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Title: The Outlaw Author: John David Hennessy * A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1100511h.html Language: English Date first posted: July 2011 Date most recently updated: July 2011 This eBook was produced by: Maurie Mulcahy Project Gutenberg Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg Australia License which may be viewed online at http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html
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CONTENTS PROLOGUE: The Snow-grass Country CHAPTER I The Horns of a Dilemma CHAPTER II A Trial by Jury CHAPTER III Betsy Carey Rides into the Story CHAPTER IV Salathiel Personates a School-teacher CHAPTER V The Schoolmaster's Curriculum CHAPTER VI Wheels within Wheels CHAPTER VII A School Feast in the Forties CHAPTER VIII A Curious Study for a Philosopher CHAPTER IX Tot Gardiner Hits Back CHAPTER X Mr. Flannigan, of the Wollombi CHAPTER XI Silas Stump's Advice CHAPTER XII How the Bushrangers Bluffed Maitland CHAPTER XIII Retrospect and Failure CHAPTER XIV Bob Carey Thinks Better of it CHAPTER XV A Chapter of Accidents CHAPTER XVI The Rescue of Salathiel CHAPTER XVII Afterthoughts and Explanations CHAPTER XVIII Back to Bushranging CHAPTER XIX Tot Gardiner Disappears CHAPTER XX The School Committee Meets CHAPTER XXI The Way of Transgressors CHAPTER XXII The Valley of Shadows CHAPTER XXIII Betsy Becomes Schoolmistress CHAPTER XXIV A Gilded Pill for Salathiel CHAPTER XXV The Glen of Adullam CHAPTER XXVI Foes in Council CHAPTER XXVII The Liverpool Ranges CHAPTER XXVIII A Letter for Betsy CHAPTER XXIX Encompassed by Fire CHAPTER XXX The Chamber of the Dead CHAPTER XXXI The Military Called Out CHAPTER XXXII Salathiel Run to Earth CHAPTER XXXIII The Capture of Captain Moore CHAPTER XXXIV Death in the Gully CHAPTER XXXV A Colonial Currency Lass CHAPTER XXXVI Major McFarlane CHAPTER XXXVII The Banditti Party CHAPTER XXXVIII Sydney Shows the Governor its Teeth CHAPTER XXXIX His Excellency's Vote of Censure CHAPTER XL An Appeal Unto Caesar CHAPTER XLI A Break in the Clouds CHAPTER XLII The Midnight Wedding CHAPTER XLIII Sunlight on the Sea
Winter is quaintly beautiful upon the Southern Highlands of Australia. At dawn, in the snow-grass country, a drear landscape presents itself, white with heavy frost, yet, by noon, the whole scene is transformed into a warm sunlit fairyland. Thus, for two or three hours, in the middle of most winter days, you have, up there, summer warmth, verdure, flowers and a crystal atmosphere. But all is transitory, for behind the hills chilling winds lie ambushed, and once the sun touches the distant skyline, they hustle winter in again to reoccupy its old territory. When night comes, with myriad stars, the still landscape is again quickly robed in pure white vesture.
It was during a winter's residence in tents in the snow-grass country that I heard the gist of the following story from one of the 'old hands,' a grizzled veteran whose hair was white with the frosts and snows of many winters spent among those bleak and little known highlands, which stretch for a hundred miles along the north-eastern border of the State of Victoria.
Our tents were pitched on a grassy terrace in a forest clearing overlooking a rushing ice-cold crystal stream. For many miles around was bush and forest, where the foot of man, or hoof of rider's horse, rarely trod. It was a land of many wonders, the haunt of old time bushrangers and lone-hand miners, and of birds and animals becoming every year more rare. The men made a sapling enclosure near the tents, in which we cooked and ate our food. They called it 'the kitchen.' It was about twelve feet square, thatched with bushes, and screened with them at the end and sides. But the feature of the enclosure was the large fire-place, built of green saplings, sunk erect side by side in a trench to form a chimney, and flagged with stones. It was banked high up with clay, which the fire baked hard. It was a wonderful inglenook. A rough red-gum bench, with supports sunk in the ground, was placed so that a sitter could face either the table or fire-place at pleasure. Here, in front of huge log fires, at night in the winter months we sat and smoked and yarned. There was a fascination for me about those fires. How they glowed and crackled and blazed! The nipping winds from off the Snowy Mountains placed cold hands upon our backs and shoulders; but we laughed and smoked and yarned unchilled. And when Old Boreas blew most boisterously, and we heard afar the roar of the storm-swept forest, we only piled more wood upon the blazing hearth.
The Swede sat to my left, and old Crocker on my right, and it usually fell to me to read the news aloud, or talk. But when the news was read, and conversation flagged, what a place it was for reverie! Not another human being within ten miles of us. But the fire was company. It lit up the leafy kitchen walls, and shone warm and homelike in our faces, and held and reassured us, as does the warm hand of a friend. Its genial glow would, at times, set the Swede humming soft melodies of the far off Fatherland, and restore to Joe Crocker the lost memories of early days. For myself, I used to look into that fire and think and think, and talk, and muse, and dream, until often I forgot Australia altogether. I was back in London, or Paris, or old Madrid, or Italy, or Athens. Then maybe the howl of a dingo, from somewhere down the creek, would startle us, and Joe's eyes, still looking in the fire, would glisten as he heard it; while the Swede and I, turning around, peered out into the frosty night, where the purple sky, glorious with constellations, hung silently over the dark forest.
Said Joe one night, looking with a far-away regard into the fire: "That dingo reminds me of Jack Salathiel, the Jew bushranger. The howl of a dingo was one of his night signals."
"Is that so?" I said, and I filled my pipe again, for Joe began to tell us a strange tale of a Jew bushranger named Jack Salathiel.
Joe was usually a man of few words, as are many fine bushmen and lone-hand miners; but his stirring descriptions of the old bushranging days were fluent and connected, as though he saw in the fire what he described to us, or, by its light, was reading from a book. He used to say: "One's memory is refreshed by looking in the fire."
I have tried his remedy, not without some success, for far away from those distant hills, when alone in the firelight, I often hear the strange roaring sound of that storm-swept forest, or recall the breathless hush of those frosty nights, when the sparkling heavens shone with relucent glory, and in the old bush kitchen, Joe Crocker told us strange tales of the bad old times.
One summer morning, late in the Australian Forties, an assigned servant named John Salathiel had angered his master, one Major Hastings; and the Major was in a towering rage, although it was not really Salathiel's fault. It was hard luck, for in a few weeks the man would have been due for a good conduct ticket.
Sitting upon his big grey mare, stockwhip in hand, the Major, with a flushed face and ugly oath, ordered him to take a six-months-old bull-calf to the butcher's at Maitland, and be back by sundown; or, failing to do so, he would get fifty lashes at the triangles. There and back, the distance was twenty-four miles, and he had to go on foot.
The man listened with his usual deference to the owner of Eurimbla Station; he was taken by surprise; but he flushed crimson when he realized the full meaning of the threat. He knew that the thing couldn't be done. Major Hastings knew it too, even better than Salathiel, and the convict's blood boiled with indignation and dismay. But he was not easily cowed, and Salathiel touched his cap as he turned and walked over to the store, where Bob Brady, the station bookkeeper, stood waiting for him.
It was with some surprise that Brady heard Salathiel, as he drew nearer, cursing the Major bitterly.
"What did the boss want you for, Jack?" he asked sharply
"I have to drive the bull-calf that's bellowing down in the yards to Maitland, and be back by sundown," replied Jack sullenly.
The bookkeeper looked at Salathiel for a moment, with an amused twinkle in his eye, and then burst into a laugh. The idea of the tall, handsome, steady-going Government man (a convict) who helped him with the station accounts, and for twelve months had scarcely soiled his hands, having a bull-calf in tow on the Maitland road! He liked Salathiel well; but this was too much for his gravity.
"I'll bet you half a crown, Jack," he exclaimed, laughing heartily, "you won't get the brute outside the home-paddock slip-panels inside two hours; those bull-calves, out of the run, are perfect devils to handle alone."
"He says "—and the man's face flushed again with shame—"that if I am not back with the butcher's receipt by sundown, he'll see that I get fifty lashes. Curse him!" he ejaculated, "it's over twelve miles there, isn't it?"
The bookkeeper stopped laughing, for he liked Salathiel. He knew him to be an educated man, altogether different from the common run of convicts; he knew how hardly he had struggled with his lot, and how assiduously he had tried to please the Major; if possible, in some measure to retrieve his lost position. And so this reserved, kindly, self-contained young fellow was to be broken and degraded at the triangles on the whim of a military despot! Brady was rough and hard himself, but his whole soul was moved with indignation at the injustice and brutality of the thing. "Jack," he suddenly exclaimed, "if I were a Government man and had a job given me like that, with such an alternative, I'm hanged if I wouldn't clear out and turn bushranger!"
* * * * * * * *
It was an unhandled, newly-branded calf, fresh from the run, that Salathiel had to take to Maitland. A stout rope was knotted around its thick neck, so that, whatever tricks it might play, it could not well choke. Struggling and bellowing, it took two men to get it out of the yard, and they grinned at each other as they passed the rope over to Jack. It was breakfast time; the boss was not about, so they climbed to the top rail of the stock-yard fence, and pulling out their pipes, sat down to see the performance.
They had not long to wait. The sting of the hot branding iron was fresh on the youngster's tender skin, and bellowing wildly, it leaped upon its hind legs, and then started furiously down the hill.
Salathiel knew something about station life; but this was his first experience with a bull-calf. He held on to the brute, however, pulling hard back upon the rope, and ran as fast as possible. By good luck, the animal headed for the Maitland road slip-panels; but Jack's satisfaction was shortlived, for he tripped over a stump hidden in the long grass and, amid roars of laughter from the stockmen, was thrown flat on his back. Clutching savagely at the rope, he was towed over the grass behind the frightened animal, which, with tail erect and foaming at the mouth, made for a distant fence. It was a ludicrous sight, and the bookkeeper and station hands roared with laughter.
"The fence'll stop 'm," said one of the laughing stockmen, "but he'll never get the devil to Maitland unless he carries him."
"The Boss must have a down on Jack to set him such a job," said another. "I wouldn't undertake it for a tenner."
Salathiel would have given it up then and there but for the threatened flogging, for he was badly cut and bruised and hatless; but he held on, hoping that the frightened animal would soon come to a standstill. When at last it stopped, he got up half-dazed, to find the calf with its head and leg thrust between the panels of the fence, so, hitching the rope round a post, he secured his hat and ran to let down the slip-panels. Fortunately, they were not far distant. Taking them down, he stood for a moment to pull himself together. He had been dragged nearly half a mile and was panting, with the sweat pouring off him. Returning, he found that the calf had backed out of the fence, bellowing, if possible, more loudly than before, and, with protruding tongue, was pulling back upon the rope with the strength of a young horse.
It was a big-boned, vicious scrubber, and Jack knew that kindness would only be thrown away. The brute must be mastered and cowed.
"I haven't been flogged for two years," said Jack aloud, "and I'll get you to Maitland somehow, you devil, or choke you." He shuddered at the recollection of the last flogging, of which he still carried the scars. He, by birth and education a gentleman, who, in his youth, had been full of youthful ambition!
"My God!" he exclaimed, "it were better to die!"
But the sun was fast rising in the heavens, so he set himself to undo the strained rope. Then, by main force, he pulled the stubborn brute upon the road, and tied him to the fence while he put up the slip-panels. Salathiel stood six feet in his socks and was broad in the shoulders; he was on his mettle; somehow he would do it in the time. He might be able to get a lift in a cart or dray with the animal, so he unfastened the rope from the fence, and cutting a stout stick, prepared to make a fresh start.
The calf, however, had no intention of starting, and in answer to Jack's "Get up," only bellowed and backed closer to the fence, but a smart blow moved him, when he swerved round to horn Salathiel, and in doing so, got the rope entangled in his legs and fell. On Jack approaching to get him up, he suddenly sprang forward, and with a jerk wrenched the rope out of the man's hands.
"You wretch!" ejaculated Jack, as he rushed after him; but the calf was too quick, and raced off into the bush. It was another hour ere, sweating at every pore, he caught the animal. Twice he had lost sight of him completely. It was marvellous that he caught him at all, on foot; but the rope had got fast in the crooked roots of a fallen tree.
They were both winded by this time, and after once more being started in the right direction, the calf moved quietly along for a while. Suddenly, however, it slewed sharply around, and describing a circle, got the rope round Jack's legs and then made a desperate rush back for the station. The man fell, and was dragged a short distance; but his grip of the rope never relaxed.
Now, as every stockman knows, a six-months bull-calf is a terror to drive alone, under any circumstances; but this one seemed possessed of the strength and viciousness of a dozen of its kind, and at last, after four hours had passed, without having covered as many miles, Salathiel, hungry and wellnigh exhausted with the struggle, tied the animal to a tree and sat down on a fallen log to rest himself and think.
He got his pipe out, for, although he had forgotten to bring food, he had his pipe and tobacco with him. Smoking, he remembered the bookkeeper's hasty words.
"Brady was right," he said to himself, "there's nothing else for it; I'll not go back to be flogged. But it is a brutal shame; I was due for a ticket in less than three months."
The man looked despairingly up at the sun; it was past noon—he could never do it. Then followed further gloomy thoughts, and even tears and broken prayers as he struggled hard with himself, until at last he decided to leave the calf to choke to death, if need be, and make for an outlaw's life in the Liverpool Ranges.
And yet he waited for another hour, hoping that a dray or cart might come along and help him out of his desperate dilemma. He had three long-hoarded one pound notes about him. How willingly would he have given them all to see that calf safely at Maitland!
Presently a gig passed along the road. The driver was a neighbouring squatter, but he only glanced at Jack and the calf suspiciously; he was in a hurry, or he might have pulled up to ask whose calf it was.
Still Jack waited, looking anxiously now up the road, now down. Then he would turn around and glare at the calf, which stood watching for the man's next move, until the whole thing seemed to him like some hideous dream—he could see himself tied again to the triangles, broken and degraded under the brutal lash.
How quiet and inviting, and odorous with the warm smell of gum trees, the great bush was—and yonder were the ranges!
Leaving the calf tied to the tree, Salathiel, sick at heart, went out into the road, and looked carefully up and down for the last time. He could not see or hear any one. Then, like a felon, he slunk off and disappeared.
The inevitable followed, John Joseph Salathiel was gazetted an escaped convict. A month or so afterwards, he, with some others, 'stuck up' the Maitland coach; a constable, who had wounded several bushrangers, was shot dead, and in due course Jack was proclaimed an outlaw.
The story of Jack Salathiel and the bull-calf became a by-word for men to laugh at. It was the last straw, which made a bushranger of a would-be honest man.
One morning, some two months after the events already recorded, McBurton's Hotel, on the Liverpool Plains Road, was uncommonly busy.
There was to be a dinner and a dance that night at a wealthy squatter's about four miles off, and not a few of the guests had looked in on the way to have a drink and lunch and hear the news, or to do some business with acquaintances, before proceeding to the scene of the festivities.
Sam Grant, the overseer at Eurimbla, was among the early arrivals. He had arranged to meet Ben Baxter, of Mount Hope, about some cattle.
"By-the-way, Sam," said the latter, after their business was transacted and they sat in the commercial-room smoking, with glasses before them, "that Jack Salathiel of yours has not let the grass grow under his feet since he took to the Bush. I hear that he is leader now of one of the gangs that has been playing old boots with them up Walcha and Armidale way."
"Ah!" replied Grant, "it's an awful pity about him; he was a quiet enough chap down at Eurimbla, and a gentlemanly fellow too; I hear that old Walker is in a great fluster. Salathiel sent him a letter last week; quite a formal document, by George!—you know he is a fine scholar—threatening him with summary vengeance if he flogged any more Government men on his place without full inquiry."
"Things are coming to a pretty pass," grumbled Baxter, "these dashed mounted police are not a bit of protection. By-the-way, Sam," he continued, laughing, "I hope you had nothing to do with sending the fellow off with that bull-calf to Maitland. It's no wonder the wretch took to the Bush."
Both men were laughing at this, when the overseer, turning round suddenly, exclaimed: "What's up in the bar?"
Evidently something very unusual was happening. The two men rose to their feet and started to the door.
"Bail up now!" cried a rough voice. They were covered by firearms, and threw up their hands immediately.
Three armed men stood in the doorway, and it was evident that resistance would be useless. Not a shot had been fired so far; but judging by the general commotion, the bushrangers were there in force. Both Baxter and Grant were unarmed, so they quietly went back and sat down again upon their chairs, as directed.
"Whose gang is it?" asked Grant nervously.
"Salathiel's," was the answer, "and understand this, there's no one going to be robbed or shot if you keep quiet. The Captain's here on a bit of lynch law business—there's a dozen of us, and the pub surrounded, so there's going to be no flutter, and it's no use making any fuss."
In the meantime, the leader of the gang had walked coolly into the bar, where quite a dozen men were standing, and putting down a one pound note, called for drinks for himself and his men, and any of the company who might care to join them.
The man serving at the bar hesitated for a moment. He had recognized Salathiel, and hearing the clatter of horses outside and the general commotion, completely lost his head.
"Now be quick, my friend, if you don't want a bullet through your skull," said Salathiel, pointing a double-barrelled pistol at him, "there's five of them to serve in front, and the others are somewhere at the back."
In dress and general appearance, Salathiel was now a man very different from the cowed and fearful convict with a bull-calf in tow upon the Maitland Road. His bushy brown beard and moustache were carefully trimmed in the fashion of the time. Gold chain and seals hung from the fob of his well-cut riding breeches, and his jack-boots, bright spurs, smart riding jacket and cabbage-tree wide-awake suggested a wealthy sporting squatter or an officer of mounted troops in mufti.
No one in the bar dared lift a hand against the bushrangers, for they knew that it was as much as their lives were worth to do so.
When the barman, white as a sheet from fright, came back from serving the men outside, he and the others were ordered into the commercial-room, where they found all on the premises gathered under guard. There were several well-known men of the district present, as the gang had expected; for the latter knew all about the dinner and the dance.
Having seen that all was right outside, Salathiel walked in and ordered one of his men to place refreshments on the long table. "It's paid for, all on the square, gentlemen," he said. "If any of you wish to do so, help yourselves."
With that he took a more careful look round the room, nodding to Sam Grant and one or two others whom he recognized, including a Maitland publican, and then called out: "Where's McBurton?"
"I don't think he's at home," replied the barman hastily.
"No lies," said Salathiel quietly. "Go and fetch him here, or we'll serve you as we intend, later on, to serve him."
A few minutes afterwards McBurton was dragged in by one of the gang, followed by the barman. They had found him, half-drunk, hiding in the cellar.
"Stand him down at the other end of the table," commanded Salathiel.
Among the company, besides those already mentioned, there were three commercial travellers and the manager of a big northern station—Jack had hoped that his late master might be there too.
"We are going to give this man a fair trial," said the bushranger, addressing the room, "and if we find him guilty, summary punishment. The charges against him are, that twelve months ago he secured the hanging of two of his assigned servants without just cause, and more recently, the brutal flogging of others for trivial offences...What do you say, McBurton: are you guilty or not guilty?"
"For God's sake spare me, Jack Salathiel," groaned the terrified man.
"Ah well, we'll let you plead not guilty, as a matter of form."
"Fitz," he said, addressing one of the gang, "go into the office and bring out McBurton's old magistrate's Bible, that he used to swear oaths on, before he resigned the Commission of the Peace to start this pub; and you, George," nodding to one of the commercial travellers, "come over here with that order book of yours and take down the depositions, and act generally as clerk of the court. Do you hear?" he called out roughly, picking up his pistol from the table when George hesitated.
"All right, Salathiel; put down your shooting iron," said the commercial man, who was a representative of a big Sydney firm. "Notice, gentlemen," he continued, addressing the company somewhat nervously, "I am acting on compulsion."
Six men, including Baxter, Grant, a commercial, and the Maitland publican, were then gravely sworn on McBurton's Bible, to give a true verdict according to the evidence; and Salathiel called one of his men as first witness for the prosecution. He made him kiss the Book with due formality.
The man was an escaped convict, who, until recently, had been in service on a large selection which McBurton owned. He swore to having been an eyewitness of the hanging of his fellow servants in a paddock, only a few yards from the main road. After frightful ill-usage and provocation, they had attempted McBurton's life.
"How many times were these men flogged by the prisoner's orders before they were executed?" asked Salathiel.
"Mostly every month," replied the witness.
McBurton glared across the table at his old servant, and was heard to mutter something.
"Silence in court!" thundered Salathiel, pointing his double-barrelled pistol at the prisoner. "I won't have the witnesses intimidated. Another word until you are called upon to speak, and I will deal with you myself."
At this, the company behind and nearest to the prisoner hurriedly pushed themselves farther out of the way.
Two other witnesses from the gang then gave evidence on oath, each one corroborating the charges of cruelty, of which many instances were cited.
"Now, what have you to say for yourself, prisoner, in reply to these charges?" said Salathiel harshly. "If you have any witnesses, we'll have them called."
The trembling, bloated wretch, overbearing and cruel as he was, proved a cur at heart. He tottered half fainting with fright at the end of the table, and held the edge of it with his hands; the sweat stood in beads upon his face; but he made no reply. He had no witnesses to call. His revolting cruelty to his assigned servants was the talk of the countryside. He shook his head, but made no answer. His expectation, and that of every man in the room, excepting the gang, was that he would be shot in his tracks as he stood at the end of the table.
"Gentlemen of the Jury," said Salathiel, turning sternly around to the men he had sworn to return a true verdict. "You have heard the evidence; the prisoner at the bar was, like many others, transported here from the old country. What his crimes may have been I don't know. Here he successfully worked himself into the favour of the authorities, until, ultimately, through his wealth, or his cunning, or his villainy, he was made a magistrate—that in itself was illegal, as you all know—but, being on the Commission, it only gave him opportunity for more brutality. He has shown no pity for the men, whose hard lot he himself well knows. To agonizing appeals for mercy from those who were equally his fellows in the sight of God, he has shown no pity. You have heard how he has flogged fainting women with his own hand, when the Government flogger refused to proceed further. Several men have died as the result of floggings by his instructions; two of his victims he has hanged; and dozens have, in various ways, been brutally ill-treated by him. Bad as some of them have been, they are largely what his devilish cruelty made them. You are on your oaths, gentlemen, to do justice between man and man; there is no need for you to retire from the court. I will give you five minutes, by that clock, to consider your verdict. Is the prisoner guilty or not guilty of the charges alleged against him?"
On this Salathiel sat down, somewhat flushed, while a silence as of death fell on the company.
After they had listened to the ticking of the clock for a few minutes, the bushranger looked sternly at the jury and lifted his weapon significantly. It was quite enough; they at once put their heads together and conferred in whispers. It was clear that the gang would stand no trifling.
A moment afterwards the commercial traveller stood up. "Jack Salathiel," said he, "we recommend the prisoner to the mercy of the Court."
"Thank you, gentlemen," said the bushranger, dryly bowing his head to them.
"Prisoner at the bar," he said sternly, looking over at McBurton, "you are found guilty by the jury, although they have not exactly said so; but they recommend you to mercy. Probably you do not know what that means; but I will explain. Had you been found guilty only, you would have been taken out of this court and hanged under your own signboard as a warning to other brutes and murderers; but in view of the jury having recommended you to mercy, the sentence of the Court is that you be stripped and tied under your signboard in full view of the public and receive fifty lashes, well laid on."
Every one passing along the Liverpool Plains Road that afternoon was bailed up to see the flogging, and Salathiel and the gang took good care that the lash (a cat-o'-nine-tails found in McBurton's own office) was properly applied.
McBurton fainted after the thirtieth stroke, so Salathiel ordered him to be cut down, and handed him over, stripped and bleeding as he was, to his wife and daughter.
Although, when it heard of this outrage, the whole Colony laughed in its sleeve and chuckled over McBurton's well-deserved punishment, Salathiel and his gang knew that if anything were likely to stir up the police to unwonted activity, it was the flogging of a one-time magistrate. It was a reflection, also, upon the administration of Justice's justice in the Colony.
The night closed in with a thunderstorm and heavy rain, and Salathiel decided that, under cover of the storm, his gang should scatter for a few weeks. Some of the men grumbled that they had not been allowed to ease the publican and his guests of their loose cash and jewellery; but Salathiel told them that he would not spoil a good thing and explained to them that their moderation would stagger the authorities, and make them not a few friends.
Then he informed them that, as their wants for the time being were well supplied (they had just before 'stuck up' a couple of store-teams), he intended to take himself off south for a month or so, where he had a good thing on. He would meet them when matters had quietened down, at their old rendezvous in the Liverpool Ranges.
At the time of this narrative, Poddy Carey was a settler in one of the fertile valleys of the south coast of New South Wales. The man had been a soldier, and this was a Government grant of three hundred acres, somewhat inconveniently situated near a rocky height, known as Bailey's Bluff, which towered in solitary grandeur above the whole district.
The summit was bare, and also the eastern front, which overlooked the distant Pacific Ocean. On the other three sides it was thickly timbered, the trees, in places, seeming to spring out of the very rock. From the valley they looked little more than bushes, but when near the summit they were found to be good-sized trees. It was a spot to which, in those days, few climbed for pleasure, although they might have done so, for the view of the far off Pacific and long stretch of coast line was unsurpassed even in that romantic district. Landward was a panorama of rural scenery, with occasional glimpses of a broad river and wooded hills, down the sides of which running waters flashed here and there, in the sunlight, on their precipitous courses to broad valleys, where fat cattle fed contentedly and the fruits of a primitive husbandry rewarded the labourer's toil.
Things have altered since then, but at the time of this story a quieter or more secluded place, within easy reach of Sydney, could scarcely have been found. Mails were received only at rare intervals; while railway travelling and telegraph messages were unknown.
The only road from the Sydney side to Poddy Carey's farm was by a steep bridle track around the Bluff.
A little before noon one sweltering hot day, a horseman might have been seen making his way up the track which led in the direction of this farm. The trees were less dense upon the lower portion of the ascent, which was thickly bestrewn with boulders.
"Steady, Fleetfoot, old man! I think I will walk a bit here!" exclaimed the traveller, pulling up the thorough-bred and swinging himself off the saddle.
He turned round and glanced down the steep hillside as he dropped the reins upon the sweating neck of the horse. It would have been a serious matter for either horse or rider to stumble and roll over just there. They were about half-way up, and it was already a fearful descent to look down upon. And yet, as the man trod carefully along, closely followed by his horse, his experienced eye noted the recent tracks of cattle and pigs, as well as of horses.
"I've not lost my way, that's certain," he said aloud; "but what a road to lead to a farm! How on earth can they get butter and eggs and poultry to market, and drive pigs over such a place as this? I suppose the descent is easier on the other side; the track can't exactly cross the summit, so there must be some way round higher up."
At this he cast his eyes through an opening in the trees toward the bald summit which towered above him. Then for a full half-minute he stood motionless.
"Hanged if there isn't a petticoat up there!" he said, "one of Poddy Carey's daughters looking out for Mr. Bennett, I suppose. I remember they told me there would be three girls and two boys to attend school from this selection." Then he laughed, and laughed again, as he trudged up the steep track, still closely followed by his well-trained steed.
Another quarter of a mile brought him to what at first sight seemed a solid wall of rock, from the side of which a substantial fence stretched out to form a wing for fully thirty yards. It had evidently been set up to assist in driving cattle and other animals through some narrow opening.
"Pig proof too!" he ejaculated, examining the fence more closely, with evident approval. Here he re-mounted, and following the beaten track, which was now smoother and broader, he soon came upon another wing of fencing, which turned the traveller abruptly around a jagged corner, when he found himself inside a large natural enclosure, walled in by perpendicular rocks.
"Splendid!" he exclaimed, looking around: "room to muster a couple of hundred head," and then an involuntary exclamation of surprise burst from him, for riding towards him in this strange place, on a wicked-looking piebald pony, came a fair young girl about seventeen years of age, who seemed to have taken in at a glance both Fleetfoot and his rider.
"I suppose you are Mr. Bennett, the new teacher?" she said, as their eyes met. "I'm to be one of your scholars. I'm Betsy Carey," and with that she moved her pony nearer and held out her hand.
"I'm sure I am very pleased to meet you, Miss Carey," he said, taking the outstretched hand in a cordial grip, "and I shall be very glad to have you for a pupil."
"I'm not so sure about that," answered the girl with a pleasant laugh, "we have counted up that there will be fifteen grown-up girls among your scholars in the new school; and some of them threaten to——" At this she stopped suddenly, as though fearful of betraying a confidence.
"I may count, however, upon your assistance and good example. Miss Carey," replied the new teacher, gravely.
"I don't know so much about that," said the maiden demurely; "you see, mother has taught me all that I know, and I've never been to school before; besides, they all say I'm a bit of a limb, and I shall have ten cows to milk before coming to school, and Loiterer here plays up a bit sometimes, and won't be caught, and that always puts me out; so you see, I may not always be of much assistance to you, nor a good example either."
All this was said with the utmost seriousness and frankness of manner, so much so that the teacher could not repress a smile.
"We heard you were coming over, and mother's expecting you to dinner," the girl chattered away; "and there's dumplings, so we had better be quick, or they may be spoiled. By the way, Mr. Bennett, as I'm to be your scholar, you might as well start and call me Betsy; and mother told me to caution you not to take particular notice of father when he swears. It's his way; you may reform him afterwards, when you get to know him better; but he means no harm, and we are all used to it; you know the men do swear a good bit about here."
By this time they had emerged from the enclosure by a somewhat similar opening in the rock on the other side, and the teacher seemed to find it difficult to maintain any sustained conversation with his new acquaintance. Loiterer altogether belied his name, and scrambled along the steep pathway, which now dropped abruptly towards the bed of a shallow stream, and stepped over stones and water-worn ruts and projecting roots of trees, as nimbly as might a goat or cat.
After fording the river, on a pebbly bottom, they cantered across some fertile flats, toward the rising ground upon which the house and rough farm buildings were situated. Loiterer champed his bit and tossed his head meanwhile, in sundry ways making it plain that he and his mistress were used to a little faster travelling, but a slow canter was the quickest pace at which the seemingly city-bred school-teacher cared to travel.
"I'm afraid those dumplings will be heavy," grumbled Betsy, looking up at the sun to note the time as they neared the house. "And, Mr. Bennett," she continued, almost in the same breath, as she bent over her pony and took down a top slip-rail, preparatory to jumping across the two lower ones, "don't expect to see me at school when it rains heavily, for the creek comes down a banker in no time, and there's a good bit to do then about the place; besides, Loiterer isn't a very strong swimmer in a flood."
"My word!" ejaculated the mischievous girl to herself. She had jumped Loiterer over the slip-rails, and then had pulled round to see how the school-teacher was coming along, laughing to herself, as she pictured him fumbling to take down the two remaining slip-rails, to walk his horse through; but instead, to her surprise, the city-bred man, as she supposed him, cleared the lower rails with the ease of an accomplished rough-rider, and then wheeled his horse round and bent over in the saddle to re-place the rail which she had taken down, as though it were the most ordinary thing to do.
At this, the teacher went up considerably in Betsy's estimation, especially as she made some mental notes upon the way he sat in the saddle and managed his horse, which stood side-on to the fence, as steady as a house, while he re-adjusted the rail. It was not exactly a showy animal he rode; but the girl knew the good points of a horse almost as well as her father, and her curiosity was piqued as to how a man who taught school should ride so well and possess so valuable a bit of horse-flesh.
However, as her companion rode up and overtook her, he might have been heard cursing his stupidity under his breath in unscholarly language for not being more on his guard. He had no wish to handicap himself at the start by arousing unnecessary curiosity as to his antecedents.
Whatever she may have thought, the girl made no remark; and they rode up together to the verandah of the house, where Mrs. Carey—one of those women 'whose price is above rubies'—stood waiting to welcome the visitor.
The clanging of a bullock bell announced to the family that the teacher had arrived and dinner was ready. As may be imagined, to have an educated stranger from Sydney to dinner at the Careys' was not an everyday occurrence, and the visit of the new teacher had been a matter of no little concern to them all.
Poddy Carey was glad to have his boys and girls taught, but he hated fuss. His wife, however, was a woman whose superior intelligence had largely assisted in securing a teacher for the district, and she had prepared for his visit with a foresight worthy of herself and the occasion.
The long dinner table was loaded with savoury viands, a chair stood at either end for the heads of the household, and one for the school-master, with two long forms to accommodate the rest of the family.
"That's Bob, mister," said Poddy Carey, as a tall young man came in and, with some bashfulness, took his place at the table. Pat and Alice and Madge and Judy, and others to the number of nine, were similarly introduced to the teacher's notice, and the meal was begun without further formality.
The visitor having made a few remarks about the heat of the day and want of rain in the district, settled down to enjoy his dinner, and for a time there was a somewhat awkward silence, broken only by the clash of knives and forks and occasional clatter of tea-cups, as they were copiously replenished by Betsy lower down the table.
Mrs. Carey was naturally quiet and talked but little, but she kept a hospitable eye on the teacher's plate, to make good any remissness on the part of her big husband; but at the same time, unobserved, she watched his face and wondered, as a woman will, over a score of things regarding his personality and propensities.
"I suppose he drinks a bit," she thought to herself, "or they would not have let so good-looking a man come down to an out-of-the-way place like this. I wonder how he got that scar on his forehead; you can see it now he has removed his hat. He looks like a married man, or he would not be so neat and tidy with his clothes; but then, he's too clever and gentlemanly for any of our girls. What white teeth he has! He is a nice man by the look and talk of him. I'll answer for it that brazen Kitty Conroy will be making up to him. I wish he would talk a bit about Sydney and himself. I'll ask him presently what schools he has taught and whether he has been long in the Colony. I'm rather sorry he's not boarding with us—he might have taught Jim and Pat a bit at night—but we're too far away. He looks an obliging, pleasant-tempered man, and is evidently well-bred." And then the good woman sighed, as she thought of the rough work and hard and uncouth surroundings of her married life, and for a moment compared them with earlier days when she was a girl, in the pleasant home of her parents in Herefordshire.
Mrs. Jim Carey was well liked and respected by all the neighbours. She had kept her husband straight, and her knowledge and sagacity and kindly nature and persevering industry had largely aided his success in life. The sobriquet, which first attached itself to him when he used to ride through the district buying up poddy calves and weaklings and an occasional cow or bullock without a brand, still stuck; but he was now a comparatively well-to-do man. He might have been a magistrate, and had Government men at his beck and call to work and flog; but Mrs. Carey had influenced her husband and indeed almost all the neighbourhood, to keep the district clear of convict labour. "Things are bad enough for a mother with five girls to rear, without that," she would say. And rough and hard as big Jim was, he agreed with her.
"How do you like the school-house we have put up?" asked Mrs. Carey, presently.
"It's very comfortable and central," replied the teacher.
"A bit out of the way, though, isn't it, schoolmaster?" said big Jim, passing his cup down for more tea.
"No, I don't think so," said the teacher.
"Been better more to this way," persisted Poddy. "I wanted it put nearer the south side of the creek, so that you might have boarded with the Mitchells. You may thank my Missis there for the shed for the horses and the skillion to your shanty. I drew the slabs for the school with my bullocks, and, as there were a few over, got the chaps to use 'em up in the lean-to and sheds. I see you've got a dashed fine horse. Chaps like you don't often get hold of thoroughbreds; if you'd been a stranger like, and not a teacher, we should have reckoned that you might have come by it on the cross."
The whole family laughed at this as a good joke, "Fancy," whispered Alice to Madge, "a schoolmaster coming by anything on the cross!"
The teacher laughed with the rest; but Mrs. Carey was annoyed with her husband, for she was watching her visitor closely when the question was put to him and thought he gave a start, as though he resented it. However, the laugh seemed to have broken through the teacher's reserve, and put them all upon a more friendly footing, and by the time a big pudding was brought in by Madge, with a dish of cream, Mr. Bennett was chatting away pleasantly with his future pupils and their parents.
"I suppose you have taught school in several places before in the Colony?" queried Mrs. Carey.
The teacher hesitated a moment, and then replied: "No, not in a district or town school in New South Wales, Mrs. Carey."
"I thought I heard that you were a teacher at Patrick's Plains or Maitland?" replied the good woman, somewhat discomposed.
"I know those towns," said Bennett quietly, "and have taught there; but not in any of the town schools."
"Ah," interjected Big Jim, standing up, "you've been schoolmaster on some of the stations! Come outside, mister, and smoke a pipe of 'bacca on the veranda."
Mrs. Carey presently came out with a chair and sat on the veranda with the men, knitting in hand; for she was never idle, and when the washing up was done, the three elder girls joined them, Alice seating herself on the steps with Madge, and Betsy on the verandah floor, on the other side of her father, her feet touching the grass which grew around the house.
Her mother was giving some information to the teacher about a family named O'Grady, whom she wished him to call upon, in the expectation of securing the children as scholars.
Where Betsy sat, with her back against a veranda post, she could look straight up into the teacher's face. He was smoking a silver-mounted pipe, and seemed, to the girl, to be in a fit of abstraction.
"He's not a bit interested in the school or scholars," thought Betsy with a feeling of disappointment. "I wonder what he's thinking about."
"Mr. Bennett," she said abruptly.
"Well, Miss Carey," he replied, smiling.
"I was wondering what you were thinking about, after mother told you about the O'Gradies."
"To tell you the truth," he said, after a short pause, "the name reminded me of a bushranger of that name, and that led me to think of something I heard on the road; something which happened near Singleton, only last week."
"Tell us about it, mister," said Poddy, taking his pipe out of his mouth to refill, "there's no news down here; we only get a neighbour's paper about once a fortnight, and that is often a month old."
He had been half-asleep while his wife was talking, but now evinced considerable interest.
"You girls had better go in and get ready for the milking," said Mrs. Carey, with motherly thoughtfulness.
"Cows won't be up for another hour, mother," expostulated Alice, who was all eagerness to hear the news.
The teacher paused for a good half-minute, when, as nothing more was said about the girls going away, he remarked: "There's nothing very bad about it, Mrs. Carey, no one was robbed or murdered; but the chief actors will have the mounted police after them, hot and strong, for all that."
Poddy Carey gave a short, dissatisfied grunt, as though he thought that, without robbery and murder, the story was not likely to be of much account; but the teacher proceeded.
"You may have heard of Jim McBurton's hotel on the Liverpool Plains Road, a few miles out of Singleton? Well, one day last week Jack Salathiel's gang rode up early in the afternoon, and 'stuck it up,' and made up a jury, and tried old McBurton in the commercial-room, and found him guilty of brutal ill-treatment of his Government men. They flogged him afterwards under his own sign-board."
"Tell us all about it, Mr. Bennett," said Betsy eagerly.
"Wasn't that the man who turned bushranger over a calf?" asked Alice.
The schoolmaster flushed a little and drew his silk handkerchief across his face. It might have been the warm afternoon, thought Mrs. Carey, and the fact of his not yet being seasoned to the humid coastal heat; but he could not resist the sparkling eyes and eager questions of the girls, and presently he found himself telling them far more than he had intended of what he knew about Jack Salathiel and the astonishing bushranging episode which had occurred only the previous week at the Liverpool Plains Road Hotel. "I've heard about McBurton before," was Poddy Carey's comment when the teacher had done, "and it served him dashed well right...But you're a great hand at telling a yarn, schoolmaster," he continued; "why, you might have been there yourself!"
"I've read it in the papers," said the teacher quietly; "the commercial that acted as clerk of the court had once been a newspaper reporter, and he sent a vivid description of it all to the newspapers."
As he rode back to the lonely school-house late in the afternoon, the new teacher, devil-may-care as he was, felt a trifle uneasy in his mind. Both Betsy and Alice were evidently greatly taken with him, and he was afraid he might have trouble with them and some of the other girls he had heard about. "It was a fool's trick to tell them so much about that Singleton affair," he thought; and then he laughed and wondered what Betsy would say when she found out that the narrator of the story was none other than the notorious Jack Salathiel himself.
And yet, after all, he was somehow glad that he had told them; hardened as he was, he had good in him, and neither he nor his men had taken life, except in self-defence and in open combat. It was pleasant, also, for once to have had the chance of defending his character before respectable people, and he fell into a more thoughtful mood.
"Hang it all!" he suddenly ejaculated, "I wish I had some grog in the shanty; if I go on like this I shall become as nervous as a cow."
Then, somehow, he thought of Betsy Carey again, and laughed. She had not shown much nervousness, he thought, and he guessed that it was even possible she might enjoy the joke of an outlaw, whose very name was a terror to thousands, personating a country schoolmaster.
"She would never 'come it' on me," he said to himself, involuntarily making use of an expression often on the lips of the convicts.
A man who undertakes to personate another must be prepared to confront novel and unexpected difficulties, and when Salathiel undertook to play the part of John Bennett in the Broadhaven Valley, he met with many more surprises than he had bargained for.
It was necessary for his plans that he should remain for at least three weeks or a month in the district, and that, he found, would necessitate his carrying out the schoolmaster's role pretty well in its entirety. Capable and audacious as he was, he found that he needed to have all his wits about him to sustain the character he had assumed.
In a rough and homely way, the school committee had done its best to make the new teacher comfortable. A tiny two-roomed slab shanty, with a front veranda, had been run up for a residence by the side of the school-house. This had been roughly furnished with tables and chairs and a stretcher by the committee. He was to have his dinner at night at a neighbouring settler's homestead, some half a mile distant; and the considerate thoughtfulness of Mrs. Carey and others had seen to his being provided with a start in the way of ordinary housekeeping.
One had sent over tea and sugar, another flour, another bacon, and another corned beef; for, rough as they mostly were, they were good-hearted folk, and the opening of a school was regarded as a very important event by the community. But, somehow, things cropped up which Jack had never dreamed of. It was suggested that a Sunday afternoon service might be held once a month in the school-house; and one of the first questions put to Jack by old Donald Macpherson was whether he could sing the Psalms of David and preach a bit.
Jack gravely promised to think it over, and, to gain time, recommended Macpherson to consult the school committee about it; he said he must get his school curriculum going first. The Latin word staggered Donald, as it was intended to, and he assured his wife and family that the new schoolmaster was a "varre larn'd mon."
There was a three-quarter moon shining, so, after Jack had made a billy of tea, he went out into the warm night air to have a smoke, and sat down upon a log in the school-house paddock.
He turned over in his mind the events of the day, and laughed a good deal to himself about Poddy Carey and Betsy. He was not apprehensive, at present, of any unlooked-for consequences attending this last daring move of his. There was no one but Bennett, the schoolmaster, to give him away, and he had made it all right in that quarter. It was evident to him that he was going to have some fun among the unsophisticated natives of the district; but he must be careful.
His chief anxiety was how he should start the school and carry it on with a decent measure of success. He thought of his big and probably unruly scholars, not a few of whom would be young women of from seventeen to one and twenty, and young cornstalks in their teens, some as tall, or taller, than himself.
"I've got myself into a pretty mess this time, and no mistake," he said; and then he laughed at the grotesqueness of the whole situation, laughed until his pipe went out and an owl hooted at him, somewhere from the surrounding bush.
This startled him for a moment, for it was a well-known signal among outlaws; but having satisfied himself that this was only the ill-omened hoot of a bird, he returned and sat down on the log again.
It was one of those still, soft, dreamy nights, which, in the moonlight of a voluptuous Australian summer, inclines to thought, and awakens memories which live below the surface thoughts of ordinary life.
Salathiel had no regret that he had wrested freedom from the hands of a hard fate, even at the price of outlawry; it was something to breathe that unfettered air and feel himself his own master. And, before we condemn this man too severely, we should remember that the whole atmosphere of his life, for many years, had been tainted by his surroundings; for in those days the Bush morals of Australia were crude and lax. Vast areas of country, called 'runs,' were unfenced; might was mostly right; and the ownership of the great herds of cattle which roamed the grassy wastes a matter of perpetual give-and-take among the squatters. Acts which in these days would send men to prison were winked at as smart and clever, if the perpetrators were only high enough up the social ladder. With not a few, it was understood that beef killed for station purposes should, as a rule, bear some other man's brand. A squatter, dining with a neighbour, would be hospitably urged to take another helping from a juicy sirloin which, he well knew, was cut from one of his own prime beasts; and he retorted upon his neighbour by the simple plan of doing as he was done by.
It is not to be wondered at that the rights of property were lightly regarded by so many of the convict servants of the squatters; or that bushranging was resorted to by desperate men, and bushrangers so generally protected by those who indirectly or otherwise benefited by their robberies. Salathiel, however, was much above the ordinary class of outlaws, and sitting on that log, he struck a train of thought which carried him far away from the valley farms and his present grotesque surroundings. His father was of Jewish parentage, married to an educated woman of Gentile blood. He was now a man of wealth and social position in Sydney, although the bar sinister was on the family escutcheon, for, through a trivial offence in boyhood, the elder Salathiel had been a 'convict once.' Sorrow had, however, sweetened and purified his father's life, and sitting there, Salathiel recalled the early teachings of his mother and the refined surroundings of his father's household. Like many another convict, he had had a good education and pious training; but in a weak hour of temptation he had brought himself within the clutches of a pitiless law, too often, in those hard days, administered to first offenders—especially if they were the children of one-time convicts—without being tempered by mercy. He had worked for twelve months with a road gang in irons; and truly Fate seemed doggedly against him, for, after getting out of the chain gang, through an intrepid act of bravery, by which, at great personal risk, he saved a soldier's life, he fell into the hands of a hard, exacting master, who, on frivolous pretences, so that he might retain his services the longer, prevented him from getting his good conduct ticket. Soured and dispirited, he was then assigned to the owner of Eurimbla station, where he had, several times, contemplated suicide; but his early teaching saved him, and he plodded along at his work, until he was ultimately promoted to assist the bookkeeper. To escape a threatened flogging he had taken to the Bush; and yet he would have given much that night, hardened as he was, if he could have redeemed the past, even to settle down amid the simple-minded people living around the Bluff.
It was arranged that on the following Saturday there should be a formal opening of the school and welcome to the new teacher. A local magistrate was to preside, and Jack had been asked by the committee to give a short address upon 'Education,' and intimate the lines upon which he proposed to conduct the school.
"Let me see," thought Jack, "I shall have to teach reading and spelling, writing and arithmetic, history and geography, grammar and singing. I might introduce drill, dancing, and deportment. By the way, some instruction in shooting might not be out of place for the elder boys. Oh," he exclaimed, "I am forgetting Scripture lessons, which that old sinner, Donald Macpherson, lays so much stress upon. Yes, I could even teach that, without being any more of a hypocrite and a humbug than are scores of present day parsons. They won't want Euclid, algebra, or drawing, while I am here, at any rate; and as for languages, they are outside the curriculum of Elementary Schools, I must look over those books Bennett gave me, and then, I think, I can start without fear of local criticism or the chance of the beggars tripping me up."
His thoughts went back to Bennett again, "Oh, there's no fear! He'll never 'come it' on me," he said, and laughed.
Salathiel had made the acquaintance of the schoolmaster at a Bush hotel, where the outlaws of the district could always count on a welcome, and friendly warning if necessary. Men of Bennett's profession were frequently addicted to periodical bouts of drinking, nor is it much to be wondered at, in the then state of things. The life of a Bush school-teacher was lonely and monotonous, and the surroundings were mostly uncongenial to an educated man. Many of them had taken to the life under a cloud, and drink was their nepenthe.
Jack had taken to Bennett on their first meeting, for he soon found out that there was a good deal in common between them; and as Bennett was teaching on a neighbouring station, they not infrequently met, and with pipe and glass and talk of other scenes and days, beguiled the hours of night. On one of these occasions, Bennett told Salathiel of the offer he had, to go to the south coast district to take charge of a new school, and it was then it occurred to the bushranger to personate him and carry out a certain matter which he had long planned to accomplish.
So, on the assurance of good behaviour, and also on the payment of a substantial consideration, which was a windfall to the needy schoolmaster, he had got Bennett to agree to the deception. Schoolmasters were scarce, and it turned out that Bennett had the choice of another situation on a Western run, so he took the money, and giving out that he was going south, went west, under an assumed name. There was very little risk in this for the schoolmaster, for in the Forties one name was as good as another in the case of a large portion of the free men of the Colony.
Late on the following night, Salathiel was again sitting in the school-house paddock, smoking in the bright moonlight, which seemed to saturate every object of the now familiar landscape, when his quick ear suddenly caught the sound of a horse's hoofs in the distance. Sound travels strangely far on some of those valley roads, owing to a hollow, or extended rock formation, below the subsoil.
Looking at his watch, Jack saw that it was near midnight. "Some belated traveller on the Broadhaven main road," he thought. "A doctor, maybe?" but he put up his pipe and pulled out a finely fashioned, double-barrelled pistol from an inside pocket.
"How conscience makes cowards of us all!" he said, as he stepped out of the school-house paddock upon the roadway, and put his ear to the ground. He listened intently for several minutes, with surprise amounting almost to consternation in his face. "A trooper's horse," he whispered, "and he's turned off the main road, on to the track which passes the school-house. Good thing I've got Fleetfoot handy and know the lay of the back country; but it is impossible that I can have been tracked down here. Absolutely impossible! I'm John Bennett, and the whole Colony knows that Jack Salathiel is hiding somewhere in the Northern Ranges. It's too soon to be the Lieutenant!"
He walked quickly over to the teacher's residence, and locking the door, disappeared amid the deep Bush shadows which the slanting moonbeams made darker by contrast.
For another ten minutes the sound of the tramping horse-hoofs drew nearer, and then ceased. Several minutes of absolute silence followed. Then, within a short distance of the school, the melancholy call of a mopoke was heard, which was shortly answered by a similar cry from the bush behind the schoolhouse.
The call was twice repeated, and almost directly afterwards a tall stranger, leading a horse, took down the school paddock slip-rails, and was met by Salathiel.
"You're earlier by a week than I expected!" was the bushranger's greeting to a distinguished looking man in an undress military uniform.
"Yes, we must look sharp, for I must be off again within the hour. I suppose I shall have to ride over again in about a fortnight...Well," said the new-comer, as he looked at the rough furniture of the room, and laughed. "I got your letter. How are you getting on with your pupils?"
"Not started school yet," replied Jack, who seemed ill at ease as his visitor seated himself. "Major Browne, of the Broadhaven estate, presides at the school opening on Saturday. I suppose they have no inkling in Sydney of my whereabouts?"
"You were a fool to flog McBurton," said the visitor, without replying to Jack's question. "There was nothing in it. Could you not have come down here quietly, without stirring up a hornets' nest like that? Remember, if you're taken, I can't protect you. I run some risk of being suspected as it is; but you were always a stiff-necked fellow over matters of conscience, even when we were at school together. You're safe enough here at present; but what you expected to gain by flogging McBurton I can't think. You even paid for the drinks you had there, they tell me."
"It served him right and it was a wholesome lesson to other brutes like him," replied Jack.
"Oh, I don't dispute that; but there's nothing in it! If you had cleared off with a couple of thousand, it might have been worth while. Mind, however, that you don't make a mess of things down here. Captain Moore was asking me something about you the other day, and made a suggestion, which, I can tell you, I resented. I believe he knows that we have to get your signature to the documents, for he offered me one of these little toys, and asked me to fake up an appointment with you somewhere, and blow your brains out!"
Jack picked up a small pocket revolver, which his visitor had placed on the table, and examined it curiously; it had been newly invented, and this was one of a small parcel which had recently reached Sydney. "Pretty toy, isn't it?" said the visitor, "six chambers, and a death warrant in each. The Captain carries one in his breeches pocket; I'll see if I can't get you one later!"
"So Moore told you to blow my brains out while I was signing my name to a document, did he?" said Jack.
"Yes, I ordered him out of the house, and told him to do his own murders. Oh, he's a daisy! I was sorry afterwards that I crossed him, for he sent around to your old father out of sheer spite, and made him go up King Street and report himself at head-quarters as an ex-convict. And, what do you think? your father had the carriage out, with coachman and footman, and drove up in evening dress! Moore damned him to his face, for what he called his impertinence. He'll be shot some day."
"He will so," said Salathiel bitterly, "unless I get hold of him first, in which case he will be hanged."
"Ah well, hang him and welcome, if you get the chance. Men such as he in office only make criminals, but don't complicate things by any fool's tricks down here. My advice to you is to keep quiet and, as soon as possible, get out of the country. But come, the night's passing, and I must get a good few miles away from this before the moon goes down; let's get to business."
