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Title: Dinky Darbison
Author: Edwin J Welch (writing as Alwyn Alverstoke)
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1305841.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: October 2013
Date most recently updated: October 2013

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------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: Dinky Darbison
Author: Edwin J Welch (writing as Alwyn Alverstoke)


*


DINKY DARBISON,

A TALE Of THE EARLY SIXTIES'

By Alwyn Alverstoke.
(Also known as Edwin James Welch.)

Published in The World's News, Sydney, N.S.W., in serial form
commencing Saturday 13 September, 1913.

============================================

FOREWORD.

There has been no attempt in this purely Australian story to construct
an elaborate plot--because when a story is told based on actual men
and actual happenings known to the author, no such thing is really
necessary. The principal characters have been drawn from life, although
they are in no sense individual portraits, and the incidents happened
when life in Australia was more adventurous, more free, and more
strenuous than in the present day.

============================================




Chapter I.--At Barumbah Station.

BOTH horse and rider were manifestly weary. The scrubby ridges
and broken gullies, characteristic of the Upper Dawson country of
Queensland, seemed interminable.

Over the ridge, longer and more forbidding than previous ones, the rays
of a fast-disappearing sun shed a lustre that made it almost beautiful.

The young man on the flea-bitten grey drew rein mechanically, and
muttered an imprecation. He was dressed bush fashion--slouch hat,
Crimean shirt, serviceable riding pants, and a belt out of which
protruded the handle of a murderous-looking revolver.

His carriage and demeanor denoted connection at some time or other with
one of Her Majesty's services. He had the confidence which comes of
training and discipline, and the reckless abandon which only youth and
excellent health can give.

Turning in his saddle, he glanced around him. "By Jove," he muttered,
"this has been a most trying day. It looks like camping out again, and
sleeping with one eye open in case of blacks."

The game-looking, leg-weary horse pricked up his ears.

Manifestly he had heard something which had escaped the attention of
his master.

The man's hand flew to his revolver, and his eyes searched the
surrounding scrub. He discovered nothing, and the horse resumed its
listless attitude.

Well, he would plug along a little further. Who knew what the top of
the confounded ridge might not disclose? Perhaps the very station he
was hoping for.

Harold Armstead, surveyor by profession, and just then in charge of
a Government telegraph construction camp, pressed his heels into the
sides of his horse and moved onward and upward.

The setting sun bathed the dreary-looking country in splendor. It
heartened him.

On the top of the ridge he paused, and, shading his eyes with his hand,
looked around him.

He gave an exclamation of unqualified satisfaction. There, right in
front of him, with the setting sun flooding the homestead with golden
light, was the head station of Barumbah. Moving slightly further
forward, he got a full view of it. A glorious picture it made to the
eyes of the tired traveller.

The house, a long, low building, was situated on the brow of a low-set
ridge which sloped down gradually to the margin of a large lagoon
shaded by gum trees, its surface ruffled only by the occasional
movements of a large number of water fowl of many varieties. Everything
about the place was bright and in a condition of perfect order, except
the figure of a man, who looked as if his clothes had been thrown at
him, as he wandered aimlessly about the well-kept garden in front of
the house.

       *       *       *       *       *

Armstead, who had been in the saddle since sunrise looking for timber
suitable for telegraph poles, gazed on the scene before him, secretly
rejoicing at his own good luck.

His journey had been profoundly solitary. He was a long way off the
track dignified by the name of the Dawson-road, and had only seen
one human being the whole day. The blacks were known to be bad in
the neighborhood, and Harold had kept a sharp look-out for traces of
them. He saw their tracks and some of their handiwork, but the blacks
themselves were never visible.

Memories of the ghastly outrage not long before perpetrated by the
natives at Hornet Bank Station, when a whole family, with the exception
of one boy, was massacred, were still rife in the district, and every
now and then reprisals by native police on the scattered remnants of
the tribe which had so treacherously murdered its benefactors served to
keep those memories active.

On the sheep stations two flocks were usually accommodated at each
out-station hut, each flock having its own shepherd, and, in many
cases, a hutkeeper was also provided, his duties comprising those of
night-watchman, cooking for the shepherds, and shifting hurdles during
the day.

Harold, who was well-mounted and carried his trusty revolver always
handy, had kept on his way without misgiving.

During his ride something had moved behind one of the larger trees. He
pushed on, revolver in hand, but could see nothing. There were no sheep
in sight and no response came to his clear cooee. At any rate, for his
own safety, the mystery must be solved. He had circled round the tree
at what he considered a safe distance from any chance spear.

No one was to be seen, however, and he began to think that his strained
nerves had been playing tricks with his imagination. He could swear he
had caught a glimpse of a moving shadow more than once. What on earth
could it be?

Angry at being baffled, and with his revolver ready for instant action,
he had ridden straight at the tree.

To his utter astonishment a weird-looking figure, with long hair and
unkempt beard, jumped out from behind it, and, calling out:--"Vell,
vat der teufel vas you lookin' for?" threw the gun he carried to his
shoulder.

The man had his clothes over his left arm, and they were scanty enough
in all reason.

To his question Harold had replied with another.

"Who the----are you, and what are you doing out here in the bush in
that Garden of Eden garb? Are you lost?"

"Nein. I vas not loshdt. Vas you lookin' for blackfellows?" and his
eyes sparkled with maniacal glee as he clutched his antiquated musket
still tighter.

"No. But what are you doing, anyway, and do you know how far it is to
Barumbah?" he had asked.

"Ya, der sdadion is funf miles over dis vay. Der tam togs haf killed
some sheeps, und hunted dem avay. If you go to der sdadion you besser
dell dem, isn't it? I look for some but I don'd find dem."

"All right, I'll tell them. Better put your clothes on. Good day." And
as Harold turned his horse in the direction indicated he had puzzled
not a little as to where he had heard a voice like that before.

"I have never set eyes on the man in my life, that I can remember,"
thought Harold, "and you couldn't see his face for dirt, yet his voice
seemed strangely familiar. Mere fancy, I expect."

Still thinking about the man and his weird appearance, he rode forward,
wondering if the proprietor of the station, whose name he had been told
was Darbison, could by any chance be a connection of his old shipmate.
Lieutenant Aubrey Darbison, under whom he had served as a midshipman in
the Rodney during the latter part of the old ship's commission on the
Mediterranean station.

What if it should be "Dinky Darbison" himself--so called by the
irreverent youngsters in the gunroom to distinguish him from a
paymaster of the same name attached to the port guardship Hibernia,
who was known as "Smouch Darbison" on account of certain little
peculiarities of which they disapproved? He knew--and that was all he
did know--that Darbison had thrown up the service on the death of his
father, a tremendously wealthy manufacturer in the north of England.
He had settled down on his property, after marriage with some society
beauty of ancient family but sadly impoverished estate, since which he
had quite lost sight of him.

       *       *       *       *       *

Crossing the road below where it rounded the shoulder of the lagoon
in front of the house and vanished in a sinuous track of many curves
across the plain, Harold passed through the sliprails of the home
paddock and headed for the neat garden fence, on the other side of
which stood the man he had already seen, apparently in contemplation
and taking no heed of the approaching horseman, who moved quietly
over the thick carpet of couch grass. Getting within a few feet of
the silent figure, whose back was towards him, Harold had barely time
to note that the owner appeared to be in some sort of trouble, when
the man turned, revealing an unfamiliar face, on which the lines of
suffering and ill-health were plainly visible.

In response to the suddenly-acquired note of interrogation implied by
his expression, Harold said:--

"Excuse me, but I wish to see Mr. Darbison, if he is at home."

"Yes, sir. Go ahead. I am Mr. Darbison. In what way can I be of service
to you?"

"Well, I have ridden rather a long way to-day, and I should feel obliged
for your permission to turn my horse out and remain for the night. My
name is Armstead, and I am a surveyor in the government service."

"Certainly. With great pleasure, Mr.--Mr.----. Pardon me, but I didn't
quite catch your name. I will get someone to take your horse round to
the stables and attend to him, and then I will show you to a room."

"My name is Armstead, Mr. Darbison, but let me say that, whilst
thanking you for your kindly reception, I cannot but feel a slight
chill of disappointment. You see, I have been hoping all day, and
against hope as it were, that it might be my luck to meet a gentleman
of your name under whom I served many years ago in the Mediterranean.
It was only the similarity of name, of course, which gave birth to the
hope, for the same is by no means a common one."

"Armstead! Armstead! Surely you are not the Harold Armstead whose name
I remember as that of a naval cadet during the last commission of the
old Rodney? If so, indeed, you are wonderfully altered, but time brings
many changes along in its wake, and we were both a good many years
younger then. Ah, me! I have forgotten what Aubrey Darbison was like
in those days, but he was a far happier man then than he is now, or is
ever likely to be again. Hallo!" he called out, and in response a groom
appeared from one of the outbuildings. "Take this horse," he said to
the man, "and see it stabled and cared for."

Then turning to Armstead, he continued:--

"Here's your valise, and this is your room; come right through this
passage when you are ready. It's like a breath of old times to meet
with as old shipmate, and I'm more glad than I care to say to have you
here."

The internal arrangements of the house came in the light of a surprise
when compared with the somewhat primitive comforts incidental to the
general run of way-back stations. The rooms were large and solidly
furnished with all appliances of ease and elegance suggestive of ample
means, and the general arrangements and decorations testified to the
taste and supervision of a woman's hand.

As Harold entered the dining-room, the table of which was laid with
scrupulous care and attention to the most minute detail, Darbison stood
at the buffet in the act of helping himself liberally from a tantalus
bottle of brandy, in which Harold was cordially invited to join.

Just at that moment an attractive and beautifully-dressed woman
entered from one of the French lights opening on to the verandah, and
came towards them with an expressive shrug of her bare and gleaming
shoulders.

Armstead looked at her with undisguised admiration. She was in evening
dress, and, indeed, beautiful. Her features were perfect and the wealth
of raven-black hair set off a face the beauty of which was insistent
and compelling. Her dark brown eyes, shaded by silken lashes, lighted
up for a moment with glad surprise, then relapsed into their moody and
ill-concealed expression of contempt which the earlier shrug of the
shoulders had all too plainly indicated.

"Mrs. Darbison, this gentleman is an old and welcome brother officer of
mine. Permit me to introduce Mr. Armstead--Mrs. Darbison."

With a slight, but graceful inclination of the head, the lady sailed
round to the other side of the room and assumed a statuesque attitude
near the fire, leaving, however, a decidedly Arctic temperature behind
her, which Darbison promptly proceeded to thaw with another nip of
brandy. Again came the action of the shoulders, which meant disgust if
it meant anything, and the sound of the dinner gong from the passage
heralded another introduction.

"Mr. Evesham, this is Mr. Armstead, once an old shipmate of mine,
now in the service of the Government." He was soon followed by a
bright-faced, happy-looking young man named Morrison, of twenty or
thereabouts, and the party was complete.

As a dinner the entertainment was perfect. The only attendant was a
grey-haired old man in regulation attire, who answered to the name of
Robson, and, as it afterwards appeared, he had been for many years
butler in the house of Darbison's father. The plate was real and
massive, the viands numerous and well-cooked, and the wines beyond
criticism. Yet over all there hung an air of depression and mystery
which spoilt all sense of enjoyment.

Darbison said nothing, ate very little, but drank very freely. Mrs.
Darbison and Evesham exchanged a few common-place remarks at long
intervals, and Morrison left at an early stage with some half-muttered
explanation about something he had omitted to attend to. The feeling of
restraint was becoming intolerable, when Harold suddenly introduced the
subject of his meeting with the partially-clad shepherd on the run.

"Ha! yes, that was old Carl you met, and, thanks to the message you
were good enough to deliver, I have already sent him help. Niggers'
dogs, of course. They are a veritable curse to us," said Evesham.

"I think you referred to him as Carl. Do you happen to know his other
name?"

"Can't say I do, but it will be in the store books. He's quite mad, you
know, although he behaves rationally enough sometimes."

"Wonder if his name is Geffel? I couldn't think at the time whom he
reminded me of, but I know now. A man of that name came out in the
steerage of the ship I came in, and that he was mad I well remember.
But he was landed in Melbourne, and his wife and a young daughter with
him."

"And all three are now on Barumbah," broke in Darbison; "the wife is
our cook, and the daughter is Mrs. Darbison's maid; that is, if she is
his daughter, which I don't for one moment believe!"

"Aubrey, again I must request you to abstain from making those absurd
comments. There it no more foundation for it than for any of your other
ridiculous suspicions!"

"All right, madam, so be it." Then, turning to his guest, he said:
"Come to my den, Armstead, and have a smoke by the fire. It's too cold
outside these nights."

There, by the cheerful blaze, Darbison became more communicative.
Referring to the Geffels, he told how they were engaged and sent up to
him by his agents in Brisbane about six months before. "The woman is a
jewel, the girl a beautiful mystery, but as good as she is pretty. The
man had been kept on the place as groom and general knockabout, but was
constantly quarrelling with his wife, so we gave him a flock, with more
wages, just to get him away from the house. Good shepherd? Yes, as good
as the rest of them, but in terror of his life for the blacks. Yes,
they are a bit troublesome at times, and then we send for the native
police. Have another drop of Martell, old man, it won't hurt you."

"No more, thanks. I'm a trifle tired, and, if you don't mind, I'd
rather turn in. I've a long way to go yet, and would like to get an
early start in the morning."

"Not if I know it, you don't. Nonsense, man. Why, I've sent your horse
out to the big paddock on the river, and you can't get him for a couple
of days at the earliest. A bit of the old cloth is not so common out
this way that we can part so soon. Besides, I want you to stop for a
day or two as a personal favor. You won't say no to that, I'm sure, for
the sake of old times."

So the matter was settled, as there was evidently no other way but of
it, and the next day began a series of hideous complications, which
terminated in wreck and disaster.




Chapter II.--The Rift in the Lute.

Shortly after breakfast, a meal at which Darbison alone put in an
appearance, in an unmistakably shaky condition, Robson beckoned to
Armstead from the door of his pantry, which he carefully closed on them
and said:--

"Asking your pardon, sir, for the liberty I'm taking, but I can't keep
quiet any longer. You see sir, it's this way. Man and boy I've been in
the family for close on forty years, and Master Aubrey growed up with
me from the time he was a little chap so high, except when he was away
at sea. Well, sir, Mr. Aubrey tells me you are an old shipmate of his,
and I can see you ain't a drinker, so I thought I'd just up and tell
you. Things is all wrong here, and they're going from bad to worse, and
he knows it, and that makes him keep on drinking, and God knows what
the end of it will be. That Evesham, ever since he come here a year
ago, have been carrying on with the missus, and it's just shameful.
She is a vain, silly fool, and what Mr. Aubrey married her for I could
never make out. She married him for his money, I know that, because I
know all about her people, and she was a pretty girl, I don't deny,
and you know the way it is with sailors, sir, when there's a petticoat
around! (a most unjustifiable assumption, by the way, although an
extremely popular delusion). Well, they got on all right till this
Evesham came, and things has been getting worse ever since. I've got
my eyes open, of course, but Alice--and a right good girl she is--sees
everything, and tells her mother, and then I get it all, and lately
the missus has been making her presents of clothes and things by way
of bribes not to let on what she knows, and pretty soon there'll be a
great bust up, and what to do I don't know. Perhaps you can help me,
sir, if you would be so kind, but whatever you do, don't let Mr. Aubrey
know that I have been talking to you."

"This is all very terrible, Robson, but I really don't see how I can
help you. It is painfully evident that Mr. Darbison is drinking too
much, but he would very properly resent my even hinting at such a
thing. Do you think he could be persuaded to take her down to Sydney,
or even Brisbane, for a short holiday. That might break the spell, eh?"

"He tried that, sir, months ago, when he first began to get suspicious,
but she wouldn't listen to it. Said her health was too delicate and
couldn't stand the journey. No, that's no use, sir."

"Well, Robson, I don't see any way out of the trouble at present. I
must think it over and watch for an opportunity to speak if I can. Mr.
Darbison has pressed me to stay on here for a few days, and after what
you have told me I must try and arrange to do so. Now, before I return
to the house, I should like to have a little talk with Mrs. Geffel,
who, I dare say, will remember me, as we came out in the same ship. Can
you arrange that? And, by the way, where is Mr. Evesham just now?"

"He went off to one of the out-stations before sunrise, sir. To give
him his due, he don't ever neglect his work. Come this way, sir, if you
please."

Mrs. Geffel was found hard at work, "tidying up," as she called it, in
the spotless kitchen, and mutual recognition soon took place. She had
aged considerably, and her face wore a sad and worried look, but Alice,
who soon after made her appearance, was a revelation of the change
that a few years can make when the child becomes developed into the
perfect woman. The premise of her early youth had been amply fulfilled,
the same winning smile, the same honest glance from her bluish-grey
eyes, and the same charming, self-possessed manner which was markedly
genuine. In figure, stature, and, above all, in the carriage of her
well-poised, shapely head, crowned with its wealth of rippling, golden
hair, she could have held her own in the stateliest ranks of the
world's aristocracy. But this is not a love story, merely a record of
everyday facts in the lives of a few everyday sort of people. One of
those facts, however, must have been patent to everybody, namely, that
Carl Geffel and his wife could not possibly have been the progenitors
of such a splendid type of woman-hood.

"Leave us, Alice dear, please, for a little while. I want to talk
to Mr. Armstead." Which was true only within certain well-defined
limits. Not a word of blame for anybody, merely hints, given with much
reticence, that things were not precisely what they ought to be, and
that the responsibility, whatever might be its extent, rested chiefly
on the shoulders of Mr. Evesham. Evidently that gentleman was no great
favorite.

What might have transpired had it been possible to prolong the
interview cannot be told, for it was suddenly interrupted by the
arrival of Morrison on a hard-ridden horse, from which he dismounted
and made straight for Darbison's room with a startling piece of
information.

"Old Carl has been killed by the blacks, sir. Mr. Evesham sent me in to
tell you. We found him near the Seven-mile, quite dead, with a spear
sticking in him, his head battered in, and his flock scattered all over
the country. And Mr. Evesham says I am to go up the river at once for
the native police, and will you please send a man out with a pick and
shovel!"

"Sorry, indeed, to hear that, Morrison, but in the meantime say nothing
about it outside, and I'll ask Robson to break it gently to the poor
woman after you've gone. Get a fresh horse and start for the barracks
as soon as you can, and call at Ivy Downs on your way, and if Mr.
Somers is at home ask him to try and come over. Get some lunch before
you start, and be off with you."

The dainty luncheon set at 1 o'clock had no patrons except Armstead and
Darbison; the latter merely trifled with the food placed before him,
but helped himself far too liberally to brandy and soda, greatly to the
manifest discomfiture of honest old Robson. Evesham and Morrison were
both away, Mrs. Darbison was indisposed, and had not yet left her room,
which, by the way, was at the opposite end of the verandah to that
occupied by her husband. So that what little conversation there was
referred solely to the sad fate of old Carl Geffel and the prospects of
a successful raid on the camp by the police. Evesham returned during
the afternoon, having buried the remains of the murdered shepherd, and
brought with him the spear and what little property the old man had
left in his hut. Morrison was not expected until the following day, and
Mrs. Geffel was in a state of collapse, with Alice in close attendance,
Mrs. Darbison being apparently too unconcerned about the troubles of
such very ordinary people to seek to offer consolation. Dinner, as
on the previous night, was an even more mournful function, and again
Armstead was invited to go to the den for a smoke. They had not been
there long before music was heard in an adjoining room, and two voices,
harmoniously blended, joined in a duet from "Trovatore."

"They do that sort of thing nearly every night," said Darbison, "but
they might have given a thought to the grief of that poor woman in the
kitchen, this night above all others. ----it, I can't stand it, and I
won't have it. Excuse me a minute, old man, and I'll go and speak to
them."

The lull was of short duration, and was quickly followed by angry
voices, which momentarily increased in volume until a final shriek in a
woman's voice brought Armstead to his feet in a hurry, and immediately
afterwards Darbison appeared, white with anger, threw the key of the
piano on the table, buried his face in his hands, and said: "---- the
scoundrel, and the woman too, and myself for being the biggest fool on
this continent. Do you hear me, Armstead?"

"With the deepest regret I do. But perhaps I had better go away.
Evidently something is wrong, but nothing in which I can take part.
If I could serve you I would gladly, but I fear that is out of the
question."

"Quite; but don't go just yet. I must talk to somebody or I shall
go mad. Bear with me for a little, old man, and I shall pull myself
together directly."

After a short silence and a sharp inward struggle, he went on:--

"I wrote to my agents last week to put Barumbah on the market. I ought
to have done so before. But it may take some time to effect a sale, and
in the meantime I am helpless. I have smashed one side of his face in
to-night, but that only helps to publish my disgrace and show me up as
the craven, spiritless thing I am. Good heavens! to think that Aubrey
Darbison should have to say that of himself!"

"Stop it at that, Darbison. I positively won't sit here to listen to
such talk. If, as I suppose, you are referring to Evesham, why allow
him to remain on the place?"

"Why? You may well ask why! He has an agreement for three years, only
one of which has expired. But I believe he would be perfectly willing
to go if she went with him. Without her, he would drag me through the
court for breach of contract. He has suggested as much, although I
offered him more than double the two years' salary to go. It is a case
of diabolical infatuation on both sides, and I see no way of escape
from the disgrace. She has her own rooms, and I never see her except
at the table, and not always there. She follows him about all over the
place, takes long bush rides with him, and laughs in my face when I
remonstrate, which, however, I no longer do."

"Had they met before he came here?"

"That's where the infernal cunning of the thing appears, but I only
learnt that part of it about a couple of months back, from a dear old
friend in London. I knew nothing of the wretch before he was sent up
to me by a Sydney firm to whom I had written, and his fitness for
the position was extolled to the skies. When he arrived the pair of
them met as absolute strangers. That was part of the game. She had
been corresponding with him, and he knew when and to whom to make
his application. However, to do him but scant justice, he is a good
bushman--been out here for many years--and has a certain aptitude for
management that carries him through. He was well-connected, and a
subaltern in one of the Household regiments when he first met her, and
dangled about after her at all times and places. He would have married
her, I believe, but she and her people wanted money, and he had little
more than his pay, which doesn't go far in a crack regiment. So he
took to gambling, came a cropper, and cleared out in a hurry to this
country. That's a general outline only--fill it in for yourself."

"May I speak plainly, Darbison, without fear of giving offence?"

"Be sure you may, old chap, but I think I know what you want to say.
You think I drink too much? Quite true. I have done, but will do so no
longer. I have no love for it--never had--but it served to kill thought
and drown memory. After what happened to-night, I realise the danger
for the first time."

He touched the bell at his elbow, and old Robson came to the door.
"Come in, Robson, you faithful old soul, and do exactly as I tell you.
Put that tantalus back in the cellaret, and with it any other bottles
or decanters containing spirits, lock it up, put the key in your
pocket, and refuse possession to every soul on the place, except Mr.
Armstead, if he asks for it. No, I include myself as well. You need
have no fear. If at any time I should want it I will come to you for
it. Good-night, Robson, it's time you were in your bed."

"Good-night, and thank God, for I never knew you to break your word,
Mr. Aubrey," and the old man's eyes glistened as he left the room.

"And about Mr. Morrison," said Armstead, when the door closed behind
him. "Has he been with you long?"

"I brought him up here when I bought the place. He's a decent young
fellow, has been well educated, and belongs to a well-to-do family
somewhere in Tasmania. I understand he will have money some day, and
the agents, who knew his people, sent him up to get experience. He's
a good worker and worth far more than the small screw he gets, but he
appears to be quite contented, and old Robson swears by him. That's a
strong point in his favor, and another is that I know there is no love
lost between him and that scoundrel Evesham, whose measure, if I'm not
deceived, he was shrewd enough to take some time back."

"That's all right, then. But really, Darbison, I must get on with my
work, sorry though I am to go just at this crisis, but I can't fake my
reports, you know, and I shall be hauled over the coals for this delay."

"Just one more day, there's a good fellow. It won't make much
difference, if any, in the coaling process, and there's a lot I want to
say to you yet."

To this Armstead at length consented, and the "crisis"--which had not
yet arrived--they were destined to face together.

It was nearly noon on the next day when Morrison returned with word
that the native police were absent from barracks on duty in another
direction, but would come over as soon as possible; and Mr. Somers was
away from home, and not expected back for a week.

Evesham had gone out at grey dawn, having previously been to the
kitchen and made a cup of coffee in the "conjurer." Mrs. Geffel had
peeped out, however, and, seeing his head was tied up, supposed he had
"a bad attack of neuralgia!"

Mrs. Darbison remained invisible to everybody except Alice throughout
the day, but appeared at dinner time as usual, only a trifle more
elaborately dressed. For whose benefit did not appear, as Evesham did
not return till after sundown, and had dinner in his own room.

The meal was hurriedly disposed of in silence, which was broken only
occasionally by Robson in the performance of his customary duties. An
air of restraint was over all until it was interrupted by a piercing
shriek from the kitchen.




Chapter III.--An Amateur Bushranger.

THE three men jumped from their seats and rushed out, Robson following,
after making a vain attempt to assure Mrs. Darbison that there was
no cause for alarm, as it was probably one of the women who was more
frightened than hurt by some slight accident.

But when they reached the kitchen they found it in possession of a
man whose face was concealed by a cloth mask, holding a revolver in
his hand, and threatening to use it if the two women, huddled in the
farthest corner, uttered another sound. Hearing the men as they reached
the door, he suddenly turned, and, raising his weapon, ordered their
immediate return to the house, and the frightened women to follow them.
Not being armed, they could only obey. When all were safely inside he
locked the door, put the key in his pocket, and, looking them all over,
exclaimed:--

"Where is that dog Evesham?"

"Mr. Evesham is in his room, sick," said Darbison.

"Very good, I will attend him there shortly. Robson, get me a drink,
and be quick about it. Be seated, gentlemen. As long as you attend
to my orders you have nothing to fear, but take care that you don't
disobey them. Mr. Darbison, I have a long journey in front of me, and
I am short of funds. I must trouble you for what cash you have in the
house, irrespective of cheques, which would be useless."

"You seem to be well acquainted with Barumbah and its occupants," said
Darbison. "May I ask----"

"Ask nothing if you are wise, but produce the money."

"Very well, we are unarmed men, and at your mercy. You will, I presume,
allow me to go to my room for it?"

"Sit down, sir, and hand the keys, if they are required, to Robson. If
the amount is insufficient I shall be compelled to make a search for
myself, but I warn you against trickery of any sort!"

On the old man's return to the room he deposited a considerable sum in
notes, gold, and silver on the table, where it was left untouched by
the bushranger, who then said:--

"Gentlemen, you will please to remain seated whilst I transact the
business which brought me here. I have to interview Mr. Evesham. Thank
you, yes, I know the way to his room. Again let me warn you of the
consequences of any attempt to follow or interfere with me, as I have
no wish to be compelled to use this!"

Pointing the revolver at the group as he spoke, he then opened a French
light leading on to the verandah, and walked straight to the door of
Evesham's room, which he entered without knocking.

"Who the devil are you, and what do you mean by this intrusion? Armed
and masked, too! What is it you want? Money? Because if that's it
you'll be disappointed. There's no money here."

"Silence, you anointed liar and scoundrel, and don't move a muscle as
you value your dirty, degraded life. Two only of your questions demand
answers. I will take what money I can find, presently. In the meantime
I shall appropriate this very handsome watch and chain and these
diamond studs," lifting them from the dressing table as he spoke. "So
much for your second question. Now for the first." Still keeping his
pistol levelled at the recumbent figure on the bed, he tore off the
mask with his disengaged hand and said:--

"Now I think you will know who I am, Evesham!"

