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Title: The Squatter King
Author: Edward S. Sorenson
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Language: English
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------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: The Squatter King
Author: Edward S. Sorenson


* * *


The Squatter King
A Romance of Bush Life
by Edward S. Sorenson

Author of "Life in the Australian Backblocks," &c.

(ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.)

published in The Catholic Press - Sydney, S.S.W.
beginning April 23, 1914

OUR NEW SERIAL
THE SQUATTER KING

by Edward S. Sorenson,

(Author of "Life in the Australian Backblocks," &c.)

A Romance of Bush Life

will begin in the "Catholic Press" on APRIL 23.

"The Squatter King" is a story of pastoral life, based on certain
incidents in early Queensland history pertaining to a lost white man
and squatting in the Never Never. The love interest is sustained
throughout, mingled with adventure, humour, and pictures of squattage
and pioneering life; tracing the career of Sid Warri, who sets out at
16 to win fortune in the region of wide spaces, and to search for his
father, the lost squatter, who, in the family's rosier days, owned the
big run where Sid goes to seek employment. The scene is laid in the
south-west of Queensland, and about the border of the Northern
Territory.

Edward S. Sorenson is the most popular Australian writer of to-day. No
man knows Australia better than he, or expresses with such fidelity the
spirit of the bush. His work is familiar to readers of the "Catholic
Press," the "Bulletin," the "Australasian" and the "Sydney Mail." We
are fortunate in being able to secure for our readers the rights of
this new and thrilling romance, "The Squatter King."



CONTENTS:

Preface.
Chapter I. At Morella.
Chapter II. Over the Hills and Far Away.
Chapter III. Where Once His Father Ruled.
Chapter IV. Head Stockman, Ben Bruce.
Chapter V. A Memorable Midsummer's Day.
Chapter VI. A Child of the Wild.
Chapter VII. When the Frost was on the Grass.
Chapter VIII. The Man who Never Laughed.
Chapter IX. A Taste of the Primitive.
Chapter X. The Dawning of Love.
Chapter XI. The Lure of No Man's Land.
Chapter XII. The Gulf That Yawned Between.
Chapter XIII. Two Love Birds in a Tree.
Chapter XIV. A Glimpse Behind the Curtain.
Chapter XV. The Old, Old Story.
Chapter XVI. On the Track of the Explorers.
Chapter XVII. Dick Cranston and Berkley Hart.
Chapter XVIII. The Overseer gets the Sack.
Chapter XIX. In the Towri of the Yanbo Tribe.
Chapter XX. Thorns among the Roses.
Chapter XXI. Sowing Seeds of Mischief.
Chapter XXII."Colonial Experience."
Chapter XXIII. Sons of the Open.
Chapter XXIV. A Prey to a Thousand Fancies.
Chapter XXV. One Night in Yanbo Hut.
Chapter XXVI. A Face in the Scrub.
Chapter XXVII. Sad Days of Long Ago.
Chapter XXVIII. The Captain Visits Morella.
Chapter XXIX. Success and Its Bitter Sweets.
Chapter XXX. Unwelcome Visitors.
Chapter XXXI. The Tale of his Wild Career.
Chapter XXXII. A Time of Shine and Shadow.
Chapter XXXIII. News From Wonnaroo.
Chapter XXXIV. Along the Homeward Way.
Chapter XXXV. An Embarrassing Guest.
Chapter XXXVI. The Dead Man Claims His Own.
Chapter XXXVII. Return of the Wanderer.
Chapter XXXVIII. The Big Man Gets Busy.
Chapter XXXIX. On the Rising Road.
Chapter XL. The Neglected Partner.
Chapter XLI. With the Old Folks at Home.
Chapter XLII. Conclusion.

*

CHAPTER I.

At Morella.

There was nothing very grand about Morella. It was a plain shingle-roofed
cottage, half hidden in a cluster of trees and partially covered
with vines, that had marked a lonely mailman's stage before the little
township of Wonnaroo had come into existence. Yet, looking at it from
her seat on a grassy slope at the back, Keira Warri thought there was
no place to compare with it on Biroo Creek.

Keira was 18, a pretty girl with a wealth of auburn hair, and--some one
had said--the "prettiest eyes in town."

Her brother, a quiet-looking lad of 16, came up the bank with a hoe in
his hand, and threw himself down in the shadows near her.

"I'm going to clear out," he said. "I'm doing no good here."

Keira looked at him in surprise, but almost instantly her eyes twinkled
with amusement.

"Who hit you, Sid?"

"That," answered the boy, nodding at the needlework in her lap. "You're
sewing for Mrs. Joe Steel, aren't you?"

"Yes." She bent over her work, and the smile faded from her face.

"I had a suspicion that it was getting low tide with the mater," said
Sid, "but I didn't know till yesterday that you were taking in sewing."

"Why shouldn't I?" asked Keira. "I haven't much else to do."

"Oh, you're not doing it for exercise, or to oblige the old lady at the
store. Own up, we're getting among the breakers, aren't we?"

"Worse times might come, Sid," she answered evasively. "And it's good
policy to gather fuel while you can keep the pot boiling."

"Not a very heartening job though, keeping it boiling with little
sticks." Sid reflected, looking again at the stitching needle as though
the thing hurt him. "If it requires that sort of stoking," he
continued, "it's time I took a hand."

"Don't you be in a hurry. You've got to go to college--"

"And you're going to stitch, stitch, stitch, to keep me there? Not this
chicken."

"Mother wants you to have a profession; failing that, she will get you
into a bank, or something of the kind."

"That's no good to me," said Sid. "I'm going into the bush."

"What could you do there? You've had no experience."

"Haven't I? I can ride for one thing," Sid answered.

"Quiet horses," Keira added. "But some horses buck, you know."

"Well, it only wants a little practice to learn to sit them."

"But suppose you get hurt during the practice? Lots of people get
killed off horses?"

"I must take my chance like the rest. The best were newchums at the
start," Sid reasoned. "Anyhow, I can ride a good deal better than some
of the men I've seen knocking about here. I wouldn't get much wages at
first, but ever so little would be a help. You'd have one less, to keep
too."

"You're a dear good brother, Sid," said Keira, as she bent down and
kissed him. "But I don't think mother would let you go on a squattage.
She has a horror of such places since poor father's fate."

What that fate was no one had any definite knowledge. At the time Keira
referred to he was the owner of Kanillabar, a big cattle run a hundred
miles from Wonnaroo. Those were happy days for the Warris. The only
thing that was wanting was sufficient water for the stock. The
waterholes were few and far between, and in ordinary dry seasons the
cattle had to go long distances for a drink. Then a big drought came,
and Warri went west in search of country to save his stock from
perishing. A stockman named Dick Cranston, and two aborigines went with
him. They took a pack-horse and enough provisions for a fortnight.

For a pastoralist in the back parts of Queensland, Warri was a
notoriously poor bushman. His sense of locality was so dull that he got
lost on his own run. He was a rugged character, with little learning.
Though he mixed with the best people in the district, he was
unmistakably a misfit in a toney drawing-room. But he was a rough
diamond, with apparently plenty of money. His social eminence he owed
to this, and to the influence of his wife, who was a woman of education
and refinement.

The end of the fortnight did not bring him back; two months passed, and
still there came no tidings of the explorers. Then one evening Dick
Cranston returned alone. They had reached the bank of a stream called
Mingo Creek, Cranston related, when a thunderstorm came on. They
hobbled their horses out, and sheltered in the hollow of a tree, where
they placed their saddles and bags. It rained nearly all night, and
they slept together among the baggage. In the morning it was found that
the horses had crossed the creek, which was then running armpit deep.
The blacks refused to go into it, saying that it was a bunyip water.
Leaving Cranston making a damper, Warri went across himself; and that
was the last that was seen of him.

Heavy rain set in, and it continued all day. The creek rose a banker,
and Cranston was unable to cross or track the horse hunter. He searched
for days along the bank, living on what he could catch in the bush; for
the bags had been plundered during an unsuccessful hunt after the
horses. The latter were afterwards picked up, having made back as far
as they could get to their old haunts; but no trace could be discovered
of the two blacks, whom Cranston said had deserted him by the flooded
creek.

After his return to Kanillabar, Cranston managed the squattage for Mrs.
Warri. His management very quickly involved her in financial
difficulties. She got tired of it all, and at last sold out to Captain
Byrne, who had financed her for some time, and retired to the quietude
of Morella. At the same time Dick Cranston, to the surprise of
everybody, bought the flourishing hotel business in Wonnaroo.

That bit of family history remained ever fresh in the boy's mind; never
did he see the sun go down but he saw in fancy a lost white man
wandering with the blacks. That far western bush that was still "No
Man's Land," or the Never Never, as they termed it in Wonnaroo, called
to him in his waking moments, beckoned him in his dreams. In leisure
hours he had often loitered at Cranston's hotel, the "Bushman's Rest,"
where squatters, stockmen and teamsters gathered when in town. He
listened to their quaint yarns with absorbing ears, and heard many a
tale of adventure that influenced his young mind. He knew that it was a
rough life in the lonely haunts of those men; but that had no weight
with him. Riding after cows on the old pony, and watching the drovers
crossing below Morella, had given him a strong taste for the work. But
he had hopes of being something more than a stockman. In one's teenhood
life is full of hopes and promises.

"Perhaps, some day, I'll win back what we've lost," he remarked after a
meditative silence.

"With an extra big slice of luck," said the more practical Keira. "You
don't know how far out of reach those grapes are. Still I'm glad you're
ambitious. It's good to aim always at something higher. But you don't'
mean to go outback?"

"Yes, I do." He spoke as one whose mind was inexorably set.

"What about your studies?"

"My next course is bullocks and brumbies," Sid declared.

Keira laughed softly. "I'm afraid you're in for a hot lecture," she
said. "Mother's been planning your career since you were born. She
doesn't know she's got a rebel."

"It's for her sake--and yours--I'm going."

"When?"

"Day after to-morrow."

Keira looked at him sideways with lifted brows.

"What a hurry we're in all at once!" she exclaimed, still treating the
matter lightly. Then a thought struck her. "Who's going with you?"

"Nobody."

"Who's been talking to you about it"

"Nobody," he answered again.

"Well, what put the madcap idea into your head?" asked Keira.

"What's madcap about it?" Sid demanded. "I've never thought of doing
anything else," he continued. "I'm not going to be shut up in an
office, anyway."

"If mother objects, you won't leave by the window, will you?"

"She won't object if you have a talk with her. You can talk her over if
you like."

Keira gathered up her work and rose to her feet.

"Will you tell her after tea?" he insisted.

"All right," said Keira. "But look out for squalls."

After tea Mrs. Joe Steel, the storekeeper's wife, came in, and in five
minutes, contrary to Sid's wishes, she knew all about his arrangements.
But she helped to soften the mother's disappointment, and to convince
her that the open air life, whatever he followed, was better for the
boy than being cooped up in a stuffy office.

They talked the matter over for two hours, and while they talked Sid
mingled with the town folk, most of whom for nine months in the year
could be found out of doors. In midsummer the closer atmosphere of the
rooms urged them forth, but they went out just the same when it was
necessary to wear great coats, and mufflers round their necks.

There is a glamour, an appealing force, an impelling charm, in the
brooding Australian night that attracts alike the old bachelor from his
little slab hut, the staid married folk, the courting couples and
romping youngsters from cot and mansion. Even the coldest winter months
rarely drive the latter to seek the shelter of the home roof. They will
play merrily in the open air as long as that license is given them, and
it is "mother" who has to hunt them in. That is one of the features of
Australian life--the mothers calling their bairns to roost from street
and lawn, from park and paddock. And they know that the field grows
nightly wider and more enticing, and proportionately the traditional
hearth becomes cheerless; that the life is sweet and bracing, but, it
fosters no love for home.

When schooldays are over and the time of parting comes, the boy mounts
his horse, or slings the swag across his shoulder, and departs with a
light good-bye and a promise to write soon, which he often forgets,
hundreds and thousands of miles away through lonely bush; and though
the mother watches him go with tear-dimmed eyes, he holds his head
erect and whistles cheerily down the track. He leaves his sweetheart in
the same way--though with a pain unguessed--for aching months, and even
years, till some drover's mob brings him back to her neighbourhood.

It is the outdoor life, the outdoor training in childhood, that makes
the Australian a lightsome rover. He can lay him down to sleep where
night finds him, and sleep comfortably with only the grassy earth for
mattress and the sky for canopy. When a covering is necessary, a tent
answers the purpose. To the genial climatic conditions, and the wide
sweet forests, must be added the heritage of pioneers, in whom the
wanderlust was strong, and whose lives were spent in lonesome wilds.
Naturally the happy Southland has a big floating population to whom the
warm earth is bed, the blue sky is roof, and Australia is home;
naturally Sid, whose father was a hard-riding squatter of the early
School, thought lightly of leaving the comforts of Morella and the few
simple pleasures of Wonnaroo for the ruggedness of Fartherout.

CHAPTER II.

Over the Hills and Far Away.

As the mist was rising like wreaths of smoke from the grassy flats Sid
carried his swag through Wonnaroo and set out on the road to
Kanillabar. On the bridge that spanned Birro Creek he paused to take a
last look at the yet sleeping houses, and at the old home, which he
could just discern through the trees in the distance. Then he crossed
over, and as he faced westward the feeling came over him that he had
entered a new world--a world where he must think and act for himself.

He had half a crown in his pocket. He had discovered a pound note there
while dressing that morning, and had secretly replaced it in his
mother's purse. In vain too, they had urged him to take the pony. He
thought of Keira tramping after the cows, and of the sulky in which
they sometimes enjoyed a drive, and decided against it. He could easily
have borrowed a horse and saddle had he wished, but he preferred to be
independent. He had often heard his mother say: "I hate borrowing, and
I hate lending;" and he had known her, many and many a time, to do
without things that she badly wanted rather than borrow from her
neighbours.

He was strong and hardy; he had been wood and water joey, gardener and
general rouseabout at Morella since he was twelve years old, and one of
his pleasures had been to tramp through miles of scrub and forest with
a gun; so carrying the swag was no more irksome to him than it was to
the seasoned battler. He was not proud of his position, neither was he
ashamed of it; his thoughts were of the future when he was confident of
winning to something that would be a salve to the wounded family pride.

He had not covered many miles when he was overtaken by Jake Gowrie, the
mailman, who was starting out on his weekly trip to the backblock
squattages. To people down east the township of Wonnaroo was far away
in the backblocks, but to Jake, who was used to wide spaces, the term
meant the outermost fringe of civilisation.

Jake was a tall, slim, wiry-looking man, who sat in his saddle with a
slight stoop, and gazed into distances with half-closed eyes. His
sunbrowned face was clean shaven, slightly wrinkled, and bore an
expression suggestive of happy thoughts. Dressed in strong tweeds made
for riding, Crimean shirt and plaited green hide belt, with a knitted
pale-blue necktie, loose open grey coat, soft brown felt hat, and light
laced boots--such was Jake Gowrie.

"Hulloa!" he said as he drew alongside. "I though I knew the back of
you, but the bluey puzzled me. You're startin' on the wallaby pretty
young, Sid."

"As well wear out that way as rust out," was Sid's rejoinder.

"Couldn't you raise a horse?"

"We've only got one, and thought he might be wanted at home," Sid
answered.

"I could 'ave lent you one if you'd a told me," said Jake. "Where are
you bound for?"

"Kanillabar."

"Hm!" said Jake, leaning his hands on the pummel of his saddle.
"Ninety-four miles from the sandhill. What do you reckon to do it in?"

"About four days and a half."

"Lemme see! That's twenty-two mile! Good goin' this weather. I used to
reckon twenty mile a day a fair average when I was tourin' with
Matilda. I remember when I first set out. 'Twas down country, where
there's more people to the hundred mile than you find out here. Instead
o' campin' where sundown found me the first day, I went on till I came
to a house. 'Twas the capital of a small sheep run--Solomon Klinker,
sole proprietor, I informed the gentleman, as an excuse for disturbin'
his dogs--he 'ad seven of 'em, all barkin' at once--that I was lookin'
for a job. 'Lookin' purty late, ain't you?' he says, short an' grumpy.
I explained that my knowledge of the local geography was a bit hazy,
an' I'd been tryin' to fetch up at a lagoon I'd been misdirected to.

"'Been meditatin' about supper, haven't you?' he snaps out. I admitted
it wouldn't be a bad spec, considerin' the circs. 'Had a nap below the
sliprails, didn't you?' he says, in the same gruff manner. 'No, I
didn't,' I says. 'Why do you ask me that?' 'Thought you might 'ave
overslept your self,' he says. 'You're a bit later than the usual
sundowner.' With that he turned sharp round an' walked inside.

"For a few minutes there was a great clatter of table things, an' then
he came to th' door again. I was sittin' on the step, havin' a rest.
'Why th' jumpin' fantods don't you come in!' he roared at me. 'Am I
layin' the spiflicated table for meself?' I stepped in, an' that old
chap treated me like as if I was his own son come back from a
shipwreck. He spun yarns till 3 o'clock in the morning, an' he roused
me up for breakfast at 6 o'clock a.m. sharp; an' that day I couldn't
tour for shucks. I did only two mile. He was too darned hospitable
altogether, was old Solomon Klinker."

He pulled out a stick of black twist as he finished speaking, and bit
off a lump.

"Well," he said then, tucking the quid into his check, "I must get a
bit farther. You'll be settled down to it when I see you again," he
added, starting off. "So long, boy."

"Boy" made his camp-fire at a scrubby gully, a little more than twenty
miles from Wonnaroo, and at a spot that had been the scene of a family
picnic one merry Christmas time.

The sun was a soft red disc, poised on a hazy hilltop, as he took his
towel and soap and went down to a big waterhole for a bath. When he
returned with a billy of water he discovered that his rations and
tucker had disappeared. There was no one in sight, but across a little
patch of sand were the huge imprints of a naked foot.

