain in the veranda, and look in from time to time to see
whether the wounded man required aught at her hands. She looked in
very often, and then, at last, he was awake.

"Miss Daly," he said, "I feel so ashamed of the trouble I'm giving."

"Don't speak of it. It is nothing. In the bush every body, of course,
does any thing for every body." When the words were spoken she felt
that they were not as complimentary as she would have wished. "You
were to have come to-day, you know, but we did not think you'd come
like this, did we?"

"I don't know why I didn't go home instead of coming here."

"The doctor will reach Gangoil sooner than he could the mill. You are
better here, and we will send for Mrs. Medlicot as soon as the men
have had a rest. How was it all, Mr. Medlicot? Harry says that there
was a fight, and that you came in just at the nick of time, and that
but for you all the run would have been burned."

"Not that at all."

"He said so; only he went off so quickly, and was so busy with
things, that we hardly understood him. Is it not dreadful that there
should be such fighting? And then these horrid fires! You were in the
middle of the fire, were you not?" It suited Kate's feelings that
Medlicot should be the hero of this occasion.

"We were lighting them in front to put them out behind."

"And then, while you were at work, these men from Boolabong came upon
you. Oh, Mr. Medlicot, we shall be so very, very wretched if you are
much hurt. My sister is so unhappy about it."

"It's only my collar-bone, Miss Daly."

"But that is so dreadful." She was still thinking of the one word he
had spoken when he had--well, not asked her for her love, but said
that which between a young man and a young woman ought to mean the
same thing. Perhaps it had meant nothing! She had heard that young
men do say things which mean nothing. But to her, living in the
solitude of Gangoil, the one word had been so much! Her heart had
melted with absolute acknowledged love when the man had been brought
through into the house with all the added attraction of a broken
bone. While her sister had watched, she had retired--to rest, as Mary
had said, but in truth to think of the chance which had brought her
in this guise into familiar contact with the man she loved. And then,
when she had crept up to take her place in watching him, she had
almost felt that shame should restrain her. But was her duty; and, of
course, a man with a collar-bone broken would not speak of love.

"It will make your Christmas so sad for you," he said.

"Oh, as for that, we mind nothing about it--for ourselves. We are
never very gay here."

"But you are happy?"

"Oh yes, quite happy, except when Harry is disturbed by these
troubles. I don't think any body has so many troubles as a squatter.
It sometimes seems that all the world is against him."

"We shall be allies now, at any rate."

"Oh, I do so hope we shall," said Kate, putting her hands together in
her energy, and then retreating from her energy with sad awkwardness
when she remembered the personal application of her wish. "That is, I
mean you and Harry," she added, in a whisper.

"Why not I and others besides Harry?"

"It is so much to him to have a real friend. Things concern us, of
course, only just as they concern him. Women are never of very much
account, I think. Harry has to do every thing, and every thing ought
to be done for him."

"I think you spoil Harry among you."

"Don't you say so to Mary, or she will be fierce."

"I wonder whether I shall ever have a wife to stand up for me in that
way?"

Kate had no answer to make, but she thought that it would be his own
fault if he did not have a wife to stand up for him thoroughly.

"He has been very lucky in his wife."

"I think he has, Mr. Medlicot; but you are moving about, and you
ought to lie still. There! I hear the horses; that's the doctor. I do
so hope he won't say that any thing very bad is the matter."

She jumped up from her chair, which was close to his bed, and as she
did so just touched his hand with hers. It was involuntary on her
part, having come of instinct rather than will, and she withdrew
herself instantly. The hand she had touched belonged to the arm that
was not hurt, and he put it out after her, and caught her by the
sleeve as she was retreating. "Oh, Mr. Medlicot, you must not do
that; you will hurt yourself if you move in that way."

And so she escaped, and left the room, and did not see him again till
the doctor had gone from Gangoil.

The bone had been broken simply as other bones are broken; it was now
set, and the sufferer was, of course, told that he must rest. He had
suggested that he should be taken home, and the Heathcotes had
concurred with the doctor in asserting that no proposition could be
more absurd. He had intended to eat his Christmas dinner at Gangoil,
and he must now pass his entire Christmas there.