"Yes, I recognise you, Tom Dickson. You are the man who was engaged for
the shearing last year and bolted before it commenced."

"Liar again. You knew me, and I saw that you did, the day I came to
the station, cunningly as you tried to conceal it. And you know me
now, as the poor dupe whom you first rooked and then made a tool of to
bring other young idiots into the toils you and your comrades worked so
successfully.

"True, I came here as Tom Dickson in the struggle to earn an honest
living, but you knew then, as you know now, that I am, or rather was,
your brother officer, Chelpont, and I left here the same day I was
engaged because I knew that I should kill you if I remained. I knew
nothing of your being in this country, or of the name by which you are
known here, until I saw you. Your letter to England after that, in
which you lied so cruelly about me, is in my pocket now. It was sent to
my father and came back to me. Now, before I leave this house, you will
write a confession, which will be witnessed by Mr. Darbison, and----"

A rustling as of drapery near the door attracted his attention, and
as he turned to look Evesham's hand came from under the pillow. "I'll
see you hung first," came the response, accompanied by a shot, and
instantly followed by an agonising scream from Mrs. Darbison, whose
curiosity, combined with fear for Evesham's safety, had made her follow
the footsteps of the masked man, though warned not to do so.

She had but just reached the door, and was in the act of stealthily
pushing it open, when the heavy bullet from a single-barrelled
derringer missed the mark for which it was intended, passed through her
hand, and on into the garden.

All was confusion. For an instant only the stranger hesitated, then
replaced his revolver in his belt, and turned to the door as Mrs.
Darbison flew past him, flung herself on the bed beside Evesham,
screaming all the time with pain, bleeding freely, interspersing
admissions of her love for him with denunciations of the bushranger,
who, she declared, had fired at and tried to kill her.

"That is another lie! The man who fired the shot is the scoundrel
beside you, and here is the pistol from which it was fired," picking
up the derringer from the the floor, and turning to the door, where
the men he had ordered to remain in the dining-room were now standing,
gazing on the scene in bewilderment, but about to rush the intruder,
who quickly faced them and said:--

"Mr. Darbison, I do not know how much or how little you may have seen
or heard. Probably sufficient to convince you that I am not altogether
what I may appear to be. At any rate I was a gentleman once, and a
brother officer of that despicable wretch inside there, the crawling
thief to whom I owe my downfall. When I came to the station last
season to get a job of shearing I knew nothing of his being here, but
I recognised him at once, and I saw that the recognition was mutual,
although he tried hard to conceal his part of it. If I had remained I
must have killed him. But enough of that. During the evening I was at
the men's hut, I found out a great deal about Barumbah, and, although
I would not pain you if I could avoid it, I must necessarily refer to
the fact of the men's knowledge of that of which you appeared to be
in ignorance--the infatuation of your wife for the treacherous hound
with whom she now is. That, however, was in no sense any business of
mine, but I decided to trade upon the knowledge to the extent of using
it, and with violence if necessary, to force a confession from him of
the hideous wrong he did me and to compel restitution of some part of
what he robbed me. To carry out my plan I decided to act the role of a
bushranger and risk the penalty. I realise now that I have failed, in
part at least, if not in all, and whilst I most earnestly and sincerely
apologise to you for the part I have played, I am content to leave him
for the present in your hands, knowing full well that retribution must
now overtake him."

Having returned to the dining-room, the stranger walked to the table,
and, pointing to the money Robson had placed there, and alongside
which he deposited the derringer with which Evesham had fired at him,
said: "There is the money, Mr. Darbison, which I may say I had no
intention of retaining; it was merely taken as part of the game I was
mistakenly playing. There is the derringer, and if Robson will oblige
me with pen and ink I will leave my name and the name and address of
a well-known and reputable citizen of Brisbane, through whom you can
communicate with me should you require my evidence at any time, though
in the peculiar existing circumstances I scarcely think that likely."
Then he walked slowly down the passage, and with a final "Good-night,
gentlemen," disappeared in the darkness, shortly after which they heard
the sound of a horse's feet on the hard road in front of the house.




Chapter IV.--The Aftermath.

Less than an hour had passed since Chelpont's (alias Dickson) first
appearance, and after his departure a painful silence followed.

Darbison, with his elbows on the table, and his chin resting on his
clasped hands, stared blankly in front of him, but uttered no sound,
made no movement. Robson stood directly behind him, wearing a stony
look of despair. Morrison tactfully left the room and remained within
call on the verandah, whilst Armstead drew closer to his old shipmate,
placing his hand on the stricken man's shoulder, as though to assure
him of his great sorrow and loyal devotion to his needs.

At the end of perhaps twenty minutes of this depressing scene,
Darbison, grey in feature, and, though firm in speech, gentle in
manner, spoke.

"Robson, please ask Mr. Morrison to return to the room." This having
been done, he continued:--"My friends, for I know each of you merits
that name, bear with me for a few minutes. You have been, I know full
well, unwilling witnesses to my dishonor. I ask you now to remain
until I take some of the kinks out of this tangle of treachery and
deceit. Robson, please tell Mr. Evesham that I wish to see him. If Mrs.
Darbison is still in his room, send the two women from the kitchen to
her, give what assistance you can to bind up her wound, then see that
she goes to her own room, and come back and report."

In a few minutes Robson returned, saying:--"Mrs. Darbison is in her own
room, Master Aubrey, and Alice is with her. She tells me that the pain
from the wound is very terrible, but both she and her mother are doing
their best. Mr. Evesham refused to leave his room, and told me to go to
the devil. As I turned to go there, or anywhere out of his sight, he
said if you wanted him you knew where to find him!"

"Thank you, Robson, that is sufficient. Now, gentlemen, please follow
me."

Entering Evesham's room, the door of which was still open, Darbison
said: "I have accepted the invitation to visit you because I choose to
have these witnesses to my dishonor as witnesses also to my decision.
A cheque for your salary will be handed to you by the storekeeper in
the morning. Mr. Morrison will have a conveyance ready for you and
your traps as soon as horses can be run up after sunrise, and he will
accompany you as far as Somerton, and then return with the buggy. I
must necessarily allude to the misguided woman who has made her choice
and must abide by it. Apart altogether from these men now in the room,
I have overwhelming evidence of much that has transpired recently."

"My own fault, did you say?"

"Possibly in the first instance, and in some measure, though to a
very limited extent, there may be some truth in that. But I trusted
unreservedly the woman who had sworn fealty to me at the altar, and
the man who claimed to be a gentleman, who had held Her Majesty's
commission, and was treated by me as a friend. Further comment on the
subject would be as painful as it is unnecessary. You can, or not, as
you please, inform the lady who has thus severed her connection with me
that it will be advisable for her to accompany you on your journey, as
she can no longer remain under my roof. Should she decline to do this I
shall take prompt measures to secure myself from intrusion, and at once
instruct my solicitors to proceed with an action against her, joining
you in the issues. Not, however, under your assumed name of Evesham,
but under that to which I believe you to be entitled, according to my
informant of to-night, Seymour Fultenham, late cornet in the regiment
you were compelled to leave. I have for some time past suspected you of
being a blackguard, Mr. Evesham; now I know you to be a coward as well.
See that you and your partner in guilt--if she is prepared to trust you
to that extent--are away from Barumbah at an early hour in the morning."

Leaving the room, followed by Robson and the others, Darbison turned
to the old man, thanking him and them for their attentions during the
succession of harassing scenes.

Then to Morrison he said:--"Have the horses run up at daylight, and
have Sambo and Kitten ready for a start. Take the hooded waggon, and
carry out my wishes as you have heard them expressed. Robson, you will
ask for an interview with Mrs. Darbison and repeat to the letter what
you have heard from me. And now, good-night. I must be alone."

All arrangements made overnight were duly carried out the next morning.
Mrs. Darbison, with her arm in a sling, and deeply veiled, was handed
into the waggon by Evesham, also a pile of luggage, and they were
driven off quickly and without any notice being taken of them other
than a formal raising of the hat by Robson, and a flood of tears from
Alice, which latter were undoubtedly genuine. Darbison came in to
breakfast trying hard to appear at ease, but with the same grey and
haggard look that he had worn the night before.

What little conversation there was Armstead was responsible for,
declaring that he really must get on with his work.

"I am truly sorry to go, Darbison, at this juncture, but I don't see
that I could be of any use by remaining, so I must ask you to let me
get away in the morning. I think I can finish and be back here in about
a fortnight, and by that time you will have steadied down and got back
into your old form, and I shall be able to stay for a day or two if
you'll have me."

It was nearly a month, however, before Armstead saw Barumbah again,
and much had happened in the meantime. The station had been inspected
by a possible purchaser, and practically sold. Ken Morrison's services
were retained by the new man; Robson was to go with Darbison, bound on
a visit to an old friend in Melbourne; Mrs. Geffel was made happy with
the promise of a substantial cheque for herself and Alice, but thought
she would go to Rockhampton and start a boarding-house. Darbison was
entirely contented with the prospect of a speedy departure from his
ruined home, and utilised most of his time packing such odds and ends
as he desired to retain.

The last evening was spent by the two old shipmates alone in Darbison's
now dismantled den, where, over a cheerful fire, they talked freely
of the situation and the numerous incidents which preceded and led up
to it. Referring to poor old Carl Geffel's fate, and the prospect of
success for the widow in Rockhampton, Darbison asked Harold about his
first meeting with the family on the voyage out from England, of which
he had heard very little from Mrs. Geffel, and was desirous of hearing
more.




Chapter V.--The Story of the Geffels.

Glad of the opportunity to distract his attention from present
troubles, Harold entered upon the topic with a degree of satisfaction,
and the older sailor listened with increasing interest, as the story
was told.

"To begin at the beginning," Armstead said, "my acquaintance with
the Geffels began on the occasion of Neptune's visit to the good old
windjammer Essex on our way out. We were, of course, crossing the line,
and when His Majesty came aboard the usual horse-play was indulged in.
You know their tricks, old chap."

"Yes," said Darbison, "I have to this day a lively recollection of my
first crossing."

"Well, the regular procedure was religiously gone through, and it
served, any way, as a break in the monotony of the daily routine.

"The chief feature was the induction of Geffel, who, with his wife and
daughter, if she is his daughter, was a steerage passenger. He proved
himself a most unwilling victim. He fought wildly and swore volubly in
his native tongue, freely enriched with such samples of fiery English,
as a year's domicile in a Soho restaurant, as waiter when a young
man, had enabled him to acquire. But resistance availed him little in
the grasp of the quaint looking athletes who posed as Neptune's court
officials, urged to desperation by that monarch's devoted spouse,
Amphitrite, a stalwart sailor disguised in an enormous crinoline,
flowing skirts, and a huge wig of tow, a raddled face, and a large
green umbrella, with which the court was constantly produced to renewed
exertions.

"In spite of all his struggles and a perfect volcano of polyglot talk,
Carl was compelled to submit to the devices of his captors.

"I can see the old fellow now, as I saw him then, blindfolded, his
arms bound, placed on a plank over the coaming of the main hatch,
beneath which was made fast by the corners a bellying tarpaulin full
of sea water. He was then generously lathered all over the face and
head with a white-wash brush dipped in a bucket of some mixture that
looked white, but smelt of the hereafter, and the torrent of his
eloquence--mainly consisting of threats of awful vengeance on his
persecutors--only ceased when the contents of the brush were plastered
over his open mouth. Then the court barber stepped up with a gigantic
razor, fashioned out of iron hoop, and proceeded to shave him, taking
off the rough of the lather only, and then somebody tipped the plank
and Carl was spluttering and swearing in the good salt water beneath.

"With his release the ceremony was over. It had been a source of
great amusement to the audience, which included most of the cabin
passengers, gathered in groups on the break of the poop, and those
from the steerage, amongst them being Geffel's wife and daughter.
Mrs. Geffel showed no sign of disapproval of the way in which her
husband was treated. Beside her stood a short, thick-set man of Jewish
type, to whom she spoke frequently. Her hand was clasped in that of
a sweet-faced girl of 11, or perhaps 12, years of age. That girl was
Alice, then a child of remarkable beauty, more, perhaps, of expression
than of actual feature, a small face lit up by large greyish-blue
eyes, and surmounted by a wealth of glossy, crinkly hair, the color
of ripening grain. The second officer had, in fact, rechristened her
'Cornflower' soon after the ship left port, and it certainly was
impossible to trace the slightest resemblance between her and either of
her reputed parents."

Here Darbison, who had been listening most intently to Armstead's
narrative, interjected.

"I noticed that when they first came to Barumbah. I have said several
times since, and still maintain, that there is some mystery attaching
to Alice. She behaves in every way with the inmate characteristics of
a high-born lady. But excuse my interruption, Armstead, and go on with
your story."

"Well," proceeded Harold, "the groups speedily separated and dispersed
to their respective quarters, Mrs. Geffel, with the child and her
companion, stopping on their way to chat with a group of sailors, one
of whom hazarded the opinion that 'that there Dutchy had a bad time in
for somebody, if he knowed what it was to see the devil lookin' out of
a man's eyes, an' if I was you, missus, I'd see as he didn't carry a
wepping of any sort about with him!'

"She merely smiled and said:--'Oh! there's no fear, Carl isn't one of
that sort, though I must say his temper don't seem to improve much
since we left home. But I fancy the hot weather has something to do
with that.'

"Eventually I got on quite friendly terms with Mrs. Geffel and learnt
something of her story. Carl had never been what she considered a good
husband to her; at least nothing like what she expected him to be when
she married him. Then he was a waiter and she the cook in the little
Soho restaurant, where foreigners of many nationalities gathered in
the evening and spent the greater part of the night in the big room
upstairs, drinking all sorts of foreign messes, gambling when they had
anything left to gamble with, and invoking the help of the Evil One to
destroy all crowns, powers, and principalities that stood between them
and the objects of their wide-spread ambitions.

"Carl had been among them, if not actually of them, but be had always
been kind and considerate towards her, whose life was persistently
drab-colored, and when a police raid on the Soho establishment
scattered its occupants, she was easily persuaded to marry him with a
view to starting a little business of their own on somewhat similar
lines. They did that at the cost of all their small savings, and lost
everything. Then, by a lucky chance meeting with an old friend, Carl
heard of an opening in a midland county, where the recently-married
heir of an ancient and influential family was in want of a trustworthy
man and his wife as house servants. How Carl contrived to get his
references and testimonials she never knew, but they passed muster,
and then all went well until--ah! yes, that was the way of it. She
was suddenly stricken down with fever and moved to a cottage on the
outskirts of the village, where the doctor came to see her often, and
once or twice some ladies she had never seen before. And once she heard
the doctor say; 'Yes, quite providential, isn't it?'

"Then she got better slowly, and found her hair had all been cut off,
and a beautiful baby was in a tiny cot beside the bed, and everything
was provided for it.

"Her baby? No, certainly not! But she was to claim it as hers, and a
regular allowance could be paid quarterly for it, and Carl was quite
satisfied, and they were to leave Elmcourt and go back to London, where
friends would provide for them until the child should be claimed. So,
she never knew for certain who the parents were, although almost sure
she knew the mother. But the child--that is Alice--had never suspected
anything and, please God, never would. For she had always loved the
child as though it was her very own, and now it really was, for the
lawyer and written long before they left England to say that no more
payments could be made, so then they started another little business
that failed like the first one they had, and with the few pounds that
were left they decided for Australia, the diggings--and fortune.

"Oh! yes, Carl was fond of Alice in his own queer way, but he was
always a man of most uncertain temper, although, she supposed, as good
enough husband as husbands go.

"I thought it just as well to give her a hint about her apparent
preference for the society of Sim Garcia, the chap who stood by her
side when her husband was put through by Neptune.

"'Garcia,' she said. 'What nonsense!' Why, of course she never cared
a straw about him, and her husband knew it too. He and Carl got to be
chummy in the old Soho days, and after she was married Carl brought him
home sometimes to tea. 'Sim,' as they called him, wasn't a bad sort at
all, outside that club nonsense that he and Carl were mixed up in. As
for his going out in the same ship, that was just pure accident. He
seemed to have struck hard times the same as themselves, and they never
knew he was on board till days after they sailed.

"She admitted without hesitation, that Carl had been absurdly jealous
of her friendship with Sim Garcia, for which there was absolutely no
reason whatever."

"And he manifested that unreasonable jealousy at times here," broke in
Darbison.

"It was the suspicious nature of the man," continued Armstead, "backed
by his desire for vengeance against those who had subjected him to
such rough treatment at the hands of Neptune and his satellites, that
prompted him to take the first opportunity of soothing his ruffled
dignity, and that was not long in presenting itself. He began by
attacking his wife on the subject of her evident preference for
the company of Garcia, as shown by the fact that together they had
evidently enjoyed his sufferings at the hands of 'dose tam picks of
sailor mans,' and he had seen them laugh heartily 'ven der pick vomans
knock him off der shtool into der vasser.'

"Then he called her evil names, and she escaped from the cabin, and
took refuge under the open hatch, which was immediately over their
quarters. Following, he tried to drag her back, but she clung with
desperation to an iron standard, appealing piteously to be let go, he
all the time denouncing her in deep, harsh gutterals for her supposed
perfidy.

"In the middle of the altercation, and before any of the other
occupants of the quarters appeared to consider it necessary to
interfere, one of the first cabin passengers, little more than a boy,
was making his way aft, disgusted with his futile efforts to use the
grains on a dolphin from a perch on the bobstays, and was attracted by
the noise.

"Looking down the hatchway, he quickly grasped the situation, and,
shouting:--'Let the woman alone, you brute!' was soon between them,
and speedily received the reward of his temerity in the shape of heavy
blows from the fist of the surprised but athletic Carl.

"However praiseworthy the impulse which had prompted him to interfere
in a quarrel between a man and his wife, the youngster had yet to learn
the unwisdom of such action. The woman grasped him by the hair with
both hands, screaming, 'Let go my husband!' and fell prostrate on the
deck at the same moment that Sim Garcia appeared on the scene and tried
to get between the combatants.

"Let the boy alone, Carl, he's no match for you, and you know it. Let
him go, I tell you. By heavens, I think the man has gone mad! If you
don't let him go, I'll----"

"'Ha! Sim, you verdamte dog, it vas you, eh? Ya, I am mat, isn't id?
Vell, dis dime I do nod any misdake make. You haf make me kill mein
vife, und now I vill also kill you.'

"And the two men were locked in what looked like a life and death
struggle, in which Carl's powerful frame gave him every advantage.
In the meantime, Mrs. Geffel, in an unconscious condition, had been
removed by some of the other women, and Sim had succeeded in planting
one or two blows in the face of his adversary, when a voice was heard
from behind:--

"'Look out. Sim! He's got a knife!'

"It was a fact. The now infuriated Carl had drawn a butcher's knife
from its sheath on his belt, and with upraised arm was in the act of
striking, when his wrist was seized in the sturdy grip of the chief
officer, who had been carrying out the captain's orders to shorten
sail, and was only just in time to drop suddenly down the hatchway and
help to wrest the weapon from the maniac's grasp.

"Geffel's struggles, furious as they were, availed him nothing. A
couple of sturdy sailors quickly had his arms pinioned, in which manner
he was haled before the captain.

"As the latter listened to the narrative of his chief officer his
whole demeanor changed. He was no longer the genial skipper, but the
stern, uncompromising dispenser of quarter-deck justice. The evidence
of Sim Garcia, the would-be dolphin striker, and some of the steerage
passengers was taken, and then, with all a British sailor's horror of
the knife as a lethal weapon, he turned to the prisoner with:--'Now, my
man, what have you to say in answer to this serious charge?'

"'I say nodings. Dis verdamte schvine haf bin make lofe vid mein vife."

"The captain did not hesitate. He ordered that Geffel should be placed
in irons and handed over to the authorities the moment the Essex
reached Melbourne, on a charge of attempting to commit murder on the
high seas.

"The former part of the sentence was immediately put into effect,
and that the latter part was not also carried out was due chiefly to
the earnest pleadings of his wife, who had a long interview with the
captain, during which she succeeded in conveying the impression that
perhaps she was not entirely free from blame in consequence of the
unconventional terms of the long association between her husband,
Garcia, and herself.

"But it took a long time to shift Carl from the obstinate position he
had taken up, and to make promises for the future, hard though wife and
child tried to induce him to do so.

"Alice was nearly broken-hearted over the estrangement, and on more
than one occasion endeavored to induce her friend, Mr. Parkin, the
second officer, to intercede with the captain for the release of 'poor
daddy.' 'Mother is fretting herself to death over it,' she said one
day. 'Oh! please, dear Mr. Parkin, do tell the captain that you are
quite sure daddy is very sorry, and will never be so wicked again.'

"'No use, Cornflower. I can't talk to him like that. He wouldn't listen
to me. Why not do it yourself, lassie? He has little girls of his own,
and I'm sure he'd be kind to you. He's just gone into his cabin, go and
knock at the door.' And she did, and the result of all the pleadings
was that Carl was eventually allowed to return to his cabin, not,
however, without warning of what would happen in the event of another
outbreak.

"'You owe your release solely to the pleadings of your unfortunate wife
and child, Geffel,' said the captain to him. 'You are evidently a man
of suspicious nature and violent temper. Better curb it before it is
too late. Mrs. Geffel is, I feel sure, a really good, honest woman, and
if you are not ashamed of yourself you ought to be. You can go back to
your berth now, but take care not to break out again. If I have to put
you in irons a second time you will stop there until I can hand you
over to the police. Go below, and make your peace as best you can.'

"'Dank you, gaptains. I do not any more haf some irons, and I makes you
no more droubles.'

"Neither did he, and Melbourne was reached in due course, and the
Geffels vanished from sight with the crowd, only, however, to be
met with again, as you have seen, after the lapse of many years,
in Queensland, and under even more exciting conditions. Truly, the
currents of human lives are strangely intermingled."

"A strange and most interesting story," said Darbison. "I have always
felt that there was more than a tinge of mystery about the Geffels, and
more especially as to their daughter Alice. Some day, perhaps, the full
and true story will be known. Until then we can only wait and watch the
ever-changing events that circle round them.

"And now," added Darbison, rising, "as we both have to face the
road to-morrow, we had better turn in. It is to be our last night
at Barumbah, and, hang it all, I like the old spot, despite the sad
memories it must always have for me."

"Perhaps, some day, who knows, we may meet again under conditions that
will effectually efface the very bitter events that have so recently
occurred.

"So (extending his hand), good-bye, old chap."




Chapter VI.--Evesham Once More.

Early in the bright sunshine of an autumn morning, on a Riverina plain,
a buggy drawn by a steady old grey horse, and carrying two men, was
moving at a slow pace, and apparently without any definite object or
ultimate destination, at some distance from the road which led to the
township. A stranger to the locality might well have been puzzled as
to their object, but there was no mystery about it; they were merely
enjoying an early drive in the fresh morning air, and carrying a gun
on the chance of a shot at a plain turkey on its favorite feeding
ground. The sun, not yet high above the horizon, lit up the iron roofs
of the buildings through the scattered timber which marked the fringe
of the lagoon past which they had come, and the long, yellow-tinted
grass through which they drove spoke plainly of the fierce heat of the
preceding months--except in patches where it had been either wholly
consumed or blackened by fire and the last partial thunderstorm had
started a faint tinge of green among the blackened stalks of the old
growth.

The grey-haired but still vigorous man who held the reins broke a
rather long silence by remarking:--

"You are quite right, Darbison. My sudden removal from Melbourne to
this part of the world was a very serious matter for me, but I never
allude to it within Mrs. Passmore's hearing, for, brave as she was, and
is, she was naturally much cut up over it, and is only now becoming
somewhat resigned on finding that it is not quite as bad as she
expected, and that there are several nice families on the neighboring
stations who have shown great cordiality. At the same time the move was
a heavy expense to me and a nasty semi-official slap in the face which
I felt I did not deserve."

"But what had you done, or what were you supposed to have done, to
deserve it?"

"That's just it. Nothing that I was ever made aware of, but a new
Ministry had just come into power; the chief was not an Englishman, nor
was he of the same faith as myself, and the man appointed to succeed
me was his brother-in-law--a good man, too, as far as my personal
knowledge of him went. But you know as well as I that such things have
been done before, and I suppose always will be. In the meantime my
work as police magistrate here is not very arduous, and I am trying
to be content. Look out! there's a turkey--you can just see his head
over there poking up over the long grass; he sees us too, but he won't
move until we get nearer. Keep your eye on the place, and have the gun
ready. I'll drive round him in a narrowing circle; wait till he rises,
and give him the No. 4 Eley cartridge."

"A fine bird, and a heavy one," said Darbison as he picked him up soon
after; "but, do you know, I'm beginning to feel quite hungry."

"All right! One of those fellows is quite enough for a family, so we'll
jog quietly back to breakfast, for which I am as ready as yourself."

As they turned to get back to the road, Passmore said:--"I'm sure
you'll give me credit, Darbison, for absence of any desire to arouse
unpleasant memories, old man, but I've wanted several times to ask you
what became of that scoundrel Evesham after he left the station. Did
you ever hear anything?"

"Very little. Stevenson, with whom I went to stay in Melbourne, as you
know, told me that he had been seen on the boat leaving for New Zealand
a few weeks afterwards, and that a lady was with him. Beyond that I
know nothing. Then I went to Tasmania with Robson, and stayed over the
summer, and when Campbell, of the Nelson, told me about you, I wrote,
and--here I am--glad enough to have met you again and to talk about
old times in the Leander in the Black Sea, when I was senior middy of
your watch, and we had such a glorious time in the Sea of Azov. I could
scarcely credit my luck when Campbell told me he knew you so well,
and that you were the same man. You will remember that I threw up the
service shortly after that, when the dear old governor died; but I
couldn't stand the old place all by myself. Jeannie, that's my little
sister, you know, was finishing her education in Belgium, staying with
a dear friend of her mother's. I paid her a visit, let the property
on a long lease when I got back, made Robson come with me--he didn't
take much pressing, by the way, for I was always his white-haired
boy--married, came out here, bought Barumbah, and--well, you know the
rest! But what happened to you after I discarded the gold band and
crown?"

"Oh! the same old routine. A lot of powder burnt and a lot of lives
sacrificed uselessly until Sebastopol fell. Then when peace was
declared in 1856 and they started to put both services on a peace
footing I was placed on the retired list with the rank of commander,
and came out here to get something to help the half pay along,
but--hallo, what's this coming out of the timber in such a cloud of
dust and hurry? I expect it's Cunningham. I heard he came into town
late last night and was to leave early this morning."

"And who may he be? Anyone you know?"

"No, I can't quite say that. I have only met him on one occasion, and
that was about a couple of months ago, when he was in search of some
information about land. For I must tell you that I am district land
agent as well as police magistrate."

"What is he? One of your squatters on the river?"

"Oh! dear, no. A bit of an adventurer, I suspect, and a fellow who
certainly does not appeal to you on a first acquaintance. He has been
out looking for country on the Bulloo and thereabouts, I understand,
somewhere on Howitt's and McKinlay's tracks to Cooper's Creek when they
went out to take relief to that unfortunate man, Burke. But here he
comes. Yes, it's Cunningham right enough."

"Good morning, Captain Passmore. I was unfortunate in learning, when
I called at your house this morning, that you were out for a drive. I
particularly wanted to see one of those maps, which I expect you keep
somewhere."

The speaker was a travel-stained-looking man, wearing a long beard, and
goggles with fly protectors. He was splendidly mounted on a powerful
bay horse, leading another lightly packed with the usual bush equipment.