"A thieving blackfellow!" he ejaculated. "By Christopher! that's hard
luck."

It was no use boiling the billy; he had no tea. Neither had he a bite
to eat. He had been in good spirits all day, but as the night shut down
he felt as lonely and wretched as an outcast. Eighty-eight miles yet to
go on an empty stomach was not an encouraging proposition. Still he had
no thought of turning back.

Suddenly he brightened. 'Possums were playing about the grass and
running up and down the tree-trunks. For, a minute or two he considered
how he might catch one. Then he went to the brush on the gully bank,
and, striking matches, searched about until he found a small, tough
tree, with a stem the thickness of his finger, that would bend double
without breaking. Cutting off a piece a couple of feet long, he tied
one end of a bootlace to the top point of it, making the other end into
a running loop, which he stiffened by carefully twisting it round a
thin stalk of grass. Then with a jack-knife he cut a pole about ten
feet long, to which he fastened the pliant stick with his other
bootlace, so that, when he presently leaned it against a 'possum tree,
the noose hung directly over the pole a little less than midway down.
Then he returned to his fire and watched.

By-and-bye a 'possum descended, and taking the pole as the easier
course to the ground, was at once caught by the noose, and swung
underneath.

An hour later Sid took the blackened carcase from the coals, and with
that and a pannikin of cold water he made a hearty meal.

He still had some of it left after an early breakfast, and wrapping it
up for lunch, resumed his journey in good heart.

The day was hot, but thick timber checkered the winding track with
cooling shade. Great grey kangaroos bounded away from either side, and
stopping a short distance off gazed after the traveller. Long strips of
curled bark hung down from the coolabahs, beating a tattoo on the trunk
to every puff of wind. Crows called familiarly overhead, the squatter
pigeons gave sweet greeting from the grass, and anon corollas rose from
the ground and flew over him in shrieking flocks.

He was walking along briskly, spite of heat and rugged roads, when
suddenly he heard a girl's voice singing behind a clump of bushes. He
paused to listen. "Over the hills and far away" was the burden of her
song.

"That's my destination, as far as I know it," thought Sid. "Over the
hills and far away!"

As he turned off the road to investigate, the singer emerged from
behind the clump. She was a little, bare-legged girl, driving a tandem
team of goats attached to a box cart, which she had loaded with wood.
Seeing the stranger, she whipped up Billy and Whiskers, and rattled
merrily homeward.

Half a mile ahead was a selector's hut, surrounded by a dog-legged
fence, through which the little wood-carter disappeared before he
reached it.

A woman came to the door, wiping her hands on her apron, and surveyed
him curiously as he approached. She was a natty, motherly-looking
woman, with a kindly twinkle in her brown eyes.

"Is this the right road to Kanillabar?" Sid inquired.

"Yes, my boy; keep the mailman's track all the way to the Outcamp; then
you keep straight ahead," the woman answered, waving her hand in the
direction he was going. "You can't miss it, providin' you don't take
the road to Goondi, which turns off to the right; or the road to
Mooban, which turns off to the left."

"I was afraid I was wrong," he told her. "I didn't know there were any
places on the way."

"Oh, this is Tibbinong," she smilingly informed him. "I don't suppose
you'll find it on the map yet, as we've only settled here lately. Bill
had to have some place for his bullocks, an' this was convenient for
him, an' handy to town for me. Are you going to work at the station?"

"I don't know yet. I'm going out on spec."

"Oh, dear!" she exclaimed, measuring him from head to feet with a
compassionate glance.

"Are there any more places on the road?" Sid asked quickly.

"Goondi Outcamp, that's all."

"Anybody living there?"

"Only blacks. Kanillabar and Mooban keep horses there to change with
when travellin' to an' fro. Kanillabar is your next. An' if you don't
get a job there I don't know how you'll get on, I'm sure. You're
heading out for the Never-Never country, my boy. If you're wise, you'll
go back the other way."

"No," he said firmly, "I'm going right on."

"That's the spirit, old man!" said a deeper voice from the table
inside. "Come an' have some dinner."

The speaker was a robust, black-bearded man in faded blue dungarees and
striped shirt. He was a teamster, who carried stores to the far-western
homesteads.

"Sit' in, old man," he said genially, and proceeded to carve a hot
joint of salt meat. The little singer, who had been peeping round the
doorpost, now sat demurely at the bottom end of the long table.

"If you were round this way in a couple of months' time," his wife
remarked, as she put down another cup and saucer, "Bill might be able
to give you a job with the team. He's spellin' his bullocks now, but
he'll be going on the road again about then."

"I hope to have a cheque earned by that time," Sid returned, "if I
haven't, I'll be a long way from here."

"Oh, he'll get on all right," said Bill, chuckling confidently. "I'll
bet it'll take more than the kick of a mosquito to knock him out,
anyway."

When the meal was over, Bill--whose other name was Bunty--gave him
further directions as to the road; then, saying that he had to hunt up
some bullocks, went off across the paddock with a saddle on his head
and bridle in his hand.

Sid was about to pick up his swag when Mrs. Bunty remarked:

"You don't seem to be overloaded with rations, son."

"They're not very heavy," Sid admitted.

"Have you any?"

"N-no!"

"Give me your bags," she said incisively. "The idea of going on a track
like that with nothing to eat--"

"I've got no bags--either," Sid reluctantly informed her.

"Well, I declare--here, you sit down there," she commanded, indicating a
seat on the verandah. "The spell won't do you any harm."

She bustled inside, and soon he heard the sewing-machine going at a
great rate. In half an hour she returned with four little bags well
filled. Sid proffered the half-crown in payment, but she waved it away
indignantly.

"You keep that in your pocket; you'll want it soon enough, maybe," she
told him sympathetically. "We're not that hard up that we're got to
take money for a bit of tucker."

She helped him to adjust his load, then shook hands with him and wished
him luck. At nightfall he found himself at the side of a reedy
waterhole. The sudden loud splashing of ducks swooping down into the
water after dark, and the lonesome howls of dingoes in the surrounding
bush, impressed that half-way camp in his memory. Lying beside his
little blaze, his head pillowed on his boots and spare clothes, he
gazed up at the brilliance of stars as drovers, do, unconsciously
beginning that education of the bushman that serves as guide and
timekeeper by night in strange and trackless regions.

CHAPTER III.

Where Once His Father Ruled.

Nothing but the voices of birds and the call of wandering kine
enlivened the solitary tramp of the next two days. During that time, in
a stretch of forty-five miles, the traveller met nobody, and saw
nobody, save a somnolent aboriginal couple at Goondi Outcamp. That
depot, half-encircled by a small lagoon, he well remembered. He had
camped there with his mother and sister on their way from Kanillabar to
their humbler home in Wonnaroo. His mother cried that night, sitting
miserably at the tent door, whilst he and Keira sat by the fire, making
rainbows with glowing sticks. The recollection momentarily unstiffened
the corners of his mouth, and made him blink as if something had got
into his eyes. Other landmarks he recalled; other memories brought
strange qualms, as he came into more familiar country, whither
occasional excursions had brought him for a brief while long ago.

In the afternoon of the fifth day he topped a low sandhill, and saw on
a rise on the opposite side of a plain the scattered buildings of
Kanillabar. The sight of the roofs was a relief after the weary
tramping over stony ridges and stubby flats. Sitting awhile on his
swag, he gazed over the broad demesne and the wide wild lands where
once his father ruled. And as he sat there his heart grew heavy, and
the vista grew weird and grey. He looked upon the great stockyards and
pens with strange feelings, in which there was a tinge of sorrow as the
grey ghosts of other years, the dim recollections of his childhood,
passed before his mental eye.

The huts and stables stood in line, facing the "big house," store and
gardens; between was a broad space, level and green. A score of
wide-winged eagles soared gracefully round and round above the homestead,
whilst crows fossicked tamely about the sward, and cawed noisily at him
from the few big trees and the high cappings as he approached.

Outside the horse-yard, looking through the rails at half a dozen
horses, and meditatively stroking his abundant beard, stood Captain
Bryne, a well-conditioned man of 50, in a grey alpaca coat and white
helmet. Heavy eyebrows, all but meeting, over a red and slightly
bulbous nose, gave a somewhat savage aspect to his virile face.
Straight in the back as a coolabah, and carrying himself with a natural
dignity; he was a man of few words, and as gruff as he was brief.

Alongside, with his elbows squared on a rail, was young Rodney Bryne,
the overseer, who was taller and slighter than the captain; his happy
face a healthy bronze from his constant outdoor life; and against the
stable wall, which formed the top side of the yard, sat a medium-sized
man with a short, scraggy moustache, and small grey eyes that were
continually blinking and shifting.

Sid dropped his swag against a post, and inquired deferentially if
there was any chance of a job thereabouts. The captain measured him
with deliberate eyes.

"What sort of a job?" he asked.

"Stockwork," said Sid.

"Can you ride?"

"Yes."

The captain turned to the man who was sitting against the stable.

"Berkley, fetch a bridle and saddle here."

He looked again at Sid, who had suddenly evinced a lively interest in
the horses.

He was tired, and had not bargained for a test of his skill straight
away. All the same, he did not hesitate, but got into the yard as
Berkley brought out the gear.

"Catch that bay horse and get on him," said the captain.

The "bay" was a lengthy, big-boned animal, sleek and handsome from his
well-cut head to his vicious-looking heels. Singled off in a corner, he
was not hard to catch; neither was he very difficult to saddle,
although he showed a timidity, and an inclination to rebel against the
tightening of the girths, that was not encouraging.

Leading him into the middle of the yard, Sid screwed down his hat and
hitched up his pants in readiness. He would like to have damped the
flaps of the saddle, which felt as slippery as glass, and to have
mounted outside on the turf; the yard looked as hard as a metalled
road. However, he passed the reins at once over the horse's head, the
animal crouching and backing as he did so. Mounting was not so easy,
the horse watching every movement and sidling away; and as pressure was
put on the stirrup he reefed back.

Sid knew enough about horses to know that any dilly-dallying was fatal;
if the equine saw that the rider was afraid, he would take advantage of
it. To make a good impression on the mutinous quadruped, he handled him
masterfully, and at the earliest opportunity sprang quickly into the
saddle.

Hardly had he got his off-stirrup when the bay whipped down his head,
and with two terrific bucks and a sharp wheel threw him heavily on to
his shoulder. The horse continued to buck for a few seconds longer,
then stood in a corner and snorted.

Sid was more chagrined than hurt, and without a word he caught the
obstreporous brute and re-mounted. Four quick, powerful bucks, and he
was thrown from the saddle as if shot from a catapult. He got up
slowly, spitting out dust, and without so much as a glance at the
spectators caught the rebel once more, and was about to entertain them
further when the captain called out: "Wait a bit."

He stepped into the yard, and walked leisurely across.

"Thought you could ride?" he said, standing beside him.

"I'm not used to rough horses," Sid confessed.

"Dropped you hard, eh?" as Sid's hand went mechanically to a tingling
hip.

"Yes--a bit."

"And you'd get on him again?"

"Yes." There was fire in the boy's eyes, and determination in the set
of his lips.

"Never mind," said the captain bestowing on him a close, frowning sort
of scrutiny, in which there seemed to be a glimmer of satisfaction.
"You'd better practice on something quieter first."

He took the reins and handed them to Berkley, remarking as he did so:

"Just as well not to let him think he's master."

"You want me to ride him?" Berkley queried, casting an unfriendly
glance at Sid.

"Just as well not to let him think he's master," the captain repeated.

Berkley mounted with evident reluctance. He was an ugly rider, but he
could stick; and after a couple of rough turns round the yard the bay
desisted, and was let go.

Several stockmen, blacks and whites, now rode into the yard. They
smiled on the youthful stranger as they passed, for the dust on his
clothes and hat, which he was shamefacedly trying to brush off with his
hands, told them what had happened. While they unsaddled their horses
the captain, holding on to the half-open gate with one foot resting on
the bottom bar, again addressed him.

"Where did you work last?"

"At home; I've just left school."

"Oh!" He shoved the gate open, and stood back, meditating, whilst
Berkley drove the horses out. Sid, anxiously waiting for the verdict,
shook off the rest of his coating of dust in the interval.

"You can take this chap in hand, Berkley," the captain said, as he
turned to leave the yard.

From which Sid understood that he was engaged. It was a rough
introduction to Kanillabar, but he was pleased.

CHAPTER IV.

Head Stockman, Ben Bruce.

When tea was over in the hut, Sid commenced to fix up a broken bunk for
himself by the light of a malodorous slush-lamp. The room, which looked
out on the long grey road he had travelled, was walled with rough
slabs, between some of which strips of bagging and pieces of paper were
stuffed to block the view from adjoining rooms. Its barrenness and
ruggedness gave him a twinge of homesickness, for what he had hitherto
known was luxurious in comparison. Cobwebs hung from the rafters, and a
mosquito-hunting bat fluttered about under the shingle roof. But for
the presence of one who had been there long enough to accumulate an
unsightly heap of old boots, he might have imagined it to be a
long-deserted tenement.

His room-mate was Ben Bruce, the head stockman, who was stretched on
his bunk against the opposite wall, smoking a black clay pipe.

Ben was one of those quiet, reclusive men who whet the curiosity of
others, and at the same time discourage inquisitiveness. He kept much
to himself, and however freely others around him might exchange
confidences in camp and yard, he never mentioned anything material
concerning his own history. Quiet of speech and manner, more
gentlemanly in appearance than the captain, and generally accredited
with more learning, he was naturally a considerable mystery to the rank
and file. There was no doubt in the minds of all that he was "a bit
eccentric."

He was an oldish man, apparently 50, tall and sturdy of figure, with a
slight droop in the shoulders. He was carelessly dressed, the loose-fitting
shirt and coat appearing as if they had been pitchforked on to
the wearer. Despite this there was an unmistakable air of good breeding
about him--gentility run to seed.

"I hope my hammering doesn't annoy you," spoke Sid.

"Not at all, lad; you make yourself comfortable. Nobody goes to sleep
here that fifteen-two, fifteen-four racket ends in the next room."

"Gambling?"

"For tobacco an' matches."

"You don't play?"

"No, boy; an' if you're wise you'll keep out of it, too."

"I don't smoke," said Sid, "so the stakes would be of no use to me."

"Don't learn, boy; it's a dirty habit," said Ben, puffing great clouds
from his black pipe.

When he had made the lower atmosphere insufferable to the mosquitoes,
he turned again to the amateur carpenter.

"This your first job?"

"Yes."

"I judged as much, by the look of your hands," said Ben, eyeing the
white skin and the well-manicured finger-nails. "The work isn't
killing," he went on, "but it's a wearying stretch to sundown for the
beginner."

"What time do you start in the morning?" asked Sid, speaking with his
mouth full of nails.

"You'll have to be stirring about daylight--to run the horses up, an'
then the cows. Are you good at wakin'?"

"Not at that hour, I'm afraid."

"I'll give you a call. Sid's your name, isn't it?"

"Sid Warri."

"Warri'?" said Ben musingly. "That was the name of the woman who was
here before the boss's time."

"She's my mother," Sid told him. "We, used to own this place once."

Ben turned sharply on to his elbow. "Used to own the squattage," he
repeated; "an' you've come back to it humping your drum!"

Sid nodded.

"Well, well!" with staring, meditative eyes. "What did the captain
say?"

"I don't think he knew me; he didn't ask my name."

"I don't suppose it would have made any difference, anyhow. There's no
sentiment about the old captain; though, mind you, he isn't a bad boss,
take him all round. I've heard some ugly things said of him, but he's
always acted straight with me, an' I speak of a man as I find him. He's
a rough, hard old nail, there's no two ways about that; but if he sees
you've got grit an' go in you, he'll think a lot more of you than if
you were merely the son of a duke. By-the-bye, you had a sister?"

"She's living in Wonnaroo with mother."

"Did she ever tell you anything about Berkley Hart?"

"The groom?"

"He's groom, an' something more; he has charge of the home paddocks.
You'll be under him for a time."

"I've never heard her speak of him."

"He was a good while with your father," Ben went on, "an' one day your
sister caught him helpin' himself to some tobacco in the store. The
boss was in the office close by. She ran in an' told him, and, of
course, there was a shindy, and Berkley was kicked off the place
without his cheque. He never got over that, though he wasn't seen again
after the blow-up till the Brynes came here. He turned up then as good
as new, an' the captain put him on. He was inquirin' about your people,
an' wanted to know if the old chap had been found or anything heard of
him. He's a bad lot."

"He ought to be pleased to have me for a rouseabout," Sid observed,
with a grim smile at the irony of the situation.

"Oh, that will suit him right down to the ground." said Ben.

Sid drove in a few more nails, shaking and weighing on the creaking
thing between times to try the strength of it.

"Whoever left this bit of furniture behind didn't lose much," he
remarked as he finished.

"He left everything behind that he owned, the man who used to sleep
there," said Ben. "He's sleeping on the sandhill now."

"Dead?"

"Aye; kicked by that bay horse that slung you this afternoon."

"Oh, strike!" cried Sid. "If I'd known that I wouldn't have mended the
dashed thing."

"You're not superstitious, are you?"

"No; but I don't like dead men's beds."

"His ghost won't worry you," said Ben. "Poor old Sam Blake! He was a
quiet chap, who never made any trouble when he was alive, an' he ain't
likely to be a nuisance now he's dead. Talkin' of ghosts," he
continued, after a pause, "reminds me of when I first came here. They
sent me to Glenboon, one of the sub-squattages--a lonesome place, where
you never saw a white man except at mustering time. A tribe of blacks
that circulated about the run rather emphasised the loneliness of
anything. They were friendly enough when you took them right, but the
awfullest thieves out. They touched me for several odds an' ends, an'
we had a few rows in consequence. Still, I'd 'ave got along all right
with them; but it happened a tree fell on one of their tribe an' killed
him. They don't look on death as being natural or accidental; if one
lived for a hundred an' fifty years, an' then was struck by lightnin',
they'd put it down to witchcraft, an' someone would have to go under.
An old wiseacre sits on the grave night after night, till he sees the
churri-gurri--the spirit of the slayer. He always sees him an' he always
recognises him. Then the warriors arm themselves an' go after the
culprit.