"The sugar can go on very well for ten days," Harry had said. "I'll
go over myself and see about the men, and I'll fetch your mother
over."

To this, however, Mrs. Heathcote had demurred successfully. "You'll
kill yourself, Harry, if you go on like this," she said.

Bender, therefore, was sent in the buggy for the old lady, and at
last Harry Heathcote consented to go to bed.

"My belief is, I shall sleep for a week," he said, as he turned in.
But he didn't begin his sleep quite at once. "I am very glad I went
into Maryborough," he said to his wife, rising up from his pillow.
"I've sworn an information against Nokes and two of the Brownbies,
and the police will be after them this afternoon. They won't catch
Nokes, and they can't convict the other fellows. But it will be
something to clear the country of such a fellow, and something also
to let them know that detection is possible."

"Do sleep now, dear." she said.

"Yes, I will; I mean to. But look here, Mary; if any of the police
should come here, mind you wake me at once. And, Mary, look here; do
you know I shouldn't be a bit surprised if that fellow was to be
making up to Kate."

Mrs. Heathcote, with some little inward chuckle at her husband's
assumed quickness of apprehension, reminded herself that the same
idea had occurred to her some time ago. Mrs. Heathcote gave her
husband full credit for more than ordinary intelligence in reference
to affairs appertaining to the breeding of sheep and the growing of
wool, but she did not think highly of his discernment in such an
affair as this. She herself had been much quicker. When she first saw
Mr. Medlicot, she had felt it a godsend that such a man, with the
look of a gentleman, and unmarried, should come into the
neighborhood; and, in so feeling, her heart had been entirely with
her sister. For herself it mattered nothing who came or did not come,
or whether a man were a bachelor, or possessed of a wife and a dozen
children. All that a girl had a right to want was a good husband. She
was quite satisfied with her own lot in that respect, but she was
anxious enough on behalf of Kate. And when a young man did come, who
might make matters so pleasant for them, Harry quarreled with him
because he was a free-selector. "A free fiddle-stick!" she had once
said to Kate--not, however, communicating to her innocent sister the
ambition which was already filling her own bosom. "Harry does take
things up so--as though people weren't to live, some in one way and
some in another! As far as I can see, Mr. Medlicot is a very nice
fellow." Kate had remarked that he was "all very well," and nothing
more had been said.

But Mrs. Heathcote, in spite of Harry's aversion, had formed her
little project--a project which, if then declared, would have filled
Harry with dismay. And now the young aristocrat, as he turned himself
in his bed, made the suggestion to his wife as though it were all his
own!

"I never like to think much of these things beforehand," she said,
innocently.

"I don't know about thinking," said Harry; "but a girl might do
worse. If it should come up, don't set yourself against it."

"Kate, of course, will please herself," said Mrs. Heathcote. "Now do
lie down and rest yourself."

His rest, however, was not of long duration. As he had himself
suggested, two policemen reached Gangoil at about three in the
afternoon, on their way from Maryborough to Boolabong, in order that
they might take Mr. Medlicot's deposition. After Heathcote's
departure it had occurred to Sergeant Forrest of the police--and the
suggestion, having been transferred from the sergeant to the
stipendiary magistrate, was now produced with magisterial sanction--
that, after all, there was no evidence against the Brownbies. They
had simply interfered to prevent the burning of the grass on their
own run, and who could say that they had committed any crime by doing
so? If Medlicot had seen Nokes with a lighted branch in his hand, the
matter might be different with him; and therefore Medlicot's
deposition was taken. He had sworn that he had seen Nokes drag his
lighted torch along the ground; he had also seen other horsemen--two
or three, as he thought--but could not identify them. Jacko's
deposition was also taken as to the man who had been heard and seen
in the wool-shed at night. Jacko was ready to swear point-blank that
the man was Nokes. The policemen suggested that, as the night was
dark, Jacko might as well allow a shade of doubt to appear, thinking
that the shade of doubt would add strength to the evidence. But Jacko
was not going to be taught what sort of oath he should swear.

"My word!" he said. "Didn't I see his leg move? You go away."