"Mr. Cunningham, if my memory serves me? Yes, I thought so. Well, Mr.
Cunningham, the district maps are not kept in my private house, neither
are they accessible at this hour of the morning. The Lands Office will
be open at the usual time, which is ten o'clock. If you will call in
after that hour I will attend to you. Good morning!"

"That be blowed for a yarn. I shall be a good many miles away by that
time. And I don't think you need have put on such an infernal lot of
side about it either. It's generally the way with you tinpot Government
officials, though. Most of you are too big for your hats and boots."
Saying which, he turned his horses' heads, rammed the spurs home, and
disappeared in another dust cloud.

Passmore, naturally a very quiet man, was angry. So much so that a
few minutes passed before he ventured to speak. When he did it was to
ask his companion what he thought of that exhibition of gratuitous
insolence; but, getting no answer, he turned towards him and was about
to repeat the query when he was startled by the look on Darbison's face.

"What's the matter, old chap? Are you ill? One would think you had seen
a ghost!"

"No ghost, Passmore, but the man who broke up my home! That man who has
just left us is Evesham! I felt it the moment I heard his voice. I knew
it when I was able to catch a glimpse of his face under that flapping
cabbage-tree hat he wore. No, I am not mistaken, and I kept my head
turned lest he should recognise me. What might have happened I don't
know, and with a loaded gun close to my hand I don't like to think.
Pray God I may never meet him again. Truly it is, as people say, a very
small world."

And, still talking over this unexpected meeting, they arrived at their
destination.

Directly breakfast was over and Passmore gone off to his daily routine
of duties, Darbison walked down the street to the post office, which
he discovered to be nothing more than an excrescence attached to one
of the general stores that supplied the wants of the township. Some
pigeon-holes, containing a number of letters and papers, surmounted by
a neatly-built-up pyramid of bars of coarse yellow soap, and festooned
at the sides with tin candle moulds, constituted the entire contents of
the small room, with the exception of a counter, built of old cases,
which served as a barrier to inquirers. His knock was answered by the
appearance, from behind a curtain in one corner, of a smart, active man
of about fifty years of age, with iron-grey hair, pleasant manner, and,
as remained to be discovered, an overwhelming flow of talk.

"Good morning. Are you the postmaster?"

"That's my name in this office. In the store it's just Billy Buchan,
proprietor of the most extensive assortment of general merchandise on
the river. See what I mean, eh? You understand, don't you know!"

"Yes, I think so, and beg to be allowed to congratulate you, Mr.
Buchan. My name is Darbison. I am on a visit to Captain Passmore. Would
you kindly see if there are any letters for me by last night's mail?"

"Of course, of course, Mr.--er--er--Darbison? Yes, of course, thank
you. And you are staying with the captain, eh? Good old shellback, the
captain, sir, straight as they make 'em--you understand--Hampshire
man, I believe--one myself--turned out of Eastman's Academy on account
of being, as they said, more suited to holy orders than the sea--only
their joke--you understand--afraid I was a bit wild in those days--boys
will be boys, sir--eh? You understand, don't you know. Letters? eh, ah,
yes, of course. Darbison, I think you said the name was? Yes, here's
one, but I'm almost sure there was another, with the London postmark on
it, came last night." And then, as he turned out the contents of all
the pigeon-holes, he muttered to himself, "---- that man Cunningham!"

"Cunningham, did you say? What has he to do with my letters? And who is
he? I know no man of that name."

"No sir, I shouldn't suppose you did--horse thief, cattle duffer,
bushranger for all I know--roused me out of bed early this morning for
his letters, or any for his mate, Evesham! 'And, ---- your eyes, be
quick about it,' he says, 'I'm in a hurry!'--called me an old crawler,
too--me, Billy Buchan--a better man of my inches than ever he knew how
to be--Billy Buchan a crawler! But it's this way you see--he put me in
a fluster, looking for his infernal letters, and the boxes seem to have
got all mixed--you understand."

"Yes, I think I do. But did you say his name was Evesham?"

"No. He said that was his mate's name, who was camped down the river.
But now I come to think of it, he opened them same as if they was
his own--only I didn't take as much notice as I might ha' done on
account of being mad over the names he called me--he was a sight too
big for me, or I'd have plugged him on the jaw there and then--you
understand, don't you know. Ha! here's your letter, Mr. Darbison, and
here comes the constable for the captain's mail. Sorry to have kept
you so long--but it's this way, you see, if that infernal Cunningham,
or Evesham, or whatever his name is, comes bouncing along here again,
he'll strike a pretty big snag--you understand, don't you know."

And as Darbison walked away with his letters, he shivered a little as
he recognised that the writing on one of them, almost obliterated by
numerous postmarks, was suspiciously like that of the woman whom he had
once called wife.

"So I am not done with this wretched woman yet," he thought, as
he wandered slowly back. "I feared as much when I recognised that
scoundrel Evesham this morning, on the plain." And, instead of
returning to the cottage, he continued his walk along the bank of the
river until he found a quiet resting place in a shady spot. For he had
need to be alone.

Opening the letter of evil omen first, he read:--


Aubrey, oh! that I dare write dear Aubrey, but I feel and know that
can never be again. I have been too vile and my sis has found me out.
Evesham left me months ago, and left me penniless here except for
the few articles of jewellery I had to sell. For God's sake, help
me. I have tried to help myself and failed. For a short time I was a
governess, and after that got a few music pupils. My health broke down,
and now I am almost dependent on the charity of some kindly people
whose acquaintance I made at first. I only want enough to get back to
Queensland; the climate here is killing me, and I am afraid to die.
If I can get there I will go north, where nobody knows me; and when I
am better I will earn my own living and never trouble you again. I am
sending this to your club at Brisbane, for I have no means of finding
out where you are, but I know you will not desert a woman in her sore
need, even a woman who has treated you as vilely as I have.

Send me a few pounds--just enough to let me get away--in a registered
letter, addressed to Mrs. Evesham (how I loathe the name, but must
retain it here), Post Office, Wellington, N.Z., and I will bless you
for your goodness as earnestly as I curse my own folly and wickedness.

Your once honored wife,

Ella.



Folding the letter up, and placing it in his pocket book, he said
aloud:--"Awful, but only what might have been expected. Lucky for him,
and still more so for me, that I didn't know the contents of that
letter some hours ago. Surely that villain's fate must await him, but
I--well if I had shot him as he sat there on his horse, insulting
Passmore, this morning, they could scarcely have found a jury in all
Australia to convict me in the face of all the known facts. Do I feel
grateful for the escape? Yes. No. Well, perhaps I do."




Chapter VII.--News from the Old Land.

It was some time before Darbison could regain his composure, which had
been sadly upset by the reading of the appeal for help from the woman
who had once been his wife. Then he remembered his second letter, and,
taking it from his pocket, he said:--"Now I'll see what dear little
Jeannie has to say."


The Rectory,
Lynmouth.

You dear, darling old Aubrey,

Of course you will snort like the charming old grampus you are when I
tell you that this is the last letter you will ever get from Jeannie
Darbison. You monster! Why didn't you come home to me after that awful
affair at Barumbah, and bring old Robson back with you to manage my
domestic affairs. Because of course you knew I should get married
some day, and that highly interesting event is now only fourteen days
distant, so you can address your next letter to Mrs. Chelpont, Chelpont
Manor, Tydsleigh, Somersetshire.

And now to tell you all about it. No, it's not a bit sudden, although
I really don't think it would have been quite so soon only for Aunt
Chelpont's health, and the poor old dear is, I am sorry to say, failing
very fast, and grandma is always saying:--"Why doesn't my darling boy,
Aubrey, come home and see his poor old grannie before she dies," and
she fears that you will be persuaded into forgiving that wicked woman,
and taking her back some day when she finds out her mistake, for she
says:--"God knows how I love that boy, but ever since he went away to
sea he has been an awful fool over girls," which, of course, you learnt
in some of those outlandish foreign places. Well, now, I'll try and get
back to the subject.

Of course, you remember old Miss Chelpont, the rich old maid where
you used to go when you were a boy, to play with Horace, her nephew,
who was deformed in some way. (Grandma told me all this). Well, she
was wrapped up in that boy, and he was to have been the heir to all
her property, for she had no other relative in the world, except a
younger brother of his, who, it appears, went into the army, got into
some terrible trouble in London, something to do with horse-racing
or gambling, I fancy, though I never heard the rights of the story,
and went out to Australia, where he was lost sight of for years. Then
Horace died, and poor old Miss Chelpont nearly went too, through grief.
She tried lady companions for a time, but they didn't suit, and at last
she got some clever people in London to try and find the other nephew
in Australia.

It cost a lot of money, and took a long time, but they succeeded at
last in discovering him on a sugar plantation somewhere in Queensland.
After a lot of persuasion, they got him to come home, and he and his
aunt got along together splendidly. Grannie and I drove over to see the
old lady one day--I was always a favorite of hers--and she told me what
a splendid fellow he was, and asked me to go and spend a few days with
her. Of course, grannie said yes, and I wanted to see his majesty, who
was said to be possessed of all the virtues, very badly. Now do you see
where we are?

When I met Bertie Chelpont my fate was sealed, and the dear old lady
said:--"My child, it is the dearest wish of my heart that you two
should marry. Everything I leave will be his. This place has never
belonged to any but a Chelpont, and I was determined that it never
should." What was your poor little Jeannie to do to get out of such
a tight corner? How dare you laugh, sir! What would you have had me
do, pray? Not that it matters the veriest little bit, because I did
it, when he asked me, and I am afraid that I hadn't even the decency
to show an atom of surprise or disinclination when the fatal moment
arrived. Grannie is naturally delighted, though not quite pleased
with such an early celebration of the ceremony. That, however, is the
earnest desire of "Aunt Chelpont," as she insists upon being called.
Her health is far from being good, and she wishes it; so on that
subject there is no more to be said. Bertie, of course, does too, and
I--well, I may as well admit that I am unable to suggest any rational
cause for postponement.

Do you expect me to tell you much about Herbert? Well, I just won't,
beyond the fact that he is my ideal of everything a man ought to be.
He seems to have been and done all sorts of things out there--miner,
shearer, cook, bullock-driver, bushranger (whatever that may be),
and finally sugar-boiling, but you wouldn't think so to look at him.
He fancies he met you once, but has doubts about whether you would
be likely to remember him. You can settle that when you meet; and
do, Aubrey dear, come home soon. How I should have loved to have you
here for the wedding. You can send me a present, though. No stupid
jewellery, I have plenty of that, but I should dearly like to have a
teeny, weeny live kangaroo for a pet. Do you think you could manage
that? I'm sure you can if you come with it, and that's what we all
want. So do come, Aubrey, for "your pretty little sister," as you used
to call me, wants you worse than anybody. Grannie sends fondest love to
her dear boy, and I'm to tell you that she only keeps on living in the
hope of seeing you soon.

Your loving sister, Jeannie Darbison

(for the last time).



As Darbison folded up the lengthy document he soliloquised:--"Well,
I'm----, no, not that, yet people often remark on the foolishly
improbable plots of the modern novel. If that letter doesn't beat the
best or worst of them may I be yarded with a mob of brumbies! And
if Herbert Chelpont and the Barumbah bushranger are not one and the
same man, then I don't know who I am myself. And he is to be--is by
this time--my brother-in-law! Well, I don't care, he behaved like a
gentleman, anyhow. Yes, I think I'll go home, for a trip at least. I
don't dread the thought of it now as much as I did. But what a comedy
of errors it would all be if there were no tragedy in it."

When he got back to the cottage, luncheon was on the table, and
the morning's interview with Billy Buchan formed the staple of
conversation. Passmore described him as a well-meaning man of no mean
qualifications, honest in his dealings, and of much worldly experience,
but a talkative infliction on the least provocation; laughingly
adding:--"As a stranger you must have been a perfect gift to him. But
you have the satisfaction of knowing that you were not mistaken in your
recognition of the man Evesham."

After Passmore returned to his office Darbison wrote the following
letter.



Mrs Evesham,
Post Office,
Wellington, N.Z.

Madame,--By the same post instructions are being forwarded to my
solicitors. Messrs. Edmonds and Marshall, Queen-street, Brisbane, to
send you the sum of fifty pounds, and thereafter, that is to say, as
long as you can satisfy them that you are living apart from the man
whose name you at present bear, the sum of twenty-five pounds will be
placed to your credit on the first day of each quarter at whichever
bank you may elect to name. No attention will be paid to any future
communication you may think fit to make, unless made direct to them
with reference to these payments, and on that subject only.

Aubrey Darbison.



"The last act, I sincerely trust, in this sordid and disgraceful drama.
Now I'll go and have a romp with those two dear little kiddies inside,
and begin once more to try and forget the past. I suppose I shall end
by going to England, but the climate will drive me back. Those deadly
winters! Well, I'll talk matters over with Passmore after dinner. He's
a real good old sort, in spite of his rather strained evangelical
notions, which don't somehow seem to fit in with the world's
necessities nowadays. Sheep? No, never again. Cattle? Don't fancy them.
Business? No knowledge, no capacity, no adaptability. Sugar? By Jove,
my esteemed bushranger brother-in-law was at that game when they found
him. He may be able to tell me a little about it. Yes, I'll make the
trip, for I must do something. Capital lying idle all this time, except
for beggarly bank interest, and idle myself. It won't do. Better wear
out than rust out!"

"Ha! Mrs. Passmore, I was just going to look for the kiddies, to have a
romp with them. May I?"

And soon afterwards he was being rolled about and trampled upon on the
grassy lawn, and enjoying it thoroughly.

That evening, after all the other occupants of the cottage had gone to
bed. Captain Passmore and Darbison sat up late discussing the situation
from all points. The letters received that day by Darbison were read
and re-read, also the one written by him to the woman who had been his
wife. Referring to it, Passmore said:--"You were never in a lawyer's
office, Darbison?"

"Of course not. Why?"

"Why? Because I don't know which to admire most, the extreme accuracy
of your legal phraseology in that letter, or your splendid generosity
with regard to the woman who has treated you so shamefully. No doubt
you can afford it, but I am inclined to think that few men would have
been so magnanimous."

"Oh----the money part of it! That's nothing. I couldn't let her
starve. Now, I'll tell you what I propose to do, as the end of my very
pleasant visit here is close at hand. It is too late to think of going
to England this year, with the winter so close upon us. So I shall
arrange to leave about the end of March and dodge the cold weather.
In the meantime I intend to take a run up to North Queensland and see
what prospects the sugar industry has to offer. A lot of good men have
lately invested up there, two of whom at least I know already, Charlie
and Ned Rawson, who sold out their place near Mount Perry and have
since bought a big slice of country somewhere up on the Pioneer. I met
them at the club the last time I was in Brisbane--two splendid fellows,
English gentlemen, with the unmistakable hall-mark; and coupled with
their advice to go up and have a look round was a cordial invitation to
make 'The Hollow,' as their place is called, my home during the visit.
I am beginning to weary for occupation of some sort, and a trip up
there will fill in the time before I leave. Robson, too, is beginning
to grumble at being left so long in Melbourne, and I shall take him
with me. He's a bit of a nuisance sometimes, with his fidgety care for
my comforts, but a faithful old soul, whose one and only trouble is
that I may forswear the resolution I made when the trouble hung over
me like a pall in those last bitter weeks at Barumbah. You know what I
refer to. But there is not the slightest danger of it, and never has
been since the black shadow of misery was lifted. What do you think of
the programme?"

"Lucky beggar to be in a position to carry it out. I can only envy you,
whilst wishing you every happiness and success in all things. It's
superfluous to say that we shall miss you, and equally so to say how
delighted we should be to have you with us again on your return, if
circumstances will permit. Now, let's go and turn in."




Chapter VIII.--The Blacks at Barumbah.

IN the meantime what of Barumbah and its fortunes? Although Darbison
had completely severed his connection with the station, there are
others there whose fortunes are intimately connected with this story.

The purchaser, a wealthy man, but recently arrived from the Old
Country, and possessing only the experience which had enabled him to
successfully manage a large estate there, was charmed with the prospect
offered by Barumbah. He had come accompanied by two other men, one
a grey-haired lawyer of unimpeachable status in his profession, who
attended to all the business details connected with the transfer of
the property, and the other an elaborately got-up young man of about
25, strongly recommended by the agents who had conducted the sale,
and introduced as "my future manager, Mr. Custance." Ken Morrison,
highly spoken of by Darbison for his intimate knowledge of the run
and the stock on it, was engaged as overseer at a good salary, with
instructions to render every assistance to Mr. Custance; Mrs. Geffel
and Alice were retained, the first-named to continue as cook, and Alice
to be house and parlor maid, and to obtain what additional assistance
might be required. When everything had been satisfactorily arranged,
the new proprietor, promising an early return, took his departure,
accompanied by the solicitor who had attended him.

Morrison had, in the meantime, received a message from the officer in
command of the detachment of Native Police, regretting his unavoidable
detention in another part of the district, where the blacks had again
been giving trouble, and promising to visit Barumbah as soon as
possible.

And two days only after the proprietors departure they came in a
somewhat dramatic fashion, having surprised a small camp in the
scrub which broke up in confusion upon being discovered. Two of the
buck niggers, both of whom were badly wanted on account of a strong
suspicion of being connected with the murder of poor old Geffel,
bolted, but were promptly overtaken by the well-mounted troopers, and
headed for the open plain in front of the station, when they made for
the lagoon and disappeared in the weeds which bordered it. A very old
trick, but not one calculated to cause any anxiety on the part of the
experienced officer in charge, who merely said:--

"Now, you know what to do, boys, and see that you don't let either of
them escape!"

Three of them stripped at once, the others remaining on the bank with
carbines at the ready. The hunters were as much at home as the hunted,
and the result was a foregone conclusion.

One of the latter showed his face momentarily on a level with the
water, to get breath, and sank without a struggle as a ball from the
nearest carbine found its mark. Nothing was visible of the other for
some minutes, but before long ripples were seen in the still water at
the margin of the weeds, followed by signs of a struggle down below.
The boys on the bank made for the spot, one of them saying, with a
chuckle:--

"Look out! Toby bin get 'im that fellow," and the head and shoulders of
a powerful man modelled in shining ebony came to the surface, holding
at arm's length the head of another, tightly gripped by the hair. Three
carbines spoke together, and Geffel was avenged.

Toby dragged the body out after him, and left it on the bank, resumed
his uniform, and stretched himself under a tree, with his mates, for a
smoke, as the officer cantered up to the homestead.

Now it so happened that the new manager and Morrison were just
finishing breakfast when the sound of shooting attracted their
attention, and the former exclaimed:--"Who the devil is that shooting
so close to the house? I won't allow the wildfowl on the lagoon to be
shot by anybody. Find out who it is, Morrison, and let me know at once."

"Here is the Native Police officer coming up to the house now. I expect
he will be able to tell you all about it."

"I don't care what he is. I will allow no one to shoot on this property
without my permission."

"Well, perhaps you had better tell him so yourself. I hear his
footsteps in the passage now." And a tap at the door was followed by
the entrance of a tall, sunburnt young man in the regulation undress of
the force, with the cheery salute of "Good morning, Darbison; same to
you, Morrison. Got 'em both, by Jove!" By which time he realised the
presence of a stranger at the head of the table, and said:--

"Beg your pardon--expected to find Mr. Darbison here--where is he,
Morrison, eh?"

"Mr. Darbison has sold out, sir," said the manager, "and I am in
charge of it, and I should like to know who gave you permission to go
duck-shooting on my lake!"

"Duck-shooting! duck-shooting! Ha! ha! ha! Oh, Lord! Hold me up,
Morrison."

"Ducks, did you say? Niggers, man, niggers. There's a couple down there
you can send and bury as soon as you like. Morrison, just explain
matters to this new chum, like a good fellow, while I go out to the
kitchen and beg a cup of coffee from Mrs. Geffel."

And off he went, for he was no stranger to Barumbah, where he had often
been the welcome guest of Darbison.

Presently Custance appeared on the scene, in a most atrocious temper,
addressing him in heated language with a request that he would leave
the station immediately after burying the bodies of the unfortunate men
he had murdered.

"I shall report this outrage to the Government, sir, and insist upon
your instant dismissal!"

"And I shall lay my whip across your shoulders if you don't keep your
fool's tongue off me. Not another word out of your head, you miserable
barber's clerk!" With which he went back to the kitchen, finished his
coffee, paid Alice a pretty compliment, and cantered off with Morrison,
who was on his way to an out-station.

That was the first rift in the lute, and except that Morrison well
knew the story would soon spread throughout the district, and create
laughter all round, no great harm was likely to accrue. But worse was
to come. The pompous young fool became infatuated with the pretty face
and engaging manners of the fair Alice, and, in place of going about
the run with Morrison, who was necessarily absent for the greater
part of each day, hung about the house and missed no opportunity of
accosting her with fulsome compliments and suggestions of his own
importance.

This conduct on his part distressed her greatly, for she not only
disliked him extremely, but certain tender passages connected with
Ken Morrison, much esteemed by both her and her mother, were not of a
character to be easily forgotten. Alice was as simple a girl as she was
attractive, but the unwelcome attentions of the new manager became at
length so oppressive that she determined to speak to her mother about
it.

"I have suspected this for some time, Ally dear," said her mother, "I
am neither blind nor deaf, you know, and it must be checked at once. I
shall go and speak to him now, and give notice to leave if there is any
more of it. You have not told Mr. Morrison, I hope."

"Why, no, mother, of course not. And if Ken--Mr. Morrison, I mean--even
suspected it I believe he would kill him, for I know--that is to say,
I believe--Ken hates the sight of him. But you like Ken, don't you,
mother dear?"

"Oh! Ally, Ally! What a transparent child you are! Yes, my dear, I do
like him very much, because I believe him to be a worthy and honorable
young man, who will make his way in the world. But all that goes for
nothing, my darling, because I am quite sure he doesn't want to marry
me!"

"Oh, mother, for shame," said Alice, as she kissed her hurriedly and
vanished.




Chapter IX.--Morrison Promoted

Mrs. Geffel's interview with Custance was far from being satisfactory
to the anxious mother, who ended it by saying:--"Very well, sir, if I
hear of any more of this conduct I shall leave the station at once and
send a full account of it to your employer, who, I am quite sure, would
not approve of it." So saying, she walked out and left him to think it
over.

But the fool was not yet through with his folly. Three or four days
afterwards Ken, who had been out on the run all day, and did not get
back till after dark, went to the kitchen for a cup of tea and a bite
to eat. Alice was not there, nor did she appear at all, and when he
inquired about her Mrs. Geffel, in an agitated voice, said:--"Well,
I didn't mean to say anything about it to you, Mr. Morrison, but we
really must get away from here, and soon, too. That wretch inside has
been saying things to her I wouldn't like to repeat, and she is in the
bedroom now crying her eyes out, and vows she will never go inside the
house again till Mr. Cartwright comes back. What to do I don't know,
but I will not stop here to have her insulted by that beast every time
he sees her. But please don't you make any trouble about it. I expect
she'll be all right again in the morning."

"All right, Mrs. Geffel. Now give me that cup of tea, please, and I'll
go to bed soon, for I'm tired." Instead of which he walked about the
paddock, smoking and thinking furiously. Then to the house, and on
opening the dining-room door saw that Custance was stretched on the
sofa reading. Locking the door and putting the key in his pocket, he
walked over to him as he looked up from his book, exclaiming:--"Here, I
say, Morrison, what the devil do you mean by that?"

"Keep cool, and you'll know directly. Get up off that couch, Mr.
Collars and Cuffs, and I'll explain it to you fully. Get up, or I'll
drag you up--do you hear?"

"Haw--yes, of course I hear, but are you mad? You forget that I'm the
manager here. Leave the room at once!"

"Yes, when I'm through, but I'm the manager just now. Get up, you
useless, loafing, white-livered tailor's dummy! You won't, eh? Well,
we'll see about that, you low-down persecutor of a respectable girl."
And, getting his hands in the fellow's collar, he dragged him to his
feet, and then threw him against the wall.

"Now, stand there, and listen to what I have to say to you. If you dare
speak to Alice Geffel again on any subject whatever I'll thrash you as
long as I can keep my feet. Take this second warning to heart if you
are wise. Mr. Cartwright will return next week, and as he trusted me to
look after his interests I shall continue to do so until that happens,
when either one or other of us will leave Barumbah, as he may decide.
Till then I warn you not to interfere with anything. Neither Mrs.
Geffel nor her daughter will enter the house again while you remain in
it. I shall get my meals in the bachelors' quarters; you can get yours
when, where, and how you please, but I will see that they do not attend
upon you. Now you can go back to your book, if you have a mind to, but
don't think to escape punishment if you disobey me."

And Ken opened the door and went off to bed, merely saying, as he
looked in the kitchen:--"Mrs. Geffel, will you please let me have my
meals in the quarters until Mr. Cartwright returns next week, and you
will not provide any for the house till then, neither will you or Alice
attend to the house or take any instructions from Mr. Custance. Those
are my orders, and I will see that you are held blameless. Good-night."

And for nearly a week this state of things continued, although Ken
was well aware that the soft-hearted woman kept Custance going in
the matter of a food supply. But Alice never entered the house, and
Custance rarely came out of it.

The work of the station went on as usual without interruption, for
a knowledge of the trouble had spread among the hands, amongst whom
Morrison was a favorite, on account of his manly, genial disposition,
coupled with the fact that he never shirked work of any sort.

The cook in the men's hut voiced the general opinion when he expressed
his own, that, "that there Custard bloke is a dood and a waster,
that's what he is, and the best thing to do with him is chuck him in
the washpool!" A suggestion which might have easily been converted
into an accomplished fact, and, probably would have been, but for the
timely arrival of Mr. Cartwright; for even the roughest of bushmen is
chivalrous in his treatment of women, and quick to resent any insult
offered them--more particularly when the woman is young, pretty, and as
great a favorite as Alice was.

However, Mr. Cartwright's return heralded an entirely satisfactory
solution of the imbroglio, for he held a calm, exhaustive, and judicial
inquiry into all the facts of the case, after much the same fashion as
that to which he had become accustomed as squire and chairman of the
Bench in his native parish. The result may be summed up in few words:--

"I fail to understand the grounds on which you were so strongly
recommended to me, Mr. Custance, though I shall certainly endeavor to
do so later on. But you have shown yourself totally unfitted for any
position of trust, ignorant as to your duties and responsibilities
here, and unworthy of any consideration at my hands. You will,
therefore, arrange to leave Barumbah at once, facilities for which
will be provided. A letter received by me from Lieutenant Owanson of
the Native police, would, of itself justify me in taking this course,
and if I experience any regret whatever in connection with you, it is
that Mr. Morrison, instead of threatening, did not actually carry those
threats out in practice at the time. You may go sir, and I have no
desire to see you again. Mr. Morrison will attend to the settlement of
your claim against the station, and arrange for your speedy departure."