"Well, when the old villain at Glenboon set to watchin' he saw me. Of
course, I was condemned at once. They reckoned I'd practised some
wizard trick an' made that tree fall just where Binghi was.

"A gin warned me of what was in the wind, an' I prepared to receive the
avengers. I had a double-barrelled gun an' two revolvers in the hut.
But I didn't want to do any harm with them; so I dug a shallow hole
20ft from the door, drove two small pegs in the bottom of it, an' tied
one of the revolvers firmly to them with greenhide. After tyin' a
fishing-line to the trigger I laid a piece of bark over it, an' covered
that with a shavin' of turf. The line was run carefully through the
grass, an' passed between two slabs of the hut. The other revolver I
planted the same distance from the back wall an kept the gun inside.

"They came at daylight--about twenty of them, creeping up from the back.
I waited till they'd passed the buried revolver, then 'bang' she went.
I tell you, it would have done your eyes good to 'ave seen their faces.
Some leaped into the air, an' two of them fell down. The shot blew a
bit of turf out, an' smoke was coming out of the ground. They couldn't
understand that; they pointed at it an' yabbered in whispers. Then one
a little bolder than the others sneaked towards it to see what it was.
I let him get right up to it, an' then--'bang' she went again. A tuft
of grass flew up an' hit him in the face. He gave a spring an' a yell,
an' fell over backwards. He was up again in a second, an' the whole
crowd rushed round to the front. Just as they got there I pulled the
other line. Bang, bang, bang! with a couple of seconds' interval
between each. Well, you never saw a party make such a frantic scamper
for elsewhere as they did. They're deadly afraid of anything they can't
understand. They ran for their natural lives."

Throughout this recital there was not the remotest suggestion of a
smile on his face; he spoke as solemnly as if he were telling of his
grandfather's funeral.

"Did they come back?" asked Sid.

"Not a one of the tribe ever showed near the hut afterwards," said Ben.

He broke a splinter from the wall, and leaning over lit his pipe again
from the lamp. Then, in a listening, thoughtful manner he watched the
tobacco smoke curling towards the ceiling, while the card-players
talked and argued and thumped the table in the next room; and from the
house came the subdued tones of a piano, and now and again the high
notes of a feminine voice.

Watching the recumbent stockman, Sid saw the expression of his face
grow momentarily tense and then relax, as though human eyes looked at
him from the smoke wreaths, and spirit voices spoke to him from the
depths of vanished years. Or was it the voice or the song he faintly
heard that played upon his emotions?

CHAPTER V.

A Memorable Midsummer's Day.

Sid got many a buster during the first few weeks, for the horses were
always fresh in the mornings, and would put down their heads and buck
as soon as he threw his leg across the saddle.

"Get a monkey hold, lad," Ben advised him. "It will help you to stick
on."

The monkey-hold was a small strap buckled through the dees on one side
of the saddle, and used as a grip for the right hand. With this
contrivance the difficulty of riding the "pig-jumpers" was soon
overcome. He was so delighted that he almost fancied he had grown an
inch taller.

From the first he was associated with two pretty girls, having to
attend to their horses when they went for their evening rides. They
were Wilga Bryne, the captain's only daughter, and Myee Norrit, who
belonged to Mooban, a neighbouring squattage, and was at Kanillabar for
schooling. Myee occasionally rode with him after the cows. She was a
warm, vivacious little personality, smart and graceful in form and
action, who joyed in a gallop across hill and dale, with her face
lifted to the gentle wind, filling her healthy lungs with it as it
filled and played with her rich brown tresses. She loved the open air;
to her the bush was a never-ending glory, always sweet and beautiful
with myriad flowers, and musical with the songs of birds. In those
radiant hours the excited glow in her cheeks, and the sparkling,
mischievous eyes gave her a bewitching beauty. She was just about 16 at
this time, but tall, plump, and self-possessed; she was courageous
without being bold; and, above all, she was industrious and handy.

It was not long before Sid felt a warmer, heavier throb in his heart,
and found himself thinking of her when his head was on the pillow.
Still there was never anything in their talk that could be called
lovemaking. They were good friends; but then Myee was a gracious little
lady who had a kind word and a sweet smile for everybody.

With Berkley Hart he did not get on so well. Berkley was not of an
amiable disposition. He was selfish and deceitful; he valued the boss's
favour above everything else, and when the captain and the captain's
girls showed an interest in the lad, Berkley was jealous and
revengeful. Sid was full of pluck, smart and quick-witted; qualities
which, added to the old grudge against the family, made Berkley hate
him.

They did not quarrel, though Berkley had "roused" on his patient help
more than once; but there were many little things that rankled, many
indignities that hurt. Sid did not complain about having to do the
dirty work and the hard jobs while Berkley took it easy; it was the
latter's domineering manner that he most objected to, and his
vindictiveness on being displaced in any little temporary post of
honour that he considered his prerogative.

One day the stockmen were burning off a paddock above the homestead,
and Sid had cantered in for matches. He was walking back through the
garden from the overseer's room, when Myee stepped out of the
shrubbery, clicking a pair of secateurs. In her other hand she carried
a bunch of white wood flowers. At her waist was a blue cluster gathered
from the paddock, and on her head a man's slouch hat. In a soft, cream
coloured dress, against the sheeny green of lapunya foliage, she
presented to his admiring gaze a picture of health and loveliness.

If you had come five minutes sooner you'd have been useful," she said,
brushing back an unruly ringlet from her forehead.

"In what way?" asked Sid.

She held up the flowers, and there was a quizzical smile on her lips as
she looked from them to the whitewood tree and back to him.

"Did you climb for them?"

"I had to; they were too high to reach from the ground. And the old
gardener's always troubled with rheumatics when there's anything like
that to be done. The twinges seize him with remarkable suddenness."

"I wish I'd been there," Sid exclaimed. "It would have been a treat."

"To climb for the flowers?"

"No?"

"What then?"

"To see you climb."

"Oh! Is that all the use you'd have been?" Her forehead wrinkled, and a
light frown clouded her piquant face. "And why would it have been a
treat to see me climb?"

"Well, one doesn't see a pretty girl in a tree every day."

"If everybody were like you," she retorted, "it would not be such a
novelty."

"I didn't mean that," said Sid, more seriously. "You know I would do
anything for you."

"How do I know you would?" came the quick rejoinder.

Nonplussed, he laughed, and thrust his hat back, at the same time
moving close to her side.

"What a tantalising little minx you are!"

"Minx!" Her eyes questioned him saucily.

He pondered it for a moment, while a little dimple formed in the girl's
cheek. Then he said in a low voice:

"That's not what I'd like to call you."

"What would you like to call me?" she promptly asked, her serenity
undisturbed. She had a measure of fearlessness in her composition, a
mixture of innocence and astuteness, that was at times disconcerting.

"I daren't tell you," he said, with a cheerful frankness that made her
laugh.

"Faint heart--" She stopped, and half turned away, looking archly at
him.

His arm flung out suddenly, and before she could define his purpose he
drew her to him in a crushing embrace, and kissed her half a dozen
times on cheek and mouth: then darted away through the shrubbery
towards the gate where he had left his horse.

Myee drew a long breath, and her face flamed crimson at the outrage.

"You impudent wretch!"

Her little foot hit the ground hard, and for awhile she stood looking
after him, her hands clenched at her sides, her eyes flashing fire.
With an indignant motion she tossed back her dishevelled tresses, her
heart beating like a frightened bird's.

Soon the mood changed. Her head drooped, and as she turned slowly
towards the house her mouth softened into a smile.

Sid had meanwhile encountered Berkley in a little arbour, near the
gate. Berkley's business there was evident from his first remark.

"You're earnin' your cheque pretty easy these times."

"You don't pay it, do you?" Sid queried.

"Don't give me any cheek," Berkley snapped back. "I'm paid to see that
you earn it; anyway."

"I'm with the overseer to day," Sid reminded him.

"I sent you with him," was the quick retort.

"He told you to, I suppose?"

"No; he asked me."

"That's the same thing with a boss."

Berkley regarded him with a gleam of contemptuous humour, while there
was more than a touch of arrogance in his demeanour.

"He asked me if I could spare you."

Sid was silent, and Berkley saw that he had scored. He was not a
product of democratic Australia, and it pleased him to humble the
spirit of his subordinate.

"Nice carryings on," Berkley continued, pleasantly, following him
through, the gate. "Insultin' a girl of the house."

"I didn't insult her," Sid protested.

"Perhaps you think you paid her a high compliment?" Berkley sneered.
"The captain won't think so, anyway."

Sid flushed angrily at the veiled threat, but he said quietly:

"The captain doesn't know; and if she doesn't tell him it won't be wise
for anybody else to mention it."

"Why not?" sharply.

"Suppose she denied that such a thing happened?"

For a moment Berkley glared at him, his teeth set hard. Then he said:
"Perhaps you'll deny that you're dallyin' about here instead o' doin'
what you were sent to do?"

The boy's lips twitched at the thought that Berkley had intercepted and
detained him; but he swung into the saddle without further argument,
and cantered away. Wolgan Bight paddock was formed by a semi-circular
sweep of Mooeen Creek, and a line of fence across the neck. In this
bight the fire was raging fiercely. Ben Bruce and the overseer had gone
along the fence, lighting the grass; and four aborigines followed after
them, quelling the flames with boughs as they swept through the
barrier. The wind was blowing into the bight, and so the back fire
travelling against it was easily put out. Sid and a blackfellow brought
up the rear, chopping off burning portions of the posts and rails with
tomahawks, and leading their horses.

They had been at this some time when the overseer galloped up, his face
flushed and blackened.

"Who lit the grass at the top?" he cried, pulling up sharply.

"I don't know," Sid answered. "We've only just noticed it."

Rod Bryne muttered to himself as he turned in his saddle and looked
along the sweeping blaze. Then he said: "You've got a good horse, Sid.
(I can't trust mine.) Do you think you could gallop into the bight
before the fire gets there?"

Sid looked up in surprise, vaguely wondering what madcap's errand he
was to be sent on.

"Old Ben is fair in that corner--perhaps unaware of this top fire. He
can't swim--and he's on a young horse. There'll be no getaway on this
side in a minute, and that fire has cut off all chance of escape at the
top. . . . If you think you can't manage it, let me have your horse and
I'll go. . . . He's an old camp-horse, and will carry two over the
creek--"

Sid waited to hear no more--though Rod had dismounted, but dropped his
tomahawk and sprang into the saddle. The gap in the fire line was
rapidly closing, the hissing flames singeing the horse as he bounded
through. For awhile it was a wild race, the long, fiery tongues leaping
out as if they were living things endeavouring to cut off the rider.
But the old horse responded gamely to the touch of the rowels, and with
ears laid back, sped unfalteringly through smothering smoke.

There was still a narrow strip of unburnt grass along the creek. The
air was thick with smoke and cinders, and half suffocated and blinded,
Sid galloped down between a broad sheet of deep water and a long ridge
of flames. The strip diminished quickly, forcing him every moment
closer to the brink of the creek.

Nearing the point, and seeing he could go no farther, he coo-eed, and
listened. An answering coo-ee came from the creek a little below him.
He jogged and slided down the steep bank, and presently saw Ben Bruce
clinging to a snag. The fire was already leaping over the top of the
bank, and red cinders dropped hissing in the water.

The horse plunged straight in, and swam away like a dog.

"Quick, Ben!" cried Sid, as he came to the snag. Reaching out, he
caught the man's hand, and helped him to a seat behind the saddle. They
swam down-stream to a place where the bank rose gradually from the
water's edge, and landing there they threw themselves down on the soft
sand.

"Where's your horse" asked Sid.

"At the bottom of the creek."

"Drowned?"

"He was only a colt, but quiet an' strong, an' I thought he'd pull me
through. I didn't see the fire at the top till it had cut me off, an'
there was no get-out except by crossin' the creek. I can't swim a
stroke; but I reckoned it was better to be drowned than roasted. So I
sent him into it, an' hang me if he didn't go straight to the bottom. I
got to that snag somehow, an' clung to it like a barnacle. It was lucky
you came, lad--I was getting cramped, . . . an' the flames--look! they're
leaping right round where I was."

"It's a wonder you didn't hear me coming," said Sid, watching the
flames shooting far out from the tall rushes that grew along the edge.

"There was too much noise to hear anything," Ben rejoined. "The smoke
had me a bit flummoxed, too."

When the fire had burned out, a troop of horsemen, headed by Rod Bryne,
galloped down to the opposite bank.

"Hulloo!" cried Rod. "How are you?"

"Not quite cooked yet," Ben shouted. "Who fired that grass at the top?"

"Berkley Hart." The wind had freshened after Sid left the homestead,
and the captain had sent Berkley out to see if the men wanted any more
help; and seeing the unburnt strip at the top corner, Berkley had
promptly helped by running a connecting line of fire across it.

CHAPTER VI.

A Child of the Wild.

Sid was cleaning his gear in the saddle room. The place was clean and
tidy, and everything in it spic-and-span. Berkley had drilled him
rigidly from the commencement. Always natty in himself, Berkley saw
that everything under his control was kept in proper trim; and with it
all he was as fussy and fidgetty as a crusty old maid. If he detected a
dry bridle rein or girth, an unclean saddle-flap, or a dirty stirrup-
iron, he hauled it down savagely, and inquired of the negligent
rouseabout what he meant by it. The stockmen looked after their own
riding gear, the carters their own harness; but under Berkley's care
was the buggy harness, the saddles and bridles of the boss, the
overseer and the girls, besides his own and Sid's, all of which had
bright stirrups and bits, providing plenty of occupation for odd hours
and wet days! Loitering and idleness on the part of his assistant were
intolerant to Berkley; he could not content himself at anything if
there was a suspicion in his mind that the one person he was privileged
to boss was not working.

Just then Berkley was on his bunk at the other end of the shed, deeply
absorbed in a racing novel. On the table, convenient to his hand, were
the captain's heavy spurs and a piece of chamois leather. The door,
which faced the horseyard, was shut. If the captain or the overseer
happened on the scene, Berkley would step forth, industriously
polishing the persuaders.

Ben Bruce, who had finished early, sauntered in where Sid was engaged,
and perched himself on a saddle-rack.

"I think you'll soon be done with that job, Sid," he remarked, lighting
his pipe.

"Why?"

"We want another hand for mustering; an' the captain was inquiring
after Brumby, the black boy, this morning. He's kept Brumby since he
was a piccaninny, an' he reckons it's about time Brumby began to put
something on the other side of the ledger."

"I'll, pity him if he's under Berkley," said Sid.

"Berkley won't do what he likes with Brumby," Ben declared. "A job's
nothing to Brumby; he'd sooner be without it of anything; and if
Berkley's too hard on him he'll clear back to camp without asking
leave--"

He stopped abruptly as Myee entered, and took the pipe from his mouth
as though he had been doing wrong in smoking it. She nodded, pleasantly
to him, and as she was passing she half stopped and looked again; while
Ben, in marked contrast to his wonted serenity, looked mightily
confused.

Sid was applying himself energetically to his task. It was his first
meeting with Myee since the incident in the garden, and he had some
misgivings as to his reception.

"You're very busy all at once!"

She stood before him, straight, imperious, a light stockwhip held
behind her, a gloved hand gripping each end of the polished gidgee
handle.

"Are you going for the cows?" she asked as he straightened up.

"In a minute or two," stooping over his work again and rubbing
furiously.

"Will you saddle my pony for me, please?"

The wintry chill of her voice was decidedly discouraging.

Sid threw down the rag he was using, and reached for a double-reined
bridle hanging on a peg behind him.

"When you're ready," she added. "I am going with you."

She looked straight into his face without the tremor of an eyelash; the
mouth was firm, but a twinkle lurked in the fearless blue eyes.

All the while Ben watched her with a peculiar light in his face that
suggested a deep desire for something he could not reach, an eagerness
for something he could not have. It seemed to the young fellow, who
knew something of his moods, that he yearned to clasp the girl in his
arms, yet shrank from her. As she went out to the yard he drew the back
of his hand across his wrinkled brow as if in an effort to brush away
some painful memory. He slipped off the saddle rack without speaking,
and walked slowly to the door. There he stopped short, and his form
stiffened. Almost instantly he stepped back, slewing into the corner.
He stood there looking at a pair of spurs as Sid went into the yard to
catch the horses.

A trooper had ridden up to the gate and dismounted. It transpired
subsequently that he was looking for a blackfellow who had killed
another in a spear duel near Tibbonong.

When Sid re-entered the saddle room Ben had vanished. He knew the man
had not gone out by the door, as that opened into the yard. The only
other way he could have got out was by climbing over the slab partition
into the chaff room, at one end of which was a stack of hay reaching
nearly to the roof. Why he should have done that was a puzzle that
occupied his thoughts until he was ready to start.

Myee, who rode man-fashion, mounted without assistance. She was no
sooner outside the gate than she set off at a gallop, and she never
drew rein until she reached the bottom corner of the home paddock, two
miles from the yard. As she pulled up she leaned forward and laughed.

"I've been wanting that gallop for a week,"--with a roguish glance at
her companion.

"We've passed the cows a mile," he remonstrated.

"What odds! We'll gallop back to them."

"Let the poor brute get his breath first," Sid enjoined. "There's no
hurry."

"That's good. I wish we had all day and were going right away over the
hills. If they would only let me go mustering."

"You'd have to camp out--"

"That would be delicious. I camp out sometimes in the garden when the
nights are hot."

"By yourself!"

"Wilga and I--and sometimes Miss Danz. It's just lovely under the stars;
but it would be much nicer away out in the glorious bush, right away
where there's nothing to remind you of civilisation and its horrid
conventionalities, its narrowness and hypocrisies; where everything is
natural and pure and sweet."