Armed with these depositions, the two constables went on to Boolabong
in search of Nokes, and of Nokes only, much to the chagrin of Harry,
who declared that the police would never really bestir themselves in
a squatter's cause. "As for Nokes, he'll be out of Queensland by this
time to-morrow."




CHAPTER XI.

SERGEANT FORREST.


The Brownbie party returned, after their midnight raid, in great
discomfiture to Boolabong. Their leader, Jerry, was burned about his
hands and face in a disagreeable and unsightly manner. Joe had hardly
made good that character for "fighting it out to the end" for which
he was apt to claim credit. Boscobel was altogether disconcerted by
his fall. And Nokes, who had certainly shown no aptitude for the
fray, was abused by them all as having caused their retreat by his
cowardice; while Sing Sing, the runaway cook, who knew that he had
forfeited his wages at Gangoil, was forced to turn over in his
heathenish mind the ill effects of joining the losing side. "You big
fool, Bos," he said more than once to his friend the woodsman, who
had lured him away from the comforts of Gangoil. "I'll punch your
head, John, if you don't hold your row," Boscobel would reply. But
Sing Sing went on with his reproaches, and, before they had reached
Boolabong, Boscobel had punched the Chinaman's head.

"You're not coming in here," Jerry said to Nokes, when they reached
the yard gate.

"Who wants to come in? I suppose you're not going to send a fellow on
without a bit of grub after such a night's work?"

"Give him some bread and meat, Jack, and let him go on. There'll be
somebody here after him before long. He can't hurt us; but I don't
want people to think that we are so fond of him that we can't do
without harboring him here. Georgie, you'll go too, if you take my
advice. That young cur will send the police here as sure as my name
is Brownbie, and, if they once get hold of you, they'll have a great
many things to talk to you about."

Georgie grumbled when he heard this, but he knew that the advice
given him was good, and he did not attempt to enter the house. So
Nokes and he vanished, away into the bush together--as such men do
vanish--wandering forth to live as the wild beasts live. It was still
a dark night when they went, and the remainder of the party took
themselves to their beds.

On the following afternoon they were lying about the house, sometimes
sleeping, and sometimes waking up to smoke, when the two policemen,
who had already been at Gangoil, appeared in the yard. These men were
dressed in flat caps, with short blue jackets, hunting breeches, and
long black boots--very unlike any policemen in the old country, and
much more picturesque. They leisurely tied their horses up, as though
they had been in the habit of making weekly visits to the place, and
walked round to the veranda.

"Well, Mr. Brownbie, and how are you?" said the sergeant to the old
man.

The head of the family was gracious, and declared himself to be
pretty well, considering all things. He called the sergeant by his
name, and asked the men whether they'd take a bit of something to
eat. Joe also was courteous, and, after a little delay in getting a
key from his brother, brought out the jar of spirits, which, in the
bush, is regarded as the best sign known of thorough good-breeding.
The sergeant said that he didn't mind if he did; and the other man,
of course, followed his officer's example.

So far every thing was comfortable, and the constables seemed in no
hurry to allude to disagreeable subjects. They condescended to eat a
bit of cold meat before they proceeded to business. And at last the
matter to be discussed was first introduced by one of the Brownbie
family.

"I suppose you've heard that there was a scrimmage here last night,"
said Joe. The Brownbie party present consisted of the old man, Joe
and Jack Brownbie, and Boscobel, Jerry keeping himself in the
background because of his disfigurement. The sergeant, as he
swallowed his food, acknowledged that he had heard something about
it. "And that's what brings you here," continued Joe.

"There ain't nothing wrong here," said old Brownbie.

"I hope not, Mr. Brownbie," said the sergeant. "I hope not. We
haven't got any thing against you, at any rate." Sergeant Forrest was
a graduate of Oxford, the son of an English clergyman, who, having
his way to make in the world, had thought that an early fortune would
be found in the colonies. He had come out, had failed, had suffered
some very hard things, and now, at the age of thirty-five, enjoyed
life thoroughly as a sergeant of the colonial police.

"You haven't got any thing against anybody here, I should think?"
said Joe.

"If you want to get them as begun it," said Jack, "and them as ought
to be took up, you'll go to Gangoil."

"Hold your tongue, Jack," said his brother. "Sergeant Forrest knows
where to go better than you can tell him."