Subsequently, at a private interview, he said:--

"I am very pleased with the manner in which you have conducted affairs
during my absence, Mr. Morrison. It is my intention to remain here
now, and I shall be glad to retain your services as manager under me.
All details connected with such arrangement I have no doubt can be
made with your approval. For the present I am much concerned with Mrs.
Geffel's expressed desire to leave, for the purpose, she has faintly
outlined, of taking up some business on her own account. I have heard
nothing but good of Mrs. Geffel from my predecessor and she certainly
impresses me most favorably, as also, I may say, does her pretty and
remarkably well-behaved daughter, who strikes me as being in all
respects superior to her station. Will you, therefore, be good enough
to use your persuasive powers to induce them to remain, for a time, at
least. The difficulty of obtaining suitable servants for these distant
stations is great, I am told, so please do this if possible, bearing
in mind the fact that I have no objection to a reasonable increase in
their wages over the current rate, whatever that may be. Oh! and see
that a correct settlement of Mr. Custance's account is made, and send
the storekeeper to me with the cheque for signature. I think that is
all for the present, thank you, Mr. Morrison, and I shall expect you to
join me at dinner at the usual hour this evening. Just a moment more,
please. I omitted, though I did not forget, to tell you that my one and
only daughter will arrive with her husband, in the course of the next
two or three months. He is a barrister, of much promise in London, but,
unfortunately in very delicate health. Their arrival will, however,
necessitate no change in our business relations. That is a matter which
is entirely in your own hands. And, now that I can see you are anxious
to be off somewhere, I will say 'good morning.'"

The outcome of all which was, that Mrs. Geffel, incited thereto in a
great measure by Alice, who said:--"Oh! mother, I am sure we can be
happy enough here now!" consented to remain for a time; or at any rate
until she saw what the new mistress promised to be like.




Chapter X.--A Chance Meeting.

By one of those strange decrees of Fate which are for ever puzzling
human brains to unravel, the lady who had once been Mrs. Darbison, but
who now passed as Mrs. Elliston, had decided upon Rockhampton as her
future place of residence. In like manner to the choice Mrs. Geffel had
made long before. Not that Mrs. Elliston had knowledge of that fact,
but, she felt it absolutely necessary to get into a warmer climate, and
a doctor who had attended her, and had himself been a resident of that
torrid spot, assured her of its suitability. This he was honestly able
to do from his own experience, although he candidly admitted that the
word "warm" was scarcely an adequate description of it at all times.

She was satisfied, however, to get away to where no one knew her,
and for the rest to trust to chance, being now secured against want,
thanks to the kindly help extended to her by the man she had so basely
deserted. She had wept bitterly over that letter, which brought home to
her so vividly the cruel wrong she had inflicted upon him. And although
her wounded hand was healed long since, it had caused her a martyrdom
of pain during the process. For the bullet had passed clean through
midway between the knuckles and the wrist, and at certain times it
still caused much suffering.

A rough passage across, and a yet rougher one up the coast, round
Cape Capricorn, almost completely prostrated her, and she landed in a
wrecked condition, with only just enough strength left to reach the
boarding-house to which the Wellington doctor had directed her, where
for a time at least we must leave her to ponder over the unhappy past
and strike out some plan for the future.

Aubrey Darbison reached Brisbane in due course, and on arrival at the
club found a large packet of letters awaiting him, with only two of
which this story is concerned. The first opened was a long, breezy
communication from his sister Jeannie, now Mrs. Chelpont, describing
the wedding festivities and the number of beautiful presents received,
at great length. The honeymoon in the Riviera was "just too lovely for
words," but her chief stock of adjectives was reserved for her husband.
Bertie had shown himself to be everything that the most exacting woman
could hope to deserve, or had any right to expect. In fact, two whole
pages were devoted to his perfections, in the usual strain affected by
young brides in those halcyon days which are but often the forerunners
of doubt and disenchantment, that come, alas! in too many cases to
shatter woman's faith and destroy the roseate dreams on which it was
founded.

However, Jeannie's letter was so conclusive on all points that
her brother had every reason to be well pleased, as he naturally
was, albeit that he was unable to resist the temptation of saying
to himself:--"Now I wonder if that fellow is really my friend the
bushranger, or is it merely a strange coincidence?"

Well, he carried himself like a man, anyhow, and behaved like a
gentleman, in spite of the fool's game he played. Few men, face to face
with his enemy under such provocation as he had, would have exercised
as much restraint after Evesham fired at him.

"Bah! Why can't I let sleeping dogs lie?" The one sad note in the
letter was contained in the final paragraph. Aunt Chelpont was much
worse and gradually fading out of existence, but happy and contented.
She and Bertie were established at Chelpont, where, of course, he,
Aubrey, would go as soon as he arrived, and he was to be quite sure and
bring the little baby kangaroo--and so on.

The other letter was from Ken Morrison, at Barumbah, describing all
that had happened on the station since the break-up, and giving
a highly amusing account of the Native Police incident, with the
assumption of dignity by Custance, and his threatened horse-whipping by
Owanson, the officer in charge of the detachment. Chuckling to himself
as he read, with a recollection of Owanson's athletic form in his mind
accompanied by a vivid picture of the predicament into which the new
manager had floundered through ignorance; then, reverting to Morrison,
he muttered:--

"Fine, manly young fellow that. Must see if I can't get hold of him
when I settle down again. Didn't think there was as much in him when he
first came on the station. By Jove! he's a brick."

A short visit to the Downs in fulfilment of a promise to his old friend
"Billy Allan" of Braeside, near Warwick, had to be paid before he left
for the North, but that lasted somewhat longer than he anticipated;
for the Hon. William Allan, M.L.C., was not the sort to be easily
parted with. A most deservedly popular man with all classes, he was
the owner of a splendid property and the proprietor of the only flock
of all-black sheep in the colony. They were his hobby, and he revelled
in it, and he nearly succeeded in infecting Darbison, who remembered
in time his promised trip to England and the uncertainty of his future
movements. However, the visit was prolonged for some weeks amid the
attractions of Braeside, which were not inconsiderable, including, as
they did, the charming personality of his hostess, and musical evenings
of a character with which competition was out of the question.

On his way north the steamer in which he sailed had the misfortune
to take the ground in the Fitzroy River, a by no means uncommon
occurrence, and being stuck there for two days, he decided to have a
look at Rockhampton. His visit extended over little more than a couple
of hours, but was, unconsciously to him, the cause of some excitement.

Strolling up East-street, paying little attention to the attractions
of the shops, and still less to the people who thronged that central
thoroughfare, he was suddenly aroused from his reverie by a cry of
alarm coming from a spot he had not long passed. He turned at once,
but a crowd had already collected, and he was only in time to see a
prostrate figure, apparently that of a woman, lifted into a cab by two
men, under direction of a constable. His request for information from a
bystander met only with the curt response:--

"Oh, nothing much! Only a woman fainted and fell off the sidewalk on to
the roadway. Had a narrow squeak, though, from being run over by that
cab they've taken her away in to the hospital. Cut about a bit, too, I
fancy, for she was bleeding."

Unfortunate Mrs. Ellison, for she it was, out to make some small
purchase, was leaving the shop and found herself face to face with
Darbison. He knew nothing of her presence in Rockhampton, merely
stepped aside to allow her to pass, and walked on. It seems more than
probable that he would have failed to recognise her had he seen her
face, for she was sadly altered since they had been so effectively
separated. And the next morning when he read a short account of the
occurrence in the local "Argus" it conveyed no information to him. The
woman had recovered, a wound in her head had been dressed, and she was
able to go to her home. She was a stranger in the town, and her name
was Ellis, or Ellison. That was all, and Darbison's interest in the
affair was exhausted.

Had Robson gone on shore with him that day the result might have been
different, but the old man was absorbed in a game of deck quoits
when Darbison left the ship, and he would not disturb him, which was
doubtless the best thing that could have happened.

When the steamer anchored off Flat Top Island, at the mouth of the
Pioneer River, a day or two afterwards, and the smart little Bronzewing
took off her passengers and landed them on the Mackay wharf, Charlie
Rawson was already there to greet his friend.

"Come on, old sport, the buggy is up at Mother Cook's. We'll have a
swizzle, just one, you know, while the groom is putting the horses
in, and we'll just have time to get to 'The Hollow' before the dinner
bell rings. What! not a swizzle? Ha! but you haven't been introduced
to them yet. Sworn off, have you? Well, I respect your scruples, but
I can't help being downright sorry for you. Come along, Toussaint,
just in time, old man; allow me to introduce my friend--Mr. Darbison,
Mr. Toussaint, of Oxford Downs--you'll know him better before you go
south again. In the meantime, accept my assurance that he is perfectly
harmless. Come out to 'The Hollow' with us, Toussaint. Ned is anxious
to see you about the swindle you worked on him over that last draft of
fat wethers you sent down, and the missus is just pining away for a
sight of you!"

"Dank you for nodings. I do not any more go out to-day. I haf business
to look about at der stores. Maybe I gome in to lunch to-morrow ven I go
me back to der station."

"That's right, old man, mind you do. Here's luck. Come on, Darbison,
the ponies are outside."

"Goot-bye, Mr. Darbison, I see you some more anoder time. Perhaps you
come to Oxford Downs, isn'd it, some day? But you dake my advice. Don't
you trust dis tam fellow Rawson, he is most allertime mat. Goot-bye,
Sharlie. Tell Ned I make some rows mit him ven I comes oop."

And the ponies were started off, in high fettle, on their well-known
road up the river.




Chapter XI.--Darbison and Armstead Meet Again.

Darbison had not been many hours at The Hollow before he discovered
the charming character of his surroundings; the roomy bungalow cottage
and its occupants, the hostess, whom he had yet to learn was a popular
favorite among all classes throughout the district; in every direction
evidence of plenty, but nowhere a sign of vulgarity. Good taste ruled
all over, and the sense at being not only a welcome guest, but of being
actually at home, appealed strongly to that side of his nature which
had for so long lain dormant and been so cruelly crushed by the tragic
ending at Barumbah.

Wandering through the well-kept garden, bounded by a curve in the
rippling waters of the Pioneer River, dreaming of all that had been,
and of what the future might possibly yet have in store for him, he
suddenly became aware of the joyous voices of children at play, and
making plenty of noise too, although nothing could be seen of them.
Continuing his search in the direction from which the sounds came,
he at last found them under the shade of a gigantic Poinciana regia.
Its lower branches drooped nearly to the ground, enclosing a generous
area of dense shade, in which they were at all times protected from
the direct rays of the tropical sun. Then his sailor instincts came
into play, and for the time being he became one of them, until, warned
by the first bell, he found his way to the bathroom to get ready for
dinner. Visitors dropped in at intervals during the evening, and
the musical talent some of them developed was another surprise for
Darbison, who was compelled to admit that, although very fond of
music himself, he was absolutely unable to produce any on any known
instrument, unless, perhaps, they might trust him with the drum and
arrange a code of signals for his instruction when to thump it. The
walls of the music-room were adorned with almost every known instrument
of orchestral capacity, both in brass and wood. Nearly everybody
who dropped in at odd times did his or her level best to uphold the
reputation of The Hollow for musical evenings, and it was no mean one
either.

At the end of a week Darbison had become fully persuaded that he had
reached "the haven where he would be;" he would give up sheep and
invest his capital in sugar, if his friends thought it would be safe
to do so. He had already seen two or three of the principal mills,
and been courteously shown a great deal that was worth seeing. Many
more pleasant visits remained to be paid, and as he still had a couple
of months to spare before it would be safe to start for England with
reasonable hope of escaping the cold, wintry weather there, he was not
required to come to a hurried decision.

This was all the more satisfactory as there were no sugar properties
in the market at the time; sugar was paying well, labor was plentiful,
and the troubles which were even then in store for the planters were
not yet visible above the horizon. The labor schooners came from
the New Hebrides and Solomons with full passenger lists of willing
and contented workers. They returned with time-expired boys clad in
gorgeous raiment, paid for in golden sovereigns out of their contract
wages handed over to them in the presence of a Government inspector.
But the golden sovereigns were of small value to take back to their
native villages. The money had to be spent where it was earned, and as
every boy had not less than eighteen of those coins to get rid of, and
as drink to those halcyon days had no charm for them, some of their
investments were more conspicuous for external appearance than for
positive utility.

Ridiculous as the description may appear to be. It was no uncommon
slight to see a strapping lump of a boy, who had never before worn the
garb of civilisation, strutting along the main street clad in a light
tailor-made suit, wearing kid gloves--not often a good fit--carrying
in one hand a gilt-edged morocco-bound "Church Service," and with
the other shading his already deeply-bronzed complexion under an
umbrella or parasol covered with alternate stripes, of red, white, and
blue--their favorite colors--built to order for these occasions.

This was all intensely interesting to Darbison, who found himself in an
entirely new world. The great surprise in store for him on driving into
town one day was to come suddenly upon Harold Armstead, sauntering up
the street as if the whole panorama belonged to him.

"Why, Harold, wherever did you spring from, and what the mischief are
you up to now?"

"Same to you, Darbison, only with more emphasis on the latter half of
your query. But it's just glorious to meet you again, old man, and to
see you looking so fit. Where are you staying?"

"At The Hollow for the present. And you?"

"Better still. I'm going out there for a day or two when I've settled
about the yacht. The Rawsons are old friends of mine."

"Yacht! What yacht? Have you come into money, or what has happened?
What are you here for anyhow?"

"Oh, the same old game, only this time it's a cable-laying job out to
Flat Top. Come down to the wharf and let me introduce my friend and
fellow yachtsman, Mr. Schepper, to you. Quite an original, I assure
you. You are bound to like him!"

Just as they turned the corner of the street leading to the river bank,
a crowd became visible on the wharf, and the voices proclaimed that
a fight was in progress somewhere, although the combatants could not
be seen. Cries of "Good for the cook!" "Bully for Schneider!" "At him
again, slushy!" and others of similar though more forceful import,
caused them to quicken their pace until they reached the scene of
conflict, and a novel and interesting scene it was.

Several feet below the level of the wharf lay a bluff-nosed,
flush-decked steam barge, on which the struggle for mastery--for it
could not be called a fight--was proceeding between two men who were
locked in a close embrace--each man evidently determined to throw the
other overboard at the first chance, as they swayed violently from
side to side on the unsteady platform. One was a long, lean warrior
in a dungaree jumper and dirty white pants rolled up above the knees,
barefooted, and bleeding from the mouth; the other a short, stout,
red-headed and red-faced man, decently clad in a suit of blue serge
and patent leather shoes, better adapted to a colder climate. The
first glance conveyed to Armstead all necessary information, which,
punctuated by explosions of laughter, he gave to Darbison:--

"The short, fat man is Schepper, our really clever electrician; the
other is the cook of the 'yacht,' as I called her just now. What they
are fighting about I can't imagine. The atmosphere was peaceful when I
left her an hour ago to go up town and interview the Customs people,
but they have been snarling at each other all the way up from Brisbane.
We have been nearly a month on the way, averaging about three or four
knots, and hugging the coast in that beastly old cable tank all the
time. Schepper has been horribly seasick all the way, and unable to
tackle what he calls the 'shdoo,' the cook's standing dish, and the
only one I suppose the poor devil had the necessary ingredients for,
or accommodation for cooking in that wretched little caboose. By Jove,
they'll both be overboard directly if they don't watch it. Schepper has
the strength, but the long fellow has the wind and the leverage. Wonder
where the captain is--not that he could do much if he were there!"

"How many were there of you altogether?"

"Well, there was the skipper, and the chief officer, who was also
engineer, and that long fellow yonder, who was cook when he wasn't at
work in the stokehold, and a great lout of a boy who did nothing in
particular and everything wrong.

"There they go!" And a roar went up from the crowd as the two men, in
close grip, rolled over the low freeboard and into the water together.

The cook was the first to bob up, and soon after, a few feet astern of
him, Schepper appeared, blowing like a grampus. Both were swimmers,
and were quickly hauled on board by ropes in the willing hands of the
spectators, amongst whom was the just-arrived captain. He assumed the
most severely judicial expression of which he was capable, and demanded
a prompt explanation from his subordinate as to what the devil he meant
by fighting with a passenger and bringing disgrace on the ship--that
was what he called the old barge!

The reply was ready, and to the point: "Well, you see, captain, it came
about this way. I was a-settin' down there on a bucket, peelin' the
spuds and things ready for bilin', jest whistlin' to meself an' sayin'
nothin' to nobody, when that there old Bismarck, what had bin up the
town givin' the gals a treat with all his shore-goin' clobber on, comes
aboard, me takin' no more notice of him than if so be he was a nigger.
He sneaks up behind me round the caboose, and lands me one on the jaw,
tumbles me off the bucket, and upsets all the green stuff what I has
in the tin dish, and the awful way he cussed an' swore at me would
surprise you. Was I goin' to take that quiet an' ask for more? Not me!
So I jest up an' tackles him. What would you ha' done, I'd like to
know?"

"Well, Mr. Schepper, you know you had no business to strike this man,
he's not in your employ. What made you do it?"

"Vat make me do it? Vell, I dell you. I have allertime had for mineself
nodings to eat on dis tam ship only shdoo, und dis time I haf seen dis
man make some shdoo like vat I haf hat to eat. He cut some bodado und
bumkin und oder dings in a basin mid vasser, und ven he vos make his
dirty foots hot on der deck he puts first dime one foots, den anoder
foots, in der cold vasser mid der shdoo, und ven he see I vas lookin'
at him he say, 'Tam you, 'oldt Bismarck, I punch you in der head, isn'd
it?' Den he make me feel sick some more, und I hit him mit mine handt,
und he trow me oferboard, und I haf lose mein vatch und some moneys.
Und den he make some lies apout me und some gals, und I do not any gals
know. Und ven der gables is all out I do not any baper sign if I mein
vatch und moneys do not get back!"

Choking with suppressed laughter, Darbison helped Armstead to get him
up to the hotel and into some dry clothes. The watch was recovered by a
kanaka diver during the day, and some sort of peace was patched up with
the captain, who was anxious to avoid further trouble. But Schepper
was not easily pacified until he had been made the recipient of sundry
swizzles, coupled with repeated assurances of his valor in the combat
and his entire justification for entering upon it.

Darbison remained in town for the sake of a long talk with Armstead,
which the latter would gladly have avoided if only to shun all
reference to the trouble at Barumbah, but much of that was happily
glossed over in referring to matters of more recent interest.

"But, I say, Harold, whatever induced you to take such a long trip in
that awful specimen of marine architecture?"

"The chief's orders, old man--another queer specimen, by the way.
Said he would have been but too glad of the chance to go himself, and
therein proved his kindred with Ananias. He knew that he lied, but
what seemed to please him most was the certain knowledge that I knew
it, too. A most worthy man, I believe, in many respects, but it was
less his fault than that of those who put him there that he was an
astounding revelation of the folly of plugging up a square hole with a
round peg. However, he died from natural causes, chiefly swelled head,
I fancy, about a week after I steamed away from Moreton Bay in that
gallant bark, and I bear no ill-will to his memory. Now, what about
yourself, have you any plans for the future, and, if so, may I know
them?"

"None, beyond the fact that I leave for England in March, and shall
certainly return before the cold sets in. After that I can't say, but
I have a great notion of this part of the country, and may eventually
settle here if a good opening presents itself. Will you come out with
me to The Hollow to-morrow?"

"No. Can't leave till the cable is landed."

"I see! Well, hurry up, my boy, and come as soon as you can, and don't
let old Bismarck get into a clinch with that cook again. Feed him up
here and keep him off 'the yacht.'"

When the cable was laid and in working order, Harold and his friend
Mr. Schepper had a good time at The Hollow. The latter was a constant
source of amusement to the family and their numerous visitors, being
frequently called upon for a description of his fight with the cook
and an account of the preparation of "shdoo," and although he seldom
succeeded in telling the story twice in the same way, he never failed
to convince his audience of his genuine horror for all time of all
"shdoo," no matter how artistically composed or carefully prepared.
"Id is a good vorld, laties, und mein vife is a goot voomans, but she
does not any more make shdoos ven I get me home again. Efery dime I
valk mit mineself in der shtreet und shmell von of dem I see dat dirty
schweinkopf mid his foots in der mittle of it!"

After their departure for the south in the Black Swan, Darbison settled
down to a thorough exploration of the district, and, as a guest at The
Hollow, met with a most cordial reception everywhere. He visited all
the large plantations and mills, including River Estate, Alexandra,
Foulden, Pleystowe, and others, as well as the most prominent among
the smaller ones; spent a pleasant time at Mount Spencer Station,
and a week at Oxford Downs. At Mount Spencer he met with another old
Mediterranean acquaintance in the person of Captain Bosanquet, who had
retired on half pay and purchased a small grazing property adjacent.
That, of course, meant another invitation, for those two had a common
interest and much to talk about.

"I suppose you are about the only old naval man around here, Bosanquet?"

"Yes, I believe so. There was another, up to a few weeks ago, but I am
thankful to say he has cleared out, and I don't think he is likely to
come back."

"Who was he?"

"A retired paymaster, with plenty of money, but mad, I should say. At
least that is the most charitable supposition."

"Why? What did he do?"

"Rather what didn't he do? He came here first about twelve months ago
with a son, a very handsome boy I'm told, about sixteen years of age,
a wilful young beggar, who was sick when he landed, got rapidly worse,
refused to obey the doctor's instructions, and died within a month. The
old man was terribly cut up, and carried on top ropes for a spell. Then
he went back home to get proper fixings for the grave; said there was
nothing to be got in this infernal country fit for a Christian to lie
still under, and came back with a fit-out that must have cost a pretty
pile. Knocked the cap off the cemetery gates with the first piled-up
load and hammered the carrier for doing it. Found the grave overgrown
with tall grass, and the corner fence of a recently defunct Chinaman
in his way, said fence being decorated after customary fashion with a
selection from the deceased's wardrobe and a lot of grub in an advanced
stage of decomposition.

"Whilst busily engaged in throwing the whole lot, including the sapling
fence, overboard, outside the cemetery boundary, the official caretaker
appeared on the scene and remonstrated with such vigor that he was
promptly hunted into an adjacent paddock. But on the following day the
now distraught shellback went after him again with a heavy hunting
crop, and the end was police interference. He didn't stop long after
that--people shied at him, and his remarks were terribly discursive!"

"Ever hear of him afterwards?"

"Once only, from a man who had been a quartermaster on the same ship
with him--the Spy brig on the coast of Africa; caught in a squall and
thrown on her beam ends; a carronade slide to leeward lifted, he was
washed under it, got his head badly jammed; was invalided, and in
Haslar Hospital for months. May-be that accounts for some of it. It
is the most charitable view to take, anyhow, and perhaps a few extra
swizzles helped him along a bit!"

"Hm! Yes. Any more remarkable people around here?"

"Not in that sense. You seem to have already met a few of the men
worth knowing, and they are all pretty much of the same stamp. To me
they are simply remarkable as being about the best crowd of white men
I've had the luck to chip in with since my legs were last under the
wardroom mahogany of the old Queen. To sum them up in Jack's expressive
phraseology, their hearts are as big as the dome of St. Paul's! By the
way, I heard you were going Home again shortly."

"Yes, but only for a summer trip, and I have serious thoughts of
settling down somewhere about here when I got back, if I can get a
sugar patch at a reasonable figure."

"Good business, as our mutual friend Charlie puts it. I sincerely hope
you will. In the meantime, can't you manage to put in a few days here
before you leave?"

"Glad to, if I can, but I must get away south in a fortnight or so, and
really this is the most hospitable corner of the globe I ever drifted
into. I must really be off now, but you may be quite sure I shall look
you up before I start. Oh! and I say, old chap, if there are any little
matters I can attend to for you in the Old Country, just jot them down."




Chapter XII.--A Shock for Mrs. Elliston.

Although living in a populous city, and having ample means for her
support, Mrs. Elliston, as she was now called, was inexpressively
lonely. She knew no one, nor had she any desire to make acquaintances;
in fact, with the exception of the kindly old widow lady with whom she
lodged, she rarely spoke to anybody. Her memories were bitter, and her
health was imperilled by the constant regret for the criminal folly of
which she had been guilty. And to be dead to the world was her only
ambition. Correspondence with her only living relative in England had
long since been neglected. All hope for the future was banished. The
income which she regularly received from the solicitors of her injured
husband was a constant source of self-reproach. At length she decided
that she would make a desperate effort to earn her own living, and
until that could be accomplished use no more of the money than would
actually be required for her support.

Armed with this decision, she at once commenced a search for
employment, only, however, to discover how unfitted she was for
the acceptance of such work as occasionally offered. True, she was
a skilled musician and vocalist, though much out of practice. The
publicity incidental to that life appalled her. She had no special
gifts, and the prospect seemed daily more gloomy, until hope dawned
with the offer of a housekeeper's place in the home of a bachelor
Government official on the Peak Downs.

Glad of the opportunity to escape once more into the bush, and so
lessen the chances of being recognised by any of those who had known
her in happier times, she accepted this after some preliminary
correspondence of a most satisfactory nature. The salary was good,
the position such as she felt a lady might fill. Inquiry established
the fact that the gentleman who required her services occupied a good
position in society, and was in every sense a most estimable person,
added to which she entertained no doubt about her ability to preside
over such an establishment as the one described.

After a long and somewhat monotonous journey in Cobb's coach, Mrs.
Elliston reached her destination, and was most agreeably surprised to
find her pleasantest anticipations realised. Her employer received
and behaved towards her with the greatest consideration, handed over
the complete domestic control of the establishment, and specified her
duties in a manner which, though a trifle arbitrary to her unaccustomed
ears, placed her completely at ease and left no loophole for anxiety.
But the anxious moments were yet to come; though many weeks passed
before their cause was suspected. Small dinner parties were of frequent
occurrence, and invariably took place when strangers were in the
township. Not that there was the least difficulty at any time about the
dinners themselves; the supply of everything requisite was of the best,
and she was free to engage additional assistance for the one servant
and the boy who comprised the regular household; but the evenings
were invariably devoted to card-playing, which frequently lasted far
into the small hours, and on more than one occasion words ran high,
muttered threats and accusations were overheard, and the party broke
up and separated under conditions which pointed direct to high play
and angry discussions. This caused her a feeling of discomfort, and as
her uneasiness increased and the term of her engagement was drawing to
a close, she wrote to the agency through which she had obtained the
situation, and besought their interest in some other direction.

An immediate reply reached her to the effect that, provided she could
obtain the requisite credentials, an opening presented itself in the
home of an elderly widower in the Diamantina country, to take charge
of two growing girls, teach music, and generally superintend their
education. The receipt of this letter was quickly followed by an
interview with her employer, who expressed unfeigned regret at her
decision. He suggested his willingness to increase her salary, or make
any other arrangements that might induce her to remain with him.

"I am sorry, very sorry indeed, to lose you, Mrs. Elliston, and as you
really must go I shall take a melancholy pleasure in recommending you
favorably to old Mr. Barthgate, a most estimable man, who is an old
acquaintance of mine, and generally calls upon me when passing through
the town."

"I thank you, sir, for that and for the kindly consideration with which
you have invariably treated me, and would beg you to believe that my
only object has been to obtain more congenial employment."

So that matter was settled, and when the time of her departure drew
near, Mr. Barthgate himself arrived and took him with her, in a covered
waggonette behind a good team of horses, to Barthgate Downs, during the
long journey to which she had ample opportunity of studying him. To
begin with, he certainly was not an old man. His hair being of snowy
whiteness, the adjective had become firmly attached to him. Not being
able to boast of much education, he was one of nature's gentlemen,
solid and quiet in manner, possessing no interest in life beyond the
welfare of his two motherless girls and the proper management of his
small station and the fifty thousand sheep on it. Her comfort and
convenience were his first care during the journey, and from the
cordial welcome extended to them at their various stopping-places it
was evident that he enjoyed the respect of all the residents over a
wide area of country. Barthgate Downs took her fancy at a first glance.
The house was pleasantly situated on the bank of a running creek and
standing in the midst of a fairly well-kept garden. It was a large,
homely sort of place, devoid of all pretensions to anything but solid
comfort, and the room assigned to her use was large and plainly but
neatly furnished, adjoining that of the two girls. Clara, the eldest, a
bouncing healthy lassie of fourteen, and Ethel, a shy, retiring child,
some two years younger, were duly introduced, and for the first time
since her flight from Barumbah, Mrs. Elliston realised that she had at
length found a home.