There followed in low tones an earnest conversation between the two men, in which Salathiel's sister was several times mentioned, and such words as bank, police, government, and documents, might have frequently been heard. The stranger seemed to be urging Salathiel to some course of which the bushranger disapproved. However, Jack signed his name to a paper; but strong language was used, more than once, by both men, and the mysterious visitor even used veiled threats, which the bushranger evidently resented.
It was more than an hour before the Lieutenant mounted his horse and rode away; but the two men shook hands as they parted.
When Salathiel at last threw himself upon his bed to snatch a few hours' sleep, a strange thing happened to him. It seemed to his excited brain more like a vision than a dream. He was a youth again, and from a plain in front of him there arose three green hills. One of them was crowned with a great palace, and in its sumptuous halls was a throne of gold, and on the throne a king of evil visage.
"I am lord of this world," he heard him say; "bow down and worship me, and riches, and power, and honour shall be thine." He saw the vast hall thronged with willing worshippers, and by many paths multitudes hastened upwards, to render the dark visaged world-king homage; but he himself passed by, and he felt thankful.
Around the central hill darkness had gathered, and when it was illumined for a moment by a flash of lightning he saw upon the summit a cross, and upon it hung a Man of countenance marred, but of strange, ineffable love and sweetness. And on the storm-wind was borne a voice, which called his name. He saw himself pause at the foot of the hill, as though hesitating. It was but for a moment, however, and then, alas! he passed on toward the third hill, with hurried stride.
On the summit of this was spread a garden of wondrous beauty and loveliness, bathed in soft sunlight; and in the midst of its verdant foliage, and brilliant flowers, and luscious fruits, was a fragrant bower, where, in silken robes, there reclined a fair woman. He started, for the beautiful face and eyes and wavy hair were familiar to him. Then he saw himself, in the pride of early manhood, pass in and kneel before her, and lo! he was garbed in convict dress, and he thought that he shaped his lips to curse her; but as he did so, the vision faded.
Evidently more was meant than appeared on the surface, when the schoolmaster, speaking of Salathiel, told the girls at Poddy Carey's how the Evil One first lures, then leads, and last of all, drives.
There was not a farm for ten miles around the Bluff that was not astir earlier than usual, on the Saturday following the arrival of the new schoolmaster.
The school opening was to be made a great affair. Major Browne, who owned the big estate at Broadhaven, was to preside. Tot Gardiner was going to sing. Amos Gordon, the local preacher, and Mr. Bennett were to be among the speakers. There was to be a great luncheon before the meeting, and an impromptu dance and concert in the evening; and already, on every side, Mr. Bennett was a much talked of man.
It had all been arranged by the Committee a week before; Bothered Shawn, the shepherd fiddler, and Jack Haynes, with his flute, and Craig Dixon's omnipresent concertina, had all been bespoken. It had even been informally agreed that the night milking should be omitted for once, so that young and old alike might fittingly commemorate the introduction of school-teaching into the Broadhaven Valley.
The supply of food was prodigious. Every settler had baked something for the school feast. Major Browne had killed a prime bullock, from which to cut huge rounds of spiced beef. The Lords, not to be outdone, were sending some prime hams, of Mrs. Lord's famous curing. Mrs. Carey, in addition to bread and cakes, had sent half a keg of butter, and a big cheese, which was a great rarity. And other well-to-do settlers, catching the prevailing infection, had arranged to contribute substantially in kind. Bread and potatoes, scones and cakes, cape-gooseberries and wild strawberry tarts and pies were coming in from all quarters. Judy Gardiner said that the flowers and fruit would be immense.
Never had the district cattle such a time as that morning. They were hurried up to the yards by excited boys and girls, at earliest dawn, for branding and drafting, while the milk foamed into the buckets, as the girls hurried through their work, to be free to give a helping hand with the general preparations. Great hardwood logs had been cut for the fires behind the school-house, on which the huge iron boilers were to be placed, to boil the big floury potatoes and heat the water for the tea; and a heap of firewood had been gathered, which would last the schoolmaster for a month. People would certainly be there from all quarters and long distances, on horseback, and by bullock dray, and on foot, so that the Committee decided that they would be all the better for a meal before the ceremony; then a high tea was to follow, and what was left would make up a scratch supper for the dancers.
Jack Salathiel, or rather Mr. John Bennett, was fairly astounded when he heard of the magnitude of these preparations and the general enthusiasm. Young men and girls had, on the previous afternoon, taken possession of his school-house; green boughs were dragged up for decorative purposes, and deft fingers had made rosettes and paper-flowers. A stuffed kangaroo and emu had been placed over the doorway, draped with flags lent by the Major, and an extemporized flagstaff was set up in front of the school-house, on which the Royal Standard, also kindly lent by the Major, was to be unfurled.
The long shed for the horses was extended with a frame of saplings and roofed in with tarpaulins. This was also transformed by greenery into a capacious bower, where the food was to be served from several tables.
By noon, the first arrivals, mostly from a long distance, were on the ground, each one with some good thing to augment the general store; and when grace was said by Amos Gordon, at one o'clock precisely, there were fully two hundred people, old and young, present to partake of the good things provided.
Bothered Shawn and his fellow-musicians had been regaled beforehand, so that they could discourse music to the company while they ate. "Never saw such a splendacious spread, even in the old country," said Bothered Shawn to Craig Dixon; and the latter, with half a big ham sandwich in his mouth, cordially agreed.
The size of the gathering took every one by surprise, especially the schoolmaster. Jack had no idea how so many people could possibly have been got together in such a place; but Major Browne attributed it to the effect of the recent bounty system of immigration, by which some thousands of new-comers were every year being brought into the Colony.
The men not employed with the preparations sat about on fallen logs and on the lower rail of the fence, gazing a trifle dazedly upon the unaccustomed scene. In one corner an impromptu wrestling match was going on among the youngsters. A great cluster of gaily-dressed girls had gathered near the booth; while the schoolmaster, sprucely attired, with a high collar and black stock, flowered waistcoat and dark coat and trousers, moved to and fro among the visitors.
Betsy Carey had told her sister Alice that morning while they were milking, that Mr. Bennett would, without doubt, be the handsomest and best dressed man of the whole crowd, and her anticipations had proved correct. It was plain that he was winning favour with the people, the young folk especially; he had the softness and deliberateness of speech which usually accompanies education, and had told a committee-man that his people were of good family—presumably, of course, in England.
When the big bullock bell rang for luncheon, Jack was talking with Major Browne under the flag, which, from the summit of a tall sapling, fluttered languidly above the animated scene.
"You'll find the district a bit rough, Mr. Bennett," the Major was saying, "but, bless me"—looking around on the people—"it's evidently growing. There's a fine agricultural country here, and although there is not much money in circulation, the settlers do well with their crops and cattle. You'll find it a bit lonesome, perhaps, after school hours, but I'll be glad to see you at the station occasionally, and there are some good men on the committee and in the neighbourhood, and they'll look after you, no doubt. I suppose you have drawn up a bit of a programme for the ceremony. I'm not much of a speaker myself."
The programme arranged by the Committee and copied out in Jack's neat handwriting was shown to the Major, who signified his approval, and they passed in together to where luncheon awaited them.
Jack had treated himself to a partial shave, and allowed his dark curly hair to grow to a length which seemed to him becoming in a school-teacher. It would have been difficult for any ordinary observer, even if he had casually met him before, to identify the spruce schoolmaster with John Joseph Salathiel 18—No. B. 473. He had looked most carefully over the assemblage, and keenly watched for every new arrival, going up and cordially shaking him by the hand, as he introduced himself; but he could recognize no one, and with a growing sense of security, he threw off his reserve and joked with the girls, and talked cattle and crops and horse-flesh to the men, and primary education to the elders of both sexes, to the open admiration of the School Committee. His great anxiety had been Major Browne; but he found to his intense satisfaction that this gentleman had only once been through Maitland, and then some time before his assignment to Eurimbla. He was a kind and intelligent man; and as one of the few employers of convict servants in the district and the largest local landowner, was looked up to and treated with great deference and respect. It was regarded by the Committee as a triumph when he consented to preside over the school opening, and they were delighted when they heard before the meeting that, in conversation with Mr. Gordon, he had expressed a dignified approval of their selection of Mr. John Bennett as schoolmaster.
It was an hour and a half before the feasting was over and the people had settled themselves in and around the school-house for the inaugural ceremony. The building was lofty and fairly capacious, and had been built of sawn slabs, on the model of one of the settlers' big barns. It contained only one glass window (at the southern end), below which the teacher's desk had been erected on a small platform. A corresponding opening (but larger) with a shutter faced the north, with the doorway and two openings on the west, while three similarly shuttered open squares let in light from the east. The building was roofed with hard wood shingles, and was surrounded on all four sides by a broad veranda, roofed with the same material. On the beaten earth floor, strong forms without backs were arranged on either side, leaving a broad aisle up the centre.
A few wooden chairs, which were placed in front, had been borrowed to accommodate the performers and singers and some of the better class visitors. But, in the excitement of the hour, these, to the dismay of the Committee, had been occupied by some way-back mothers and their children, who had hastened over dinner in order to secure good seats. It could not be helped, for the place was now full, and more room had to be made on and around the platform. A crowd of men and boys stood at the back, and clusters of others occupied the open window spaces.
Major Browne was evidently nervous as he gazed around through his gold eye glasses upon the company; but good temper was written upon all faces, and it was plain that the people intended to enjoy themselves, without undue criticism of the performance.
The schoolmaster had been placed on the right hand of the chairman, and the secretary of the School Committee, Mr. Silas Stump, on the left, while around them were seated other members of the Committee with Amos Gordon, the local preacher, whose fine, genial old countenance was known and revered for many a mile around the coastal districts. He had been cracking some joke with a committeeman; and it was pleasant to hear the old man laugh and see him rub his hands together appreciatively.
"Old Preacher Gordon will make a funny speech," whispered Tot Gardiner to Betsy Carey, "you see if he doesn't; he ate a great dinner and drank half a bucket of tea; he's feeling in great form, you bet!"
Betsy nudged her to keep quiet, for an awkward silence had come over the place; the chairman seemed to be waiting for something. Just then Bothered Shawn put a finishing touch to the tuning of his fiddle, to the frantic amusement of some cornstalks standing in the rear.
Silas Stump now whispered something to the chairman, and Major Browne immediately rose. A few of the Committee clapped their hands; but the audience generally were new to the business and waited for the speaker to proceed.
"Neighbours and friends," the Major began, "I am pleased to meet you all and to preside at the inauguration of the first school opened in the district. This large gathering is one of the best proofs of the want of a school such as is about to be established. I congratulate you on the pleasant surroundings of this auspicious occasion. We have a fine day, abundant provision made for the inner man, and good appetites to enjoy it. The School Committee, by whose laudable exertions and your generous cooperation this spacious school-house has been put up, are to be congratulated." (At this there was a burst of cheering.) "They deserve well of the Broadhaven district." (Renewed cheering.)
"I am glad also to meet with your new schoolmaster, Mr. John Bennett, who is apparently well fitted to discharge the important duties which will devolve upon him." (The cheering at this was louder than before.) "I ask you to assist him in his work by sending your children punctually and regularly to school, upholding his authority and discipline, and showing yourselves interested in the children's studies."
"Hear, hear!" cried Bob Blake, who had better have kept quiet, for he had a most unruly crowd of youngsters.
"Mr. Bennett will address you later on, upon the importance of education, so I need not dwell upon that. We have had the addition of a number of new settlers lately; we wish to see the children growing up with an intelligent knowledge of reading, writing, and arithmetic, for which they will be the better in every way. The sight of the large number of young people and children here to-day is an astonishment to me. There is evidently work here for the schoolmaster. I congratulate you on your choice, and now formally declare this school-house open for the purposes of instruction. I shall be pleased to give five guineas to the school funds, for prizes and so forth each year."
The Major sat down, wiping his perspiring face with a large silk handkerchief, and a committee-man, leading off the applause, audibly declared that the chairman had done famously.
"Mr. Shawn will now favour us with a violin solo," said the chairman. At this moment a clatter of horses' hoofs was heard outside, and some of the veranda onlookers suddenly vacated the windows. Salathiel started slightly and turned pale. "Supposing that he should be arrested by the police in the midst of such a scene as this," he thought. But he would sell his life dearly, and he felt for the small double-barrelled pistol which he always carried loaded in a side-pocket.
There was no cause for apprehension, however, for the commotion was only made by some late arrivals; and Bothered Shawn rendered a familiar air, with variations, accompanied by a flute.
Mr. Silas Stump was now called upon to speak on behalf of the Committee.
"Major Browne, friends and narbours," he commenced.
"Cut it short, Stumpy," called out a red-headed youngster from the back row.
Silas made a long pause, and glared threateningly at the youth, but wisely refrained from further notice of the interruption. He knew that for various reasons he was not popular with a section of the audience; but he mentally resolved that the couple of long canes he had provided for the use of the schoolmaster would, by some means or other, make the acquaintance of Mick Cassidy's person at a very early date.
He commenced again, speaking less correctly in his perturbed condition. "Mister Cheerman, friens and narbours, the Committee of this ere school don me the honour of appointing me their secretary."
"'Ear, 'ear!" called out a committee-man as Silas paused, and looked around upon the smiling audience with a bewildered stare.
"Hitch up yer team, mon, and make a start," called out a gruff, but good-natured voice from one of the windows. There was general laughter at this sally.
"Oh, dash it, these 'ere interruptions 'ev put out o' me 'ed what I had to say!"
"Order please, order!" called out the Major looking sternly toward the ceiling at the end of the building.
Silas Stump was a squat, fussy, boastful little man, who could talk glibly enough about old times and of his powers of speech, and how he had carried off the laurels at political meetings before coming to the Colony. He had confidentially informed the Committee that he intended to make a great oration at the school opening, and they had, one and all, relied upon him; but at the critical moment his wits went woolgathering. He was completely floored, for after twice repeating his former observation about having been appointed secretary, he sat down in confusion.
The Major rose with dignity, and made matters worse by apologizing for the secretary's embarrassment, saying that Mr. Stump was, no doubt, unused to public speaking.
Miss Tot Gardiner was now called upon for a song, which proved to be the vocal success of the day and was enthusiastically encored. She gave a Scotch melody for her first number, and 'Molly Darling' as an encore; and complete harmony and good feeling were re-established when the chairman called upon Mr. Amos Gordon to say a few words.
The sight of Gordon's tall, venerable form rearing itself upon the platform was the signal for general and hearty applause. He had been known for years in the Broadhaven district for his good deeds and kindly disposition. He had nursed Tom Robertson through the crisis of an infectious fever and saved Mrs. Daniell's baby boy when dying with croup. He was about the only man on the country-side whom Tot Gardiner had a good word for, although he had once given her the roughest quarter of an hour's talking to she ever had in her life. When it was known that the old man had met with an accident and was missing in the big scrub, the whole male population had turned out in quest of him. They called him 'Old Father Gordon'; but whether he was Episcopalian, or Presbyterian, or Methodist, no one seemed to know or care. In the hearts of hundreds, the old man had rescued the very name of religion from reproach and contempt. He was the dispenser of charity in its broadest sense, and usually set out upon his itinerant wanderings with a little hoard of holey dollars and dumps* in his swag, to be given away discreetly in his journey. There was nothing straitlaced about him; he would drink a pannikin of tea with a stockman, while he read a verse from his Bible—and ere he left him with a benediction, would, likely enough, get him down upon his knees while he prayed.
(*Through scarcity of small change in the Colony, the silver dollar had a round piece stamped out of it; it was then called a "holey dollar," and the piece taken out of it a "dump.")
He was a white man every inch of him, and as simple and kind-hearted as a child. He stood for a full minute smiling around on his expectant audience, most of whom he knew by their most familiar names.
"It's a great day for yer, my friends," he commenced, and there were tears in the old man's eyes as he looked around with kindly sympathy. "The rich and the poor have met together," and he looked first at the Major, and then over at Widow McCarthy, whose little holding had been ploughed and sown, with neighbourly assistance, when her drunken husband died a year before, leaving her and the children nearly destitute. "And ye've all come together good-heartedly to give the school for the children a start. I've eaten some of the Major's beef and Andy Flannigan's pertaters, and drunk of Mrs. Carey's brew of tea, and I'm proud of ye, friends; for the young ones ought not to grow up in ignorance, and ye've done well to build your school-house and get a teacher. I hope ye'll find him a good sort of a man, a man of learning and discretion, and a man after God's own heart, among you. Yer can't do without salt with yer food, friends; and what you want in the Broadhaven district is a bit of the salt of education, and the love and fear of the good God. And good salt well rubbed in makes prime bacon. Yer jewels, me friends, and so are the children; but least ye should think I'm for flattering ye, let me tell ye, yer only jewels in the rough. Ye heard my young friend, Tot Gardiner, sing just now——"
At this Tot's rosy cheeks blushed a deeper hue, as all eyes turned upon her with smiling approval.
"She's a gran' singer is my young friend, but she's been taught a bit, and if she were taught more, she'd have a voice a queen might envy. I hear some of ye don't set much store by education; but it's a gran' thing when you know about it. Them big floury pertaters we've been eating were educated pertaters, and so was the beef, and the ham, and the cakes and tarts. Now ye're laughing at an old man; but I'll make it plain to ye.
"Take a bit of a bush flower which you call a weed. It's naturally small, and pale, and insignificant, and hasn't much smell; but dig a loamy bit of ground for it, transplant it, prune and train it, manure and water it, and you develop it, so that you would not know it for the same; it becomes larger in growth, richer in colour, more fragrant in odour, and you have a beautiful garden flower.
"You kick a peeble on the road-side, and pick it up and look at it; there's nothing about it that's fine or sparkling; but grind off the dull outer crust, place it in the hands of a man who knows how to rid it of its rough rind, and develop its God-given beauty, and you have a flashing jewel, to sparkle in the diadem of a king.
"And listen to me, children, get all you can out of your school and your schoolmaster. It won't always be easy perhaps, but a bit of learning will make you better men and bonnier women. When you are married you won't have to make a cross against your names, and you will be able to read good books, and write letters to your friends, and make a proper reckoning of what you earn on your farms. The man that knows is always master of the man that doesn't; and you won't have to gad through the world ashamed of your ignorance, but will be able to hold your heads erect as the good Lord intended us to. God bless you all, my friends, and your schoolmaster; and don't yer lift your heads too high when ye come to know a bit of learning; and boys and girls, don't look down upon your parents when you can read and write, because, maybe, they can't. They have done a good and gracious thing for your welfare in establishing this school. It's a good word in the Old Book which says: 'Honour thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.'"
More singing followed, and then the chairman said: "Mr. John Bennett, the new schoolmaster, will now address you."
Jack had been sitting in a chair, behind the previous speaker, with his face buried in his hands. Old Gordon's speech had simply broken him up, and when at last he arose, after a prolonged burst of applause had subsided, he was evidently ill at ease. His easy air of self-satisfaction and confidence in his own powers had vanished; he mumbled out a few words of thanks, promising to do his best while he stayed with them, and then abruptly sat down, and again hid his face in his hands.
It was a surprise to every one, and simply staggered the Committee. There was much whispering among the people. A committee-man went over and asked him if he was feeling well, and old Gordon put his hand kindly upon his shoulder, and said: "Never mind, schoolmaster, a man may teach school well without being a ready public speaker. You would have done better to have written down and read what you had to say."
All pitied him, for he had lost a spendid chance of making a good impression upon the community; but no one guessed that it was his heart that had failed him, and not his head, nor his tongue.
Soon afterwards began the games and dancing on the grass in the school-house paddock. Jack stifled his feelings and soon became himself again. The women said if he could only speak as well as he could dance, he would do well enough. But, after tea, he did much to restore himself to general public favour, for in a witty little speech, he apologized for having allowed his feelings to overcome him earlier in the day, and borrowing the flute from Jack Haynes, he offered to give them a solo on that instrument. He was a flautist of no common order, and as he played, they all forgave him for what beforehand some of them had called his spoiling of the opening of the school.
Said Mrs. Carey to her husband afterward: "Whatever could have upset him so at the meeting?" Poddy did not answer her, except with a shrug of his big shoulders; but he thought to himself: "He's got some bad thing hidden away somewhere in his life. I wonder if he was once a convict!"
The school had been opened a week, and Salathiel had so far succeeded, in his role of school teacher, as to have won favourable opinions from both parents and School Committee.
There had been difficulty, at first, in getting the younger children to attend, for they were a shy hoddy-doddy crowd, and so unused to strangers that, rough and boisterous as most of them were at home, they were as wild and frightened as newly captured brumbies* in the presence of a stranger.
(*The wild horse of Australia)
Jack, however, set himself to master the novel situation. There would be no flogging in the school, he announced, except in cases of absolute defiance, and then he would not be answerable for what he might do. He made this statement with a smiling face and in a tone of masterful self-confidence, which, in view of his height and strength of limb, was listened to respectfully, even by Bob Carey and Mick Cassidy. Silas Stump had seen to the furnishing of instruments of punishment for the schoolmaster's use, but Jack tied them together with the lash of a stockwhip, and hung them on a nail over his teacher's platform, out of reach of any adventurous scholars.
They were there, however; but Jack determined, so far as he was concerned, that there they should remain. For the time being, his whole mind seemed bent only on winning the respect and affection of these girls and boys, and he made his plans and marshalled his forces as carefully as he would have done had he been preparing a raid upon a wealthy station, or the robbery of a mail coach. The love of praise and esteem of others was strong in him, and he craved for the kind regard of the motley crowd which now confronted him every day.
He borrowed an old flute from a settler, and after putting it in repair, taught the children to sing 'Home, Sweet Home' and other popular melodies. Occasionally, when attention flagged, he would take his scholars out into the school paddock and drill them, or charm them with a solo on the flute, or a pleasant talk about the habits of the Bush animals with which they were familiar.
He divided his scholars into four grades to start with: the boys under fifteen and those above that age, and the girls under fourteen and those older, and he found that the latter was the largest class in the school. Betsy Carey, after some persuasion, was made school-monitor and put over the younger class of boys, while Tot Gardiner was put in charge of the younger girls. He examined them as to their proficiency in the three R's, and set Kitty Conroy to teach the most backward pupils their ABC under an outside veranda.
On the whole, things were going well, and Jack began to congratulate himself upon having surmounted his first difficulties, when one day the aspect of affairs was suddenly altered. There was an old feud between the Lords and the Careys, arising in the first instance about some land. The Lords had no dealings with the Careys. Mercy Lord, a delicate girl of about fourteen, was found by Jack to be his best scholar; and it was perhaps impossible for him not to show some preference. She had been well trained and taught by her mother, and possessed intelligence above the average, so he would occasionally call her to the front, for the edification of the other scholars. The elder girls and boys, of course, took sides for and against the Lords and Careys; and Betsy Carey and Tot and Judy Gardiner were ringleaders in sundry acts of petty persecution against the child. This went on at first without Jack's knowledge, but one morning, when he found her crying over an ink-besmeared copy-book, his eyes were opened; and after school he heard from Mercy's reluctant lips a story of ill-treatment by some of the older girls, which decidedly disturbed his mind. Mercy had to pass the Gardiners' stockyard on her way home on her pony; and that afternoon she was pelted with mud from the enclosure as she went by.
Salathiel rode to Silas Stump's that evening, and had a long talk with him. Major Browne was having a cedar table made for the teacher, and four desks for the more advanced scholars to write their copies upon. It gave Jack the opportunity he wanted to find out something more about the antecedents of the Lords and Careys, and the quarrel between the two families.
"They hate each other like pisen, barring Mrs. Carey, an' I don't think it's in her to hate any critter," said Silas. He then enlarged, from his own standpoint, upon the old misunderstanding, which, originating over land, had developed in connection with the branding of some calves, and had rankled, with growing bitterness, up to the time of the building of the school-house. Robert Lord had refused to act on the committee, because Poddy Carey was nominated; and they could not do without the latter, for several reasons, not the least of which was Mrs. Carey, who, as the wife of a committee-man, was in herself a host.
Jack cautiously told Silas how the unpleasantness between the two families was affecting his schoolwork; but soon found out that the secretary was on the side of the Careys.
"You've been a-showing off that girl Mercy a bit too much, schoolmaster," he said bluntly. "If I were you I'd 'come it' on the boys with one of those canes to-morrow morning, and if Tot Gardiner smears copy-books, and throws mud at girls younger than herself, I'd hang a green hide calf-skin round her neck and make her stand out, and shame her before all the school. I'll lend you one, mister, to take over with you; it's a bit strong, but that'll make it all the better for punishment."
Jack smoked away in silence; he did not like the advice at all, and yet he knew well that, by some means, the discipline of the school would have to be maintained. He had not heard before about the pelting of Mercy. But he knew that both Tot and Judy Gardiner would be rough material to handle, and he was concerned, too, as to how far Betsy might be implicated. This thought involved him in deeper perplexity; he could not help having a kindly feeling for Betsy; he had consulted her, as his first acquaintance and most intelligent coworker, about the general management of the school. He could not imagine her as an actual conspirator against his peace of mind and success as a teacher. She almost always brought a bunch of freshly gathered flowers for the school table. So far, she had not once been absent, nor even late, and he regarded her as his chief lieutenant in the school management. He could not afford to lose her support and good will, and yet his whole nature rebelled against the jealous spite of the big girls against Mercy.
He carried the green calf-skin back with him, however, and determined to begin school on the following morning with a serious talk to the whole of the scholars. He might even make use of the calf-skin to punish some of the younger girls; but he would sooner go away and return at once to his old wild, lawless life than lift his hand to flog the children.
"Curse it all!" he ejaculated bitterly. "And I was getting along so well; but I can't flog them!"
Salathiel's mind as he rode homeward would have presented a curious ethical study for a philosopher. Here was a man, who had done violence to the law of the land, moralizing over school discipline, and hesitating to enforce the law of his school, because he had beforetime been flogged unjustly when a convict. He would have thought little of felling one of his gang with a blow, or even shooting him for the safety of the rest; but amid those girls and boys, who looked up to him as something far better and worthier than he knew himself to be, he was a coward at heart.
Nor was he sure yet of his feelings in regard to Betsy Carey. He had no place in his heart now—at least, so he told himself—for any woman's love; but——and that 'but' was a very awkward thing just then for Jack to deal with. There were so many big 'buts' about his life and surroundings. He would sometimes, it is true, almost forget the old dead past amid his present more wholesome environment. If only he could drag the hateful years up by the roots, and cast them out of his life for ever, he would gladly have done so; but he could not. He started now at unusual sounds in the Bush. In school, his heart would beat fast sometimes, although there was not a trooper within miles of him, and bushrangers in the Broadhaven district were only as legends of a far-off land. He still took every precaution for his easy escape and personal safety. Under his coat he always carried loaded fire-arms, and Fleetfoot was never very far away.
When Jack called the roll on the following morning there was a large muster of scholars. The attendance was undoubtedly improving, the only notable and unexplained absence being that of Mercy Lord. The schoolmaster, however, made no comment, but quietly read out, off the black-board, the school-song, and took his flute to lead the singing.
Just then the school-house door was pushed open, and with a flushed face and excited demeanour, Mercy Lord entered, accompanied by her mother.
Mrs. Robert Lord was a ladylike woman, of easy, independent carriage; but when excited, she had a shrill, voluble tongue. It was plain that she had come upon an unpleasant errand, and meant to have her say about it to the schoolmaster, probably in the presence of the scholars.
"Betsy, hand Mrs. Lord a chair," said Jack, without giving the lady time to speak.
Betsy frowned, and, with the greatest deliberation, did as she was told.
"Kindly take a seat, Mrs. Lord," said the teacher, "until we have sung the school opening song."
Mrs. Lord hesitated; she had not come there for either entertainment or instruction, she thought, but for the exaction of condign punishment upon those who had disturbed the peace of her family. Jack, however, softly ran over the air of the song on his flute; so she sat down, Mercy standing by her side.
The song happened to be an old one, which the scholars had practised frequently, and it was sung with melodious heartiness. It was as follows:
"What were life without some one to cheer us
With a word or a smile on our way,
A friend who is faithfully near us,
And heeds not what others may say?
The bravest of spirits have often
Half failed in the race that they ran
For a kind word life's hardships to soften.
Then say a kind word when you can."
The chorus, which was rendered fortissimo, ran as follows:
"Then say a kind word when you can,
Oh! say a kind word when you can,
For a kind word life's hardships may soften,
Then say a kind word when you can, when you can."
Jack looked over his flute at Mrs. Lord and Mercy, wondering what would be the next development and fervently hoping that she would have time to cool down, and would not make a scene before the children, when a couple of childish voices repeated:
"When you can, when you can."
Some of the bigger girls laughed at this, and it seemed as though the whole school intuitively knew that Mrs. Lord's presence boded no good to some one.
The next verse followed more softly, but with deeper significance:
"Each one of us owns to some failing,
Though some may have more than the rest,
But there's no good in needlessly railing
'Gainst those who are striving their best!
Remember a word spoke complaining
May blight every effort and plan,
Which a kind word would help in attaining,
Then say a kind word when you can."
Again the chorus rolled out in shrill vehemence, and the childish voices echoed a second time to the closing refrain:
"When you can, when you can."
Jack still took observations over his flute, and thought he saw Mrs. Lord brush something out of the corner of her eye with her handkerchief, when she used that useful article avowedly for another purpose. The last verse followed:
"Oh, say a kind word then whenever
'Twill make the heart cheerful and glad,
But chiefly, forget it, oh never,
To the one that is hopeless and sad;
For there's no word so easy in saying,
So begin, if you never began,
And do not in life be delaying,
To say a kind word when you can."
When the chorus had died away, Mrs. Lord sat quietly in her chair, waiting for the schoolmaster to come and speak to her. The song had evidently soothed the lady's feelings, if it had done nothing more.
"I intended to say a few words to the whole school," said Jack, struck by a sudden inspiration as he laid aside his flute, "and although Mrs. Lord is evidently here in reference to the matter, I think it will be just as well for me to speak to you as I intended whether any personal complaint was made to me or not. I have occasionally called my little friend Mercy Lord up before the school, and commended her work, and endeavoured to use her quickness of apprehension to help you to understand better what I had to teach you. In doing this, I only regarded the good of you all and did not think for a moment that it would cause any ill will towards Mercy, or jealousy on the part of any one. But, I regret to say, some of you have misunderstood me, and thought that I was unduly favouring Mercy. Now I am here not to make favourites of any of you, but to teach you your lessons and do my best to make you learn them. I am deeply grieved to find, on account of this, some of you have been jealous. Possibly you don't know, but jealousy is a very poor and contemptible thing for one person to harbour against another. But when it takes the form of petty, spiteful acts, such as the smearing of a neat copy-book with ink and the tearing of leaves out of lesson-books, it is still more contemptible and wicked, and for the sake of the school discipline must be punished. I am not going to ask now who did it——"
"Please, Mr. Bennett, it was Tot Gardiner," piped out a juvenile voice.
For a moment there was dead silence. An awful silence!
"Yes," called out Tot in a passion. "I smeared the copy-book, but I'll punch Mick Bromley's head and give him a real lamming when school is over, for all that."
"And throw mud at 'im, as yer did at Mercy as she went by yer stockyard yesterday afternoon," yelled out a big cornstalk, who was an ardent supporter of the Lords and an admirer of Mercy.
It was Mick Cassidy. Tot turned round upon him with flashing eyes, and throwing a lesson-book she held in her hand, struck him smartly across the face: "You——sneak, take that!"
In a moment the whole school was in an uproar, and half the children rose to their feet.
"Sit down, all of you!" thundered Jack above the din.
"Tot Gardiner, go to the back form and sit down there at once."
"I shan't," cried out Tot, "and don't you try to make me, Mr. Bennett; what does that old frump want, coming here upsetting the school?"
She pointed her finger at Mrs. Lord, who sat frowning and trembling with excitement.
"Sit down, Tot," called out Jack, his face blazing with passion. "I'll thrash the first who dares to say another word."
"Then you'll have to thrash me," yelled out Bob Carey, pulling off his coat as he spoke, and doubling his fists in a fighting attitude, as he ranged himself in front of Tot Gardiner.
"Yer big fool, you!" ejaculated Tot, hitting him no gentle cuff on the side of his head.
Bob Carey was eighteen and, if anything, a trifle taller than the school teacher; he was broadly built, and those who had fought with him said that he was as hard as nails; but Jack's blood was up, and springing from his platform, he caught Bob by the neck, and dragging him by main force out upon the floor, stood him in front of his desk. Bob's surprise, and the nearness of the schoolmaster's person, for the moment prevented him from using his fists. But, with a great effort, he shook the teacher off him, and lifted his closed fist to strike.
What might have happened it is hard to say; the girls screamed and the younger boys bellowed out incoherently, when Betsy leaped over the desk in front of her and threw herself between her infuriated brother and the teacher.
"Go outside and cool yourself, you hot-headed booby," she ejaculated. "Give the stupid boy his coat," she shouted to Tot Gardiner, who picked it up and hurled it over the heads of the children at him.
"Get out of this, or I'll tell your father and he can thrash you, you great fool. Do you think Mr. Bennett will teach you another thing after this? And you can't spell calf, or write a thing, you big, blustering ignoramus."
Bob cooled down in a moment, and looked sheepishly at his sister.
"Get out of the school, get out of the school," she cried, pointing to the door. "Do you think I'm going to have a brother of mine insulting and fighting with the schoolmaster? Go home and tell mother what a gawk you've made of yourself."
"He's not going to thrash Tot," said Bob sullenly, shuffling off in the direction of the door.
"You great booby," was all the reply the indignant girl vouchsafed him as he slung himself out.
All this had occupied less time than it takes to relate, and the scholars, big and little, cowed and frightened by such tremendous and unlooked for developments, had betaken themselves again to their seats.
Jack stood opposite Betsy on the school-house floor, seemingly for the moment as much bewildered as the rest at the unexpected turn of things. He could not imagine what to say or do; but Betsy, with a woman's quick intuition, rose to the occasion.
"May I speak a word to the school, Mr. Bennett?" she exclaimed.
Jack bowed his head, at a loss to know what to say, and Betsy Carey took the bull by the horns.
"Girls and boys," she said, "Mr. Bennett has made me monitor, and I'll own up to it it's a pretty bad monitor I've been. The scene in this schoolhouse to-day is a disgrace to us, and to our fathers and mothers, and the whole district. We couldn't have a better or kinder teacher than Mr. Bennett, or one that would try to get us on more and teach us something, and we owe him the biggest possible apology. I'm sure that Tot Gardiner is just as sorry as I am, and so will my brother be as soon as I get home and tell his father about his carryings on this morning. I expect that he will be expelled from the school, for squaring up at the master; and serve him right too, although he is my brother. If Mr. Bennett had been like some schoolmasters I've heard about, he'd have caned Mick Cassidy and a dozen more of you long before this, and put the fear of death into you, and the School Committee would have backed him up in it; make no mistake about that! I should apologize too to Mrs. Lord for this morning's business, and I hope she will go away and think no more about it, and we'll see that Mercy is not interfered with any more. I can't think what devil of mischief has got into the school; I feel that ashamed that I don't know what to say. We are such a lot of ignorant, half-trained youngsters, that I hope Mr. Bennett will overlook the matter and go on teaching us until we learn better how to behave ourselves."
Betsy had been half crying the whole of the time, and at this she broke down completely and went outside to hide her tears.
Never in his life had Salathiel passed through such an ordeal as this. He stood up before the now awed and frightened children, and simply said: "I am much obliged to Miss Carey. I can't teach school any more to-day, I will speak about it to the School Committee this afternoon. You can all go home."
Never did a school break up so quietly. One by one, big and little, the boys and girls left for their homes, Mrs. Lord and Mercy with them. Jack followed abstractedly to the school-house door as the last departed and there found Betsy, with the bridle of her pony over her arm.
"Mr. Bennett," she said, "I am so awfully sorry. I hope you will forgive us all—and we were getting to like you so much!"
Then, suddenly, the impetuous girl sprang upon Loiterer and cantered off, and Jack found himself alone.
He pulled to the door of the now deserted school-house, and looked down the hill after the last of his scholars and Betsy, and then went into his shanty.
"That girl's a brick," he muttered to himself, "but it's plain that I can't manage the school."
He felt terribly depressed and downhearted. "It's like my luck," he said bitterly. "I suppose some other untoward thing will come out of this."
* * * * * * * *
As Betsy rode home she fell in with a strange man, seemingly a swagman, sitting smoking on a wayside log; she did not quite like the look of him, but he stood up to speak to her as she rode by.
"Can you please tell me which is the way to the school-house?" he asked.
Betsy started, and stared at him for a moment bewildered. She had not quite recovered from her recent agitation.
"Is it Mr. Bennett, the school-teacher, you want?" she asked quickly.
"I believe that's the gentleman," said the man.
While Betsy gave the necessary directions she took careful note of a number of things about the man, which had he known, might not have pleased him.
"Short, fair man, queer grey eyes, wears little earrings, wrists tattooed; may have been a sailor once. Carries pistols and rides a horse. His saddle and bridle were behind the tree, horse at the back, feeding no doubt near the blind creek. No relation of Mr. Bennett, I'm sure, not at all alike; I wonder what he wants with him!"
Not long afterwards, as Jack sat drinking a cup of tea, he heard some one coming across the school ground.
He rose up to see who the new-comer might be, and stood in the doorway.
"Good day, captain."
Jack was not at all surprised; it was just about what he had expected would happen. 'It never rains, but it pours.'
"Good day, Dan; come in and have a drink of tea and something to eat; the billy is just boiling."
He knew what Dan's errand was. He had been sent by the gang to bring him back, and he could not have come at a better time for the success of his mission.
"Chaps all right, Dan?" asked Jack, as they entered the shanty.
"Right as rain, captain, only a bit rusty for want of work."
"Well, drink some tea and eat something, and then we'll have a glass of grog and a smoke, and you can tell me the news. Riding Old Shiner, I see; looks as fit as a fiddle too—take off your saddle and swag, and I'll put him up in a handy paddock I have here, with Fleetfoot, while you get your feed. If any one happens to call in, say Mr. Bennett will be back in a few minutes. You know I am the schoolteacher here at present. Don't forget the name—Bennett."
Jack lit his pipe and sauntered off, with Old Shiner's rein over his arm; he wanted to think about this new turn of affairs before talking matters over with Dan Morley. He had made up his mind to one thing, whatever else might happen. He would meet the School Committee, put things straight with the scholars, have some friendly understanding with Betsy and the others, and then——
"Ah, and then," he said aloud, "and then probably the gallows! My God, no! I'll put a bullet through my head first. I wonder whether Dan has any news of the old man and my mother and Ruth. Good Lord, isn't life in this accursed country, with its brutal officialism, a detestable thing. Why could I not go on teaching school here, like an honest man?"
Jack had reached the paddock by this, and as he took down the slip-rails Old Shiner recognized Fleetfoot as a mate, and whinnied to him. He slipped off the bridle from the horse, which at once trotted over to Fleetfoot, who whinnied a welcome, and the two began to crop the grass together, side by side.
Jack put up the rails, and leaning on the top one, smoked his pipe out, still looking at the two animals. Old Shiner was out of an important sire on Major Glen's run. Dan Morley said he had bought him, fair and square, from a dealer. "He might have done so," thought Jack, "for if he is not very prepossessing in his looks, Dan is not a bad fellow at heart. I wish they had sent one of the other chaps; Dan's a sticker, and won't leave this settlement without me. He'll have to clear out for a bit, however; I can't have him hanging about the school-house. It may take me a week to get things straightened up."
Jack thought over a dozen things which he might do. He had managed to cover his tracks very cleverly in coming down to the Broadhaven Valley; why not send Dan back with a recommendation to the gang to make him their captain, and stay on himself as school-teacher? He could take Dan into his confidence, tell him that he was sick of an outlaw's life, and get him to tell the chaps that Jack Salathiel was dead, and advise them to disband. He would give up his share to them, and there would be a very fair amount to divide.
He looked at his watch and then up at the sun; it was mid-day, and the watch was old Squatter Downing's, of Musselbrook.
"Beggar the thing! what's the good of a curse like me trying to be an honest man? Fancy Jack Salathiel, ex-convict and one time bushranger, settling down to teach children sums, and writing, and reading, and—morality. I don't suppose Dan or any of the chaps would 'come it on me' down here; but there's the past to reckon with; it would be bound to crop up some time. 'Whatsoever a man sows that shall he also reap,' eh, Jack Salathiel?"
He turned at this and walked slowly back to the school-house. As he neared the teacher's dwelling, however, he heard voices. Some one was talking to Dan Morley. There was no mistaking the voice. It was Amos Gordon.
Jack paused to collect himself. They were evidently standing in front of the house under the veranda.
"You're a stranger in these parts, my son," he heard the old man say, "and if you are a friend of John Bennett's, let me tell you he is very much respected among the good people here."
Jack heard Dan reply that he was a bit of an acquaintance of the schoolmaster's; dropped in, casually like, to see him. He was on the look out for a bit of country to settle on. Dan's quick ear had heard Jack approaching, and he said this to give him a cue.
"Good day, Mr. Gordon," said Jack cordially, "glad to see you; hang up your horse and come in and have a drink of tea and a bite of something."
The schoolmaster and local preacher shook hands. "Your friend here," said old Amos, waiting for an introduction.
"Ah, just an acquaintance from Sydney side," stammered Jack.
"Mister—Flannigan, late of the Wollombi district," said Dan without a moment's hesitation.
"Glad to meet you, Mr. Flannigan. I've heard of the Wollombi, but never travelled as far; don't suppose I ever shall now. I'm getting to be an old man and have quite enough to do to keep old friendships in good repair."
Jack busied himself in straightening up the food on the rough table, and brewing a fresh billy of tea, while the two men sat down together and talked about the weather and the country. He earnestly hoped that Dan would have the good sense to clear off for a bit.
"I heard down at Polly McCarthy's that there had been a bit of a rumpus in the school this morning, so, as I was in the district, I thought I would ride up and talk the matter over with you."
Jack hesitated to reply. The presence of Dan embarrassed him; but Dan had just poured himself out another pannikin of tea and showed no sign of moving. The fact was that he thought it a good opportunity to hear something about the captain's career as a school-teacher, and he chuckled to himself as he thought of the roars of laughter the captain's clever impersonation would evoke among the fellows in the camp. It never occurred to Dan that Salathiel had taken the matter so seriously to heart, and he listened with the keenest interest to hear what had been going on all these weeks at the school.
"I thought that girl had been crying a bit, or something; nice girl too, and she was so interested in me when she knew who I wanted. I wonder now what the captain's been up to here. Making love to some of the pretty heifers of the district, perhaps. By gosh! the chaps used to say that he never looked at a woman; but he's been up to a bit of a game with the womenfolk down here, you bet."
Such was the trend of Dan's mental reflections; but when Jack gravely told Amos Gordon all that had happened, Dan opened his eyes, and decided in his mind that the captain had sustained his reputation for being the queerest cuss that ever turned bushranger.
"Don't you be a bit discouraged, friend schoolmaster," said the old man, when he had heard Jack's account of Mrs. Lord's visit and its unfortunate consequences. "You've the sympathy and respect of the people; the children are like a lot of unroped cattle, and you have got along wonderfully with them. Tot Gardiner is the biggest limb in the valley, but she's not bad at heart; and Bob Carey's like a young steer as doesn't know himself; I'll answer for it that by this time his father has given him the biggest hiding for offering to fight you before the children he ever had in his life. There's been a bit of sweethearting, I hear, between him and Tot Gardiner; but his mother doesn't approve of it, and they are neither of them much more than rising eighteen, and Tot says she wants a man to court her, and not a calf; so I think, schoolmaster, things will soon right themselves without giving you much trouble. You ride over and see Silas Stump, and get a School Committee meeting to-night, and have it settled off-hand. You'll have to cane some of them, my friend; I don't believe much in flogging, but you must maintain discipline, and the good old Book says, 'He that spareth the rod spoileth the child.' You'll have to take that rod down from the nail where they say you've hung it and rule your scholars with firmness and righteousness."
"The Committee will have to get another schoolmaster, old friend," said Jack; "you mean well, and your advice is no doubt good, but I'll never lift a hand to flog a fellow creature, in this flogging-cursed country, unless it is to flog a flogger, or some brutal Government official!"
Old Amos looked at the schoolmaster for a full half minute in much astonishment. The outburst had taken him completely by surprise.
"My good friend," said he, "you are wrong. 'Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth.' John Bennett, I love you for your good and tender heart, but I don't agree with you." He paused for a moment, and looked the schoolmaster full in the face. Jack's eyes fell before that calm, deep gaze. Old Gordon knew then that there was a sad past in this man's life; knew, in that moment, that he was talking to a man who had been a convict once. A bitter undertone gave the schoolmaster's words a deep significance.
"John Bennett," he repeated, and tears of memory glistened in his expressive eyes. "John Bennett, I love you for your good and tender heart." He drew himself up to his full height as he continued, "I too have been chastened, by permission of the good Lord, and it was not pleasant, but grievous. I've sinned, much like every other son of Adam; but I have loved much, as becometh a son of God. I never knowingly broke my country's laws; but these hands have been tied unjustly to the public flogging post, and these shoulders and back have bled and blistered beneath the brutal lash. I carry the scars of more than one such flogging, but the good Lord suffered greater pain and sorrow for the sake of you and me, and I bow my head submissively before Him. At one time the inhuman cruelty of ungodly men embittered my life and warped my judgment; but it don't now. Forgetting the things which are behind, I am reaching forward, schoolmaster, to the things which are before, and I press toward the mark for the prize. Let the dead past bury its dead, schoolmaster. I have told you and this good man a part of Amos Gordon's story. Let us say no more about it. Take up your life-work bravely, and do it fearlessly and honestly; as schoolmaster you are put over these youngsters in the place of their parents, as the representative of authority and justice, and to some degree, in the place of God. Punish wrongdoers in your school mercifully, and not in anger; make them respect you and the law, and reverence right; and they will grow up to thank and love you for it in the years to come...God bless you, my friend. Go you down and talk it over with Silas Stump and the Committee, schoolmaster, and keep your head and your heart up; you are doing a good work here, and the people of this Broadhaven Valley know it too."
The old man shook hands with them both, mounted his grey cob, and went off down the hill, leaving the two bushrangers puffing at their pipes in silence.
"Dan," said Jack, at last, "the old man has spoken the truth; but we are outlaws, and had better make a forget of it. If I could begin a new life, I would, but I can't. You may choose for yourself; I have a hundred pounds here in notes and gold; if you wish, I'll give it to you, and a fair discharge from the gang, and you can get away somewhere out of this and start afresh. I'll make it all right for you, fair and square, on the Liverpool Ranges."
"No, captain," said Dan, "I've come down here to take you back with me to the gang; they want you, and I won't go back on either you nor them, hang me if I will! Give me a glass of that grog you mentioned, and if you like to tell the chaps what old Gordon said, and they think well to disband, that's another matter."
Dan Morley thought that Salathiel must have quite forgotten about the grog, for he seemed to have fallen into a brown study. The two men smoked in silence for a while, both of them busy with their own thoughts. Then Jack rose abruptly, knocked the ashes out of his pipe into the fire-place, and put a bottle of whiskey upon the table, with a billy of water and clean pannikins.
"Help yourself, Dan," he said, "I usually prefer water or tea; but I'll have a drink with you to-day, for old acquaintance' sake and to steady my nerves. Old Father Gordon is a hard hitter for a parson chap. We'll have to put a bit of a stir on; I'll show you where you can camp until the moon rises to-night. I can't have you about here, and I guess, after your ride, you can do with a few hours' sleep. I will hang a calf's skin on the bridle nail of the veranda post to-night, as a signal that the coast is clear. Then we can have a good yarn, and you can sleep here tonight. We'd better get the horses up at once, as I want to ride over to see Silas Stump, the school secretary. Your camp is not far away; I've fixed it up so that a man might lie low, with comfort, for a month or more, so long as he had a friend outside, and no troopers on his trail."
A quarter of an hour's ride through the Bush brought the men to a razor-back, on the other side of which was a belt of shea oaks. Pushing through, they came to a shallow gully, which opened out into a well-grassed flat, where one of the many mountain springs of the district fed a small stream, which presently leaped in foaming cataracts down a great wild gorge, where it disappeared, Jack said, in a strange opening, and ran for a short distance underground, finally making its way into the Bailey River.
They pulled up here, and Dan noted the time, the direction of the sun, and lie of the country; for he would have to return alone to the school-house by moonlight.
It was truly a wonderful scene which spread itself around them and at their feet. It was a garden of wild flowers, more English-like than those of the low lands of the coast; bluebells of a larger growth, wild geraniums, marigolds, asphodels, and white and red and mauve daisies. Violets, large and varied in colour; orchids and other flowering bulbs bowing their massive blooms before the summer breeze in beds of colour; some of them a sheeny satin mauve, and many of them fragrant. There were flowering heaths and wattle, jasmine, woodbine, wild musk and clematis, and native lilac, which in their season made dewy morn and eve fragrant with sweetness.
The sky had been clear all day, save for a few white clouds, which gave depth and vividness to the overarching vault of blue; and, as it was after a spell of wet weather, the rain-washed atmosphere was as clear as crystal. Ten miles away, looking down the gorge, was the great Pacific Ocean. Far overhead, in the enormous gum-trees, green and scarlet and blue parrots chattered; and gill, and satin birds, and gan-gans, with other smaller rainbow coloured denizens of the Australian forest, which twittered in the lower branches. A wallaby skipped leisurely in front of them.
They left their horses here and climbed higher up to some caves Jack had discovered, the entrance to one of which was screened by an enormous boulder; and as though still further to guard the entrance, there grew in front of it a huge native figtree, whose lower branches almost swept the ground. Jack showed Dan that by pushing through these branches, access was obtained to a path around the boulder, where was a perfectly dry cave, which Jack had already provisioned with food. In one corner was a rough bed of ferns and branches.
"You see," said Jack, "there's water, food for a horse, three ways of exit, and a splendid look-out over a good stretch of country from the rocks above."
"It's a pretty place, captain, for the purpose," said Dan approvingly. "I suppose Old Shiner will be safe for a bit on the flat; he won't stray for want of water. I was in the saddle all last night, so I think I'll lie down and have a sleep until a bit after sundown, and then I'll come over to the schoolhouse. Don't forget to hang out that calf-skin!"
Jack now made his way to Silas Stump's, and asked him to ride across to the school-house as soon as he could, as some of the Committee would be sure to be there, to talk over matters. The trouble had arisen, he explained, over the Carey and Lord contention, and the more quickly and quietly it was settled the better.
"Yer made a mistake, schoolmaster, not to have flogged 'em," said Silas, "that fancy notion of yours about ruling youngsters by kindness won't work, I tell you. It'll be best for Poddy Carey to keep Bob away from school until the thing's blown over. Anyhow, I'll come up, and we'll talk about it; you can't carry on the school if boys like Bob Carey square up and fight you before the scholars. Do you think you could have licked the young cub, mister?"
"I don't think at all about it, Silas," said Jack quietly.
"Well then, yer ought to lick him the next chance you get," said Silas, grimly; "it would be a warning to the whole school; but don't let Poddy Carey know that I advised yer to."
Half a dozen horses might have been seen hitched up to the school fence that afternoon. The Committee were holding a meeting, and while they sympathized with the teacher, they told him very plainly that he could not expect to keep his school in order by playing on a flute. Some one would have to be made an example of, and Poddy Carey, who was loud in his condemnation of Mrs. Lord's interference, expressed his determination to give his son a thrashing he would remember as soon as he laid hands on him. Bob, however, had not yet returned home.
"What would you advise me to do with Tot Gardiner?" asked Jack quietly.
No one replied to this at first. "She's rather too big to wop," said Ned Driver, one of the quietest of the Committee.
"Stand her out for punishment, and hang the calf-skin round her neck," said Silas.
"I think you'd best leave her to me," said Jack, smiling, "she has no father, and has had her own way for years; but unless she apologizes to the school, which I don't think she will, I shall have to send her back home if she comes to-morrow."
"Supposing she won't go," said another member of the Committee, who had had some experience of Tot's obstinacy.
"Then I'll tell her that I shall leave the school and district myself," said Jack quietly.
"No fear, schoolmaster!" ejaculated Silas. "Don't chuck up your job like that."
"I mean it," said Jack.