"Right back to the primitive," suggested Sid; "the life of the
aborigines?"

"Not that; but I love nature; I like to be out among the wild birds and
the flowers and trees. I would rather study them than weary my poor
brain with Latin and Greek and French. After an hour of French grammar
I want to race the wind--to climb a tree"--with a defiant side-glance at
her cavalier. "My poor dad never bothered with foreign languages. He
used to say that he could swear quite enough in English."

"Your father is dead, isn't he?"

"The law proclaimed him dead," answered Myee. "But lots of people say
the law is an ass."

"And isn't he really dead?"

"He disappeared--how or where we don't know. His horse came back with
trailing bridle, and a stirrup-leather missing from the saddle. It was
supposed that he was thrown, or perished in the bush; but no trace of
him was ever found. We were at Byndoora, our own squattage on the Logan
River, at the time. My uncle, Bede Lowan looks after it now; mother
left it and went to stay with the Brynes at Mooban. That was before the
Captain bought Kanillabar. Dr. Cudgen was also staying there; in the
end he purchased Mooban. . . and mother married him. The Brynes came to
Kanillabar soon after, and I came with them."

"That's strange," said Sid, musingly. "We've been tarred with the one
brush, you and I; for my father was also lost in the bush."

"I suppose he is legally dead, too?"

"No; something seems to tell me that he is living with the blacks--far
out somewhere; and perhaps some day I will find him. Don't you ever
think that your father might be living too?'

"It's hardly possible. I imagine all kinds of things that might have
befallen him; and sometimes I dream that he lives, and then I hope that
he is dead and at rest."

"Why?" he asked, softly, struck by the grave expression that had come
into her face.

"Don't you think it would be awful if he turned up some day--for him?"

"Why?" he asked again.

"If you were married and by some means got separated from your wife for
years, would you like to return and find her the wife of another man?"

"No," said Sid, "I wouldn't like it; neither would the other fellow."

By this time they were rounding up the cows. They had barely got them
together when Myee exclaimed: "Look! there's a dingo!" and set after
him at full gallop. Sid followed, watching the hard-riding, reckless
equestrienne with deep concern as she dashed through clumps of small
trees and bounded over logs. The pony was speedy, and did his very
utmost in response to her urging hands and furiously jabbing little
heel; but the dingo had too much start, and escaped in a fringe of
brush on the creek bank.

"What a pity we didn't see him sooner and turn him into the open," she
said regretfully. Her cheeks were glowing, her hair tumbled about her
neck.

"Look here!" Sid objected; "this won't do, you know. You'll be getting
a buster."

"Well, that will be my funeral, won't it?"

"But I am supposed to be looking after you when you're out with me," he
protested.

Her burst of laughter rang in silvery, peals along the scrub.

"Dear monitor!" she said with mock seriousness. "I must consider your
feelings. . . . I'm sure I must be a dreadful responsibility."

"We're a mile from the cows again," he observed irrelevantly.

"Oh, those cows!" And again her merry laugh rippled forth. "Never mind;
we'll get them home before morning."

The shades of the trees were stretching across the grey grass, and in
the cooling air and the softening light of the waning afternoon she
rode with radiant face, her soul exulting. Sitting straight, her body
swaying slightly to the movements of the horse, she gazed beyond the
home paddocks, into the blue immensity where the wedgetail eagles flew,
with the wistful look of a little savage in exile. For a child of the
wild was she, in whom the heredity of far off ages pulsed strongly, and
whose heart rebelled against the conventions of her own times. The joy
and the freedom of the bush were in her veins, and she would gladly
have tarried till daylight died.

As they neared the road, with their mob stepping briskly homeward,
Jake, the mailman, came jogging across the flat. He was the only
regular visitor to the outback settlements, a welcome one wherever he
went, who arrived within the hour, week after week. He could claim
that, through winter and summer, in drought and flood, he had never
been an hour late anywhere on his long and lonely round. Unofficially
he was general messenger, and a travelling intelligence bureau for the
backblocks. Jake talked to everybody he met, from the baby in arms to
the hoary centenarian, to friends and strangers alike, to black and
white of both sexes. If he had no news to tell, he filled the breach
with pleasantries, or a bush yarn.

It was part of Sid's duties to look after his horses, and to have a
fresh relay ready fed and groomed in the stable, for after an early tea
he rode on to Bogalby, another neighbouring squattage.

"Hulloa, Sid! You seem to be doin' well in this country," was Jake's
greeting, and he looked across at the girl with one eye shut.

"Not bad," Sid responded. "How are you?"

"Well, I'm not as young as you, boy; for all that I wouldn't mind
takin' it on myself."

His gaze was still directed towards the girl, a grin on his face. Myee
was chasing in a truant calf at the side.

"You can commission me any time you want a bit of jewellery," he added.

"What would I want jewellery for?" Sid inquired innocently.

Jake held up a finger, on which was an opal ring. "When a young chap
and a pretty girl go cow-hunting simultaneously," he replied, it
generally comes to jewellery."

"If her people thought that, she wouldn't be here," was the young
chap's rejoinder.

"The old ones sometimes forget when they were young," Jake reflected.
"She's rather inclined to have her own way, though, isn't she?"

"She likes plenty of rein; but she's a good girl."

"Of course she is," decisively.

"Jolly pretty girl, too, Sid," with a quizzical side look at his
companion. "And she knows her way about, the same little Miss Norrit."

Myee now came up; and they rode along together, discussing the news
that the genial mailman had gathered in his travels.

CHAPTER VII.

When the Frost was on the Grass.

The winter with its frosty mornings and biting winds had come; bleak in
particular on the plains and on the clear hills for the horse-boy, who
had to have the stock horses in the yard by sunrise; and to Jake, the
mailman, riding early and late, hunched in his saddle, with numbed
fingers and toes and tingling ears.

The men were preparing for a mustering tour, and on the eve of setting
out the captain called Sid from the buggy-shed, where he had been
washing wheels and greasing axles.

The captain was standing in front of the office, and as Sid approached
he eyed him in his customary studious fashion; his scrutiny, in fact,
continued for seconds after the young fellow had come to a standstill.
Meanwhile he stroked his beard thoughtfully. Most people liked the
captain at sight; though he had a ferocious aspect, there was humour in
it; but his silent, meditative stare was disconcerting to new hands.

Sid was about to ask if he wanted him, when the captain said, without
lifting his gaze:

"Ride in those boots?"

"Yes." Sid looked down in surprise at his footwear.

"Broken in the soles, aren't they?"

"Yes," he admitted, "they're beginning to go."

"Not safe," said the captain with a shake of his head. "Liable to catch
in the stirrup. Better get a new pair."

The captain sold boots--price exorbitant; but at the moment he was
doubtless innocent of any thought of personal gain.

Sid, with an eye to economy, said he would get a special pair for
riding, and use the old ones for knocking about in the yards and
stables.

"Er--think you could ride the outlaw?" the captain asked presently.

The outlaw was the most notorious buck-jumper on Kanillabar. Several of
the crack stockmen had tried to break him of his vicious habits, and
had given him up.

Sid hesitated. "I'll try if you want me to," he replied.

"Think you could ride him?" the captain repeated. Recollecting that
only a decisive answer, one way or the other, would satisfy the old
gentleman, he answered in the affirmative. He was quite sure he would
be thrown in two seconds, but he could not say no.

The captain took a few slow steps away and back again. "By-an'-bye," he
said, shaking his head. "By-an'-bye."

Sid was not disappointed. The captain's next words made him feel highly
elated.

"You'll go with the stockmen to-morrow; your wages will be twenty-five
bob a week from now."

Sid thanked him for the unexpected rise.

"When you sit the outlaw on a cold morning you'll get thirty," the
captain added.

Sid, finished now with cleaning and grooming, went straight across to
Ben Bruce, who was sitting on the doorstep washing his clothes in a
bucket. The old man was so pleased that he shook hands with him,
forgetting that his own hand was wet with soapsuds.

"If you've any clothes to wash, you'd better get busy," he advised him.
"We'll be starting early."

Sid got busy at once. He had done his own washing and sewing since he
left Morella. He made his clothes last as long as possible, and many a
night he and the head stockman sat on their bunks, working with needle
and thread. When a garment was no longer wearable, the buttons were cut
off and put in a tin, which was the property of both, and the best
parts of the fabric were washed and put by for patches. They cut each
other's hair, and in other ways were good bush mates.

In the middle of his washing, Berkley Hart, who had missed him from the
shed, discovered his whereabouts, and came across at a brisk pace.

"What sort a' caper is this?" he shouted angrily. "Didn't I tell you to
wash an' grease that buggy?"

"That's Brumby's work," Sid answered. He spoke with his usual quietness
and civility, but it must be confessed that the situation engendered a
little thrill of satisfaction.

Berkley stiffened as though an electric battery had been applied to
him.

"What do you mean?" he demanded.

"I'm one of the stockmen," said Sid.

"Ho! A stockman, are you? Who said so?"

"The captain."

"He didn't tell me anything about it"--sulkily.

"Didn't he? I thought he would have asked you if you could spare me."

Sid kept on serenely with his washing, but at the gentle rub it came to
an abrupt end. Berkley kicked the bucket over and grasped him violently
by the shirt collar.

"Cheek me, you pup, will you!" he hissed, lifting him to his feet and
shaking him with all his might.

Suddenly Sid's fist shot out, and Berkley hit the ground with the back
of his head. He was up again in an instant, and rushed at his late
henchman in a blind rage, only to meet a blow that sent him reeling
against the wall. So far as weight and strength were concerned, they
were well matched. Sid, however, knew how to use his hands, having many
a time put the gloves on with Joe Steel, the storekeeper in Wonnaroo,
who, in his young days, had been a lightweight pugilist. Berkley had no
science at all. He was a bully, and, like all bullies, he was easily
cowed.

With diminished fire he shaped up a third time. A hard left in the eye
and a right punch in the mouth, promptly sent him back against the
wall, and he subsided slowly into a sitting posture.

Ben, who had stood in the doorway, silently watching the contest, now
stepped down.

"You'd better shake hands now, an' let bygones be bygones," he advised.

Sid held out his hand, but Berkley got up smartly and walked away,
secretly vowing vengeance against "that Warri cub."

The cub finished his washing, fitted himself with a new pair of boots
at the store, and employed the rest of the afternoon in cutting out a
fall and plaiting a cracker for his whip, cleaning out the room, and
scrubbing the floor. His clothes and what else he needed for the trip
were placed ready to roll up in his blankets in the morning. Ben put in
a supply of tobacco and matches, whilst some of the other men,
especially the blacks, included a pack of cards.

Sid appreciated the change that relieved him of horse-hunting in the
greyness of breaking-day. Still, early rising was a requisite virtue on
Kanillabar. Most of the sleeping apartments of the white men were
arranged on either side of the big dining room. No crockery was used in
the hut, tin plates and pannikins taking its place; and Ned Young, the
cook, threw these on to the table with a clatter that left no one with
an excuse for oversleeping himself. A clangous bell, vigorously rung at
front and back, completed the morning din. Sometimes Ned slept late,
but he never let the boss know it. On such occasions he rung the bell
as soon as he got up, and got the breakfast ready after.

While the frost was yet on the grass the stock horses trotted across
the plain on the way to Glenboon. A blackfellow rode in front, the
horses followed, and, behind them in pairs and groups rode a dozen
musterers.

Only a faint bridle-track led to the sub squattage, winding among the
trees like the twistings of a snake. It led them past an aboriginal
village, where several naked blackboys amused themselves throwing
waddies and toy spears at the passing horses, whilst their adult
compatriots loudly remonstrated with them. Two or three were stretched
on their backs in hive-shaped gunyahs, chanting a corroboree song for
the edification of half a dozen promising juvenile vocalists; some
chopping out boomerangs and shields on a log; others paring and
smoothing the rough-hewn implements with pieces of broken glass.

A halt was made for lunch on the bank of a midway creek, and it was
near sundown when Glenboon was reached. The hut, untenanted, was
begrimed and falling to ruin; the walls draped with spiders' webs, the
shutters broken, the doors hanging skew-wise on rusty hinges; whilst
soiled rags and mouldy scraps of paper bestrewed the earthen floor.

Little was done to improve it beyond the building of a huge log fire,
around which the men gathered as the chill night closed in. After tea,
songs were sung, the overseer and some of the black stockmen
contributing to the gaiety of the evening. Sid could sing well for a
lad, and in that impromptu concert he was particularly happy.

Mustering commenced early next day, the men spreading out and meeting
again hours later on some well-known camp with the mobs they had
collected. The cattle camps were merely clear spots, generally sandy
mounds, or small flats dotted with a few trees, where the cattle were
gathered into one great mob, and those that were wanted drafted out on
horseback. A final drafting through the yards completed the usual day's
work. The branding was done in the morning, the fires being lit, and
the brands heated before the day had dawned. Then into the saddles
again, and off to another part of the wide run for more cattle.

The last herd was rounded up on a spot known as Millawah Camp. Broad,
miry pools and deep holes hidden among a wilderness of cane grass and
lignum partly surrounded it. The cattle were a wild lot, and the
mustering of them from stony ridges and scrubby ranges had been hard on
men and horses.

"Now, then, you boys, look alive there!" cried the overseer, as he
spurred his foam flecked bay into their midst. Then cries of "Stop that
heifer!" "Block the steer!" "Look out for the roan!" "Weaner wanted!"
mingled with the deep burring of bulls, the lowing of cows and calves,
the cracking of stockwhips, the lusty shouts of leather lunged men, and
the ceaseless tramp and clatter of ten thousand hoofs.

Near the finish a red bullock broke out, and Ben endeavoured to wheel
it towards the "yard mob." Instead of turning, it charged the horse,
horning it in the hind quarters. The horse kicked frantically, then
bounded over a fallen tree, and landing with its head down, bucked so
furiously that Ben, taken unawares, was quickly unseated.

He lay stunned on the brink of a deep pond. The bullock stood a few
paces away, trembling and shaking its head; then, with a savage snort,
it rushed forward.

Sid was not far away at the moment; but the huge trunk of the fallen
tree lay between them. There was no time to round it, yet it looked
like a broken neck to attempt to jump it with a tired horse. Still he
rode him full gallop at it.

The game animal groaned with the effort, and though he crashed through
a projecting limb and broke the crupper and a girth, he got over
safely.

The bullock had dropped on its knees, trying to gore the unconscious
man with its curved horns. A cold tremor shot through the rider's
frame, his cheeks tingled and his eyes grew hot; then, clenching his
teeth, and gripping the reins tightly, he galloped at the brute's neck.
Striking it with the chest of his horse, the three floundered into the
pool, the water and spray rising yards above them.

Sid was first to the surface, and scrambled out just as Rod Bryne rode
up to where Ben lay verging into consciousness.

"Well done, old man!" he cried, breathlessly. "You did that fine. Catch
your horse now before he gets away."

While still dripping wet, blue-cold and shivering, he remounted, and
went after Ben's horse. By the time he returned Ben had recovered, and
save for a few bruises and cuts and a rough shaking, he was not much
the worse for his mishap.

"That's the second time you've saved me, old boy," he said, as they
rode back to the mob, "an' may I perish if I forget it!"

CHAPTER VIII.

The Man who Never Laughed.

Ben Bruce was comparatively a silent man. A matter over which his
associates would talk for a week he dismissed with a few words, and
never referred to it again except incidentally. Once dropped, it was
buried as completely as his past life was buried. He did not forget a
good turn; but he returned the favour, when opportunity offered,
without mentioning the obligation. Though sociable in his quiet way,
and good natured, he seldom smiled, and none of the men he worked with
had ever known him to laugh, he talked to Sid more than to anyone else,
mostly when they were riding by themselves, or in their room at night.
Fits of brooding were more frequent with him than cheeriness. For that
reason nobody hankered after his company. Had not chance thrown them
together at the outset, Sid would probably have treated him with the
same diffidence as the rest.

He had come to know that his peculiar mate was a man of sterling worth.
He liked him and trusted him. For all that, there was a mystery about
him that Sid could not fathom. Little incidents happened from time to
time that set him thinking, and seeking, vainly, to learn something of
Ben's history.

The men had been back at the homestead about a week when Luke Cudgen,
of Mooban, who had come on a brief visit, accosted Ben as he was riding
towards the stable.

"Hi!" he called, from the back corner of the store. "My horse is down
the paddock there with the saddle on. Run him into the yard, will you?"

Sid, who had preceded him a few minutes, and was putting his gear away
in the saddleroom, saw the old man grip his reins tightly, and turn
aggressively towards the speaker.

"Run your d--horse in, yourself!" he snapped, in a low, deep voice, and
galloped furiously into the yard, pulling up with a jerk that evoked
protesting snorts from the astonished animal.

It was the first time Sid had ever heard him swear; he had never known
him before to act discourteously.

He swung to the ground with a violent motion that still further
startled the horse, tore off the saddle and bridle, and flung them
savagely into the room. This in itself was a surprising diversion, for
no one was more careful of his gear than the head stockman. He was more
particular over those things than he was about his clothes or his
personal appearance. And having disposed of them in that unwonted
fashion, he strode rapidly across to the hut, muttering to himself, and
clenching his hands, and jerking his elbows as he went.

Dr. Cudgen stood for a couple of minutes with an ugly look on his face.
He was a tall man, slightly stooped, bony and sharp featured. He had
large, projecting ears and a bull-neck; the centre of his flat pate was
a glistening desert, his facial hair very short and very thin. He had
tied his horse up on arrival at the garden fence, expecting it to be
attended to, and it had rubbed the bridle off. There was no visible
assistance at the moment; the captain and the overseer had gone to
Bogalby, the groom was cutting chaff, and Brumby, the black boy, was
after the cows.

Dr. Cudgen was meditating whether to go after the runaway himself or go
back to the house, when Jake, the mailman, appeared opportunely on the
opposite hill. He brought the animal along with him, and Sid took
advantage of the interval to slip away unseen by the aggrieved owner.