Then the sergeant asked a string of questions as to the nature of the
fight; who had been hurt; and how badly had any body been hurt; and
what other harm had been done. The answers to all these questions
were given with a fair amount of truth, except that the little
circumstance of the origin of the fire was not explained. Both
Boscobel and Joe had seen the torch put down, but it could hardly
have been expected that they should have been explicit as to such a
detail as that. Nor did they mention the names of either their
brother George or Nokes.

"And who was there in the matter?" asked the sergeant.

"There was young Heathcote, and a boy he has got there, and the two
chaps as he calls boundary rulers, and Medlicot, the sugar fellow
from the mill, and a chap of Medlicot's I never set eyes on before.
They must have expected something to be up, or Heathcote would not
have been going about at night with a tribe of men like that."

"And who were your party?"

"Well, there were just ourselves, four of us, for Georgie was here,
and this fellow Boscobel. Georgie never stays long, and he wouldn't
be welcome if he did. He turned up just by chance like, and now he's
off again."

"That was all, eh?"

Of course they all knew that the sergeant knew that Nokes had been
with them. "Well, then, that wasn't all," said old Brownbie. "Bill
Nokes was here, whom Heathcote dismissed ever so long ago, and that
Chinese cook of his. He dismissed him too, I suppose. And he
dismissed Boscobel here."

"No one can live at Gangoil any time," said Jack. "Every body knows
that. He wants to be lord a'mighty over every thing. But he ain't
going to be lord a'mighty at Boolabong."

"And he ain't going to burn our grass either," said Joe. "It's like
his impudence coming on to our ran and burning every thing before
him. He calls hisself a magistrate, but he's not to do just as he
pleases because he's a magistrate. I suppose we can swear against him
for lighting our grass, sergeant? There isn't one of us that didn't
see him do it."

"And where is Nokes?" asked the sergeant, paying no attention to the
application made by Mr. Brownbie, junior, for redress to himself.

"Well," said Joe, "Nokes isn't any where about Boolabong."

"He's away with your brother George?"

"I shouldn't wonder," said Joe.

"It's a serious matter lighting a fire, you know," said the sergeant.
"A man would have to swing for it."

"Then why isn't young Heathcote to swing?" demanded Jack.

"There is such a thing as intent, you know. When Heathcote lighted
the fire, where would the fire have gone if he hadn't kept putting it
out as fast as he kept lighting it? On to his own run, not to yours.
And where would the other fire have gone which somebody lit, and
which nobody put out, if he hadn't been there to stop it? The less
you say against Heathcote the better. So Nokes is off, is he?"

"He ain't here, anyways," said Joe. "When the row was over, we
wouldn't let him in. We didn't want him about here."

"I dare say not," said the sergeant. "Now let me go and see the spot
where the fight was." So the two policemen, with the two young
Brownbies, rode away, leaving Boscobel with the old man.

"He knows every thing about it," said old Brownbie.

"If he do," said Boscobel, "it ain't no odds."

"Not a ha'porth of odds," said Jerry, coming out of his hiding-place.
"Who cares what he knows? A man may do what he pleases on his own
run, I suppose."

"He mayn't light a fire as 'll spread," said the old man.

"Bother! Who's to prove what's in a man's mind? If I'd been Nokes,
I'd have staid and seen it out. I'd never be driven about the colony
by such a fellow as Heathcote, with all the police in the world to
back him."

Sergeant Forrest inspected the ground on which the fire had raged,
and the spot on which the men had met; but nothing came of his
inspection, and he had not expected that any thing would come of it.
He could see exactly where the fire had commenced, and could trace
the efforts that had been made to stop it. He did not in the least
doubt the way in which it had been lit. But he did very much doubt
whether a jury could find Nokes guilty, even if he could catch Nokes.
Jacko's evidence was worth nothing, and Mr. Medlicot might be easily
mistaken as to what he had seen at a distance in the middle of the
night.