"Then you'll be a bigger fool than I took you for," said Poddy Carey roughly.
"Were you able to manage yer last school without waling 'em?" inquired Ned Driver.
The Committee waited for an answer; but Jack seemed absorbed in thought, and made no reply.
"By gum, schoolmaster!" exclaimed the secretary at last, "yer a good enough scholar and teacher; but nature never cut you out for school teaching in this 'ere district, I guess."
"I think you are right, Mr. Stump," was the schoolmaster's rejoinder. "I'll give the school another trial, and if I can't succeed without flogging the youngsters I'll resign."
It was finally arranged that Silas Stump and two other members of the Committee should form a deputation to visit the school on the following morning, and take such steps with the scholars as seemed most advisable. They agreed that it would never do to let John Bennett leave them, and Silas advised that they should take the law into their own hands, and flog Mick Cassidy and one or two others of the delinquents themselves.
"He's too soft-hearted for a schoolmaster," said Silas, in a despondent tone of voice to Ned Driver as they rode homeward. "Blest if he isn't a regular quilter, big and strong enough to fight two medium sized chaps, and yet he's as chicken-hearted over the youngsters as a heifer with her first calf."
"Dang me if I can understand him," replied Ned; "that scar over his forehead and the flash of his eye would suppose to you a different tale altogether. Shows yer can't judge a man by appearances. He's got strength enough to stun a bullock with his fist, and yet it seems to me that he would be afraid to kill a fly. I suppose it's his eddication, poor chap! I'd like to know how he came by that scar though, and where he was brought up."
That evening the calf-skin was hung out as a signal, and Salathiel and Dan sat and talked far into the night. Little was said about the school or the meeting of the Committee; Dan had too much to tell about the gang and matters relating to the outside world. He urged Salathiel to return with him at once, and leave the school without further notice, but Jack would not hear of it, and persisted that it might take a fortnight before he could get things properly squared up.
"We'll have some more of the chaps down here, looking for us, before then," said Dan glumly.
"Can't help it!" replied Salathiel. "But shut up about the school, and tell me more of what's been going on these weeks in Sydney and up Maitland way."
"Well," said Dan, refilling his pipe, "the troopers were all over the country after we flogged McBurton, but the heavy rains covered up our tracks, and we lay very quiet in camp for over a fortnight. There was a 'sticking up' at a station near Uralla, but none of our chaps were in it, so that put them off our scent; but the chaps were presently that sick of doing nothing, except occasional friendly visiting about the district, that they were as restless as a lot of yarded brumbies, so knowing that the police were away, we fixed it up for some of us to go down and hear what news we could pick up in Maitland.
"Six of us rode down in the night, and planted our horses in the big paddock, at the back of McGregor's pub, and waited about until dusk to go into the town. We were all got up for the occasion, of course, as the whole place was in a ferment over recent affairs! It would have taken a smart 'un, however, to have guessed at a glance who we were.
"When we got down to the long bridge over the swamp, I thought it best to lie low until it was a bit darker, and as we had plenty of grog and tobacco, we made ourselves comfortable under the bridge, and fixed up our plans, in case there might be a flutter and a run for it. Presently who should we see coming along but four soldiers. They were for strolling over the bridge, free and easy like, evidently on their way for a drink at old McGregor's, on the top of Campbell's hill.
"'Chaps,' said Dandy Snow, 'what do you say to a couple of hours' soldiering in town?'
"'Not good enough,' replied Jerry.
"'Yes, it is,' said Dandy; 'they're out on leave, and haven't even their side-arms with them. Let's bail them up, and four of us go in dressed in their uniforms!' It was a bit of a risk, but the fun was too good to pass, so we agreed to stop them. They came swaggering carelessly along, all in a row, and we could hear one of them yarning to the rest. We got under cover of some bushes to wait for them, three on each side, at the end of the bridge.
"It was like tempting the Devil, for the man that was telling the yarn stopped at the end of the bridge to light his pipe, and the others stood around and waited. We heard him say that Jack Salathiel's gang couldn't keep quiet much longer, and we guessed that the other three were some of the new squad which had just been sent up from Sydney.
"'Bail up!' said Jerry quietly, and when they turned around all six of us had jumped out of the bush and covered them. We threatened them with death if they let out a whimper, and just marched them down, without another word, under the bridge.
"'You can take your grog down here, lads,' I said to them. 'We don't mean to do you any harm if you keep quiet, but we'll get the loan of your clothes for a couple of hours, while we take a stroll around town.'
"'Who are you?' said the man who had been yarning.
"'Just a few of Jack Salathiel's gang,' I replied, 'get off your togs, and be spry about it, or you'll be in Hell in a jiffy.'
"They were big, stout fellows, but they stripped without another word; they saw that there was no choice about it.
"We settled that the chaps whose clothes they would fit best should do the razzle-dazzle, and the two others stop and keep an eye on the prisoners.
"We lent them some of our clothes, and gave them a bottle of grog and 'bacca, and then asked them a few things about affairs in town. We told them that all we were on for was a bit of a spree, and after a pannikin of grog each, they grew quite obliging, and showed us how to salute an officer, and told us a few trifles, so that we might get through without detection. Dandy, Jerry, Ned Fenton and myself were the best fits for the clothes, and seeing that we didn't intend to harm them, the soldiers filled their pipes, and settled down to make the best of it.
"By gum, captain! you should have seen the four fine soldiers we made. I was half-inclined to march straight up to the barracks and report myself. Well, we strolled over the bridge into town, just in the style we had seen them come across. It was a bit risky, and we felt a trifle nervous as we passed a dray and some people; but we relished the fun and walked right along to the Northumberland Hotel. Who should be standing in the bar but Pat Maloney? I tell you he gave a jump when he recognized me, but I tipped him a wink, and asked him to have a drink.
"'By gorra, and that I will,' said he.' I suppose you belong to the new squad, boys?'
"We got into a corner by ourselves, and he told us all the news he could think of.
"'Yer not up to any tricks, Dan, to-night?' he whispered, anxiously.
"'Never a bit!' said I, 'only taking a stroll round town to see the sights and pick up a bit of news.'
"'Where did you get 'em?' he asked, pointing to the uniforms.
"' Just borrowed 'em for a couple of hours from four decent chaps who are waiting outside the town, drinking grog and smoking good 'bacca till we get back to them.'
"He gave a sigh of relief at this, and promised to keep dark until morning. We invited him to call in at some of the other pubs with us, but he was a bit shy of being seen too much in our company, and we arranged to meet him at the Maitland Arms two hours later. I can't tell you all the rum adventures and narrow escapes we had, and how we managed to keep clear of any other soldiers. We knew we must keep sober; but it was a daisy time; we spent all the soldiers' money and a good bit of our own, and painted West Maitland red until midnight, under the very noses of the authorities, winding up with a great supper at Pat Maloney's.
"The fun was that the townspeople thought we were some of the new soldiers, and the police, thinking the same, didn't dare to interfere with us. We heard from Pat afterward that there was a tremendous commotion at the East Maitland Barracks when the soldiers went back in the morning, half-drunk, and told their yarn about having been bailed up by Salathiel's gang, close to the town, and stripped of their uniforms. But we had got all the news we wanted, and bought a few things, and were safe in camp, before the inspector got back again and raised no end of a hubbub over the audacity of the gang and the laxity of his subordinates.
"People laughed themselves ill over it, but none more than we did when one of the kids brought up some of the Maitland and Sydney papers, and we read their descriptions of our doings and their denunciation of the authorities."
Jack laughed heartily as Dan told him of this, especially as the papers had stated that he was one of the daring adventurers. But he realized that it was a good thing, for it would keep the authorities on the alert for him around Maitland and would prevent any suspicion of his absence from the gang.
"Did you call in at Sydney on your way down?" asked Jack.
"I did so, captain," said Dan, in a quieter tone. "I thought you would like to hear about your people. They are all well, and hold up their heads as though they had no connection with any one out in the Bush."
Dan, rolled up in a blanket, slept sonorously that night in the schoolmaster's shanty; but Jack for once found it hard to get to sleep.
Some big logs smouldered and flickered in the large open fire-place, and phantoms of the past filed slowly out of the shadows into the firelight, and then vanished again in the gloom.
It was then a stern, cruel, pitiless time for offenders against law, and the severity of the convict system in Australia was only a reflex of the inhumanity and brutality of common law in England and other countries. The great historic mutinies of the British fleet at Spithead and the Nore, which were the outcome of the persistent ill treatment of our gallant sailors, still lay within living memory. Trivial offences, which in these days would be passed over with a small fine or a magisterial reprimand, then sent men and women, and even children of tender years, into convict servitude. Flogging, the pillory (where, in not a few instances, unpopular criminals were done to death with stones and brickbats) and the gallows, were everyday punishments. Men, sentenced to death at the court-house in Sydney, would be marched back to prison through the public streets, heavily ironed; and such scenes were so common that a passer-by would scarcely turn his head to notice them. The worst features of criminal jurisprudence and punishments were reproduced in all their hideousness in Australia, and one false step too often sent unfortunate offenders irretrievably upon the road to perdition, for the bestial horror of the road gangs cannot be described.
No Jew in Australia before Jack Salathiel's time, as his father sternly wrote to him, had been outlawed. With only one sister, Ruth by name, Jack had grown up in a home of more than ordinary comfort and intelligence; religion was strictly observed, and all good principles cultivated; but in a dark hour of temptation Jack had tripped and fallen, and the rigorous law had condemned him to convict servitude. His name was obliterated from the family records, he was lost to society, and at last, by deeds of violence and robbery, he had been swept beyond the reach of all, save, perhaps, his mother's and his sister's love.
He saw, in that still hour of restless wakefulness, scenes of his happy childhood and early, hopeful manhood. Of the vices common to the times he had none; he was naturally studious, and his close application to learning shut out the thought of other things; but he had jealous rivals in the pursuit of knowledge, and from one of these, in an ill-fated hour, he had stolen a valuable book he had long coveted—books were scarce in those days. His rival was the son of an official, and the theft was brought home to him under harsh and ignominious circumstances. Instead of quietly submitting to arrest, he fought with the officer of the law, and injured him—being himself badly wounded, as the scar upon his forehead testified—but his doom was sealed, and home, friends, and society knew him no more. "God help him!" said those who heard the sentence of seven years' servitude, with three of them in irons on the road. "Jack Salathiel will never come back again!"
Lying there, viewing the past in the flickering firelight, he would have given his right hand—the hand which stole the book, and in hot blood smote the Government officer—to redeem the past; but alas! the years of bitter servitude had darkened and hardened him, and he had found no place for repentance.
"Get up, Dan," said Jack at earliest daylight. "Breakfast is ready, and you will have to clear out, for I have a busy day before me."
"Well, captain, it will be a bit lonely for me up there; I hope you will get through as quick as possible."
When the school opened that morning, Jack regarded everything with different eyes; the old bad past had come back with overwhelming force. The presence of Dan in the vicinity, and Jack's realization of the hopelessness of his position, and the impossibility of escape from it, made him another man.
The deputation from the Committee caned three of the boys, and Jack stood by approvingly. Tot Gardiner was severely reprimanded before the whole school. She listened calmly to their censure, and then picked up her hood, and walked out of the school-house, remarking, as she went, that she recognized no teacher there except Mr. Bennett, and was not going to be talked to by ignorant men like Silas Stump. She put her two hands on the top rail of the school fence, and swung herself over it, for the edification of the deputation; and then sauntered homeward to engage in farm and household duties, and rate her mother for having dared to persuade her to attend "that confounded school."
After the deputation had departed, not altogether pleased with themselves. Jack took up the reins of school government again, but the school songs were less musical, nor was the old flute as sweet, nor the lessons as interesting. The children could not help noticing the master's evident indifference, and only by an effort did Betsy keep back her tears.
For a few days the school was carried on in similar fashion. Bob Carey had not returned home to receive his promised hiding from his father, and to crown the untoward position of things, Jack announced on Thursday afternoon that, with the consent of the School Committee, he was about to visit Sydney for a short holiday, and the school would be closed for a fortnight, or until such time as the scholars might be notified of its re-opening. "Everything," said Betsy to her mother, "is at sixes and sevens, and Mr. Bennett is not like the same man."
The fact was that another matter had occurred which greatly disturbed Jack's equanimity. He found that Dan Morley had picked up with an acquaintance, who was no other than Betsy's truant brother Bob; he suspected, also, that Bob had introduced Dan to Tot Gardiner.
Jack knew Dan Morley pretty well, and was not much surprised when he discovered that he had been feeling his way with the youngster, and having heard his story, was trying to pave the way to get him out of the Broadhaven district, with a view to his joining the gang.
"Far cows are fat," and there was a romance about bushranging to the grown-up youngsters of the Broadhaven Valley unknown to those who saw it close at hand. But Jack determined to nip it in the bud with Bob Carey. He would thrash both Dan and Bob, rather than have the latter with them; and he expostulated with Dan in no friendly fashion about it, and insisted upon his advising Bob to go back home at once.
Bob was Betsy's brother, which, whether he knew it or not, meant a good deal to Jack Salathiel.
There are times in the lives of all men when accidents rather than will determine the future. Salathiel was now encompassed by circumstances, not of his own making or seeking, yet the outcome of his own past. Sometimes the right thing may be done in the wrong way, and yet result satisfactorily; but not often. No matter what his original motive in undertaking to impersonate the teacher, Jack had done his best for the Broadhaven school; he had taught the children conscientiously, and had honestly endeavoured to make the school successful. He had hoped to leave behind him a good name and an honourable record; but Dan's unwelcome visit following upon the trouble in the school, and Bob Carey's foolishness in not returning home, had thwarted him, and he was now haunted by dark forebodings that his visit to the south as a schoolmaster would turn out very differently from his intentions. However, he determined not to be disheartened by these things; he would see the Careys at once, and somehow get Bob home again; so after school that Thursday afternoon he saddled Fleetfoot and started for an interview with Poddy and Mrs. Carey.
It was early autumn; the cool air was pleasant and bracing, and Fleetfoot, with good feed and regular attention, was as fit as horse could be. The road leading in the direction of Dan's hiding place, Jack turned off, to see if he happened to be anywhere about. Riding quietly through the Bush, he came to the camp, and to his surprise found Dan and Bob together, looking at Old Shiner.
"Mr. Bennett," said Dan who seemed somewhat abashed as Jack stood before them, "I have told Bob that he need not be afraid of you. He says he wants to leave home and try his fortune in the world, and as I can't find any suitable land in this locality I have told him that he can get a horse, and come with me, and see what may be offering somewhere else."
"Bob will have to go back home," said Jack curtly.
Bob hung his head as he met the schoolmaster's eye, but said nothing.
"Look here, Bob," said Jack kindly; "you've done wrong by staying away from your home like this, and no good will come of your running away like a coward. You have done nothing seriously wrong, however, as yet; and your mother and the rest of them are breaking their hearts about you. If you want to quit your home, go back like a man, face it out, and leave them all in a friendly way, with a proper good-bye. Be a man, and play your part in a manly fashion, and not like a miserable sneak. I'm riding over to the farm now, and I'll make it all right for you. I'll get your father to promise that there will be nothing further said. He can't very well refuse me. There now, give me your hand, boy, and let's be friends again; you'll do far better for another year or two at home, and then go out and try your luck, if you want to, like an honest man."
The boy was big and hardy, but his week of camping out had not been without its privations. There were tears in his eyes as he silently took Jack's proffered hand.
"Will you go back home to-night?" asked Jack.
Bob turned round and looked at Dan Morley.
"Never mind this man," said Jack sternly. "I'm afraid he is not advising you for your good. Let me tell you, once for all, you can't go with him, without my consent, and I'll never give it, and after to-night I won't have you camping here with him. It's either to go back home, or into the Bush alone. I give you the alternative; but you'll be a bigger fool than I take you for if you reject my advice."
"I expect you'd best take the captain at his word," said Dan sullenly, "you're only a kid yet, and if the captain don't want you, Dan Morley don't either. But if you let out a word of what's passed between us to a living soul, you'll like as not find yourself with a bullet through your head some fine morning."
Bob Carey looked from one to the other, his eyes wide open with astonishment.
"What d'ye mean?" he said to Dan, "I thought your name was Flannigan, and why do you call Mr. Bennett 'captain'?"
"Ye'd best make a forget of that, Bob," said Dan dryly. "I've got several names, and I've known Mr. Bennett before he took to school-teaching."
"You've told him quite enough," interrupted Jack roughly; "keep him here until I come back, and see that he is ready to go home again in the morning."
Jack was sorely perplexed as he rode on toward the Bluff farm; but he determined to face it out and somehow get Bob home on the morrow.
It should be explained that after the first couple of days Poddy Carey had made no effort to discover the whereabouts of his truant offspring. Food had been placed outside for him by his mother and Betsy, and on several occasions they had found it gone, the tracks about the place telling them that it was Bob who had taken it; but his father still swore to wreak vengeance on the boy when he laid his hands on him. All this was known to Jack, and as he dismounted at the house, he felt that his mission was not a pleasant one. He had a long talk first with Mrs. Carey and Betsy. They said the father was out in the big paddock, and would likely enough be back before sundown. Jack told them of his meeting with Bob and his determination to get him home again. Both women cried, but they dried their eyes when Poddy Carey presently rode slowly up, and hung his horse's bridle on a nail at the veranda.
"Well, schoolmaster," he said, "I hear that you are going for a trip Sydney way."
"Yes," replied Jack, "and before I go I want to fix up matters between you and Bob."
"Seen the young scamp?" asked Poddy.
"I have," replied Jack, "and what's more, I can bring him home if you promise to let bygones be, and start him to his work again."
"I promised the School Committee to thrash him," said Poddy.
"The youngster is a man," said Jack quietly, "and while I own up that he deserves a flogging, I think you had better not 'come it on' him this time. Take him away from school altogether, he's too big; and when I come back, I'll teach him a bit at night, with some of the other big ones. Remember, I've let it all be bygones, and shook hands with Bob, and it would be giving me away for you to thrash him now. He's had a rough experience of it this past week in the Bush, and has many a time gone with a hungry stomach; don't act unwisely by your eldest son, Mr. Carey; he's a good lad at bottom, and harsh treatment has sent many a decent fellow to the bad."
The men were now outside the house alone, walking up and down; but Poddy Carey was still obdurate.
"He's disgraced me before the neighbours," he said.
"Not a bit of it," said Jack, "it only shows how much he fears and respects you. He did wrong, in a moment of impulse and passion, for the sake of a silly, undisciplined girl, and followed it up by running away, as many another foolish youth has done before. It was me he quarrelled with; but that is all over now, and before I leave for Sydney I want to see Bob at home again, and everything all right. I intend to ride over and call on Major Browne tomorrow, and I would like to be able to tell him that the school affairs are straight once more."
They had walked over by this time to where Fleetfoot was standing by the fence, and Poddy stood still to look at him.
It is a way with men when they are deeply agitated that thought will suddenly fly off at a tangent and fix itself with interest upon any noteworthy object which may cross the path.
Fleetfoot was in the pink of condition; careful grooming had removed all roughness from his glossy coat and limbs. The high breeding of the animal was evidenced in the strong arched neck, shapely barrel, and sinewy, graceful limbs; his hindquarters were perfect, and the legs well set underneath. He had been newly shod, and from hoof to silky ears and delicate nostrils gave indications of the intelligence and generous spirit which only high breeding and careful training give. He turned his head and whinnied pleasantly as he heard his master's voice. Saddle and bridle were of the best workmanship, and Poddy Carey mentally put the whole turnout down as worth little short of a hundred pounds.
"Has Major Browne seen your horse?" was his abrupt question.
"I don't think so," replied Jack, startled for the moment. "Why?"
"Because he'd want to buy him from you," said Poddy. "You're a lucky man to own such a nag, he's as good a horse as the Major's Pride o' Perth, and maybe better...Yer know, schoolmaster," he said, turning round and facing Jack, "yer a bit of a puzzle to some of us old hands. Yer won't flog the kids on principle—see how you've been begging me not to thrash Bob! Yer as soft spoken as a woman, and old preacher Gordon says ye're as kindly hearted, and yet yer a strong-built man, and your eyes wild and darin' enough for a bushranger's, and yer ride the best horse in the district, and, from what I hear, can clear fences on his back, in a way as takes all the conceit out of we country chaps...Tell Bob that, for your sake, I'll take him back quiet like and say nothing more about it; and when yer come back from Sydney we'll see about the extra teaching, and yer might tell us a yarn then about that horse of yours, for I'll bet my hat there's more you know about him than you have told the folks of the Broadhaven Valley. I'll give yer fifty notes for him without the saddle, if you should happen to be short, mister."
"Thank you, I have taken great pains to train him," said Jack, "and I wouldn't part with him. I'll just go in and say good-bye to the girls and Mrs. Carey, and tell them Bob will be home before noon to-morrow."
Betsy walked with Jack to the slip-rails, after he had seen her mother. He shook hands with her.
"Mr. Bennett, are you sure that you are coming back again?" she asked nervously, looking him full in the face.
Jack looked into her dark honest eyes, and a faint blush mantled her cheeks and brow. He could not tell this girl a lie at parting.
"I cannot say for certain, Betsy; but I fear not," he said at last. "Will you be sorry if I don't come back again?"
"Every one will," said Betsy evasively; but still the tell-tale blush mantled her cheek.
"Then they will be no more sorry than I shall be," he answered. "The few weeks I have spent here, have been mostly happy ones; but I have to go. Perhaps you will know why some day, and not think unkindly of me if others speak badly about your old schoolmaster."
"They can never do that," said Betsy. "And why should I ever think unkindly of you, Mr. Bennett? I could not do so. You've been such a friend to me."
"God bless you, dear," said Jack, and, leaping into the saddle, he cantered off toward the crossing.
Betsy did not go straight back to the house; but having put up the slip-rails, stood by them—and wept.
Bob returned home next morning, shame-faced and crestfallen, and went quietly off to his work. It was as though ten years had been added to his age. No one could get anything from him as to how he had spent his time in the Bush; and he refused to say a word, even to Betsy, about his interview with the schoolmaster.
In the meantime, Jack had started to pay his projected visit to Major Browne.
As he rode along he realized what a risky thing he was doing, for Broadhaven Head Station employed a large number of 'Government men,' and there was a good deal of coming and going, and fairly regular communication overland, and also by small sailing craft, with Sydney. Then too, Major Browne was a magistrate and could, on the least suspicion, have him arrested. The horse he rode also presented a source of possible danger; Fleetfoot was so fit and handsome, that it was wellnigh impossible for him not to attract attention. Altogether, Jack's mind was not a little perturbed, and he wished the visit well over. As likely as not he would be invited to stay for lunch, and there was no telling who might not be present at the Major's hospitable table.
While thus meditating on possible freaks of fortune. Jack had reached the summit of a hill, and before him, in panoramic beauty, there spread a winding river, and on its banks the buildings which comprised Major Browne's well arranged homestead. It was his first view of a scene which has arrested the attention of many beholders, and he reined in his horse to survey the landscape more closely.
A mile or more of luxuriant pasture land spread below him, with the Bailey River winding through it toward a commodious estuary through which its waters debouch into the Pacific Ocean. There seemed to his keen vision nothing wanting to make the picture suggestive of peaceful prosperity. Herds of cattle and mobs of horses grazed there. Around the homestead fine trees grew, and gardens and an extensive orchard flanked the low-roofed residence on the north. Jack had heard that Major Browne was a wealthy man, and owned a large house and an opulent estate; but he was unprepared for such a scene as this. Presently he caught sight of a vessel, schooner-rigged, cautiously making its way up the river. Its movement gave animation to the picture, for, although over a couple of miles distant, in the clear morning atmosphere every object was singularly distinct.
Soon, however, his thoughts reverted to himself and the object of his visit to the Major, and he muttered half-aloud: "What interest can the proprietor of all this have in a country school and its teacher? I might just as well have left without calling to give an explanation of my conduct in regard to the Committee and the school. What can he really care about such matters?"
He walked his horse quietly over the well-made road, leading for a couple of miles down to the homestead. He was very much inclined to turn round and go back again, when he heard the sound of cantering hoofs behind him. As he listened, he heard them pull up, and come trotting down the hill. At this he turned Fleetfoot off the middle of the road to let them pass; but on reaching him the riders drew rein, and turning his head, he found beside him a lady riding a handsome grey with a gentlemanly man of military appearance as her escort.
"Good morning, sir," said the gentleman. "Major Browne will be busy to-day; I see the schooner is coming up to the anchorage. It's an uncommonly fine view from this hill. Can you tell me whether Sir James Bennett is still staying with the Major?"
Jack lifted his hat to the lady, and replied that he was a stranger, and had but a very slight acquaintance with Major Browne, upon whom he was about to call on a matter of business only.
"Thank you," said the gentleman. "Pray excuse me, I thought probably that you belonged to the place. Good day!" He and his companion trotted on along the road, which here turned abruptly to the right, leaving Jack in a state of unenviable mental confusion. He again drew rein, and after a few minutes' hesitation was about to wheel his horse round and forgo his proposed visit, when he heard a sudden scream, and a riderless horse came galloping up the hill towards him. In a moment Jack had swung Fleetfoot round, and was racing along by the side of the runaway, and a minute afterwards he caught the reins and brought the frightened animal to a standstill. Turning, he trotted smartly down the hill, to find the lady lying by the roadside unconscious, and the gentleman bending over her in evident distress as he chafed her hands.
"Fasten the horses to the fence, sir," he said, "and, for God's sake, get me some water quickly. Stay, though—are you a doctor?"
"No," said Salathiel, "but I will get the water in a moment, and there are spirits in my pocket-flask." He had noticed a clear stream in an adjoining paddock, and returned with water in the crown of his soft felt hat almost immediately.
With Jack's timely assistance the lady was presently restored to consciousness. "It was very foolish of me to faint, father," she said, "but I hurt my head when I fell from the saddle."
"I blame myself, Katie dear, for allowing you to ride that brute of a mare; she must have shied badly at something; but thank God it is no worse. Are you in pain anywhere?"
"Only my head," she replied, "but no bones are broken, and I shall soon be better."
"Do you think I had better ride on to the station tor assistance?" suggested Jack.
"Ah, perhaps that would be best, if we may so trouble you! Say that Colonel Thompson's daughter Katie has met with a slight accident, and I shall be much obliged if the Major will send a conveyance up the hill at once, with a man to bring down the horses."
"Wait a few minutes, father dear," said the lady. "I shall soon be better, and we can ride down quietly."
"But you can't ride that mare, Katie; and my horse would be just as bad, or worse."
"If the lady is really well enough to ride, my horse would carry her with perfect safety," said Jack hurriedly.
"Oh, thank you," said the girl faintly, "I shall really be better, father, in a few minutes, and I would not like to have it said a soldier's daughter was so wanting in courage and endurance, especially if Sir James is there."
Colonel Thompson still demurred; but on further persuasion, and Jack's assurance of the gentleness of Fleetfoot, he assented to the arrangement; so, Jack having changed the saddles, the trio slowly walked the horses to the homestead.
On their arrival, Major Browne and Sir James Bennett were talking together on the broad carriage-drive fronting the entrance hall. "Why, bless me! it's Colonel Thompson," exclaimed the Major, "and Miss Thompson too, and Mr. Bennett with you; but "—noting the girl's white face—"is anything the matter? No accident to your daughter, I hope Colonel? Been thrown, eh? Here, William! Take these horses round to the stables and look after them well. John, tell your mistress that Colonel Thompson and Miss Thompson are here, and that the lady has met with a slight accident, and bring wine and biscuits into the small drawing-room immediately."
"Who is Mr. Bennett?" asked Katie of Mrs. Browne, as, almost well again, she reclined upon a sofa in the latter's pleasant dressing-room. "Is he related to Sir James?"
"Oh, no, dear! He's the new school-teacher at the Bluff; he looked in, the Major tells me, upon some school business."
"It was fortunate we met with him, he behaved himself as a gentleman, and talks like a well-educated man," said Katie. "And what a beautiful horse he rides; he lent him to me after my fall, as father was afraid to let me mount Diamond again. I really thought that he must be related to Sir James, being of the same name; somehow his face seems familiar to me; but, now I remember he said that he was a stranger and had only recently come to the Bluff."
"He came here from Maitland a few weeks ago," replied Mrs. Browne.
A snack was served to the Colonel and Salathiel, preparatory to lunch. Then the Major invited the teacher into a well-furnished library detached from the dwelling-house to look over some new books; he would have a chat with him after lunch about the school, he said.
A puzzled look was on Sir James Bennett's face as Major Browne explained to his visitors who Jack was, and how he had recently come from somewhere Maitland way, to take charge of the Bluff school.
"He rides a dashed fine horse for a school-teacher," said the blunt Colonel, "and keeps him in the pink of condition. I would like to have a look at Diamond again, and also your Pride o' Perth; let's walk round to the stables, and we can then have another look at Mr. Bennett's horse. I want a really well-bred hack for Katie, and if your schoolmaster's horse is what he seems to be, I would not mind giving him Diamond and six five-pound notes for him. But the animal must have some blemish; school-teachers are not usually great judges of horse-flesh."
When the luncheon gong sounded, Colonel Thompson was in the library talking to Jack about Fleetfoot. A close inspection of the horse seemed to have more than satisfied him, for he had increased his offer, and was urging Jack to take Diamond and a cheque for sixty pounds in exchange for Fleetfoot.
"I could not part with the horse, Colonel, if you increased your offer by another twenty pounds," Jack was saying resolutely. "You know, sir, a man's horse is everything to him in the Bush. I'm not much of a horseman perhaps, but I have trained Fleetfoot carefully, and know his ways, and he knows me and all my little peculiarities; and although your generous offer is a very tempting one, which I am greatly obliged to you for making, I cannot accept it."
"Well, Mr. Bennett, if you should change your mind at any time, let me know; you will find me at the Barracks, Lower George Street," said the Colonel, evidently chagrined by Jack's determined refusal.
This offer for Fleetfoot caused Jack no little annoyance, and as he entered the dining-room he looked anxiously around upon the company, and glanced quickly at the number of seats provided for the visitors. There were seven in all.
"Miss Thompson, Colonel Thompson," said the Major, drawing back the chairs to his right and left. "Sir James, will you sit between the two ladies? Captain Fraser will take the seat by Mrs. Browne. Mr. Bennett," he said, nodding to the seat between the Captain and Colonel. "I think you all know my old friend Captain Fraser, of the good ship Nancy Lee, unless it be Mr. Bennett. Captain Fraser, Mr. Bennett."
"There now "—with a smile to Mrs. Browne at the other end of the table—"that is all settled; Captain, try a glass of our Colonial claret with the soup. Broadhaven vintage 1833."
Captain Fraser was only a week out from Sydney Harbour, on one of his periodical trips along the coast, and kept the table alive with the latest news and most spicy gossip of the metropolis. Sir James Bennett had been absent for a fortnight and Colonel Thompson for a week, so the Captain, who was part owner of the Nancy Lee, had plenty to talk about. Jack felt very uncomfortable, and said but little, for he thought that Sir James Bennett, whom he remembered as a prominent Sydney Queen's Counsel, was watching him with special attention.
Occasionally Sir James addressed his conversation directly to him, and without asking personal questions, elicited facts about his school, his views upon education, and other matters, which Jack found decidedly embarrassing.
Colonel Thompson rallied him also upon his affection for a fine horse, while his daughter praised the docile Fleetfoot, and commended the school-teacher for not being tempted to part with an animal of which he had apparently made a friend. "Love me, love my dog," she said smiling, to the Major, "and why not my horse? I am sure that when they are highly bred and well trained, they are just as sagacious and faithful as dogs."
When Jack sat down after the retirement of the ladies at the conclusion of luncheon, he found that a servant had placed a folded slip of paper upon his dessert plate. He opened it with assumed carelessness, knowing that Sir James Bennett was closely watching him. It read as follows:
"You are Jack Salathiel, the notorious bushranger. I do not wish to make a disturbance; but if after reading this, you rise from your seat, or place your hands beneath the table, you will at once be shot."
Captain Fraser turned round on sitting down, to address his conversation to Jack, as the latter quietly refolded the slip of paper and placed it in his waistcoat pocket.
"Black coffee and brandy, please," said Jack to the servant behind him; and then he replied with animation to Captain Fraser's remark about the recent hanging of a convict in Sydney.
He kept both his hands above the table, reached over for a cigar, and put three lumps of loaf sugar into his saucer, placed above the dainty coffee cup, without exhibiting the least concern. Then, as the barrister watched him, he poured brandy over the sugar, and set light to it and lit his cigar with the same match. Gazing reflectively at the blue flame of the spirit in the saucer, he held his cigar in one hand, and ladling brandy upon the sugar in the saucer with a teaspoon, he talked to the Captain, as he watched the burning spirit, without raising his head.
"Our convict system, to my mind," he said, "is a curse to the Colony. There are of course upright men, like our host and other gentlemen, who use the system and administer the law with justice, and oftentimes with a good deal of patient consideration for the assigned servants, to whom, however, they mainly owe their wealth and comfort; but take the case you refer to, on your showing the unfortunate wretch was goaded by a vicious and unprincipled master to do the deed he was hanged for. And the lives of convicts are mostly in the hands and at the mercy of such men. Let a poor and friendless wretch make but one mistake out here, and he is, more often than not, lost to hope. If he is a clever workman, or good accountant, or capable manager, his employer's greed will too often keep him without his good conduct ticket for years; and if he is naturally depraved, the system will make him ten times worse. It wants thorough reform, sir, at the hands of some wise, humane, far-sighted man. Good Heavens, Captain, you surely don't imagine that an affluent land like this has no future before it! Why, the convicts of to-day will be the progenitors of the patriots and legislators of to-morrow, if you will only give them a chance."
Sir James Bennett watched Jack intently during this speech, which had been listened to by the whole company, and he was about to say something, when Major Browne interposed rather stiffly:
"You refer, of course, to the administration of the convict system in the Maitland district where you have resided, Mr. Bennett. Now, we have been talking this morning about the case of the bushranger Salathiel. I hear that he had an honourable man for his master at Eurimbla, and yet, see the trouble he has given the authorities since he became an outlaw! What are you to do with such men but flog and hang them? Do you regard his as an exceptional case?"
The barrister's keen grey eyes twinkled, and he smiled as the company awaited the schoolmaster's reply.
"Did you ever come across Jack Salathiel?" asked the teacher abruptly, lifting his coffee cup to his lips, and resting his other hand, holding his cigar, upon the table, while he awaited the reply.
"No, thank God!" said the Major haughtily. "Bushranging is unknown upon the south coast, and it is years since I was in Maitland."
"Well, gentlemen," said Jack slowly, as though he were weighing every word, "I have both met this notorious bushranger and spoken with him; and, would you believe it? he is so much like me in face and form, and speech and gesture, that we might be taken for the same man. He could do all that I can, even to teaching a school; you remember he was assistant bookkeeper on Eurimbla station at the time he took to the Bush. It was the threat of being flogged for an unintentional offence to his master which drove him out, and, but for that threatened flogging, he might to-day have been an honest and useful member of society."
Jack's voice trembled with suppressed emotion and excitement; he was moved almost to tears, and the four men looked at him surprised.
Before another word could be spoken, however, the sharp report of a pistol was heard outside, and Dan Morley's voice shouted: "Bail up! Bail up!" amid a succession of female screams and general uproar.
The whole party instantly sprang to their feet; but Sir James Bennett's double-barrelled pistol covered the school-teacher.
"Hands up, Jack Salathiel!" he cried, "or you are a dead man."
A quarter of a minute is a long interval when it occurs in the midst of a crisis such as that depicted in our previous chapter, but for fully that period of time the five men stood without speaking. Sir James Bennett's sudden threat and drawn pistol came upon all, except himself and Salathiel, like a bolt from the blue.
The danger without, whatever it might be, was for the moment forgotten in presence of the drama which was being enacted before their own eyes. Could it be possible that Sir James Bennett would shoot the school-teacher with whom he had just lunched? Shoot him in the presence of their host, over the very table at which, with such good fellowship, they had partaken of his hospitality! There must be some stupendous mistake; the well-bred scholarly teacher was surely threatened by a madman. Colonel Thompson, who was as chivalrous as he was brave, was about to strike up the barrister's pistol, when Salathiel broke the silence:
"Listen to me, gentlemen. I am Jack Salathiel the bushranger and school-teacher; but I assure you I am perfectly innocent of any ill intention towards Major Browne or this company; nor have I any knowledge of the tumult and discharge of fire-arms outside. I came here to-day on a peaceful errand, concerning the new school at the Bluff; if this station is really 'stuck up' by bushrangers, I am no party to it. To the best of my knowledge all my men, save one, who came over with a message from the gang, praying me to return to them, are many miles away from this district. Believe me, I would not, for the wealth of New South Wales, violate your hospitality by permitting any disturbance or outrage which my authority over lawless men could prevent. Let us be seated again, and I pledge my honour as a man, outlaw though I be, that no harm or loss shall come to any one here to-day. If I fail in this, let Sir James shoot me for a liar and the deceiver of those with whom I have to-day shared the Major's hospitality."
Jack, regardless of Sir James Bennett's threatening pistol, sat down, and the whole party followed his example.
"Send out one of your servants," said the barrister sharply, "and ask whoever heads the gang to step right in here."
A few moments passed and Dan Morley, armed to the teeth, with two others of the gang close behind him, stood in the doorway. Instantly, on noting the position of things, every man in the room was covered by the pistols of the bushrangers.
"Put down your weapons. I don't thank you, Dan Morley, for this," said Jack sternly.
"Captain," said Dan, without lowering his pistols, which were aimed, the one at Sir James Bennett and the other at the Major, "we'll drop our shooting-irons when you're uncovered, but by the Lord Harry, if you're shot we'll put daylight through every man in the room, and burn down the station into the bargain. The gang's outside, and it's not likely we are going to see you shot or taken in a trap without a flutter."
"I think, Sir James," said Colonel Thompson quietly, "it will save a good deal of unpleasantness if we take the schoolmaster at his word."
"Drop your pistols, men," said Jack again, "these gentlemen are my friends."
"It doesn't look much like it, captain," said Dan grimly, but he lowered his weapons, and the men behind him did the same.
Sir James Bennett instantly placed his pistol on the table in front of him.
"Dan Morley," said Jack, "you say that the whole gang are around the place; tell these gentlemen truly how they are here and how it came about."
"Well, gentlemen, as you are friends of the captain, it is all off I suppose; but we heard of this as a likely place to make a start with in a new district, so we came over to know if the captain didn't want us. The gang heard on the road that he was down here teaching school, so we followed on his tracks, thinking to kill two birds, as the saying is, with one stone."
"Had I any knowledge of your intentions?" asked Jack. "Tell the whole truth now."
"Devil a bit, captain!"
"That's enough, lads," said Salathiel. "Get outside and wait until I come to you, and, unless you hear a shot fired, let no one enter this house again without my orders."
In a moment the barrels of two shining pistols lay in front of Jack, on the table. They had been thrown across by Dan, and deftly caught, and were placed together by Jack, confronting the pistol of Sir James.
Jack smiled as the men were heard leaving the house, and stood up. "Major Browne," he said, addressing that gentleman, "I think the best service I can render you and these gentlemen, is to get my men quietly away from the station and the neighbourhood. I need trouble you no further about the school; I have learnt some wholesome lessons over at the Bluff, and wish yourself and the people of this district well. I swear to God, bad as you may think me, that, but for this accursed convict system, I had rather lead an honest life as a poor school-teacher, and be respected and beloved by the children of a country school than be the owner of ill-gotten wealth and the captain of a gang of outlaws. I will leave your kind memorandum, Sir James, upon my plate, where the servant placed it, and if you are on the northern circuit at any time, we may meet again. While I play bushranger luck is usually with me; we may play another game yet, and I may win the rubber. When I try to act the honest man luck seems to go the other way, as it has done here. However, I will leave this district with a clean sheet, and if any of my men have sullied the name of John Bennett, schoolmaster, by robbery under arms, or otherwise, it shall be made good, with ample interest...Butler!" he called out to that worthy, who stood trembling in the doorway, "tell one of my men to bring round my horse; the one the lady rode upon into the station this morning...Your health, gentlemen!" said Jack, pouring out a glass of wine. "I apologize sincerely to the Major and to you all for this day's happenings; but my only intention was to come and go as John Bennett, the school-teacher, for whom the children and parents of the Broadhaven district will, I think, have some good words. I will now only ask you to remain in this room for one half-hour by that clock, while my men get fairly started upon the road; that I leave to your honour as gentlemen! Should we be followed, however, remember that we are a dozen or so desperate men, and I will not be answerable for the consequences."
Suddenly, to the surprise of all, Sir James Bennett rose from his chair and filled a glass of wine. "Here's to our next meeting, Jack Salathiel!" he said. "Whatever else you may be, you are a brave man."
Captain Fraser whispered something to Jack as, pistols in hand, he was about to leave the room.
"No! no!" said the bushranger. "Don't you see the luck is against me when I try to be honest? But I am deeply grateful to you."
A quarter of an hour afterward, the last of the bushrangers might have been seen disappearing leisurely over the hill. The men were making in the direction of their old haunts, and Salathiel had promised to meet them at Musselbrook, where he thought a good haul might be made to compensate them for their present disappointment.
"Pour me a glass of that port, Thompson," said Major Browne huskily, when they had listened to the last departing horse-hoof. The Major was evidently nervous and agitated. "It's one of the most remarkable episodes I can recall," he continued. "The butler here says that they have not stolen a thing, or hurt a single person on the station; the fire-arms were let off to frighten the men. That Salathiel is a most remarkable and dangerous character. He has played the schoolmaster down here to perfection; he has a good knowledge of the classics, plays the flute remarkably well, and behaves himself like a gentleman. Why, I took the chair at the opening of his school!—and yet he is a common highway robber. It's most astonishing!"
The Major stood up in his excitement; but the barrister lifted his hand and motioned him to his seat again. "Pardon me. Major," he said, "but we are under promise to remain here for half an hour; and they might return."
"Just so! just so!" ejaculated the Major, somewhat hurriedly resuming his seat. "Certainly," he continued, "we had him on his best behaviour, and we saw his best parts; but he is evidently a most dangerous man—never once flinched—and bore himself with wonderful address and courage, even with that pistol of yours, Bennett, clapped close to his eyes!"
"Where did he come from, Major?" asked Colonel Thompson, abruptly.
"I know nothing about him," replied the Major, "except that he came to the Bluff from Maitland way, and sent some satisfactory testimonials to the School Committee. Of course, he has been personating some one of the name of Bennett; but ask Sir James, he seems to know more about him than any one else. By the way, what was that memorandum he referred to? There is the paper on his plate."
"I wrote that before lunch," said the barrister, laughing; "you know, I thought I recognized him some time before; but I was not certain then; but I made my plans, and put a pistol in my pocket, in case of any unexpected emergency. Read the paper out to us, Captain Fraser."
The Master of the Nancy Lee read the threatening lines with evident astonishment.
"Good!" exclaimed the Major, pouring himself out another glass of wine. "Read it again, Captain."
"You are Jack Salathiel, the notorious bushranger," read the Captain. "I do not wish to make a disturbance; but if, after reading this, you rise from your seat, or place your hands beneath the table, you will at once be shot."
"And yet," exclaimed the Captain, "he drank his coffee, and talked quietly to me afterwards and he did not know but that he might be shot dead at any moment! I remember how he kept his hands upon the table, and held a teaspoon in one, and his cigar in the other, while he made that speech about the convict system; but, Sir James, who is he, and how did you come to recognize him?"
Any one watching Colonel Thompson's face might have noticed its pallor and the anxious expression with which he looked across at Sir James Bennett. He leaned forward in his anxiety to hear what the barrister had to say. From the moment Salathiel's name had been first mentioned at the luncheon, he had been strangely quiet, and he was wondering now how much Sir James Bennett really knew about the man. It has already been hinted that Salathiel was very well connected on his mother's side; but it was not generally known that the Thompsons were connected with Mrs. Salathiel's people by marriage, and that Colonel Thompson's eldest son had been a personal friend and companion of Jack Salathiel in their college days. It is no wonder that the Colonel listened to what the barrister had to say with strained attention. He was a proud man, and to have his family in any way connected with this notorious outlaw galled him to the quick.
"I never forget a face," said the Sydney barrister with great deliberation. "It has been part of my training to remember; it helps me in my profession. When I was a junior, several years ago, I was at this man's trial at Quarter Sessions. He has altered a good deal, but the scar upon his forehead helped me to identify him. What first aroused my suspicion was that I knew that he was not John Bennett, a school-teacher, late of Maitland, because I happen to have met that individual before; in fact, he is a distant relative of mine, although I know very little about him. It was knowing that he was not the John Bennett, of Maitland, that aroused my suspicions, and set my mind working to discover his identity.
"You see, gentlemen, I looked at it in this way; here was an educated, gentlemanly man, of about thirty years of age, impersonating another, and, as a lawyer, every professional instinct was naturally aroused. You know, to be any good in law, a man must have the gift of observation strongly developed, he must see more than does the average observer, and hear more than does the average listener. I believe that something in my manner—quite unintentional, I assure you—warned him that I was on his track; but he was a splendid quarry, and it was really great sport to hunt such a criminal into a corner. The first time I caught his eye, I knew that I carried my life in my hand while doing so.
"But let me explain; first, I marshalled all the known facts I could get hold of about him. You remember that he was exceptionally well-dressed—dressed above his station in life? He wore an expensive gold watch and trinkets. He rode a fine thorough-bred horse, a perfect match with one I had seen on old Downing's run, up at Musselbrook; he had a scar on his forehead, and a Jewish intonation in his pronunciation of certain words, which suggested to me that he read Hebrew. I saw the shape of what I thought was a pistol in his breast pocket; then he had come from Maitland, and the thought came to me, as if by an intuition: 'It's Salathiel the bushranger.' But I was not sure; however, on the suspicion that I might be right, I at once formed a plan of action, and wrote the memorandum, believing that during the luncheon I would have an opportunity to confirm or disprove my suspicions.
"Now, the lawyer who defended him at the trial—it was old Jones, Q.C.; he is dead since—made a lot of his youthful talents, and it came out at the trial that he played the flute. You remember my asking him if he did not often lead the school singing with a flute, and I trapped him into an acknowledgment that he could read Hebrew; you see, on his father's side, Salathiel's people are Jews. But once we got talking about his school, and chaffing him about his horse, and heard his opinions about the convict system, the evidence as to his identity was overwhelming, so that there was nothing very clever about my identification of him."
"I think it was amazingly clever," said the Major; "such a thing never occurred to me; but you say his people are well-to-do folk in Sydney?"
"Yes, that is so; his father is head partner in the big firm of Drosena & Co., Ltd.; but the name Salathiel does not appear in the business. The old man owns a lot of property in Darlinghurst, and they keep a carriage and servants. Of course, they don't own him now; but he is the only son."
"What was he convicted for?" asked Captain Fraser.
"He stole a rare copy of a classic from a fellow student when he was reading for the law at the university. He said he only meant to borrow it; but it was that which got him first into trouble. It was a son of old Bramley's of the Treasury he stole it from, and there had for long been a feud between the two families. But the young fool made it worse by assaulting an official in uniform, who accompanied the officer that arrested him; that's when he got that scar. He might have got off for the theft, for the general opinion was that he never meant to steal the book; but to strike a uniformed official, when on duty, is an unpardonable crime in New South Wales. I thought, in view of his age, the sentence was a very severe one; but old 'Blood and Thunder' was on the Bench (a friend of the Bramleys'), and he made an example of him. I saw him afterward, in a chain-gang on the roads. What he said is perfectly true, this convict system of ours is damnable, and needs reform. But for his one tremendous misadventure, he might now have been a barrister, wearing silk—he's clever too—might perhaps have put my nose out of joint at the Bar!"
"But you didn't really intend to shoot him," said the master of the Nancy Lee, who evidently had a kindly feeling for the outlaw.
"Yes, I did," replied the barrister. "I would not have killed him, unless I was obliged; but remember, it was my life against his, if he could once have got his hand upon his pistol. You know, he was absolutely in a corner, or he would have denied the truth of my memorandum at once, and have sworn that it was a case of mistaken identity; but he knew that in such a case we should have detained him. His rescue by his men was no doubt a stroke of marvellous luck for him. And for that matter, why shouldn't I have shot him? Whatever he was once, he is now a thief and an outlaw, preying upon society and terrorizing hundreds of good folk in the district. Besides, this bushranging by escaped convicts needs to be put down with a strong hand; then too, it might have helped me with the jury in the big case I have coming on at Sydney; and, I was forgetting, there's a Government reward for him—five hundred pounds, dead or alive. My friend, the Major here, is a magistrate, so he could not have objected, and I knew that you people would not be frightened; but I am glad now that I did not shoot him, for, as I told him before we parted, whatever else he may be, Jack Salathiel is a brave man. I wish, with all my heart, that all our outlaws were like him. I'd feel inclined to offer them free pardons, and ship them out of the Colony to some place where they might have a chance of making a fresh start, and getting an honest living as free men."
"I hope those confounded newspaper people won't get hold of the details of this affair," said Colonel Thompson. "They'll say it was not very creditable to us to let him escape. I think that you may take the bushranger's word for it, Major, that this district won't be troubled with his gang again."
"Well, after all," said Captain Fraser, "I really believe that the fellow is not bad at heart, and that he has been made what he is almost wholly by circumstances."
"Whatever our opinion of him may be," said Major Browne sententiously, "he is a bushranger, and the sooner he is inside the walls of one of Her Majesty's jails, the better for the Colony."
"My word, though!" exclaimed the Colonel, "I'd like to lead a regiment, old as I am, composed of men of the strength and pluck of this Salathiel."
"The half-hour is up," said Sir James, rising from his chair, "and as we have fulfilled our part of his confounded contract, we'd better have a look round, and see how the ladies are; and the sooner we set the troopers on Salathiel's track the better. We shall be laughed at, no doubt; but he is a cool, plucky cuss. No wonder he wouldn't sell you his horse, Colonel."
The gang rode leisurely up the long hill without any attempt to get under cover, Dan Morley and Salathiel bringing up the rear. They were too formidable a party to fear any present pursuit. They were heading for the wild country beyond the Bluff, which would take them well to the west of Sydney, through a very partially settled country, which skirted the Blue Mountain Ranges.
O'Brien's public-house was on the other side of the big hill, to the north of the Bluff settlement, and here Salathiel paid for everything wanted in the shape of meat and drink and all they cared to carry in their swags. It so happened that the publican had never met Salathiel, so they were able to pass themselves off as a squad of bounty emigrants on the look out for land. There was some discontent on the part of a few of the men, at what they called the captain's childish tomfoolery in letting Broadhaven Station off so cheaply; but they one and all feared his strong arm and masterful personality, and supposed he had some card up his sleeve they did not know of. At any rate, he had promised to meet them in four days' time at Doughboy Hollow, near Musselbrook, and they were going to rob the Bank and, as Dandy Snow put it, "play Old Humphrey with the town."
When Salathiel had seen the last of them disappear in the Bush, he turned Fleetfoot south once more in the direction of the school-house road. There were no fences here, and the horse at once quickened his pace, and pulled at the reins to be off, eager to reach the feed of maize and sweet lucerne hay which he knew awaited him. But Jack had no intention of riding direct to the school-house; it was much too risky, so he kept well off the road, and made for the Boulder Cave, where he had secreted Dan.
Here everything seemed quiet and undisturbed, so, dismounting, he led Fleetfoot a short distance up the spur, to a cave which had been opened up and made to serve for a stable. Here horse-feed and other necessaries were ready to hand, for Salathiel was a master of detail. Tied up and groomed, with his nose deep in the rough manger, Jack left the horse to have a look around, and to reconnoitre the vicinity of the school-house. He felt certain that he would run no danger in visiting his old shanty that night; there was not a policeman within fifty miles of him, and none of the local residents—even those at the station—would be likely to hazard an encounter with so formidable a band of outlaws; but he would be careful and not take unnecessary risks.
Before leaving, he went over to see how Dan had left the dwelling cave, for it occurred to him that he would probably come back after his visit to the school-house and have a couple of hours' sleep there. It was still quite light as he pulled aside the branches of the fig-tree to enter, then he made his way round the boulder and stood in the cave. Dan had been a sailor once, and was neat and orderly in his habits, so everything was straight and tidy, as might have been expected; but, stooping, Jack picked up a small parcel fastened with a hair-pin; it contained a girl's handkerchief, quite new, and embroidered in red silk were the letters 'T. G.'