Ben did not come to tea that evening. When Jake and Sid emerged from
the dining-room they saw him pacing up and down the fence of the little
paddock at the back of the hut, his head drooping dejectedly, his hands
thrust into his trouser pockets.

Jake tapped his forehead with his finger. "Seems to be gettin' worse."

"I've never seen him like that before," said Sid, concernedly. "And I
can't understand what put him out so."

"Had a bit of a brush with the doctor, I believe," said Jake, moving
off towards the stable, where his horses were waiting.

"What, is this Dr. Cudgen?" asked Sid, walking with him.

"He was an army surgeon, so they say, He doesn't practise, 'cept now
an' again in emergency cases. Chucked the profession for the
goldfields--an' after he'd got some good divvies out of them he struck
an all right claim in Widow Norrit. He's been on some good wickets in
his time, by all accounts; but he was always a rovin' spirit, an' it
was the widow that really set him up. I think she must be managing
director, for when Luke married her an' started squatting he didn't
know a cow from a bull."

"Where did he marry her?"

"At Mooban--or Byndoora. I'm not sure which."

"Was Ben Bruce ever on either of those places?"

"He may have called at Byndoora, but he was never on Mooban. I passed
him on the road when he was coming out here; he told me he'd come from
the diggings down Gympie way. He had a digger's kit on his pack horse.
He was walkin' an' leadin' the quadruped--travellin' dead slow, an'
inquirin' into the geology of the territory he was passin' through."

"Perhaps he met Cudgen on the diggings?" Sid suggested.

"If he did, Cudgen's forgotten him. He asked me who the obstreporous
person was, what he did, how long he's been here, an' where he came
from. Seemed to want to know quite a lot about Benjamin; but I had the
royal mail to deliver, an' couldn't stop. I never could cotton on to
Luke. He's about as handsome as a gorilla when he's lookin' his best;
an' when he's just been told to run his darned horse up himself he
looks positively unpleasant. How a fine lookin' woman, with a good home
an' independent means, came to throw herself away on him, I can't make
out."

"Was Ben Bruce acquainted with her?" asked Sid.

"I think not," said Jake. "I've had more than one chat with her about
the people here, an' the old fellow's name didn't enlighten her any
more than it did the doctor. A woman doesn't batten her secrets down as
tightly as a man does; an' if they'd been mixed up in an early romance,
I take it as a natural sequence that she'd be usin' some interrogation
marks after hearin of his whereabouts."

"I can't get it out of my mind," Sid went on, "that there's some old
score between them. Ben is a kindly sort, and obligin--"

"An' peculiar," added Jake.

"--And a simple request by a stranger to run up a horse could hardly
make him act as he did," Sid concluded.

"Well, no," said Jake thoughtfully; "but there's a general suspicion
that the old chap isn't all there; an' there's no accountin' for a man
who is a shingle short. He's the only one on my track who's got no use
for a mailman. The loneliest boundary-rider gets a pill pamphlet
sometimes to relieve the monotony, an' even Mrs. Bill Bunty's baby gets
a birthday card, or some trifle per parcels post from its lovin' aunt;
but old Ben isn't worth as much as a ha' penny stamp per annum to the
department. Queerest card I've struck, is Ben."

Sid thought of the stockman's strange conduct at the stables when the
police trooper had ridden into the yard, and for the manyth time the
query intruded, why was he afraid of the police? Ben had not spoken a
word to him about that matter; neither had Sid mentioned it to Jake
Gowrie. But it helped him to see more than the mailman could see, to
understand that there was a skeleton in the closet that accounted for
much in the man's eccentric demeanour. Whatever the secret was, it
prompted a sleepless desire for seclusion, for he was never so care-
free and self-possessed as when out on the run. Rumour had it that many
men who had risked their liberties, or who had run away from unadorable
wives, lived on the outer fringe of settlement to avoid the police.
Perhaps Ben was one of these. But where and in what way had Luke Cudgen
incurred his animosity?

Sid was still puzzling over these things when he returned to the hut.
It was then night. A few paces from his room door was the solitary
figure of his mate, hands still in pockets, standing straight and
motionless as a post.

The, air was frosty, but suffused with the nutty fragrance of the
surrounding forest. Soft sounds came across the flat--the weird cry of
the myrlumbing, the croaking of frogs, the lowing of cows on far-off
hills, the call of a distant bird.

"Do you hear the swans?" said Ben, without moving. He stood with bare
head, looking up at the stars, under which the black swans passed from
time to time, their great wings beating with a faint, whistling sound,
and their occasional call notes dying away across the eastern ridges.

As Sid stopped and looked up, Ned Young, the cook, who had just
finished for the night, stepped out from the verandah and joined him.

"Great travellers," he remarked authoritatively. "And they take your
thoughts with them of a night--to the old homestead down east, an' the
dear girl who put her clingin' little arms round your neck, an' swore
she'd die for you--an' then went off an' married some one else."

"Is that the way your girl treated you, Ned?" laughed Sid.

"It's what most of them do," the cook answered. "Don't they, Ben?"

"No," Ben disagreed in a sort of growl. "If your girl jilted you,
perhaps she had good reason to."

"I'm not sayin' I was jilted," the cook retorted. "So far's I'm
personally concerned, it might have been the other way about."

'Then you ought to be ashamed of yourself!" And having gruffly
expressed himself in these words, Ben went inside and slammed the door.

The cook glared at the door as though he had half a mind to go and kick
it.

"If I had that sort of disposition," he commented, "I'd keep pigs."

'What would you keep the pigs for?' asked Sid.

"So's I'd have congenial company," said Ned. "A man who falls out with
his tucker, an' can't be respectful five minutes, is a misfit among
sociable folk."

"We don't know what's behind it, Ned."

"There's no common-sense behind it! An' what's he know about girls, a
disgruntled person like him?" the cook demanded. "Tellin' me I ought to
be ashamed, after the exhibition he's been makin' of himself! If you
ask me, he doesn't know what's what half his time."

"He's all right--"

"When he's not all wrong," the cook chipped in, lighting his pipe, and
puffing noisily. "Perhaps he'd like me to take his tea in for him, an'
coax him to have it like a sick wife. It's in the kitchen if he wants
it; an' if he doesn't like to go an' get it he can leave it alone.
Won't worry me if he never has it. The less he eats the less there'll
be to cook."

He looked again at the door, while he filled the immediate atmosphere
with tobacco smoke.

"I can't stand cantankerous people," he went on presently. "Nor people
with fads. There's Harry Thorn--must have the same knife an' the same
pannikin every meal time. Holds it up to see if his name is on the
bottom before he drinks a mouthful of tea. He's a good fellow in every
way--except he wants his pannikin. An' there's Charley Clay, who always
wants the same seat at table, an' kicks up a fuss when he comes in late
an' finds somebody has jumped his claim. He's got his initials cut in
the table where he puts his plate--which spoils the look of the
furniture. Th' table's been there a matter of seventeen years, an' was
originally made out of a piano case by a botch carpenter. All the same,
Charley Clay's initials don't improve it. An' there's his nibs here--
flies off the handle an' won't have any tea because a visitor presumes
to make use of him in a small way; an' slams the door in my face
because I didn't get married when I had the option. Well, well! It's a
queer world we live in."

"It would be a dull world if everybody were alike, Ned. Variety is the
spice of life."

"That's so," the cook conceded. "But there's some varieties that
wouldn't be missed much if they were struck off the programme. Are you
comin' into the fire Sid?"

"No, I'm going to bunk, Ned. Good night."

CHAPTER IX.

A Taste of the Primitive.

Kanillabar was mustering again in December, this time on the western
boundary of the run, where the scarcity of water occasioned heavy work
through the dry season. The boundary was merely a line of rugged
ranges, where wild scrub cattle mingled at times with the squattage
stock. Beyond was the unknown territory where Claude Warri was lost.
How far away and in what direction the old squatter had disappeared,
Sid could only guess. He had long looked forward to that trip, and he
was lucky in that the musterers went farther out than was their custom,
for their object was to capture some of the wild herds. These kept to
the ranges and scrubs, coming out only at night, for the white men
harassed them on one side, and the blacks inhabiting the other side
speared them whenever a chance offered.

There were neither huts nor yards in this part. The men made their
night camps where feed and water were availlable, disdaining tents
except on stormy nights. Calves were caught and branded in the open;
the drafted cattle were watched at night, and fed along through the day
to the next camping place.

Lying under a tree, looking up at the star's, Sid thought of the lost
explorer when the camp was hushed; and daylong he searched for traces
through gorge and gully, in scrub and clearing. Ultimately he made a
discovery that gave him hope.

A mob of scrubbers was being brought down from a small plateau, and he
was riding along on the right wing, when he came upon a deep rockhole,
near which a broad clearing and some decaying sticks suggested an
aboriginal camping ground. On a gidgee tree, standing against the face
of beetling rocks, were the letters "C. W." The cuts were very old,
perhaps years old; but at sight of them he checked his horse, for they
were his father's initials.

Many thoughts flashed through his mind in a few seconds. If Claude
Warri had come thus far, to the border of his own run, what had
prevented him reaching home? Perhaps it was summer time, when there was
usually a wide stretch of dry country to cross, and he had perished for
want of water; perhaps he had cut the letters there before he had
started on his disastrous exploring expedition; perhaps some musterer,
whose initials were the same, had carved them there--

A shout from the overseer broke suddenly on his reflections. The cattle
had split into two mobs, and they were rushing down two parallel spurs
towards a dense scrub. Sid set off in pursuit, leaping and sliding down
rocky steeps, and galloping where the broken course permitted. As he
reached the edge of the scrub he saw two of the blacks dash into it on
the other spur.

The crashing of dead timber and the reefing of boughs guided him in the
wake of the herd; but in a few minutes similar sounds reached him from
the rear. Slewing in his seat, his left hand holding the horse's mane,
he stood and listened. Then a yell rang sharply out of the gorge
between the two spurs, and the nature of the disturbance was explained.
The blackmen had turned the other mob, which was now rushing down on
his tracks. In a moment the undergrowth just behind him became
violently agitated, and through the interstices he caught stray
glimpses of white and the gleam of horns.

He began a desperate ride through the brush; thinking if he could keep
in front of the runaways he would be able to turn them in the clear.
But an impish fate had arranged matters quite differently. In an
innocent-looking cluster of soft foliage was hidden a small but tough
vine, which, as he slid swiftly down a steep incline, caught him
sharply round the neck. In a twinkling he was toppled out of the saddle
and dropped with a crash among the bushes.

He was quickly on his feet; but his horse was gone, and the cattle were
close upon him. A friendly tree was the only means of escape; but even
as he clutched a low limb to swing himself up, a wild red bull leaped
down the slope, and with a savage snort swept him from his hold.
Luckily he rolled under a sheltering rock at the bottom, where he lay,
bleeding from an ugly horn-wound in the thigh, until the mob had
passed.

Binding his neckerchief tightly round the wound, he limped slowly down
through the scrub, listening from time to time for the crack of a whip,
or a shout that would indicate the whereabouts of his mates. The latter
had ridden down the hollows where the way was clearer; and when the
sounds of the stampede had died away, silence reigned around him, only
broken now and again by the flutter of pinions, or the flight of a
wallaby.

His wounded leg was a handicap, the pain of which increased as he
plodded on, compelling frequent rests. The long day was drawing to a
close. He thought the end of the thicket could not be far off, and with
the deepening of the shades about him he became anxious to reach it
before day was gone. But night fell, and in the inky darkness he
halted, clutching a tree for support.

For minutes he stood there, as though waiting for a ray of light to
break through the obscurity; and again he hearkened for a sound that
might lead him out. Only the hum of mosquitoes and the rustling of some
creeping thing on the leaf-strewn ground could be heard. It was no use
blundering on through the dark; equally useless was it to coo-ee, since
his mates would then be in camp. He sank down on a bed of dried leaves
and pillowing his head on his arm, soon fell asleep.

With the morning light he continued his way down hill. He had now to
improvise a crutch, for his wounded leg was stiff and sore. His
progress was slow, and the impediment necessitated deviations that made
the way longer. However, in a couple of hours he emerged from the
scrub. A clear flat stretched out before him, widening out in the
distance, at the narrow end of which was a small waterhole.

Parched with thirst and ravenous with hunger, he drank greedily of the
muddy water, and ate avidly of some wild fruits he had gathered. Then
he sat on the bank, looking at the imprint of his horse's hoofs in the
soft mud.

Presently he heard a low yelp behind him, and was surprised to see a
tall blackfellow a few paces off, regarding him critically with keen
dark eyes. A pack of miserable looking dogs followed at his heels with
the noiselessness of cats.

"Good day!" he said, grinning pleasantly. "You Sid?"

"Yes."

"Me Derry." The grin widened. "You know me?"

"Yes," Sid answered again. He had heard of Mr. Derry, chief of the
Kanillabar tribe, though he had not seen him before. "Glad to meet
you," he added truthfully.

"I come here look for you," Derry volunteered.

"How did you know I was about here?"

"White pfeller tell me. He come my camp las' night. He tell me look
about scrub an' take you longa camp. He come back by 'n 'bye an gib it
tchillin."

"How far is your camp from here?"

Derry turned and pointed with his chin across the eastern hill.

"Close up camp." Sid rose to his feet. "Lead on," he said; "but don't
go too fast."

Derry mooched along, looking back now and again to see how the cripple
was getting on. When the hill was climbed another hill appeared beyond
it.

"How far now?" asked Sid.

"Close up camp," Derry assured him.

They climbed the second hill, and still another appeared beyond it.

"How much farther?" asked Sid.

"Close up camp," Derry repeated.

Thus he led him on, and four hills were climbed before the camp was
reached. There were many gunyahs, spread over a couple of acres of
ground. A smoky fire burned beyond each, and the dusky residents, with
their numerous dogs, were distributed around them in lazy, unpretending
attitudes.

Derry led him to a gunyah in the centre of the village.

"Sit down an' 'ave some dinner," he said graciously.

He took up the blackened carcase of a small wallaby, which Mrs. Derry,
squatting alongside the coals with her heels doubled under her, had
been carefully tending; and chopping off a leg with his tomahawk, he
handed it to his guest on a piece of bark. Hunger is a fine sauce, and
cutting off the meat with his pocket-knife, Sid made a hearty meal. He
was still picking at the bone when Ben Bruce and the overseer rode up,
followed by a blackboy leading a saddled horse.

CHAPTER X.

The Dawning of Love.

Sid was taken to the musterers' camp, and from there to the homestead,
where he was placed in an apartment known as the Bookkeeper's Room,
which, as no such personage was then kept on the squattage, was
untenanted. For the first few days he was attended by Miss Kian Hook, a
tall, gaunt old maid, with spectral eyes, who was formerly the family
nurse; but since the family had grown up she had taken over the duties
of housekeeper.

Mrs. Byrne was a fine-looking woman, but was described by her intimates
as "not strong." She was more fond of pottering about the garden than
of household duties. Her mornings were usually spent out of doors--for
the good of her health. In the afternoon she settled herself in a
comfortable nook, sometimes indoors, and sometimes in a shady arbor,
for a quiet read until school hours were over, when she had the company
of Miss Kora Danz, a prepossessing young woman of 30, who was governess
and lady's companion. Then they talked, or walked, or played tennis;
and in the evening the perennial gossip was varied with song and music,
or helped with cards and other games.

Consequently Miss Kian Hook was practically manageress. She was a prim
lady of middle age, with a peculiar expression--a combination of piety
and stale vinegar, sunken black eyes, thin, hard-set lips, and a hooked
nose that reminded one of a parrot's beak. She held her head high, and
walked with jerky steps.

She did not conform in any way to Sid's idea of a nurse. She was harsh
of manner, and her thoughtful inquiries concerning his health were too
plainly prompted by self-interest.

"How are you now?" she asked as she entered the room the second
morning.

"Much better, thank you," Sid replied.

"I'm glad to hear it," said Miss Hook, dispassionately.

She felt his pulse and his cheek. "No feverish symptoms, thank heaven!
Poke out your tongue."

The tongue was protruded, and examined.

"Hm!" she added sourly. "It's to be hoped you'll soon be all right."

Two days later she pronounced the leg well enough for light exercise.

"You won't want me any more, so you can get back to your hut," she
concluded.

Sid lost no time in making a move, and he was on his way to the hut
when he met the captain.

"You're not doing any good limping about like that, Sid," said the
latter. "Better rest a while yet."

Sid intimated, that he was merely returning to his old quarters.

"Aren't you comfortable where you are?" asked the captain.

"Yes," Sid answered, "much more comfortable than I was in the hut."

"Can stop there if you like."

"Always?" Sid questioned eagerly.

"Can stop there if you like," the captain repeated, walking away.

Sid returned to the room with a more sprightly step. The wounded limb
had suddenly got a lot better. If the captain could have known the glow
of happiness that permeated his whole being he would have been
surprised--because his deductions would have been quite wrong.

Sid had been contented with the rough lodging at the hut until he
joined the ranks of the stockmen. After that he felt that something had
gone out of his life. He missed the afternoon rides with Myee. He
rarely saw her, except at a distance, and the dull heartache that
persisted day and night indicated that he wanted to see her every ten
minutes, and write to her between times. She was never absent from his
thoughts; and the thoughts inspired by her haunting image mostly
drifted into heroics. In all manner of ways a romantic mind could
devise he rescued her from all manner of imaginary dangers. No young
lady in real life was ever invested with so much peril, and so
numerously rescued by one person, as was Miss Norrit in the sentimental
imagery of her admirer.

His new room opened into the spacious garden, where he could ramble
about as he pleased, and where Myee spent much of her leisure hours. He
rambled there now, ostensibly admiring the flowers, and studying the
pigeons and doves as they fed about the broad walks and lawns. He
pretended an interest in the work of the old gardener, who descanted at
great length on his rheumatics; and finding Mrs. Bryne busily digging
with a hand-fork, he gave her some unnecessary help, while discoursing
an botany. Then he came upon Wilga Bryne reclining in a hammock,
engrossed in a study of Greek roots, which opened a discussion on
foreign languages.