All this happened on Christmas-day. At about nine o'clock the same
evening the two constables re-appeared at Gangoil, and asked for
hospitality for the night. This was a matter of course, and also the
reproduction of the Christmas dinner. Mrs. Medlicot was now there,
and her son, with his collar-bone set, had been allowed to come out
on to the veranda. The house had already been supposed to be full,
but room, as a matter of course, was made for Sergeant Forrest and
his man. "It's a queer sort of Christmas we've all been having, Mr.
Heathcote," said the sergeant, as the remnant of a real English plum-
pudding was put between him and his man by Mrs. Growler.

"A little hotter than it is at home, eh?"

"Indeed it is. You must have had it hot last night, Sir."

"Very hot, sergeant. We had to work uncommonly hard to do it as well
as we did."

"It was not a nice Christmas game, Sir, was it?"

"Eh, me!" said Mrs. Medlicot. "There's nae Christmas games or ony
games here at all, except just worrying and harrying, like sae many
dogs at each other's throats."

"And you think nothing more can be done?" Harry asked.

"I don't think we shall catch the men. When they get out backward,
it's very hard to trace them. He's got a horse of his own with him,
and he'll be beyond reach of the police by this time to-morrow.
Indeed, he's beyond their reach now. However, you'll have got rid of
him."

"But there are others as bad as he left behind. I wouldn't trust that
fellow Boscobel a yard."

"He won't stir, Sir. He belongs to this country, and does not want to
leave it. And when a thing has been tried like that and has failed,
the fellows don't try it again. They are cowed like by their own
failure. I don't think you need fear fire from the Boolabong side
again this summer."

After this the sergeant and his man discreetly allowed themselves to
be put to bed in the back cottage; for in truth, when they arrived,
things had come to such a pass at Gangoil that the two additional
visitors were hardly welcome. But hospitality in the bush can be
stayed by no such considerations as that. Let their employments or
enjoyments on hand be what they may, every thing must yield to the
entertainment of strangers. The two constables were in want of their
Christmas dinner, and it was given to them with no grudging hand.

As to Nokes, we may say that he has never since appeared in the
neighborhood of Gangoil, and that none thereabouts ever knew what was
his fate. Men such as he wander away from one colony into the next,
passing from one station to another, or sleeping on the ground, till
they become as desolate and savage as solitary animals. And at last
they die in the bush, creeping, we may suppose, into hidden nooks, as
the beasts do when the hour of death comes on them.




CHAPTER XII.

CONCLUSION.


The constables had started from Gangoil, on their way to Boolabong, a
little after four, and from that time till he was made to get out of
bed for his dinner Harry Heathcote was allowed to sleep. He had
richly earned his rest by his work, and he lay motionless, without a
sound, in the broad daylight, with his arm under his head, dreaming,
no doubt, of some happy squatting land, in which there were no free-
selectors, no fires, no rebellious servants, no floods, no droughts,
no wild dogs to worry the lambs, no grass seeds to get into the
fleeces, and in which the price of wool stood steady at two shillings
and sixpence a pound. His wife from time to time came into the room,
shading the light from his eyes, protecting him from the flies, and
administering in her soft way to what she thought might be his
comforts. His sleep was of the kind which no light, nor even flies,
can interrupt. Once or twice she stooped down and kissed his brow,
but he was altogether unconscious of her caress.

During this time old Mrs. Medlicot arrived; but her coming did not
awake the sleeper, though it was by no means made in silence. The old
woman sobbed and cried over her son, at the same time expressing her
thankfulness that he should have turned up in the forest so exactly
at the proper moment, evidently taking part in the conviction that
her Giles had saved Gangoil and all its sheep. And then there were
all the necessary arrangements to be made for the night, in
accordance with which almost every body had to give up his or her bed
and sleep somewhere else. But nothing disturbed Harry. For the
present he was allowed to occupy his own room, and he enjoyed the
privilege.