Life passed very happily for them all at Barthgate Downs. Mr. Barthgate
trusted her entirely. The girls were her constant companions when
away from their studies, and took her all over the run at odd times,
teaching her in return from their ample stock of bush lore, in which
she was sadly deficient herself. Clara became quite adept on the
piano under her skilful guidance. The musical evenings, which were of
almost daily occurrence, appealed strongly to Mr. Barthgate, who was
particularly fond of music, and was the possessor of an excellent bass
voice, which brought him into constant requisition.

In this way the months and seasons rolled on until there came a sudden
shock which, although it had no direct bearing on the peaceful current
of their lives, was nevertheless, sufficiently terrible to prostrate
Mrs. Elliston in its vivid reproduction of a past memory.

Seated in a shady corner of the verandah one afternoon, doting over
an old volume of travel, she was suddenly aroused by the arrival of
Clara, exclaiming:--"Oh! Mrs. Ellison, the most awful thing you ever
heard of has happened; perhaps you know the man, as you lived there.
Mr.---- someone on the Peak Downs has been arrested for the murder of
two constables and robbing the gold escort!"

"My dear, do you know what you are saying? It is wildly impossible.
What is his name?"

"I don't remember just at this minute. Father read it out of the paper
just now when the mail came in. Dear Mrs. Elliston, don't look so
frightened. It mayn't be anybody you know after all. I'll go and see if
I can get the paper."

When she returned with it, the unfortunate lady caught sight of the
name, gave one gasp as she exclaimed: "This is horrible!" and went off
into a dead faint.

Horrible indeed it was, but only too true. The evidences of the crime
appeared overwhelming, and at the subsequent trial were shown to be
so. Even if such had not been the case, his own confession made his
fate certain. He was ably defended by three of the leading barristers
in Brisbane, one of whom, was the present Chief Justice of the Federal
High Court, then on the threshold of his brilliant career. A prolonged
and patient trial was brought to a close by a verdict of guilty, and
the prisoner was sentenced to death, the judge remarking that the crime
had no parallel in Australian history. Needless to add, it caused a
thrill of horror to permeate the whole community, and has never been
forgotten in Queensland.

Strange to say, the condemned man persisted in asserting his innocence
to the last, and that in spite of the fact that his own confession had
enabled the police to recover a sum of nearly 4000 from where he had
himself planted it in an old stump in the bush.

So the trusted official and social success went to his doom on the
Rockhampton scaffold, bearing himself manfully to the end, clad in a
suit of dress clothes, and lifting his long beard with one hand to
facilitate the adjustment of the rope!

Many weeks passed before Mrs Elliston recovered from the shock thus
caused. She had great respect for the man, who had always treated her
with studied courtesy and shown kindly appreciation of her efforts to
make his home comfortable.

At the same time she had a vivid recollection of those evening dinner
parties, and the gambling which had almost invariably followed thereon,
and to them attributed the awful fate which ultimately overtook him.
She may have been right.

However, the old routine of Barthgate Downs was gradually resumed, and
in the enjoyment of a happy, peaceful home, Mrs. Elliston may now be
left, doing her best for the motherless girls, of both of whom she had
become very fond, and determined to lay the spectre of the past on the
altar of present duty.




Chapter XIII.--The Merry Widow.

AS the homeward-bound mailboat passed Fort Denison and sped along on
her course to the Heads, her decks were crowded with passengers taking
a final glimpse at the rapidly shifting panorama of the familiar scene.
Once outside, and the old Ballarat plunging her nose into the heavy
rollers following in the wake of a recent strong south-easterly, at
least seven-tenths of them vanished into their berths.

Not seasick already?

Oh, dear, no, but the luggage had to be sorted up and opened out, and
the good offices of the cabin stewards arranged for, and the children
were demanding attention, and a number of other emergencies pressed
for immediate notice, in connection with which the women were even
less transparent humbugs than the men, who, pretended to whistle, and
professed to be thoroughly enjoying themselves like the veriest old
sea-dogs, until rebellious nature gave the signal for collapse and
compulsory retirement.

Standing in the waist, with his feet firmly planted and his body
swaying naturally to the motion of the ship, was Darbison, engaged in
earnest conversation with the butcher, upon whom he was impressing his
desire for special attention to be paid to the extensive collection
of pets he was carrying with him for Jeannie's benefit. A promise of
a substantial tip if all were safely landed in London was met with
an assurance that nothing the butcher could do would be wanting to
deserve it. And as this was followed by a small gold coin on account,
Darbison was assured of the fact that he was "a gentleman, an' I allus
knows when I has dealin's with that sort. But you see, sir, it don't
allus rest with me. Doin' the best I can, there's providence at times
that will take a hand in the game, an' you can't go for to expect that
they'll all be landed in good 'ealth an' sperits, so to say. Them
cockatoos and the other birds will pull through all right, I dessay, if
we don't get too much bad weather off the Leeuwin, but I misdoubt me if
all the animals will. Them native bears is a 'andful theirselves. I've
had experience of them before to-day, an' the possums and things ain't
much better. But you can depend on me, sir, to do my best, an' thankin'
you for the gratooity as well as what's to foller."

Then Darbison went to his cabin, completed his own personal
arrangements, and returned to the deck for a smoke. Here he made the
acquaintance of a jolly, portly old gentleman, rolled up in rugs,
seated in a deck lounge, reading, who hailed him cheerily and insisted
upon his joining him in a "peg."

"Seems to me, sir, that we are about the only two passengers able to
remain on deck, though there's really nothing yet to drive people
below. Possibly a sailor, sir?"

"Yes, I was in the navy for some years. But are you one also?"

"No. Permit me to introduce myself as Colonel Methvyn, of the Bombay
staff, just returning from a six months' furlough in Australia--fine
country, sir--very fine country, but wants a lot more people in it. And
you, sir?"

"Aubrey Darbison, at your service, and very pleased to meet you. Glad
you like Australia. What part of it have you been chiefly in?"

"Well, I spent a very jolly part of the time on a younger brother's
station on the Murrumbidgee, then he induced me to come to Melbourne
with him, to show me the ropes, as he called it. Wish to the Lord I
hadn't!"

"You don't like Melbourne, then?"

"By gad, sir, but I do. Splendid city--great future--but I had to
leave, sir, and leave it, by gad, in a hurry, too!"

"Why? Anything serious happen?"

"You may well call it serious, sir. That's precisely what it was.
Deadly, sir; ---- dangerous, that's what it was. Now kindly tell me, do
I give you the impression of being a man who would shirk danger--run
away from it, in fact?"

"Assuredly not! Why?"

"Why, sir? Why, because that is exactly what I am doing at the present
moment. Running away from a woman, sir, a woman, or a she-devil, who,
I am told, has sworn to marry me within six months! Personable woman,
too--stacks of money--husband was some sort of a contractor fellow.
Swindled the Government out of most of it! Admitted into society over
yonder? Oh, yes! Government House, too, I understand. Hasn't more
than six consecutive words of grammar in her whole basket. Smokes
cigarettes. Dresses like a Punch and Judy show--and calls for gin and
bitters when she's thirsty. Lots of men after her, for her money, of
course. Not the sort she wanted. Wanted me! Me! Said the poorer I was
the more she'd love me, and she'd never marry again if she couldn't get
a milingtary man and a hofficer!

"What would you have done, sir? I put it to you straight. Wouldn't you
have cut and run, too?"

"I expect I should. But you're all right now, you know. She can't very
well come after you to Bombay--unless a memory of some tender passage
drives her!"

"No such thing, sir. No what you are pleased to call tender passages
were ever possible. I've avoided the infernal woman, sir, been
positively rude to her at every opportunity. And now I will only ask
you to treat this subject as entirely confidential, sir, as in fact
between two brother officers, and I shall hope to see a great deal of
you before we have to part."

"No necessity for the caution, colonel. You have my entire sympathy,
and the subject need not again be referred to. There goes the first
dinner bell, and I'm hungry."

The morning after the steamer left Adelaide a steward came to Darbison
with "Colonel Methvyn's compliments, sir, and could you make it
convenient to see him in his cabin?"

"Certainly. Say I will come at once. Nothing wrong. I hope?"

"Can't say, sir. He didn't tell me. But he's cussin' about two knots an
hour off the ship's way."

So that Darbison expressed no surprise when his entrance to the cabin
was accompanied by a burst of sulphurous fulminations.

"Hello, colonel, what's the matter? What's all this about?"

"Shut that door like a good fellow, and tell me what the blazes I'm
to do. That infernal woman is on this ship! Came aboard at Melbourne,
and been shut up in her cabin, sick, till yesterday. Saw her late last
night when she came back from a prowl in the city, and she pretended
she didn't know I was on this boat. The dem catamount says she's on
her way to visit some friends at Colombo. She's after me, I know right
well. Stick to me, Darbison, and tell me what I ought to do."

"Ignore her, colonel. Cut her dead! Confound it, man, she can't marry
you on board, and I don't suppose she'll try to have you kidnapped at
Colombo!"

"By gad, sir, you don't know what a woman like that can be capable of."

"Cheer up, sir. Cheer-up. I'll try and entertain her to the best of my
ability, so as to keep her off you. That is if she has no prejudice
against the navy."

A day or two afterwards he was in a position to give the old gentleman
more solid comfort.

"It's all right, colonel, you are saved. The lady, I think I may
safely say, has transferred her affections to me, and I expect you
to be properly grateful though even that won't compensate me for my
utter disregard of truth, nor for the certain prospect of my peace of
mind being shattered until we reach Colombo. I managed to get into
conversation with her in the music-room last night, and we had quite
a long and most confidential yarn. I encouraged her to pump me freely
about myself, and when she turned the conversation on to you I told her
of your extremely delicate state of health, and referred gingerly to
the alarming attack you had had after leaving Melbourne, which, it was
feared, had left you permanently deaf, and possibly a chronic invalid
for the rest of your days. She had the grace to say she was sorry, but
that you were a foolish old man who had persecuted her dreadfully in
Melbourne with your ardent protestations of love, and so forth."

"Wh-a-a-t?"

"Don't interrupt me or I'll never get through. She couldn't prevent you
caring for her, of course, but really she never did 'cotton to sogers.'
Sailors were her weakness all the time, although her poor dear 'usband
what was dead and gone used many a time to say to her, 'Don't you never
trust one of 'em, Maria, more partickler them navy chaps; the other
sort is bad enough, but them fellers is too permiscus altogether in
affairs of the 'eart!' How I kept my countenance I don't know, but when
I told her she was too charming and unsophisticated to be travelling
about this wicked world without a male escort, she purred like an old
maid's tomcat, and admitted that she knew it, and that you had told her
the same thing often."

"Wh-a-a-at?"

"Be quiet, and let me finish. I'm to take charge of her at Colombo, and
see her off in the train to her friend's tea plantation, somewhere up
in the hills, and I'm to have her address and go to see her on my way
out. So I think your penny-farthing rushlight is fairly extinguished,
whilst my electric bull's-eye shines brilliantly. Does that comfort
you, my poor afflicted, soger?"

"By gad, Darbison, I'm speechless with gratitude. You must really come
on with me to Bombay and give me a chance to show it. But what sort of
a woman is she at all?"

"Which reminds me that another of the pearls of wisdom the dear
departed left behind was that 'men was fools most of the time, but
women was a sight bigger fools all the time!' So I conclude the defunct
contractor was a keen observer in his day. Oh! and she brought her
jewel case out to show me. The contents were costly, but barbaric to a
degree. If I've done you a service, old man, I'm glad, and if the tea
man doesn't freeze on to her before I get back--well, it's my chance,
eh?"

"Ring that bell, Darbison, I'm dry. I'm positively appalled at the
contemplation of that female's iniquity!"

It was not until they rounded the Leeuwin that Darbison was able to
realise that his intervention on behalf of the colonel was likely to
prove productive of considerable inconvenience to himself, if not of
something actually more serious. There are few better fields or more
ample opportunities for incipient flirtations, or even for straight-out
declarations of ardent passion in defiance of all the canons of
orthodox conventionality than can be found ready made to order or
engineered with a little tact and skill on a crowded passenger steamer
on a long voyage. All travellers know this, and few neglect chances of
passing the time as pleasantly as possible and breaking up the deadly
monotony of the daily routine.

Darbison had entered gaily, and without a thought of possible
consequences, upon the defence of the colonel from what he conceived
to be the artifices of a designing woman, and every day served to
convince him of his folly. He had been actuated solely by the prospect
of a little harmless fun, and had all the time been playing with fire
without knowing it. The widow had, in fact, done what he had laughingly
pictured to the colonel--that is to say, she had "transferred her
affections" from the soldier to the sailor, and the latter had plenty
of time in which to be sorry for it.

His insistence upon the truth of the statement that he was already a
married man was received with incredulity.

"Yes, of course, I know all about that. My poor, dear, dead 'usband
always said that Jack had a wife in every port he sailed to, but that
needn't trouble you, dear. I know what the position of a true wife is,
and that's what I mean to be to you. You don't need to worry about them
others."

Darbison, it must be clearly understood, had on no single occasion
given the lady the slightest provocation for these lively protestations
of attachment, and in conversation with the colonel he was at length
constrained to say:--"You are a good old sort, colonel, and I can't
help liking you, but from the very bottom of my heart I wish you had
never crossed my hawser with your infernal love affairs. This has put
me in a hole I don't clearly see my way out of. I honestly believe
the poor woman is mad, but she has avowed her determination to marry
me now, and, by Jove, I've got to find some means of escape, for I'm
blowed if I'm going to commit bigamy for her, or any other woman.
Moreover, if I were a free man, and she owned ten times as much money
as I believe she really has, I wouldn't go within a crossjack yard's
length of her for it all."

The climax was reached when a stiff westerly gale was encountered
after the ship's head was turned on a northerly course for Colombo. A
heavy beam sea caused her to roll alarmingly, and broke on board at
intervals. Boat lashings carried away, crockery smashed, the galley
flooded, women screamed and ran about the cabins in their night-robes,
appealing for help where no help was available. Darbison, just
descending the companion from the upper deck, wet, but satisfied that
there was no danger to be apprehended, went below with the intention of
allaying the terror even if unable to calm the excitement.

In a paroxysm of fear the widow clung to him, calling him her darling
husband, with a variety of other terms of endearment, the while
imploring him to hold her tightly, to the end that they might perish
together. The utter absurdity of the position, strongly as it appealed
to him at the time, became more fully revealed to the bystanders when
the ship's course was altered to meet the heavy seas end on, and
comparative quiet was restored.

Very little harm had been done, but by this time Darbison realised
the full extent of his own danger. How to escape was the next
consideration, and this was eventually effected through the friendly
offices of the ship's doctor, who pronounced him to be dangerously ill,
and ordered close-confinement to his cabin till he could be landed at
the first port of call. She pleaded to be allowed to nurse him "back
to life and love," but the doctor was inexorable. The colonel spent
most of his time with him; the captain, who was now posted up in the
details of the case, looked in for an occasional yarn and a sorrowful
disquisition upon she-dragons in general, "who were always trying to
lead poor, simple-minded Jack astray out of the path of honor and
virtue!" So matters continued till Colombo was reached, and Darbison's
imprisonment was ended by her departure in tears because she was not
allowed a final farewell on the grounds of the doctor's dread that the
disease might develop into something highly infectious, and he dare not
accept the risk.

Her final message was: "I'll come and see you, darling, at the
'orspital as soon as they'll let me in!"

And three months afterwards she married the tea man!

The colonel landed to pursue his voyage to Bombay in the branch mail
boat, and the two parted with mutual feelings of friendship and
goodwill, after a vain effort on the colonel's part to induce Darbison
to accompany him to Bombay, and they were destined never to meet again.
But correspondence between them was maintained until the colonel's
death, some years afterwards, in which the old gentleman rarely omitted
to refer to the narrow escape they had both had from inevitable
matrimony, and his undying gratitude to Darbison for the splendid
efforts he had made to save him.

One letter concluded with: "My married daughter, of whom you have
frequently heard me speak, lives close by, and she often says how
delighted she would be to meet you. She admires pluck, and thinks you
must be a pluckier man than she ever read of in history, to face the
risk you took with that poor, demented woman."




Chapter XIV.--Darbison's Dramatic Home-coming.

The remainder of the voyage was devoid of special incident. Darbison
landed with most of his live stock in good condition, and, piling them
up in top of a growler, drove off from the Liverpool-street Station to
the hotel at which he had always been in the habit of putting up.

"Get those cages and the other traps down carefully, my lad, whilst I
go in to see the manager about them," he ordered the cabman.

As he spoke, an imposing-looking man in a sort of undress military
uniform came from the hall, and asked:--

"What do you think you're going to do with all that truck? This isn't
the Zoo! You can't bring it in here!"

"Why, James, don't you remember me? Oh! I see it isn't James. A
stranger, eh? Well, leave them there until I see the manager," and he
ran up the steps.

"What's happened here that I can't have my traps brought inside?"

"Why, bless my soul, it's Mr. Darbison, I do believe, come back after
all these years. Glad to see you again, sir."

"Well, just tell that second-hand warrior of yours in the hall to lend
a hand and get my dunnage inside. He is raising merry hell with the
cabman now."

"Right you are, Mr. Darbison, but that ain't no second-hand warrior,
sir. Bless your heart, he's one o' the few survivors o' the Balaclava
charge!"

"Is he really? Well, I don't expect ever to get out of the road of
those fellows. As far as I can remember, less than one hundred and
fifty brave men escaped out of that inferno, and I've met more than two
hundred of them in Australia alone, to say nothing of all those who are
adrift in other parts of the world."

"But this one has the medals and things, Mr. Darbison."

"Maybe, but he hasn't the manners. As for the medals, you can buy them
in any pawnshop! No matter, just give him your orders, will you, and if
there's nobody here to look after those birds, etcetera, I'll see to it
that a competent man is sent round from somewhere. They'll all be taken
away to-morrow."

And the next day he started for the nearest railway station to Chelpont
Manor, sending no word of his coming, for the reason that he was
contemplating something in the shape of a dramatic surprise to announce
him.

It was late in the afternoon when he reached the village inn, about a
mile from the manor house, and learnt all the particulars about the
family from the garrulous dame who presided over it.

"Yes, she knew them very well; why wouldn't she, when Mrs. Chelpont was
one o' them wimmen what everybody had to love whether they wanted to
or not? And hadn't she been up there to see the new baby what had just
arrived--the new squire that wus to be, and one o' the loveliest babies
that ever was? And she'd see that his birds would be attended to, so
she would, the same as if they was in their own nests. And he could
have a fly to take him over to the manor when he wanted to go, but she
didn't know that they was expectin' company. All the same she knowed
there was plenty of room there"--and so on.

Then he told her he was Mrs. Chelpont's brother, but not to speak of it
for the present, and have the fly ready for him in about an hour.

A rustic-looking youth brought it at the appointed time, and they
arrived at the gates just as darkness was gathering. There Darbison got
down, telling the boy he might go back, which he started to do in a
terrible hurry.

For the man who spoke to him was not the same man with whom he had
started.

This was a fierce-looking man, wearing a huge beard, his face hidden by
a black mask with eye-holes in it, and a murderous-looking pistol in
his hand.

With a wild yell the boy whipped up his horse furiously and disappeared
down the road.

Darbison crept cautiously along the avenue towards the distant lights,
fervently hoping to find the proprietor alone, lest he should alarm his
sister. Fortune favored him, for she had shortly before gone upstairs
with the nurse to put the precious infant to bed. Peering cautiously
around, he saw at length through an open window, the man he was in
search of. Better dressed, and in every sense, more respectable in
appearance, there sat the bushranger of Barumbah at the head of his own
table, conning the pages of a pamphlet and leisurely eating fruit.

Dinner was plainly just over. A man-servant came into the room,
removed some dishes from the buffet, and went out again. This was his
opportunity. With one hand on the sill of the low-set window, he was in
the room before the slight noise he made attracted the attention of its
occupant, who looked up to find himself covered by a heavy navy Colt,
and to hear the harsh demand:--

"Bail up, and don't move, or I'll give you the contents of this. Where
do you keep the money?"

After a moment's hesitation the threatened man said:--"Oh! that be ----
for a yarn. This isn't Australia, don't you know. Who are you, anyhow?"

"Don't matter who I am, hand over the money or I'll----"

"No, you won't, my friend, for two reasons, the most important of which
is that your revolver contains no cartridges, and mine does!" producing
as he spoke one from a table drawer close to his hand. "The other
reason is of no consequence for the present, but I may tell you that
when bushrangers are out on business their revolvers are always loaded!"

"Allow me to congratulate you on your intimate acquaintance with the
customs of the criminal classes, and at the same time to remind you
that your revolver was also empty when you stuck up Barumbah Station!"

"Ha! Now I begin to smell a rat. Kindly remove that mask, Mr. Darbison,
and if you are, as I now suspect, that gentleman himself, let me have
the pleasure of extending a hearty welcome to an old acquaintance and a
new brother-in-law!"

"Euchred, by Jove," said Darbison, who at once revealed his identity,
and was soon after hugged in a close embrace by Jeannie, and promptly
dragged up to the nursery to admire his very small nephew and namesake,
Aubrey Chelpont.

"You are a bad, wicked villain," she said, "to spring in upon us in
this fashion. Why didn't you let us know the steamer you were coming
by, so that we could have sent to meet you? And where is my kangaroo
and the rest of your luggage?"

"Jeannie, my dear, you may have improved somewhat since I saw you
last. In personal appearance I am inclined to think you have, but you
certainly are not altered in other respects. Still the same animated
question box as of old. I didn't let you know the name of the boat
because I wanted to return the formal call I received from your husband
at Barumbah in correct official style. I suspect you don't know all the
ins and outs of that story yet, but you shall. Your kangaroo and some
birds and curios are with my traps at the village inn, where you can
send for them in the morning. Anything else, my dear?"

"Yes, if I may. Where is Mrs. Darbison?"

"I don't know, nor do I want to know. I have heard nothing from her
since that scoundrel deserted her in New Zealand, but as my lawyers
inform me that she still draws her allowance I presume she is still
alive."

"Now, one more, and that's all for to-night. How long are you going to
stay with us, and do you think you are likely to marry again?"

"That is not one. It's two separate questions, on two totally distinct
subjects. To the first, I reply that I intend to have a holiday until
the cold weather drives me back again; and to the second, well, I can
only say that I have no present intention to commit bigamy--a remark,
by the way, which, I made for the first time a week or two ago, when
a most estimable but crazy lady on board the steamer insisted upon
becoming my wife, whether I wanted her or not."

"For shame, Aubrey, you shouldn't say things like that. It's not nice,
you know, but do tell us how it happened."

"Come on out to my den and smoke, Darbison," said Chelpont, "and you,
Jeannie, my pet, go and look after the son and heir. I can hear him
yowling, I think, from here; perhaps he is cutting his teeth!"

"Babies that age don't have teeth, sir; besides, the nurse is with him.
Go and smoke; you are both very rude. Don't stop long, Aubrey."

Remembering the conditions under which these two men first met in the
dining-room at Barumbah Station, in Queensland, it only remains to say
that Darbison's love for his sister and only living relative was the
main-spring of their present meeting, and that Chelpont's, open, manly
nature, was quickly responded to by Darbison, who had already learnt
from Jeannie what a devoted and affectionate husband he had proved
himself to be. So it was not to be wondered at that they soon became
firm friends, and eventually inseparable companions. The talk in the
smoking room, and many others which followed, revealed much of the true
character of each man to the other, and there were no reservations.
When Chelpont was questioned as to the past, he spoke freely.

"No, Darbison, I was never what you could honestly call wild when I
was out there. Working for my living among total strangers, I struck
a few rough patches at times, but neither drink nor gambling had any
attractions for me, so I pulled through somehow. Tried the diggings
for a bit, but without any luck, and finally took to a bush life
for the freedom and certainty of subsistence it offered. Took any
job I could get, first shepherding, then fencing, bullock driving,
droving, shearing and so forth, but I never felt real mean till my
father's letter reached me and I knew for the first time the depth of
degradation it was possible for a scoundrel like that fellow, Evesham,
to reach.

"Of course, I know that I made an ass of myself over that business,
which ended so disastrously for you. Still I didn't know how to get at
him just then in any other way. You see, for the time being I wasn't
in your set, and I was determined that you should know him for what he
was. I can only hope that you have quite forgiven me for my share in
the abominable trouble it brought about."

"Entirely, and don't let us refer to the subject again. It is a painful
one for both of us, but your share of the responsibility is small as
compared with my own; for I knew later what I did not even suspect at
the time--the end was inevitable, and your appearance on the scene only
precipitated it. Now, tell me, if you will--Jeannie, in one of her
letters, said something about you having been sugar growing out there.
Was that so?"

"Just like a woman! Bless her little heart, no. Among a lot of other
occupations I had a shot at, I mentioned sugar, I expect, but I was one
of the smallest cogs in the machinery. I had wandered up north, and
was disappointed in not getting a job of droving with a mob of cattle
coming in from the west, so I turned in to the coast and took the first
chance I could get, which happened to be that of a mill hand on the
Pioneer--feeding cane into the rollers, you know, and that sort of
thing--and I liked the place and the people so well that I stuck to the
work and learnt all I could, until at last I got a billet at one of the
leading mills, in charge of the centrifugals----"

"Which mill was that?"

"Foulden. Amherst's place, and I stopped on there until these people
advertised for me, and here I am!"

"And pretty comfortably settled too, I should say."

"Yes, the old lady left me everything, and I've been trying hard to
adapt myself to circumstances ever since. Got to, you know; because I'm
a county magistrate, as well as a fairly large landed proprietor, for
there are seven big farms on the manor estate, and a good spread of
woodland. And I don't mind telling you, Darbison, that there are times,
when I'm in what my steward calls 'the justice room,' serving out law
to some miserable poacher, that between me and the culprit stands
a vision of myself, armed and masked in the Barumbah dining-room,
grinning derisively at the absurdity of the situation. There are times,
too, if it wasn't for the dearest little wife in the world--not to
mention the baby--that I could chuck up whole business and get back to
the old free life in Australia!"

"Nonsense, my dear fellow. But, of course, that's impossible. I wish
to heaven it were not, for I may tell you that I have almost, if not
quite, made up my mind to go in for sugar myself when I get back.
Friends up where you were are on the lookout for a place for me now.
You know I spent some months up in the Mackay country before I came
over, and I expect you have come in contact with most of the men I
met--the Rawsons, Meyneil, Amherst, Bob Walker, the Longs, Spiller,
Davidson, Lacey, the Macartneys, Finch Hattons, King, Bell, and a host
of others?"

"What an extraordinary coincidence! No, I don't remember that you told
us where you had been. But you know you have not been quite a model
correspondent of late! Naturally, I know the names of the men you have
mentioned, and from repute, as well as personal knowledge of some of
them, I know that a better, straighter lot of white men are not to
be found under the British flag. But you must remember I was only a
mill-hand, and not on the same terms of intimacy with them as you
must have been. All the same, they never failed to treat me like the
gentleman they were."

"I couldn't have put it better myself. They are all that and the rest.
But what do you think of the prospect as an investment? The life would
exactly suit me; but will sugar continue to pay? It will take a pot of
money for a start."

"There you have me. Most certainly, sugar will always pay, but in the
north the extent to which it will do that must of necessity depend upon
a constant and sufficient supply of the right kind of labor--about
which I fancy there is beginning already to be some uneasiness----"

And here they were interrupted by the hurried entrance of Jeannie, with
the anxious query:--

"Aubrey, whatever did you bring this nasty, smellful thing for? What
is it?"--holding at arm's length, on a stick, the skin of which some
animal had recently been bereaved.