Wilga was a dainty copy of her mother, quieter and less robust than
Myee Narrit, with a delicate pink complexion set in a wonderful aureole
of golden hair. While he talked languages with her his glance wandered
to the house whenever a step sounded on the verandah. The fair student
at last guessed the reason.

"Myee's kept in," she volunteered, looking slyly at him.

"What for?" asked Sid, trying to appear unconcerned, but blushing in
spite of himself.

"She had two sums wrong. Are you good at sums?"

"Pretty fair."

"She'd be glad is somebody helped her." There was something like a
challenge in the girl's laughing glance and quaintly puckered face.

"Where's Miss Danz?"

"In her room." Sid looked round. Mrs. Bryne had gone inside, and the
only person about was Miss Kian Hook, who came to the door at short
intervals, and between times peeped out of one or other of the windows.
Taking advantage of her temporary absence from these outlooks, he
slipped quietly away, choosing a devious path where the shrubs were
thickest.

The schoolroom was in the end of a wing on the southern side, facing
the bush. The end window was thrown up, and just near it Myee sat at
her desk, poring over a multitude of figures.

"Got them right yet?"

She turned sharply with a startled look, then, seeing the grinning face
framed in the window, jumped up with an impulsiveness that upset the
chair.

"Oh, you wretch!" she exclaimed, striking him on the knuckles with her
pen. "You frightened me."

"Too much study is making you nervous," said Sid. "Are the sums right
yet?"

"No, they're not!" her mouth prettily pouted. "The dash things won't
come right."

"Let me see them."

She placed the book on the window-sill, and they put their heads
together under the sash. Playing schoolmaster was a pleasant diversion
in an idle hour, especially when the pupil was a lovely girl whose warm
breath, and the loose strands of whose hair brushing his cheek, made
the blood bolt through his veins. He pointed out where she was wrong
and what she should do, and watched her fingers as she did the
figuring.

Under these circumstances the task was less irksome to one and a joy to
the other that was all too short. In a few minutes it was accomplished,
and "Dunce" was free to go out,

"Come out this way," Sid invited her, shoving the sash up higher.

"Through the window!" she demurred, with lifted brows.

"Why not? I'll help you."

Laughing, she placed the chair against the window, and stepped up on to
it. With his arm tightly clasped around the lissom waist, he assisted
her through, and lifted her to the ground. He did not do it smartly; he
took quite a while about it; and after he had set her down he forgot to
take his arm away until she reminded him that somebody might be
looking.

They crossed the garden to a rustic seat near the netted fence. It was
a short seat, that fitted between two trees, whose interlaced boughs
formed a delightful awning. A newspaper lay on one end, and some burnt
matches and cigar butts were strewn on the ground.

Myee picked the paper up before sitting down, and opened it out to
read. Sid took it from her, and there followed an animated tussle for
possession of it, which ended in the paper being torn to pieces.

"Now you've done it!" she exclaimed, ruefully regarding the damage.
"You are nasty." Then she crumpled up the piece she held and threw it
at him.

"It's an old number," said Sid. "And you read it a week ago. If you
didn't, then you weren't interested. Anyhow, school's out."

"That's the only time I can read what I like," she returned.

"What do you read when you like?" asked Sid. "Mark Twain, Charles
Dickens--and Australian stories and verse."

"Love stories?"

"Some; the sort that men like--something cheerful and realistic--in which
the characters are healthy people who speak and act naturally; not the
Lady Gwendoline and Glass-eyed Johnny tripe usually dished up for young
ladies; that's full of maudlin' sentiment and pandering to gold lace
and silk embroidery. I've got no time for that. I'd rather follow the
fortunes of Bill and Jim of the bush. They're rough, and perhaps
untutored, but they're men. They are heroes in their every day lives;
but Johnny of the glass eye is never a hero, and nobody could make him
one. Did you read the book I gave you?"

"Of course I did."

"Why of course?' "

"Because you gave it to me."

"Did that make it more interesting?"

"It made it more appreciated."

"But"--looking at him with wide, innocent eyes--"suppose I gave you some
trashy thing that I couldn't read myself."

"If you did, it would be because you had nothing better."

"Would it?" laughing roguishly. "I'd like to see myself giving away
what I prize and keeping the rubbish."

"Some day you'll give yourself away," said Sid, with a sigh.

"I often do that now," she declared.

Whether she couldn't or wouldn't understand him, he didn't know. He had
a suspicion that a little imp of mischief whispered into the shell-pink
ear, and laughed at him out of the luminous blue orbs, that sometimes
met his so frankly and fearlessly, and at other times peeped demurely
from under the arching brows. The more he studied them, and the
dimpling cheeks that had the colour of the bloom on the peach trees,
the more he was conscious of a swelling and thumping under his left
ribs.

She sat very close to him, plaiting a silk handkerchief between her
fingers. In the pause that followed he snatched it playfully from her,
and when she made a grab at it he held it behind him. Another tussle
ensued, in the course of which her head came under his chin, and made
it necessary for him to reach across her shoulder and round her neck.

The arm tightened with the impulsive movements occasioned by their
brisk hand play, so that she might have imagined herself in the embrace
of an affectionate bear. He did not mind her pinching his hands and
digging her thumb-nail into his fingers; in truth, such marked
attentions made him happier. The touch of her soft hair sent strange
little thrills running through him like electric waves. He could have
prolonged the blissful agony for a week, but a malicious fate at that
moment intervened.

"Miss Norrit!" cried a harsh voice behind them. Both started, and
involuntarily edged hard up against the respective trees. Miss Kian
Hook stood behind the seat, her hands spread on her thin waist,
twirling her thumbs one around the other, and looking down on them
severely.

"I am surprised!"

Myee went pink all over. Her pearly teeth closed on the tip of her lip,
and she regarded her companion fixedly out of the corner of her eye.
That abashed youth was gazing with absorbing interest at a pair of pet
emus pecking about outside the netting.

"I am shocked!" Miss Hook added with more emphasis.

"Oh, dear!" said Myee, now turning towards her. "You're getting worse,
nurse. Whatever is the matter?"

"Can you ask?" Miss Hook admonished, bobbing violently forward and
craning her neck. "A young lady in your position--really, I couldn't
'ave believed it."

"Believed what?" asked Myee, recovering her composure. Miss Hook
stiffened her neck and twirled her thumbs more rapidly, while she
looked her reproval in her severest manner.

"Some people are very dense when they don't want to understand," she
said unpleasantly.

"Some people get excited about nothing," Myee retorted.

"I'm not excited!" The head came down again, with an indignant side
tilt. "But I hope I know my duty."

"I hope you do," said Myee, fervently. "I thought you'd forgotten it."

"I never do that," Miss Hook rapped out. "And I don't forget what's
proper."

Once more she drew herself up stiffly, and, clutching her skirt,
directed a scornful side look at the presumptuous stockman, then
shuffled across to the path, where she stood irresolutely surveying
them at long range.

"Prying old cat!" snapped Myee in an undertone.

"I hope I haven't got you into a raw," said Sid, anxiously, placing his
hand on hers, which rested on the edge of the seat between them.

The saucy blue eyes of the girl twinkled. "She'll give me a
grandmotherly lecture on the strictly correct deportment of young
ladies of several centuries ago, that's all."

A sharp, vibrant cough came from the path. She got up quickly, and as
she moved away she whispered aside to him: "You'd better keep sweet
with Miss Hook."

CHAPTER XI.

The Lure of No Man's Land.

Sid's thoughts these days were divided between Myee and the lost
explorer. The initials on the tree at the rock hole had freshened his
interest and given force to the dreams he had cherished at Morella. The
far western bush called to him more persistly, and he felt that he must
go there at any cost and learn from the blacks what had happened, for
they would know something of the white man if he had wandered but a few
days in their territory; and if dead, they would know where his bones
were resting.

On mail day he waited for Jake Gowrie at the yard, and while waiting
discussed the subject with Ben Bruce, who rode in shortly after him.
Ben was indulgent and sympathetic, but he was not hopeful. He
considered it improbable that Warri would live so long with the blacks;
and if he was not killed or drowned he would surely have made his way
back to civilisation.

"He was a poor bushman," said Sid in explanation. "He was lost once for
two days between here and Wonnaroo."

"That puts a different complexion on the matter," Ben reflected. "I
always understood he could find his way about. Still, you'd think, if
the blacks were friendly with him, he'd persuade them to show him the
way."

"He couldn't if they wanted to keep him. Several white men have lived
for long periods with wild tribes, and in nearly all cases they
remained against their will. The simple aborigine has an idea that a
white man is a reincarnated blackfellow. You've heard them say that
when a black fellow dies he "jumps up whitefellow." If the lonely white
man in any way resembles a dead member of the tribe he happens to fall
in with, the relatives of the dead man claim him, and he is reverenced.
If that happened to my father, he would be quite safe from violence;
they would look after him, but they wouldn't part with him. It would be
only by stealth that he would get away, and then the chances are that
he would wander around in circles until they found him again--or he
blundered back to the spot he started from."

"If he's still living, he's had experience enough to walk straight by
this time," Ben argued.

"But would he know in what direction Kanillabar lies? Then there is a
wide stretch of dry country to cross, which would only be possible for
him just after the wet season, and with a fair knowledge of the
country. Another thing, if some members of the tribe were willing to
direct him, the fear of other tribes would keep them from going far
beyond their own territory--even if they could form any idea where my
father wanted to go to. The wild tribes might know, through occasional
intercourse with neighbours, of the existence of 'big white fellow
camps,' but it would be a case of the blind leading the blind all the
same."

"That's so," Ben conceded. "And it goes to show that the initials you
saw on the tree were cut some mustering time before your father was
lost. If they weren't, then he must have perished, because, if he got
so far in, he would know by the cattle tracks that he was getting into
civilised parts, an' wouldn't be likely to go back."

"The letters are very old," said Sid, reluctant to admit evidence that
tended to upset his theory.

"Why not have a talk with the Captain?" Ben suggested after a pause.
"You an' I are both due for a spell, an' I'd as soon spend my holiday
in the Never Never as anywhere else."

"You'd go with me?" Sid asked eagerly.

"Willingly, lad, willingly. I know it would gladden more hearts than
yours if by any chance he turned up again. He woudn't come back as good
as new, but what there was left of him would be welcome. If he's to be
found I want to be in it."

"Why?" asked Sid.

A pained expression came into the old man's face, and he stared down at
the ground while speaking.

"I've no friends but those around me here. I'm a lonely outcast; an' I
would be drawn to him more than to any other man on earth. Some day
you'll know the reason."

Sid was leaning forward, his lips apart; but he knew it would be
useless to fire the battery of questions that at once surged into his
mind.

There was a short interval of silence, and then he asked instead:

"Supposing Norrit, turned up again?"

"That would be different" said Ben, shaking his head. "Nobody belongin'
to him would be anxious to see him again this side the grave. But he
ain't ever likely to walk in an' upset things now."

"I don't know," said Sid, doubtfully. "His fate is a greater mystery
than that of my father's. He may be dead and gone, but there's no
proof."

"He's registered as dead," Ben persisted, without looking up.

"That wouldn't finish him," Sid returned "He'd be Nobody of Nowhere,
perhaps, if he wasn't really dead, but he could reassert himself in a
lot of ways while he had a kick left."

"Could he claim his wife an' his property?" asked Ben with some warmth.

"I don't know about his property; that has changed a lot--though I
believe the squattages are in the wife's name, and if the death record
were cancelled, he would certainly have the best claim to her."

"She evidently had no doubts that he was gone forever when she took on
number two," said Ben, moodily. "But Lord knows what possessed her to
take up with such a specimen as Cudgen. If she had married a man--"

He broke off abruptly, and plunging his hands into his pockets, paced
to and fro a couple of times in an agitated manner, and then left the
yard without saying another word.

Sid watched him go as he watched him that other day when Dr. Cudgen had
intercepted him near the store. He was almost convinced that Ben was
infatuated with the doctor's charming wife, having probably met her
somewhere long ago and in better days. The mere thought of Cudgen
seemed to put him in a bad humour, and as he appeared to be an utter
stranger to that gentleman, there was no other apparent reason for
Ben's hatred of him. The old stockman's undignified retreat from the
mounted constable suggested that he had done something that put him in
fear of the law, but by no reasoning could Sid connect that matter with
Dr. Cudgen and his wife.

He went thoughtfully to the office, deciding to act at once on Ben's
suggestion, and hear what the Captain had to say about a holiday. He
had yet no definite plans, but slowly the dream that had long been with
him was taking shape. He had viewed the proposed trip in a hazy
fashion, his mental eye dwelling in the shadows of No Man's Land as one
looks into the unknown future; and now his mind came back to material
and immediate things, and the nebulous ideas began to assume a more
concrete form.

The Captain was in an affable mood, he was sitting back in his chair,
with his feet crossed on top of the desk, reading a newspaper. In a few
minutes he was acquainted of the dream and the dreamer's wishes.

He held the paper on his knees with one hand, and caressingly stroked
his beard with the other, while he let it soak in.

"Er--want to go an' get lost?" he said at last.

"I won't get lost," Sid affirmed with confidence.

"Lots of people have said that, Sid, an' never come back to tell what
happened, I was just reading a bit about Leichhardt. He hasn't come
back yet."

"My trip won't be as hazardous as his was," Sid rejoined.

"Hard to say," the Captain murmured. "Hard to say."

He seemed pleased with the proposition, nevertheless. His shaggy brows
knitted and lifted, and with vacant gaze and slowly stroking hand he
pondered over it.

"Think we're going to have a long dry spell, Sid," he said presently.

"Looks like it," Sid agreed.

"May, have to shift a lot of cattle if we do," the Captain continued.

"Yes?" said Sid wondering a little anxiously as to what these
observations portended. The Captain ruminated a while longer.

"There ought to be some good country out west," he said at length, and
maybe you could find a haven where your father expected to find one."

At this Sid brightened mightily. "If it's within reach we're bound to
strike it," he said encouragingly.

"I could do with a good run out that way," the Captain went on with
deliberation. "I'll send Ben Bruce an' Murrin with you; an' while
you're searching for the old man--or traces of him--you can keep a look
out for good cattle country. How will that suit?"

"First rate!" Sid answered delightedly. The great project had been
suddenly put on an active footing, and simplified beyond his
expectations. Than Ben and Murrin he could not have wished for better
mates for the purpose, whilst the quest of new pastures relieved him of
obligation to them and to the boss.

"Er--when can you start?"

"In about a week."

The Captain looked out through the window, then threw down his paper,
and took his feet off the desk. Jake, the mailman, swung round the
corner and dismounted in front of the door.

While he was unstrapping the bags from the packhorse, Murrin came up.
He was a fine specimen of the aboriginal race, and one of the smartest
stockmen on Kanillabar.

"Good-day, Jake!" he said, cheerily. "You take message stick for me to
Bogalby?"

He held out a flat piece of wood, about four inches long by an inch and
a quarter broad, and barely an eighth of an inch thick.

"You'll have to put a penny stamp on it," said Jake, after inspecting
it.

"Tstamp?" questioned Murrin, perplexedly. Jake tapped it impressively
with his finger, and explained:

"It's a letter within the meaning of the law, an' Government won't
allow me to carry a letter that's not duly stamped according to
regulations."

"Where Tstamp?" asked Murrin.

"Take it to the boss. He'll fix it up."

Murrin led the way into the office, and presented his bit of carved
wood for the post.

The captain held it up, gripped his beard with his left hand, and while
he stared at the hieroglyphics engraved on it, his big shoulders
heaved, and his face assumed a deep salmon colour.

"Who's it for?" he asked presently.

"Koonal. You know Koonal. He work here one time--"

"What address?"

"Dress?" said Murrin, musingly. "Last time I see him his dress was same
meself--tstripe tchirt, moleskin trousis"

"Where Koonal sit down?" the captain interrupted sharply.

"Bogalby."

The captain put the stick in an envelope, addressed and stamped it,
then obliterated the stamp in the usual way, and branded the letter
with the official mark of the office. Murrin noted all these important
proceedings with the keenest interest; and when the missive was finally
dropped into the mailbag, he grinned approvingly, and departed with an
immensely important demeanour.

When informed that evening of Sid's mission, and that he was to go with
him, his ebony face took on an expression of deep gravity.

"We go a long way out back?" he said, interrogatively.

"A couple, of hundred miles, more or less."

"How long we be away?"

"About a month."

"My word!" said Murrin, reflectively. "I must write it 'nother message
stick."

Chapter XII.

The Gulf That Yawned Between.

Of course, Sid wanted to tell Myee all about the arrangement he had
made, and to see as much of her as he could before he set out. He
wanted to be with her all the time, and Miss Kian Hook didn't want him
to be with her at all. She watched him so closely, and baulked him so
often, that he at last made desperate efforts to ingratiate himself
into her favour as the safest and quickest means of attaining his
object.

He saw her hauling in an old leather trunk that had been left opened in
the sunshine to sweeten, and he hastened to her assistance. Miss Hook
stopped hauling immediately he put his hand on the trunk; her head went
up, and she eyed him up and down superciliously.

"Let me help you," Sid prompted, lifting his end. But Miss Hook did not
move.

"When I want your help, young man, I'll ask for it," she said tartly.

"It's too heavy for you to carry," Sid softly persisted, without
letting go.

"That's for me to judge," she returned frigidly.

"I knew a young lady who injured herself severely through lifting a
washing tub," he informed her.

"Indeed!"

"She was under the doctor for months," he added.

A slight backward movement of the haughtily-poised head was Miss Hook's
only response.

"She was about your build," he went on, with cheerful disregard of the
truth; "but not so good looking."

"Indeed!" Miss Hook repeated, without thawing in the least. On the
contrary, there was some irritation in her surprise at his cheek. The
trunk slipped from her grasp, and in a moment he had hoisted it on to
his shoulder.