Jack's astonishment and consternation were little less than Robinson Crusoe's when he found the famous footprint on the sand.
"Great Scott!" he exclaimed, overwhelmed with astonishment. "Tot Gardiner must have been up here with Dan Morley, and has dropped this out of her pocket. Goodness knows, she may come back this very evening looking for it!"
He went off presently, greatly disturbed in mind, to reconnoitre further. Had he stayed another hour, he would have seen Tot herself ride up to the cave, looking for her lost property. She was evidently familiar with the place, for, not finding it, she went straight up to the cave where Fleetfoot was feeding, and patting his glossy neck, said: "I suppose your master picked it up; take care of him, old man, it won't be long before we shall meet again. I'm sick of this old one-horse show in the Broadhaven Valley, and I'm going to see a bit of life, like other people. They can't take me up, for I'm only a girl, but I'm as strong as most of them, and the gang will soon know that a Broadhaven girl knows how to take care of herself. And to think that chump of a Bob Carey thought I'd take up with the likes of him!"
Alas, wild and daring as she was, Tot Gardiner little knew the roughness of the life which those same outlaws lived amid the wild fastnesses of the Liverpool Ranges!
When Jack reached the school-house it was after sun-down. He felt that it might be dangerous to stay over long, for there was no knowing what the Major, and Colonel, and Sir James might be up to. It was possible that the school-house might be surrounded before morning; but he did not hurry. He wrote a short letter to Mrs. Carey, thanking her for all her kindness, and enclosed one to Betsy. Then he shaved and cut some of his hair off; he put some things he wanted into a large leather valise, to be strapped in front of his saddle. He also carefully destroyed, in the fire, all traces of John Bennett, schoolmaster, except the school books and the flute, which, in his letter, he had left to the keeping of Betsy. He tied up the two canes in the green hide calf-skin, and addressed them to Mr. Silas Stump, with Jack Salathiel's compliments; then he tidied up the place, leaving the key outside.
He was clean shaved now, with hair cut short; and any one meeting him might have taken him for a well-to-do squatter. Certainly he had no longer the school-teacher look about him. He had some supper and a glass of brandy, and went up and slept for two hours in the cave, until the moon was fairly up. Then he took a last look around the flat and down the gorge; it was a very still night, and he could faintly hear the distant roar of the breakers on the Broadhaven beach. He gave a last look in the direction of Betsy Carey's—he guessed she might be the first one at the school-house on the morrow—then with the whispered words: "Exit John Bennett, schoolmaster!" he lifted himself into the saddle and passed through the trees, over the saddle-back to the north-west, into the Bush.
It was a lonesome, moonlit ride across country, before he struck the Sydney road; but next morning, soon after eight o'clock, he was breakfasting like a lord at the best hostelry in Camden.
He might well stroke Fleetfoot's glossy mane, and pat his neck, and call him pet names the horse seemed to know the meaning of.
"I would not have sold you to the Colonel for five hundred pounds, old man," he whispered; "we'll beat them yet before they get to Musselbrook, and spend a day, maybe, under the very nose of Major Moore, in Sydney."
Ah! he was young, and the future was hidden from him, and hot blood flowed in his veins; he was free again; yes, free, although an outlaw. Yet those six weeks teaching school at the Bluff had wonderfully changed the man. A sense of honour still urged him to be true to the gang which had, with one voice, made him their captain; but Amos Gordon's words often came back to him, and Mrs. Carey and Betsy were not forgotten. He laughed as he pictured to himself the bewilderment of Major Browne and the Committee. What a song they would make about it! It would be in the Sydney and Maitland papers: how they would rub it into the authorities! They might do even as did Governor Macquarie in 1814, when, bewildered and almost in despair at the growth of bushranging, he offered a free pardon to all bushrangers who, not having been guilty of murder, would, within six months of the date of his proclamation, return to their duty, and undertake to lead honest lives. He chuckled over the knowledge that not one thing had been stolen, nor an individual hurt, at Broadhaven Station; and he had slipped right out of their hands, even when covered by Sir James Bennett's pistol. It was a great joke; it would be the talk of the whole Colony. And yet, for all this exultation, there was still a bad taste in Salathiel's mouth; he felt keenly the loss of the good opinion, well-earned, of his fellow-men. Good clothes and plenty of money at command, notwithstanding, he was again a homeless outlaw, living a bushranger's reckless life, with a rope around his neck, which any day might be fastened to a gallows.
Tot Gardiner's sister Judy, nicknamed by the juveniles "Miss Smicker," and by others "the girl with the smile," was a rough, but good-tempered and kind-hearted damsel of seventeen. She was broad, tall, and finely proportioned, like her sister; but, unlike that of her sister, her handsome, freckled face carried a continual smile.
She smiled in fair weather and in foul, whether she was right or wrong, pleased or displeased. Her smile aggravated her mother and sister, and a few others: but it won her multitudes of friends, for Judy's smile, to quote again, "didn't wear out, nor wash out, nor rub off, and 'twas always natural."
Early on the morning following Jack's departure, Judy rode up to the Careys on a big roan mare in hot haste; she had a bag strapped on for a saddle, and jumped off right in front of Mrs. Carey's dairy. That lady was busy butter-making. It was a quarter past seven, the milking was done and breakfast over, and the younger Carey boys were feeding the calves with sour milk and hay tea, while the girls were busy scalding the big tin milk dishes.
"Whatever brings you over so early, Judy?" asked Mrs. Carey. "Nothing wrong, I hope, at home?"
"No-o," said Judy, hesitating a little.
"Then wait a minute." Mrs. Carey's quick ear had noted a change in the sound of the splash of the big barrel churn.
"The butter's come," said Mrs. Carey. "Stop churning, Alice. Don't you know that when the butter's come, all the churning in the world won't make another ounce? Some folks churn and churn until all the grains are gathered into big lumps, and then you have to work it no end, to get the buttermilk out. Run the buttermilk off, child, and wash it down, and I'll come and give you a turn of the handles for the second washing."
"Has Tot been over here this morning?" asked Judy, and although she had an anxious look on her face, the wonted smile stole round her red, fresh lips, and dimpled her cheeks, and sparkled in her eyes, "'Cos mother sent me over."
This Australian country girl was a pleasant picture, as she stood there with rosy cheeks, in the fresh morning; brown curly hair filled up the space between her smooth forehead and the starched open frills of her big hood; she wore a tightly fitting bodice of a large flower-coloured, chintz pattern print, her arms were bare, and a white kerchief was knotted, sailor fashion, around her shapely neck. She wore a short skirt, dark, thick stockings, and Blucher boots. "She'll be just like Tot in a year or two," thought Mrs. Carey, "but a bit more wholesome and refined."
"Have any of you children seen Tot Gardiner this morning?" called out Mrs. Carey loudly, so that all could hear.
"No, mother," was the general response.
"Do you think Mr. Carey or Bob might have seen her?" asked Judy, smiling again, as she cleverly linked the father with the son, for she knew that Mrs. Carey did not approve of Tot's friendliness with her first-born.
"I don't think so; my good man is out in the run, and Bob's ploughing in the far paddock. You can go over and ask him if you like; but come in when you return and drink a cup of warm milk and have something to eat. I'll be bound you rode over without any breakfast."
Judy returned unsuccessful, and Mrs. Carey took her into the house, where Betsy was busy, with two big camp ovens, baking the family bread.
"Halloo, Judy girl! what's the matter?" was Betsy's cordial greeting.
"Can't find Tot anywhere," said Judy.
"Perhaps she's gone after that missing steer," said Betsy, who knew a good deal about the Gardiners' affairs.
"No," said Judy, "she's not gone anywhere, she's disappeared."
"What rubbish!" said Mrs. Carey. "If the girl has disappeared, she must have gone somewhere."
"But," replied Judy, "she can't have gone anywhere, she hasn't taken her clothes."
"Whatever do you mean, child?"
"Just what I say, Mrs. Carey, and that's what's troubling mother and me; her clothes are all laid on the stool, just as she went to bed last night, and everything is there, except her stockings and boots."
"My goodness!" exclaimed Betsy, laughing, for she knew something of Tot's erratic ways. "Whatever can have happened to her?"
For a while they looked at each other; then Mrs. Carey said: "I daresay, Judy, she's back by this; anyhow I'll look after the bread, and Betsy shall ride over with you, and see what she can do to help. And, Betsy, you come back for more assistance to search for her if necessary. Come back by dinner time, at latest, and let us know."
Betsy and Judy went off together to saddle Loiterer, and Mrs. Carey, with a thoughtful face, gave a look to the bread, and then returned to the dairy. "Very strange indeed, that the girl should be missing, and have left her clothes behind," she thought.
But still more astonishing news was at hand, for, just as the girls were mounting, a galloping horse was heard approaching. It was Ned Driver, in his shirt sleeves, on a sweating steed.
"Where's the boss, Mrs. Carey?" he called out as he pulled up. "Heard the news?" he continued without waiting for an answer.
"What news?" was the general cry.
"Why, the schoolmaster's gone, and he's Jack Salathiel, the bushranger, and he's had his gang over and they 'stuck up' Major Browne's station, and have taken no end of money and cattle. The Major's sent to Sydney for the police, and there's the mischief to pay all round."
"Ned, you've gone daft," said Betsy, as no one else spoke; but a cold chill came over her.
"It's gospel truth though," said Ned. "I allus thought there was something queer about the chap, 'cos he wouldn't flog the kids; but I wish him luck, for he's done us no harm. You should see Silas Stump, and hear him orating, he's found his tongue properly! Tell the boss there's to be a committee meeting at school, at 2.30; I'm riding round to let them know."
"Have you seen our Tot anywhere?" asked Judy.
"No," said Ned; "what's she been up to?"
"We can't find her anywhere, and she hasn't taken her clothes."
"That's a rum go; but do you think——?" He stopped, for he hardly knew how to put it.
"I don't think! I don't know what to think!" said Judy, with tears in her eyes.
"Well, I'm off," said Ned, who was bursting to tell his news to the next neighbour. "I'll keep a look out for Tot. So long!"
The children had been listening, and the whole place was, by this time, in a fever of excitement. Betsy and Judy were hurrying off, when Mrs. Carey stopped them. "Ride across to the school-house as you pass. I don't believe it. You'll very likely find Mr. Bennett there, or he will have left a letter, or you may learn something about Tot. That Ned Driver is a fool. Mr. Bennett a bushranger indeed! Why, he's as kind as a kitten, and wouldn't hurt a child!"
Betsy gave her mother a grateful look; but the cold chill was still at her heart as she rode with Judy across the ford of the Bailey River. She remembered his words, "I have to go, perhaps you'll know why some day, and not think unkindly of me when others speak badly about your old schoolmaster." Was this what he meant? And then, strange as it may seem, the girl's heart went out to him, because he might be blameworthy and in trouble. It was as though this stupendous fall from the serene height of his previous character brought him within her reach. Losing the respect and admiration of others, he would want some one to love him and comfort him. Bushranger or not, she never doubted him; he was her ideal of manly goodness and faithful tenderness. Had she not read his character those six weeks in the school? He would never do wrong wilfully. How different he was, she thought, to all those louts around him on the country-side! Her idol might have tumbled from his pedestal, but if so, he had fallen into her arms, to be loved, and served, and prayed for.
But, even as these strangely mixed thoughts were passing through Betsy's mind, the two girls rode on with feverish haste. So far, it should be observed, Betsy never gave a thought to Tot Gardiner, who had disappeared on the very night of John Bennett's departure, and had gone away without her clothes. For the first time, as it were, she felt Salathiel to be within reach. She would sooner have him a bushranger, if it made him hers. If only, by being brought low, she could throw around him the encircling love of her passionate, trustful nature! She never thought of him as a criminal; he was to her the good bushranger, who would always show an unselfish spirit; who might take money from the rich, but would give it to the poor. He would be her Jack, and she would help him, defend him, fight for him, and, like a guardian angel, encompass him with her love.
It was all very foolish perhaps, very romantic, and very outrageous, for a girl to love a man all the more because he was a ruined outcast, but there was a proud light in Betsy's eye, and her heart seemed to beat and throb with the force of new power and feeling. "I love him! I love him!" was the refrain, which came and went in her excited mind, like the burden of an old song. Soon they were riding at a wild canter, down a steepish range; but what cared Betsy? Fear she had none. Loiterer's rattling hoofs, on rolling stones and rough rocks, were talking to her. It was now an old childish rhyme the girls had trolled and laughed over scores of times: "Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor, apothecary, ploughboy, thief!" and Loiterer stopped dead, exactly when she came to the word "thief." It was unfortunate; but Tot's mother just then stepped out of the Bush, in front of them.
"I've no news of Tot," exclaimed Mrs. Gardiner, with an anxious face; "and I hear Mr. Bennett is gone; and they say he is a bushranger and has taken Tot with him; she's left all her old clothes behind, so she must have got new clothes from somewhere. Betsy, I'm a poor broken-hearted creature to-day. To think that one of my girls should have done such a thing, and me a poor widow woman! And to have gone off with a common thief!"
"Don't you believe it, Mrs. Gardiner," burst out Betsy, flushing red from cheek to brow, "I'm sure he hasn't taken Tot. He would never do such a thing, even if he is a bushranger. She'll come back, never fear! We'll all turn out and find her. I'll ride over to the school, and see if Mr. Bennett has really gone. Judy, you come with me. If we don't find out anything, I'll ride straight back and tell mother; and dad, and Bob, and maybe myself 'll ride over again and see what can be done. Keep up your heart, Mrs. Gardiner; Judy will be back directly. There's no fear; we all know that Mr. Bennett is a good man."
There was no smoke from the chimney and no sign of life when the girls reached the school-house. After knocking and calling, Betsy turned the key which Jack had left in the door, and they entered the shanty. The sealed letter addressed to Mrs. Carey lay on the table, with the flute and canes and calf-skin and a few books. There was no sign of hasty departure, in either the tidy kitchen or sleeping apartment, for Jack had cleaned everything up before he went to the station, and the heap of ashes in the fire-place told no tales.
"Tot!" called out Judy, obeying the first impulse of her mind.
"Don't be a silly," said Betsy with some indignation. "Tot hasn't been here. I'll take this letter for mother to her at once. Let's go and look inside the school!"
Judy had read the inscription on the canes and green hide calf-skin, smiling through her tears. Betsy laughed outright, and said: "They'll have some nuts to crack this afternoon. Good gracious, Judy girl, don't cry. Tot's all right, even if she is with Mr. Bennett; you know very well that he would never do a girl a bit of harm; but she is not with him, I'm certain he wouldn't let her."
The school-house was just as it had been left on the Thursday, so, as there was nothing more to be discovered, Judy went home, and Betsy hastened back to her mother with the bushranger's letter.
"Get up, Loiterer, you lazy thing!" Betsy's heel carried no spur, but the vicious dig she gave the pony was so unusual that Loiterer made off at a breakneck pace for home. The letter to Mrs. Carey, which Betsy had put carefully into the bosom of her dress, read as follows:
"My dear Mrs. Carey,
"I cannot do other than write to you before I leave this district, for your kindness and Betsy's, and indeed that of your whole family, will be a pleasant memory to me as long as I live, I deeply regret that the manner of my departure may cause pain; but what has happened to-day down at Broadhaven Station was wholly unexpected. Nor had I any knowledge of the gang coming over to this district. Had I been aware of their intentions I would have prevented it, even at the risk of my life. However, I have seen to it that there has been neither robbery nor violence, and as I write this in my old quarters at the school-house, the gang is miles off, on their way north, and with my permission they will never return to alarm or injure the people who have treated a stranger with such kind hospitality and consideration. Of course, I deceived you all from the very first; but I came down here for private reasons only, and with no ill intention to the Broadhaven Valley people. My desire and purpose was to leave as I came, plain John Bennett, school-teacher, thinking (fool as I was) that it would be possible to come and go, without my true name being discovered. But luck was against me.
"However, try and think of me as kindly as you can. For six weeks you have seen Jack Salathiel, the bushranger, as he would like to be, if law, and police, and the Colony's accursed convict system would only let him.
"Next time Amos Gordon visits you, show him this letter, and tell him that I have not forgotten his talk with us in the school-shanty. If he knows of any way by which I might escape from my surroundings, without being hanged, he might drop a line to J. J. Powell, care of G. P. O., Sydney. That will always find me while I am alive and free. I am enclosing a few lines to Betsy; I can't leave without doing so; she is a girl in a thousand, and has always been good and helpful to me in the school. What a farce it seems now, to write about, the school!
"Say good-bye for me to Bob and all the family; and if by any chance, at any time, any of you should fall into the hands of outlaws, say to them: 'I am a Carey,' and, if I can do it, that word shall ensure you protection and respect.
"J. J. Salathiel."
The letter to Betsy was short, and less apologetic:
"My dear Betsy,
"What I feared has unexpectedly happened, I have been found out and, after writing this to you, I must ride for my life. I need not tell you that I meant no harm to any one down here. Had it been possible, I think I would have stayed on as schoolteacher for the rest of my life. You will believe me, I know, when I say that I am what I am more by misfortune than by choice; but I must not go back on my men while they remain true and want me. But I'm a miserable man at heart, Betsy; 'the good that I would, I do not; and the evil that I would not, that I do;' and there is no door of hope open for me, and no strong hand of love to help me to go free. I am driven, driven of my own past folly; and, I cannot help but think, driven by the Devil's power. I deserve of course to be punished; but you know, Betsy, if I gave myself up, it would only be going back to a life worse than death, for there is no mercy from men for such as me. And yet I too am a man, and strong and proud and fearless, and some of the gang would die for me.
"Take care of the flute, and John Bennett's school books; he was honestly paid for them, and has come to no harm. Don't believe all the bad things you will hear or read about me, and give a kindly thought sometimes to your old friend and schoolmaster.
"J. J. Salathiel.
"P.S. You know, Betsy, I warned you that this might come when I said good-bye to you at the slip-rails. You might write to me sometimes."
When Betsy read that letter, she made a rash vow—that she would either die or save him.
Mrs. Carey said never a word, but she showed her letter to her husband, and told him that he was to keep it secret, and that, whatever happened, he was not to take any action that would be against the schoolmaster.
So Jack's masquerade in the Broadhaven district at any rate made him two friends.
By midday the whole valley was stirred by Ned Driver's sensational story. The news seemed incredible; but it spread like wild-fire, gathering additions as it went, until the one topic of conversation was the astounding news that a notorious bushranger had been teaching their school, and that, with his gang, he had 'stuck up' Major Browne's station and carried off Tot Gardiner. Many of those, however, who had best known the schoolmaster doubted.
"Mr. Bennett that notorious outlaw, Jack Salathiel!" said Mrs. Lord. "Really, Ned Driver, it's too ridiculous. The schoolmaster will sue you for defamation of character; see if he doesn't!" Nor was Mrs. Lord singular in her unbelief.
There was a full attendance of the Committee; Silas had sent word to the Major, who had promptly replied by letter, at considerable length. He would certainly ride over, he said, as it would be well to have a magistrate present at their deliberations. He thought it extremely unfortunate that the School Committee should have been the means of introducing such a dangerous criminal into the district; he hoped that none of the valley people were in league with Salathiel; certainly, sufficient precautions had not been taken in regard to the man's identity. He was thankful that, so far as he knew, no lives had been lost, but he warned them against possible further trouble; they should certainly arm themselves and see that they had ammunition available. If they were short of the latter, they could get it at the station, as a consignment had just come to hand by the Nancy Lee.
The Major rode up to the school-house a quarter of an hour late, as red as a turkey cock. He was accompanied by one of his overseers and Sir James Bennett, and it was noticed that he wore an undress uniform, and that all three carried pistols in their holsters.
Major Browne was voted to the chair; stools were found for the Queen's Counsel and overseer, and the Committee sat on desks, or forms, as best suited their length of limb or personal ambition. They were somewhat awed by the Major's presence and his covert rebuke, which Silas had read to them, and were not in the best of humour either with themselves, the Major, or the business that had brought them together. The only thing they were agreed upon was that it was a good thing the schoolmaster had got safely away. They bore him no ill will, and had no wish to meet, as a bushranger, the man they had taken to their hearts as a friend. Silas Stump, no doubt, felt more aggrieved than any one else, as he had conducted the correspondence; but altogether, the Committee felt its position keenly. The climax had come when it was whispered around that Salathiel had not only robbed Broadhaven Station, but had cleared out with Tot Gardiner. News of other outrages, they thought, would be sure to follow, all of which would naturally be laid at the door of the bushranger.
The Major, on taking the chair, began business without any preface, by saying to the secretary: "Kindly read the minutes of your last meeting, Mr. Stump." He said this in his most magisterial tone of voice.
Silas at once stepped forward and attempted to whisper something to him; but the Major, with a gesture, signified his dissent, and told him to address the chair, in a tone of voice which could be heard by the whole Committee.
It was evident that the secretary felt inclined to rebel, for, as he remarked afterwards, the Major wasn't in court, and they were none of them on their trial; indeed they had only invited him to be present out of courtesy.
"It was an irregular meeting," said the secretary nervously, "and we didn't take no minutes."
"Very unbusinesslike," said the Major, "to grant your school-teacher leave of absence without entering a record upon the minute-book. Kindly read the minutes of your last regular meeting."
With a downcast look, the secretary had to confess that he had not brought the minute-book. At this the whole Committee stared in reproof at the unfortunate Silas, and the Major grunted out: "Most unbusinesslike; if you carry on your school in this way it is no wonder you are taken in by reckless and unprincipled men."
"Let us adjourn outside and have a smoke," suggested Poddy Carey, "while Silas rides home and gets it."
"It's impossible for me to wait," said the Major loftily. There was a long, awkward silence after this, when, plucking up courage, Silas broke out in the following unconventional fashion:
"Hang it all, Mr. Chairman, we come here to talk over this remarkable 'transmigration' of the schoolmaster into a bushranger, and what we'd best do. I don't see that we want minutes. Let's hear what we can about him, and then decide what record we'll make in the minutes. I'll take rough notes, and we can have another meeting about getting a new schoolmaster; we can't do that to-day."
This sounded sensible, and there was a general chorus of "Hear, hear!" So the Major stood up, and after clearing his throat, told what he knew about the schoolmaster's visit and the attack upon the station.
This was the first time that the Committee had had any full account of the matter, which, on the whole, was very fairly stated by the Major, who gave Salathiel considerable praise for his forbearance and gentlemanly manner. He also stated that nothing was stolen from the station, and no violence done to anybody.
The latter was a new aspect of the affair to most of them. "Didn't they steal some horses?" asked Sandy McPherson.
"They stole nothing," said the Major decidedly. "Salathiel kept his gang within bounds, out of respect for me and my friends."
"Blest if he isn't a blooming enigma!" ejaculated Ned Driver, who could restrain himself no longer. "He's no bushranger, if he let you off like that."
"Didn't his chaps have a shot at some of yer men, Mr. Chairman?" asked Poddy Carey.
"No, certainly not," said the Major huffily. "Did I not tell you that he withdrew his men out of respect for myself and my friends?"
"It seems to me, then," said Poddy, "as no one's hurt, and nothing stole, we've nought to say agen him, unless some of the Committee wish to move a vote of thanks to him, for clearing out good-naturedly from the district."
The barrister smiled at this; but the chairman fidgeted in his seat, as though repressing his wrath.
"But he's cleared out with Tot Gardiner," said Ned Driver.
"Is that so?" said the Major, "then that's a matter to be inquired into by the police. Does any other member of the committee know of any other atrocity?"
"I hear that they lifted O'Brien's blood-mare," said Timothy Fagan, whose selection on the other side of the Bluff was not far from the public-house.
"Ah!" ejaculated the chairman, "then there has been robbery, after all."
"They had refreshments there," added Timothy, "but the schoolmaster paid for them with a sovereign, and the mare was not missed for several hours afterward. Tot used to ride her for him sometimes, as the mare was badly broken in; she went down last night, I hear, to borrow her, but O'Brien said that he wanted the mare himself this morning. It was only when he went to get her out of the stable that he found that she was gone."
"Some one soldiering* her a bit, perhaps," said Poddy.
(*When a horse is borrowed without asking, and ridden a distance and left, it is called 'soldiering' the animal.)
"How long was it after the bushrangers had gone that Miss Gardiner called to borrow the mare?" asked Sir James Bennett.
"About a couple of hours," said Timothy Fagan.
"Is Miss Gardiner a good rider?" asked the barrister.
The whole Committee smiled at this. They knew Tot, "You bet, sir!" said Timothy, smiling with the rest. "She breaks 'em in, and rides straddle legs when they are ugly, and flogs 'em like a man. She's a fine, big girl, sir, is Tot. Rides as well as any man in the valley."
"And this is the girl that is supposed to have gone off with Salathiel?" said the barrister. "Don't you think it is likely that she stole the mare?"
No one replied to this, and Silas, who felt hostile to the Major and his friends, thinking he saw an opportunity, said: "The Committee evidently does not care to charge Tot Gardiner with larceny on such insufficient evidence."
"Quite right!" said the barrister hurriedly.
The meeting broke up shortly afterward, no business having been done. No reference was made by Poddy to Salathiel's letter to his wife, and no arrangements were made to institute a search for Tot. All believed that she had gone off, as Ned Driver said, somewhere on her own, and they further agreed that she was quite able to take care of herself.
After the Major and his friends had gone, the Committee adjourned to O'Brien's public-house, to hear his story first-hand and sample his whisky. At the same time they relieved their feelings by abusing the Major and Sir James Bennett, and expressing surprise that Salathiel had let them off so cheaply.
"That pore chap is too well eddicated," said Ned Driver, "to be a bushranger. He ought to have stuck to school-teaching; but dear me! he's no good at that, when he's too tender-hearted to wale the kids."
"He should marry Tot," said Poddy Carey, "she'd wale 'em for him."
"That School Committee of yours," said Sir James to the Major, as they rode home, "is a hang-dog looking crowd."
"Oh, they're not a bad lot, but unbusinesslike!" replied the Major. "You saw them in their working clothes; some of them are fairly well-to-do-men."
"I would not care to have them for a jury, if I were prosecuting Jack Salathiel," said the barrister. "I should never get a conviction, I'm sure."
"Perhaps not," said the Major, "but you see, they have only seen Salathiel on his good behaviour; he and his gang will have a break-out soon after this, and then they may think differently. They're a very law-abiding people about the Bluff. My own opinion is that just now the Committee and every one else are quite knocked over by this astounding imposition. He might have stayed down here as schoolmaster for ever, if you hadn't come along."
In the meantime Jack had ridden on another five and twenty miles, to the old town of Parramatta. After a glance at the newspapers, to see that there was no 'hue and cry' out about him, he put up at the Woolpack Inn. He could find no reference whatever to the Broadhaven matter in the day's journals, so, feeling more secure, he went into the large room, where dinner was being served, and took a vacant seat at a side table. A clergyman was his vis-a-vis, and a young lady and her father and brother occupied the other seats; Jack cast his eyes anxiously around, but others had entered with him, and every one seemed busy with the evening meal.
The clergyman was telling his friends, who were a squatting family from the north-east coast, how a Sydney newspaper had just been fined £100 for an alleged libellous attack upon the Chief Justice, and how, in another matter, the editor had been flogged with a horse-whip in Pitt-street by a wealthy emancipated convict, who, professedly religious, had been proved a thorough-paced hypocrite. There was evidently a good bit stirring, and Jack gathered from the conversation that the police had their hands full with several gangs of convict bushrangers, who were making the northern roads unsafe for travellers.
"I thought of driving into town myself," said the squatter, "after the moon gets up, but I think I'll give it best until to-morrow. I see there is an official notice in the papers, warning travellers to shun the Parramatta-road after nightfall, as it is frequented by foot-pads. It's a rotten state of affairs that a main public road so close to the metropolis should be infested by thieves and cut-throats. It's about time that we had representative government, instead of this useless council."
"I saw the notice," said the clergyman, "but I must ride on to Sydney for all that, for I have an appointment there to-night and three services tomorrow. I suppose, if I should be waylaid, the scoundrels will have some respect for the cloth, but I must risk it. I may, however, find one or two others in this large company who are riding in after dinner. I will inquire of our host."
Jack noted that the speaker was a fine specimen of muscular Christianity, and as the clergyman looked at him with a smile, he responded: "I also have to ride to Sydney to-night, sir, and would be glad of the pleasure of your company. We might probably find another gentleman going, and then I don't think we should be troubled by foot-pads."
The clergyman looked Jack full in the face for a moment, and then, as though satisfied with his scrutiny, replied: "I shall be very pleased. Are you a resident of Sydney?"
"Powell is my name," replied Jack. "I belong to the south-western district, but business brought me to Camden, and I am riding through to Sydney and Newcastle. May I ask where you officiate to-morrow?"
"At the new Scotch kirk in Philip-street," replied the minister genially. "It will please me well to have your company to-night upon the road and to-morrow at the service. Let me introduce you to my friends, Mr. Robertson, of Mundarra, and his eldest son, and Miss Robertson."
Nothing could have suited Jack better, for he had been thinking how he might obtain a companion to ride with to Sydney; not that he troubled about the foot-pads, for his pistols and the terror of his name would have been ample protection; but just then he wanted peace and quietness, and any encounter with highwaymen was to be avoided. More than this, he knew that so near Sydney mounted police would be likely to be met with, patrolling the road, who had authority to stop and question travellers. He had found out, incidentally, that the Rev. William McEwan was not only a prominent Presbyterian clergyman, but a magistrate of the territory, who would be well known to the police. A friend riding with a clergyman would pass unquestioned, and foot-pads would be less likely to attack two horsemen than one.
The moon was about to rise as Jack and the clergyman turned their horses into the Eastern-road, past Harris Park and Homebush. Both were well-armed and mounted, for in those days of military chaplains and emancipated convicts, clergymen were frequently of heroic stuff, and it was well known that some of them could, on occasion, both shoot and flog. Jack had often heard of Mr. McEwan as a man of scholarly attainments, kindly heart, and fearless courage. It was in the Philip-street church that his mother and sister worshipped, and he congratulated himself on his good fortune, for the minister had evidently taken to him, as one well suited to his mind. He might, without discovering himself, be able to hear something of his people, and, for the matter of that, there was no reason why he should not attend service in the morning, and see his mother and sister for himself.
Dan Morley had many a time been told by his mother, poor woman, that he was the Devil's own son of mischief. It was this evil propensity, coupled with a quick sense of humour, which, even as a man, had brought him into no end of trouble.
When Tot Gardiner, who had got to know the bushranger through Bob Carey, suggested that she would like a trip to Sydney to see some life, Dan trod upon enchanted ground; but when she further proposed to borrow a neighbour's blood-mare, and dress up as a man in her dead father's clothes, the fun of the thing was irresistible.
He told her it would be great; that he was sure the captain would be delighted at her pluck, even if she came and had a look at them in the Liverpool Ranges. Of course, he knew very well that Salathiel would storm at him, and send the girl home double quick; but he determined that he would have his fun out of her, for all that, so he arranged to slip away from the gang, and meet Tot on the Liverpool-road and ride with her to Sydney.
It was pitiable that she should have been lured by an unprincipled outlaw into such a course; but her moral sense was deficient, and it was her wild ways and a romantic attachment for Salathiel, rather than any regard for Dan Morley, which led her to it. So, while she accepted Dan as an escort, it was only to serve her own ends, and she resolutely kept him in his place. It suited the latter to make the foolish girl think of Salathiel only as an unprincipled bushranger, whose school teaching had been insincere and merely served as a blind for his own purposes, and that her mad prank would please and flatter him.
Dan had proposed that they should spend Sunday in Sydney at a quiet public-house where he felt sure of a welcome, and he would show Tot, who had never been there, the sights of the city. It would give the horses a rest, he said, and they could buy anything they wanted.
It so happened, moreover, that Dan was short of ready money for a good big spree such as he wanted, so he further proposed that on the Saturday night they should rob a citizen or two upon the Parramatta-road. Dan said it would be great fun to ease a few Sydney people of their purses; he knew a place called Homebush, some eight or ten miles from town, where the road was cut through a thickish bit of scrub; which would suit their purpose finely; he would 'stick them up,' and she could gather in the money. Tot, nothing loath, agreed. She suggested, however, that she ought to have a pistol; but Dan explained that this was wholly unnecessary. There would be no need to shoot, he said, it would be dark except for a bit of moonlight; he would cut a stick for her in the shape of a pistol, which would be quite sufficient for her to point at them. Hadn't he robbed a coach one night single-handed, with nothing but a cabbage stalk!
This arrangement was not considered satisfactory by Tot, but Dan would not give way; he did not care to trust women with fire-arms and he preferred to keep his in his own possession. It had been settled that the girl was to be known as Ted Carey, and the two having ridden from the south into the Parramatta-road, pulled up at Homebush, where they proposed to waylay and despoil their victims.
Now it happened that two other south coast people were riding through Homebush Hollow to Sydney upon this very Saturday night; they were none other than the preacher Amos Gordon and the shepherd fiddler Bothered Shawn, neither of whom, it should be explained, had as yet heard aught of the tremendous happenings in the valley or at Broadhaven Station. It was the annual visit of Amos to the capital, and, as Bothered Shawn wished to see an old relative there, Amos had brought him along for company. They had travelled by easy stages, the preacher riding his old grey cob, and Shawn a mulish-looking, ambling pony. Both had big swags strapped in front of them on the saddle. They stayed one night with an acquaintance of Gordon's at Liverpool, and, having made another call at Cabramatta, were a bit late in getting into town. Needless to say, neither was armed.
Dan and his companion, after fastening their horses some little distance in the Bush, had waited for fully an hour, before the sound of shod hoofs was heard in the distance.
"Hist, Tot!" said Dan. "Do you hear! there's a couple of money-bags coming along. They're sure to have the dollars, as they haven't skinned them yet in town. You stay here in the bushes, and I'll get across the road; when you hear me call, 'Bail up!' just jump out and point your stick at 'em, and they will ante up in a jiffy."
"But suppose they don't?" whispered Tot.
"Oh, but they will! Now keep quiet and handy, until I call out."
The horses of the new-comers were evidently tired, for they shuffled along downhill into the hollow at little more than a walk. Then a man's voice was heard: "Come along, brother Shawn, it's a bit dark, but we'll canter after this, and we'll soon see the lights of Sydney."
It was a smooth, round, sonorous voice, and Tot stood in the bushes transfixed, her heart beating like a trip hammer. "Whose voice is that?" she asked herself. "Not Amos Gordon's; he is miles away." There was no time for thinking, however, for she heard Dan shouting: "Bail up there!"
Tot hesitated, but only for a moment. Leaping out on the near side, she caught hold of the pony's rein, and pointing her stick at Bothered Shawn's astonished person, called in as masculine a voice as she could command: "Bail up!"
There was a pause, as all four of them drew a deep breath. Dan was about to speak again, when Amos Gordon recovered himself; he was tremendously astonished at being 'stuck up' in this fashion, for he had not heard of foot-pads on the Parramatta-road. He was just about to hand over his purse, when an illuminating thought occurred to him, and he paused. He had a great memory for voices, and somehow there was a familiar ring about the stern summons of these two men. Where had he heard them? A second's hesitation, and suddenly he remembered.
"Tot Gardiner!" he exclaimed. "Are you playing a trick on an old man? Bless my heart, girl! what are you doing dressed up like that, and in company of Mr. Flannigan, of the Wollambi, bailing up your old friends?"
A further pause followed, and then Tot said, solemnly: "Dan, we're regular busted, it's old Amos Gordon and Bothered Shawn!"
"You dashed idiot," whispered Dan savagely, "keep quiet, you're giving us away properly. I have a good mind to put a bullet through their heads."
This was too much for Tot; she burst out: "You shoot either of them, Dan Morley, and I'll have your life and see you hanged. Do you think I rode from Broadhaven Valley to rob Bothered Shawn and Amos Gordon. Let them go!"
"Good Heavens, girl! Will you shut up? You'll have the police here in a minute."
For the life of them, neither Amos Gordon nor Bothered Shawn could make head nor tail of the situation; that they were waylaid and threatened with fire-arms was evident. Shawn was in a cold sweat of fear at the threat of being shot. Amos Gordon had now no such anxiety, but he was puzzling how Tot Gardiner, dressed in man's clothes, and in company with a friend of the schoolmaster's, came to be playing at highway robbery.
"I think, Mr. Flannigan," said the old man, "I'll dismount and talk this thing over with you; maybe you took myself and my friend here for bushrangers. If that's so, I assure you we are honest people, and friends too of one who, I believe, is your friend also—Mr. Bennett, the schoolmaster."
At this Amos slowly dismounted; but as he did so, to his further amazement, his two assailants made off into the Bush. He listened a moment to the retreating footsteps, and then cried out at the top of his voice: "Tot Gardiner, come back, child, and let an old man advise you for your good."
"My goodness!" said Tot as they hurried in the direction of their horses. "We've fallen in properly this time. He's a regular old stick, and hasn't he a tongue! Give him half a chance and he'll force me back home again if it costs him his life. And to think that he should bring Bothered Shawn with him too!" The girl laughed hysterically.
They had just reached the horses, when they heard the old man shouting: "Dan Flannigan, you villain, let the girl go, or I'll set the police on your track. What do you think John Bennett would say about you?"
"Curse him, the old fool," muttered Dan, "I'll put daylight through him yet;" and mounting his horse in a rage, he rode back toward the old preacher. "Hear him," he said to Tot; "he'll rouse the whole country-side."
"Don't lose your head, Dan," said Tot, greatly agitated; "let me go and send them off," but while she was speaking Dan fired in the direction of the voice, and following the shot Amos and Shawn were heard cantering in the direction of Sydney.
Dan and Tot waited under cover for a time, for the rising moon was now sending shafts of light through the lower branches of the trees, and Dan re-loaded his weapon.
"You were a gawk to shoot," said Tot. "You don't know who's about; but it was hard luck to have ta 'stick up' two of one's old friends in that fashion. Whatever will the valley people say when they hear about it? I shall tell them that I knew who it was, and did it for a joke."
"Do you think you'll ever get back again?" said Dan.
"Certainly, Mr. Flannigan, if I want to," retorted Tot; "who's to stop me? But, tell me, do you think it will be safe now for us to ride into Sydney; or had we better make for your estate on the Wollambi?"
"Oh, stow it!" said the bushranger angrily, "we've got to get some money to-night to have a spree with in Sydney, and remember that you're in it as much as I am; you needn't tell me, but you shook* that mare yer riding."
"All right!" said the girl contemptuously. "But think of something else quick, please, or I shall do a bit on my own. We might have another flutter and take a purse, and get into Sydney by some other road. There can't be any more people from the Broadhaven Valley about—unless it is the schoolmaster."
"I'd as soon meet old Nick to-night," said Dan. "Like as not he would put a bullet into me."
"What for?" asked Tot, in astonishment.
"Ah, my girl! if you think you know him you're much mistaken. He can be as soft as velvet among girls and kids; but once he's put out he's a terror. Hello! there's some one else coming along; hang up your horse, and let's try the trick again, and then I'll show you another road into Sydney." He listened for a moment and then said: "Two country cornstalks this time, or I'm much mistaken; hear 'em laugh?"
Two horsemen came trotting down into the hollow, talking and laughing as they rode along. Tot braced herself up and held her stick ready to present as a pistol. She was a strong, fearless girl, brought up to do a man's rough work among horses and cattle; but she held her breath as the two drew near, and she waited for Dan's rough challenge to spring out upon them. "They might fire back at us this time," she thought.
She saw in the moonlight that they were two big men, riding good horses, and then her heart stood still. It was a voice she recognized—the schoolmaster himself—surely everything was going wrong!
The two horsemen, still laughing and talking, and unconscious of danger, rode past unchallenged.
It was fully five minutes before Dan Morley came slowly across the moonlit road and again joined her. He looked completely bewildered. "Another fluke!" he whispered hoarsely. "Did you twig who it was? Curse it! we've no luck to-night."
"I knew his voice," replied Tot, who was shaking all over, and beginning to think that bushranging was not, after all, a very rosy occupation. In fact, she already regretted having left her home. But it couldn't be helped, she thought. Now she was in for it, she would see it through.
"So the captain is riding into Sydney on Fleetfoot, with a clergyman," said Dan, as though thinking aloud; "it's dashed dangerous! We all thought that he was going to the Ranges by the Western-road. That settles it for me. Tot; I daren't show my nose in Sydney, with him there. We'll have to ride back, and get across the river at Parramatta. Best stop there to-night. If we manage properly, no one will suspect us."
"I have some money," said Tot. "Let's get back quickly, I'm hungry; we'll see better what to do to-morrow."
It was a clear moonlight night, pleasantly cool without being cold, and the horses stepped out briskly as their heads were turned toward Parramatta; it was as though they knew that the journey was drawing to a close.
For half an hour they walked the horses, for Dan refused to trot or canter, keenly on the alert, and ready to turn into the Bush at any moment, if suspicious circumstances made such a course seem advisable. They had a plausible story ready to account for their presence on the road; but Dan was specially anxious not to come into contact with the police. Tot might be able to satisfy them, but he was not so sure about himself.
Presently, through the still night, there came a distant sound behind them, which made Dan pull up his horse and listen, for his well-trained ear recognized the peculiar tread of several shod horses being ridden upon the road behind them. They were coming along with clanking sabres and equipment, at a hard, steady trot.
Tot heard the sinister sound also. "Do you think old Gordon has put the police on us, Dan?" she said.
"They're not police, they're soldiers, and the sooner we get out of their way, the better. That old fool of a preacher, no doubt, has given 'em the office; and even if, by good luck, we slip them, they're bound to rouse the police in Parramatta. You bet! the police and soldiers know more about our doings on the south coast than old Gordon did. We'll take the left-hand bush, so as to keep clear of the river; the banks are high about here; keep close up to me."
Turning into the thick undergrowth, he was followed by Tot, until they reached a clump of tea-trees, where Dan dismounted. "Get off," he said, "and keep quite still. Put your hand on the mare's nose. They'll soon be passing."
They were six of the new mounted infantry, with an officer in charge. They rode up at a swinging trot with a great noise of jingling spurs and accoutrements. When abreast of Dan's hiding-place the officer cried, "Halt!" They immediately stopped, and, judging by the long silence, they were listening.
"Strange!" said the officer in a low tone. "Corporal, you said you could hear them a few minutes ago?"
"Certainly I did, sir, they must have turned into the Bush somewhere, and be hiding, no doubt, not far from us."
"Might have us covered with their pistols, eh!" said the officer, shrugging his shoulders. "By the way, didn't Major Browne send word that the girl was riding a blood-mare she had stolen?"
"Keep perfectly still, men," was the next whispered command.
Five minutes passed. They seemed like an hour; the officer was evidently waiting to hear something.
Suddenly, within what seemed only a couple of hundred feet from the waiting horsemen, the silence was abruptly broken by the loud whinny of Tot Gardiner's mare. It was what the officer had been waiting for.
"We have them, men," said the officer; "they're in a trap! Corporal, take two men," he continued, "ride back a hundred yards, strike into the Bush, and keep your eyes and ears open. Mind the creek, it has steep banks here, and runs at about three hundred yards parallel with the road."
"Come along, men," he said to the other two; "we'll head them off this side."
"Corporal!" he shouted, as he put spurs to his horse, "take them dead or alive. The man's one of Salathiel's gang. There's a hundred pounds reward on his head."
Dan either had not known, or had forgotten, that just ahead of them, a branch of the Parramatta River crossed the road, and swept around to the northeast, between precipitous banks; nor had he heard the officer's directions to his men.
Followed by Tot, he dug in his spurs and rode straight in the direction of the creek. Coming into the full moonlight, he managed to pull up only just in time. It was thirty perpendicular feet to the rocky bottom, and to go over that would be certain death. He saw, at once, that they were trapped; the soldiers had them on both sides, and in front was the chasm.
"Surrender, or we fire!" called out the officer.
The bushranger gave the situation a moment's thought; there was only a bare chance of escape for himself; he must ride past the corporal and his men. Alas! Dan Morley had nothing chivalrous about him; he gave no thought for Tot Gardiner! Firing off both pistols at the corporal and his men, he spurred his horse, and rode straight for them.
A volley was the answer; but it was unsteady, for the men were afraid of shooting each other; and, amid the smoke and confusion, Dan was heard breaking through them at a gallop. A cry of pain and terror came from Tot, whom, in the bright moonlight, the soldiers saw reeling unsteadily in the saddle, for the mare, also shot, was struggling to stand upon the very verge of the cliff; then, with a scream of fear from the mare, they disappeared together into the darkness.
Alas! it was a sad tale that Amos Gordon would hear upon the morrow; for it was he who had met and warned the soldiers. Dan, badly wounded, had escaped, but was being tracked by troopers; and Tot Gardiner was dead. Two bullets had struck her, and another bullet the mare, which had fallen upon her in the bed of the creek, crushing her upon the hard rock.
Things had been bad enough for Salathiel before, but they were ten times worse now that Tot Gardiner was dead: and such a death! When Monday morning's newspapers came out, the whole Colony would shudder at the tragedy, and denounce Salathiel and his gang as the cause of it. And Betsy Carey would read a passage in his letter to her—read it again with scalding tears: "I am a miserable man at heart, Betsy; the good that I would, I do not, and the evil I would not, that I do."
Nature recks naught of human guilt or suffering, and on Sunday morning the sun shone as brightly as ever upon the flashing waters of Sydney's magnificent harbour, and upon the trees and flowers and sward of the public gardens which had recently been established between Macquarie-street and Lady Macquarie's Chair.
Sydney was conservative in the matter of Sunday observance, more so than now; and Salathiel was struck by the quietness of the city streets, which, on the previous night, he had seen in a turmoil of business and pleasure, under the glare of the gaslights.
He had promised the Rev. Mr. McEwan, who had impressed him very favourably, to attend his church for morning service, and having put up at an hotel, he dressed himself with unusual care, in a new suit of clothes. He hoped to see the faces of his mother and sister; he might not be able to speak to them, but it would be something to know for himself that they were well.
It was a daring thing to do, for the church was in Philip-street, and the police head-quarters and courthouse were close by, at the top of King-street; but dressed in broadcloth, with top hat and gloves, Jack passed two inspectors of police and several constables, one of whom, an emancipated convict, saluted, under the impression that it was some city magnate, who might resent any want of respect.
Jack was purposely late, hoping to get in unobserved and take a seat in some sheltered corner of the building; but, as he mounted the steps, whom should he see passing through the large vestibule but Amos Gordon! At the sight Jack's evil genius warned him to draw back; but there was little thought of either good angels or bad, God or Devil, in Salathiel's mind that Sunday morning, although he was attending church, and the only precaution he took was to enter by another door.
He found the better dressed portion of the large congregation occupying the middle seats; they were standing to sing the first psalm as he entered, and a fussy verger led the gentlemanly, well-dressed man, notwithstanding his dissent, toward the front, and showed him into a carpeted, cushioned pew with short blue curtains. There were other well-dressed occupants of the pew, which was far too conspicuous for Salathiel's liking. He was the more annoyed and perturbed when Amos Gordon's beaming face confronted him. He felt sure that the old man had seen and recognized him. However, he looked carefully around, over his hymn-book, for it was a very long psalm; but he could see nothing of his mother and sister.
Settling himself down in the corner of the pew, he presently began to take more interest in the service. He was more accustomed to the Jewish form of worship; but he had been in that church before, with his mother, as a boy. It was a novel and not unpleasant sensation, after his rough life as convict and bushranger, to sit there, a well-dressed man, among well-dressed people. The choir was led by a precentor without any musical accompaniment, but it was well trained, and the singing of the congregation was hearty and impressive. Especially was Salathiel struck by the words and music of "Nearer My God to Thee!"
His attention was presently arrested by the Old Testament reading, which was about David when an outcast, being hunted by King Saul in the wilderness of Zith; how David abode in strongholds and remained in a mountain, and how Saul "sought him daily, but God delivered him not into his hands." It was easy for Jack to imagine his case similar to that of the warrior King of Israel. "He was driven out like myself, by injustice and violence," he thought, "and he robbed the rich for the sustenance of his men, who were poor. He was a fighter and an outlaw, and yet, afterward, came to a kingdom and a throne!"
Of course there were many points of difference between the two; but, at the time, Jack failed to see them.
When the text was announced, Jack became still more deeply interested. It was taken from the Psalms of David and referred to his perilous experiences before he became king. The words were: "Hide me under the shadow of Thy wings, from the wicked that oppress me, from my deadly enemies, who compass me about."
It was a singular coincidence, that such a text should have been chosen as the subject of discourse, on an occasion when a notorious outlaw, for the first and only time, sat in the congregation.
The sermon was a striking one, even to the casual hearer, and deeply pathetic; but to Salathiel it came like a message from another world. The preacher spoke of God as the hiding-place of His people. He pictured a young man, with mother and sisters dependent upon him, beset by creditors and tempted to steal. "How crisp the bank notes are!" exclaimed the preacher. "How the gold glitters! See! he reaches out his hand to take it; a moment, and he will be a dishonoured man, with a seared conscience, and blasted life; that God pities him, and flashes through his mind thoughts of his white-haired mother and his childhood's home, and the young man bows his head in agony of soul, and cries to God to pity him, to help him; and the Almighty stretches the wings of His compassion over him, and hides him, until the temptation is past!"
It was a singularly vivid picture, and the whole congregation was evidently moved, but Jack controlled himself, for the earnest face of the preacher seemed to be turned frequently in his direction.
The preacher brought his sermon to a close: "In all times of sorrow," he said, "we need a hiding-place, but especially in sorrow which is silent and secret. Brethren, one-half the world's sorrow is hidden, and it is the worst half; it's that which has most sin connected with it! We daily meet with people whom we think we know all about; but we don't. We read faces, but God reads hearts, and He only knows the extent of the sorrow caused by sin; sorrow which is sometimes even unto death when there is no Father God, and no hiding-place to flee to. David speaks of passing through the Valley of Death, and he is generally supposed to refer to dying; but he doesn't mean that at all. Death is not so bad! But there's a hopeless sorrow which it would be easier far to die than bear! That's the Valley of Shadows! When the grey-haired old King bowed his head over the corpse of his rebellious son, and sobbed out: 'O Absalom! would to God that I had died for thee! O Absalom, my son, my son!' that was the Valley of the Shadow of Death. God save us from it!
"Brethren, there are times in life, for all of us, when we want a Divine Father; times when, sweet as earthly sympathy is, it won't satisfy; when to speak of philosophy, or anything but religion, would only add insult to our woes; when a man involuntarily prays: 'God, help me! God, pity me!' and there, bowed at the feet of the Divine Father, the troubled spirit finds a hiding-place and peace."
A pause followed, and the preacher was about to close his discourse, when a cry of agony rang through the building. The preacher's eloquence had aroused feelings which were evidently more than some poor soul could bear.
"It's Mrs. Salathiel," whispered an elder of the church to his wife; "her daughter Ruth is with her. Poor woman! she's thinking of Jack."
Salathiel dared not rise and look around; but it was only by a great effort that he restrained himself from doing so. He was in a corner of the pew, and bowing his face in his hands, his whole sad life seemed to pass before his inner consciousness in a moment of time, and only by a supreme effort did he keep himself from groaning aloud. In that strange vision he saw himself a hunted man, without home, refuge, hiding-place, or God.
The service was quickly closed, and as, hat in hand, he looked fearfully round, hoping to catch a glimpse of Ruth and his mother, a hand was placed, from behind, upon his shoulder. He started, for it might have been a policeman, but turning sharply round, he saw it was the hand of Amos Gordon.
The old man seemed a little confused. "I'm glad to see you, Mr. Bennett," he said. "It has been a wonderful service; very fine discourse. Can I have a word with you outside?"
"Certainly," said Jack, but he said it with a heavy heart.
They went together down the crowded aisle, and turned up Philip-street towards the Gardens. Salathiel looked eagerly out for his mother's carriage, for several were still at the church door; but it was not there. Now, for the first time, a fearful sense of impending disaster took hold of him. Amos Gordon seemed to have something on his mind, and was walking very quietly by his side. They turned together, without a word, up to the Macquarie-street entrance of the Gardens.
"We will find a quiet seat, where we can sit and talk," said Salathiel.
They went on until they reached a vacant seat, where at their feet lay the glorious harbour view.
"Now, old friend," said Salathiel, "you have something to tell me?"