"Ask your husband, my dear. It once belonged to one of his old mates
in the bush. It's all that's left of the poor little native bear I was
bringing home for you. Have it rolled up tightly and put outside. I
intend to send it to a taxidermist in London and have it stuffed. Are
the birds all right?"

"Oh, yes, they are just lovely. But one of the cockatoos keeps on
saying things that sound like swear words. Stevens says they are, and
he recognises the Australian accent!"

"All right, then we'll have him stuffed too. I can't have that nephew
of mine brought up in an atmosphere of profanity. The man I bought him
from, in Sydney, assured me that he was a bird of an exceptionally high
moral standard, and all I have ever heard him say was something that
sounded like 'Onward, Christian Soldiers.'"

"Now then, Darbison, are you ready? The groom is bringing the horses
round." And away they went to join the meet at Garston Hall, three
miles away.




Chapter XV.--A Surprise for Alice.

Darbison's English visit was a series of pleasures to be remembered.
As Mrs. Chelpont's brother he was sure of a welcome everywhere, for
that little lady was already firmly established as a prime favorite
in her part of the county. But when to that was added the mysterious
rumor that he was a wealthy Australian on the look-out for a wife to
take back with him, there was no room for surprise over the number
of the invitations which came to Chelpont. Outside the family circle
his domestic trouble was a sealed book, and utterly in vain did the
faithful Jeannie declare that: "My brother has sufficient means, and
nothing more; he is a confirmed bachelor; and even if that were not so,
there are certain complications, I understand, with a lady in Ceylon
who has the first claim to him. He is one of the best men in the whole
world, but I do wish I could induce you to believe me when I say that I
am quite positive he has no matrimonial intentions whatever."

Which was well meant, and the latter part of it, at least, strictly
true. Jeannie knew the whole story of the contractor's widow, about
whom she frequently chaffed Darbison in private; but it was hopelessly
inconclusive in the estimation of many a fair damsel, who listened to
it with a sigh of regret, whilst deciding at the same time to bring all
her heavy artillery to bear in the struggle for conquest. More than one
deliberately aimed dart missed him by a hair's-breadth, compelling him
to fly the field in disorder.

He shot, fished, and rode to hounds at every opportunity. He broke his
collar-bone through a spill over a hedge which hid an ugly take-off
in the shape of a bramble-covered ditch, and was assiduously nursed
by Jeannie. Several times he visited London to meet old shipmates and
friends, and signalised every visit by the despatch of a large box of
expensive but hopelessly unsuitable toys from the Army and Navy Stores
to his little nephew and namesake at the manor, who had found a way to
an especially warm corner in his heart. And when the time came for his
return, which was put off from week to week, genuine regret pervaded
the household.

He had decided from the first to go back by way of America, his
explanation being that he was anxious to see that country, and, above
all, to visit Niagara, thereby giving Jeannie a chance for a last sly
dig:--

"Yes, Aubrey dear, of course! But I don't see how you can possibly meet
the widow that way. Unless she happens to be advised of your intention!"

Neither of them knew that she had already been embalmed for the second
time in the holy state of matrimony, two months before. Chelpont went
with him to Liverpool and saw him safely off in the Alaska, bound for
New York.

       *       *       *       *       *

On arrival in Australia Darbison remained in Sydney only a few days,
and went on to Brisbane, where much news awaited him. A compact little
plantation which he had visited on the Pioneer was under offer and
awaited his decision, and so anxious was he to be once more settled
that, although the price was high, he promptly wired provisional
acceptance.

Mrs. Elliston had written to his agents declining to accept further
payments of her allowance, as she was now in a position to support
herself; and a long letter from Ken Morrison contained several
unexpected items of news among them being:--


Mrs. Geffel and her daughter left the station three months ago, and are
now keeping a boarding-house--a very, nice one, too--a little outside
Rockhampton. It has been the dream of the old lady's heart ever since
you went away. Will it surprise you very much, I wonder, to learn that
Alice and I are engaged, although we are not to be married for some
months yet? The mother approves of me, but thinks it hardly fair to
Alice to marry sooner, as the girl has had no chance hitherto of seeing
anybody else. Of course, I had no option but to submit, and may-be it
will turn out for the best after all. I am not the least bit afraid of
Alice going back on me. She is a dear, good girl, and as true as steel.
Besides, it will give me time to look out for something better to do,
so if you should by any chance see or hear of anything you think I
could undertake, please keep me in mind--and so on.


"Now, I wonder," soliloquised Darbison, "if that isn't right into
my hands. If I complete this purchase, which I probably shall do,
Morrison would be just the man for an overseer. What he doesn't know
about the work he can soon pick up--as I shall have to do myself--but
the one thing that commends him above all others is his thorough
trustworthiness. I'll write him to-night and be off north by the first
boat."

       *       *       *       *       *

Seated at tea in the well-furnished room of a comfortable house on the
outskirts of Rockhampton were three gentlemanly-looking young men. Two
of then belonged to one of the banks, and the third was a clerk in a
Government office. Just as the meal was finished, Alice came into the
room, and one of them, taking a letter from his pocket, handed it to
her, saying:--"Please, Miss Geffel, give that letter to your mother. I
only received it this morning, from an old acquaintance in Brisbane,
who is coming here on some business of importance and wants private
accommodation for a week or two. He is a real good fellow, very quiet
and unassuming, and if your mother can manage it, I'll send him a wire
first thing in the morning."

The matter being arranged, Mr. Preston, the new arrival, was met at the
steamer by his friend, and directed to the house.

"What did you say the landlady's name is?"

"Mrs. Geffel."

"Has she any family?"

"Only one that I know of, a daughter, I should say about twenty, a very
superior sort of girl."

"Where is her husband, or has she one?"

"Widow, as far as I know. Old man killed by the blacks on a sheep
station somewhere, long ago. But why so much curiosity?"

"Precisely, I expected that. Well, if things turn out as I fancy they
will, I'm in luck. Can't tell you any more, but very many thanks for
your assistance. Now I'll go and look her up."

The following morning Preston asked his landlady to grant him a private
interview, when, much to her astonishment, he said:--

"Mrs. Geffel, I want to introduce myself to you as a private inquiry
agent, sent up here by a leading firm of solicitors to obtain
information which I am assured you can give, and the results of which
must be most advantageous to you. Will you, therefore, permit me to ask
you a few questions to enable me to decide as to your identity with the
person I am in search of?"

"Certainly, Mr. Preston; ask anything you like. I have nothing to
conceal, but I shall only tell you what I think you have a right to
ask."

"That is quite right, madam, and to begin with I will, with your
permission, quote from my instructions and ask you to be good enough to
check me when you find that I am straying away from facts. She nodded
her acquiescence, and, producing a document, he went on to say:--

"Your maiden name was Amelia Ruston, born at Barnstaple, Devonshire,
father a grocer. You lived for some years, first as housemaid,
afterwards as nurse, in the family of Lord Callenton. In the latter
capacity you were entrusted with the care of a young infant of whose
parentage you knew nothing, but the child, a girl, was to be treated
as your own, and brought up as Alice Geffel. When this child was
eleven years of age, or thereabouts, you, with her and your husband,
came to Australia, at the instance of Lord Callenton's lawyers, who
continued to pay an annual sum for the child's maintenance until you
were altogether lost sight of in the Queensland bush somewhere. Is that
correct, madam?"

"Every word of it, sir. Alice is, I am thankful to say, still with me,
and a better daughter no woman ever had in this world. Perhaps you
would like to see her?"

"I should, indeed, madam, and the more so that I have reason to believe
I am a sort of herald of the good fortune in store for her, although I
am unable to specify what it may be."

"First, please gratify my curiosity to know how, after all these years,
you have been able to find us?"

"Oh! that would appear to have been the result of pure accident. A
gentleman named Darbison, who has recently been on a visit to some
relatives in the west of England, mentioned your name in the course of
a casual conversation in the presence at Lord Callenton's solicitor,
who at once pursued the subject and learnt that you were at a station
on the Dawson River. I was sent there to interview you; and a gentleman
named Morrison told me the rest."

A gentle knock at the door announced the presence of Alice, in search
of her mother, and her surprise upon learning the nature of Mr.
Preston's business may be imagined. Her only comment, however, was:--

"I don't care what they say, or what they want me for. Please tell
them, sir, that nothing shall ever induce me to leave my own dear
mother, the only one I have ever known, and I positively refuse to know
any other. I am sorry you found us, Mr. Preston; please go away and
leave us alone. We are quite happy as we are, and I'm sure I'm not at
all suited for aristocratic surroundings."

"That is all very much to your credit, Miss Geffel, but please remember
that I am only an instrument in the hands of other people. Having been
successful in my quest, I shall return to Brisbane by the first boat,
and place the result in the hands of my employers, with whom future
action rests."

The two women sat in silence, with hands clasped, for some time after
he left them; than Alice ventured:--

"What does it all mean, mother? Have you no clue to the mystery? Tell
me what you know, or what you suspect! Anything would be better than
this uncertainty. At any rate, promise me that nothing shall separate
us, for you are my own dear, loving mother, are you not?"

"Of course I am, child, and as far separating us, that is entirely out
of the question. You will be of age and your own mistress in a few
months' time, and nobody can interfere between us then. I feel quite
sure that we have nothing to fear, but I have a sort of ill-defined
recollection of the time when you were born that might, if I could
explain it, which I certainly can't, let us into whatever the secret
may be. Mr. Preston said that he knew nothing more than what he told
us, but was quite satisfied that the inquiry was being made in your
interests, so for the present, at least, I don't think we need worry,
and after all we may never hear any more about it."

That view of the matter was, however, shaken by the receipt of a letter
a few days afterwards, from a firm of solicitors in Brisbane, addressed
to Mrs. Geffel:--


"Dear Madam.--Mr. Preston has, we are pleased to say, been able to
furnish us with full and entirely satisfactory evidence of your
identity and that of the young lady who passes as your daughter. On
this subject we shall probably be in a position to afford you further
information in a few months, that is to say, when we are permitted to
do so by our London agents.

In the meantime, pray accept our assurance that nothing but good is
intended towards you or Miss Geffel, and to beg that you will at once
inform us of any change of locality into which you may see fit to
remove. We are, dear madam, etc., etc."


After which matters fell back into their accustomed groove, and the
boarding-house became an established success, although Alice never
quite recovered her serenity in the contemplation of that mysterious
reference to "the young lady who passes as your daughter!"




Chapter XVI.--Mrs. Elliston's Dilemma.

Darbison met with a warm welcome at the hands of his Mackay friends.
Allerton was found to be a small but compact property, a little
distance from the river, but well developed in all respects, and it
chanced to be for sale solely on account of the death of one of the
late partners. Backed up by good advice and the practical experience
of men who knew the game, a few days decided him, and the property
became his. A letter from Ken Morrison, gratefully accepting the offer
made to him, was soon followed by that gentleman himself, who had,
however, taken advantage of the opportunity to pay a visit to his
lady love on the way up, and arrived in a much perturbed condition
of spirits in consequence of the threatened change in her social
condition. Alice made no secret of her distaste for the prospect,
and vehemently declared her intention "to stick to him through thick
and thin, come what may, so long as she had reason to believe that
he wanted her worse than anything else in the world." That was the
way in which he described the position to Darbison, who was, however,
naturally astonished to learn that on his shoulders rested the entire
responsibility of the supposed discovery.

The services of the late manager of Allerton were engaged to carry on
the work of this plantation, and Darbison and Morrison set themselves
determinedly to forget all about sheep and learn all they possibly
could about sugar, and as they were both enthusiastic, and highly
pleased with the prospect before them, and their neighbors were at all
times ready with practical help, as well as advice, everything favored
the decision.

During all this time matters were rapidly approaching a climax at
Barthgate Downs, where that unfortunate lady, Mrs. Elliston, had firmly
established herself in the affections of both the girls, and, as she
could not well help discovering, also in the eyes of her employer, Mr.
Barthgate. This caused her no little uneasiness, and made her position
a delicate one, because she was unable to conceal from herself the fact
that he was by no means indifferent to herself, and the dread of an
avowal from him grew into a source of constant fear that she might at
any moment be compelled to seek another home. But there was yet another
element of discomfort, in the shape of the Hon. Vincent Trasmere, the
scion of an old but impoverished family in the Old Country, who had
been sent out by his friends, mainly with the object of getting rid of
an undesirable, though ostensibly that he might learn sheep farming
and aspire to the giddy height of becoming, at some time or other, a
full-blown squatter himself. This young gentleman was a jackeroo on a
neighboring station, and the first pleasant evening spent by him at
Barthgate Downs had converted him into a constant visitor. He was only
nineteen, but stood over six feet in his socks; had nothing whatever to
recommend him except a very good taste in music, a good tenor voice,
and considerable ability as a pianist.

Those were his sole attractions in the eyes of Mrs. Elliston, who
gladly welcomed visitors in the light of temporary escapes from
the danger which ever loomed before her. She had always treated
him as the boy he literally was, but had at length to realise was
positively making love to her and this intensified her fear lest Mr.
Barthgate should imagine her capable of giving him encouragement.
With all a woman's artifice she stayed off the announcement she was
in daily terror of from the love-lorn youth, but was ready armed for
the occasion, and when it came at last, accompanied by the usual
protestations and grimaces specified as being correct in the pages of
the latest society novels, she received it with a proper amount of
grateful appreciation and the query:--

"Have you such a thing as a Church Service, Mr. Trasmere?"

"Haw! What an extraordinary question, don't you know. I think there is
one among my traps on the station, and I'll bring it over if you really
want it, don't you know."

"Don't trouble, thank you. I merely wanted to refer you to the
ordinance which says that 'a man may not marry his grandmother,' and
I am almost old enough to be yours, you know. Let us continue to be
friends, if you will, and put this nonsense out of your head once and
for all."

Which crumpled the Hon. Vincent up most effectually, and sent him home
declaring that life was for him henceforth a wilderness, from which
only a bullet through what he was pleased to call his "brain" could
release him. The young gentleman's premature confession of love was,
however, the indirect cause of affecting Mr. Barthgate in the same
direction.

The girls heard of it, and it drifted round to him in the natural
course, though only in the light of a good Joke. But when he came to
analyse this, it became apparent that real danger was to be apprehended
from some more eligible suitor, possibly, in which case his pleasant
home might be again broken up and his own peace destroyed. However,
altogether apart from such selfish consideration he found himself
compelled to recognise that he entertained far other and warmer
feelings for the lady than he had yet been able to gauge, and that he
could not contemplate the prospect of parting from her without serious
distress.

Accordingly, at the first available opportunity, he referred to the
incident with many apologies; and, in a straightforward, manly way,
introduced the subject of his own hopes and fears. Amid tears which she
was unable to restrain, Mrs. Elliston at length said:--

"You pay me the highest compliment a man can pay to a woman, Mr.
Barthgate, and especially to a woman in my position. You have been
consistently kind and considerate to me throughout. I have become
sincerely attached to your daughters, who have done so much to make
my life happy, and for yourself I should indeed be ungrateful if I
entertained less than a most sincere regard. At the same time I am
compelled to say that I am so unhappily situated that I have no choice
but to decline the very flattering proposition you have made to me. At
some future time, and when my feelings are more under control, I will,
if you will let me, try to tell you somewhat of my sad story, but for
the present I only wish to say that I have no intention or desire to
leave Barthgate Downs in opposition to your wishes or without your
entire approval. With reference to Mr. Trasmere, I can but say that I
am entirely innocent of having given him the slightest encouragement
to provoke such an outburst of sentimentalities. I looked upon it as
mere boyish folly, and treated it as such. For the sake of our pleasant
musical evenings, which the girls enjoy so much, I trust that you
will not deem it necessary to refer to it in any way, or allow it to
influence you in your future reception of that gentleman. Poor boy, I
do hope he won't suffer for any length of time, nor do I suppose that
he will!"

Thus vanished another pleasant dream, although it may not have
destroyed absolutely all the hopes it had engendered. The woman, as
usual in such cases, was the keenest sufferer. But the verdict of
all distinctly proper persons must, had they been aware of all the
circumstances, have been hostile to her from the fact that her troubles
had been brought into existence by her own disregard of the strict laws
of propriety, which are such a comfort and support to all civilised
nations.




Chapter XVII.--Robert's Little Flutter.

In the meantime what was the faithful Robson, who was left in Melbourne
to act in his domestic capacity in Stevenson's household pending
Darbison's return from England, whither old Robson had no desire to go,
dreading as he did the double sea voyage, and having no relatives alive
in that country? There was, moreover, a strong suspicion that Robson,
who had been a widower for many years, had fallen an easy victim to the
charms of a certain Mrs. Pinkam. She was a sort of lady pensioner of
the Stevensons, and came to their house for a couple of days in each
week for the purpose of assisting in certain domestic arrangements
necessitated by a constricted supply of the description of labor
required for the purpose. Mrs. Pinkam was a robust widow of an admitted
age of 35 years, to which her enemies--and she had a few--tacked on
another ten. Her husband had been captain of a small schooner engaged
in the coasting trade, but had met his fate during some heavy weather
in "The Rip," when foolishly endeavoring to force his way into port
with an early cargo of Tasmanian potatoes. A heavy green sea came on
board and went over the other side, with him in the middle of it. They
were a childless couple, and she usually went with him on his short
voyages, being fond of the water and greatly preferring it to being
cooped up alone in what she called "a poky little hole of a cottage at
Sandridge."

In this way, Mrs. Pinkam became acquainted with the management of
the schooner, and was accounted by the captain's mate to be no mean
sailor herself, she having shown her capabilities in more than one case
of emergency when "that there husband o' mine had too many aboard,
an' didn't know the ship's cat from the companion hatch!" Similar
experiences oft repeated may have been the reason why she swore off
matrimony for the rest of her days. "Not me, my dear," she told a
neighbor, "not unless I can't help myself. I had a fair handful with
Billy Pinkam for a matter o' six years, good sort though he was when he
kept away from the booze, but so long as I've got a pair o' loose hands
I ain't goin' to take no more chances!"

Which sounded like finality, but was not yet backed up by the ability
to refrain from attempting the capture of every unprotected male
creature who attracted her attention; and poor old Robson, in an
unguarded moment, was one of her first victims. She was a bright-eyed,
plump, merry little woman, and so very companionable and sympathetic
that he fell straightway under her spell, and began to think things
that might well have been possible had he been many years younger than
he was. Though, fully aware of the condition of comparative imbecility
to which he had become reduced, any attempt on his part to express the
feelings that increased in violence with each of her weekly visitations
was promptly either ignored or utterly crushed by some such comment
as:--

"Keep your luff, Mr. Robson! Keep your luff, sir, you're a'most three
points off your course, an' a rocky shore to loo'ard!"

"Dear Mrs. Pinkam, may I say, my dear Susan, will you please put that
into English so as I can understand it?"

"No, sir, you mayn't. Your dear Susan, indeed! Not if I know it. Billy
Pinkam cured me o' that complaint long ago. What I meant was this.
You're carryin' too much canvas, that's what you're doin', an' you best
get on the other tack before you come to grief. Put your hellum down,
Mr. Robson, hard down, sir, an' stan' by to ease off your jib-sheet.
Now you've got the breeze fair amidships, an' off you go, sir, an'
don't let me hear no more o' sech rubbitch. Your dear Susan! What next,
I wonder?"

That outburst finished it, and when, shortly afterwards, Robson got
word that his services at Allerton would soon be in demand he regained
some of his lost spirits, but, like a true son of Adam, he laid the
whole blame of his cruel disappointment on the shoulders of the woman.
And when Darbison afterwards got an inkling of what had transpired, in
a letter from Stevenson, all the explanation vouchsafed by Robson was
that he supposed "she couldn't help it, you know, Mr. Aubrey; you see,
her first husband was a sailor, and we know what that means, don't we,
sir?" The only response to which unthinking comment was: "Go to blazes,
you old villain, and try to keep out of mischief for the future!"

By the time Robson arrived at Allerton, everything was progressing
favorably. The house itself being too small for their requirements, a
contract had been let and a fine, roomy bungalow cottage was now on the
eve of completion. Darbison was making himself intimately acquainted
with all the stages of production, from the planting of the stools
to the final stages in the mill, under the tuition of the manager.
Ken Morrison was keeping his end up well in looking after the growing
cane, and attending to the work of the kanakas, who were a source of
never-failing interest to him.

Visitors, too, were frequent and numerous from among the wide circle
of friends whom Darbison had made before he went to England, and Ken
was daily becoming more pleased with the change he had made and the
prospect it opened up to him of providing a comfortable home for Alice
when the term of his probation should be completed. Robson had quite
naturally resumed his old role of dictator-general and custodian of
everything and everybody on the place, and if he had not yet entirely
forgotten the fascinating Mrs. Pinkam, he at any rate abstained from
making any allusion to her, and treated any chance playful mention of
her name by Darbison with lofty unconcern.




Chapter XVIII.--The Hon. Alice Maderly.

Nearly four months had passed since Mr. Preston's visit to Rockhampton
and the receipt of the lawyer's letter which followed it, so that by
this time Mrs. Geffel and Alice had arrived at the, to them, comforting
conclusion that the whole business had originated in some mistake or
misapprehension; and, as the boarding house had continued to improve as
a speculative investment, they were both happy and contented. But this
satisfactory condition of affairs was not destined to continue, and
the time was not far distant when the bolt was to fall. A grey-haired,
kindly-faced old gentleman put in an appearance shortly after breakfast
one morning, and asked for an interview with Mrs. Geffel. Shown into
a private room, he began by saying:--"Pray be seated, madam. I have
called on a matter of private business of serious concern to yourself.
My name is Cortledge, senior member of the firm of solicitors of that
name who had the pleasure of communicating with you some months ago on
the subject of Mr. Preston's visit, which was made for the purpose of
establishing your identity. I am now in the happy position of being the
bearer of good news regarding the future welfare of the young lady who
is known as Miss Alice Geffel, who has hitherto passed as your daughter
and benefited so largely by your maternal care of her. Naturally, I am
unaware of the extent to which I may be allowed to assume that your
knowledge of the actual relationship between you existed, and I should
feel grateful for your assistance in determining that point; although
I may say at once that we are in possession of the most direct and
conclusive evidence that the young lady is in fact the daughter of the
late Hon. Roland Maderly, the then heir to the title and estates now
held by the present Lord Callenton."

"You must pardon my agitation, sir, over this extraordinary revelation,
which I cannot possibly believe to be true. As for being of any
assistance to you in the matter, much as I should like to help in
forwarding my darling's good fortune, I am worse than useless. When
the child was born I was delirious for days, and remember nothing. The
only faint memory I have is that of certain gossiping remarks made by
the nurse in my hearing when I got better, which seemed to apply to the
child as being "born with a silver spoon in her mouth," but I did not
understand them at the time, for you know, sir, that my husband was
only a gardener on the estate, and we were too poor to know much about
silver spoons."

"And did the fact that you were afterwards supplied with money for the
support of the child create no suspicion in your mind as to the reason
for such generosity?"

"Not the least. My husband had been on the estate nearly all his life,
and worked at the castle almost from boyhood. All the family were kind
to him, and when the proposal was made that he should go to Australia
to better himself, we thought it very kind of them to help us as they
did, but then I must tell you that little Alice was a great pet of Lord
Callenton's only daughter."

"And did your husband never speak of the matter afterwards?"

"Oh! yes, often; but his people were German, you know, and he was
strange in his ways at times. Always good to me, though, and fond of
the child in his own way, but whatever he knew he kept it to himself,
and before he was killed by those horrible blacks he was very peculiar
in his fancies. Kept to himself a great deal and that was why he had a
liking to go shepherding. Mr. Darbison often said that poor Carl must
have had a sunstroke at some time or other without knowing it."

"Mr. Darbison? Oh! ah! yes, of course. Your old employer, and the
gentleman through whom our agents in London were enabled to trace
you. Well, Mrs. Geffel, I can assure you that no possible hitch can
arise in connection with your daughter's identity. For even if your
admissions had been less satisfactory than they are, there remains
the indisputable evidence of the nurse who attended you, who is
still living in the village, and, though quite an elderly woman,
in possession of all her faculties; and that of Lady Hodgkiss, the
widowed sister of the present peer, who was intimately concerned in the
substitution of the living child for the dead one."

"But I don't understand! Whose child was 'the dead one?'"

"I am instructed that the infant born dead was yours, my dear madam, so
that there can no longer be a shadow of doubt about the fact that the
young lady known for so many years as Miss Alice Geffel is actually the
Hon. Alice Maderly."

"But she was baptised as Alice Geffel."

"That is so, but it is, I can assure you, of no legal importance, in
view of the information now at our disposal."

"And why has all this been kept secret for so many years? Alice will be
twenty-one in a few months' time."

"That, madam, is outside my province to answer, but it affords me much
pleasure to tell you that you will not have long to wait for an answer
to your question. Lord Callenton is now in Rockhampton, and awaits
your pleasure to receive him. He arrived from England by the last mail
steamer and came on at once, picking me up in Brisbane. And now as I
think I have exhausted my commission, which was simply to prepare you
for his lordship's visit, whilst guarding his interests, I will return
to him, for he is most anxious, as you may well suppose, and with your
permission I will return with him shortly."

"And may I tell Alice all about it, Mr. Cortledge? The poor child will
be in an agony of wonderment all this time. But I warn you that neither
she nor I will listen to any proposition Lord Callenton may have to
make if it means separating us."

"Pray tell her everything, and to expect her uncle, Lord Callenton, in
the course of an hour or so. Put the very thought of separation out of
your head. Such cruelty as that has never been contemplated. It would
be entirely foreign to his nature."

       *       *       *       *       *

"Who is it, mother dear? What is it? Has the shadow actually fallen
upon us at last?"

"Nonsense, child, there is no shadow. Nothing but great good fortune
for you, my darling!" And then, bursting into tears, she added--"though
may God help me to stand the shock that I dread may come."

"What shock, mother? Whatever happens they shall never separate us, and
I will never give Ken up unless he asks me to!"

"You will never be asked to do either, dear; but what will you say when
you learn that I am not your mother? And the time has come when you
must learn it, as the truth has been forced upon me within the last
hour."

"Is that all? Why, you dear, silly old mother, that is just nonsense,
indeed. It's impossible, of course it is. But even if it were true,
what difference would it--could it make? There, sit down quietly and
tell me all about it."

And, resting in each other's arms, Alice listened gravely to the whole
story. At the end, with a sigh of relief, she said:--

"That leaves me quite happy. They can't find a new mother for a girl as
old as I am, and not one in the whole world could take your place in my
heart. Besides, you know, if it's all true, dearest, you'll never have
to work any more; and if we don't like it, or approve of them--whoever
they may be--why, we'll just take up the old life as though nothing had
ever happened, and see it through together to the end. My mind is quite
made up about that and one or two other things. So cheer up, dearest,
and I'll go and get ready to show my claws to this mysterious uncle if
he thinks there is nothing left for me to do but bow down before his
high and mighty will. For shame, mother, dry your eyes this instant,
and try and look as pleased as you can when he offers me his pitiful
bribe to desert you!"

But nothing of that sort happened. Alice had not been in the room
more than a few seconds when a tall, spare, gentlemanly-looking man,
wearing glasses which failed to hide the glad welcome he felt, rose
from his seat, and, taking her by both hands, exclaimed:--"A living
reincarnation of your dead mother, my child, who was one of the
loveliest girls in England. As your uncle I am proud of you, and, old
man as I am rapidly becoming, I shall hope to live long enough to
persuade you to love me."