"Where do you want it?" he inquired pleasantly.

For a brief space she regarded him with fierce resentment. Then she
said:

"Put it on the verandah, please."

He did so, and the favour being acknowledged with a curt nod, he lifted
his hat politely and retired.

Several times within the next couple of days he endeavoured to give
practical demonstration of his regard for her, only to suffer rebuffs,
nasty jars, and veiled insults for his trouble. He did not despair. Nor
did he show impatience, though he was often a seething volcano within.
He was sure there was not another person on earth who was about so much
where she wasn't wanted.

Observing the two girl friends strolling out from the house with their
arms about each other's waists, he recollected that he wanted to speak
to the gardener about something, and set off through the trees to find
him. His way led him past a square lawn where the girls sometimes
played croquet. A carpet had been left spread on the turf, and it
seemed quite in the natural order of things that Miss Hook should be
there leisurely folding it as he sauntered up. She was singing softly
to herself.

"No wonder you look tired, wrestling with heavy things like that," he
remarked, in a kindly, sympathetic voice, the result of a masterful
effort. "I'll carry it in for you."

Miss Hook froze instantly. "Who told you I wanted it carried in?"

"You are not going to leave it outside?" he questioned.

"Would it inconvenience you if I did?" nastily.

"It wouldn't; I only wanted to help you."

"Very considerate of you, I'm sure. Were you always so ready to help
your mother?"

"When she needed it--of course--"

The voices of the girls came from the outer path, and he could not
resist a glance in their direction. The steely black orbs of the old
maid measured him suspiciously.

"Look here, young man," she rapped out, shaking a long, lean finger in
his face, "don't you think you can smoodge over me so easily. I've been
through your little games before to-day. Now, you take my tip; if you
don't want to find yourself out of a job, you give up your spoony
winkin' capers around here. If Mrs. Bryne or the captain guessed what's
in the wind, you'd get short shrift, I can tell you. I don't wish you
any harm, or I wouldn't be speakin' to you as I am."

"You're alarming yourself unnecessarily, Miss Hook," Sid mildly
protested. A hardness in his voice, and a redness that burned up to his
eyes, testified against him.

"You can't tell me!" she said, with cold assurance. "I see it as plain
as I see the nose on your face. An' you take a reef in your sails
before anyone else sees it. She's not for you. She's young and innocent
yet, an' easily imposed on, but by-an'-bye she won't want to be
reminded of her girlish pranks. If she recognises you at all, it will
be in th' condescendin' sort o' way that people in her class usually
recognise people in our class."

"Our class?" Sid queried with a quiet smile.

Miss Hook moistened her lips, and spoke with more impressiveness.

"That girl owns Byndoora, an' by-an'-bye she'll come in for Mooban, an'
thirty or forty thousand pounds in cash besides. A proud little beauty,
with no end o' wealth, that's what she'll be. An' your own commonsense,
if you've got any, will tell you that a girl in her position, who could
marry a title if she wanted one, an' be a real lady, isn't going to
throw her chances away--unless she's mad--an' give herself an' her
fortune to a stockman who's working for his pound a week or so."

"Of course she isn't," Sid said, with conviction.

"She can make a good match without going off the premises. In fact, I
may say, it's all cut an' dried between the two families."

"What is?"

"That she's to marry the overseer."

Sid felt a cold stab in his heart. His face blanched, for the
probability of it struck him with force.

"Is--isn't he a bit old--for, her?" he hazarded.

"Indeed, he's not!" Miss Hook answered, accompanying the words with a
cold, curt inclination of her head. "He's only 25, and Myee is going on
for 18. Just a nice age. I shouldn't be surprised to see her married
before she's 20. I know the parents are very keen on the match. It's
quite natural they should be, seein' the Cudgens an' the Brynes are old
friends, an' the young couple an only son and an only daughter, an'
both very desirable."

"It's a nice arrangement--for the parents," Sid conceded. "But the son
and daughter don't always see eye to eye with the old folks."

"They know which side their bread's buttered on, I can tell you. He's
fond of her, always has been, an' he's only got to ask her to have
her."

"Why doesn't he ask her, then?" Sid spoke almost viciously.

"Time enough yet. She's for him, any how; an' don't forget I warned you
that you're playing with a hornet's nest."

"Were you ever in love, Miss Hook?" Sid asked recklessly.

"Don't be impertinent!" she snapped, confronting him fiercely. "A bit
of a kid like you to talk to me about love. How dare you!"

"I meant to ask," Sid floundered, "if you'd like to be forced to marry
somebody you didn't care for?"

"Who's forcing me?" she demanded ferociously.

"I'm referring to Miss Norrit," he hastened to explain. "You say she's
for the overseer; supposing she doesn't love him well enough to marry
him?"

"What's the good of supposing?" Miss Hook petulantly returned. "One
thing's certain, she's not going to turn him down for a Mr. Nobody of
Nowhere while she's in her right senses."

With this thrust she picked up the carpet and left him. The man they
had been talking about was coming towards the green, holding a number
of croquet balls in one hand, and swinging a mallet with the other. By
his side walked Kora Danz, who also carried a mallet. Croquet was a
favourite game on warm afternoons. It called for less exertion than
tennis, and the ground was shaded, whereas the tennis court, which was
outside the fence, was unprotected.

"A splendid mate for the overseer," was Sid's estimate of Miss Danz,
after a critical survey of her supple figure. And having thus summarily
dismissed a dangerous rival, he went on his way, his mind focussing on
his financial position, which the finest optimism could regard as only
remotely hopeful.

With brutal directness the housekeeper had shown him that he would have
to recover Kanillabar, or do something equally magnificent, to bridge
the gulf that lay between, him and his heart's desire. He recalled that
the rich heiress sometimes shocked society by marrying the groom. He
had an advantage, at least, over the ordinary groom. By virtue of birth
and education he was not a misfit in his boss's circle. He was a
gentleman without means. All the same he derived no pleasure from the
thought of espousing Myee before he had diminished that yawning chasm
that simply shrieked for banknotes.

He calculated on the basis of the most rigid economy that it would take
him twenty years to save a thousand pounds. By that time Myee would be
as old as Kian Hook. Plainly, he would have to discover a more
expeditious way of getting rich. If he could only discover a gold mine--
. He looked mechanically towards the declining sun. Soon he would be
wandering into the heart of the continent--it might be to his grave, and
again it might be to his salvation; and he resolved to look out for
auriferous country as well as for pasture lands.

He reached the small seat that was wedged between two trees, and
leaning against the back of it, gazed out into the paddock. In that
garden and paddock he had played as a child. Then his father was king
of the run, and his mother was queen of the home. Every nook he knew,
and many a spot was dear to his memory--the corner where they used to
feed the bush birds on sunny mornings; the wishing-tree that his
sister's child-hands had planted, now grown stately and thick-foliaged;
the place where his father had smoked an evening pipe, and told
stirring tales of adventure on the eve of his disastrous journey.

As he thought of his lost heritage, and what might have been, the
usually buoyant Sid felt downhearted. He also felt a little bitter
against Richard Cranston, whose mismanagement had speedily brought his
mother to ruin. With a good manager she would have prospered just as
surely as the captain had prospered; and instead of the stormy way that
confronted Warri's son, he might now be treading a path of roses. At
sixteen life gave promise of ample time to rebuild the tumbled castle;
at eighteen the spirit, already plagued with world-old desires, was
fretful and impatient of delay.

CHAPTER XIII.

Two Love-Birds in a Tree.

Sid's meditations were suddenly interrupted. His hat was tilted over
his eyes, and turning sharply he looked into the beaming face of Myee
Norrit. His brow cleared at once. That face was light and hope, and all
that was beautiful in the world to him. A little way off, smiling
across her shoulder, Wilga Bryne was trailing a couple of mallets
towards the playground.

"I have a spare penny somewhere," said Myee, holding her hands behind
her.

"It wouldn't buy half what I was thinking of," Sid returned. He heard
the overseer's deep voice behind the screening bushes, and wondered if
that gentleman was perfectly happy with Kora Danz.

"They must be precious thoughts--or wicked!"

"They weren't wicked."

"Roguish, then--or foolish?"

"Some would seem foolish if they were expressed. Some, I'm afraid,
would make you blush."

"Those must be good ones."

For one pregnant moment he hung on his toes, sorely tempted by the
laughing lips. She saw the threat in his look, and asked quickly:

"What were the others?"

He reflected a moment, while his gaze wandered wistfully over the
finely-moulded features.

"I am going away."

She gave a little start.

"O you're not! Why? Where?"

"Sit down here and I'll tell you," he said, flattered by the grave
concern she exhibited.

The dimples had vanished from her checks, but the rich bloom of summer
rushed into them as he led her gently to the seat and settled himself
beside her. Then he told her of his talk with the captain, and what he
was going to do in the unexplored territory, only omitting to mention
his cherished notions about a gold mine. She listened to the recital
with a glow that buoyed him strangely, and evoked a heartfelt prayer
that he would have a threefold success to relate when he returned.

"I hope your expedition won't become another bush mystery," she
remarked. "I'll watch when it's time for you to be coming back."

"And stand a lantern on the gatepost at night?" he mocked.

"No; I'll hang a fairy-lamp in the wishing-tree."

He sighed profoundly, remembering how he had wished under its infant
boughs in other years; how he had watched for homing horsemen each day
as the sun went down. He wondered if her laughter covered any
sentiment, and if she would really send him a thought with the passing
days. It was a small thing to want, and yet he wanted this intangible
thing with all his heart.

"I don't suppose you'd miss me if I never came back?"

"I miss anybody I've been used to. In the backblocks people are drawn
more together than in thickly-settled parts. I'd miss Jake, the
mailman, if he left. At first, when you said you were going away, I
thought you were going to leave us for good."

"If we take up a new run out west, some of us will have to stop there.
We won't see much of Kanillabar then."

"You would miss the old homestead," she remarked, absently.

"More than you would. I was born here. This old garden was the first
part of the world I knew--and now it's the land of enchantment."

"Why, Sid?"

"Because you're in it."

Myee, leaning back in her corner, pursed her lips, and looked at him
steadily with narrowed, glistening eyes, gravity and amusement
struggling for mastery in her countenance. The corners of her mouth
twitched, and amusement won. But there was a shyness in the laugh that
was new--and pleasing.

"You've given it a charm that even the associations of childhood could
not impart."

"Do you think I'm a witch?"

"No; you're a lovely little fairy."

"You're ridiculous--and rude!" His undisguised admiration brought the
warm carmine again into her cheeks. "Positively rude."

"To tell a lady of her endearing charms! Is that rudeness?" he asked,
aggrieved at the reception of his seriously-made declarations.

"In the daytime it is."

"But I can't see you at night-time--out here. And what difference would
it make?"

A coyish twinkle played under the bent lashes

"A girl doesn't blush in the dark."

"Doesn't she? Well, that's news! But you said those thoughts were good
ones?"

"I didn't mean the silly sort. And it depends how they're said."

"Does somebody else say them better?"

"Much better,"

"Oh!" The words gave him a sharp stab. The poetic fervour that had
swayed him died out suddenly like a doused blaze. "The overseer, I
suppose?" he said grumpily.

"No; he's too practical. And he's rather shy--like most bushmen."

"More reserved than shy, I fancy. If you heard him on a cattle camp
when things are not going right you would be astonished."

"At all events, Nature didn't endow him with your sublime cheek.
Perhaps she was kind."

"If you like him better as he is, no doubt she was," he said
grudgingly. "I wasn't aware that she'd given me much cheek. I was
thinking of cultivating some."

"For goodness' sake, don't! Try raising a wee crop of modesty for a
change."

"Well, who is the fortunate swain whose compliments please you? If I
try very hard," he said with cheerful sarcasm, "I may be able to live
up to the model."

"You'd never guess," she teased him. "For one thing, he's not a swain."

"If you don't tell me, I won't be able to sleep to-night."

Watching him with mocking, inscrutable eyes, she bent forward and
laughed in little, silvery ripples.

"Are you sure you're quite well?" she asked then.

"Tell me his name and I'll punch his head!" he exclaimed half-savagely.

The awful threat was greeted with another merry burst of laughter.

"I don't think you will!" she said, beaming sweetly on him.

"Who is the villain?"

"He's not a villain," she objected briskly. In a flash the smiling lips
became the pout of a cross child. "Captain Bryne is a gentleman."

"What! Old Cap?" cried Sid, agreeably surprised. Then he laughed
softly. "I humbly beg his pardon. If he hasn't the polish of a noble
knight, who has nothing else to do but study etiquette, he is a rough-
cut diamond; but I didn't think he was a lady's man."

"Do you think you are?" The bluntness of the question abashed him. He
eyed her with a forced grin, conscious that the effort to look pleasant
made him appear almost idiotic.

"The captain can be very nice when he likes," she went on. "He is
always jolly and amusing when we have congenial visitors; and any time,
when he is not tired, and everything is in apple-pie order, he can be
as gentle and playful as a kitten."

"That's with the girls?" Sid queried. "I think I ought to retract that
apology. With us he's generally about as gentle and playful as an old
tomcat with a grievance."

Myee was silent. She regarded him severely, a shocked expression on the
winsome face.

"I can easily imagine the captain's kittenish ways with the girls," Sid
continued, more at ease. " 'Er-look quite sweet this evening, Myee' "--
dropping into a capital imitation of the old gentleman. " 'Pon my word,
you get prettier and prettier every day.' And he chucks you under the
chin, and beams like the rising sun in spring time. Then he shakes his
head waggishly, and pats you on the back in a grandfatherly sort of
way. 'Melting little mouth and saucy eyes; play the deuce by-an'-bye,
Myee, play the deuce, by-an'-bye--"

Myee sprang up suddenly, and smacked him soundly across the ear. He
seized her by the hand, and with a passionate impulse drew her down
again, and held her prisoner.

"That's one you owe me," he cried, struggling with her hands.

"It's one to go on with," she returned, flushed and excited. "Don't you
dare!"

"Myee!"

"Sh-h!"

She ceased struggling, and her startled look caused him to turn
sharply. Kian Hook was gliding down towards them, wearing a wide smile.
She was not aware of their vicinage, a circumstance which decided Sid
to make room for her without delay. He climbed quietly into the tree,
the dense, overhanging boughs of which screened him like a huge
umbrella. He had been so recently severely lectured that he considered
it impolitic to be caught browsing in forbidden fields just then. His
greatest concern, however, was for Myee.

"Come on, Fairy," he whispered down to her. "Get up here till she
passes."

Without thinking, and only pausing to glance at Miss Hook, who had
stopped to pick a flower, she stepped on to the seat, and thence
ascended to his arboreal perch. The frequency of branches, with clear
stems, made the ascent as easy as going up a stepladder, and soon she
was ensconced on a stout limb, in close juxtaposition to the ardent
youth. The trunk of the tree was between them, but an arm of each
encircled it.

They watched the old maid's approach with bated breath. To their horror
she planted herself on the seat they had just vacated, and commenced to
make a little posy of the flowers she had gathered. When that was
finished she kissed them rapturously, and whispered into their fragrant
petals, and then pressed them with motherly tenderness to her heart.
The love-birds gazed down in amazement at these strange doings, the
meaning of which was presently made clear.

Light, quick footsteps sounded outside the fence, followed immediately
by a rattling of wire and a gentle thud. Miss Hook was seen to sway and
nod in a bashfully pleased manner, while her face wrinkled alarmingly.
She patted her scant hair, and smoothed out her dress. Then she bobbed
violently, just as a bold man stepped briskly up and dropped down by
her side. The second intruder was Berkley Hart.

"I wasn't sure you saw my signal," said Miss Hook, laughing modestly
behind her hand. "They're all playing croquet this afternoon."

"I was just thinkin' about a smoke when I saw it," Berkley informed
her.

Her hand dived into a capacious pocket, from which was produced a
packet of biscuits and a lump of Dutch cheese.

"Ah!" said Berkley, pouncing eagerly on the delicacies. "Your kindness
of heart makes me forget I'm tired!"

"I know you've been workin' hard; you always do," said Miss Hook,
rolling her head and smirking. "My mother used to say I was too good-
natured--always thinkin' about somebody else instead o' lookin' after
number one. But you wouldn't like me to be selfish, would you?"

"No," Berkley answered truthfully.

The posy was brought hesitatingly into relief.

"To sweeten you up," she giggled, and thereupon, with lingering
fingers, pinned it in his coat.

Berkley's mouth was too busy to talk.

"A nice young man I was keepin' company with me down in Riverina used
to just dote on flowers," she chatted on, ogling and nodding the while.
"You remind me of him. He had eyes, and hair, and moustache like yours.
He was very fond of me, an' was goin' to marry me when he came back
from up north. But, he never came back."

"Must 'ave met with an accident," Berkley observed dispassionately.

"I never could find out what became of him," Miss Hook responded. "He
must have died somewhere, poor fellow!"

"Must have," said Berkley, as unconcernedly as before.

The biscuits and the cheese had disappeared! Miss Hook slewed slightly,
and from another pocket brought out a small bottle of wine, which
Berkley promptly emptied. She returned the bottle to her pocket, and,
thrusting her fingers inside her blouse, one by one drew forth three
choice cigars.

Berkley patted her approvingly on the back. "Kian, old girl, you're an
angel!" he declared. "I don't know what I'd do with out you."

Kian sighed. "Your life must be very lonely," she said, musingly.

Berkley ridiculed the idea of such a thing. "Nothing lonely about
this," he said, lighting up.

She sighed again, and edged closer. "They call this the Lovers' Bower,"
she tittered.

"Do they?" He looked round lazily. "It's a nice place for a hot day."

"Very nice," she agreed, fanning herself desperately with a green leaf.
"Wonder why they call it that?"

"Can't say. Never heard of it before."

"Perhaps somebody proposed to somebody here," she conjectured, giggling
against his shoulder.

"Very likely."