"Mr. Bennett," said the old man in a broken voice, "is it really true that you are Jack Salathiel, the bushranger?"
"Unfortunately, it is true," replied Jack.
"Poor fellow!" said Amos, looking at him with tears in his eyes. "Do you know," he continued, with a break in his voice, "that Dan Morley brought Tot Gardiner away with him from the Valley to Sydney, and that he is badly wounded, and the police are after him, and that poor Tot Gardiner is dead—shot through the brain?"
It was a full half-minute before Jack found his voice; it was as though a great black blotch had suddenly fallen from the avenging Heavens upon his pleasant memory of the school, and Betsy, and the Broadhaven Valley. It blotted out all the sunshine; the very landscape around him was suddenly changed—and he had been so careful that his life should be kept white and clean down there!
"Dan Morley with Tot Gardiner in Sydney!" he stammered out. "And Tot dead!" He spoke like a man absolutely dazed. "I know nothing whatever about it; tell me all you know."
Amos Gordon told him the whole sad, mad, disgraceful story, and, as Jack listened, he recalled the preacher's pathetic sermon, and there came down upon his heart a weight like lead.
"If the police don't take him, Dan Morley shall answer to me for this," was all he said.
There was a long pause. Jack was looking down on the path, poking at the gravel with his walking stick.
"Do the police or soldiers know that I am in Sydney?" he asked at last.
"I think not," said Amos.
"Amos Gordon," said Jack, turning round and looking him full in the face, "you know how I have tried to do right down in the Broadhaven Valley. I allowed nothing to be stolen and no one to be hurt. You know that I intended to go away as I came, John Bennett the school-teacher; tell me honestly, old man, do you believe that all the preacher said about God this morning is true?"
"I do," said Gordon.
"Then tell me," said Salathiel, "where does a bushranger and an outlaw, such as I am, come in?"
"Where the thief upon the cross did," replied Amos.
There was another pause.
"Good-bye, old man," said Jack. "You won't 'come it on' me, I know, and I'm not going to give myself up to these devils yet, to be tried, and tortured, and hanged. Both God and man seem to be against me. I must thank that preacher some time for his Scripture reading and sermon; it will surprise him to get a letter from a bushranger; but now I must get out of Sydney quickly. Depend upon it, old friend, the Colony will hear more yet of Jack Salathiel the bushranger."
Jack reached out his hand, and Amos Gordon clasped it in both of his and commenced to plead with him; but Jack drew away, and leaping suddenly over the low grassy bank in front of them disappeared.
All through the sad days which followed the death of Tot Gardiner, Betsy remained staunchly true to her old school-teacher. She began to know Salathiel better, for she had not failed to write to him as he wished, and in two letters in reply, he had told her something about himself and his affairs. But there was no word of love in his letters, although Betsy believed that she could trace more than a brotherly affection for her; he had given her his confidence, and entrusted to her some secret commissions, which was proof enough for her, at present, of his love. He had even told her that there had been another woman in his life, a woman of beauty and education, but as false as she was fair. Evidently he had come to regard Betsy as one of his few sympathetic and knowledgeable friends. How sacredly she kept her trust may be surmised; for even to her mother the contents of Salathiel's letters were never disclosed.
To the people of the valley she presented an inflexible front on behalf of Salathiel. She ignored everything that had to do with bushranging or outlawry. She spoke of Mr. Bennett to the people with the utmost respect and kindness, and let it be known that he had recently inherited property in his own right. She said that he had been basely wronged and ill-treated by bad men; and she so cleverly defended his reputation, that there was quite a reversal of opinion on the part of many in his favour. What proof was there, she asked, of his having done wrong to any one in the valley? All they knew of his character was in his favour. To the children especially she spoke of him in grateful and kindly terms. "Think of all he taught us, and how kind and considerate he was!" she would say; and she would even hint to them, that it was not impossible but that he might return.
Ned Driver and others found her quite a match for them. "You're blaming Mr. Bennett for what Dan Morley and other bad men did," she exclaimed hotly; "you know that he knew nothing about Tot Gardiner leaving home, and was not responsible, in any way, for her death. Tot came to her end through her own folly, in stealing O'Brien's mare, and running away from home, dressed in her dead father's clothes." If Dan had escaped the police they might be sure that he had not escaped the anger of Mr. Bennett.
"Hang Mr. Bennett!" exclaimed Ned Driver, "why don't you call him by his right name?"
"It's the name I always knew him by," retorted Betsy; "it was the name he had down here. By the way, Ned, honest now, were you always known as the virtuous Edward Driver?"
Ned Driver jumped on his horse at this and rode off without another word. He had run up against a snag, as the people said down in the valley, for there was an unpleasant episode in his life, when he had been known by another name. "The cat!" he muttered, "to taunt me about that old thing, and call me the 'virtuous Edward Driver.' I wonder how much she really knows about it!"
The weeks passed by, and Salathiel's gang, who were believed to be hidden in their old haunts in the Liverpool Ranges, had been strangely quiet. Robberies were of frequent occurrence, for there were many ex-convicts out in the Bush; but there was nothing which could be directly traced to Salathiel or his gang. Betsy was, of course, jubilant at this, for every one had been predicting some early act of violence; but, unfortunately, Betsy's satisfaction was not to last very long.
The thing which most impressed the people of the valley at this time was the noticeable change in Betsy. She was fast growing into a gracious and beautiful woman, and seemed to have suddenly developed a seriousness of character and grace of deportment more fitted to one of riper years and higher station in life. Being school-monitor, she met the Committee at her own suggestion, and as there seemed but little likelihood that they would be able to get another teacher, she offered, through her father, that, if they would re-open the school, she would take temporary charge of it. Mr. Bennett, she said, had left her all the school books, and it was a pity, after the excellent start the children had made, that they should go back again during the teacher's absence. To the astonishment of the Committee, she declared that she had reason to believe that Mr. Bennett might come back later on, and their surprise at the attitude she assumed in regard to the late schoolmaster was so great that they did not contradict her. Few of them indeed, were a match for Betsy's wits and tongue; for she fought Salathiel's battles as does a lioness who defends her young. Poddy Carey, however, predicted that a chap like Salathiel was certain to be hanged.
But it was Betsy's management of the school which astonished both the children and their parents, for before this, none of them had taken Betsy seriously. It was as though the spirit of their old teacher had taken possession of the new schoolmistress, only in a more energetic and pugnacious form. The school had not been re-opened a fortnight under Betsy's management ere some of the elder scholars gave indications of insubordination and an intended general revolt. But Betsy took matters in hand after a fashion which absolutely appalled them. She was going to stand no nonsense! The very next morning the secretary and two stalwart committee-men unexpectedly attended school. The two ringleaders were expelled, another was severely thrashed, and two others left of their own accord out of sheer fright; the outcome of it was, that the whole school meekly accepted the new despotic reign of law and order. It was at this time that Betsy's well-known fearlessness with horses and cattle stood her in good stead with the motley crowd of youngsters she had undertaken to teach. They feared and respected her for her very daring. On some mornings, especially if late, she would come riding down at full gallop on Loiterer, stock-whip in hand, and would jump the top rail of the schoolhouse fence as though it were the most ordinary way of entrance. There was special quietness and attention in the classes then. The big boys would say: "Look out! Betsy has got her bristles up; she came in over the top rail of the fence."
She worked assiduously at her books, moreover, so as to be able to teach, made friends with Mercy Lord and appointed her monitor, and had the success of the school so evidently at heart, that Mrs. Carey, proud of her success, declared that there were plenty to do the work of the house without her. But Betsy had become grave and thoughtful, and she shirked no helpful duty in the household. It was now that her mother began to fear that she loved Salathiel not wisely but too well.
Of course Jack had his enemies in the district—what strong man is there who has not?—and as a bushranger he had laid himself, justly, open to enmity; but the surprising thing was that some of those who had received only kindness and assistance at his hands hated him the most. Major Browne had nothing good to say about him, and Silas Stump was his sworn and bitter foe. The latter, however, knew better than to display his enmity before Betsy. He had nothing to complain of about her, either as to her teaching or her use of the canes and green hide calfskin. "I wouldn't have thought it was in her," he said one day; "the children mostly like her, and are learning well, but if any of them play tricks, she is down on them surprisingly; oh, there is no nonsense about the way she teaches school."
What a wonderful, subtle and creative thing is love! How it subjugates, inspires, and controls! What wondrous changes have been wrought, and what deeds achieved under its inspiration, even when it has been almost wholly a hopeless passion, as was Dante's love for Beatrice! It would not be quite correct so to describe Betsy's for Salathiel; but, as events were moving, it seemed very unlikely that her love for the bushranger would ever be more to her than an inspiring and beautiful ideal. Salathiel's life seemed to be on the down-grade since his visit to Sydney, and might at any moment be brought to a sudden end; or it might become so stained with crime and violence as to mar or destroy its fair image in Betsy's mind. It was John Bennett the school-teacher whom Betsy had learned to love—not Jack Salathiel the bushranger.
"There's a fine story in the newspapers about your old schoolmaster, Betsy," said Silas to her one day.
"More fairy tales, I suppose!" replied Betsy.
Her heart beat fast, however, for she knew more about Salathiel than most, and the more she knew the greater were her fears. She would concede nothing, however, to Silas Stump, whom she had come to regard as a natural enemy.
"Here, read it for yourself," said Silas, handing her a Sydney paper. The article was headed:
ROBBERY UNDER ARMS
Salathiel and his Gang at Baker's Creek
There was, however, 'a fly in Salathiel's pot of golden ointment' which the journals, at the time, knew nothing about.
Instead of printing what Betsy read in the Sydney newspapers, which was only partially correct, it is proposed to transcribe Joe Crocker's account of this adventure, mostly in his own words, for it was he who saw the whole affair, and gave the story to the press.
It should be explained that, although the discovery of gold was not made public by Hargreaves until February 1851, there had been quite a number of previous finds of the precious metal in 1849 and '50, which, through fear of the Government, which had prohibited digging for gold, had been worked secretly. Such a discovery had been made at a place called Baker's Creek, some eighty miles north-west of Maitland.
Joe Crocker, who was at this time a young fellow of two and twenty, worked on a copper-mine* much farther north, and with a bulk sample of copper ore on a pack-horse for assay, was on his way to Maitland. He had ridden forty miles that day, which left him another couple of miles to ride, before reaching Baker's Creek, so, meeting with a party camped on the roadside, he thought that he might as well stay there for the night, as there was plenty of grass and water handy for his horses. He proposed to ride into Baker's Creek next morning, in time for breakfast.
(*Copper was discovered in New South Wales in 1829.)
Joe pulled up his horses close to a fire, where a man was cooking damper, and said: "Good evening, mate."
"Good evening," replied the man, looking hard at him; "are you going on to the creek?"
As Joe answered in the affirmative, three more men came out of a tent, which was pitched close by, in the shelter of some bushes. "You'll have to push on to get there before dark," said the man who had first spoken.
"Are you a miner?" asked another, who had been speaking to the first man in an undertone.
"I guess so," replied Joe, as he dismounted with youthful assurance. "I'm taking a bulk sample of lode stuff down to Maitland," he continued.
"Gold?" queried one of them.
"No, I wish it was. The boss wouldn't have trusted me with gold; it's copper-ore of some kind, but we're going to see."
There was some more whispering, when one of the men said to Joe: "We're a party of prospectors. You can camp with us to-night if you like, mate; it's a rough bit of road between here and the creek."
Joe thanked them, and at once agreed to do so. He put them down as a party of new chums who, so far as mining went, probably wouldn't know the difference between a miner's cradle and a dolly-pot. He thought them a good-hearted, harmless crowd, and told them that his name was Joe.
Two of them said they were only just out from Cornwall, and one asserted that he had already made a bit of a pile on the quiet. They had plenty of tucker, and would not let Joe unpack his. After tea they brought out a bottle of grog, and settled down to have a game of euchre, in which Joe joined them. "Pity," said one they called Dandy Snow, "there wasn't another to make it six!"
Just then a coo-ee was heard in the bush. One of them answered, and directly afterwards who should come riding along, on a fine upstanding horse, but a parson?
"Thank goodness, my men," said he, riding cautiously into the camp; "I was afraid I was bushed. I'm dead tired and hungry. I have some blankets. I suppose you are miners; you won't mind my camping here to-night?"
"Of course not, your reverence," said a man they called Ned Fenton, "Put the billy on, Dandy, while I help the minister to unsaddle his horse and make up a shake down for him in the tent."
"Hang it all!" said Dandy to Joe, as he put the cards out of sight and hung on the billy. "I'd sooner it had been Old Nick than a parson; he'll want to have prayers to-night, you bet! and we might have had a six-handed game of euchre. But Fenton is a real religious sort of card, and he's boss just now."
Joe was astonished at the attention they paid the clergyman. He was fatigued, he said, with his ride, so Fenton made him a stiff nobbler of hot whisky and water before he had his supper, and the men sat around, as the clergyman afterward remarked, as good as boys at Sunday school, except that they smoked their pipes and drank grog.
The clergyman had a good tuck-in, and told them he had been away from his parsonage for nearly a month, and had held twenty services and married five couples, baptized fourteen children, and given the temperance pledge to several hard drinkers. He told them he was very much afraid of bushrangers, and hinted that the presents and collections he had received were very liberal. "It's my annual tour," he remarked, "of which I make a special feature at shearing time."
The men laughed, and told him that he would be all right, as Australian bushrangers had a great respect for the clergy.
Later on, Joe got a bit of a staggerer, for, taking out a gold watch, the clergyman said: "Now, brethren, it's an hour yet to bedtime, and I think you were playing euchre. I'm not a bit strait-laced, and you all look temperate men. So suppose we have a six-handed game, and then a glass of whisky from my travelling flask before we turn into bed?"
"By all means, your reverence," said Fenton. "I see you're one of the right sort; I wish there were more clergymen like you."
The parson had the men's tent to himself that night, at least Dandy told Joe he had, and Joe slept under a white gum sapling, with his blanket around him and his head in his saddle.
Next morning Joe rode into Baker's Creek, in company with the Rev. Ignatius Small, M.A., of All Saints', Maitland, who had left his thanks and blessing with the hospitable miners. "They're good fellows," he said, as he rode along, "and that man Fenton has evidently been brought up with proper respect for the cloth. I hope they will have real good luck."
The find at Baker's Creek was being kept as quiet as possible; but several parties were sluicing and panning out a considerable amount of coarse alluvial gold.
There was a store, mostly built of packing cases, at Baker's Creek, with a canvas sign in front, on which was painted 'Brown and Co.' It was a branch of an important Maitland firm, which sold everything that miners or travellers could hope to buy in such a place. Here the precious metal was bought for hard cash or exchanged for soft and hard goods, tobacco, and a trifle of grog, on occasion.
The clergyman put up at the hotel, such as it was, while Joe sought accommodation at a boarding-house with calico walls and iron roof on a framework of green saplings. He had a letter of introduction to Brown and Co., of Maitland, and had been told to show it on his way to the manager at Baker's Creek. The proprietors of the copper-mine had been good customers, and Joe guessed that he was sure to have a cordial reception; but, to his delight, he found that Ned Chipman, a nephew of a member of the firm and an old school-mate, was in charge during the absence of the manager. He was older than Joe, and had grown into a clever, capable man with strong character and a thorough aptitude for business.
He would not hear of Joe going on that afternoon, "Besides, old man," said he, "it is a stroke of luck for me your turning up just now. You don't know who to trust here. I've to start for Maitland myself to-morrow, and for several reasons I would like to have you with me. We can both sleep on the counter to-night; bring your swag across from the boardinghouse and have your meals here until we start."
"Why do you sleep on the counter?" asked Joe; but just then several customers came in, and Ned, saying, "I'll tell you all about it at lunch-time," left him to go and get his swag.
As he was walking along the one street of the township, a short, stout man came up to him and said: "Stranger, there's going to be a service at the Rollup-tree to-night; there'll be flutes and fiddles, and a real live parson to conduct it. You'll attend, of course?"
"Certainly, if business does not prevent me," said Joe.
The man was a Cornish Methodist, and he hurried along saying: "Tell all you meet to come, brother; it's an opportunity for good in a lost place like this." Joe guessed that the clergyman referred to must be his friend, the Rev. Ignatius Small.
They locked the store up during the dinner-hour, and as they ate Joe thought that Ned seemed unusually nervous and thoughtful.
"What's the matter with you?" said Joe. "You look as solemn as a grave-digger." Ned looked cautiously around the little room, which had an iron safe in one corner, with a double-barrelled pistol lying on the top of it, and said in a whisper: "I'll tell you after dinner, Joe." Then he spoke in a louder tone: "You didn't know I was going to be married next week?"
"No," exclaimed Joe; "who's the lady?"
"She'll be here presently with her aunt. They're riding in from Dunbar Station. That's why we're going to sleep on the counter," he added.
"Why! that's where Mr. Small was the night before last," said Joe; and then he told Ned of his meeting with the clergyman at the diggers' camp.
Ned grew thoughtful, and asked Joe a good many questions about things at the camp. "There are no miners out that way," he said, "that I know of, and I never heard of the Rev. Ignatius Small at Maitland; he may be a new curate or something; but we must keep our eyes open, for there's no knowing what these bushrangers may be up to. Did you see any fire-arms about the camp?"
"Yes," said Joe, "they had a regular stack of guns; but, if they were bushrangers, the parson could not have been one of them."
"Don't be too sure about that, old man," was Ned's reply. "I shouldn't be a bit surprised if the parson isn't Jack Salathiel in disguise. I've never seen him yet; but they say he's the cleverest actor off the stage. He's been personating a schoolmaster down south, and they say that when he makes up his own mother wouldn't know him."
After the table was cleared Ned offered Joe a cigar, an uncommon luxury in those days, and said as he lit one for himself: "We've twenty minutes before I need unlock the store again. Now I'll tell you why I'm suspicious of every stranger. This time yesterday there was over five thousand pounds in gold and cash, in that safe; but it's on its way to Maitland now.
"Of course it's well known here that I have a good bit of gold and money to go down. You cannot keep things of that sort secret, because it's over a month since we sent down the last, and we are buying gold and taking cash over the counter every day.
"My people are sending up an escort of four mounted troopers and a sergeant this afternoon, but the road between here and Maitland is infested with bushrangers. We did them last time; but it's common talk that Salathiel's gang have made up their minds to have this lot, troopers or no troopers, and I hear that Salathiel has said that he'll do it without bloodshed. I believe there are some heavy bets laid as to whether we'll get the stuff through. Two coaches with strong escorts have been 'stuck up' during the past six weeks. So far we have escaped, for Salathiel has had a kind of regard for a member of our firm; but there's something gone wrong between him and our people, and he means to best us this time. He shan't, however, if I can help it...
"Joe!" he exclaimed, under his breath, "my people would stop my marriage, if I lost this gold, and I believe it would be the death of me."
"Where is it now?" asked Joe in a whisper.
Ned looked around, nervously, and lowered his voice, until only just audible, and said: "Tom Nugent, our bullocky, has it on his wool-team. The gold and cash are in the middle of a big bale of wool, from Glenelg Station."
"Didn't you tell me that the wool left this morning for Maitland?" said Joe.
"Yes, it should be at least ten miles on the road," replied Ned.
"Jerusalem! and doesn't your man know he's got it?" exclaimed Joe excitedly.
"Hush!" said Ned. "Walls have ears in this place. The old chap is as honest as the day; but he knows nothing at all about it."
"Well, what's the trouble?" said Joe.
"Why, just this. I'm going down with Lucy in the gig. We shall have the troopers with us, and the supposition is that we shall have the gold in the gig. My people place more reliance on the police than I do. We're sure to be bailed up, and, you'll see, the troopers will throw up their hands, or clear out as soon as the first shot's fired. They've done it before. And then, when the bushrangers find out that we haven't the gold in the gig, they'll suspect the wool-team. They'll know that the gold is somewhere near at hand, and Salathiel is the smartest rogue unhanged. I ought to have sent the bullock team on earlier; but we must trust to luck. If I had only something to put into the gold-boxes that would deceive them for a few hours, we might get through."
"By gum, Ned! I have it," exclaimed Joe excitedly, "I've nearly a hundredweight of stuff with me, that they will never know to be anything else but gold."
"What?" queried Ned.
Joe put his hand into his pocket, and brought out a little parcel wrapped in paper, and showed it to his friend.
The golden yellow metallic appearance of the copper pyrites, shone, in a ray of sunlight, just like gold.
"What is it?" exclaimed Ned excitedly. "Gold?"
"No," said Joe; "it's copper; but there are not many about here would know the difference; it's the new ore, called copper pyrites, which we have discovered up north."
That afternoon Miss Lewis and Mrs. Connell, her aunt, who did not look much older, rode in from the station. Ned was himself again, and as busy as he could be with matters pertaining to the store and his arrangements for departure.
Later on the troopers arrived, with a great clatter of accoutrements. They were a fine, well-set-up lot of men, well mounted and armed, and the sergeant rode them around the place to show off and properly to impress the inhabitants. They met the clergyman on his rounds, and saluted with great respect.
Twice during the afternoon Joe ran up against the Rev. Ignatius Small, and at his request, accompanied him to the store, and introduced him to Ned Chipman.
"That's a fine body of troopers you have up for escort," said the clergyman. "I hear that you are taking down quite a large consignment of gold. I have never seen any considerable quantity of the root of all evil; would it be untimely if I asked to be allowed a glimpse of the precious metal which these gallant fellows have to safeguard to Maitland?"
Ned apologized, and said the boxes were screwed down and sealed.
"Ah, that's a pity. Well, I shall hope to see it some other time—down at Maitland, perhaps—where I have no doubt the heads of your firm will be pleased to show it to me. You're coming to the service, I hope. It will be quite like apostolic times, to hold it in the open air under the spreading branches of your assembly tree. I hope by the time of my next visit, a hall or church may have been erected. Your firm would no doubt give a liberal donation to such an object."
All this time his eyes were wandering around the store, and then he said: "I hear that this good gentleman is a friend of yours, Mr. Chipman. I am hoping to have the pleasure of his company to-morrow, when riding through on my way to Maitland. I am most fortunate in having arrived just now. You know, I have a great dread of these bushrangers; but then, I believe they always show some deference to the cloth."
Joe noticed that Ned Chipman eyed him with special interest. He was a fine looking, youngish man, a little shabby, but his dress was of strictly clerical cut, with a large brimmed, black, soft felt hat. There were a number of customers and others in the store and he chatted and shook hands with them all.
"My word!" said a miner, as he went out, "that chap's got a hard hand and a strong grip for a parson."
Ned had a great deal to attend to, so he asked Joe to escort the ladies to the service. A big crowd gathered, but no clergyman arrived. The extemporized platform, which did duty as a pulpit, was occupied by the little Cornish Methodist, who explained, with many apologies, that he had to act as a substitute, as the clergyman had been suddenly taken ill.
The ladies occupied the manager's bedroom that night, and Ned and Joe made up beds with a pile of bags and blankets on the counter; but they did not undress, nor sleep much; Ned was too excited and had too much to talk about.
"Did you see a bit of a bark shanty a short distance from where you camped last night?" he asked.
"No," said Joe.
"Well, it's there," said Ned. "It's a sly grogshop, owned by Pat Hogan, who's friendly with all the bushrangers in the district. That was Pat Hogan's tent you saw; it's a short distance from the shanty. Salathiel's gang are up here after our gold, and that clergyman is none other than Salathiel himself. Imagine the cheek of the thing! It's adding insult to injury, to come swaggering around here as a clergyman, but he does it to rights; he's an educated man, you know; he was a convict once, and assistant bookkeeper at Eurimbla Station, down Maitland way."
Joe was completely staggered at this information. He gasped out, however, "You've got the troopers in town; why don't you have Salathiel and his gang up at the camp arrested?"
"No use, my boy," said Ned, putting his hand on Joe's arm, and speaking very quietly, "you don't know what dare-devils these fellows are; they have made a regular sweep of things this time, and I hope it will stir up the authorities to do something to clear the country of the wretches. The troopers who have been parading around are all bushrangers; they must have entrapped the escort and have them in safe keeping somewhere. Goodness knows, they may have shot some of them; they are wearing the troopers' uniforms. We're in a pretty pickle, old man. I only hope that Tom Nugent has pushed along with the wool. I told him to get through as quickly as possible, as we wanted to make a shipment, and said that he would have a few days off, at the other end, if he did so."
"Whatever is to be done?" Joe asked, in amazement.
"Nothing," said Ned, "just nothing. It's no use telling the women-folk; we should only frighten them, and we can't trust any of the people here. The only two constables we have are away at Cassilis, on what is, no doubt, a fool's errand. The bushrangers got everything in their hands this time, and that's why Salathiel is so cock-sure about it; our only chance is to outwit them."
Ned got out the gold boxes, and they filled them up with the copper pyrites, and then sprinkled a little coarse gold on the top of each of them. The gold was paler than usual, as it had a little silver with it. They had picked out the smallest of the pyrites to put on top, and it would have taken a gold expert to know, at sight, the difference.
Ned covered it up well with paper, screwed down the lids, and sealed them up with red sealing-wax. The boxes were not quite so heavy as they would have been if filled with gold, but as Ned said, "it was a good enough haul for a lot of beggarly bushrangers."
"Now," said Ned, "we must fix up something for you to carry on your pack-horse as a bulk sample. Fortunately, I have some lode-stuff that was brought in by some miners a few months ago."
It was early morning before they pulled the blankets over them, and tried to get to sleep. It was a long time, however, before they closed their eyes in slumber, for the thought of what might happen on the morrow.
Joe heard Ned at last breathing heavily in his sleep, but he lay awake for some time after, listening to the mice running about the store and imagining all kinds of evil. He slept at last, dreamt that a stalwart bushranger was standing over him with a pistol pointed at his head, and sprang up to grapple with him; but it was only Ned, candle in hand, shaking him to get up.
"My word, young man, you squared up like a boxer at me!" said Ned; and then they laughed as Joe told him his dream.
They had arranged to make an early start, and at six o'clock the supposed troopers and clergyman were waiting outside the store. Ned was a 'close' man, and hadn't told the chief storeman of his intention. When the big bay mare was put into the gig and everything, including the gold-boxes, loaded up, he took the troopers out a stiff glass of whisky each, and asked the clergyman if he would have one, or a glass of wine.
"No, thank you," said Mr. Small. "I'll just go round to the yard, and see if our friends are all ready...You've got the gold safe?"
Ned nodded, and lifting up a rug, showed him the boxes at the back of the gig.
The clergyman looked at them, nodded confidentially, and then rode up to where Mrs. Connell was waiting on her horse, and began to expatiate upon the pleasure of an early morning ride through the Bush.
Joe jumped into the saddle, and unhitched the pack-horse from the fence.
"All aboard?" queried Ned.
"Yes, go ahead," was the reply, and off they started.
The sergeant and a trooper rode first; then came Ned with the gig and Miss Lewis. The Rev. Ignatius Small had attached himself to Mrs. Connell. Joe followed close behind; and at a short distance in the rear rode the three other troopers. They looked a formidable party, for they were all armed; but as Joe trotted along, to keep up with them, he felt terribly down-hearted. A sensation came in his throat as though he were half choked. He knew that Ned Chipman was a determined fellow, and he was afraid of bloodshed; but what could two men, with a couple of women, do against five well-armed bushrangers? Their only chance, as Ned said, was to outwit them.
The main north-western road passes close to Baker's Creek, so, on striking that, Joe shook up his horses, and got on the other side of Mrs. Connell. The clergyman was making himself uncommonly agreeable to her; and unconscious of what was before them, she laughed and joked back, in evident enjoyment of the ride, possibly flattered by her companion's compliments and attentions. They were talking of the forthcoming marriage, and of the intended bride and bridegroom in the gig.
"You're married, of course, sir?" said Mrs. Connell to the clergyman.
"That happiness has not yet fallen to my lot," he answered.
"Ah, then, you ought to be," she replied. "Clergymen should be an example to the flock, you know."
"Ah, it's not every day, madam, that a man falls in with a lady like yourself, or there would be fewer bachelors in the world!" he answered gallantly.
"But you must have plenty of opportunities of meeting with nice women," replied the lady.
"Fewer opportunities than you have any idea of," he said; and then after a short pause, he added, laughing, "Some day, perhaps, I shall run away with a lady like yourself."
"Run away with her!" ejaculated Mrs. Connell in surprise.
They had been walking the horses up a steep hill, and the road now being level, Ned started the mare off at a swinging trot. It was a fine animal, and during the next two hours they covered a good sixteen miles. The troopers in front wished to travel more slowly; but Ned kept the mare close at their heels and pushed them along.
It was a glorious autumn morning, and although Joe was much disturbed over the situation and keenly alert, he could not help remarking the fragrance of the Bush and the rich odour of the gum-trees. They were nearing Downfall Creek, which ran through a hollow, with the Hunter Ranges to the right—as wild and lonesome a country as any in that part of New South Wales.
The clergyman seemed to be occupied with his thoughts, and had said but little for half an hour, when all at once he remarked to Mrs. Connell, "I suppose you've never yet had an encounter with bushrangers, madam?"
"Dear me, no! the dreadful creatures!" she replied. "But we are safe enough with the troopers and so many other gentlemen to protect us. They surely would not dare to stop such a formidable company as ours?"
"We must not be too sure, madam," said the clergyman. "Daring men will risk a good deal for such a prize as Mr. Chipman has in the gig yonder; but you need be under no apprehension. I've had several encounters with them; all that you have to do is to keep quiet, and you will come to no harm."
"And let them steal the gold!" exclaimed Mrs. Connell.
"Oh, that's the men's business," he said. "Ladies and clergymen, you know, never fight."
"I don't know so much about that," said Mrs. Connell.
They had turned a corner of the road and, at the bottom of a short hill, saw Downfall Creek in front of them; a shallow sparkling stream, running over a pebbly bottom, and on the other side, drawn across, so as to completely block the road, was Tom Nugent's bullock team.
"Hallo! he must have lost his bullocks or met with an accident," said the clergyman, as he quickened his pace and rode up to the gig.
Ned and Joe knew very well that there had been no accident, for Tom must have travelled a good ten miles that morning, so he could not have lost his bullocks. Joe rode closer up to Mrs. Connell, and said in a somewhat shaky voice, "Whatever happens, Mrs. Connell, don't be alarmed; they won't hurt you."
Joe's words were braver than his heart, however, for after the clergyman's attentions to Mrs. Connell, he thought, there was no knowing what might be the sequel; but he didn't know Salathiel!
As they reached the creek, Joe saw the clergyman point a pistol at Ned Chipman, and immediately there was a cry of "Bail up!" from one of the supposed troopers who had approached them from behind.
Resistance, of course, would have been worse than useless, for, from behind the wool team, there suddenly appeared Ned Fenton and Dandy Snow, Joe's hospitable entertainers at the miners' camp.
Ned Chipman made a small show of resistance, but it was only a feint, and they were soon standing disarmed in the road, with their hands up, in company with Tom Nugent.
The wool team evidently hadn't been interfered with, and Ned looked significantly at Joe, who read, in his eyes, the hope that he might yet outwit the bushrangers.
"I regret," said the pseudo-clergyman, who may as well be called Salathiel, "that we shall have to detain you for an hour or so; but as soon as the men have taken charge of Mr. Chipman's gold you can get your lunch out, and have it down by the creek, where there is excellent water, if you wish to boil a billy and make some tea. Our men will arrange that no one comes along to disturb you."
"Good-bye, Mrs. Connell," he said, taking off his hat politely; "I have deceived you, but you remember the old saying 'all is fair in love and war.'"
Ned and Joe trembled as the bushrangers forced open one of the boxes, but they seemed satisfied, and the disguised troopers, with Salathiel, went off into the Bush.
Ned Fenton and Dandy Snow, who were armed to the teeth, guarded the captives, and intimated that others of the gang were handy in the Bush. An hour dragged wearily by, and then they saw several men approaching on foot. They were the escort proper, dressed in rough civilian clothes, and looking terribly crestfallen. They had been surprised while camping on the road, and tied up in the Bush, under guard, while the bushrangers donned their uniforms and came on to Baker's Creek.
Ned Chipman's party got safely through to Branton that night, and the next day arrived at Maitland. It was moonlight, and Tom Nugent pushed through with his bullocks, breaking all previous records.
There was great rejoicing when from the midst of the wool-bale they disinterred the Baker's Creek gold.
It should be said that the bulk sample of copper pyrites proved to be a gilded pill for Salathiel, for the gang soon found out how completely they had been taken in; but not until they had passed on to many of their Bush friends copper pyrites, in exchange for goods and services rendered. For a long time the stuff caused no end of trouble, for it was offered as gold in exchange for notes to various stores all over the district.
For a long time afterward, the whole country-side laughed at the story of how Salathiel and his gang had been taken in by Joe Crocker's pyrites.
If there was one thing which galled Salathiel more than another it was to be held up to ridicule, and the affair at Baker's Creek made him the laughing stock of the Colony. It was the first really serious reverse he had experienced since taking to the Bush. Notwithstanding his elaborate get-up as a clergyman and the capture of the troopers by his men, he had been thoroughly outwitted by superior stratagem.
He had reason to believe also that he was losing his influence over some of the gang, for he knew they were laughing at him with the rest. He had overheard Dandy Snow say to Ned Fenton: "Imagine thousands of pounds in gold and cash being carted away in a bale of wool, under one's very nose, and the captain being tricked by the yellow glitter of a lot of copper ore. It's too ridiculous, lads! We ought to make that Ned Chipman and his firm sit up for it; some of them would laugh another way then."
But Salathiel would not hear of any paltry show of spite of this sort. "They have beaten us this time," he said; "let's take our gruel kindly; our turn will come later on if we have patience."
But there was another matter which annoyed Jack and further humiliated him. He had broken faith with his sister Ruth and gained nothing by it; and he had destroyed all the high hopes of Betsy, that he would have nothing more to do with common highway robbery.
It should be explained that the visit of Lieutenant Thompson to Salathiel while at the Valley had partly to do with a considerable fortune which had come to Salathiel through the sudden death of a relative. As an outlaw, any property he possessed was forfeited to the Crown; but he had signed transfers to his sister, and her lawyer had managed to get the matter through. Ruth had agreed to hold Jack's interest in her own name, and send him the income and proceeds, on condition that he acted only on the defensive and refrained from any robberies on the road.
He had allowed himself, however, to be drawn into the 'sticking up' of Browne and Co.'s gold to gratify the gang, and having committed himself to the affair, had carried it through with very unnecessary ostentation and bravado. He had now a secret income which supplied him with ample means to keep himself and his gang in comfort, until such time as they could make good their escape from Australia. But the Baker's Creek affair had been an utter and public failure, and Salathiel began to ask himself whether a supernatural power might not have prevented his actually stealing the gold, not for his own sake, but for the sake of Ruth and Betsy.
It will be hard to explain to the reader how lonely and isolated Salathiel's life at this time really was. The gang shared his money, but they had very few thoughts in common with him; they could not understand him, and were fast losing confidence in him as a leader. The newspapers of the Colony were ridiculing him as a fustigated highway-robber, and the gang grew daily more restless and dissatisfied with his leadership. He was too bad for some people, and too good for others; and it put him in that perilous position which is popularly described as being between the devil and the deep sea. In fact, he was just now in danger of becoming a worse criminal, and a much more dangerous man than he had been before. If, on account of this last escapade, his sister, or Betsy, had thrown him over as a reprehensible renegade, he would probably, in despair, have had recourse to deeper crime and violence. But, as soon as the failure to steal Browne and Co.'s gold became known, Ruth managed to send him a considerable sum of money, and Betsy wrote, boldly congratulating him upon the failure of his attempt to rob the Maitland firm. He took Ruth's money and burnt Betsy's letter, and, engrossed in his own thoughts, held himself still more aloof from the gang.
The men's disappointment was keen. They had planned this as their big coup-de-grace, and had hoped to divide the gold and disperse with the spoil, for under the influence of Salathiel, most of them had become convinced that the game of bushranging was not worth the candle, and would only lead to the gallows.
But a new danger threatened; Salathiel's rocky fastness in the Liverpool Ranges was becoming a sort of cave of Adullam, to which desperate criminals, as well as those who were driven into bushranging by misfortune and ill-treatment, resorted. Coarse, brutal thieves and murderers were in hiding there, who thought they had a right to be hail-fellow-well-met with Salathiel and his gang; and for his own safety and that of his men, he dared not openly quarrel with them.
It will be seen that things were fast approaching a crisis; robberies and crimes with which Salathiel and his gang had nothing to do, but for which they were invariably blamed, were of frequent occurrence. The police were increasingly active, large rewards were offered for the capture of bushrangers dead or alive; and in the case of convicts who gave information, or assisted in the apprehension of bushrangers, a free pardon was promised, and a free passage home. There was even talk of an organized effort, on the part of the Government, to storm the almost impregnable fastnesses which were the haunts of these desperadoes.
On coming into his new wealth, Salathiel had decided at the first favourable opportunity to leave Australia; but he would not run away and desert the men who had made him their chief, so he determined to take the bull by the horns, and by careful organization and force of arms, secure absolute command over the outlaws of the district. He decided upon this after a long conference with his men; and, with their approval, admitted a few of the more reliable ex-convicts into the gang, and then let it be known through the district that only such road and other robberies as were arranged by him would be permitted. Salathiel intended that there should be no more such crimes of violence; but it would not do for him to make this known at present. He still intended to make the Colony pay tribute to himself and his gang, but he would do it in a more civilized way.
The effect of this was a notable decrease of ordinary crimes of violence all over the district, and people began to breathe more freely, while the authorities, without relaxing their vigilance, carefully watched to see how Salathiel's new regime would eventuate. It was believed that some of the worst criminals had banded themselves together to destroy Salathiel, and that fighting was going on in the ranges between Salathiel's gang and other less civilized outlaws. It was at this time that Eurimbla Station was 'stuck up' by the Gilbert gang; and Joe Brady, the station bookkeeper and Jack's old friend, was brutally murdered in cold blood.
Within three days afterward, two notorious outlaws and murderers, George Gilbert and Pat Morgan, who had led the attack upon the station, and been seen in the act of murdering Brady, were found dead, hanging by the neck from trees upon the Maitland road. A notice was attached to the bodies which ran as follows:
"Executed after full inquiry and proof of guilt, for the brutal murder of Joe Brady, a white man and deserving citizen.
"By order, J. J. Salathiel."
The effect of this exhibition of lynch law was many-sided. It made Salathiel not a few enemies among the criminals who were, like himself, outlaws in the Bush; and the authorities, newspapers, and general public did not know how to take it. They rejoiced at the death of two bloodthirsty scoundrels; but they rejoiced with trembling, for this was a subversion of authority which might result in unexpected deeds of violence. The man who was capable of taking the law into his own hands in this fashion was equal to anything.
But it was force of circumstances rather than choice which was driving Salathiel into desperate courses. Living much alone in a cave which overlooked the remarkable glen he and his gang occupied, he was fast becoming a fanatical misanthrope. Sentinels were posted at every point of access, and he enforced his will upon the members of the gang, whom he had now sworn to render him implicit and unquestioning obedience. He brooded over his wrongs and the hopelessness of his environment, and imagined himself a modern David, in a cave of Adullam, under divine protection. His hallucination made him absolutely fearless of others and reckless of his own life. He believed himself supernaturally guided by voices, visions, and dreams, immune from ordinary mortal ills, a man whom no weapon could wound. "His enemies sought him, but found him not, because God delivered him not into their hands." He spent whole days and nights reading the old Jewish Scriptures, and attained an ascendancy over the gang such as is usually associated only with religious and superstitious fanaticism; he had become as hard and inflexible as the lone, rugged mountain stronghold in which he had been forced to make his home.
For the time he became the dictator and terror, for good or evil, of the whole district; and the only people who benefited much by his remarkable regime were the convicts, who were protected against ill-treatment by the fear of a visit from the gang. In such cases, Salathiel would flog the offenders, and levy heavy fines upon them, which were collected in a summary fashion. Salathiel called these visitations, 'Acts of justice '; but the authorities called them, 'Robbery under arms.' On occasion, a whole township would be held up by Salathiel, while he inquired into charges laid against individuals or institutions, and if he could get a good case against a bank it was invariably mulcted in heavy penalties. All this was in absolute defiance of law and order, but it went on throughout the winter and spring without any specially organized effort on the part of the Government to put it down. Ordinary highway robbery had practically ceased; but a new terror had arisen which, although, to some extent, it made for law and order, was, as a whole, intolerable.
By evil-doers of all classes, and they formed a good proportion of the community, Salathiel's rough and ready remedies were regarded as worse than the disease.
The following summer was the hottest and most trying of any recorded for many years. A drought had set in at the end of September, and January came without any sign of general rain. People were depressed and irritable, money was scarce, and Salathiel had recently imposed a fine of one thousand pounds upon a leading bank, and collected it in his usual summary fashion in fifty pound notes.
The bank had foreclosed in a harsh and arbitrary manner upon a station property belonging to the widow of a highly esteemed squatter recently deceased. The station manager had done his best, fighting the drought and other evils, day and night, on behalf of the widow and her children, and paying nine per cent. interest; but one trouble had succeeded another, and the interest payments had fallen considerably in arrears. The local bank manager had been called to task for allowing the account to run up, and was instructed by his head office to file a bill for foreclosure, compelling the widow at once to redeem the property, or forfeit her rights.
"You know, my dear madam," said the bank manager to the weeping widow, "it is very hard for me to do this; but business is business, and I have my instructions from Sydney."
It was well known, however, that the property was of exceptional value, and that a couple of good seasons would, probably, not only pay off the whole mortgage, but add a thousand or two to the station account. The bank, however, had a buyer in view; the widow was in debt, and her account unprofitable, so she had to go.
One morning, in her shabby lodgings in Sydney, however, she received an anonymous gift of a thousand pounds in bank notes. It made the widow's heart leap for joy, but, as requested by the anonymous donor, she said nothing to any one about it. It was a trifle less than the amount of profit the bank had made by the sale of the station.
Salathiel had told the manager that he was acting on behalf of the widow and orphans, but without their knowledge, so Mr. Screwall, of the bank, was sent to her Sydney address with a plausible excuse to try to discover whether she had received this money or not. Being a wise woman, however, she saw through the dodge and held her peace.
* * * * * * * * * *
"It will never do, Captain Moore, to have this state of things continuing," said the Commissioner of Police one morning to his colleague. "Salathiel will have to be taken, dead or alive, and you will have to do it quickly. His audacity passes all bounds. We shall have him coming down to Sydney with his pistol, demanding a departmental inquiry into the working of the office. But, joking aside, the Chief Justice is terribly put out about this bank business; he says it is casting ridicule upon our high courts of justice, and that for Salathiel to be at large is a disgrace to the administration of the Colony."
"That is all very well," replied Captain Moore, "but will you tell me how the thing is to be done? To send any large body of men up into the Liverpool Ranges at present would only be to send them to their death. You have no idea of the wild and inaccessible nature of the country, and the multitude of 'Bush telegraphs' and other people Salathiel has in his pay. We have sent some of our best men up there in squads and alone, in all sorts of disguises;—some of the best Bushmen we had in the force. The last one—who would go alone—was absolutely lost in the Bush there. He travelled around in circles for some days, then went off his head a bit, and let his horse go. Losing all hope of rescue, he made his will, and wrote to head-quarters on the leather flap of his saddle, and, exhausted and delirious, lay down to die; some of Salathiel's men found him at the last gasp, and nursed him back to life in the hollow trunk of a great gum-tree, where he says he saw bunks fixed up for six men. His horse was found for him, and they led him miles through the Bush blindfolded, and putting him on the main track, warned him not to show himself in those parts again, or he would be shot on sight.
"It is useless," he continued, "to attempt to take these outlaws in their Bush resorts. Our prominent citizens and politicians, who rail at the police for not capturing them, have no conception whatever of the wild fastness in which these men live; and as for Bush-craft, there are very few men in the force who know anything about it. Our only chance is to get one of their own men to betray them, or catch them in the open country."
"Could not you trap Salathiel in some way?" said the Commissioner. "Are there no relatives or friends with whom he corresponds, or keeps in touch?"
"I have tried that in half a dozen ways," replied the Captain. "I am informed by a man called Silas Stump that there is a settler's daughter in the Bluff Valley, down on the south coast, who occasionally receives letters from him (you remember he personated a school-teacher there named Bennett); then, the daughter of old Salathiel, of Drosena and Co., is supposed to be in touch with him, and Lieutenant Thompson of the mounted infantry is a sort of connection; but you can't prove anything, or do anything, with these people. I suggested to the Lieutenant that he should make an appointment with Salathiel, and blow his brains out while he signed his name to a document. But he ordered me out of his house."
"I'm not surprised at that; it would be next door to murder, to shoot a man in that cowardly fashion," said the Commissioner.
"But he's an outlaw," replied the Captain, "and we want to get rid of him."
"That is so; but he is a clever and brave man, outlaw and fanatic as he is! He's not a man one would care to kill like a rat in a hole. Can't you suggest some plan, by which he might be captured in a decent and honourable way? I believe the Governor would double the reward, and it would be a great thing for your reputation if you were successful. You're a good Bushman, they say; why don't you go up yourself, and take half a dozen men with you, in disguise?...Phew! How hot it is! They say miles of Bush are burning, and that crops and settlers' homes are suffering terribly."
"I have an idea," said Captain Moore after a long pause, during which a good deal of tobacco was burnt, for both gentlemen were smoking; "if these hot winds continue for another week, I think it might be worth while to try and smoke Salathiel out. We're almost certain to suffocate some of them."
"But it's a serious criminal offence to fire the Bush, especially in such terrible weather as this. Did you see the 'Gazette' this morning? The thermometer yesterday afternoon was one hundred and seven in the shade, and the heat at Parramatta, made worse by the Bush fires, was so excessive that immense numbers of large fox-bats were seen to drop dead from the trees, and in other places the ground was covered with small birds, some dead, others gasping for water. The wind was north-west and burnt up everything before it; Bush fires have broken out in all directions. Surely, it would be an awful thing to add to the general calamity by firing the Bush, even to destroy a gang of bushrangers!"
"Necessity knows no law," replied the Captain ostentatiously; "this man has to be killed or captured, and the present is a chance in a thousand. Look at this rough sketch of Salathiel's lair in the ranges. It has come to me from a trustworthy source; see, there are only three tracks which give access to the glen, and they wind for miles through most rugged and inaccessible country, all thickly timbered. The glen—they call it Adullam, I believe—is surrounded on all sides by heavy timber, and there are plenty of trees growing down in it. If we could once get the forest fairly alight with a strong, hot wind blowing from the north-west, I am inclined to think that we might, by good luck, suffocate the whole box and dice of them; the glen would become a perfect oven."
"It is an awful proposition," said the Commissioner, in a non-committal voice; "but if you go up, you might fall in with him elsewhere, and capture or shoot him, without resorting to such a desperate course as you suggest."
The matter was left there, as questionable matters often are by people in power, without anything definite being decided; but it was understood that Captain Moore was to go north, and take as many picked men with him as he thought advisable. Dead or alive, by hook or by crook, Salathiel was to be taken.
Captain Moore's secret was well kept; but several weeks passed before he left Sydney for Maitland, for a southerly gale, with thunder and lightning and rain and hail, put out the Bush fires, and brought temporary relief to the gasping citizens.
The Captain, however, had only told the Commissioner a portion of his story, for already he had elaborate plans made for what he called, "Smoking Salathiel out."
Part of Jack's letter from the school-house to Betsy's mother was: "If by chance any of you should fall into the hands of outlaws, say 'I'm a Carey.'" Probably, when written, Salathiel attached but slight importance to the phrase; but it was one of the flashes from brain to pen which make pivots on which history turns. Bob was a Carey, and accordingly he was chosen to be the travelling companion of Amos Gordon to Salathiel's stronghold in the Northern Ranges.
It came about in this way. For several anxious months no letter from Salathiel had reached the Valley farm, when one morning Captain Fraser, of the Nancy Lee, unexpectedly appeared in company with Amos Gordon. They were the bearers of letters from Salathiel, for he had found that Silas Stump, postmaster for the district, was not to be trusted. There was one for Mrs. Carey, and one for Betsy, which, judging by the brightness of her eyes and somewhat excited demeanour, contained good news.
It would appear that during the months of silence Ruth Salathiel, with Lieutenant Thompson and Captain Fraser, had arranged a plan for Jack's escape from Australia to America, with certain of his men; but it was necessary that the details of the matter and other business should be more fully set forth by a responsible and trustworthy representative; so Amos Gordon had been chosen for the difficult and dangerous task, as one to whom no suspicion could well attach, and Bob, being young and strong, was to go with him. The Nancy Lee was lying at the Bailey River anchorage, and what was now needed was that Mr. and Mrs. Carey should agree to certain proposals regarding Bob and Betsy.
The result of a lengthy conference was that Amos Gordon, with Betsy and her brother Bob, became passengers by the schooner to Newcastle, via Sydney, and if the state of the Hunter River permitted, by steamer up to Morpeth, where Mrs. Carey had a married sister living who would be pleased to have Betsy as a visitor, while her brother and Amos Gordon visited the stronghold in the Ranges. Salathiel had begged them to let Betsy go, that he might see her once more before leaving Australia. Fortunately, it was the long summer school vacation, so no explanation need be given to anybody about Betsy's trip.
Thus it came about that a week later the Nancy Lee, with Amos Gordon, Bob, Betsy, and other passengers, was passed by the Sophia Jane, the regular Newcastle steam packet, with Captain Moore and six constables on board, all carefully disguised as men of various callings, and apparently strangers to each other. So, although for different reasons, all these people were travelling Maitland way, each deeply interested in the lonely bushranger, who from his stronghold in the Liverpool Ranges was now the outlaw autocrat of the northern district.
On their arrival at Morpeth, Amos was not a little surprised to find how generally well-affected the people of the north were towards Salathiel.
"He has done what the Government and police couldn't," said a burly drover, who made no secret of the fact that he carried money with him to buy cattle. "The northern roads," said he, "are now as safe for travellers as George-street in Sydney. Whatever mistakes he and his men may make in regard to squatters and business people, there's a rough-and-ready fairness about his methods and summary administration of Bush law which has put a wholesome fear into the minds of a good many folk who had previously robbed the widow and the fatherless, and trodden down the poor and needy when they thought they could do it with a whole skin."
After they had left Betsy in safe custody with an aunt, who gave her a cordial welcome, Amos and Bob betook them to the Royal Mail Hotel, where the attentive host showed them great deference. Two useful horses, with all that was necessary for their equipment, were in readiness. Their meals were served in a private room, and their sleeping-apartment was the best in the hotel.
"Everything has been paid for, sir," said the landlord respectfully when Amos asked him for the bill. "You will find beds bespoke for you at the Queen's Hotel, Patrick's Plains, which is probably as far as you will care to ride the first day."
"Do you know where I am going to?" asked Amos abruptly, who was not best pleased with the arrangement, and would have preferred to pay his own way.
"No, sir, I do not, but I am ordered to hold myself at your service."
Amos could get nothing more from the man, but it suggested to him the respect, or fear, with which Salathiel had come to be regarded. Bob was elated at the attention shown to them, and although he said nothing, attributed it to the fact that he was a Carey.
The morning of the third day found them travelling through an Australian eucalyptus forest due north of Jerry's Plains. They had been overtaken in the early morning by a young fellow riding a well-bred horse, who said that he was looking for stray cattle. He had the appearance of a stockman, except that in addition to the stock-whip slung on his saddle, he carried a short rifle and pistols in his saddle holsters; although that was common enough in those days with travelling Bushmen. Amos and Bob had been cautioned not to mention the bushranger's name, for fear of meeting with disguised police officers, so they travelled on for an hour, making almost due north, as they had been directed. Their companion told them that his name was George Lennox, of Cassilis Station, but whether he was one of Salathiel's gang or a disguised trooper was an open question with both Amos and Bob.
At the end of an hour Amos and Bob began to feel uncomfortable about this man; he was very friendly and inclined to be talkative, but Amos thought he knew too much about Sydney and too little about the Bush to be a station hand from Cassilis, so, in order to draw him out, he began to talk about a doctor who had recently been bushed, and was nearly perishing within coo-ee of a station.
They had crossed a dry watercourse, and Amos, who was a good Bushman, and had no intention of trusting himself to the guidance of a stranger, pulled up a moment to make sure as to which way the water ran when flowing there, for he knew that all the creeks on that side of the range must run south. Having satisfied himself, he cantered after his companions.