Turning to the elder woman. He said:--"My friend and adviser, Mr.
Cortledge, here, assures me, madam, that he has given you all the
information at his disposal, but I shall be most happy to supplement
that to the full extent of my ability and your wishes before we enter
into business details. My one desire is to obtain the trust and
confidence of yourself and my niece, without which my long and somewhat
wearisome voyage would, I fear, be resultless."

"I thank you for us both, sir. You are, as I understand, the Mr. Noel
Maderly, the younger son of the late Lord Callenton. I often heard
of you as a boy, but I have no recollection of having ever seen you.
Can you explain the reason for what seems to me to have been the
extraordinary substitution of one child for another, and the secrecy
with which it was conducted and has since been maintained?"

"Quite so, madam. Your request is a most reasonable and proper one,
but, as you very truly say, I was young, and, moreover, nearly always
away from home at the time, so that much of what I am able to tell you
is gathered from hearsay, fortified, however, by some scant family
records. At that particular time I was travelling with my tutor on
the Continent, so that I only knew of what was happening at Callenton
through occasional letters from my sister, and only learnt the whole
truth from my father long afterwards. My brother, Roland, my senior by
some years, and heir to the title and estates, made a foolish runaway
marriage with a beautiful but penniless girl, the only daughter of
Lord Callenton's most inveterate enemy. My father--I regret to have to
say it--was a man of autocratic temperament and obstinate nature; he
refused to acknowledge them, and--as I think--mistakenly opposed all
attempts to effect a reconciliation. He was a thoroughly disappointed
man, and, I fear, vindictive in showing it. When the time of the
lady's trouble arrived, the infant, that was you, my dear"--bowing to
Alice--"was deprived of a mother's tender care by the hand of death.
My brother was practically insane for the time being and disappeared
soon afterwards. He never wrote to us, but we heard of him once in
connection with one of those frequent disturbances among the South
American republics. Then, after a lapse of some years, an official
report of his death in some disastrous engagement was received from
the British Consul, and you, my dear niece, became doubly an orphan.
With regard to the disposition of the two infants, the one living and
the other dead, I can give you no other information than that supplied
by my friend, Mr. Cortledge, who has with him a sworn statement made
by a nurse who effected the exchange, and it is substantiated by the
recollections of my sister, Lady Hodgkiss; but any doubt--if such
can possibly exist--is still further removed by an examination of
this"--saying which he produced a highly-finished photograph of the
unfortunate Lady Roland, taken immediately before her marriage, which
Alice no sooner saw than she fell into her foster-mother's arms,
wailing. "Mother, mother," and had to be taken from the room in a state
of complete collapse.




Chapter XIX.--Alice Remains True.

UPON Mrs. Geffel's return alone she said: "It is impossible to question
the truth or accuracy of your statements, sir, but this girl could not
be dearer to me than she is if she were, indeed, my own. Her happiness
is the only care I have in life, and I consider it is my duty to tell
you that she is engaged to be married to a very worthy young man who
has been for some years with Mr. Darbison, and is still with him on
that gentleman's sugar plantation."

Lord Callenton's expression changed as he said: "Dear me, I am very
sorry to hear this, although not in the least surprised. In fact, I
may say that I have been in constant dread of some such admission. The
disappointment is no less acute, though, for with her advantages, and
introduction by Lady Hodgkiss into the best circles in London, she
could not fail to make a brilliant match."

"Well, I can only hope that this is not the beginning of trouble, Lord
Callenton, but I am very sure that Alice will not give up Ken Morrison
for the most brilliant marriage you could arrange for her. She is an
honest-hearted girl, true as steel, and with no pretensions to be
anything but what she has been brought up to be."

"Trouble, my dear lady! I arrange for her! You mistake me entirely. She
will remain as she now is--a perfectly free agent. But surely you can
understand my anxiety to secure her future. I shall hope to make the
acquaintance of Mr. Morrison before I leave."

"And when do you think of leaving, sir?"

"Not until I can induce you and Alice to return with me. The position
is simply this. I am a great sufferer, and my tenure of life more
uncertain than that of most men. My home is a very lonely one, and
I can never marry. Lady Hodgkiss, my widowed sister, is a companion
only for a few months in each year; she has her own jointure, and
spends most of her time travelling abroad. The title becomes extinct
at my death, and the estates pass to a distant branch of the family.
Without being actually poor, I am far from being a wealthy man, but
I earnestly desire to straighten out the wrong that has been done to
this innocent girl whilst the ability to do so is still in my power.
My hope is, therefore, Mrs. Geffel, that you will permit me to install
you as the domestic head of my household, and to introduce Alice into
the world she belongs by the name which is hers by birthright, the
Hon. Alice Maderly. Mr. Cortledge wishes to return to Brisbane as soon
as possible, but before he does so he will attend to all the purely
legal requirements of the case, whilst I shall hold myself at your
disposal pending such arrangements as you have to make. My cheque is
at your command to enable you to do this without inconvenience, and
to provide requisites for the voyage. In the meantime, and when Alice
feels well enough to resume our confidential relations, I shall, with
her sanction, visit Mr. Darbison, whom I had the pleasure of meeting
in London, and, with his assistance form my opinion of Mr. Morrison
as a husband for her. In any case, my dear madam, my only share in
that delicate matter would be to offer advice which they would be
perfectly free to accept or reject at discretion. And about how long do
you suppose it will take you to make the necessary arrangements, Mrs.
Geffel?"

"That I shall be better able to tell you, sir, after I have had a long
talk with Alice, but a month at least, I should think."

"A month will suit me very well, and I shall at once go on north and
take advantage of the opportunity of seeing the sugar country, of which
I have heard so much in England."

So the mystery which had oppressed them both for so many months
was solved at last, and there was no cause for any but pleasurable
anticipations for the future; tempered for Alice, however, by keen
sorrow for the untimely fate of her parents, and, perhaps, some
little anxiety as to the way in which Ken Morrison might receive the
revelation. She felt no uneasiness about her ability to occupy the new
position with becoming confidence--she had been too long in Australia
to entertain any doubts on that score--but Ken must be warned of his
intending visitor in order that he might appear to the best advantage.

Lord Callenton's name appeared on the passenger list of the Black
Swan's next trip north simply as Mr. Maderly, for he was not a man to
force his social position on the notice of other people, neither did
the precarious state of his health permit him at all times to share in
the amusements of his fellow passengers, but, like most travellers on
that scenic portion of the Australian coast, he was much impressed by
its natural beauties and the unexpected novelty of a voyage through a
perfectly smooth sea. Arrived at Mackay, he took up his quarters at the
comfortable hostelry of the well-known veteran, Korah Wills, and sent
a messenger out to Allerton with a request to be allowed to pay his
intended visit. As a truly conservative Englishman and a total stranger
to the country he was as much unacquainted with the free and easy
hospitality of the region in which he found himself as he was surprised
at the practical promptness of the reply. This came in the shape of
a stylish dogcart driven tandem by Darbison himself, into which the
transfer of the visitor and his belongings were soon effected, and
Allerton was reached in good time for the evening dinner.

To refer in detail to Lord Callenton's experiences during the fortnight
which followed his arrival would necessitate a repetition of much
that has already been told. Suffice it to say that he was shown
everything worth seeing, and found a warm welcome at the hands of a
host of genial, good fellows to be met with in all directions, but his
pleasure was greatly enhanced by Darbison's enthusiastic commendation
of Morrison's character. "He is a thoroughly good lad, Maderly, in
every capacity, and from my intimate knowledge of him and from what I
remember of your newly-discovered niece, I should consider them both to
be favorites of the gods, if those mythical beings do, indeed, continue
to interest themselves in the fortunes of the human race." It was,
therefore, easily arranged that Ken should return with Lord Callenton
to Rockhampton for the purpose of bidding a temporary farewell to
Alice, and during that trip they came to a definite understanding with
regard to the future.

What this was may be gathered from Ken's reply: "I quite understand,
Lord Callenton, that my position as a suitor for the hand of your
niece gives me no right to criticise your proposal that no decisive
arrangement shall be concluded between us until she has occupied her
new sphere of life for at least twelve months. However hard that may
be on me, I accept it, subject to her approval, on the ground that it
is fair to her and eminently reasonable, but I cannot for one moment
entertain the suggestion that you should be the final arbiter of our
destinies. We have been engaged now for more than two years, and
with the entire approval of her foster-mother. The only objection to
our marriage to which I am prepared to submit must come from Alice
herself, and that, I feel quite confident, will never arise. She is
a noble-minded, true-hearted girl, and I must ask you to believe me
when I say that my feelings towards her are in no way affected by the
revelation of her aristocratic birth, any more than my cupidity is
aroused by the contemplation of the money you propose to leave her, or
the society into which she is about to be introduced. For all else,
Lord Callenton, I beg that you will allow yourself to be influenced by
her decision alone, and trust me for the rest."




Chapter XX.--Homeward Bound.

So far the course of true love ran as smoothly as the water inside
the Barrier Reef, and Lord Callenton expressed himself as being well
satisfied, but it is obviously impossible to follow it beyond this
stage on account of the reticence of the two people whom it most
concerned, and they appeared to be supremely happy. The boarding-house
had been satisfactorily disposed of as a going concern, packing was
almost completed, and the day soon came when Ken had to see them off
on a south-bound steamer for Sydney, where their passages for London
had already been secured. Then he went back to Allerton, and, in the
constant work necessary for the coming crushing season, found little
time for meditating over the compulsory separation from his idol.
However much he might have been disposed to chafe over that, his
first letter from Alice, written a few days after her arrival, came
in the light of a powerful tonic. The change from the bright sunshine
of Australia to the weeping, gloomy skies of London depressed her;
everybody was most kind, her uncle especially, but his health had not
been at all good since his return. Her mother, as she still called
her, had also been sick, and was far from having quite recovered from
the effects of a chill caught during a heavy shower in the Florian
Gardens at Malta. Lord Callenton's house was grand enough, but mournful
in its stateliness and sombre surroundings, the only escape from
which was in listening to the social gabble and artificial sentiments
of Lady Hodgkiss, "a dear old lady, who wears a wig and a profusion
of beautiful jewellery, admits that she is forty-seven, dresses
like twenty-five, says she looks forward with especial delight to
chaperoning me into the best circles, and scorns the bare thought of a
certain young gentleman in Queensland, of whom her brother told her I
presume--for I certainly did not--intending to bury her in the wilds of
Australia, where the only society consists of uncivilised black persons
who roam about in a state of nature, and rub themselves with fat to
prevent their skins from cracking, in preference to wearing clothes.

"Must I confess, however, that she has a great charm for me; she is so
intensely self-satisfied and wordly, yet kind-hearted and generous,
idolises her brother, lets the servants do just as they like, never
attempts to patronise mother, whom, I believe, she honestly admires for
her devotion to me, allows her maid to bounce and dictate to her, and
assures me that when I am what she calls properly provided for by her
own special dressmaker, her niece will be one of the most attractive
girls in London. Fancy that, you dear darling old sugar-maker!" And
much more to the same effect, but ending with a positive assurance
that her heart is all the time where she left it--"on the banks of the
Fitzroy!"

As the months rolled on her letters became more and more voluminous,
and Ken was pleased beyond measure to note that they always contained
a reference to the happy days in store for them when the period of
probation was over.

None of the gaieties of a London season appealed to her, although she
confessed to having received a full measure of admiration which seemed
to be genuine, tons of compliments which she knew to be valueless,
three declarations of undying attachment, one accompanied by a threat
of suicide if she declined it, and presentation at Court under the
wing of Lady Hodgkiss. But every letter contained the sad news of her
mother's constantly failing health, in spite of the best medical advice
and the most assiduous attention. And before the year was out came the
deep black-bordered missive which contained word of her death. The
shock at this prostrated Alice entirely, and compelled her withdrawal
from all social functions and engagements, but for those she expressed
no word of regret. In vain did her uncle and his good-natured sister
try to arouse her from the apathetic state into which she fell.
Her only pleasure was in taking long rides in the outskirts of the
city, and even these were made uncomfortable for her by the constant
attendance of a groom, without whom her uncle could not be persuaded to
let her go, and the doctor would not allow him to go himself, much as
he would have liked to. As time wore on her fits of dejection became
more frequent and prolonged, and her aversion to social intercourse
outside the house more pronounced, until it was decided at a
consultation between her uncle and her aunt, and highly approved by the
doctor, to take her for a run on the Continent. To this proposal she
submitted, but without any enthusiasm, and the trip to Paris with Lady
Hodgkiss failed to create any beyond a temporary interest in the sights
which that old campaigner insisted upon showing her. So at the end of
three weeks they returned, but with no visible sign of improvement in
her condition, and another family council was held, the result being
that Alice took them unreservedly into her confidence, saying: "You
have both been far kinder to me than I could ever deserve or know how
to begin to repay; I am angry and disappointed with myself, and full of
dread lest you should think me ungrateful. That I know I am not, but
oh! I do so long to get back to Australia."

"But we do our best to make you happy, child, and I am quite sure
your uncle would do anything in his power, for he has learnt to love
you very dearly. Naturally, the loss of your foster-mother preys
heavily upon you, and you must trust to time to soften the severity
of the blow. As for going back, I really do not see how that is to be
accomplished, unless your sweetheart can manage to come over for you;
your uncle's health would not permit of his taking such a long journey
again, but I will have a talk with him on the subject, so cheer up,
dearie, and be sure that your interests will not suffer in his hands."

"Auntie dear, you are both too good to me, and I will really try to
behave better than I have been doing. But please do not let him worry
about me, and, above all things, he must not write to Allerton about
me. My letters to Mr. Morrison never convey any hint of fretting, and I
am sure that when he does come he will be able to truly tell you that
he has all along believed that I was having what he calls 'a real good
time'."

"My dear Alice, I could as easily stop the wind blowing as keep Noel
from worrying. It has been the habit of his life to always cross the
bridge before he reaches it. Many good men are afflicted in the same
way, but I verily believe that he considers his ability to foresee
misfortunes as a precious gift, and, in addition to that, he is
woefully positive, so much so that if I were not his sister I should be
strongly inclined to call him pig-headed!"

The outcome of this conversation was a long interview in the library
that night after Alice had gone to her room with a violent headache,
which Lord Callenton ended by saying:--

"That poor girl's condition has been troubling me a great deal of late,
Sophia; the doctor says it is complete nervous breakdown, and strongly
advises me to comply with her desire to return to Australia. This
climate evidently does not suit her, and she has never taken kindly to
the changed conditions made imperative by our abominable conventional
customs. Hard as I shall find it to part with her, she shall not be
sacrificed to our selfishness, and I have decided to write by next
mail to Darbison and ask him to spare Morrison as soon as he possibly
can, and send him over here; but to say nothing of its being done at
my request, for self-evident reasons. You will, of course, keep my
counsel. I am satisfied about him, and it is quite plain that they are
devoted to each other. In any case it is only a few weeks short of the
time I stipulated for, and whatever the strain on our personal feelings
may be, I cannot but think that introduction to the parlous state of
holy matrimony will be the surest and safest prescription for our dear
girl. I feel confident of your acquiescence in this, Sophia, because
all you women know that marriage inevitably means make or break for one
or other of the contracting parties, and when it is the latter the poor
devil of a man soon realises which is the weakling!"

"Having made up your mind, Noel, nothing more need be said, although I
confess that I can think of no better plan. At the same time I may say
that I consider your final assertion brutal to a degree. I am sure when
poor Hodgkiss was----"

"Bless you, Sophia, I'm due at the House now; there is a most important
debate on to-night, but don't forget to tell me that at some future
time!"

In due course the letter to Darbison was despatched but Alice was kept
in total ignorance of the fact, and her delight may be imagined when
the reply came, and Lord Callenton found himself at liberty to surprise
her by announcing an approximate date at which Ken might be expected
to arrive in London, with intentions which she might easily divine.
That her pleasure was great was plain enough, but as she had received
a letter from the gentleman himself by the same mail, the element of
surprise was wanting. Ken's services were needed on the plantation, and
he was expected to hurry back as soon as possible, so the time was all
too short in which to make the necessary and all-important preparations
for the conversion of a Miss into a Mrs., and for the long voyage
to follow. Aunt Sophia was in the seventh heaven of delight at the
prospect of being so absolutely necessary as an accessory before the
fact in taking charge of all the preliminaries, arranging the shopping
programmes from day to day, consulting with modistes and milliners, and
carrying on generally as though she might have been the chief victim
ordained to take her place on the sacrificial altar.

Ken Morrison arrived in due course and created quite a sensation. He
had developed into a handsome, sturdy manhood. Aunt Sophia took to
him from the moment of their introduction, and what the girls thought
about him may be judged from the opinion of one of Alice's friends
who had been chosen to act as bridesmaid. In a burst of confidence to
her own particular chum, she said: "If I thought there were any more
young men like him running about loose in Australia, I'd emigrate
to-morrow, my dear!" The honeymoon, or as much time as could be devoted
to that sticky interlude, was to be spent in the seclusion of Callenton
Park, and everybody was entirely happy. Alice regained much of her
lost spirits, and on the eventful day was simply charming. No one
but an expert could describe her dress and all the other confections
in which she went calmly to her fate up the aisle on the arm of Lord
Callenton, who released and handed her over to the tender mercies of
a bishop and several other ecclesiastical luminaries, who carried out
the orthodox ceremonies of converting her into the Hon. Alice Morrison
with neatness and despatch. She had been the recipient of many handsome
presents, including a life annuity of 250 from her uncle, and a cheque
for nearly double that amount from Aunt Sophia, in addition to some
valuable old family jewels, and the payment of all accounts for her
trousseaux. Ken behaved beautifully at the breakfast, and returned
thanks for wife and self in a speech which made the bridesmaid before
referred to inform her neighbor that:--"I shall tell pa that I mean to
go to Australia myself as soon as I can get my things packed. If that
young man has never been married before he has just the amount of nerve
that the man who wants to call me his better half must possess. Isn't
he just splendid?"

Ten days of such unalloyed bliss as is only possible for two trusting
hearts firmly united by the proper legal cement, and the balance of the
conventional period of kisses and contentment had perforce to be made
the most of on the deep blue sea--at all times a subject for uneasy
contemplation by those who are affected by its ever-changing moods.
But the dates of departure of boats entrusted with the carriage of Her
Majesty's mails were resolutely adhered to, and both Ken and his wife,
being good sailors, entered into possession of their cabin with a keen
enjoyment of the situation. To Alice the prospect of returning to the
country she knew so well was only saddened by the loving memories of
her foster-mother, intimately connected with it; in all other respects
she was as happy as every young bride ought to be who has the husband
of her choice by her side, and whose future is assured. There was no
cloud in her sky, and no prevision of the trouble ahead which was to
meet them at their journey's end. Given a well-found ship, a genial
captain, and officers desirous of doing their best for the welfare of
their passengers, and the long sea voyage, broken only by occasional
visits to interesting ports of call, comes to most travellers in
the shape of a holiday; and when to these are added a companionable
gathering of passengers and consistently fine weather, there is little
left to wish for.

Fortune favored the Morrisons on all counts, and they reached Sydney
and went on to Brisbane by the first boat. Here they had decided to
remain for a few days for the transaction of some special business,
connected with the plantation, entrusted to Ken by Darbison on the eve
of his departure. And here they received the news which overwhelmed
them. Darbison was dead! Died about a fortnight before their arrival
from a sudden attack of heat apoplexy, the immediate result of a severe
sunstroke received while wandering around the cane paddocks, discussing
contemplated improvements with the manager. The Brisbane solicitor, who
was also a confidential friend of Darbison's for many years, was in a
position to give Morrison all the details when he was able to listen
to them. He had been summoned to Mackay to receive final instructions
as to the disposal of the property only a few days before the end, and
the main features of the will were that the property as a whole was
left to two trustees for the sole use and benefit of his nephew, Aubrey
Chelpont, to be carried on or disposed of by them as circumstances
might render advisable; with a generous working interest in the same to
his trustworthy employee and friend, Kenneth Morrison, and a wish that
the latter should assume the entire management of the estate, under the
supervision of the trustees, as soon as they considered him competent
to do so, and at a salary to be determined by them. Some bequests of
trifling intrinsic value were made to numerous personal friends among
those who had welcomed him so warmly upon his first visit to the Port,
and Ken and his wife were left to grieve over the loss of good man and
a sincere friend.

A host of sympathisers met and welcomed them when they arrived at
their final destination and in their new home, under strangely altered
conditions, it is now imperative to leave them for a time.




Chapter XXI.--A Somnambulistic Adventure.

The ordinary routine of everyday life on an out-back sheep station--and
Barthgate Downs was a long way out in those days--is not frequently
disturbed, or in any sense rendered exciting, by untoward occurrences.
Travellers, few and far between, came and went occasionally, some
looking for work, others only for free rations to help them farther on
the road; with now and then a buyer in search of a prime lot of "fats"
for market or a mob of "stores" as a speculation. Mails were erratic in
their delivery, under the most favorable conditions being only weekly,
and in bad weather, very often double that time, unless a messenger was
sent to the nearest post office for them, which involved a ride of over
60 miles, and as many more to return. Whenever a traveller appeared
in the light of a desirable temporary addition to the family circle,
he was, if possible, beguiled into remaining for a day or two, on the
plea that his horses would be all the better for a short spell, or to
tell the news of the district, gathered as he came along. And, truth
to tell, much persuasion was seldom necessary to induce a tired man
to devote a day or two to the enjoyment of such pleasant society as
was to be found at Barthgate Downs, with its extended welcome, cordial
hospitality, two pretty girls, and their musical abilities displayed
under the guidance of their clever instructress, Mrs. Elliston.

When the station drays arrived on their return trips from the coast,
there was always a case of the latest obtainable books and periodicals,
including the anxiously expected fashion journals, which were among
the first to be opened; some new music, and other odds and ends in
which the feminine heart rejoices. With the exception of a few games of
croquet, then not long come into public favor, their outside exercises
were confined to bush rides to some favorite spot on the run for a
picnic, when company was to be had; or a longer excursion to one of
their own out-stations to inspect and report upon the shepherd's wife's
latest contribution to the sparse population of the district, and for
such visits they never went empty-handed.

Mrs. Elliston had long since told her wretched story in all its
miserable details to Mr. Barthgate, who, honest-hearted man as he
was gave her his entire sympathy, coupled with the assurance that it
made not the slightest difference in the feelings he entertained for
her, and the painful confession was never again alluded to. Barthgate
remembered having met Evesham on one of his periodical visits to the
port, when the latter was said to have just returned from of his
western journeys, and was drinking heavily.

No rumor of Darbison's death had reached them until they read
the details and a highly eulogistic notice of his career in the
"Queenslander." Mrs. Elliston was prostrated by the shock for the time
being, and Barthgate decided to wait a reasonable time before renewing
his efforts to make her his wife.

In the meantime an unexpected trouble had to be faced. Ethel, the
youngest girl had under the excellent tuition she had received from
Mrs. Elliston, developed into what her father called "a perfect musical
genius." Her sole pleasure was centred in the piano, at which she was
content to sit by the hour, practising sometimes the most difficult
classical compositions, and at others improvising in a way that
astonished and delighted those who heard her. Physically she had not
fulfilled the promise of her childhood, and now, nearing her fifteenth
birthday, she was a tall slip of a girl, possessed of beautiful
features and charming disposition, withal of a languid, dreamy nature,
and, apart from the piano, devoting herself to the worship of her
father, and the companionship of her sister and Mrs. Elliston, the
latter of whom they had become accustomed to address as "Auntie," her
own name having long since been abandoned as being "too formal, and
taking up too much time!"'

The subjects of the child's health, her capacity as a musician, and her
manifest love for the art, were frequently discussed by her father and
Mrs. Elliston, and it was not without many misgivings that he at length
consented to send her on a visit to his married sister in Sydney, in
the hope that a decided change of climate might prove beneficial, and
that an advanced teacher in her beloved hobby might still further
cultivate her remarkable talent. Ethel's delight when the proposal
was first made to her was boundless, especially as her father would
accompany her to her destination as soon as the shearing was over and
the wool-drays fairly started on the road. All details being arranged,
preparations for the coming event were started, and then, suddenly, and
without a note of warning--Ethel disappeared!

The consternation of the household may be imagined. The sisters
occupied the same room, and had retired together at about the usual
hour, after spending a pleasant evening in the customary fashion,
Mr. Barthgate absorbed in a recently-acquired book of Huxley's, Mrs.
Elliston and Constance at a work table, surrounded by a pile of
garments which no mere man could hope to describe, and Ethel at the
piano playing selections from Mozart, Beethoven, and others, among her
old favorites.

Nothing occurred during the night to create alarm, or even to arouse a
suspicion of danger. The noises of the night were only those to which
they were accustomed,--the mournful howl of a native dog in the distant
timber, for which no better comparison presents itself than Hood's
lines from "The Forge.":--


"Like a frantic lamentation,
From a howling set
Of demons, met
To wake a dead relation."


Or the plaintive screech of the curlew nearer at hand, suggestive of
the wailings of lost souls; the station dogs answering the former
with defiant note, and any unfortunate who happened to be awake and
restless, denouncing the whole Whaup family in all its variations.

Mrs. Elliston, in the adjoining room, heard nothing; but when Constance
awoke she was surprised to notice that Ethel's bed was untenanted.
Her ordinary clothing was where it had been placed on the previous
night, no sign of disorder was visible, and the only noticeable fact
was the unlocked door of the room opening out onto the front verandah.
Hesitating for a moment in unwillingness to create alarm, she threw on
a dressing gown and went in search of her sister, but without success.

The first faint gleams of dawn were alone apparent, and, now thoroughly
frightened, she called her father, who roused the servants and the
search became general. At last a light footprint of slippered feet was
found in the dust at the sliprails leading into the big paddock, but
beyond that no trace could be found, and, as it unfortunately happened,
the station blacks, among whom were some good trackers, had left a few
days before to join the tribe in the performance of some aboriginal
rites in an unspecified locality. Every available man turned out to
prosecute the search, which gradually extended over a considerable
area, but still nothing could be found, and the bewildered father
became agonised with doubts of her safety.

For he alone suspected the real cause of danger, which he had never
mentioned, even to Mrs. Elliston, believing as he did that it was a
thing of the past and better to be forgotten.

Immune from fear of it for seven years, and supported by medical
opinion, he had long since ceased to be troubled by the memory
that Ethel up to the age of seven had been a somnambulist, and had
caused her mother and himself many an anxious experience. He was,
however, assured that she would grow out of it, and believed that
she had already done so after the lapse of so many years free from
alarm. Now the terror of it had again taken full possession of him.
Horses were quickly run up and saddled, and a more extended search
organised. Barthgate took one direction and the men were despatched
in others, riding around in circles, scanning every tree and bush,
and shouting loudly as they went. The joy of finding Ethel safe was
the father's reward. About two miles from the station, and in the mud
round a shallow pool of storm water, he found a slipper which he at
once recognised as one of hers, and round this pool her tracks were
easily seen; one of a slippered foot and one bare, as if she had been
searching for a place in which to cross it. The long grass in the
immediate neighborhood effectually hid the direction in which she might
have continued her wanderings, and he was still reluctant to leave the
spot when a small blackboy, who had been sometimes trusted to shepherd
a few rams in the home paddock, suddenly appeared and, from a distance
and almost breathlessly, cried out:--

"Budgeree me bin find 'em you. You look out missie? That fellah
sit down like it camp longa Judy close up river;" pointing in the
direction, and went on to say--"Merri micki you look out that fellah,
mine think it cabon sick."