Kate Daly during this time was much disturbed in mind. The reader may
remember--Kate, at any rate, remembered well--that, just as the
doctor had arrived to set his broken bone, Mr. Medlicot, disabled as
he was, had attempted to take her by the arm. He had certainly chosen
an odd time for a declaration of love, just the moment in which he
ought to have been preparing himself for the manipulation of his
fractured limb; but, unless he had meant a declaration of love,
surely he would not have seized her by the arm. It was a matter to
her of great moment. Oh, of what vital importance! The English girl
living in a town, or even in what we call the country, has no need to
think of any special man till some special man thinks of her. Men are
fairly plentiful, and if one man does not come, another will. And
there have probably been men coming and going in some sort since the
girl left her school-room and became a young lady. But in the bush
the thing is very different. It may be that there is no young man
available within fifty miles--no possible lover or future husband,
unless Heaven should interfere almost with a miracle. To those to
whom lovers are as plentiful as blackberries it may seem indelicate
to surmise that the thought of such a want should ever enter a girl's
head. I doubt whether the defined idea of any want had ever entered
poor Kate's head. But now that the possible lover was there--not only
possible, but very probable--and so eligible in many respects, living
so close, with a house over his head and a good business; and then so
handsome, and, as Kate thought, so complete a gentleman! Of course
she turned it much in her mind. She was very happy with Harry
Heathcote. There never was a brother-in-law so good! But, after all,
what is a brother-in-law, though he be the very best? Kate had
already begun to fancy that a house of her own and a husband of her
own would be essential to her happiness. But then a man can not be
expected to make an offer with a broken collar-bone--certainly can
not do so just when the doctor has arrived to set the bone.

Late on in the day, when the doctor had gone, and Medlicot was,
according to instructions, sitting out on the veranda in an armchair,
and his mother was with him, and while Harry was sleeping as though
he never meant to be awake again, Kate managed to say a few words to
her sister. It will be understood that the ladies' hands were by no
means empty. The Christmas dinner was in course of preparation, and
Sing Sing, that villainous Chinese cook, had absconded. Mrs. Growler,
no doubt, did her best; but Mrs. Growler was old and slow, and the
house was full of guests. It was by no means an idle time; but still
Kate found an opportunity to say a word to her sister in the kitchen.

"What do you think of him, Mary?"

To the married sister "him" would naturally mean Harry Heathcote, of
whom, as he lay asleep, the young wife thought that he was the very
perfection of patriarchal pastoral manliness; but she knew enough of
human nature to be aware that the "him" of the moment to her sister
was no longer her own husband. "I think he has got his arm broken
fighting for Harry, and that we are bound to do the best we can for
him."

"Oh yes; that's of course. I'm sure Harry will feel that. He used,
you know, to--to--that is, not just to like him, because he is a
free-selector."

"They'll drop all that now. Of course they could not be expected to
know each other at the first starting. I shouldn't wonder if they
became regular friends."

"That would be nice! After all, though you may be so happy at home,
it is better to have something like a neighbor. Don't you think so?"

"It depends on who the neighbors are. I don't care much for the
Brownbies."

"They are quite different, Mary."

"I like the Medlicots very much."

"I consider he's quite a gentleman," said Kate.

"Of course he's a gentleman. Look here, Kate--I shall be ready to
welcome Mr. Medlicot as a brother-in-law, if things should turn out
that way."

"I didn't mean that, Mary."

"Did you not? Well, you can mean it if you please, as far as I am
concerned. Has he said any thing to you, dear?"

"No."

"Not a word?"

"I don't know what you call a word; not a word of that kind."

"I thought, perhaps--"

"I think he meant it once--this morning."

"I dare say he meant it. And if he meant it this morning, he won't
have forgotten his meaning to-morrow."

"There's no reason why he should mean it, you know."

"None in the least, Kate; is there?"

"Now you're laughing at me, Mary. I never used to laugh at you when
Harry was coming. I was so glad, and I did every thing I could."

"Yes, you went away and left us in the Botanical Gardens. I remember.
But, you see, there are no Botanical Gardens here; and the poor man
couldn't walk about if there were."

"I wonder what Harry would say if it were to be so."

"Of course he'd be glad--for your sake."

"But he does so despise free-selectors! And then he used to think
that Mr. Medlicot was quite as bad as the Brownbies. I wouldn't marry
any one to be despised by you and Harry."

"That's all gone by, my dear," said the wife, feeling that she had to
apologize for her husband's prejudices. "Of course one has to find
out what people are before one takes them to one's bosom. Mr.
Medlicot has acted in the most friendly way about these fires, and
I'm sure Harry will never despise him any more."

"He couldn't have done more for a real brother than have his arm
broken."