"It's singular," he said to Lennox, "that so many otherwise capable men should lack the ordinary habits of observation necessary for safety in the Bush. I believe one reason why the Australian Bush has been decried as monotonous and uninteresting, is that so few people in Australia know much about it."
"You're right there," said Lennox. "I don't profess to be an expert bushman myself. I can find my way over the foot-hills here to Cassilis Station; yet a few miles farther north, in the broken country, which is even more heavily timbered than this, one gully is so like another that to travel for days in a circle is far easier than inexperienced people think."
"By the way," said Amos, determined to end the suspense and to find out who the man was, "I don't think I introduced my young friend Mr. Carey to you. He's from the south coast. Like enough, you never heard the name before."
The stockman smiled, and said, "You might have introduced your friend before, Mr. Gordon "; then leaning over he held out his hand to Bob, and as they shook said, "The Careys are friends of Mr. Bennett, I believe: that's quite enough for me. We'll canter a bit if you don't mind; the country is fairly level for the next few miles; after that we shall have a bit of climbing to do."
It was a relief to both Amos and Bob to know that they had fallen into friendly hands, and they followed Lennox with alacrity, until he presently pulled up again and settled down into the Bushman's steady jog, which in this case meant something over four miles an hour.
They soon remarked the growing wildness of the Bush scenery. There was no track, but their guide lit his pipe and jogged along with the confidence of one who is perfectly familiar with his surroundings.
George Lennox, notwithstanding his previous disclaimer, was an expert Bushman, and your expert Australian Bushman is one of the most self-possessed of individuals. He seldom hurries himself, yet is always on the move, and never gets put out whatever happens. If he has lost his bearings and there is no sun, he sits calmly down and smokes a pipe while his horse feeds. He knows the lie of the country and fall of its waters, and that certain roads and townships are north or south, or east or west, as the case may be. The growth of the lower branches of the big trees, or the moss on their round butts, or the hang of the shredded bark of the gums, tell him the points of the compass. He is a man of infinite resource so far as the Bush is concerned, and if you can get him to talk about it, will interest and surprise you as he interprets the many natural signs and voices which guide the experienced horseman through the great wild tranquil spaces of the primeval forests and bushlands of Australia.
"We'll keep a bit more to the right," said Lennox; "it'll save a few miles to go up this gorge. There are some strangers about to the south-east, but by this time our look-outs should know all about them."
Amos and Bob turned their horses past some wild cherry trees to follow their guide up a stony pinch, in the direction of a gloomy-looking gorge. They were wondering how the man obtained his information, but it took them all their time, on such a path, to look after their horses. It was about the last place that an ordinary traveller would have chosen to climb the gorge on horseback, and yet it was the only possible entrance for miles. The local preacher and Bob Carey had no idea now of locality or direction; but they were making for Oxley's Peak, the highest point of the Liverpool Ranges, some four thousand feet above sea-level.
The bushranger presently pulled up under some trees upon a tiny plateau, to let the sweating horses blow a bit, for the heat was great. The view to the south extended for many miles, but nothing was to be seen save the tops of gum-trees, which spread at their feet in a great sea of dark sombre foliage.
"How do you know that there are strangers about?" asked Amos.
"By the cries and movements of the birds," replied their guide. "The crows and magpies are the best 'Bush telegraphs' we have. They scent a new chum for miles, and hang about his track, and pass the word along to others, until the whole forest is on the alert; they are cunning rascals though; we only just saved one of Moore's men a few weeks ago: he had been bushed for several days in the north-west gullies and was lying insensible with his face exposed. If he had been a Bushman he would have pulled his hat right over his eyes for protection from crows and magpies; but these chaps they send up from Sydney are poor Bushmen. We mostly keep out of their way, just leave them alone—the ranges do the rest."
Lennox was right about the birds: crows and even magpies will pick out the eyes of unconscious men as well as weak or wounded sheep and cattle. Of all enemies the carrion crow is most to be feared by a sick or wounded man lying in the Australian Bush. He scents misfortune from afar, he gathers in scores from unknown regions, and woe betide the helpless man who lies with his face unguarded from his fierce attacks! With his last consciousness the wounded Bushman instinctively pulls his soft felt hat over his eyes and face, as a protection against these black marauders.
Bob Carey had been used to rough country, but after thirteen hours in the saddle he told Amos that he gave this trip best. For half an hour of the time they had been blindfolded and led by members of the gang, who had come mysteriously upon them. Hoary heights of basalt rock towered above, and occasionally deep dark chasms skirted the track. It was as though Nature, convulsed with internal torture, had at some time broken loose and shattered the mountains, hurling huge rocks about at random; but ashamed of its own violence, had draped the vast wreckage with soft green herbage and flowering shrubs and forest trees. But just then the mountain heights, as well as the valleys, lay scorched and shrivelled beneath hot winds and unwonted heat, even for an Australian midsummer.
"We had to blindfold you," said Lennox in a tone of apology, "for none who have not taken Salathiel's oath are allowed, under any circumstances, to approach the Glen of Adullam; however, it saved you from seeing the most perilous portion of the track—the horses know it all right."
They were now climbing in single file by a path, flanked by a curious rock formation, which rose sheer above them for quite a hundred feet, while occasionally they skirted precipices whose profound depth made the brain dizzy to think about, let alone look down upon.
"Give the horses their heads," called out Lennox, who was riding in front, "and keep your eyes toward the wall."
It was evident to Amos Gordon that no ordinary attack could reach those who had found refuge in the Glen of Adullam, "the glen of justice for the people "; but the entrance was not the only notable thing about Salathiel's stronghold in the ranges.
Amos and Bob slept that night in tents in far more comfortable surroundings than they had anticipated; but they saw nothing of Salathiel.
The heat was intense, and next day the sun upon the tents proved unbearable, although they were protected with large heavy flies, so Lennox, who evidently had charge of them, put them in possession of a cave apartment which had been quarried out of the rock.
It was furnished with Bush-made tables and seats and abundance of soft skins and rugs; they found books and writing materials, and to men wearied with a long journey on horseback it was a perfect haven of rest.
The following letter was written on the second day of their visit. It was the joint production of Amos and Bob, the former acting as penman, for, as may be surmised from the narrative, Bob's education had been very much neglected.
"My dear Betsy,
"Bob and I are writing this letter to you, for you are sure to be anxious about us. So far, all has gone well, but our host is absent, probably not having expected us so early. We were met as promised, and taken good care of by a guide whom we will call George. He advises us not to say too much about the trip on horseback, lest our letter should fall into hostile hands; but we may say that the roads about the bluff are level, compared with the dizzy heights and span-wide tracks to be passed over to get to where this is being written 4,000 feet above the sea.
"We landed in the glen at dusk two days ago, after being thirteen solid hours in the saddle. It had been very hot, so you may guess we were ready for a wash, supper, and bed. We had all three to perfection. The supper was prime roast mutton, vegetables, bread, milk-pudding, and fruit, and we ate it in a house built entirely of saplings and covered with stringy bark. We only saw one person that night in addition to George, who supped with us; he was a little man who waited at table. After a smoke we went to bed in a large tent, with two bunks made with corn sacks stretched on saplings and nice clean white sheets and bed-clothes. George said, 'We didn't live in this luxurious fashion at one time, but there have been great doings here during the past eight months. You'll be surprised when you see the place in the morning.'
"Well, we were surprised next day, for all our ideas of bushrangers and their haunts were completely upset. We had porridge with milk and sugar, and eggs and bacon, and beautiful bread and butter for breakfast, and George asked afterward if we would like to have a canter over level ground on fresh horses, to take the stiffness out of our bones. Of course, we said yes, and in half an hour he brought three fresh nags, and we did a six-mile ride round the glen. Would you believe it? they have quite large paddocks under cultivation; the soil is volcanic, brown and black, and wonderfully fertile. Wheat and maize and potatoes grow as well here as down in the valley. There are cattle, sheep, and horses, and a regular settlement with houses for the men—some of whom have their wives with them—and several big barns and stock-yards and milking-yards, which have been put up since the schoolmaster left the valley. And, by the way, it is a wonderful place for natural caves.
"You see, the people are all outlaws or escaped convicts, and Captain Jack—that's what they call him—has guaranteed their safety while they stay and work quietly under his orders in the Glen of Adullam. That's what they call the place. He will have no laziness, however, and he has a lock-up, and other methods of bringing refractory individuals to order. He will allow no rum or whisky in the glen, except under his control, and has a wonderful knack of managing people. George says the whole of the men are under strict military discipline. Guard is kept night and day, and every one is sworn to obedience. We have wondered that they submit so readily; but the fact that outside the glen only prison, flogging, or the gallows awaits them, must be a very great restraint when they occasionally feel inclined to kick over the traces. You see, they have abundance of good food and decent clothes without broad-arrow marks on them, and reasonable work and recreation with assured protection, and George says that many of the worst criminals amongst them have become, under Captain Jack's government, thoroughly reformed men. Their great fear is that anything should happen to the captain, or that he should leave them; for in the eye of the law every one of them would have to go back to punishment or death; and yet George says that many of them are not criminally inclined at all.
"The natural formation of the place is very wonderful. Oxley's Peak towers 700 feet above us on the south-west, and in winter is often covered with snow. The glen seems to be surrounded with natural walls of rock, in most places several hundred feet of almost perpendicular height. Cattle and horses brought in cannot get out again unless driven, as the only approaches are guarded night and day, and even if they were not so guarded it is a question whether strangers would be able to find or travel them safely. George says there are other similar freaks of nature in this great mountain range, but this is the best protected against outsiders.
"But the feature of this end of the glen is a fairsized water hole or lake, surrounded by wattle and other trees, which simply swarms with fish. It has been made larger by an artificial bank, and empties itself in a boisterous cataract through a narrow precipitous ravine, which they call 'Hell's Mouth.'
"We must leave off here, however, for word has just come that Captain Jack has returned, and has brought a Sydney gentleman with him named Bennett; George says that we need not be put out, as there is accommodation in the glen for several visitors.
"By the way—this is Bob's remark—all the cattle we have seen in the glen are clean skins, Durhams and Shorthorns. We saw many recent tracks outside in the ranges, so there must be lots of strayed and unbranded cattle there. It is all unoccupied country. All are well. Look out for another letter soon.
"P.S.—Ben Morley is here, stone blind. That is all we know about it yet.
"P.P.S.—George has just been in again; he has heard that the captain yesterday saved Sir James Bennett's life and that the latter is a Q.C. Captain Jack has brought him in on a solemn promise of secrecy, in order that he may explain more fully to him his recent actions and the reformation of escaped convicts living here. They are all hoping, through him, to get pardons. God grant that they may not be disappointed!"
It was a singular coincidence that Salathiel should have met and rescued Sir James Bennett at this particular time, within less than a day's ride of his stronghold. With three of his men he was out after a notorious outlaw, who had committed many crimes of violence, and recently shot at some of his gang. Salathiel had warned this man some time before, that if he offended again he would be shot at sight, and he had defied him. They caught him in a half-drunken sleep in one of his hiding-places, with the spoils of a fresh robbery upon him. Among these he had a big flask of whisky, a purse, and two watches, one a gold presentation watch inscribed with Sir James Bennett's name. Salathiel insisted on knowing where Sir James was; but the man was sullen and would give no information, so they tracked back for some hours, until they found the barrister tied to a tree, unconscious. He had been there all night, and in a short time he must have died. The convict Stokes had a grudge against him.
The outcome of it was that Sir James Bennett regained his life, purse, and property; and his assailant was shot offhand, and buried under the tree where he had left his victim to die a lingering death. Bush fires had broken out to the east, so Salathiel brought the barrister to the glen for a few days to rest, and, mayhap, to form a better opinion of the outlaw to whom he owed his life.
Possibly Jack had a further reason, for he had learned from Sir James of the presence of Captain Moore and his disguised troopers in the district, and one of his men had found out that a constable had warned a settler to clear out, as there was likely to be a big forest fire in a few days in the ranges.
It was not difficult for Salathiel to surmise that the constable's foreknowledge of the fire came to him semi-officially, and that it was intended by these means to drive him and his men out of their mountain stronghold. He resolved that, by hook or by crook, Sir James should accompany him to the glen, until the attempt to burn him out had proved unsuccessful. For even Salathiel, up to this, had no previous knowledge of the appalling fury of a great eucalyptus forest fire, lashed by hot-wind blasts from the burning sand-wastes of the west. To start such a fire from six different centres was the colossal crime which had been planned, and was to be put in execution when Salathiel carried Sir James Bennett to his hiding-place in the mountains.
The barrister was the more willing to go with Salathiel when he knew that he was already cut off from access to the great northern road by a Bush fire.
Salathiel saw Amos and Bob for a little while that night, and warmly welcomed them; but they thought him greatly changed, both in personal appearance and in speech. He talked as one who realized grave responsibilities and was used to command and be obeyed. He did not wish to enter into any business, and the old smile and softness of speech came back only for a few minutes as he inquired about Betsy, and listened to a brief account of their journey.
"I expect you will be here for at least a week longer," he said, "for this fire in the forest is going to make trouble, so we will have plenty of time to talk over business. Lennox will look after you, and if you want me particularly, you will find me at head-quarters, where the Union Jack flies."
He spent the next morning with Sir James, disclosing much to him of his past life, and explaining his methods of managing the motley company he had with him in the glen, and the changes which had been wrought in the characters and conduct of some of the worst criminals after they had sworn allegiance to the Adullam brotherhood, and placed themselves under its protection.
The barrister was evidently interested, and listened attentively to all that Salathiel had to say; he took careful note of what had been shown him, but with professional caution made no comment, although he could not help confessing to himself that he had happened on a very remarkable condition of things, largely brought about through the misfortunes of a very remarkable man.
They were standing together on a crag platform hard by Salathiel's cave apartment. Below them was the glen, and to the south and east great fires were visible, creeping slowly up the ranges against the wind.
"Sir James," said Jack, "you have now heard from my standpoint the story of how a too rigorous and insatiable law may over-reach itself, and drive men into crime and outlawry. I want now to ask you two things: will you respect my confidence? and, should I be taken, will you engage to defend me in your courts of law?"
"Jack," said the barrister, turning round and reaching out his hand, "there's my hand on it. Yesterday you saved my life, and if the need should arise, you may count upon James Bennett moving Heaven and earth, if need be, to save yours."
"But look," he continued after a pause, "that fire is spreading farther north, and seems to be an unbroken chain on the south and east. It's singular, is it not, to spread like that?"
"It is extremely singular," replied Salathiel dryly. "There is, to my mind, a good bit of Satanic singularity about the orderly march of that fire in this direction. It looks as though it had some one behind it."
It may be explained that the forest and its life was a new experience to Sir James Bennett, but Salathiel and others had noted how the cool, fresh, exhilarating odours of the early morning had been wholly absent; how the hot winds smote like a blast from a furnace, and with the heat of the fires and sun withered leaves were falling from the great gumtrees in showers, and how the heat had been greatly increased by the approaching nearness of the fires.
A north-westerly wind was blowing, which by noon increased to a gale. A fire had clearly started at some distance to the north, although it was not yet visible, for smoke crept slowly through the glen and surrounding country during the afternoon, blotting out Oxley's lofty peak and other heights. One portion of the forest only seemed quite free from fire, and that was to the west. As night drew on Salathiel watched this quarter of the heavens anxiously, for the forest there was thick with great trees, which in the heat of many succeeding days had become as dry as tinder.
That night the sky all round, except westward, was brightly illuminated. It was hot, terribly hot; but it had not occurred to the dwellers in the glen that they were in actual danger; and when at seven o'clock on Thursday morning there was no wind and the smoke seemed less dense, Ned Fenton and Dandy Snow, at the suggestion of the former, were sent by Salathiel to ascertain the extent of the fire to the north, and to learn, if possible, what damage had been done to the Liverpool settlers.
Amos and Bob ate their breakfasts leisurely, and smoked their pipes; but by ten o'clock they were astir, for the north-westerly started to blow again, with increased force, and by noon the whole surrounding forest was surrounded by smoke, through which the sun shone hotly as red as blood.
Lennox came in then, with the news that a new fire had started to the north-west.
"People talk about Bush fires," he exclaimed, "but the term doesn't describe the sort of thing we shall see to-night. Undergrowth and grass and crops will blaze hotly enough; but for a sight calculated to strike terror into a man's heart, a eucalyptus forest ablaze in a hot gale such as this beats everything. Why, the thermometer is 112 outside in the shade!"
During that afternoon everything human foresight could accomplish was done to save the houses and barns: blankets were soaked in water, and roofs and walls saturated; but if, said Salathiel to the barrister, the fire gets over the black gully it will come sweeping down through the big trees in a torrent of flame. It must take everything before it. He would see clouds of lighted gas carried for hundreds of yards before this gale, as was the case in 1826, when Sydney itself, owing to the surrounding Bush fires, is said to have been more like the mouth of Vesuvius than anything else.
Salathiel had hitherto kept Amos and Bob away from Sir James Bennett, as he thought it unnecessary to inform the barrister of their presence in the glen. "They would all be safe enough," he thought, and he had seen to the sentinels who could shelter in caves, of which there were a number on the western heights. He had no present anxiety about their lives, although he knew that if the glen caught fire, the tall timber in it would soon make short work of their possessions. Besides, men had been moving horse and cattle feed into the caves all day, and nothing short of an earthquake could interfere with their water supply.
Just below the rock platform already mentioned, from which Salathiel and Sir James watched the progress of the fires, was a vegetable garden surrounded by a cockatoo and brushwood fence. There was a swampy bit of gully and a spring of water in the garden, and some milking-cows came poking around, trying to break in, bellowing as though alarmed and fearful. Jack called the dogs to hunt them out, but they hung fearfully around, so he sent a man to drive them into one of the open cattle-caves. The Bush birds flew low, to escape the smoke, and made unusual cries, as though in distress, and many fell fluttering to the ground, dying; flocks of white cockatoos, high in the air, flew southward, screeching loudly. It was as if all Nature were terrified. The very dogs followed apprehensively close to their masters' heels.
Later in the afternoon the roar of the fires became more audible, emitting a crackling sound like musketry firing, with an occasional dull boom or crash, like the explosion of a cannon, throwing up dense clouds of thick white smoke, as some old forest giant fell into the conflagration.
"I fancy," said Salathiel, "that soon after dark you'll see a rocket go up as a signal somewhere in the north-east."
"Some of your men?" queried Sir James.
"Not exactly," replied Salathiel, with a smile; "we don't burn down our own houses. Don't you see that this fire is a planned thing? They expect to turn the glen into an oven, and roast us all alive!"
"Never!" exclaimed Sir James. "Who would do such a thing?"
"Your acquaintance, Captain Moore. Look now to the west, there's the heaviest timber; it's heated through and through and, once fired, will burn like matchwood. It will travel with this gale behind it at fully fifteen miles an hour; but to be most effectual, the fires on the windward side should be close upon us when it comes. In another two hours, if what I surmise is correct, you will see something in the way of a signal, and then the forest will be fired about a dozen miles to the west, and it will be down on the glen in a sheet of flame within an hour."
"It is incredible!" ejaculated Sir James.
* * * * * * * *
Said old Amos to Bob, as they watched the amazing conflagration from another position: "You'll see a sight to remember, my son, when it grows dark." But it never grew dark! As night enveloped them, the whole arch of the heavens, save to the far west, grew luminous and lurid, as though the very elements were about to melt with fervent heat.
It should be explained that thus far the glen had been free from one source of danger. The quarter from which the gale was blowing was not yet on fire, so no burning embers, sparks, or lighted leaves or bark were carried over them to drop on and fire the heated bush. They could see these messengers of destruction, which would travel, on occasion, many miles, flung up in thousands; but the hot gale carried them away from the glen.
So long as the western portion of the forest remained unignited, as Salathiel explained to Sir James, the glen was comparatively safe. He would go so far as to give Captain Moore the benefit of the doubt, and acquit him of all connection with the fire, if there were no outbreak to the west, and no signal.
The two men sat and smoked for a long time in silence. It was a moonless night, but the burning heavens which overarched the doomed forest, even before the flames were visible, had turned it into a very day of judgment. Sir James remarked that he could read the time by his watch—even the seconds' hand was perfectly distinct.
Every minute brought the roar of the fires nearer.
There were many spell-bound watchers that night besides Jack and Sir James, waiting for the flames to overleap the intervening space and sweep down upon the glen in billows of destruction.
"I'll take a glass of whisky-and-water, Salathiel," said the barrister huskily. "I'll own up to it, this thing has got upon my nerves; it's magnificent, it's unparalleled—but it's Hell!"
Salathiel brought the whisky, and Sir James rose from his seat and gulped it down. Just then, to the north-east, a rocket rose in the sky, high above the conflagration.
"Did you see that?" ejaculated Salathiel, his face hot with passion.
"Wait," said the cautious lawyer, "it may not have been a signal at all;" but he shuddered even as he spoke.
"It's that or nothing," replied Salathiel. "In an hour the fires, to south and east, will reach the glen. Now is the exact time to fire the western forest, if they wish to destroy every living creature here."
For ten more minutes they waited, breathless with excitement and suspense, and then a strange thing happened. It was as though a great sword of flame had been unsheathed from the side of Oxley's Peak, and pointed heavenward in the midst of the western woods.
"It'll be here in an hour if this gale continues," said Salathiel. "Oh, you fiend!" he exclaimed suddenly, shaking his fist with passion at the west. "You fiend of Hell! you murderer! And to think that you have the destinies of human beings in your hands. And that the Almighty permits it! And we have women and children in the glen, whom this pattern police inspector has deliberately planned to roast alive!"
"Good Heaven, man! he can't know that there are women and children here," said Sir James with a shudder.
"He knows more than you imagine," replied Salathiel; "but he will hear more to-night than he bargains for."
He blew a silver whistle, and immediately two men appeared, and saluted respectfully.
"Ride up the glen," he said, "and hurry all the people to the southern caves. Tell the men to get plenty of water, and hang wet blankets at each entrance. That new fire in the west will be here in an hour. Have you got all the horses and cattle under cover, and the sheep?
"That's right! The buildings and crops can't be saved; it's a question of life now, and with all this dry timber in the glen, even the caves may not save us."
Salathiel turned again to Sir James, who was scanning the west through a pair of field-glasses. "I would not have believed it," he exclaimed; "it's already a sea of fire. Why, the trees are burning to their topmost branches."
"Yes," said Salathiel calmly, "Moore will have light enough to-night to see by—those trees are many of them 250 feet high. They'll have burning brands dropping everywhere in thousands between here and Patrick's Plains. The fool, he'll fire half the northern district before he has done! But excuse me for a few minutes, I have some matters to attend to."
He hurried round among the men, calm and dignified, giving orders and wise counsels. He saw that the sentinels had been called into shelter—the fires were sufficient guard now. He spoke kindly and cheerfully to women and children, and made sure that Fleetfoot was safe in the far recesses of a cave. Ned Fenton and Dandy Snow had not returned, but they were experienced Bushmen, and Salathiel expressed his belief that they would be safe. Then he called up at the cave occupied by Amos and Bob, and helped them to put everything in a far corner, covering the furniture with rugs. "They may escape," he said; "but if they are burnt we shall not want them, for we shall not be alive. Now," he said, "all of you come up with me; you too, Lennox, and I'll introduce you to Sir James Bennett. If it is to be the last night of our lives, we may as well spend it, like good fellows, together."
As they climbed the ridge Jack noted the time. "It's half an hour," he said, "since the outbreak to the west. It cannot be more than six miles away now. Listen to the roar of it! Hell-fire, that's what it is! A devil lit it, and another devil fans it! The gale must be blowing forty miles an hour."
Sir James evinced no surprise when he learned the names of the new-comers, but grasped them cordially by the hand. There was a sense of greater safety in numbers. No candles or lamps were lit in Salathiel's apartment, for with the doorway open, it was light enough to see everything, and outside the lurid heavens ablaze above them seemed to make it brighter than day; but it was an unnatural, almost an infernal, brightness.
"The main body of fire should be here at a quarter past nine," remarked Salathiel, as though he were speaking of something which scarcely concerned them. "Everything that can be done to mitigate or avert disaster has been done. We have nothing now to do but wait."
"That's the hardest part of the business," ejaculated Lennox, puffing at his pipe.
They were all seated outside on some fragments of rock, which had been arranged by some one as rough seats, but not a man of them spoke further.
"Look here, my friends," said Salathiel suddenly, "we had better talk, or the awful magnificence of this thing will unnerve us altogether, and perhaps incapacitate us for action when the crisis comes. Just look yonder at the lake, it's crimson with the reflection of the sky; and see, here comes the advance guard of the battalions of fire."
Lighted brands and sparks carried by the gale were now dropping thickly in the glen, like rockets from the sky. "It's useless to waste our strength trying to put anything out," said Jack; "we shall want it presently to save ourselves. We can't save the glen, that's doomed. See, there goes Dan Morley's shanty!"
"What do you think of it?" said Sir James, turning around to Amos. "I stood once," he continued, "on the deck of a burning vessel in mid-ocean; but for appalling splendour this surpasses everything!"
"It is like what the prophet saw at Dotham," said Amos, in an awed, scarcely audible voice. "The mountains around the city were full of chariots and horses of fire."
"Ah," said Salathiel eagerly, as though a familiar chord had been struck, "that's it! 'He will deliver us from the devices of them that hate us.'"
It was no use, however, the scene was too grand and awful, and the tension too extreme, for speech.
Yet, there was one, a woman, who in that dread hour not only spoke but sang. A voice came from one of the caves:
"Hide me, oh my Saviour hide!
Till the storm of life be past."
The men listened to the weird, sweet melody; but no one spoke. It was strange in this supreme moment, when the whole sky-line seemed filled with death-faces, how these men, who calmly waited there for death by fire, should have been interested mentally in trivial things.
They followed with their eyes the gradual descent of sparks and burning brands, wondering mechanically which would fire a house, or tree, or paddock first. They were interested in the wombats and other strange animals hopping and running about, with strange, terrified cries, near the lake. A couple of horses came galloping and snorting down the glen, with flowing tails and manes; but no one spoke. Presently came a dull roar, and then a terrific explosion, which shook the glen and brought tons of rock down on all sides. It broke the spell!
"Come inside," cried Salathiel, "and I'll close the door: that was the magazine exploded. Moore ought to hear it if he is anywhere between this and Kingdon Ponds."
What followed was beyond description. Sir James looked for a moment into what seemed, in a lightning glance, to be a furnace of blinding white flame. He drew back dazzled and suffocated, and banged the door. The glen was filled with igneous, stifling gases, which exploded with thunderous and stupefying reports, and burned with blue and white flames. The door, sheathed with iron, was bolted and barred, and the men sat near the wall, breathing heavily in the hot, noxious, suffocating air. Amos suddenly fell forward, fortunately upon some skins; he had fainted; all ran to his assistance. Salathiel loosed his collar and cravat, and Lennox sprinkled water upon his face.
Half an hour of semi-suffocation followed. They gasped and panted; it was too hot to sweat; the fire seemed to have scorched and dried them to the bone.
Presently Salathiel went to the door and listened for some time, and then flung it open. The glen was still burning like a furnace, but somehow they breathed more freely. He explained it in a few words. "Thank God! the worst is over. The wind has changed, and it has begun to sprinkle with rain."
Alas! there were those, in other hiding-places, for whom the change had come too late.
Blessed is the rain which falls through a fire-scorched atmosphere upon a fire-burnt land. There is life and healing in every crystal drop, and the blackened earth opens its myriad mouths to drink it in.
There was no heavy rain, either that night or the following day, and the forest fires still burnt fiercely; but the wind had changed to south, and the rain which fell upon the country saved the lives of those who had survived the horrors of the previous night. It had left marks upon most of them, however, which time would never wholly heal. Sir James that morning found his brown hair streaked with grey. Amos had received a shock from which he would never quite recover. Bob and Lennox had escaped; but Salathiel carried an ugly burn on his left hand and arm, which he had received in one of his attempts to help others during the early morning.
But it was the people in the lower caves who had suffered most, and among the dead were seven children, three women, and Dan Morley, all asphyxiated by poisonous fumes. Dan's blindness had evidently brought about his death, for he was badly scorched, and had seemingly been suffocated outside the cave. It was known that sulphur was found in parts of the glen, and probably sulphurous fumes arising through the great heat had lengthened the terrible death-roll. The desolated glen was still burning, and it is little wonder that on that sad morning Salathiel's face was stern and gloomy, or that he should have been heard repeating from the Hebrew Scriptures: "Of Thy mercy cut off mine enemies, and destroy all them that afflict my soul."
"How soon can you get me out of this?" said Sir James, later in the day. "I mean to go straight back and interview the Governor and Chief Justice, and lay the whole facts of this affair before them. Here are eleven persons practically murdered, and those who were principals or accessaries to the crime ought to be immediately arrested, and eventually hanged."
"There will be no one hanged by this administration for the death of poor vagrants such as these," said Salathiel bitterly; "and I fear your mission will prove unsuccessful. But apart from that, it may be several days before we can see you safely on to the Maitland-road again. It will not be possible to travel through the ranges until the fires have either burnt out or been smothered by heavy rains. You see, the forest is still well alight, and it will continue so for several days: it is only the change of wind to the south that has cooled the atmosphere."
"Have you food for all these people?" asked Sir James abruptly.
"Plenty for a month or more," replied Salathiel. "We have stores of all kinds in the caves, and fodder for the animals; but I am thinking now of the dead more than the living; we have to entomb them at once, owing to the heat and because the cave in which they lie is needed for the living. Will you come and view them, so that you could identify them if need be? It may interest you also to witness the funeral ceremony. We don't bury our dead in graves, you know. I might be tried some day for some one's murder, unless I could produce the body on demand and prove the cause of decease."
"Surely you are not able to preserve the bodies?" said Sir James.
"That's just what we are able to do," replied Salathiel; "but come and see."
They walked for a quarter of a mile along the natural terrace which flanked the western rock-wall of the glen. Heavy timber was still burning on the flats, but the whole of the undergrowth and grass had already been destroyed. What on the previous day had been so fair and green, was now a bed of hot black ashes, dotted over with fallen trees, still smouldering red, or blazing with yellow flames.
They found only Lennox in the cave; he was completing some of the last offices of respect and mercy to the dead. The bodies lay side by side on a raised platform, the eyes of each closed down and covered with a silver coin. The faces seemed strangely dark—the result of death by suffocation; but the features were placid, and two of the younger children, girls of seven and ten, with well-proportioned, rounded limbs and cheeks, and sunny curls, might, but for the colour of their flesh, have been smiling in their sleep. Their names and ages, carefully inscribed on cards, were fastened to the breast of each. They lay attired in the simple garments in which, on that night of terror and amazement, they had died, but covered with white vestments, in preparation for their simple burial.
As Sir James carefully scrutinized their features, he made a note of names and ages in his pocket-book, and occasionally added a few words as to height, or other matters which occurred to him.
"I see there is a Mrs. Mary Conway, and Flora and Alice Conway, seven years and ten," he said. "Are they mother and daughters?"
"Yes, poor souls! I found them in the Moonbi Hills in a shanty one day. The police were after the man for alleged cattle stealing, and the woman and the children were starving. I had them brought into the glen, and carried little Flora there, for miles, in front of me on the saddle. The husband is with us now, a decent chap enough, but fond of drink when he can get it; he's heart-broken over this affair; perhaps it's best for them, however," continued Salathiel with faltering voice. "I used to call little Flora there my kiddie, for her mother would have it that I saved her life. But listen! There's the death-drum calling the people together for the funeral. The bearers will be here directly with the stretchers."
The funeral gave the barrister opportunity to see almost all the inhabitants of this strange place, and he stood aside as two men headed the procession with the body of Dan Morley; then came the corpses of the three women, and after them the seven children. Ned Fenton, Dandy Snow, and three sentinels were absent; but there were others, who followed as mourners, chief among whom walked Salathiel and Sir James. There was no crape, nor flowers, nor pomp of grief, but the sorrow was none the less sincere as they followed silently up the glen, over the still warm ashes of the fire, to the chamber of the dead.
Sir James asked no question; but he pondered long as to how they were going to dispose of all these bodies, and keep them so as to be produced, as Salathiel put it, on demand.
They came at last to a turn in the glen where was a short flight of steps cut in the rock, which sloped at an angle to the north-west. The bearers wended their way upward, without any pause, and entered the large cave, to which access had thus been obtained. The air of the cave was hot, like all else about the glen, but it had a strange, sulphurous smell, and on a sloping ledge, laid side by side, were five bodies, each perfectly preserved, saving that the flesh appeared almost snow-white, as though bleached by some chemical. When all had entered, the bearers laid their burdens side by side upon the floor, and stood with bowed heads while Salathiel read a prayer and the ninetieth Psalm; each was then sprinkled with a little water, after the fashion of the Jews, and reverently placed upon the sloping ledge, the last one filling up the available space. Another psalm was read, the Hebrew benediction pronounced, and the sad-browed mourners returned in silence to the southern caves. Salathiel was the last to leave; he closed the heavy door and fastened it. Never perhaps was a sadder or more silent funeral. It was as though the fire had bereaved them, not only of those dead ones, but of hope.
That night there was a thunderstorm, and the rain poured down in torrents, and next day Salathiel made arrangements for his visitors to leave the glen. He took six of the gang with him, for care had to be taken of their guests, whose horses might accidentally tread upon burning embers and become restive; besides, Salathiel thought it not unlikely that they would find police about, on the look out for any destitute wanderers who might have escaped the fires. He said to Lennox as they rode along, "Captain Moore may get a bit of a shock if he falls in with us to-day. We are seven men, notwithstanding his fire, well clothed, well horsed, and well armed; and, if he compels me to do it, I'll make the glen as secure and comfortable and well provisioned as it was before the fire."
Said Sir James, as they rode abreast again in more open country, "What is the secret of that cave of yours where you bury your dead? What is it that preserves the bodies and bleaches them?"
"Sulphur," replied Jack: "when closed up, the caves become quite filled up with its fumes. You know one of the few burning mountains of Australia is not far away from us, and we think that it is somehow connected with the cave; but don't ask me to explain the matter to you, for I can't. We found out its preservative properties by accident, and after putting the door to it, they seemed to have been vastly increased. For myself, I would far sooner bury our dead out of sight; but under present circumstances it may be best to be able to show the bodies to the authorities if any questions should be raised as to the manner of their decease. However you can answer, I think, for seven of them."
They were by this time clear of the fire zone, and dismounted by a creek to partake of lunch and let the horses crop the grass and herbage.
"I hope to be in Sydney in three or four days," said the barrister. "I shall never forget what I have seen up here, and I will strain every legal and social influence I possess to secure for you liberty to leave Australia; but you must not tie my hands by doing anything to prejudice my case. There must be no fighting with Captain Moore. No retaliation! Keep out of his way, and let me try other means for his punishment. Get whatever supplies you want, and pay for them; keep a firm hand on your men, and see that they don't embroil themselves with any police who may be about. Act on the defensive by all means; but keep quiet for a fortnight, and about then you shall hear from me for certain."
"You are asking a hard thing, my friend," said Jack; "but so far as lies in my power I will do it. I think the very most they will offer will be to connive secretly at my escape from Australia; but I am far from feeling sure even of that. Let me say, however, I will die fighting in these ranges rather than desert the men who have stood by me, and risked their lives many a time for my safety."
They were now only a couple of miles from the Maitland-road, so at the lawyer's request, Salathiel and his men went no farther, and Sir James, with Amos and Bob, rode on alone.
The letter Amos had written to Betsy was one of several which had been entrusted to Sir James Bennett for delivery. Salathiel thought him the safest custodian in the event of the party being met and questioned, or possibly searched, by Captain Moore's police.
They proposed to go only as far as Kingdon Ponds that day, a hamlet on the Northern-road, at the foot of the Ranges. Amos was evidently suffering from great weakness and fatigue, although the brave heart of the old man would not allow him to say so. They travelled slowly until their destination was reached, and stopping at the inn, handed their tired horses over to a convict man-servant. Here everything was done to make Sir James and his companions comfortable. It surprised the lawyer, however, that no questions were asked by their host; the man seemed to have no curiosity as to whence they came or whither they were bound. Amos guessed at once that the reticence arose from Salathiel's proximity. "These people," he thought, "living in peace and quietness close to his stronghold, are not likely to say much;" but, shrewd lawyer as he was, Sir James, steeped in the prejudice of class, which blinds the eyes to the condition and thoughts of lowlier brethren, ascribed it to boorish indifference.
Nevertheless, what he had witnessed in the Glen of Adullam had caused a mental upheaval in the lawyer's mind. He began to see things differently, and asked himself whether these sinners against society had not, after all, some moral rights; and whether chains, handcuffs, cat-o'-nine-tails, and gallows were the best unguents for the sores of the body politic.
What had perhaps astonished him most was that these disreputable people, left absolutely to themselves, should fly their country's flag over that lonely mountain stronghold, even when hunted by the police like beasts of prey. It was a new idea that an outlaw might be a patriot. How otherwise was he to explain the Union Jack fluttering above this desperate Adullam brotherhood? "Wentworth was right," he said to himself. "We want more humanity and justice; men like Salathiel are practically at the irresponsible disposal of the civil and military authorities. And the civil and military authorities here are machines without conscience or heart." With such thoughts in his mind, he sat surveying the unfamiliar landscape as he smoked a cigar on the veranda of the inn. It was getting late in the afternoon. Amos was resting, and Bob waiting upon him with the affection of a son or younger brother.
Kingdon Ponds seemed just then the quietest hamlet in New South Wales. It was pretty enough, on the slope of a small hill, with a willow-fringed creek, and almost surrounded by mountains. It lay to the south-east of the fire-blackened ranges, and the lawyer was wondering how it came about that the place had escaped. Suddenly he heard the sound of a number of approaching horsemen. As they drew nearer he saw that they were soldiers, and that there were about twenty of them. The lawyer drew back into the shade of some creepers and watched them ride through the hamlet without stopping, as though in haste.
"What does this mean?" he thought. "Seemingly they are riding to Murrurundi from Maitland? What can they be after in such a hurry?" Then his mind naturally turned to Salathiel and the recent attempt of Captain Moore to burn him out.
The landlord came forward just then to watch the troops as they disappeared up the road.
"What's brought them here?" said the lawyer.
"You haven't heard, sir?" answered the man. "I'll bring you the newspapers. They are after Captain Jack."
If, a quarter of an hour afterward, Sir James had gone up the hill a short distance, and turned into the Bush on the left, he might have seen the convict who had taken their horses climb to the topmost limb of a giant gum-tree. The man carried a small looking-glass, with which he was signalling by a system of code flashes, invented by Salathiel, to the bushranger's look-out above the glen. He had flashed danger, and had been answered, and was then giving particulars of the number of troopers and other information gleaned from the newspapers. It was a rude adaptation of the principle of the heliostat, and by this means Adullam, although eighteen miles, as the crow flies, from Kingdon Ponds, was kept in touch with much that was happening in the outside world. In fact, the inn, which to outsiders appeared like dozens of others on the road—a public-house with a fairly prosperous selection attached to it—was really a receiving store for Salathiel. For a week, however, the fires had prevented any communication by signal until the occasion now described.
"Salathiel should be back in the glen by this time," thought the lawyer, "and a hundred soldiers could not do much against him there." But he felt uneasy, and was soon to be made much more so, for just then the innkeeper brought him several newspapers. He had not seen one for a week, and was glad to find among them both Maitland and Sydney Journals. Two of the latter were dailies, so he had plenty to occupy his attention. He sorted them out, arranged them as to dates, and then looked through the oldest. Finding nothing of much interest, he took the next. There was a paragraph in this, evidently inspired, which referred to an attempt about to be made by the police authorities to capture Salathiel and his gang. A later paper reported Sir James Bennett missing from his party. The following day it was announced that information had been received of the lawyer's capture by Salathiel's gang. "There was grave apprehension," the report went on to say, "that owing to Sir James's attitude towards the bushranger at the 'sticking up' of Broadhaven Station, he might receive rough treatment, and even forfeit his life." The same paper stated that fierce forest fires were burning in the northern ranges.
"Getting a bit more interesting," said our friend, as he took up a paper of the next date. This was a late copy of the Maitland Mercury, published tri-weekly. It contained an article headed "Salathiel sets the forest on fire."
"That's Moore all over," thought Sir James, "to carry the war into the enemies' camp in that fashion. I suppose the fire proved a bigger and more destructive thing than he had anticipated; so he has put the starting of it upon Salathiel's shoulders; but let's see what they say?" The article, slightly abbreviated, read as follows:
"The authorities have again been frustrated by the desperate strategy of the outlaw of the Liverpool ranges who, when the police had him and his gang practically in their hands, rather than be taken, fired the forest and drove back the cordon of police by a seething wall of fire. Miles of forest are now burning fiercely, and if the present hot gales continue, enormous damage to the surrounding country may be done. Great volumes of black smoke have in places darkened the sky, blotting out the sun for hours at a time. Grass fires have been lit in many parts by the dropping of burning brands, which the gale in some places has carried alight for a distance of fifteen and twenty miles. The sight of the burning forest from adjacent townships is described as magnificent, but the author of this disastrous conflagration which, it will be seen by reference to another column, has already caused the destruction of several station homesteads and hundreds of acres of grass and crops should be at once brought to justice. That any one man should be able to hold the authorities at defiance and menace the security of the country residents in this fashion is a reflection upon the Government. Captain Moore and his men are to be complimented upon their courage in following the outlaw to his lair, and every right-minded citizen will be thankful if he has the good luck to capture the gang. This fire should prove to Salathiel's sympathizers—of whom, we are sorry to say, there are a good many in the northern district—how utterly reckless and callous he is for the losses and sufferings of the community at large. A man who could deliberately fire the forest during a continuation of hot gales such as the Colony has experienced this week, is a monster in human form, deserving the execration of every humane and law abiding citizen. A determined effort should now be made to take these miscreants and discover the fate of Sir James Bennett. If Captain Moore wants assistance to do this a strong detachment of soldiers should be sent up from Maitland to assist him."
"Good Heavens!" ejaculated Sir James, "give a dog a bad name and you may hang him. I suppose the fact is Moore finds that his fire has attained such colossal dimensions that he hastens to get the blame of it on some one else's shoulders. Ah, I thought so!"
He had taken up a later journal.
"Great fires at Musselbrook and Jerry's Plains," he read, glancing at the prominent particulars; "fifteen houses burnt; five lives lost. The military called out to support Captain Moore. Further contingent of police sent up to assist in apprehending Salathiel's gang; reward increased to a thousand pounds. Any convict furnishing information which will lead to Salathiel's apprehension will receive, in addition to one thousand pounds' reward, a free pardon, and free passage home."
"What an unlucky beggar he is!" said Sir James himself; "misfortune seems to dog his steps. His prospects seemed most hopeful, and the very door of opportunity stood ajar for his escape. And all this happens. These fires and Moore's cursed duplicity will enormously increase my difficulty in approaching the authorities. Then there is the chance that some convict may sell him to the police. It's a big bait. One thousand pounds, free pardon, and home! He ought, somehow, to be warned at once."
There was a sitting-room behind this end of the veranda, and Sir James went in and rang the bell, which stood by the side of an ash-tray and water-bottle, upon a round cedar table.
It was a singular situation—one of the leading barristers of the Colony, who often acted as Crown prosecutor, and had not the slightest sympathy with crime or criminals, was planning how to keep the most notorious outlaw in Australia out of the hands of the police.
"Sit down," said the lawyer to the innkeeper; "I wish to speak to you privately for a moment," and Sir James looked round the little room, and at a door which led into the bedroom he was to occupy.
"There's no one about, Sir James."
"Ah! that's right; what I'm about to say to you is quite confidential."
The innkeeper, who was a fairly stout and middle-aged but athletic man, nodded respectfully. He was evidently not a man of many words.
"Have you read these papers?" asked Sir James.
"Could manage to send them up to him?"
"I beg your pardon, Sir James; whom do you refer to?"
"My good man, you know whom I mean. To Salathiel."
"No, sir, I could not. I'm a law-abiding man, and not in league with bushrangers."
Sir James looked at him long and curiously, and then said, "You evidently know your lesson; but you cannot deceive me. Living so close as this too! Aren't you ever visited by some of them?"
"Often, sir, and I always give them a drink when they want it. They have never injured me, nor any of my customers; but I can't promise to communicate with them. If it is your wish, Sir James, and one of them happens to call I'll give them the papers."
Sir James looked at the man; he was annoyed and baffled; but it was the attitude of more than half the surrounding population in regard to Salathiel.
Now, the barrister did not wish to commit himself to this man, and yet he was determined, if possible, that Salathiel should be warned that night. He pointed with his finger to the pile of papers and took a five-pound note from his pocket book. "Listen!" he said sternly, "Last week Salathiel saved my life; I want him to be warned immediately."
The man looked at the note, folded it up and—returned it. "I beg your pardon, Sir James," he said, "but that is not necessary. If, as you say, he saved your life, I don't think you would betray him. He's a white man," he whispered, "whatever may be said about him, and although at the risk of a man's life, those papers shall be in Adullam by to-morrow morning; but pardon me, Sir James, they already know that the military are up. And, between ourselves, those newspaper reports are mostly lies. It was the police that fired the forest! Why, they made no secret of it! Came in here afterwards and told us, and had a drink."
By daylight the following morning the travellers had started for Patrick's Plains, but the cautious barrister said nothing to his companions of what he had read in the newspapers.
To preserve the continuity of this story we must put back the clock of time for a few days. It will be remembered that Ned Fenton and Dandy Snow left the glen by the north entrance on the morning of the day of the fire. The avowed purpose of their journey should have led them north of the range, but after they had descended to the foot-hills, clear of the belt of fire, they rode eastwards and lit their pipes for a smoke. It was evident that each had something on his mind that hot morning, but neither seemed to know exactly how to broach it.
"Are we expected back to-night?" asked Dandy, after a long silence.
"We can please ourselves," replied Ned evasively.
"Let's toss for it, whether we go back or not," said Dandy.
"All right," replied Ned.
The two men looked at each other: it was a look that said more than either of them would have cared just then to put into words, and they rode on for a long time in silence. Presently they stopped their horses in the midst of a dense jungle of forest, where tree-ferns and great creepers filled up the spaces between the boles of giant gum-trees. Before them was a tree, perfectly hollow and fully three hundred feet high, although some thirty feet of the top had been blown off. It was so large that eight of Salathiel's men, on horseback, had once hidden in it. Bunks were fixed on one side, and opposite was a rough table and seats. It was a forest hiding-place of the bushrangers. The two men hung their horses up just inside the entrance.
"Now for it," said Snow, "heads the Queen, tails Salathiel."
"Agreed," replied Fenton.
A shilling spun in the air and fell upon the table.
"Don't touch it," called out Dandy Snow, as it seemed likely to roll off the table. It fell close to the edge with the Queen's head uppermost.
Both men drew a long breath, and then heaved a sigh.
"It's just as well," said Fenton; "we shall save our necks and get our freedom at any rate. Whether we show him or not, Moore will fire the western forest to-night, and in my opinion that will be Captain Jack's last kick. There's been nothing in it lately," he continued; "we must not do this, nor that, and we are getting as moral as churchwardens. There's food and clothes and money, I'll allow; but it isn't bushranging."
Ever since a disciple betrayed the Saviour, a man's foes have been those of his own household. If Salathiel had been asked to name those whom he trusted most fully, he would assuredly have included Ned Fenton and Dandy Snow; and yet, regardless of oaths, and gratitude, and friendship, they had sold Salathiel a week before to the police. Sold him for money and their own beggarly lives, and were now, on the toss of a coin, going to show Captain Moore, when the signal was given, the best place to fire the western forest, and send floods of flame down on their old haunts and companions.
But we pass over this miserable story of treachery, and push on the clock again to the day following the departure of Sir James and his companions. Fenton and Snow, learning of the escape of the gang, had again joined Salathiel, and Lennox had returned to take charge of affairs in the glen again.
Jack, wholly ignorant of treachery and danger, determined, before returning to the glen, to visit Kingdon Ponds for news and stores. He knew nothing of the warnings which had been signalled to the stronghold, for the look-out had entrusted the message of danger to the traitors, to commmunicate to Salathiel. Fenton and Snow, professing to know the movements of the police, suggested that the old track to Kingdon Ponds was perfectly safe, although they knew that a large force of police and soldiers were waiting there in ambush. The whole party rode on, Salathiel in advance, absorbed in thought and meditation. He was following a faint track, which might have been made by wild cattle, leading into a rough, narrow gully, where Nature seemed to have run wild for centuries. Fleetfoot suddenly started, lifted his head, and half stopped. "What's the matter, old man?" said Salathiel, and drawing rein, he stood and listened.
He could hear nothing unusual; in a tree in front of him were a couple of giant kingfishers, a bird commonly known in Australia as the laughing jackass, and beyond, under some tree-ferns, on a few yards of glassy flat several kangaroos were quietly feeding.
Salathiel rode on without hesitation, for he concluded, as would any good Bushman, that no strangers could be near, or the birds and animals would have been invisible. He did not know that that very gully had been surrounded by silent watchers for two days. But the most careful make mistakes sometimes.
A close observer might have seen Fenton and Snow turn pale as Captain Jack drew rein before entering the gully. They were riding a little distance behind, and a significant glance passed between them as, half a minute later, Salathiel rode on and passed leisurely down a steep pinch into the gully. The whole of the gang followed, and the gully closed around them.
It was a wild, moist depression, about five hundred yards in length, with a creek skirting precipitous rocks on the one hand, and a steep ridge on the other. The vegetation was dense with bushes; tree-ferns and a tangled mass of vines hanging between big gum-trees had to be avoided, as they wended their way, single file, between projecting rocks and great floating boulders, occasionally stepping their horses over half-decayed trunks of trees. Except for the babbling of the running creek and the sough of the south wind in the tops of the tall gum-trees, the place was as still as death. And yet, at every few yards, on all sides of them, were the loaded muskets and rifles of over forty soldiers and police.
They were trapped as completely as if they had ridden into an iron cage.
Half-way through the gully Salathiel stopped again and listened, for Fleetfoot was strangely restless. It was not at the gully, for he had been through it before scores of times. They all pulled up, and there was quietness, until the sudden shrill of a whistle was heard, followed immediately by the discharge of twenty rifles all around them. Every second man had fired, as previously arranged, in order that the bushrangers might know themselves surrounded by an overwhelming force.
Salathiel wheeled his horse round, confronting Fenton and Snow; one glance at them was enough. He had a revolver in his hand. "Put your hands up," he whispered sternly. "One word above your breath and you are dead men! Take their weapons," he said to two men who had ridden up. "Now tie them to those trees facing the ridge. They're traitors! Bullets will be flying around shortly; we'll leave them to be shot by their friends."
"Now, men," he said calmly, "tether the horses under those rocks. It's our own gully, and we could not have struck it at a better point for defence. Keep under cover right and left of the traitors, and, unless in defence, let no one shoot until I give the word."
For half an hour no sounds, save those of Nature, disturbed the silence of the Bush.
Captain Moore had the gully completely surrounded; but the police and soldiers knew that they had to deal with six desperate men who were expert shots, and they were in no hurry to begin hostilities. Arrangements had been made, if necessary, to hold the gully for a week and starve them out; but there was no telling just then exactly what might happen. Having caught them, the leaders of the police were holding a council of war, and in the meantime the bushrangers kept silent guard and waited for Salathiel, who was pacing up and down, under cover of a big rock, seeking to evolve some plan for their escape. Fenton and Snow had been gagged, and warned that if they made the slightest noise to attract the attention of the enemy they would be shot at once. And so the evening settled down upon them all—soldiers, police, and bushrangers. The gang was run to earth, but the question was how to get them out and handcuff them, without too much loss of life. A fox may be hunted, or decoyed into his lair; but it is another matter to put your hand in and bring him out.
The council of war must have proved somewhat barren of results, for the soldiers and police decided to continue to watch the gully only, and wait for the morning. It was a risk; but, said Captain Moore, "We have them surrounded; they can't possibly escape, and I have sent for more help with which to rush the gully to-morrow morning."