Heedless of further information, Barthgate rammed the spurs home and
dashed off in the direction indicated, from which, as he neared it,
came the uproar of many voices and the indescribable medley of sounds
peculiar to a blacks' camp in a state of excitement. Two of the men
were fighting savagely with heavy nulla-nullas, others hovered around
with harsh gutteral cries, and the gins and piccaninnies joined their
shrill screeches to the general discord.

Seated on a log in the close embrace of Judy, a gin who often did work
about the house, was Ethel, her sparse clothing in rags, partially
hidden by an old skirt which had once been her own but was now Judy's;
her feet were bare and bloodstained, her beautiful hair a tangled mass
of grass, leaves, and dirt, and her face deathly.

She was barely able to recognise her father, and fell back into his
arms in a fainting condition. The noise was suddenly stilled, and as
soon as he could free his hands he scribbled in his notebook:--

'Put old Jenny in the spring cart, bring pillows, and come yourself if
possible.' "Billy, run all the way and give that longa Missus. Sposin'
no whitefellow sit down, you get Jenny and drive cart." During his
anxious wait for its appearance he listened to Judy's story of what
had happened:--"Boy belongin' me bin go longa river look out fish
first time when sun jump up, bin find im missie walk about longa bush.
'Nother time bring missie longa camp, that one bin all same like it
sleep. 'Nother time Davy bin tell 'em take missie back longa house.
Harry bin tell 'em no good that fellah Davy mine go, get 'em plenty
rum. Davy bin altogether fight 'em Harry, then me bin tell 'em boy go
longa station look out belongin' to you. You bin see 'em that fellah?"
and so on.

Dreading to disturb the fragile and, as he feared, dying girl, who was
still in a cataleptic condition, Barthgate had no choice but to await
the arrival of assistance. His first impulse was to take her in his
sturdy arms and carry her in the direction of the station, in the hope
of meeting with it, but this was made inadvisable by the fact that
there was no track between the two places and the cart might easily be
missed in the thickly timbered and, in places, scrubby nature of the
country. In an agony of apprehension, therefore, he decided to await
its arrival, and was at length gratified by an exclamation from one of
the blacks:--

"Cart come up directly, me bin 'ear im that fellah!" which proved to
be correct, for it was shortly seen coming at as rapid a pace as old
Jenny could be persuaded to make under the guidance of Mrs. Elliston
and Billy. No time was lost in getting the still unconscious girl
safely settled among the rugs and pillows hastily collected for the
purpose, and, with Mrs. Elliston driving and Barthgate riding on ahead
to indicate the best line for her to follow, the melancholy procession
wended its way homewards; but not until the blacks had been promised
ample reward on their return to the station.

All the care and attention that loving hearts could give were centred
on the unfortunate child, and a messenger was sent off at once to
the nearest doctor; but, as his headquarters were upwards of eighty
miles away, and as he had been called to attend an important case in
an opposite direction on the day preceding the messenger's arrival,
the latter had to choose between awaiting the doctor's return and
going back to the station unsuccessful. He waited for two days, left
an urgent message for the doctor to follow as soon as possible, and
reached the station to hear the glad news that consciousness had
returned and the child was improving daily. That, however, was a slow
process, and when the doctor did come his diagnosis of the case was
not altogether a hopeful one. On one point he was impressive--she
was not to be encouraged to talk much, and above all things not to
be allowed to revert to the recent painful experience through which
she had passed. Cheerful and constant companionship, combined with
careful nursing, might pull her through, but it was not until after his
second visit, some weeks later, that he would consent to her request
to be allowed to relate a remarkable dream, which was so vividly
impressed upon her memory that she was unable to control her desire to
be once more seated at her beloved piano. That, for the time being,
was entirely beyond her strength, but the dream itself revealed the
intimate connection between her strained devotion to the pursuance of
her musical studies and the horrible fate she had so narrowly escaped.

Holding Mrs. Elliston's hand in a tight clasp, she said:--"No, auntie
dear, I promise to say nothing except about the dream, nor to ask any
questions about how I came to be so ill, but it was really beautiful up
to the point where, try as I may, I can remember nothing more. I can
quite well remember a few evenings ago--I think it must have been last
week--when we were all in the sitting room; father was in his usual
seat, reading, and paying no attention to anybody; you and Connie were
making things for me to wear to Sydney, and I was playing over a lot
of things on the piano, as selfish as I always am when I get to it. I
remember saying good-night when father said it was time we were all in
bed, and I know I went to sleep as soon as my head was on the pillow.
Then I suppose I began to dream, for I was in the most beautiful garden
I ever saw, flowers and statues and lovely fountains everywhere, and I
was on a seat close to one of them, all by myself, reading. Presently I
saw an old gentleman coming towards me, dressed oh! so funnily, and he
came along very slowly and sat on the seat beside me. When I looked up
he was staring so rudely at me that I was going to move away to another
seat when he said, with a strong foreign accent:--'Don't go away,
child, I've been looking for you for a long time, and now that I have
found you I want to have a long talk!'

"'But I don't know you, sir,' I said.

"'Oh! yes, you do, better than you think. In reality you know me
through my music, of which you are very fond. I am Ludwig Beethoven,
and I often listen to you when you don't know that I am present. You
are a very capable performer for one so young as you are, but, perhaps,
a trifle too ambitious. Now, you made several unpardonable mistakes
in my overture to Coriolanus, which you played last night, and I want
you to be more careful in future. You must be, indeed, if you hope to
achieve permanent success.'

"'But I played it from the music, sir.'

"'Very likely, but it was not my music. I never wrote it that way. Now,
if you will accompany me to my lodgings, child, I will play it for you
from the original score. Don't hesitate, they are close at hand.'

"So, of course, I went, auntie, and it was such a delightful
old-fashioned place, and he sat down to such a queer-looking old
instrument that wasn't a bit like our piano, though it sounded
something like one. And he showed me where I had made mistakes, and
played the most heavenly music to me, and when I was coming away he
told me to be sure and go to see him again, and said good-bye so
sweetly when he let me out. And when I started to hurry back home it
suddenly fell quite dark and I lost my way and walked about in every
direction, hoping to find someone who could tell me which way to go,
but there was nobody to be seen anywhere, and the dark got blacker
and blacker. Then I knew I was lost for good, and I cried for you and
father, and nobody came, and--I don't remember any more until father
took me in his arms somewhere in a blacks' camp. But why are my feet so
sore, auntie dear?"

"Now, don't talk any more, darling. We know all about it now, and you
must rest again. You will soon be better if you have plenty of sleep,
and the doctor says we are not to allow you to go near the piano till
you are quite strong again."




Chapter XXII.--Mrs. Elliston's Reward.

Peace being once more restored to Barthgate Downs, and it being plainly
impossible for Ethel to accompany her father on the proposed visit
to Sydney. It was decided that Constance should go instead; much to
the delight of that young lady, now a beautiful girl of eighteen, and
the day came when they set out on their journey in high spirits. Mr.
Barthgate returned as soon as his business was completed, leaving
Constance to spend a few months with the aunt whom she had never
before seen. During his absence he had become fully determined to put
an end to his suspense in connection with his proposal to marry Mrs.
Elliston, and the opportunity presented itself in quite unexpected
shape. Among the correspondence awaiting him was a letter from the
bishop of the diocese, appealing for his assistance, personal as
well as monetary, in a scheme to provide for the occasional visits
of a member of the Church, at convenient times, to the surrounding
district, stating further that the letter would shortly be followed by
a call from the gentleman to whom it was proposed to entrust the duty.
Barthgate saw his opportunity and promptly seized it. Mrs. Elliston,
being unable--and probably unwilling--to invent any further objections,
capitulated, and it was arranged that the reverend gentleman's visit
should be availed of for riveting the bonds.

"My dear, you need never again refer to your sad story of neglect of
wifely duty in the past, or to the terrible punishment with which it
was visited. Bury it now and for ever, and look forward to the many
years of happiness which you have so richly merited by your devotion to
my interests and your loving motherly care of those two orphaned girls,
both of whom I know will repay it with interest--as I shall endeavor to
do myself."

"Be it as you will, Mr. Barthgate. God knows I have been through the
fire, but I have never known a sorrow, since I came under your roof,
except the still recent one of our dear Ethel's misadventure. The
girls have been to me as my own, but I have a prevision that Connie
will require little more at my hands. She is a most attractive girl
in every sense of the word, and I confidently anticipate that her
affection for me will be merged into a deeper and stronger attachment
to some utter stranger before the time comes for her return to us."
And Mrs. Elliston, without any pretension to sibylline gifts, turned
out to be a prophetess of accuracy. In what way that came about may
be shortly stated. Connie became acquainted with a young gentleman
at a picnic given by her aunt, who was firmly persuaded that love at
first sight, on both sides, was no longer a mere poetical myth, but
a psychic force to be respected for its certain methods of ushering
simple-minded, unsuspecting young souls into the secure haven of
matrimony. Being herself a widow of more than average experience,
and the young man occupying a good social and financial position, as
soon as his intentions were announced she lost no time before writing
to her brother--"the squire" as she invariably called him--one of
those delightfully spontaneous epistles which proclaim a good woman's
pride and satisfaction in her abilities as a matchmaker. So that
when "the squire" arrived to escort Connie back to her home he was
thoroughly prepared for the confidences that had to be reposed in him,
and was probably in a better mood to receive them graciously in the
contemplation of his own prospective happiness. At any rate, he was
quite satisfied with his intended son-in-law and promised to return for
the wedding in company with Mrs. Barthgate and the bride elect at the
expiration of six months.

Ethel continued to improve, though very slowly, and it became daily
more and more evident that the fresh bloom of her childhood's days
would never be regained. But the resumption of the old home life
at the station was a great factor in her progress, which was only
pleasantly interrupted by the excitement caused by the arrival of the
clergyman whose visit they had been looking forward to. He was a more
than usually welcome specimen of the clerics who were to be met with
occasionally--and in those days at lose intervals--in the out-back
wilds, but the station hands themselves admitted that he was "a real
good sort," and from their verdict there was no appeal.

Having been born in the bush and able to sit a restive horse ensured
their approval, he was a gentleman, a good croquet player and the
possessor of a cultivated tenor voice, so that the four days over which
his stay extended were made enjoyable to all. The last of those days
witnessed the quiet union of Mr. Barthgate and Mrs. Elliston, in the
sitting room where so many happy, and not a few anxious hours had been
passed. And there they may be left to work out their own scheme of
happiness, whilst we pick up the track of another old acquaintance.




Chapter XXIII.--"Joe the Rasp."

THE old acquaintance whose tracks it was proposed to pick up is the
gentleman who was first introduced to the reader in the assumed
character of a bushranger at Barumbah Station, but now known as the
Squire of Chelpont Manor, in England. His presence in Australia was
urgently required in connection with the estate left by Uncle Darbison
to the youthful Aubrey Chelpont, now a sturdy lad of nearly four,
with a sister some two years younger. The property had increased
considerably in value under the careful management of Ken Morrison,
who, with all others interested in the production of sugar in the
eastern colony, was now becoming seriously concerned about the
threatened interference with the regular supply of Island laborers,
in connection with which controversy became loud and frequent. Its
opponents made the most of certain rumors which attributed illegal
action to the captains of vessels, engaged in the recruiting trade,
which became known in the vernacular as "black-birding," and those who
conducted it as slave-traders. On the other hand, the planters were
dependent on that class of labor, much of the necessary work, such
for instance, as cane trashing, being unsuited for white men. But the
inevitable end came when missionary and political influences united to
put a stop to the importations, and the fear that such would happen
aroused the worst fears for the future of the industry.

In happy ignorance of this and other troubles, the Squire of Chelpont
pursued his journey northwards, and got as far as Rockhampton, where he
was obliged to wait the arrival of the Tinonee to take him on to his
destination. He had not been on shore more than a couple of hours when
he was accosted by a constable, who, after referring to a paper in his
hand, inquired whether his name mightn't be Joseph Simmonds.

"Well, it might be," said Chelpont, "but it isn't. Why do you want to
know?"

"Becase you're the dead sphit of him. How long is it since you come
from the Peak Downs?"

"Never been there in my life, my good fellow. How long have you been in
the force?"

"Phwat's that to do wid the likes o' you?"

"Nothing, certainly. Only I think I recognise in you the makings of a
highly intelligent and energetic inspector some day. But what is it you
want?"

"Sure I'm wantin' to know where yez come from and what your name is,
and you're not obligated to tell, but your answer will be took down an'
produced agin yez in the court."

"Oh! ah! yes, I see. Go ahead, old man. My name is Albert Chelpont,
and I've come from England, and arrived here two hours ago in the Lady
Bowen. Anything else?"

"Faith there is, an' a lot more. Did yez iver answer to the name of
'Joe the Rasp'?"

"To the best of my recollection, never."

"Well, then, phwat did yez do wid that bay horse yez sthole from Logan
Downs?"

"I don't seem to know what you are talking about?"

"Av coorse yez don't! How would yez indade? Well, yez'll jist come
along o' me to the station, an' we'll see what the insphector has
to say about it. If yez ain't 'Joe the Rasp' thin my name isn't Tim
O'Flaherty. Will yez come quiet or will I----?"

"Oh, certainly, Mr. O'Flaherty, and delighted to have the pleasure of
your company. I was beginning to fear that time would hang heavily on
my hands. Where did you say you wished to go?"

"To the station, av course. Where else did you think I'd be wantin' to
go? Maybe it's a picnic you're afther thinkin' about!"

"Picnic or a dance, it's all the same to me as long as I have you
to look after me. Allow me to offer you my card. It will, perhaps,
facilitate my introduction to the inspector!"

"Sure I'll take it annyhow, but yez needn't thrubble, Joe; yez can
depind on the inthroduction bein' all right!"

The inspector was a man of grave aspect and stern manner, but while he
listened to Chelpont's explanation a twinkle of merriment overspread
his features as he rang the bell, and said:--

"Mr. Chelpont, I have an uneasy sort of feeling that we shall have to
apologise to you for a mistake, for such it certainly appears to be.
At the same time I can scarcely blame the constable. He is a young
hand in the force, although not quite a young man, and I am compelled
to admit that the official description of the man we want corresponds
strangely with your personal appearance. Will you please accompany the
sergeant here on board the Lady Bowen and get identified as one of her
passengers? And you, O'Flaherty, go to the Criterion and make inquiries
as to his arrival there. If they are satisfactory return to your beat."

But the walk to the steamer was cut short by meeting with the captain
in the street, who gave a start of surprise and hailed him with:--

"Hello, Mr. Chelpont. What's the matter? Anything wrong?"

"No, only ludicrous. I am in custody of this worthy officer on
suspicion of being a horse thief, recently escaped from the lock-up on
the Peak Downs, and am being taken down to the steamer to be identified
as one of your passengers!"

"Well, I'm ----! Sergeant, you have made a horrible mistake, one I
should never have suspected you capable of."

"Bedad, then, captain, it's no mistake o' mine. It was that omadhaun
Tim O'Flaherty brought him in; though it's meself says it, he's as like
'Joe the Rasp' as two halves of a split pay is like aich other!"

"Nonsense, man. Here, I'll go back to the station with you. I know all
about this gentleman, and we'll soon straighten out all the kinks."

And he did, and the inspector accepted an invitation to dine with the
two of them that night at the Criterion. Chelpont left half a sovereign
with the sergeant for Mr. O'Flaherty to buy lollies for his children,
declaring that Tim was a real good fellow and immensely amusing.

Arrived at Mackay, he was saluted on the wharf by a smiling stranger,
who touched him on the shoulder and said:--

"A hearty welcome to the Port for the bushranger of Barumbah!"

"Ha! Mr. Morrison, of course, though I fail to recognise you."

"No, Morrison was unable to get away and asked me to come in for you.
Surely you've not forgotten the old days when we worked together in
the mill. I was Darbison's manager until Morrison was married and took
charge. By Jove! How we have laughed over that yarn of how you stuck
up Barumbah, though God knows the sequel was sad enough for poor old
Darbison. By the way, have you ever heard what became of that scoundrel
Evesham?"

"No; you see, I have been living in England for so many years. I'm real
glad to meet you again, old man, and appreciate the welcome. I assure
you, but for pity's sake bury the memory of that bushranging business;
I am not at all proud of it, you may be sure, but it seems as though
my supposed criminal propensities will be too strong for me yet. Only
three days ago I was actually arrested in Rockhampton on suspicion of
being an escaped horse thief!"

And the relation of that story provoked peals of laughter as they
drove out to Allerton, where they found Morrison as black as a tinker,
engaged in helping the engineer to make some repairs to a dislocated
machine. At the house, Alice, with a tiny morsel of humanity, all but
smothered in lace, in her arms, was walking up and down the verandah.

"Allow me to introduce you to my wife; Alice, this is Mr. Chelpont,
whom we have been expecting. Of course you won't be able to remember
him."

"How could I, Ken? You know, I have never met Mr. Chelpont before,"
then she added with a smile--"I remember a very rude man who came
into the kitchen at Barumbah once, and nearly frightened me out of my
juvenile wits with a pistol and an ugly black face, and made mother
and me go up into a corner. But, of course, Mr. Chelpont hasn't the
slightest resemblance to him!"

"Be merciful, Mrs. Morrison. My sin is perpetually finding me out. But
I remember you as well, as an extremely pretty child who has developed
into a charming and most winsome matron; which I can assure you is an
exceptionally pretty speech for me to make, as my wife would tell you
if she were here. As you know, I have been brought all this distance
on the pretence that my presence was absolutely essential for the
transaction of business, but I don't believe a word of it. I suspect
your husband of arranging this matter of dragging me out of my home to
come so many thousands of miles just to let me see what an excellent
manager he is; but I promise you that a most important item of that
business will be to obtain your forgiveness for what you call the
temporary deprivation of your juvenile wits through my idiotic conduct."

"Oh! that has been forgiven long ago, Mr. Chelpont; in proof of which
you may now come and admire my beautiful baby, and tell me all about
Mrs. Chelpont and little Aubrey."

After this fashion the way was paved for the month, to which his time
was limited, to be passed as a veritable holiday after the necessary
business had been completed. Very many old friends and acquaintances
met and congratulated him on his improved fortunes, and hospitable
invitations--the feature of the district--were showered upon him from
all quarters. He left on his return for England with many regrets at
being unable to prolong his visit, and picked up the through steamer at
Flat Top Island amid the warbled assurances of a host of friends, old
and new, on the launch which took him out, that he was "a jolly good
fellow."




Chapter XXIV.--Retribution.

In both hemispheres all was going well with the people whose lives and
fortunes have been dealt with in these pages--with one exception, and
that one Herbert Evesham, the betrayer of Mrs. Darbison, and therein
the originator of all the trouble that fell to her lot, as well as
being the indirect cause of much of what happened to others. Nothing
definite was ever heard about him beyond what could be gathered from an
occasional notice in a country paper to the effect that he had again
returned to civilisation from one of his extended trips to the west in
search of more country adapted for pastoral occupation, and that he had
been successful in finding, etc., etc., and his actual fate was never
known until, some time after, it was incontestably shown that he must
have perished miserably in drought-stricken country while trying to
force his way through to Eyre's Creek from the Darling.

       *       *       *       *       *

The dominant note was one of desolation utter and hopeless. Any
landscape painter of average ability could have depicted the scene
in all its depressing features with one small brush and a pot of
burnt umber. Mile after mile of red sand-ridges bordering a plain of
apparently unlimited area, each ridge sloping gently towards the plain
and looking not unlike the projection of an irregular coastal outline
on the margin of a waveless sea. The sand firm and hard, but made
impossible for travel by the dense growth of spinifex and porcupine
grass which matted it together, leaving only a few tortuous and narrow
openings between the stumps. At intervals a few stunted bushes of the
acacia family, struggling in vain to uphold the right to live amid
such dreary surroundings, and not a tree of any sort within the range
of vision. Patches of white here and there on the plain marked the
locality of dry salt-pans, which glistened in the sun and mocked the
hope that a trickle of water might be found to assuage the thirst of a
perishing man or beast. Rounding the point of another sand-ridge, and
still hoping for some change in the deadly monotony of the scene, such
might be met with only in the shape of acres of stones of all shapes
and sizes, forming in places an almost even surface, as though placed
in position for a purpose; and in others scattered loosely around; or
the soil of a powdery, crumbling nature, broken into deep chasms which
made travelling highly dangerous, if not almost impossible.

Skirting along the edge of this plain, and rounding the points of the
ridges, keeping as near as was practicable on a north-west course, a
party composed of four men and several horses were crawling slowly
along. The horses were in fair condition, but looking tucked-up and
spiritless for want of feed and water, and their riders were far from
being in talkative mood. As the sun rose higher the blistering heat
increased, and no sign of improved conditions could be seen in any
direction. Two of the men, somewhat ahead, pulled up at length and
waited for the others to come up; then one of them spoke. "This don't
seem to be any good for us, and if you're bent on going farther in this
direction me and my mate don't care about it. There's only about a
couple of quarts of water left in our bags, and that's mostly mud, and
the horses can't stand it much longer. So we are thinking about bearing
away to the northward in the hope of striking some, and at any rate of
getting out of this infernal patch of bad country. What do you say?"

"Sorry to hear that, but you may be right. I don't know or seek to know
anything of your plans, but I'm going on. We will get out of this dry
belt before long, I think; anyhow I'm going to take my chances. Wish
you luck, whatever happens." Then they shook hands and parted.

The last speaker was Evesham, though his best friends might have been
forgiven had they failed to recognise him as he then was. The once
well-clad and assertive manager bore no resemblance to the worn and
grimy bushman who turned in the saddle to address his black-boy, and to
urge him along with the packhorses.

"Come along, Jacky, hurry those crawlers along; we must get out of this
quick and find water, or some of them will knock up altogether."

"Baal mine think it water sit down directly. Plenty that fellah tumble
down sposin' no get 'im drink to-night." And on they went.

The two men from whom Evesham had just parted were unknown to him,
but, like himself, were out hunting for country. He had picked them up
on the Darling, shortly after leaving Mount Murchison, and, as they
were bound in the same direction, they decided to travel together
as long as it was mutually satisfactory to do so. And for the first
one hundred miles or so they found plenty of feed and water, results
of an ample rainfall, until they struck the belt of arid desolation
described above. On more than one occasion when out in search of new
country Evesham had found himself in a tight place, but never in one
so seemingly hopeless as this. Good bushmanship and recklessness had
pulled him through more than once, but he was now in a part of the
country he had never previously visited, and, although he was not aware
of the fact, he was actually on the edge of what has so long been
known as Sturt's Stony Desert, one of the most forbidding localities
in Australia when suffering from a prolonged spell of drought, though
easily enough crossed in favorable seasons.

As the sun sank towards the west their progress became more and more
difficult. The water was now entirely gone, and the horses were utterly
exhausted, when he decided to rest them for a few hours and push on
again. Hobbles were not needed, as the worn-out beasts hung around the
camp, too tired and thirsty even to search for a bite of such miserable
fare as might have been within their reach, and the two men stretched
themselves out on the hot ground in hopes of attaining temporary
forgetfulness in sleep. Rations they had in plenty, but their parched
mouths and burning bodies forbade all thought of food. Evesham awoke
after a fevered dream, in which the sight and sound of a running creek
of crystal water vanished as he turned to look for Jacky, who was
still sleeping heavily; but the horses were gone. Not far, probably,
and Jacky was disturbed to go and round them up. No sound broke the
deathly stillness of the night, and again he went off into a stupor,
from which he was aroused by a sense of strangulation. Still all was
quiet, and Jacky had not returned. Then, suddenly remembering a large
metal flask of brandy in one of the pack-bags, carried in case of
emergency, he staggered to his feet in search of it, gulped some of it
down, and once more planted his bursting head in the upturned saddle.
When consciousness returned, the sun was shining full upon him, but
there was no Jacky and not a sign of the horses. Again having recourse
to the brandy flask, he took his notebook from its pouch on his belt
and scribbled something in it, after which, in a dazed condition, he
decided to go in search of the horses and the missing boy, taking the
flask with him.

Neither he nor Jacky was ever seen again. What became of the latter
would be a hard matter to decide. Being an aboriginal, he was in no
danger of being lost. He may have followed the horse tracks in search
of the water in which they were of great need; or he may have fallen
in with some other blacks of a hostile tribe and been killed for any
one of the superstitious, though purely imaginary, reasons well known
to exist amongst them. Whatever his fate may have been is, therefore,
purely a matter of guesswork. He had been a favorite of Evesham's for a
long time, and a constant companion in his wanderings since they first
met on the Upper Murray, where Jacky had been working on a station and
was known as a fearless rider and a good horse-breaker.

       *       *       *       *       *

Some eight or nine months after Evesham and the boy were known to have
left the Darling on their western trip, with five good horses and an
ample supply of rations, and when the numerous acquaintances of the
former had almost forgotten to remark on his prolonged absence from the
places he had been accustomed to visit, evidence of the disaster which
had befallen him came to light through an accidental discovery made by
a black-boy belonging to a Darling River tribe which had despatched
envoys to the pitcheri country to obtain a supply of that highly prized
commodity, procurable only by barter from those more favorably situated
than themselves.

Thus it happened that when Knox, the manager of Terrigindi station,
smoking a quiet pipe on the verandah, saw his overseer coming from
the direction of the blacks' camp on the river, he naturally wanted
to know "what the hades the niggers were kicking up that infernal row
for in the camp?" And the answer was: "Oh, nothing much; only the boys
have come back with the pitcheri, and Sambo has brought in an old
revolver and a piece of a leather belt with a pouch on it he picked up
somewhere."

"Some poor devil been lost, I expect, and thrown it away. I'll go and
have a look at it."

Sambo proudly produced his treasures, which had evidently been exposed
to the weather for a considerable time. The revolver was a heavy Colt,
three chambers of which were loaded, but the parts were firmly rusted
together and resisted all efforts to move them; there was no holster,
but the remains of a leather belt and the pouch still hanging to it
bore ample evidence of having been gnawed by dogs. "No good this fellow
belongin' to you, Sambo. Me give you sixpence, and sposin' you come
longa store one fellow nobbler."

"You gib it, me come longa store get 'im nobbler now."

"Where you bin find 'im?"

"More farder, long way, like it that way longa sandhill," poking his
chin out in the direction indicated.

"You bin see 'im whitefellow? See 'im horse? See 'im saddle?"

"Baal me bin see 'im. Mine think it that fellah bin altogether lose 'im
horse, then tumble down long time."

In the torn and battered pouch was a stained metallic notebook of the
kind common in those days, many of the leaves stuck together, but
all scribbled on in a more or less blotched manner. Much of what was
written referred to old camping grounds, mixed up with details of
compass bearings and distances, descriptions of country travelled over,
items of expenditure, and private memoranda of all descriptions, much
of it almost illegible, the writing towards the end being especially
bad and indistinct.

From the notes transcribed by Knox from the final pages, and afterwards
compared with the originals, the following extracts were made:--


"Horses away in night. No water. Jacky tracking.

"Wedn.--No horses--no Jacky, --- him. Brandy--thirst.

"T.--Go and look myself--horses gone--Jacky gone--revolver--no
caps--thirst--head--hell--choking--missed camp.

"Fri.--End of H.E.--sand--brandy--dogs--revolver--never
find--hell--burst last cho--mine."


Evesham's name was plainly written in ink, surrounded by an ornamental
scroll, on the front page, leaving little doubt as to the identity
among the spinifex-covered, sand wastes, where the dingo roams and the
desert kites whistle their doleful requiem over the bleached bones of
many a good man stricken down by a similar remorseless fate.


THE END.


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