"But you must remember one thing, Kate, Mr. Medlicot is very nice,
and like a gentleman, and all that. Bat you never can be quite
certain about any man till he speaks out plainly. Don't set your
heart upon him till you are quite sure that he has set his upon you."

"Oh no," said Kate, giving her maidenly assurance when it was so much
too late! Just at this moment Mrs. Growler came into the kitchen, and
Kate's promises and her sister's cautions were for the moment
silenced.

"How we're to manage to get the dinner on the table, I for one don't
know at all," said Mrs. Growler. "There's Mr. Bates'll be here; that
will be six of 'em; and that Mr. Medlicot will want somebody to do
every thing for him, because he's been and got hisself smashed. And
there's the old lady has just come out from home, and is as
particular as any thing. And Mr. Harry himself never thinks of things
at all. One pair of hands, and them very old, can't do every thing
for every body." All of which was very well understood to mean
nothing at all.

Household deficiencies--and, indeed, all deficiencies--are
considerable or insignificant in accordance with the aspirations of
those concerned. When a man has a regiment of servants in his dining-
room, with beautifully cut glass, a forest of flowers, and an iceberg
in the middle of his table if the weather be hot, his guests will
think themselves ill used and badly fed if aught in the banquet be
astray. There must not be a rose leaf ruffled; a failure in the
attendance, a falling off in a dish, or a fault in the wine is a
crime. But the same guests shall be merry as the evening is long with
a leg of mutton and whisky toddy, and will change their own plates,
and clear their own table, and think nothing wrong, if from the
beginning such has been the intention of the giver of the feast. In
spite of Mrs. Growler's prognostications, though the cook had
absconded, and the chief guest of the occasion could not cut up his
own meat, that Christmas dinner at Gangoil was eaten with great
satisfaction.

Harry had been so far triumphant. He had stopped the fire that was
intended to ruin him, he had beaten off his enemies on their own
ground, and he was no longer oppressed by that sense of desolation
which had almost overpowered him.

"We'll give one toast, Mrs. Medlicot," he said, when Mrs. Growler and
Kate between them had taken away the relics of the plum-pudding. "Our
friends at home!"

The poor lady drank the toast with a sob. "That's vera weel for you,
Mr. Heathcote. You're young, and will win your way hame, and see auld
friends again, nae doubt; but I'll never see ane of them mair, except
those I have here." Nevertheless, the old lady ate her dinner and
drank her toddy, and made much of the occasion, going in and out to
her son upon the veranda.

Soon after dinner Heathcote, as was his wont, strayed out with his
prime minister Bates to consult on the dangers which might be
supposed still to threaten his kingdom, and Mrs. Heathcote, with her
youngest boy in her lap, sat talking to Mrs. Medlicot in the parlor.
Such was not her custom in weather such as this. Kate had been sent
out on to the veranda, with special commands to attend to the wants
of the sufferer, and Mrs. Heathcote would have followed her had she
not remembered her sister's appeal, "I did every thing I could for
you."

In those happy days Kate had been very good, and certainly deserved
requital for her services. And therefore, when the men had gone out,
Mrs. Heathcote, with her guest, remained in the warm room, and went
so far as to suggest that at that period of the day the room was
preferable to the veranda. Poor Mrs. Medlicot was new to the ways of
the bush, and fell into the trap; thus Kate Daly was left alone with
her wounded hero.

When told to take him out his glass of wine, and when conscious that
no one followed her, she felt herself to have been guilty of some
great sin, and was almost tempted to escape. She had asked her sister
for help; and this was the help that was forth-coming--help so
palpable, so manifest, as to be almost indelicate! Would he think
that plans were being made to catch him, now that he was a captive
and impotent? The thought that it was possible that such an idea
might occur to him was terrible to her. She would rather lose him
altogether than feel the stain of such a suggestion on her own
conscience. She put the glass of wine down on the little table by his
side, and then attempted to withdraw.

"Stay a moment with me," he said. "Where are they all?"

"Mary and your mother are inside. Harry and Mr. Bates have gone
across to look at the horses."

"I almost feel as though I could walk, too."

"You must not think of it yet, Mr. Medlicot. It seems almost a wonder
that you shouldn't have to be in bed, and you with your collar-bone
broken only last night! I don't know how you can bear it as you do."