Salathiel in the meantime had come back from his council of one, with a dark glance for the traitors, but a cheery word for his men. "We have been trapped by treachery," he said, "but we are not yet caught. They evidently won't risk attacking us to-night, and they cannot shoot except at haphazard from the ridges, for we are splendidly covered. I have a plan, which I'll tell you of later, but in the meantime we must guard each end of the gully carefully. Unless I am much mistaken, we shall have help from Adullam before the night is over. Kingdon Ponds knows about this, and will have signalled to the glen before sunset, and Lennox and others will be hanging around in the morning, or perhaps before. The mopoke-cry will be our best signal. There are sure to be birds about in a place like this; you will know the difference. I find that our transport store in the gully has just been replenished from Kingdon Ponds, so, as soon as it is dark enough to get water from the creek with safety, we'll boil a billy of tea and have supper."
There was one thing, however, which Salathiel did not tell his men until later in the night. All along the bottom of the gully blue gums were growing, some of them fully 180 feet high. These towered, at least fifty feet above the ridges occupied by the police and troopers. It would of course have been impossible to climb them, unobserved, in the daytime, but on a dark night such as that which was now fast closing in upon them half a dozen good shots stationed in these trees could pick off their opponents with ease.
Salathiel had determined to climb one of these after dark, to see for himself what advantages they offered, and whether he could see anything up there to help him in his plan of escape.
Night had no sooner set in than the melancholy call of a mopoke sounded in the gully, and was answered again and again from the Bush, showing that a number of these night-birds were located around. There was no sound nor light which could be heard or seen from the gully, so water was got up for the tea, and a fire lit in an underground trench, where the smoke could be smothered; thus by detachments the men were able to partake of a substantial meal.
It was about nine o'clock when Salathiel, with a short rifle slung on his back, and tomahawk and revolver in belt, commenced to climb one of the great gum-trees.
Although the gang was trapped and surrounded, Salathiel still believed that there was a way of escape, if only he could hit upon it. "There is a way out of most difficulties," said the voice which spoke to him from within, "and the failure to see it is the cause of most disasters. The way to cheat Moore is as plain as the nose on your face; you see it already with your inner consciousness, but you don't yet perceive it. Wake up, Jack! wake up!"
Now it was not very strange that this particular gully should have been chosen by Inspector Moore for the ambush, for it was the only one thereabouts, handy to Kingdon Ponds; nor was it strange that a clever man like Salathiel should some time before have chosen it as a hiding-place for stores in transit to his stronghold, for to keep Adullam supplied with necessities, to say nothing of luxuries, without outsiders tracing the paths by which they were brought, required considerable strategy. A dray road or horse track from the inn to the ranges would have been evidence enough to put the innkeeper into prison, and, for the matter of that, hang him.
So it may be well to explain here that the secret value of this gully to Salathiel lay in the rushing creek which tumbled its foaming waters into the gully on the north-west, and ran noisily along its northern boundary by the side of precipitous rocks, grumbling and tumbling over a stony bed eastward, until it was lost in a dense growth of bushes at its exit. It was this stream which, spreading itself out and flowing so peacefully through the adjoining hamlet, Sir James had looked upon, as he smoked one of Salathiel's cigars on a certain afternoon.
Now, as is commonly the case in Australia, the creek was thickly edged with bushes on both banks. Salathiel had taken advantage of this to blind the track of his pack horses from the inn, for the pebbly bottom of the watercourse had for some time been used as a roadway, along which the bushrangers travelled from an ordinary and unsuspicious wateringplace for cattle. It was natural enough that there should be a beaten track from this watering-place to the inn, for a string of horses were led down there every day to drink; but few would have dreamt that, for nearly two miles, the high-road for goods to Salathiel's stronghold was by the waterway of the creek. Salathiel hoped that the secret of this waterway had not been revealed to the police by the informers. It was indeed quite possible that Fenton and Snow had no knowledge of it, for Salathiel's policy with the gang had been to subdivide, as much as possible, work, knowledge, and responsibility, and the two informers had not at any time been engaged in transit of stores in bulk from Kingdon Ponds to the gully.
Salathiel, of course, thought of this waterway as a possible means of escape; but it was sure to be well guarded, and unless a diversion could be made at the northern end of the gully he feared that there would be no escape without considerable loss of life. Not that the police or soldiers were likely to discover the secret of the creek themselves, for at the time of this story neither soldiers nor police were remarkable for enterprise or sagacity.
Such were some of the thoughts in Jack's mind as he started to climb a gum-tree which overtopped the gully. He did so without shoes, with knotted lengths of green hide around the butt, after the fashion of the aboriginals. He climbed thus to the first branch, where he rested and listened.
Hearing nothing, he climbed upward by the branches with less exertion, until he was clear of the lower trees, and the whole gully, with its surrounding ridges, lay below him. Vision is clearer at night from above, and he was soon able to make out the forms of his enemies. They were evidently on the alert, for it was no joke to come to close quarters with Salathiel.
Lying at full length upon a big branch, he noted that the two entrances to the gully were very closely guarded, and that a couple of men were stationed on each side of the cataract down which the creek waters entered. A tent had been pitched on the south—two men were still at work on it. He guessed that the officers intended to sleep, eat, and confer there. It seemed that they expected the capture to occupy them several days.
Many of the men were smoking, but guards with shouldered arms marched to and fro at regular intervals. Others lay on the ground, probably asleep.
There was no fly over the tent, which contained a light, and occasionally the movements of two shadows were visible on the wall and roof.
Listening intently, Salathiel was presently able to catch fragments of conversation. He heard one soldier ask another:
"What was that?" The two men listened for half a minute, and then his fellow replied, "It's an owl, bedad! The gully's just alive with benighted animals, and birds, and bushrangers. When I was doing sentry-go last night on the other side of the creek, after the major had the bushes cut down for the horses to get to water, I saw a big cat with a young kitten sitting on its back."
"That was a native bear, Michael, my boy," replied the other.
"'Deed, then, it might have been a small bear. I've heard from my cousin in 'Meriky that they climb trees there, and eat honey, but I never heard that they carried their cubs on their backs, as they do in this upside-down country."
The man had been lighting his pipe as he talked, and the two then moved away.
"So they've cut down the bushes on the creek bank below the gully," thought Salathiel. "Got a special guard, no doubt, watching the exit."
He proceeded to give his attention to the ridges, for there seemed a good deal of movement there. "Ten o'clock," he whispered to himself; "they're changing guard. McFarlane and Moore will walk around now and inspect them."
It was as Jack surmised, and he lay there for half an hour, while the two officers made their tour of inspection. Neither they nor their men seemed over-anxious to approach the gully; they little thought, however, whose rifle was within easy range of them.
"Heavens!" muttered Salathiel. "What a relief it would be to the whole Colony to put a bullet through him!"
Presently, however, they drew nearer, talking earnestly, and stood together on the bank opposite Salathiel's look-out. He would have given much to catch what they were saying; but it was a close, warm night, and locusts were chirping in some trees close by, which, with the noise of the creek, at first prevented him from hearing anything. He felt aggravated enough to do something desperate, so he crept out farther on the branch and listened intently. Just then the locusts stopped. Captain Moore was speaking.
"It's just after ten, major," he said. "They ought to report themselves soon."
"Report themselves indeed," thought Salathiel "He little guesses that the scoundrels are gagged and tied to gum-trees."
"Quite sure that you can depend upon them?" said a gruff voice.
"Oh, yes, they've gone too far to draw back," said the inspector. "If Salathiel finds them out, he'll no doubt hang the pair of them. I wish he would; it would stop their talk, and save the reward for better people."
"Have they to-night's password?"
"Yes," said Moore; "I gave it to them yesterday, 'Maitland West'; but I'll have to turn in for a couple of hours. I didn't sleep a wink last night. You'll have me called if anything happens?"
At this the two moved on, and separated, and with as little delay as possible Salathiel came down the tree. "He had heard enough," he thought, "to justify going out of the gully to learn more." The password would help him, and he might, if necessary, personate Fenton, for they were about the same size.
He had no sooner touched the ground, however, where two of his men awaited him, than a hand was reached out, and a familiar voice whispered: "Good evening, captain."
It was George Lennox.
"I thought you would come," said Salathiel, gripping his hand; "we're in a tight fix. But how did you get in?"
"By way of 'Maitland West,'" said George, laughing quietly.
"So you know that too!" ejaculated Jack, as he drew him away for a private conference. "Why, I have only just discovered the password myself."
"Oh, they're a lot of blundering new-chums," replied Lennox; "mostly raw Irishmen just out from Erin. I heard it, accidentally, an hour ago."
The night was dark and the bush thick, and Lennox had been able to creep past the sentries at the cataract end of the gully, and had actually come down through the plunging waters unseen. After a brief interchange of news, he informed Salathiel of the steps he had taken with a view to his release. A warning about the ambush and the treachery of Fenton and Snow had been flashed from Kingdon Ponds the previous afternoon, but too late to be of any use. So Lennox had brought all hands down from Adullam, to take part in any movement Salathiel might propose. They were mounted, and lying in wait a mile away to the north-west.
"We must have no bloodshed," said Salathiel, "unless we are absolutely driven to it. I promised that to Sir James. I think, however, that having the password, we may risk a walk outside, and see if we can learn a bit more of their strength and plans. If we could only get quietly out, and leave them here, watching an empty gully for a few days, it wouldn't be a bad move."
"Those two traitors must be punished first," said Lennox, with a passionate oath. "I just overheard one of the police say, that but for them, Moore never would have fired the western forest when he did. It is their treachery that has lost us so many lives."
"How have you arranged with the chaps outside?" asked Salathiel.
"If they hear shots fired in the gully, they are to advance at once and begin firing overhead, to make a counter-demonstration. If your whistle is blown once, they are to retire if attacked; if twice or more, they are to close in to our assistance. There are just ten of them."
"Why," exclaimed Salathiel, "we could defeat them easily, but for that promise to Sir James. There are only forty soldiers and police."
After a whispered communication to one of the men, the two passed down the gully, and stepped quietly down into the creek; it was no deeper than their knees, and as they moved slowly along through the water, they added very little noise to the rippling wash of the stream.
Keeping close to the northern bank, they groped their way carefully along, for the overshadowing bushes made the darkness intense. But on reaching the clearing, to their surprise they found themselves near the rough fence of an extemporized stock-yard, where they estimated that some forty horses were feeding. A sentry, who had no doubt been on guard at the creek, was apparently in conversation with another on the far side of the yard; but the night was so dark, and the trees so dense, that the two, with no great difficulty, crept on all fours through the undergrowth, until at a safe distance.
"Listen!" whispered Salathiel. "With such a large number of police and soldiers, and the gang bottled up in the glen, Moore will not be apprehensive of danger over in the tent. Let us go and see if any one is with him, and what they are doing."
They crept stealthily through the undergrowth to where the light was still burning in the tent; the flap was down, and pausing at the entrance, they heard one person only, breathing heavily as in sleep. It was the Major's watch at the gully, and Moore had evidently turned in for a few hours, as he said he would. There was a tear in the canvas at the back of the tent, which Salathiel noiselessly enlarged with his knife, and looking through, saw within a few feet of him the face of the man who had proved his most bitter and unscrupulous enemy.
Great beads of sweat stood on Salathiel's face, and twice he put his hand to his revolver; he thought of the hell of fire in the glen, which this murderer had let loose on innocent women and children; he thought of the insults to himself, when for some hours he had been chained one day with other unfortunate wretches to the iron ring in the centre of the stone floor of the Maitland lock-up; he thought of one this man had outraged, and afterwards flogged to death; he thought of the insults to his aged father, and He whispered fiercely to Lennox, "George, I'm going in to bind and gag the devil, and carry him into the gully."
"Good!" said Lennox, "I'll help you. One moment," he whispered as Salathiel turned to go, "this'll make a good gag." He knotted his handkerchief around a piece of wood he had picked up, and the two passed stealthily into the tent. Moore awoke as they entered, and recognizing Salathiel, his eyes almost started from his head. He reached for his revolver; but the outlaw was too quick for him, and springing forward he struck him with his fist between the eyes. The inspector fell back dazed, and before he had recovered, was gagged and bound hand and foot.
He had been sleeping on a Bush stretcher, made with a couple of sacks run upon saplings, and supported by forked sticks driven into the ground. They tied him up in the stretcher, wrapped a large rug around him, and, extinguishing the light, were about to carry him out bodily, when they heard footsteps approaching.
It was one of the police, who came quietly up and stood outside. They heard him say: "I would have sworn that there was a light a few minutes ago," Lifting the flap of the tent, little dreaming that a pistol was within a few feet of his eyes, he whispered audibly, "Captain! Captain!"
There was of course no answer, but Lennox drew a couple of long breaths, as a sound sleeper, partly awakened, might have done, and then started to snore gently.
"He's asleep," said the man; "it's a pity! I must come round again in half an hour; it's a chance, with the wind in the west, and not a particle of dew." He dropped the tent flap and went off again, Salathiel and Lennox standing perfectly still as they listened to his departing footsteps.
They had had a narrow escape from a tragedy; but what sort of a purgatory Moore must have been in, it would be hard to describe; he lay perfectly still, however, without the slightest sound or attempt to struggle, for during the whole of the time the cold barrel of Salathiel's revolver was pressed close to his head.
"Did you hear that, Moore?" said Salathiel, "'the wind is in the west and there is not a particle of dew.' I fancy it would be a kindness to shoot you where you are; but there are some people down in the gully who'll be glad to make your acquaintance, so we're going to carry you there; you'll wish yourself dead before you come out again."
He was an ordinary sized man, but the two stalwart outlaws lifted the stretcher with ease, keeping under the trees, where it was pitch dark. In five minutes they were close to the creek, and could hear the noise of the horses stamping as they fed.
"Put him down," said Salathiel, dropping his end under a tree, "and I'll go and see how the land lies, and where those new-chum guards have got to. Our signal to-night is the mopoke's cry, so, if you hear it, answer me. It's as dark as Hades, and I might miss you, and that would be a pity for Moore's sake; but if anything happens, and I don't come back, shoot him, unless you can carry him in."
He was gone before Lennox could reply, and dropping on the grass the latter put his hands over the bonds of his captive, to feel that they were right, and then pressed his pistol against the inspector's forehead to remind him that it was there.
A long silence followed.
The sky was clouded, and as there was neither moon nor stars, the darkness was complete. The hand held a foot from the face would have been invisible; but there were a number of audible sounds.
It is in full daylight only that the silence of the Australian Bush is so noticeable. That awful, deathlike hush passes away with the setting sun, and the vast solitudes become peopled with multitudinous sounds. The listener hears the movements of things that creep and crawl; of animals that hop; and heavy wing-birds that fly. The night winds sway the grass and reeds until they whisper; the shredded bark hanging on the trunks of the great gum-trees, flaps weirdly in the wind against their butts.
Branches pressing upon each other will make the strangest sounds; as the wind sways them to and fro, they moan and cry, and sometimes even shriek in heavy gales. The fox, when hunting, barks as he follows his prey, and the dingo howls, night-birds hoot and shriek, and bull-frogs croak; and such noises are most frequently heard near creeks or waterholes.
Similar, and other, sounds were borne out of the night to Lennox, as he awaited Salathiel's return. Listening, he presently heard a wombat's grunt among the horses at the far end of the extemporized stock-yard. The animals pawed the ground restlessly, and the wombat grunted again. This was followed by the sound of hurried feet and men's voices, and directly afterward Salathiel appeared, and picking up the stretcher whispered, "It's all right; I've given them some trouble with their horses. Come quickly." A few minutes afterwards, they stepped with their burden into the creek, and turning up stream, were lost in the darkness. They moved along very slowly in the intense gloom; but, as it became lighter, they stepped from the creek to dry ground in the gully, and carried their burden to a spot where men with rifles stood by the trees on guard.
"Anything to report?" whispered Salathiel.
"That's good," said Salathiel. "Now let me introduce you to one you may have met with before; if not, you will certainly know him by name: Captain Moore, Inspector of Police for the Colony of New South Wales. Tie him to a tree, he'll be safer that way than lying on the ground; there's one between Fenton and Snow. They know each other quite well."
Captain Moore was what the convict system had made him, a bully and a brute; but he was no coward. One of the last representatives of a revengeful administration of criminal law, he was not by any means popular with the community; but it would be difficult to describe the detestation in which he was held by the convict class. Many of these, it should be remembered, were worthy men, who had been transported for political or trivial offences; but Moore's dealings with them showed no discrimination or humanity. To him they were all jail-birds, to be put down, and kept down, and humiliated, and flogged, and reminded of their lost condition at every opportunity.
He would walk or ride through the principal streets of Sydney, at all hours of the day, and woe betide the convict or emancipist, no matter how respected or wealthy, who failed to bare his head as he passed by. These people had no civil rights (until their names had been inserted in some general pardon under the Great Seal of England*). Whether emancipated, assigned, or in prison, they belonged to the convict class, which was under the brutal authority of the chief inspector. They, in return, cordially hated him, and it is not to be wondered at that again and again attempts were made upon his life.
(*Lists of hundreds of such names may be read in the newspapers of those days.)
There were, of course, many men in official positions of a totally different character and disposition; but unfortunately, a laisser faire policy obtained at this period, from the Governor downward, and it gave men like Moore their opportunity to do incalculable harm to the body politic. However, Nemesis had overtaken Moore at last. At the very time he planned to destroy Salathiel he found himself a prisoner, gagged and bound, at Salathiel's mercy; and he knew the outlaw too well to dare to hope.
While the bushrangers completed their preparations for escape, Moore was carefully guarded by two of the men. In bygone days he had sentenced one of them to five hundred lashes, and they feared and hated him. It is little wonder that, in their leader's absence, they seized the opportunity to pour contumely on the head of their ancient oppressor. They had none of Salathiel's chivalry for a beaten foe. They tweaked his nose and pinched his flesh, spat into his face and cursed, reviled and threatened him in lurid whispers.
It was two in the morning when the preparations were complete. No shot had been fired, nor sign made from the ridges; but not for an instant had the vigilance of the outlaws been relaxed. They knew that dozens of eyes all around the ridges peered through the darkness into the gully, and that many ears listened to catch the faintest sound; at any moment fire might be opened upon them, or a firestick put to the dry grass and undergrowth which filled the gully.
About half-past two the prisoners had reason to be apprehensive that their end was near, for one by one they were cast loose from the trees and removed higher up the gully. There, three stout gums grew close together. Moore was bound to the middle one, so that he faced the north-west; Fenton and Snow were made fast to right and left; then some oil lamps, used for traversing the creek at night, were brought and, ready for lighting, were firmly fixed over the head of each man, loose branches were gathered and heaped around them.
"Listen!" said Salathiel in a loud whisper. "You are all murderers and have forfeited your lives, and two of you are traitors. I might justly have hanged you; but I prefer to leave you to the upbraiding of conscience and the vengeance of God. You fired the forest last week to burn me out, but you failed; and instead have murdered eleven persons, three of whom were women, and seven innocent young children; they died of suffocation in a sea of fire; and now, you two traitors! hear from me what the police inspector already knows. Unless you should be first shot, the three of you are to be burnt alive; burnt alive by Captain Moore's police, at his own orders. It is quite possible, of course, that when we light the lamps and begin firing from behind, you may be shot by the soldiers, which will be the least painful death; but we shall only shoot you ourselves if there seems to be a chance of your escape. You may relinquish all hope of life, however, and if you know of a God you dare pray to, you had better pray to Him with all your hearts. And know this, Moore, before you pay the penalty of your crimes. The whole of us will escape, and but for a promise made Sir James Bennett, few of your men would return to Sydney alive. Your murderous plan to destroy us with fire up at the glen completely failed. Had you come up to fight me like a man, I would have met you in the same way; but your whole career has been one of cruelty, deception and blood, and now you will die by the hands of your own troopers, caught in your own trap."
"Light the lamps!" he said, turning round to the men, "and let us see the end of it!"
It was a strange and startling sight to the watchers on the ridges when those three lights suddenly shone out of the darkness of the gully. The soldiers and police could not discern the faces of those who were lashed beneath the dazzling gleam, and the bushrangers were all under cover. Probably for three minutes there was silence, and then the order was given from above, to fire.
A volley of bullets came whistling down into the gully, and was immediately replied to by a volley from the bushrangers, while almost simultaneously a volley was fired from the Adullam contingent on the north-west. The latter took the police and soldiers completely by surprise, and immediately two policemen were to be seen dragging blazing boughs behind them across the top of the gully.
They were firing it from the west!
"Shoot the devils, if you can!" cried Salathiel.
As the bullets hissed around them, both policemen ran for their lives and seemed to have escaped uninjured. The grass and dense bushes of the gully leaped into flame, and with the westerly behind, in a few minutes it came sweeping down before the wind in a broad, fantastic sheet of fire.
"Give them another volley," said Salathiel.
They fired, sheltered by the trees, directly behind their prisoners. A hail of bullets was the reply of the ridges, and Moore was shot in the shoulder, while Fenton and Snow, who were completely exposed, received their death warrants.
Another storm of bullets swept the gully, and Salathiel saw Moore's head fall forward.
"The fire will do the rest," he said, as word was given to the gang to make for the creek.
Just then a sharp rattle of rifles was heard from the outlaws in the west, but much nearer.
* * * * * * * * * *
"Now's your time!" cried Salathiel, and at the word, rifle in hand, Lennox stepped into the creek leading his horse; the others followed, and Salathiel, turning his head to give a last look at the blazing gully, brought up the rear. "They are all three done for," he thought.
Lennox had expected to find the outlet of the creek closely guarded; but the sudden attack by the unknown force on the north-west and the disappearance of Captain Moore had evidently disorganized both police and soldiers.
The bushrangers, on stepping out of the creek, really met with no resistance. The men guarding the horses, after firing their guns, ran off to join their comrades.
Sharp knives made short work of halters, and with rails thrown down, guns firing, and the Bush blazing, the terrified horses stampeded westward—the mounted outlaws behind them—at a pace that would carry them miles into the unoccupied country.
"Well done!" cried Salathiel. "Keep well to the right, and join the others." This was soon accomplished, for sweeping around in a half-circle, they quickly reached their fellows, and together opened fire upon police and soldiers. "Fire high!" shouted Salathiel. "Don't kill any of them unless in self-defence."
But some were already wounded—among them the major—and without leaders the wavering soldiers had little relish for the fight. They had no knowledge of the strength of the unknown force which was firing upon them from broken country to the west, and as the word went around that Salathiel and his gang had escaped from the gully, and was being strongly reinforced, a panic-stricken rush was made for the horses. On finding them gone, the excitement and alarm were intensified, and panic-stricken, they forsook their wounded, including the major, and fled madly through the Bush in the direction of Kingdon Ponds.
But it did not suit Salathiel to let them rendezvous there, so some of the bushrangers hung loosely upon their rear, firing occasionally until they were some miles south.
In the meantime, the Bush fire, started by the police, was reddening the sky and assuming wide dimensions. It had swept the gully, and the charred remains of three blackened corpses was all that was left of the two informers and Captain Moore.
Morning found the outlaws searching the western Bush for any who might be dead or injured. They found the major and a couple of wounded soldiers, who were carried on litters to the inn at Kingdon Ponds. Lennox, who had considerable surgical skill, attended as well as he could to their injuries. He thought there was no immediate danger, but arranged for a doctor to be summoned from Patrick's Plains. The gang then returned to the glen, assured that there was little present likelihood of any further attack being made upon them.
Salathiel regretted the whole episode, for he feared that it would nullify the efforts of Sir James Bennett on his behalf, and cause a louder outcry to be raised against him. He might plead that he had shown the greatest forbearance during the whole of this tragic occurrence, and had not been the aggressor; but who would believe the word of an outlaw against that of the police? The deaths of Fenton, Snow, and Captain Moore would in themselves be sufficient to bring the whole gang to the gallows.
But the morning of a new day was dawning for Australia, and for Salathiel too, although, as one of the chief actors in the play, it was not so easy for him to see it as for those farther away from the footlights.
The forget-me-not type of girl, whose idea of love and a lover is centred in herself, is common enough in these days, and was not unknown at the time of our story. How such an one would have fretted during those weeks of waiting at Morpeth! But Betsy was of another type altogether. Her love for Salathiel partook of that sweet, womanly affection which is self-forgetful, and seeks its supreme happiness in another's good; whose unselfishness has, again and again, made men of common clay heroes, and transformed heroes into gods.
It was no petulant, impatient, up-to-date girl that awaited Jack at Morpeth; but a native-born currency lass, who would be found ready to do and dare when the time came for action, but would also wait patiently until the door of opportunity swung ajar. Betsy's aunt, like her mother, was married to a farmer, and no sooner had Amos and her brother started north than Betsy offered to help with the work.
"But you're a visitor, Betsy," expostulated Mrs. Dawson, who had just come in from the dairy.
"I shall be better in health and happier, aunt," replied Betsy, "if I know that I am of some use to you. I shall still have time to read and keep up my school-work, and ride half a dozen miles to keep myself fit; but you must let me help you in the dairy, for I can do everything there, and make beautiful butter."
So Betsy had her way, and won the respect and love of her uncle, and the three boy and two girl cousins she found at Morpeth. These days of waiting were filled with healthy occupation and cheered with kindly thought for others, and Betsy, instead of fretting herself thin and making her aunt's household miserable, grew in favour with her friends, and in self-control and sweetness of disposition. At the same time she kept herself in rosy health and fit for any exertion or sudden call that might be made upon her.
Betsy's uncle, who was well known as Sam Dawson throughout the district, bred some good horses, and soon discovered that Betsy was a fearless horsewoman, so, almost daily, she would ride upon some errand into Maitland, sometimes with one of her cousins, but more often alone. One day she took a newly broken colt along the Patterson-road, and another day she visited Anvil Creek. What rides they were! Bunyip, the mastiff, who had surrendered at discretion to Betsy's charms, mostly went with her, and many a head was turned to look after the handsome south-coast girl with the big dog, who rode so well, and smiled so pleasantly to all who passed her on the road. A queen could not have been treated more graciously. It must have been that Betsy had the makings of a queen in her, for some rare women are endowed at birth with queenly graces, and neither print frocks, nor rough surroundings, nor hard work, can wholly rob them of their priceless heritage.
When word came of Sir James's disappearance, and of the destructive fires blamed on Salathiel, and the attempt of the police to capture him, Betsy felt that sickening sense of apprehension most of us are familiar with, but her confidence in Salathiel remained unshaken.
"You will find," she said, "that if Sir James falls into Salathiel's hands he will be kind to him, and if Captain Moore attempts to fight him in the ranges, he will be beaten; I feel confident that my old schoolmaster never fired the forest."
When she read later, in the paper, that the military were being sent up to assist in her lover's capture, although she said little, the shadow of a great fear overpressed her; but her uncle, who guessed her thoughts, and by the way admired her greatly, offered to take her with him to Singleton, where he had business.
"We may hear some news of your brother and Mr. Gordon," he said.
So, next day, Betsy rode with Sam Dawson to Patrick's Plains, as Singleton was then called. It was nearly thirty miles, but they rode good horses, and expected to be back before dark. Those who know what a sixty-mile ride on an Australian country road is will guess that it was not for naught that Betsy had brought her own side-saddle and kept herself fit.
There are some people to whom it is second nature to forecast contingencies. Probably the reader knows already that Betsy could do more than most girls, because her thoughts were always a little in advance of hands and feet. She took after her mother, who always knew where the matches were, and never had to hunt about for needle and thread, which may explain some unexpected occurrences in the present chapter, for Betsy little thought, as she rode in the early morning out of pleasant Morpeth, that she would never see the place again.
"Isn't this glorious!" she exclaimed, pulling her horse into a walk as they mounted the hill. The road had wound around, bringing the valley and town into view again. The river flashed in the morning sun; great herds of lazy bullocks fed in the fat pastures; birds chirped and jackasses laughed in trees and bushes, and timorous animals, at their approach, raced off into the undergrowth. The morning air was sweet and balmy with the breath of gum-trees, their leaves and branches still sparkling with dew. Every one they met smiled at Betsy, and said "Good morning," and Betsy and her uncle, who was not a little proud of his niece, smiled, and said "Good morning," too.
Oh, for the days of youth, in sunny New South Wales, when the blood flows through the pulsing veins like wine, and a girl is young, and has health and beauty and a heart disciplined by trouble, but not bowed down! Oh, for the days of youth, in a great, free, pleasant land, with an open mind and a new world to explore and revel in and enjoy! Oh, for the days of youth and love, when the whole world smiles on a beautiful face, and says "Good morning!"
Betsy was radiant, for she refused to meet trouble half way, and rode along laughing and talking to her uncle. They passed an old farmer, near Anvil Creek, driving a dray. Betsy had smiled at him as he accosted her uncle, and when they had passed he stopped his cart to look after her.
"God bless the girl!" he said. "What eyes, and what a voice, and what a seat in the saddle, and what a laugh; she'll make a gran' wife for somebody! Get up, Blossom." And the kind old man drove on. Betsy's fair young face had cheered his old heart, and he began to whistle a half-forgotten love song that he used to sing when he was young.
But the horses had got their first wind by this time, and after breakfasting at Anvil Creek, they pushed along, and Betsy and her uncle were riding into Patrick's Plains township some time before noon. One of the first persons they met in the main street was Bob Carey.
"Why, Bob!" exclaimed Betsy in genuine surprise. "I am glad to see you; where have you come from? My word, how thin you are!"
"My goodness, Betsy! I can't tell you how pleased I am to see you, and you too, uncle," replied Bob, overcome with pleasure and astonishment. "We are stopping at the hotel; been here three days," he continued, "had a terrible time in the fires, and Father Gordon has been ill with anxiety, and knocked up with the rough travelling; it's a wonder we are alive!"
It transpired that Sir James Bennett had that day gone on to Sydney via Maitland. He had called in the local doctor to see Amos. The old man's heart, he said, was affected; he must be very careful, and take a few days' rest; he imagined that his patient had suffered a severe shock quite recently.
Betsy was indeed shocked when she saw her old friend; he looked aged by ten years or more.
"You want good nursing, Father Gordon," she said, smiling, "and I expect I'll have to stop here and look after you; whatever would mother say to see you so!"
It did Amos more good than all the doctor's advice and medicine to have Betsy's pleasant face around; but there was a weight on all their hearts, for Dame Rumour had it that Salathiel and the whole of his Adullam brotherhood were prisoners in the hands of the police and soldiers; and that they would be brought down on the morrow in chains. Bob had heard that they would stay the night at Patrick's Plains, and every hotel in the township expected to be full. Needless to say, the place was simpering with excitement; yet not a few refused to believe these rumours about Captain Jack, who, if the truth was told, was more popular with the townspeople than either the military or the police.
Betsy, as usual, refused to credit ill-tidings of her hero, and so the afternoon passed, and Sam Dawson, having completed his business, came back for tea.
They were sitting talking, later in the evening, when an unusual clatter of horses was heard. "What's that?" exclaimed Sam Dawson, hurrying out on to the veranda, closely followed by Bob and Betsy, whose heart beat violently.
It was a small body of mounted infantry, and although they trotted bravely into the town, they looked decidedly crestfallen; but the news they brought stirred the whole place with excitement.
Salathiel had escaped from the ambush; Major McFarlane was wounded, and Captain Moore was dead, while both military and police were totally routed out of the ranges; they had lost their horses; there was no end to the story of their sufferings and loss; the audacious outlaw of the hills had completely out-generalled them. There was much running about after this; for spare horses had to be sent up to meet the remaining police and soldiers, who were coming down on foot, and lights flashed in the excited township until midnight, as the story of Salathiel's victory was told, and retold again. Betsy found it hard that night to get to sleep, but the surprising thing, said Sam Dawson, was that no one seemed to fear that Salathiel would retaliate upon either soldiers, police, or townspeople.
After midnight, a mounted messenger came in for the doctor. He said that Major McFarlane was worse, and one of the soldiers very bad. Dr. Thompson had only come in after a thirty miles' ride, but with a fresh horse he was on his way, two hours afterwards, to Kingdon Ponds—a ride of about forty miles. His wife was to try by some means, in the morning, to find a suitable nurse to follow him. But alas, when the morning came it seemed as though no capable nurse could be obtained! It was the talk of the little township—the need of a nurse to attend those wounded soldiers at Kingdon Ponds. Father Gordon looked hard at Betsy; he was feeling much better, and thought that if they rode quietly he might return with Sam Dawson the following morning, to Morpeth.
"Uncle!" said Betsy suddenly; "don't you think I might go to Kingdon Ponds and nurse those wounded soldiers? Bob could come with me. You know I am a good nurse, mother taught me, and the messenger says that Major McFarlane may die if he is not well looked after at once. It would make things worse for Captain Jack—would it not, uncle, if he died?"
There was a tremor in her voice; and Sam Dawson looked long and anxiously at his niece before he answered. It was a chance, perhaps, of serving Salathiel; and if Betsy nursed the major back to life and health, she might make him her friend, and he was a man of influence in the Colony.
All this, and more, had been passing through Betsy's mind, and by some thought transference, her conception of it as a fortunate opportunity presented itself in a hazy way to her uncle; and he, like the good fellow he was, determined to help her to its accomplishment.
Bob was quite willing, both for his sister and Salathiel's sake, to co-operate, and so it came about that by noon that day the whole matter had been arranged with Mrs. Thompson to their mutual satisfaction. Betsy was engaged to go to Kingdon Ponds as nurse to the wounded soldiers, and without further delay, she and her brother started on their journey. It was a good road, and Kingdon Ponds was reached the same evening, without either mishap or adventure.
Thus it came about that Betsy entered upon the new and untried avocation of nursing, just as she had taken up the role of school-mistress, for the sake of the man she had vowed to help and defend and fight for and encompass with her love. But to nurse a number of rough soldiers at a wayside inn was very different from the nursing she had done occasionally at home. And, brave girl as she was, it was with difficulty many a time at the start that she kept back her tears.
The doctor read his wife's note, looked the girl up and down, and bluntly told her that he had expected an older woman; it was not fit work, he said, for a young girl to nurse a lot of swearing soldiers. The innkeeper's wife would be more suitable, and no doubt more reliable; she was of no use to him, and the best thing she could do would be to have a night's rest, and then ride back with her brother to Patrick's Plains.
He was a good doctor, but of the rough old army school, and just then he was worried. His idea of a nurse was an elderly woman slightly addicted to gin. He was turning to leave the sitting-room, as though the matter was ended, when Betsy drew herself up and somewhat indignantly replied: "Dr. Thompson, your wife has engaged me as nurse, and I have ridden forty miles to come here. I'm not going to be sent off in that fashion. You think, because I look young, that I am inexperienced and thoughtless; and you have not even given me a trial. My age is nothing. What do you know of my ability as a nurse, or of my experience? Mrs. Morrison tells me that she is worn out with the work and the nursing, and I'm going to help her, and to sit up with Major McFarlane to-night, after I have changed my riding-habit, and had some tea and a couple of hours' sleep."
As red as a rose, and with the air of a tragedy queen, Betsy confronted the amazed doctor. Muttering something about the wilfulness of Australian currency lasses, he left her to attend to Major McFarlane, who was swearing at Mrs. Morrison in an adjoining room.
Before morning, however, Dr. Thompson had capitulated, and acknowledged to the innkeeper, Pat Morrison, that, wherever she had picked it up, Betsy knew how to handle a bandage, and was not without some homely skill and aptitude. In a clean print dress, with white collar, cuffs, and apron, she was a pleasant contrast to Mrs. Morrison and the average elderly nurse. Betsy had a pleasant but imperious way of managing people; by ten o'clock she had told Bob that it was all right, and that he might go to bed; and by midnight Mrs. Morrison had dropped into the background, and the doctor found himself giving directions to Betsy as to medicines and treatment, before he snatched a few hours' sleep himself.
"Do you know how to take a temperature?" he asked.
"I think so," said Betsy, who had been watching the doctor closely; "you put the glass bulb of the thermometer under the armpit for five minutes; the major is too restless to have it under his tongue."
"Yes, that's right," said the doctor, somewhat surprised, though friendly. "Take the major's temperature carefully at about two o'clock, and if it is over 102 call me at once."
"I'll be very careful, doctor; but will you not lie down at once? You must be quite knocked up. I've had two hours' sleep, and feel as fresh as a daisy."
There was a small clock ticking loudly on the mantelpiece. Betsy thought it might irritate her patient, so she carried it into the sitting-room. After arranging medicines, and tidying things up generally, she sat down and watched the officer, who tossed restlessly in his sleep. It was after midnight, and save for the heavy breathing of a sleeper in the next room, all was still, and Betsy was nurse-in-charge of three patients, two of whom were dangerously ill.
Major McFarlane was a Scotchman, hailing from Glasgow. It was touch-and-go with him, as the doctor had said, for one bullet had grazed the left lung and another had smashed his shoulder blade. At two o'clock the doctor had to be called, for acute inflammation had set in, and the temperature was dangerously high. He was delirious, and in his ravings frequently mentioned Salathiel and Captain Moore.
The doctor looked at Betsy once or twice, to note the effect of the major's words upon her; but, although her heart beat fast, she made no sign. Salathiel might have been an utter stranger to her.
"We'll take them alive, Moore," called out the major sternly, "and understand that I won't have any firing of the Bush. It's white men we are fighting, not blacks, or savages, or even common bushrangers. Captain Jack is a gentleman, and I would wish for nothing better than to meet him myself, with swords or pistols. I'm sorry we can't help him to clear out of this hateful country; he's a man, and worthy of a better fate than hanging. If he had only worn a Government uniform, almost every blessed thing he has done would have been right.
"What's that you say? He fired the forest in the ranges? I don't believe it; that was some of your devilish work. Oh, I know you, Moore! He's proved more than a match for you, and you would resort to any villainous trick to take him, dead or alive. Play the game, sir! We are Englishmen, don't you know; and he is more English-like in his actions than most of your banditti crowd—if he is a Jew."
The doctor was puzzled to note Betsy's proud look as she listened to the ravings of the soldier. Her heart went out to this man. It was worth while saving him! If not a friend, he was no embittered foe, as Captain Moore had been. So she nursed him with untiring devotion, for the sake of Jack, little dreaming of the effect her presence and skill would have upon her patient's mind and heart.
Patrick's Plains was a one-doctor township; and there were other urgent cases which called the doctor away, so Betsy had an opportunity to show her skill and resource, and make for herself new friends, and gain new experience. No ice was available, few medicines, and not much suitable food; so Bob rode back with the doctor to Patrick's Plains for a number of necessaries. He came back promptly, knowing what an anxious time it was for Betsy; for during those days, while her other patients were slowly recovering, Major McFarlane lay between life and death.
Betsy was now not more than twenty miles from Salathiel's stronghold, and her thoughts were often there; but she had not as yet heard any mention of him by the innkeeper or by his wife, and she feared to ask questions. How well Salathiel's interests were safe-guarded by his friends is shown by the fact that Betsy was nursing for a week, without any idea of the business connection of the inn with Salathiel and his stronghold. The innkeeper, Patrick Morrison, was an exemplary host, and in a rough, homely way, he and his wife did all that they could for both Betsy and her patients; but no word of the adjacent stronghold, or of him whose word was law in that region, passed his lips.
One day, however, when Major McFarlane had suffered a relapse, and Betsy was beside herself with anxiety and apprehension, for the very symptoms which the doctor had warned her against were prominent, Morrison whispered to her that there was a doctor up at Adullam, and he had sent for him to come down at once.
"I am so glad, Mr. Morrison," said Betsy; "it would never do for the major to die now. He was getting on so well, and I should think it was through some neglect on my part."
"I have a message," replied the innkeeper, "that the doctor will be here to-night by nine o'clock."
The weary hours passed slowly; and with many a prayer for help, Betsy, assisted by Mrs. Morrison, waited upon her patient, although more than once they had to call in her brother and the innkeeper to hold him down upon the bed. It was during one of those painful paroxysms that the door gently opened, and Salathiel appeared.
One squeeze of Betsy's hand, one look into her eyes, brimming with tears yet luminous with joy, and he stepped beside the bed. Nothing was said, for Morrison and his wife knew very well who the Adullam doctor was, and Bob was too overawed by the situation to be surprised at anything.
"Bring another pillow and put it under his head," said Salathiel to Betsy, and taking a small leather case from his pocket, he extracted from it a phial, and poured a few drops of a bluish liquid into a wineglass full of water. With difficulty the soldier was made to swallow it; but its effect was very soon apparent. The tense muscles slowly relaxed, and the patient's head sank back upon the pillow. Watch in hand, Salathiel felt his pulse and then counted the respirations, and in another half-hour beads of perspiration stood upon the man's face. The crisis was passed.
"I was only just in time," said Salathiel. "He'll not die; but it will be some days before he recovers. That is a wonderful medicine. He'll sleep now for some hours. He's had a bad relapse; the poor fellow's strength is quite exhausted. Bob, you go and get another sleep; and, Miss Carey, come on the veranda a moment, please, and have a look at Fleetfoot."
The dawn was just flooding the eastern sky with golden light, when Jack led Betsy on to the veranda. There was no one near, save Fleetfoot, who whinnied a pleasant greeting to his master.
"Betsy," said Jack—and he looked long and lovingly into her face—"you are a wonderful woman. To think of all that you have done and suffered for my sake; and you are more beautiful than ever; and to think that you have done it all for a bushranger and an outlaw——!" And with that, he pressed her to his heart, and kissed her.
Betsy had intended to call him Mr. Bennett, but all that she could say was: "Oh, Jack! How I wish that you were out of Australia, away from all this—and free!"
"It's coming, Betsy," said Jack. "I have a letter in my pocket, which I want to read to you. It's from Captain Fraser, of the Nancy Lee. Listen—
"'I have arranged everything with friends in Sydney. Next month is thought to be an appropriate time for a voyage eastward. The Nancy Lee, with a full cargo, will be lying in Newcastle harbour at the full of the moon. Kindly keep this secret, and make your arrangements as early as possible, and oblige,
"'Your obedient servant,
"Betsy," he continued, "I too have arranged everything. Your people consent, and Parson McEwan will marry us at midnight, before we sail. Will you come?"
Betsy did what many a woman had done before, and will do again, took the man she loved on trust, and promised, "for better or worse."
For several hours they watched together by the bedside of the major, Jack describing to Betsy the probable after-symptoms, and what to do. They had breakfast together with Bob. Fleetfoot was brought round, and riding south this time, Jack was gone.
"Is he not afraid?" said Bob to Betsy and Morrison, as they stood together watching him as he rode across the creek and disappeared.
"No," said the innkeeper, "he knows how to take care of himself; but just now he has no cause to be afraid."
A week later the major was out of all danger, and one morning Betsy's cool hand was laid upon her patient's forehead. "I'm going to give you a grilled chop for lunch to-day," she said; "it's wonderful how quickly you Scotchmen recover once you get the turn; you will soon be able to do without a nurse."
"I wish I could always have you near me," said the major wearily; "but for you I should have been under ground by this. You have made me your debtor, nurse, beyond all my power to repay."
"Would you do something to help me, if I wanted your assistance very badly, major?" Betsy was looking into his face as though she would read his very soul.
"Betsy," said the major bluntly, for the first time calling her by her Christian name, "I would serve you with my life!"
"Ah! you are not strong yet, major; people sometimes say rash things when they are recovering from a bad turn. You will forget me after a bit."
"It's the word of a soldier," replied McFarlane. "I can't say more now; but wait until I am well. You have made me your friend for life."
"Major, I'll believe you," said Betsy, surprised at his earnestness. "My father was once a soldier, and I have heard him say that a good soldier is always as good as his word."
Their eyes met, and there was that in the major's honest face which satisfied Betsy that he would not break his word with her, even though her request entailed unlooked-for difficulty.
In the meantime, stirring events were taking place in Sydney, whither Sir James Bennett had now arrived: events which singularly favoured Salathiel's escape, if they could only be made known to him in time to be taken advantage of.
Captain Fraser's letter had stirred him to strenuous action, for much had to be done for the people in the glen before he could think of himself and his own safety and happiness.
Sir James Bennett, with the bluff skipper of the Newcastle steam packet, stood upon the incoming steamer's bridge. The vessel was sweeping through a calm sea around North Point and the quarantine ground.
"Hast ever made Sydney Harbour before, with the sun setting, Sir James?"
"I can't say that I have," replied the lawyer.
"Then you'll see as pretty a sight in a few minutes as any on earth," said the captain, and the old seaman marched to the other end of the bridge, humming to himself:
"Oh Bay of Dublin, me thoughts you're troubling,
Your beauty haunts me like a fevered dream."
Coming back again, as the steamer rounded North Head, he exclaimed: "I've been in and out of Port Jackson hundreds of times; but on an evening like this I always feel a kind of mental intoxication as the harbour opens up. Look at it! Isn't it a picture? It's the one blessed harbour for me in the whole world, and I've seen 'Frisco, Naples, and Dublin. But it beats 'em all."
It was a perfect evening in late summer, after a day of heavy rain, and Nature, like some blushing rustic beauty conscious of her loveliness, stood breathless, as it were, to be admired. The steamer had slowed down, and was passing smoothly through the softly lapping shimmering waters of Sydney Harbour, which, with the lustrous foliage of its picturesque environment, was ruddy with the sunset-glow.
"What a land it is," said the lawyer, speaking as much to himself as to the captain; "but alas! that all this beauty and repose should have so little influence upon the character and disposition of the people and their rulers; but it will come—it must come."
The captain overheard this and smiled, but he was occupied just then with his navigation, or he would probably have had something further to say.
They passed Middle Harbour and Bradley's Head all too quickly for the barrister, who revelled in the beautiful scene. Then came Rose and Double Bays and Garden Island. Quite a fleet of vessels lay peacefully at anchor, among them no less than five immigrant ships, and one full-rigged ship of a thousand tons, carrying convicts. "Hello!" cried the captain as they neared Farm Cove. "They've moved the warship opposite the quay; what's that for, I wonder?" As they slowly rounded Man-o'-War steps and the quay opened out, Circular Wharf, at the foot of George-street, was seen to be crowded with people.
"I'm blest if they haven't got the guns trained on to the crowd!" ejaculated the astonished captain, as he gave orders to stop the engines.
"Whatever can have happened?" exclaimed the barrister.
"I heard in Newcastle," said the captain grimly, "that there was going to be another meeting of the Anti-transportation League to-day, and it looks as though the Governor and the Banditti Party were going to give 'em fits."
Sir James felt anxious and uncomfortable, for the Banditti Party, so called, included the Governor, Council, Military, and Police, and also some of the squatters, and it was the political party of Sir James; but the film of class prejudice was fast falling from the latter's eyes. Recent experiences had wonderfully changed his vision of Australian life, for until his meeting with Salathiel the barrister had lived in a wholly conservative and official atmosphere, hand-in-glove with those who were in power. But although scarcely aware of it as yet, he was fast becoming a convert to the new order of things, and his vision of Australia and its future was broadening and deepening. Even in 1850 the old order saw nothing more than a penal settlement in Australia, to be ruled by soldiers and policemen, and a Parliament on the other side of the globe; but the new order beheld a very different picture, both of the present and future, and chafed under the arbitrary rule of pedantic officials, who would on occasion insult, and even flog, free citizens, as well as convicts, without the form of a trial, and who, when the people dared to hold a public meeting to protest against official brutality, would often ride into the crowd and disperse them with blows; or, as in the present instance, train the guns of a warship upon them.
Nor had there been much opportunity of appeal of late years, for the Governor lived in luxury and ease, and, like Gallio, cared for none of these things. He set at naught complaints, and in his dispatches misrepresented the people's party to the Home Government, as "a few idle grumblers who have no stake or interest in the community." It was seemingly not a very opportune time for the barrister to approach the authorities with a proposal in favour of Salathiel's being allowed to quit the country; but, "on the other hand," he thought, "if Salathiel would only continue to act on the defensive, and use his men and influence for the maintenance of law and order in the northern district, there would be a chance that his prowess and defiance of the authorities might make him a popular idol with the multitude (as Robin Hood was at one time in England), illustrating to the minds of thousands of free men, not only an outlaw's war against injustice and tyranny; but the war of the people themselves against the cast-iron rule of a brutal and blundering officialism."
When Sir James got on shore he found the city greatly excited, and seemingly on the verge of a popular revolutionary demonstration against the Government. Captain Moore's expedition to capture Salathiel, the forest fires, and all else outside of Sydney, was lost sight of in the commotion of the hour. Double guards of soldiers were on duty at Government House, and, as has already been seen, the guns of a British warship were trained upon the old barrack square, where crowds were passing indignant resolutions against the revival of convict transportation and the continuance of the convict system of assignment. All of which was embittered and aggravated by the fact that Government military and police were openly in favour of continuing the existing system, and had even petitioned the Home Government in favour of convict transportation.
It was, in colonial phraseology, the 'Currency' against the 'Sterling,' and it seemed as though the matter might develop into civil war. Transportation was supposed to have ceased in 1840, in response to urgent memorials to the Home Government; but in defiance of the impassioned protest of the people, convicts were still being sent to Sydney, Melbourne, Moreton Bay, and Western Australia.
As Sir James stepped down the gangway, he caught sight of Lieutenant Thompson watching the crowd, and with him was Captain Fraser, of the Nancy Lee. Handing some luggage to his man servant, who had met the steamer, the barrister walked over and accosted them.
"Sir James Bennett!" exclaimed the lieutenant in surprise, as he stepped back and looked hard at the lawyer, before taking his outstretched hand. "What!—I really beg your pardon, but I thought it was your ghost! I'm very pleased to see you. We read that you had been captured by Salathiel's gang; you must have been ill, or very badly treated. I should scarcely have known you!"
"I've been through some strange and sad experiences since I last saw you," replied the lawyer, as he turned round to grasp the hand of Captain Fraser—"although," he continued, "not of the kind you evidently imagine. I may as well tell you at once that I have to thank Salathiel the outlaw for my life, and I have hurried down to Sydney to try to do him a service. But what's the matter here?"
"A touch of all-round popular insanity, from the Governor downward," replied Lieutenant Thompson with a careless laugh. "But take my arm, for you look completely knocked out; and come with us up to the club and have some dinner, and tell us all about it. Why, man!" he exclaimed, "whatever will Kitty say! Do you know that you have turned almost grey?"
"I have been through that which might turn any man grey," said the barrister. "But come along, I shall have to run out to Longreach after I have done with you, and I want to interview the Governor to-morrow."
By this time Sir James Bennett was engaged to be married to the lieutenant's charming sister Kitty, whose slight accident at Broadhaven Valley Station was the means of first introducing the lawyer to the bushranger.
During dinner the three men chatted over the affairs engrossing public attention in Sydney; but afterward, as they sat smoking, Sir James told them of his meeting with Salathiel, how his life had been saved by the bushranger, and why his brown hair had come to be sprinkled thick with grey. The two men listened with absorbed interest.
Before Sir James went out to Longreach that evening, the three gentlemen arrived at a mutual understanding as to what they would do to assist Salathiel's escape from Australia. Captain Fraser told of the chartering of his schooner for the voyage to America, and gave them the date when it was proposed that Salathiel and Betsy should be married in Newcastle, on the night before the vessel sailed.
"I cannot help thinking," said Sir James Bennett, smiling, "of that afternoon at Major Browne's, when Salathiel said we might meet again in the north, and possibly he would win the rubber. If he gets away safely there is no doubt about it: he will have won the rubber. But look, Thompson, here comes your father; I suppose it's the trouble in the city which makes him look so grave."
They shook hands with Colonel Thompson, who stared at the lawyer in surprise, much as his son had done. "I see you've had a rough time of it," he said, as he grasped his hand; "but have you people heard the latest news?"
"What is that?" asked the lieutenant.
"Why, Captain Moore is dead; Major McFarlane lies at death's door at Kingdon Ponds; and a detachment of forty soldiers and police have been badly defeated by Salathiel in the ranges. It's bad news, just now, for the Government."
"Is that really true?" exclaimed the barrister with a pale face. "Why, I seem only just to have left them."
"There can be no doubt about its truth," replied the colonel. "I had it from the Governor's private secretary."
"Then," said Sir James, "I am afraid we can do little, if anything, in Sydney for Salathiel. He's won the rubber with a vengeance!"
When the newspapers came out the following morning, they were full of reports of the disturbances in Sydney; but contained only a brief paragraph about the important news told overnight by Colonel Thompson, There was no telegraph service in Australia until 1851, so the editors could not wire for information, but they spoke of certain rumours which had filtered through to them from official sources. Captain Moore's expedition to capture the outlaw Salathiel was believed to have altogether failed. The inspector was reported killed, and Major McFarlane badly wounded; but they awaited fuller information from their correspondents in the north. One journal remarked, that "it was in keeping with the fatuous policy of the Government to hold back important information to suit their own ends. They would not be a bit surprised if news came to hand that the outlaw autocrat of the northern district had again defeated both military and police."
It may be explained that the Government had actually received detailed news of the disaster at Kingdon Ponds; but with the city seething with excitement over the convict ship anchored in the harbour, with her prisoners unlanded, for the leaders of the people's party had defied the Government to bring them on shore, it was thought advisable to keep back the news of the reverse as long as possible.
"The Banditti Government," as it was opprobriously named by the Reformers, was beginning to realize at last that it had to face a rising tide of popular sentiment which might overwhelm the old officialism which for half a century had held the public life of the Australian people in bondage. It was well known that the Government feared Salathiel, who had latterly become a prominent figure in the public mind. He was quoted to the authorities by radical journals as an example of the evils of the existing convict system and autocratic government. The people were exasperated with both the Government, military, and police, and it was quite possible that their defeat at Kingdon Ponds might make Salathiel the hero of the multitude.
When the outlaw's three friends met in Sir James Bennett's chambers that morning, the general position of things was anxiously discussed. Sir James was far more hopeful, however, than he had been on the previous evening, for by the morning's overland mail he had received a lengthy letter from Salathiel, detailing in full the treachery of Fenton and Snow, the ambush, and the encounter with the military and police. A postscript had been added, that Major McFarlane was reported out of danger. His hopefulness had been further increased by a newspaper account of a public meeting recently held in the city. It was certainly an astonishing recital!
It had been a wet day, but so great was the public interest that at eleven o'clock in the morning the shops and warehouses of Sydney had been closed, in order that the business people might attend an open-air meeting at Circular Wharf, to protest against the deportation of the convicts on board a ship then in harbour. The top of an omnibus had been used by the speakers—prominent city men—to address a crowd of some 5,000 citizens, who stood for hours in the rain listening to them, and enthusiastically passing strongly worded resolutions. Seldom had a Governor and Government been referred to in more scathing terms; the wonder of many was that some were not arrested for seditious language, and put into jail.
"Australia," said the chairman, "does not want convicts. They have been the source of wealth to many, and no doubt others now hope to amass riches from their services. But we, free citizens of Australia, will have none of them! The Government has threatened us in regard to our meeting, and has trained the guns of a warship upon us, but we have met peaceably—we have met in all loyalty, in all deference to the constituted authorities, in the highest and holiest patriotism that can animate us as citizens, for the love we bear their families, in loyalty to Great Britain, and in the depth of our reverence for Almighty God—to protest against the landing again of British criminals on these shores."
The next speaker was a prominent city merchant. "It is to assist the material interests of a clique," he said, "that convicts are wanted; but the colonists of Australia, as a body of free men, have refused the gilded iniquity with disdain."
The eyes of Sir James glistened as he presently read the name of a speaker who was a famous Q.C. and a brother barrister, destined afterward to obtain high rank in the British Cabinet. He was reported by the newspaper at length, and his fervid language was not calculated to reassure the Governor of New South Wales. He was enthusiastically cheered as he declared that "the resumption of transportation by the Government is an outrage, which has been officiously and insultingly perpetrated upon us by his Excellency the Governor. That gentleman's threat of degradation has been fulfilled. The stately presence of our city, the beautiful waters of our harbour, are to-day again polluted with the presence of that floating hell—a convict ship. We are told that this shipment is of the picked and selected criminals of Great Britain; but, as a previous speaker remarked, we will have none of them! I view this attempt to inflict the worst and most degrading slavery upon the Colony, only as a sequence of that oppressive tyranny which has confiscated the lands of the Colony for the benefit of a class. That class knows its power; and it is not content to get the lands alone; without labour they are worthless, and therefore it must enrich them with the labour of slaves. But it is not the mere fear of competition among workmen that brings us here to-day; it is not a breeches-pocket question of the labouring class. It is a struggle for liberty—a struggle against a system which has, in every country where it has prevailed, been destructive of freedom. Let it go home, that the people of New South Wales reject—indignantly reject—the inheritance of wealthy shame which Great Britain holds out to her. That she spurns the gift, deceitfully gilded though it be. That she spurns the degradation, however eloquently it may be glossed over. Let us send across the Pacific our emphatic declaration, that we will not be slaves—that we will be free."
At a later period of his address the orator paused, and looked around upon the mass of upturned faces which, forgetful of the rain, hung upon his words with open mouths and flashing eyes, and muttered threats against the Government.
"I can see," he continued, "see from this very meeting, that the time is not far distant when we shall assert our freedom not by words alone. In America oppression was the parent of independence, so will it be in this Colony. The seed will grow into a plant, and the plant into a tree. As in all times and in all nations, so will injustice and tyranny ripen into rebellion, and rebellion into independence." (Tumultuous cheering.)
"There will be bloodshed if they don't mind," commented the barrister to himself. "Government House may well be guarded by soldiers with fixed bayonets. But let us see what more was said."
The next speaker he knew as a brilliant journalist, who, years afterward, was for long Premier of New South Wales.
He said: "I can only express my deep feeling of indignation at the insult that has been offered the community at large, and the only remedy I can see—the only course consistent with justice to the colonists at large, is that the convict ship and cargo be sent back to England. The injustice we have now met to protest against is far more flagrant, far more oppressive, than that which gave birth to the American rebellion."
More speeches followed in the same strain, and then horses were put into the omnibus and a deputation of twenty-four gentlemen, elected by the meeting, went to Government House, to interview His Excellency, and lay certain resolutions, unanimously carried by the meeting, before him; but to their astonishment they were met by a guard of soldiers with fixed bayonets, and six only were admitted, who were coldly received by the Governor's private secretary, and without any hearing, discourteously rebuffed. The leading journal, aghast at their reception, appealed to His Excellency to meet the people in a better spirit, and warned him and the Council of the possible consequences of their high-handed procedure. "Rightly or wrongly," said the article, "the public mind is in a state of high exasperation, and ought to be appeased."
"Ah!" said the lieutenant, to Sir James, "they are holding meetings almost daily, and the colonel says the Governor is beside himself with apprehension, and has the kitchen and outhouses packed with soldiers. If the story of Salathiel and Moore and the forest fires, with the particulars you could furnish, appeared in the newspapers at the present time, it would pretty well knock the Government into a cocked hat. It is my opinion that rather than have it published, the Governor would be willing even to wink at Salathiel's escape. They have got their hands full just now, and it would be better for the Government if Salathiel quietly left Australia than for him to be captured. But you'll have to get something in writing; unfortunately, in a case of this sort you can't trust the Governor's word. No doubt they are in a tight corner about this transportation business, and if we can work things right, I believe the Governor will give in, rather than have your story made public."
"Yes, I think we have a case against them," said the barrister slowly; "I find there have been something like thirty deaths through the fire which the police started, and some of the journals are hot enough just now to call those deaths murders. And there's no doubt that's what they were. It would give the speakers at Circular Wharf something more to talk about."
"By the way," interposed Captain Fraser, "there's to be another meeting at the wharf at one o'clock to-day. The doctor is to be one of the speakers, and the Q.C. and several others; they are going to move a vote of censure on His Excellency the Governor, and ask the Home Authorities to recall him—unless the guns of the warship should first blow them into smithereens."
"I don't think it's any use your trying to get an audience to-day," said the lieutenant. "I hear the Governor is frightened to see any one, lest he should be assassinated. And if they make it as hot for him at this afternoon's meeting as they say they will, he will be the less likely to want to have your story in the newspapers...Let's have some lunch first, and go to the meeting together. I feel rather sorry for the poor old Governor; he's an old Waterloo hero, you know; but we are on for the rescue of Salathiel; and all is fair, they say, in love and war."
So it was agreed that they should lunch at the Australian Club and attend the meeting together, and see how what was said might further affect the Government and possibly help their plans for Salathiel's escape.
"I think it's just as well to put you on your guard," said Captain Fraser after lunch; "it's generally believed down on the quay that there'll be bloodshed over this meeting to-day."
The Nancy Lee was berthed at Circular Quay, loading cargo, and as it was still early for the meeting. Captain Fraser had invited Sir James and the lieutenant to walk down and look over her; but when they got into the street they found streams of people hurrying down to the large vacant space above Circular Wharf, which overlooked Circular Quay and that portion of Sydney Harbour. The excitement of the hour caught hold of them, and they at once followed with the crowd to the place of meeting.
It was a notable occasion, and many of the 6,000 men which composed the great gathering were secretly armed. There were 1,200 newly arrived immigrants still on board the ships in harbour, and over 200 transported criminals in the convict-ship. The loaded guns of the warship were still trained upon the crowd.
When the chairman, who was a Liberal member of the Legislative Council, opened the proceedings, it was evident he realized the gravity of the occasion. "The enemies of the people," he said, in a voice which was husky with emotion, "have industriously circulated reports that this day will be one of violence. The Government will be only too happy to see those reports verified, that the military may be brought to trample us under foot; but I exhort you to have patience, and exercise the utmost forbearance and self-control. We have come here to-day to ask the motherland to grant us responsible Government; to petition Her Majesty the Queen to remove the Secretary for the Colonies from her councils, and to pass a vote of censure upon His Excellency the Governor, and to ask for his recall. We shall be addressed by responsible citizens, gentlemen of position and influence and high esteem among us, and there is no need for me to ask, on their behalf, a patient and attentive hearing."
The first speaker, a popular medical man, moved a resolution which at once revealed the temper of the gathering. It was, "That the time has now arrived for appealing to the Queen by petition, praying Her Majesty to dismiss the Secretary for the Colonies from her councils." Before speaking to the resolution, the doctor referred to the Governor's studied discourtesy to the deputation already sent to him by the citizens. "He has deliberately insulted the people by refusing to receive the whole of the deputation, and those he did receive he would not allow to speak, and further insulted by the repulsive chill he threw over his words and actions. There is a Persian saying that it is the last feather's weight that breaks the camel's back, and the Governor's discourtesy is the feather-weight on this occasion. It is the last drop in our cup of wrath, which is now filled to overflowing."
"What do you think of that for straight talk?" whispered the lieutenant to Sir James, "but that's nothing to what you'll hear before the meeting is over."
The administration of the Colonial Office was severely criticized by the next speaker, who also roughly attacked certain members of the Legislative Council, especially Wentworth, who had latterly more closely identified himself with the Governor's party. "There is some talk," he said, "of adding another link to the chain which binds us to the British Throne by creating Colonial titles. If I have any voice in a measure of this kind, my first step would be to create William Charles Wentworth Duke of the Lash and Triangle." This sally was greeted with loud laughter and cheers.
Speaker after speaker followed, unanimously condemning the Governor and his Government. Said one: "It is reported that the Governor is frightened; but why does he not yield to pubic opinion and the courteously expressed petitions of free citizens? Nothing is more monstrous and absurd than the assertion that a reign of terror is to be apprehended in the Colony. Most of the advisers of the Crown are disloyal to the land of their birth; and their so-called representative council is a monstrous farce. Why, two counties near Sydney have only sixty electors, and men like the hon. member for C——could return any one they pleased, even their own footman."
The excitement of the meeting, however, reached its height when the Queen's Counsel rose to move the vote of censure upon His Excellency the Governor. He said he scarcely knew why he had been called to move this resolution. "I seem to have been selected to bell the cat; if such is the case, bell the cat I will!" The learned gentleman waited until the cheering which greeted this had subsided. "I believe," he said, "the Governor entertains a kind of languid and sickly sympathy with the colonists, for which we, the people, are charged one hundred pounds sterling per week, with seven or eight hundred pounds added money. It is not pleasant for me to fall foul of this very respectable gentleman and to censure him for his misbehaviour. I will refer first to the matter of the deputation to His Excellency. There were twenty-three, or four, gentlemen in that deputation; but only six were admitted. They found the gates of His Excellency's palace closed against them; inside there was a double military guard, with bayonets fixed; the mounted police were quartered in the stables, and the kitchen was garrisoned with soldiers." (Great sensation.)
"The friends of the Governor excuse him because they said he was afraid. He was afraid! He, a soldier, and afraid! He, an old Waterloo hero, and afraid of a few unhappy colonists! They were there to discuss this convict question with him, and not to attack his palace. Was the Governor afraid of his silver spoons, or did he think the deputation would proceed to a general sack of the house, and drink all the claret in his cellars? Or was it that six pairs of dirty shoes should be allowed to intrude upon the vice-regal carpet? The people's deputation has met with great insult. They desired to have a little conversation with the Governor; but they did not succeed. I can say for myself, at least, that I behaved much more civilly than usual; but His Excellency quietly and coolly bowed us out of the room.
"The fact is the Governor is surrounded by parasites and sycophants, who are always anxious to keep him from any presence save their own. Talk of government in the Colonies; why, there is no government. The machine that is called government consists of a body of over-paid superior and subordinate clerks, and brutalized prison and police officials. We are mocked with a wretched mongrel imitation of a representative legislature which is called a Government. Government indeed! why, the outrageous reign of the outlaw Salathiel in the northern districts has been productive of more safety to the travelling public than all the police prosecutions and floggings and executions in Sydney! It is safer, so far as foot-pads and bushrangers go, to travel on the northern road between Maitland and Murrurundi than between Sydney and Parramatta, and this very Salathiel, whom the Government will not, or cannot, capture, is a standing illustration of how the convict system can force men into crime, and how absolutely the Government has failed to protect the property and persons of the colonists. But to refer to another matter: His Excellency seems to have lost sight of the fact that it is the bounden duty of the Government, in the present state of public affairs, to make no exhibition whatever of military force. Unless the Government wished to invite open acts of hostility, it would never have taken the steps it did last week. Does the Government want to incite in this Colony a scene like the bloody field of Peterloo or the Manchester Massacre? Had the meeting last week been provoked to violence, as it well might have been, the military would have issued from the Governor's gates, and carnage and slaughter would have resulted."
It was difficult for many in the crowd to restrain their excited feelings; but the orator changed his theme, and in scathing terms denounced the indolence and extravagance of the Governor and his court. "In all other countries," he said, "under all other Governments, the destruction of dynasties has been caused by the profligacy and extravagance of the Government. The sturdy people of England met and resolved to compel the Government into economy, and therefore, while other nations fell a prey to anarchy, confusion, and bloodshed, she held on her way—she maintained her station, because her people have been taught to know their rights and maintain them."
Much more was said; but in closing the speaker reminded them that this was only the beginning of the people's struggle for Australian nationhood and freedom. "We must be prepared to meet any emergency, any difficulty, if we wish to free our necks from the yoke of the odious domination of brutal officialism to which we have been subjected, and put ourselves in the position of Englishmen possessed of freedom."
"Come away," said the barrister to his friends, as this speaker sat down, amid tremendous cheering. "When the report of this meeting appears in the newspaper to-morrow morning, and His Excellency has had time to read and digest it, it will, I think, be an opportune occasion to make an appeal unto Caesar. Surely he will never allow what I can tell the papers to appear in print, in the face of what is practically the fringe of a revolution!"
The report of the meeting of the Anti-transportation League which appeared next morning in the leading journal occupied over six columns of close print. The editor described it as a highly influential and well-conducted meeting. The speakers, he said, were legislators, clergymen, professional men, and citizens of known integrity and standing.
Sir James read the full report of the meeting with some astonishment; the audacity and outspokenness of the speeches, the fearless denunciation of the Colonial Secretary, and the wrathful censure of the Governor, suggested to him a state of public feeling and resentment against the authorities which, he thought, no sane man would dare to trifle with. But the lawyer, shrewd as he was, failed to realize fully the Governor's position; he looked at it from the Australian viewpoint, but there was another side.
His Excellency was an aristocrat, closely connected by birth and marriage with some of the highest families of England. He had been a military commander-in-chief and was accustomed to military absolutism. He knew nothing about popular government, or any rights possessed by the working classes. He was naturally skilled in diplomacy and the writing of dispatches, but too indolent to concern himself with colonial affairs. A few favoured members of the Council were allowed to manage public matters, both military and police, much as they pleased; for he felt himself to be rather above the business of governing colonists and convicts, who, to his mind, were much alike. The post carried a good income, and was a comfortable mode of living, and he made it as much a sinecure as possible. The result was that he occasionally blundered in matters of business connected with the Home Office, and made serious mistakes in his dispatches; and at the time referred to had fallen into disfavour with both the Colonial Secretary and the British Cabinet, who thought that he should have asserted his authority more effectively over the colonists, and kept them quieter and more orderly.
The remarkable social upheaval over the convict ship had astonished him, and put him on the horns of a dilemma; but by hook or by crook, whatever might be the consequences for the Colony, he was determined to land the convicts sent out by the Colonial Secretary, and thus keep himself right with the British Colonial Office and those he regarded as his friends in Australia. Now, a Governor of those days was supposed to be a sort of father to his people, and was invested with practically absolute power, if he chose to exercise it; and the then Governor, once aroused, was both obstinate and implacable, for he came of a family of autocrats, not used to being thwarted, especially by inferiors. So, although Sir James spent hours preparing a brief, as it were, for the interview, he overlooked several important facts, and started for Government House after lunch with his confreres in great hope of success. He handed his card to the Governor's private secretary to present to His Excellency with sanguine expectations that the interview would be brief and satisfactory.
He was, of course, well known at Government House, but to his surprise and annoyance he was kept waiting in the great man's ante-chamber for over two hours; the Governor's private secretary coldly explained to him that His Excellency was engaged with members of the Council. He was really engaged with a game of cards, for he wished to forget the report of the meeting, which, however, had not troubled him very much, for the one exclamation of the lighthearted Governor when he read it was: "Let them all go hang!" His principal reason for leaving the lawyer to cool his heels so long in the antechamber was his presence at the previous day's meeting, which had been duly reported to the Governor by his spies. At last, when his patience was well-nigh exhausted, the lawyer was surprised to see Colonel Thompson enter the waiting-room.
"I heard you were here," he said, greeting him cordially, "and although I am not in your confidence over certain matters, as my son, the lieutenant, is, I can partly guess what your business with His Excellency may be. Now, my dear fellow, if you will be advised by me, you will defer this interview until to-morrow. I am afraid that you would not get a very sympathetic hearing from the Governor to-day."
"But my business won't wait; it is of first importance to His Excellency, and concerns public affairs. Both for the sake of the Government and Colony I must see him at once."
"You belong to our party, Sir James," said Colonel Thompson earnestly, "and are soon to be allied to my family. I hear that Salathiel the outlaw saved your life; but don't you think that you are pushing things somewhat too far?"
"Do you know my business, Colonel?"
"No, I can honestly say, I do not; but I have reason to imagine that it is something which would favour Salathiel to the disadvantage of the Government. You know, Bennett," he continued with strong feeling, "this outlaw is a connection of my family by marriage; he is a thorn in the side of a good many of us, and from His Excellency down we should all be glad to know that he was dead; it would be a relief to the Colony; but to grant him a pardon or anything of that sort is out of all question. The Governor won't entertain it for a moment. So far as I am concerned, for the sake of the public good, and to teach men to respect the law, even if he were my own son, I would have him shot or hanged."
"You judge the man without having heard the evidence," replied Sir James calmly. "I have nothing to propose which will be inimical either to His Excellency or the colonists, but rather to the contrary. He can settle the matter privately with a word; but I wish to see him alone."
The colonel looked at him earnestly for a moment. "You shall see him," he said at last, "and alone; but don't be disappointed. He is in no humour to yield an inch to the mob. The insolence of yesterday's meeting has thoroughly aroused him, and he has been told that, to some extent, you are in sympathy with the people's party."
"What nonsense!" said Sir James. "Has the Governor forgotten that I'm a lawyer?"
Shortly afterward a servant in livery ushered Sir James into a large apartment, where His Excellency sat writing at a table. Soldiers with fixed bayonets kept guard at the door.
"You can leave, Morris," said the Governor.
"Take a chair, Sir James," he said, but without offering the lawyer his hand. "I have agreed to see you without my secretary being present; but, as I am very busy, kindly make the interview as brief as possible. We have had bad news from the north; I am informed that you have just returned from Kingdon Ponds and can supply us with further information as to recent events. Excuse my smoking while you talk; I can give you ten minutes." He leaned back in his chair, and having lit a cigar, toyed with the ears of a pet dog as he scrutinized Sir James curiously. It was a mistake, however, to flout in this fashion one who was thoroughly friendly, and who, by birth, education, and instinct, belonged to his own class; but the Governor, unfortunately, was given to making mistakes of this sort.
"I expect that your Excellency will have noticed my changed appearance," began the lawyer. "I was brown-haired a month ago, to-day you will see that I am almost grey. I fell into the hands of a bushranger north of Kingdon Ponds, and, unconscious, was left tied to a tree to die, when the outlaw Salathiel found and rescued me, and like a good Samaritan, not only saved my life, but returned to me my watch and other property."
"I suppose it was one of his own gang that robbed you!" said the Governor.
"No; it was a notorious highway robber and assassin, Hogan by name; Salathiel allows no robbery or violence to be committed by any of his men."
"Well, you got your watch and money back," said the Governor impatiently; "and what then?"
"We were unable to reach the Northern-road, as the bush and forest had been fired by the police, on the order of Captain Moore. So I went with Salathiel to Adullam to rest and recuperate."
"Captain Moore is, unfortunately, dead," said the Governor, "and dead men tell no tales. Nor can dead men defend themselves, so it is usual only to speak good of them."
"But the police who fired the forest are not dead, your Excellency, and a number of others can witness to the truth of what I am about to say."
"Well, go on, but be as brief as possible."
There was probably at that time no man in Australia who could present evidence in a more graphic and convincing manner than Sir James Bennett, and he rapidly sketched the unfortunate career of the notorious outlaw. With skilfully chosen words and masterly effect he secured the Governor's attention, and half an hour passed by with His Excellency still listening, as scene after scene in the outlaw's strange, sad life was made to live before him. The description of Adullam Glen, with its brotherhood of outlaws, the Union Jack flying over their heads, was vividly portrayed; then the fire, the funeral, the women and little children, and the havoc wrought by other fires which followed, were referred to, and also the long death-roll of official murders. The treachery of Fenton and Snow, the ambush, the deaths in the gully, the utter rout of the large body of soldiers and policemen, were each mentioned. Salathiel was still at large, and, if an account of these things appeared in the newspapers, he would likely enough become the popular idol of the disaffected multitude. "But," said the lawyer, pausing significantly, "he is willing and anxious to come to terms with the Government, and leave Australia for good."
"I suppose you want me to grant this outlaw a free pardon?" said the Governor.
"Not exactly that, your Excellency; but——"
"No buts, Sir James, and no free pardons! The man's a criminal, and sooner or later must fall into our hands, when his end will be the gallows. It's of no use pleading for him to me. He saved your life, you say, and you feel bound to do what you can to save his, I suppose. I dare say that if I allowed him to escape the country it would please a certain section of the convict class; but I shall do nothing to gratify or in any way appease that crowd. This is a penal settlement, and I shall treat it as such, and in future rule it more strictly upon police and military lines. Every effort shall be made to take this man and have him shot or hanged. You're an eminent advocate, and I suppose you will defend him, but he will be convicted, nevertheless, and sentenced and hanged, unless he should be shot beforehand or commit suicide. That's my answer, Sir James Bennett. Good afternoon."
"Pardon me one moment, your Excellency. I have always been a friend and supporter of your Government; there is great public tension at the present, and unless the facts I have told you are suppressed they must get into the newspapers. We now have trial by jury, and there is a very strong criminal case against the police."
"Who do you think will dare to proceed against the police?"
"I, for one, your Excellency, unless reasonable justice is done to those who have suffered by those official crimes."
"That is strong language, Sir James: it sounds very much like a threat."
"I don't wish it to be a threat, your Excellency; but Salathiel's secret departure from Australia just now would certainly remove possible dangers from the pathway of the Government."
"Would you go bond for his good behaviour, and that his departure should be effected promptly and secretly?"
"Yes; if you included certain of his men."
"The Colony, no doubt, would be well rid of the whole of them," said the Governor; "but let me tell you, Sir James, that you have come to the wrong man. I'll be no party to compounding a felony, or winking at the escape of a criminal from justice; these men have broken the law and defied my Government, and would now like to take advantage of this popular disturbance and escape scot-free. But let Salathiel look to himself. I'll have every ship that leaves Australian waters watched, and increase the reward offered for his capture by another thousand pounds. He'll fall into my hands yet, and then I'll give the Colony an object-lesson it will remember."
"Does your Excellency know that Salathiel is connected by marriage with Colonel Thompson, and that the Salathiels of Sydney are among the wealthiest and best respected of our citizens; that the man himself has recently come into an income, through the death of a relative, of over two thousand pounds per annum; that he has made full restitution for all his former robberies; that he is a man of strong religious principles, and that he was driven by our brutal convict system into crime; but during the past eighteen months he has done the Colony immense service by putting down bushranging in the north and capturing and punishing some of the most dangerous and bloodthirsty bushrangers, whom our mounted police tried to capture in vain; and saved several prominent citizens' lives? Surely, your Excellency, this is a case for mercy!"
The Governor and barrister were now upon their feet, facing each other; but the former regarded the latter only with disdainful silence.
"Your Excellency will not wish the whole of this story of the late Captain Moore's criminal firing of the northern forest to appear in the public press just now?"
"I have given you my answer," replied the Governor coolly. He rang the bell for a footman, and told him to show Sir James Bennett to the door. Behind a screen, unknown to the lawyer, a Government shorthand writer had taken a full report of the interview, to be shown to the Council.
The appeal unto Caesar had been made in vain!
Sir James Bennett occupied a fine suite of chambers in Temple Court, Castlereagh Street, but they were a despondent trio who met there that night, as the lawyer told of the result of his mission to Government House.
By this time the affairs of Salathiel and Betsy had reached a critical stage. In another week it would be full moon, and the schooner would be awaiting her passengers in Newcastle Harbour. Costly preparations had already been made by Salathiel and his sister Ruth and other friends, in view of the prospective wedding and departure of the vessel; but with police and military on the alert, specially instructed to watch the movements of shipping, in view of the outlaw attempting to leave the country, it seemed impossible that their plans for a safe send-off for Salathiel and Betsy could be carried out. Sir James said their departure would have to be deferred. He thought Betsy had better remain for a while at Kingdon Ponds, or Morpeth; and Salathiel would have, once more, to intrench himself in the ranges. The Governor's resolute attitude had been to the lawyer what fighting-men would call a knock-out blow; but Sir James hesitated to play his trump card, for he knew it to be a trump card only so long as it remained in his possession.
After his return to Government House, reporters from the newspapers had called upon Sir James, hungry for copy. Rumours had gone abroad that he could tell a strange story about Salathiel and the death of Captain Moore, if he would. It would be a great scoop for the paper that got it; but the lawyer refused all information; they might call again on the morrow, if they liked; he was too tired then. Even a sub-editor came up to urge him to make an appointment at the office, to see his chief; but he was obdurate; he would say nothing. "You want me to drag my story up by the roots," he said, "and give it to the public half-ripe; but I won't do it." His natural caution told him that for Salathiel's sake the interview with the Governor should be kept a secret, or he might have said that he was too much knocked over by the Governor's treatment of him to do or say any more that day.
Accordingly Salathiel's three friends sat together that night, trying to think out some new scheme to evade the police and secure an opportunity for the outlaw's departure; but no one seemed able to suggest any improvement upon the Newcastle proposition which was at all feasible.
"With the Government warned and on the alert, I'm afraid the risk is too great at present," said Captain Fraser. "They'll have to wait until this affair blows over."
"Do you think it would be of any use to see the Chief Justice?" said the lieutenant; "he's a far-sighted man, and knows the temper of the people's party better than the Governor."
"No use," said the barrister, "absolutely of no use. He's more prejudiced against Salathiel than the Governor."
"What about your father, lieutenant?" said the Master of the Nancy Lee; "he's commander-in-chief of the military, and has a lot of power."
"I've never sounded the pater," said Lieutenant Thompson; "he's a hard nail, you know, in regard to public affairs. Perhaps he might be induced to do something if Salathiel could be persuaded to sell him Fleetfoot; but I understand that he has arranged to take the horse with him on the Nancy Lee."
They had a good laugh over this, for the colonel's admiration of the outlaw's favourite steed was a subject of frequent pleasantry; and the laugh did them all good, for by this time they were getting morbid.
"I wish Salathiel were here himself," said the barrister; "he might suggest something that would give us a little more light."
At that moment Sir James Bennett's man knocked at the door to say that supper was served, and also to inform his master that there was a gentleman waiting to see him downstairs.
"Another of those confounded reporters," ejaculated the lawyer. "Gentlemen, will you kindly begin supper, and I'll go downstairs and send him off, and be with you in a moment."
He was gone, however, several minutes, and eventually he entered the supper-room in company with a distinguished-looking naval officer of middle age. "Gentlemen," said he, "let me introduce to you my friend, who has consented to take supper with us—Captain Jack Salathiel."
"It's an illustration of an old proverb, Jack," said the lieutenant, shaking him cordially by the hand. "We were just talking about you, and you've appeared, but I never should have known you, especially in that uniform."
"By what Sir James tells me," answered Salathiel with a smile, "I think my coming more fitly illustrates another proverb."
"What is that?" asked Captain Fraser, as he shook hands with the outlaw.
"A spoonful of honey attracts more flies than a hundred barrels of vinegar," replied Salathiel. "I have called at an opportune time, I understand; not only because supper is ready, but because you have something to tell me that may necessitate a change of our plans. I hear that the appeal unto Caesar has failed, as I told Sir James I feared it would."
"Is it not a great risk for you to be in Sydney?" queried Captain Fraser nervously.
"Not a bit," replied Salathiel, "that is, while I keep sober and retain my disguise and common sense. Would any of you have known me either by my appearance or speech?"
"Certainly not!" they all exclaimed, laughing heartily, for he had addressed them in the guttural English of a native of Berlin.
During supper they discussed the barrister's interview with the Governor, but Salathiel protested that neither Governor nor Government should induce him to change his plans. He would go through with it now and marry Betsy and leave Australia by the schooner by the full of the moon.
"But suppose you are arrested, Jack?" said Lieutenant Thompson. "You see, the police will be doubly on the alert; and if they add another thousand pounds to the reward, it will be a great temptation to any who may think they recognize you."
"Have I done right in coming here to-night?" asked Salathiel, looking at the lawyer.
"I think so," said Sir James; "it is very opportune for our plans, and we are all glad to see you."
"Well, I have ridden here to-day from Newcastle on Fleetfoot, and I came in obedience to a sub-conscious monitor which warned me to come and see Sir James at once; the voice which speaks frequently to me from within told me that I might come with safety, and should return again in safety; and, gentlemen, I believe that voice, as I believe in God. For eighteen months it has never once misled or deceived me."
After Salathiel's arrival, Sir James had told his man not to come in without knocking, and he was then heard knocking at the door. A city clock had just chimed the half-hour after ten. The barrister, who had cautiously locked the door, now arose to open it; and master and man stood for a full minute talking at the door.
"You say it's a tall gentleman wearing spurs, who looks like a military officer, and he refuses to give his name or state his business. You told him that I was engaged?"
"I did, Sir James, but he pushed his way in, and ordered me to go and tell you at once that a gentleman wished to see you on urgent business immediately."
The lawyer turned to his friends, and said: "Will you excuse my leaving you for a few minutes, gentlemen? Some one wants to see me on a matter of urgency. Lieutenant, will you kindly lock the door after me; it's best to be on the safe side. I will give three distinct raps when I return."
Five minutes passed, and ten, and a quarter of an hour; and then the men, who had finished supper and were smoking some of the lawyer's cigars, heard the hall-door bang.
A minute afterward, three distinct raps were heard at the door, and the lieutenant hurried forward to open it.
It was Sir James Bennett; but as white as a ghost. He sat down at the table without speaking, poured himself a glass of port and drank it.
"Gentlemen," he said, in a strangely subdued voice, "one of the most remarkable things in the whole of my experience has happened. After our friend Salathiel's last remark before I left you, I can only associate it with some occult force or power. Indeed, gentlemen, I say it with the utmost reverence, it seems to me like the interposition of a Divine power." He held up before them an official envelope bearing the Government seal. "This," he said, "has just been handed to me, and you will pardon me if I pause for a few minutes' thought before I disclose the name of the person who gave it to me and what he said regarding it. Read it out to us, Thompson; I feel as though my very eyes might mislead me." He handed over to the lieutenant a square of parchment which he had taken from the envelope; it was also stamped with the Government seal. It was evidently not a lengthy document, for Lieutenant Thompson held it at arm's-length, under the lights, regarding it with the greatest astonishment; he gave an exclamation of pleased surprise, before he read it aloud, as follows:
"Know, all officers and men of the New South Wales military forces, and all officers and constables of the New South Wales police, that you are hereby instructed to pass the bearer and his friends, without inquiry or hindrance, for a term of one month from the fifteenth of February 1851.
(Signed) James H. Thompson,
Commander-in-chief N.S.W. Forces.
(Signed) William De Courtney,
Inspector of Police."
A strange sigh escaped the lips of Salathiel after the document had been read, and the four men looked at each other as though they had been struck speechless. It was the lawyer who first found his voice.
"That 'safe-conduct' is for you, Salathiel," he said, "to use as discreetly as possible, and only in case of emergency, for your own protection and any of your men who are to be fellow-passengers with you on the Nancy Lee. I have pledged my word that you will hold it as an absolute secret, and use it only for the purpose of leaving this country, in case your personal safety and liberty require that it should be produced, and that in no sense whatever will its possession by you be abused. The inward monitor which sent you to-day to Sydney, and guided you here to-night, and promised that you should return in safety, is to me an inexplicable mystery. But the evidence is incontestable, for you are here in Sydney, and this 'safe-conduct,' under the seal of the Colony and signed by the heads of the military and police, has dropped into your hand from the clouds, as it were, as a gift from Heaven. Take it, my friend, but be very backward in using it, for my opinion is that only two persons in New South Wales know of the purpose for which it has been issued; and the Inspector of Police is not one of them. It's a gift from the gods, as the old heathen would say; or, as we would say, a gift from Heaven. Gentlemen, fill your glasses, and I will give you a toast, and I propose it with feelings of the deepest thankfulness and gratitude to the Supreme Being. Here is to the happiness and future prosperity of Mr. and Mrs. Salathiel, and a safe voyage to them across the sea."
Captain Fraser and the lieutenant sprang to their feet and drained their glasses, still half dazed by the extraordinary stroke of good fortune that had befallen.
Salathiel rose to his feet as they sat down. "My friends," he said, "I have no words to express the deep feeling of gratitude and reverence I have to-night towards God, and for you, through whom this miracle of deliverance has been wrought. Your love and goodness for a friendless outlaw is wonderful. I cannot find words to express my feelings; 'my cup runneth over.' I will say this, however. I shall hold this 'safe-conduct' of the authorities as a very sacred thing, not to be flaunted about, but to be used only when absolutely needed, to preserve for me and mine our liberty. Sir James, I owe to you and to the Government an apology. I would not have believed it possible that such a thing as this could be. You have more than redeemed your promise, made to me in the midst of fire, in the Adullam Glen."
He read the safe-conduct again, still standing, and placed it carefully in its official envelope, stamped with the Royal Arms, and put it into an inside pocket.
"We may unlock the door now," said Sir James, smiling; "come into the other room and I will tell you more about the document which has so completely altered the outlook for our friend, and indeed for us all...It was Colonel Thompson himself who brought it."
"Good old dad!" ejaculated the lieutenant. "I guessed as much; but go on, Sir James."
"He told me he had read the shorthand notes of my interview with the Governor, and asked me if I had given any information whatever to the press. Of course I replied I had not done so.
"'Under certain conditions,' he said,' will you promise me not to do so, in any shape or form, no matter what may appear about the affair in print?'" I replied that if the conditions proved satisfactory to myself and my friends, I would promise.
"'Will you pledge me your word of honour that Salathiel and his men shall leave Australia quietly within a month, without their personality being known to the public, and that anything in the shape of a safe-conduct will only be used with the greatest caution and discretion?'
"I pledged him my word.
"On handing me the document which our friend Salathiel has now in his possession, he said: 'Kindly explain this to your friends. Only two people in Australia know of this safe-conduct, I and another. The inspector who signed it has no knowledge for whom it was made out. I am the only person responsible for it, and I confidently expect that all those to whom you are obliged to disclose its existence will be careful to guard the secret with the utmost vigilance. I am giving Major McFarlane, who I understand has a friendly feeling toward Salathiel's intended wife, temporary charge of Maitland and the northern district, and for the next month my son will relieve the officer in charge of the fortifications at Newcastle. Impress upon Salathiel to exercise as much caution and secrecy as possible; don't allow anything to be done to arouse unnecessarily the suspicion of the local police. Get them all clear of Australia, if possible within a fortnight. And be thankful that you had a friend at court who is not only versed in diplomacy, but possesses some common sense.'"
It was with light hearts that for another hour the friends, for we may now so speak of them, completed their business arrangements for a midnight wedding and the prompt dispatch of the Nancy Lee.
The arrangements made by Salathiel for his departure were singularly complete. If the success of a general depends upon his ability not only to conduct widespread movements of men, but also to enter minutely into details, this outlaw should have made a successful military commander.
At this juncture nothing seemed to escape his eye, and in all directions friends and willing workers offered him assistance. Not one who had sworn allegiance to the Adullam brotherhood was overlooked; the future welfare of each was provided for, either by billets among the settlers on the Liverpool Plains, or in a new career beyond the sea. The schooner was not likely to sail shorthanded, as was so often the case with ocean-going vessels at this time, for in addition to berths having been booked for several third-class male passengers to 'Frisco, she carried a full complement of seamen, several of whom were to join at Newcastle. They were Salathiel's men, who were coming down from the north, disguised.
The marriage was to be solemnized by the Scotch minister of the Sydney church, who would be in Newcastle for the ceremony, which was to begin five minutes after midnight on the morning of Betsy's twentieth birthday, and the wedding breakfast was to be taken on board the Nancy Lee, which would be lying out at the anchorage, cleared from the Custom House, and ready for sea.
The schooner would have a full passenger list from Sydney to Newcastle, for Poddy Carey was to give Betsy away, and Mrs. Carey, Ruth Salathiel, and Amos Gordon were also to be present, with Alice Carey and Judy Gardiner as bridesmaids. Frocks for the wedding and the bride's trousseau had already been ordered by Ruth Salathiel, and souvenirs of jewellery for bridesmaids and relations, presents for the bride, and even gifts for Amos Gordon and Bob, and Betsy's aunt and uncle at Morpeth, were all to hand in readiness.
Kingdon Ponds was nearly a hundred miles from Newcastle, but Salathiel reckoned that Betsy and Bob could easily ride down in a couple of days; but to make sure, they were to leave Kingdon Ponds the evening before, and ride to Patrick's Plains by moonlight. The horses had been stable-fed, and carefully groomed for a fortnight, and were fit for anything. Bob thought that Betsy's mare was a bit too flash; "she's ready," said he, "to jump out of her skin." Fleetfoot had been sent on, so disguised that few people would recognize him, in charge of one of the men, who was travelling slowly, in company with a Newcastle teamster, who carried loading for the Nancy Lee.
Salathiel had gone down in advance to see to a number of things, but Betsy, although she had read the Government's safe-conduct with astonished eves, waited for the evening of departure with nervous apprehension.
"Surely," she whispered to Bob, "everything will go right at last. How I wish it were all over, and we were a hundred miles out at sea!"
Major McFarlane was now convalescent, and pleased with his new appointment, but altogether dissatisfied with the prospect of being finally separated from Betsy, with whom, as every one about the place knew, except Betsy, he had fallen over head and ears in love.
The Major wanted to know all sorts of things about Betsy. She told him she was going home, so he wanted to know where her home was, and how she was going to travel to Sydney; whether by steamer from Newcastle or overland. She guessed at last what was the matter with him, and gave him most seductive opportunities to speak; but the loving Scotchman hesitated, and proposed to travel southward with them himself.
Betsy would have flirted with Bob, only he was her brother, so as to make the cautious officer speak his mind; but however reckless he might have been in war, he was too canny to be over-precipitate in love, and Betsy began to regard him as an insufferable nuisance. She could not tell him she was about to be married, for he would have asked her a hundred curious questions, and that, she thought, would be jumping out of the frying-pan into the fire.
"Good gracious, Bob!" she said, "whatever shall we do with him?"
Bob thought he had hit upon a luminous suggestion, and said, "Ask him to lend you twenty pounds."
"You booby!" she replied, laughing, "he'd lend it to me at once, and make matters twenty times worse. No, I'll have to tell him that I'm engaged, and then he'll want to know who to, and ask me more questions. Why don't you suggest something sensible, Bob? You're not a bit of good."
Bob had got quite friendly with the major, and found out that he was trying to discover as much as possible about Salathiel, whom he imagined to be in hiding in the ranges. But, of course, not a soul at Kingdon Ponds knew anything about him!
"Isn't he a bother?" said Betsy. "And we have to start in a couple of days. I wish to goodness that something might happen that would call him away."
But Bob had a plan of his own, which he was afraid to tell Betsy about.
However, Betsy was getting desperate, and that evening she determined to take the bull by the horns and speak to the major herself. It was a beautifully calm moonlight night, and they were all three sitting out on the veranda, when at a whispered suggestion from his sister, Bob made an excuse to go away.
The moon was glinting over the distant Liverpool Ranges, bathing the gum-trees and willows by the creek in soft liquid lustre. Betsy was thinking of the now deserted stronghold under Oxley's Peak, and recalling many things about it of which Jack and Bob had told her. Thinking, she passed into reverie, and as the soldier smoked his pipe and watched her, he thought her wondrous beautiful, and a line of an old song came to him, very appropriate to his present doubts and fears. He tried to banish it and forget it, but like a mocking, haunting melody, it again and again repeated itself: "Thou art so near and yet so far."
He, too, was feeling desperate, and he knocked the ashes out of his pipe, almost resolved to ask Betsy at once.
"What a beautiful night it is, Miss Carey," he said; "you have been in a brown study. May I ask what you were thinking about?"
"Would you really like to know?" said Betsy, "or do you ask for the sake of saying something nice?"
"I would really like to know," he said. It was a fashion of his, like other Scotchmen, to answer people's questions economically; that is, as nearly as possible in their own words.
"Then," replied Betsy, "I will tell you, but you know it's in confidence, and I want you to keep it a secret. You know you have promised to be good to me, if I needed your assistance."
"Betsy," said the major, moved by the witchery of the hour to use her Christian name, "I promised to serve you with my life."
"Well, one night," said Betsy, "when you were very ill and raving, you talked a great deal about Salathiel, and spoke of him as one generous enemy might speak of another. I was pleased with what you said about the outlaw, and I determined then that you were worth while saving, and resolved to make a fight for your life. But later on you had a terrible relapse; you were in awful paroxysms of pain, and it gave Bob and Morrison hard work to hold you down upon the bed. Dr. Thompson was miles away, and I saw no hope of your lasting out the night; when I was absolutely despairing of your life, one who represented himself as a doctor came in from the Glen of Adullam. He had some wonderful medicine with him, which, with some difficulty, he forced you to take. Your rigid muscles relaxed, and half an hour afterward you broke out into a perspiration, and presently fell asleep. It was Jack Salathiel that was the doctor, and he saved your life."
Betsy's voice had fallen almost to a whisper, and there followed a long pause.
At last, the major asked, in a hard, strange voice, "Why did you not tell me this before?"
"Because I love him," replied Betsy in little more than a whisper, "and I'm engaged to be married to him."
There was another long pause, during which the major struggled hard with his feelings. He had evidently no chance, he thought, but, oh, the perversity of woman! To think of a beautiful girl like Betsy being engaged to be married to an outlaw!
"Where did you meet him?" he presently asked.
"Down at my home on the south coast, where he was our school-teacher."
"I heard about that, and how he deceived the people there completely."
"No," said Betsy, "he deceived no one there; we just saw him as he really was, and is; an educated gentleman, with no vices at all such as you would expect to find in an outlaw; kind-hearted, and as true as steel."
"You speak warmly in his favour, Miss Carey; did you know him long?"
"Only for a few weeks then; but I saw him every day in school. He never made a sign that he cared for me, or spoke one word about love while he was my school-teacher; but I have corresponded with him since for over twelve months."
"But he's a bushranger and outlaw!"
"You may call him what you like, Major McFarlane," said Betsy, with a little break in her voice; "he has been strangely unfortunate; he made one mistake when he was a student, and little more than a boy; and he has since become what your cruel laws and convict system have made him; but people may say what they will of him, I know him to be a good man, and if all the world were against him I'd love him still, and marry him if he had a chance of getting away from this land of convict servitude and official despotism."
The major looked at Betsy in surprise. "I expect that you hate men like myself and Captain Moore, who have been trying to capture Salathiel," he said.
"I certainly don't love you," replied Betsy with a smile; "but you're not like some of them. What you have done has been only your duty. And then I happen to know that you think more kindly and fairly of my friend than do officials like Captain Moore."
"Upon my soul, I do!" replied the soldier impetuously, "and I fear from what you say, and from what I have heard before, that Salathiel has not had a fair chance.
"And so he saved my life, Miss Carey," he said reflectively, "and you intend some day to marry him. Why does he not leave Australia now? He'll never have a better opportunity."
"What would you do, major, if you saw me with him, and knew that he was trying to escape from this country?"
"That's a hard question. Miss Carey; but I think that I should close my eyes, and wish myself the outlaw who is going to marry you."
"Will you promise me something, major? You know you are not overstrong yet, and I'm still your nurse. I'd like you to shut your eyes for a week."
Betsy looked at him; it was clear moonlight, and their eyes met. He seemed to understand her.
"Yes," he said slowly. "I think I owe it to you...you and he saved my life. I'll write to headquarters that I'm hardly strong enough yet to travel. I'll stay at Kingdon Ponds, Betsy, for another week, and keep my eyes shut. But don't whisper it to a soul," he said, as he stood up and took her hand. "May you be happy, Betsy, and get away in peace."
When Bob and Betsy rode to Newcastle there was a letter in Betsy's pocket from Major McFarlane, which, had she shown to any officious soldier or policeman, would have been quite sufficient to remove from their minds any suspicion as to their identity and right to travel upon the Queen's highways, and furthermore, would have ensured for them official recognition and respect.
The major's love for Betsy had induced him, unsolicited, to do a good deal more for her than keep his eyes shut.
* * * * * * * *
Near midnight, on the eve of Betsy's birthday, she and Bob rode quietly into Newcastle. The schooner lay at the anchorage ready for sea, the guests, in a state of almost breathless suspense and expectation, were gathered in the parlour of the manse. The church, which adjoined, was lit up; and every policeman in Newcastle, save one or two in charge of the station-house and wharves, had, late at night, been called away to Wallsend, ten miles distant.
The clocks of the city had struck twelve, when the party walked through the moonlit shrubberies from the manse to the church. There was no haste, for the schooner would not sail until daylight.
Lieutenant Thompson, Captain Fraser, and George Lennox were waiting in the church with Salathiel and the minister, when Poddy Carey led Betsy across, in veil and orange blossoms and silk attire. The bridesmaids followed, and then came Sir James Bennett with Mrs. Carey's hand upon his arm. Bob and Ruth Salathiel and Amos Gordon and Mr. and Mrs. Dawson brought up the rear. With prayer and exhortation, with blessing and benediction, the twain were made one "until death do us part." The bride was kissed and the bridegroom congratulated, and finally the whole party walked to the wharf, where two rowing-boats were waiting at the steps.
One of the few policemen left in the city watched the laughing party as they approached the wharf. He saluted respectfully as he recognized Lieutenant Thompson with them, and resumed his beat along the quay.
The round moon, full and clear, looked like a silver goblet, pouring a flood of light on land and sea, "turning to spiritual the solid world." Strong rowers urged the boats swiftly over the bay, in the direction of the schooner; but Jack's heart beat fast, and tears stood in Betsy's eyes; happy tears mayhap! but still tears; for all danger was not yet passed for her beloved.
The Nancy Lee was a square rigged schooner, of over three hundred tons, built like a yacht, with raking masts, and lines suggesting speed. She looked a beautiful figure upon the water, with light spars and net-work of rigging, which stood out in the moonlight, yards ready to be squared, and white sails hanging loose in the gaskets, to be shaken out and dropped and hauled taut to the land breeze, which hummed in the rigging as though urging her to lift anchor, and away. A flag was flying at the peak, and an air of readiness pervaded the whole vessel. Every one seemed on the alert. It was the first mate's watch; but all hands had mustered to salute the wedding party as they stepped off the gangway, upon the clean white deck, and passed into the saloon. There was a piano on board, and as arranged by the captain, the second mate began to play Mendelssohn's "Wedding March." Bob could have shouted at the success and completeness of the whole affair.
It was an early breakfast, said Captain Fraser, as he took the skipper's place at the head of the table, but before they sat down, he would like to remind them that it was the bride's birthday, and he would propose the old time toast and wish her many happy returns of the day. It was a pleasant thought, for as they drank to the bride's birthday, passing regrets seemed to be forgotten, and they sat down a bright merry company, who laughed and chatted over an Australian outlaw's wedding feast.
How fast the hours passed by with congratulatory speeches! "The Bride and Bridegroom's health," and halting replies, when hearts were too full for many words. But there was no watching for the morning; it seemed to come all too quickly for them.
Scarcely had all the speeches been made, when Sir James called the company's attention to the dawn-light, stealing through the port-holes, and announced that the row-boats were waiting to take the guests on shore.
The cheery clank of the windlass warned the guests to hasten their good-byes. They were hauling the slack of the anchor chain through the hawse-holes, and the Nancy Lee lay with her prow seaward—facing the dawn. The moon hung low behind them in the west; fitting parable of the hopeful future of Salathiel and his bride. The dawn of a new day was breaking, night shadows were behind them, and there was sunlight for them on the sea. They stood at the gangway to shake hands or kiss for the last time, and seldom was there such a leavetaking. Mrs. Carey was crying, although for Jack and Betsy's sake, she tried hard to clear her face and smile, and wipe away her tears. Amos Gordon was most thankful that Salathiel had escaped: he knew nothing about the 'safe-conduct,' which, by the way, had never once been exhibited to military or police. The old man had known and loved Betsy from a child, and as he looked at the happy pair, and thought of all the sad, rugged past, he might have been heard repeating the old Church hymn, for he was as godly as ever, and his Bible and hymn book were mostly in his mind:
"What troubles have we seen!
What conflicts have we passed!
Fighting without and fears within,
Since we assembled last;
But out of all the Lord,
Has brought us by His love,
And still He doth His help afford,
And hides our lives above."
But the boats were full, and cheers given, and handkerchiefs waved. The skipper of the Nancy Lee was shaking hands, for the third time, with Lieutenant Thompson; they were rather confused by the excitement of the leave-taking.
"Good-bye, lieutenant," said the captain, "we've got through far better than we expected."
"Get your anchor up," whispered Lieutenant Thompson, "as soon as ever we push off. There must be no misadventure now; it would kill us all."
"Aye! aye! I'll see to that," replied the captain.
The sun was just rising out of the sea, as the order was given to weigh anchor and haul away at jibs and fore-sail. It was a fair wind to carry them straight out of the bay, and the ocean was burnished before them with the sunrise, which dazzled the eye, as it flung a golden pathway across the tossing waters.
The row-boats grew smaller and smaller as the schooner drew out, with a fair wind bellying her sails, and Salathiel drew long breaths of the salt sea air—breaths, as it were, of relief and satisfaction. In another half-hour they would be out on the deep, free, rolling sea.
Silent and absorbed, Salathiel stood by Betsy's side, as the schooner, catching the full force of the ocean breeze, bowed to it like a sea-bird, and shook the white foam from her shapely bows.
They were passing Nobby's Head!
Suddenly a sound of music reached them from the shore. Lieutenant Thompson must have turned out some of the bandsmen. They were playing the haunting Scotch melody:
"Will ye noo come back again?"
Unaccustomed tears filled Jack's eyes, but he smiled through them, as he pressed his young wife's hand, for he was his own man now, and free.
"Betsy," he said, "perhaps we will some day come back again; but it will be when the good times have come for Australia, and the dear old flag floats over a regenerated land."
"Yes," said Betsy, looking up into his face with eyes full of love; "we will come back again, Jack, 'when the day dawns, and the shadows flee away.'"
Printed by Hazell, Watson & Viney, Ltd., London and Aylesbury.
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