"I shall be so glad I broke it, if one thing will come about."

"What thing?" asked Kate, blushing.

"Kate--may I call you Kate?"

"I don't know," she said.

"You know I love you, do you not? You must know it. Dearest Kate, can
you love me and be my wife?" His left arm was bound up, and was in a
sling, but he put out his right hand to take hers, if she would give
it to him. Kate Daly had never had a lover before, and felt the
occasion to be trying. She had no doubt about the matter. If it were
only proper for her to declare herself, she could swear with a safe
conscience that she loved him better than all the world.

"Put your hand here, Kate," he said.

As the request was not exactly for the gift of her hand, she placed
it in his.

"May I keep it now?"

She could only whisper something which was quite inaudible, even to
him.

"I shall keep it, and think that you are all my own. Stoop down,
Kate, and kiss me, if you love me."

She hesitated for a moment, trying to collect her thoughts. She did
love him, and was his own; still, to stoop and kiss a man who, if
such a thing were to be allowed at all, ought certainly to kiss her!
She did not think she could do that. But then she was bound to
protect him, wounded and broken as he was, from his own imprudence;
and if she did not stoop to him, he would rise to her. She was still
in doubt, still standing with her hand in his, half bending over him,
but yet half resisting as she bent, when, all suddenly, Harry
Heathcote was on the veranda, followed by the two policemen, who had
just returned from Boolabong. She was sure that Harry had seen her,
and was by no means sure that she had been quick enough in escaping
from her lover's hand to have been unnoticed by the policemen also.
She fled away as though guilty, and could hardly recover herself
sufficiently to assist Mrs. Growler in producing the additional
dinner which was required.

The two men were quickly sent to their rest, as has been told before;
and Harry, who had in truth seen how close to his friend his sister-
in-law had been standing, would, had it been possible, have restored
the lovers to their old positions; but they were all now on the
veranda, and it was impossible. Kate hung back, half in and half out
of the sitting-room, and old Mrs. Medlicot had seated herself close
to her son. Harry was lying at full length on a rug, and his wife was
sitting over him. Then Giles Medlicot, who was not quite contented
with the present condition of affairs, made a little speech.

"Mrs. Heathcote," he said, "I have asked your sister to marry me."

"Dearie me, Giles," said Mrs. Medlicot.

Kate remained no longer half in and half out of the parlor, but
retreated altogether and hid herself. Harry turned himself over on
the rug, and looked up at his wife, claiming infinite credit in that
be had foreseen that such a thing might happen.

"And what answer has she given you?" said Mrs. Heathcote.

"She hasn't given me any answer yet. I wonder what you and Heathcote
would say about it?"

"What Kate has to say is much more important," replied the discreet
sister.

"I should like it of all things," said Harry, jumping up. "It's
always best to be open about these things. When you first came here,
I didn't like you. You took a bit of my river frontage--not that it
does me any great harm--and then I was angry about that scoundrel
Nokes."

"I was wrong about Nokes," said Medlicot, "and have, therefore, had
my collar-bone broken. As to the land, you'll forgive my having it if
Kate will come and live there?"

"By George! I should think so.--Kate, why don't you come out? Come
along, my girl. Medlicot has spoken out openly, and you should answer
him in the same fashion." So saying, he dragged her forth, and I fear
that, as far as she was concerned, something of the sweetness of her
courtship was lost by the publicity with which she was forced to
confess her love. "Will you go, Kate, and make sugar down at the
mill? I have often thought how bad it would be for Mary and me when
you were taken away; but we sha'n't mind it so much if we knew that
you are to be near us."

"Speak to him, Kate," said Mrs. Heathcote, with her arm round her
sister's waist.

"I think she's minded to have him," said Mrs. Medlicot.

"Tell me, Kate--shall it be so?" pleaded the lover.

She came up to him and leaned over him, and whispered one word which
nobody else heard. But they all knew what the word was. And before
they separated for the night she was left alone with him, and he got
the kiss for which he was asking when the policemen interrupted them.

"That's what I call a happy Christmas," said Harry, as the party
finally parted for the night.



THE END.





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