Berkley gazed into space, and puffed out long whiffs of smoke, whilst
Miss Hook played with her fingers, and from time to time glanced coyly
at him, as though she were expecting something.

Sid and Myee sat painfully still above them, neither daring to look at
the other for fear of laughing.

"I used to think it awfully dull livin' out here--but I don't now," Miss
Hook remarked, breaking a long silence.

"You've got used to it," Berkley surmised.

Miss Hook coughed, and brushed something imaginary off Berkley's
sleeve.

"It's getting to know somebody congenial that makes you like a place,"
she said. "I quite love it now."

Berkley flicked the ash from his cigar, and pondered. Miss Hook picked
up another leaf, and, leaning back, was in the act of fanning herself
with it, when, out of the corner of her eye, she detected a splash of
heliotrope among the greenery overhead. A spasmodic movement brought
the whole alarming scene into full view; another spasm and a shriek
brought her to her feet. The startled Berkley jumped up almost at the
same time, and, following her petrified gaze, discovered two convulsive
creatures, who had very red faces, and seemed to be feeding on
handkerchiefs.

For a brief space he stared blankly at them; then, muttering to
himself, shambled disgustedly across the garden, and fell over the
fence.

Miss Hook stood as if rooted to the spot, breathing hard. She was pale
and speechless, staring at them with a wild tempest of shame and anger
surging within her.

Recovering a little from the shock, she clutched the gaping pocket
where the bottle was hidden, and fled in the opposite direction.

"The old hypocrite!" cried Myee, dabbing her nose with a tiny
handkerchief that was damp with joy tears. "What do you think of her?"

"Don't you say a word!" whispered Sid, holding up his finger.

"She didn't spare me. . . . Such a prudish old darling; you'd think
butter wouldn't melt in her mouth."

"She'll be as good as a bad stepmother to you after this," laughed Sid.

He waited on the limb until she had climbed down, then swung nimbly to
the ground and stood beside her.

"We'd better disperse," she said quietly. "Good-bye!"

To his amazement she held her face up for him to kiss. He had been
longing for such an opportunity for months, yearning day and night to
feel the pink velvet of her cheek against his. In an instant an eager
arm went flying round her neck, and he stooped with delirious
impetuosity. But his lips did not touch her. With a cat-like movement
she ducked under the encircling arm, and before he quite realised what
had happened, she was out of reach, gaily waving her hand to his as she
ran away.

CHAPTER XIV.

A Glimpse Behind the Curtain.

Sid was generally liked and trusted, because, as Ned Young was wont to
say, he knew how to keep his mouth shut. Berkley Hart, however, had
grave doubts on that point. He was so suspicious that when he heard the
men laughing he fancied they were laughing at him. At such times he
bustled around with a display of energy that startled Brumby out of his
wits. He gave as wide a berth as he could to his former assistant,
whose company had become markedly distasteful to him.

Miss Hook showed a nicer perception of the situation. When Sid met her
next day her manner had changed.

"Good-morning, Sid," she said, with astonishing friendliness. "Nice
morning, isn't it?"

It was so unexpected that she had passed on before he could think of
anything to say. Subsequent reflection brought a smile of satisfaction
to his lips; but as the sands of time ran on he recalled that little
incident to mind with very different feelings.


Just before lunch that day Doctor and Mrs. Cudgen arrived from Mooban.
Ben Bruce, who had been out after horses for Sid's expedition, was
unaware of the nearness of his pet aversion until, late in the
afternoon, he saw that gentleman's wife approaching from outside as he
sat discussing plans with Sid on the latter's doorstep. She was walking
between Mrs. Byrne and Kora Danz, whilst behind them followed Myee and
Wilga. They were within a few paces of the little back gate that opened
into the paddock near the door when the visitor's low, musical laugh
caused him to look round sharply.

"Mrs. Cudgen!" he exclaimed in an excited undertone, and his face went
pale. "Who--who came with her?"

"The doctor." With a muttered imprecation the old man dived into the
room, and shut the door. The visitor did not notice him; but Kara Danz
and Mrs. Bryne did, and both were amused at the abrupt way he had
hidden himself. The action plunged Sid again into the problem that had
so often perplexed him; but he had little time just now to think about
it.

Mrs. Bryne, who had always taken a kindly interest in him, stopped and
introduced him to Myee's mother.

"This is the young man we were talking about," she said bluntly.

Mrs. Cudgen looked closely into his face as she shook hands with him.
She was a tall, handsome woman, with sharp, dark eyes and jet black
hair. He traced her features with a keen glance; but, save for the
slightly dimpled chin and the melting mouth, he saw little resemblance
to her brilliant daughter.

"They tell me you are going out to search for your father," she
remarked, surveying him with satisfaction, for Sid presented a frame as
well-knit as ever gladdened a woman's eyes. "Do you really think he is
still living?"

"It is quite possible; if he isn't we may find some traces of him. But
we are going for other purposes besides that."

"I hope you will be successful; but"--shaking her head doubtfully--"it's
a long, long time now."

"Yes, it's a long time to be lost. Still other men have lived longer
periods with the blacks."

"What does your mother think of it?"

"She doesn't know."

"Don't you think you ought to tell her?"

"No; she'd fancy I was going to be swallowed up in the wilderness,
too."

"It's not so much the wilderness as the dry water-bag that causes
disaster," said Mrs. Cudgen. "And young men are apt to be reckless and
over-confident."

"Our head-stockman is going with him," Mrs. Bryne put in. "He is an old
hand in the back country." Her gaze wandered to the door. "Fetch him
out, Sid. I'd like, to have a word with him."

It was clear that mischief prompted the request. Sid hesitated, knowing
well that Ben would be ill-pleased if he did as he was asked.

"Ben's a bit sensitive about his appearance," he said, by way of
excuse. "He's just come out of the drafting-yard, and hasn't had time
to clean himself yet."

"Oh, that doesn't matter," said Mrs. Bryne. "Tell him I want to speak
to him."

Thus enjoined, he reluctantly opened the door.

"Ben!" he called into the room.

There was no answer. Neither could he see the person addressed. He
jumped up quickly, and looked behind the door, then under the bed, and
finally stood staring in amazement at the window. The room, which
joined the office and store, abutted into an angle of the garden, and
the window looked out upon a grassy space, a chain wide, between the
lower part of the garden fence and the horse-yards and stables.

Mrs. Bryne peeped in. "Where is he?"

"He's done the disappearing trick," said Sid.

"How did he get out? Through the window?"

"There's no other way."

"Well, I declare!" Mrs. Bryne exclaimed, turning amusedly to her
companions.

"He must be sensitive, indeed!" said Mrs. Cudgen, amid general
merriment.

For once Sid felt ashamed of his mate. A suspicion crept in, too, that
the old stockman was a fugitive, and the Cudgens were somehow concerned
in what he had done, the shadow of which hung over him in his waking
hours, and affrighted him in his sleep.

"He's a very peculiar man," Mrs. Bryne went on. "He's all right among
ourselves, but he seems to be shy of strangers. Rod says when he
notices visitors here, he wants to know who they are, where they come
from, and what they're here for."

"Perhaps he thinks they're after him," Mrs. Cudgen surmised. "That
looks suspicious, doesn't it?"

"But he wouldn't think you were after him," Miss Danz interposed; "and
it must have been from you that he ran away just now."

"I'm sure I don't know why he should. I don't think I've ever seen the
man."

"Sid says he left because he wasn't presentable," Wilga reminded them.

"Fudge!" said her mother. "Does a working man rush off to polish his
boots when he sees a woman coming?"

Wilga turned to Sid with a question on her lip. The unabashed inventor
of excuses was trying to get a word with Myee, seeing which, Wilga
obligingly continued the argument with her mother as they walked on.

"Will you meet me at the wishing-tree to-night?" he asked her.

"No, I won't," was Myee's pert reply.

"Do, Fairy. Only to-night."

"What do you want me for?"

"We are going away early in the morning. I--I want to say good-bye."

"Can't you say it now?"

"No; that's no good."

"Why not?"

He glanced towards her companions. Kora Danz and Wilga Bryne were
looking back.

"Can't you see?"

"They're waiting for me; I must go," Myee responded, moving off.

He caught her sleeve. "Will you be there?"

"I might--for a little while."

Then she was gone with the rest. Sid went to the sheds, and then to the
hut, looking for Ben. He was not in his room, nor anywhere about the
place. The cook came to the door, loudly clanging the bell for tea. On
being interrogated as to Benjamin's whereabouts, Ned put down the bell,
tucked his apron under his belt, then dug his hands into his pockets,
and, hanging his head in a dejected fashion, paced up and down the
verandah. After a couple of turns, punctuated with violent spasms, he
stopped, and tapped his forehead with his finger.

"Got 'em again!" he said; and with that lucid explanation returned to
his table. Ben did not come to tea, in consequence of which there was
some sarcastic speculation among the men as to what lunatic asylum he
had escaped from. Ned Young remarked that if the moody person had not
been an inmate of some such institution he was fast qualifying to get
into one; and if he remained at large, it only required a few more
visits from Dr. Cudgen to precipitate a tragedy. Allusion was also made
to the foolishness of going exploring with a man who was liable to run
amok without respect to the phases of the moon.

Sid was unimpressed by these sallies, but he could not help wondering
what the trouble was between his mate and the doctor.

As soon as it grew dark he directed his steps towards the spot where he
had arranged to meet Myee. He went round on the outside of the fence,
for lights streamed out through the curtained windows and through the
open doors. At the gate on the western side, which was but a few steps
from the wishing-tree, he stopped and listened. Presently he observed a
crouching figure among the trees. His brows knitted with annoyance, for
it flashed upon his mind that Berkley Hart and Kian Hook had
inconveniently chosen that time and place for a meeting.

He entered stealthily, and moved along a grassy side path until he got
the light between himself and the man, who was intently watching a
window, through which came a babble of voices. To his astonishment he
discovered the intruder to be Ben Bruce. For a moment he felt as a man
feels when someone he has implicitly trusted has been caught in the act
of committing a felony. Skulking round the house like a thief was
altogether foreign to his preconceptions of Ben's character, he
recalled Ned Young's half-jocular remark, and in breathless expectancy
crept up behind him.

Suddenly Ben swung round and made a half-spring forward. Then he stood
straight, and pressed his hand across his forehead.

"What on earth are you doing here?" asked Sid.

"Sh!" whispered Ben, clutching him by the arm, and casting a swift
glance at the window. "Let's get out of this."

Sid followed from the garden, and a little beyond the gate, where he
stopped, and again asked him what he was doing there.

"I wanted to have a good look at the cow," growled Ben, in fierce
undertones.

"Who--what--"

"Mother Cudgen."

Sid covertly resented the opprobrious terms, but his pulses quickened
at the prospect of a glimpse behind the curtain.

"Why did you rush away like a scared myall this afternoon?" he asked.
"You could have seen her better then, and had a talk with her if you
wished."

"I don't want to talk to her," snapped Ben. "I don't want to see her."

"Why not?"

"I knew her long ago--in better days."

"Before she married Cudgen?"

"Long before she ever heard of the dog." The words were mumbled
savagely through his teeth.

"Before she married Ben Norrit?"

"Yes--when she was Nuna Lowan, the belle of the Logan River."

"Did you care for her?"

"I did then. I loved her with all my heart. But now I hate her. Let it
go at that, lad, an' never whisper a word of what I've told you."

He drew a trembling hand across his brow, as if to brush away a painful
memory, and looked out across the home paddock.

"The moon's rising," he said, immediately after; "so I'll make tracks
to the hut."

Sid was still puzzled, and the brief peep into the veiled years of this
strange man's life had engendered a livelier curiosity concerning
Myee's mother, and her second husband.

If Ben loved her when she was a, girl, it was Norrit who had cut him
out; then why his bitter animus against Cudgen? A supposition that he
had made a second bid for her hand and been beaten by the little doctor
did not provide a satisfactory solution. There was more in it than mere
rivalry in love. He was evidently afraid of the woman; and that, Sid
was sure, had something to do with the man's fear of the police.

Musing in this vein, he retraced his steps through the garden gate.

CHAPTER XV.

The Old, Old Story.

Never did the barrier between him and the captain's circle seem so high
to Sid as when he waited in the darkness for Myee; whilst she, in the
glory of budding womanhood, was idyllic in the amber light of the
squattage drawing-room. He felt then like an outcast, lurking in deep
shadows, and watching for glimpses of her through the window. Dainty
and bewitching she looked in a clinging white dress that gave
prominence to the exquisite lines and curves of her figure; with a pink
ribbon pinned across the front of her hair, and a red rose at her
waist. So much he discerned as she passed before the lamp. For the
rest, his heart throbbed in response to the tones of her voice, sweeter
to him than any music, and grew heavy with doubt when he could neither
see nor hear her.

At last the door opened and she stepped quietly out. When it was
certain she was coming to him the unsurmountable barrier diminished
considerably. Over the conspicuous dress she had thrown a dark cloak,
so that only a strip of white showed down the open front. Her head was
bare, and at her throat a fiery opal gleamed iridescent as the
moonlight played on it.

"You are good to come," he said, grasping both her hands.

"I think I am very naughty," she answered. "I hope nobody will see us.
I was nearly not coming on account of mother being here; and then I
thought--" She paused, and withdrew her hands from his.

"Well?" he prompted.

"They wouldn't miss me for a few minutes. I've come to say good-bye."

"There's plenty of time," said Sid. "The night is young. Let's go for a
walk down by the schoolroom and back."

"Oh, no! I mustn't stop."

"A little while won't matter, Fairy," he pleaded. "I shan't see you
again for a month or more."

"That will be a dreadfully long time, won't it!" she laughed.

Sid drew a deep sigh. "It will seem a year to me, Myee, when I am far
away from you, for you are dearer to me than all the world. Out in the
lonely wilds, when the deep, silent night has closed around you, all
that matters, or ever mattered, in your life comes to you as in a vivid
dream; the night seems full of mysterious spirits, talking to you by
impressing images on your brain; and I should like to think in those
hours that you loved me as I love you; and I should know then that your
spirit was always with me."

The girl bit her lip, but did not speak. She hardly breathed. Gently he
drew her arm within his, and turned towards the grassy walk. Her reason
told her that she was doing wrong, but she liked it. She went with him,
although her impulse was to withdraw her arm and run away. For a few
timid steps her face was turned towards the house; but no one else was
moving out of doors, and avenues of trees stretched forth inviting
boughs that gave her confidence.

Down the quiet path, streaked with silver light and velvet shadows,
they slowly strolled together, while he spoke to her of his ambitions,
told what he hoped to accomplish in the coming years.

"The hill that I have to climb does not look very high nor very steep
to-night, though I stand very little from the foot of it; and I shall
work onward and upward, always with the thought of you; and by-and-bye
I shall have something to offer, and be more worthy of you, if you only
say that you care for me a little, and will wait."

He put his arm round her waist and drew her closer to his side with
tender reverence, at the same time pressing her soft fingers
caressingly with his opposite hand. She quivered all through, looking
pensively down as his breath came warm upon her cheek, and the love
words were whispered in her ear.

"We are only children yet, so I have plenty of time to win to the top,
and will surely succeed if you tell me that the dearest prize in life
may be mine when I do. I have loved you, Myee, ever since I first saw
you--when you came to me at the yard like some beautiful nymph straight
out of Fairyland."

He tilted her chin up, till the liquid, blue eyes looked into his. With
the impulsiveness of passionate youth he would have taken a lover's
privilege while their faces almost touched, but she drew away.

They stopped awhile, and she stood before him, holding the lapels of
his coat. Unlike the playful, mischievous child of nature he had always
known, she now spoke to him like a serious little woman, with a tremor
in her voice.

"Sid, we are yet only girl and boy, as you say; and if you promise not
to speak of this again for five years I'll promise to wait, and if you
are still of the same mind I'll tell you then."

"Five years!" cried Sid, aghast. "O Fairy! That is an eternity."

"Not so long, Sid, when you consider what you have set yourself to do."

"But you can tell me now," he entreated, huskily. "Then it will not
seem long, and the work will be a pleasure. Whatever I do or strive for
will be for your sake. Only say that I may hope one day to call you
mine."

"Haven't I said as much?"

"Then you are my sweetheart?" he insisted, gripping her wrists hard.

"I didn't say that," she dissented. "You know what it would mean to
you--and to me--if they even suspected such a thing. You have to make
good in their eyes."

"If you love me, I don't care a straw for anybody else. I only want
you. I will do anything you wish; but--O Fairy, let me have you heart to
heart sometimes."

He clasped her to him again, pressing her so hard that she cried out as
if with pain. He felt her bosom heave heavily against him, her heart
beating wildly, and for a moment emotion almost overpowered him. Their
breaths came short and tremulous, her voice as vibrant with feeling as
his own.

"Give me a kiss!"

"I won't."

"Why not, dearie? You love me--I know you do!"

Still holding her tightly, he bent towards the flushed face.

"Just one!"

"No, let me go!" She threw her head back as she spoke, turning her
beneficent gaze full upon him. Wisdom was urging prudence, and in
conflict with it was an exquisite rapture that she experienced in his
rough embrace, in his ardent wooing. She struggled more against her own
inclinations than against his brute strength and the mastery of his
will. He was but a boy, it is true, but there was a fine young
manliness about him, a strong, virile fascination, that was well-nigh
irresistible. His wildly-throbbing, eager, electric being, aquiver with
the intensity of desire, thrilled her through and through as nothing
had ever done before. The intoxication of his love and the charm of the
soft, pale light, together with the scent of bush and flower, and the
faint hum of invisible things in the open air, made her momentarily
dizzy.

In that moment their lips met; and as they lingered together a sense of
wondrous peace, of all-pervading happiness, stole over her.

They strolled slowly back along the path they had come, in a silence
more eloquent than words; their souls communing in a language, known in
all lands, that no tongue could speak.

Along that high road of Love and Romance that knows no obstacles; where
such provoking things as social barriers were brushed aside like
gossamer webs; where they walked on air and gazed straight at the
golden gates of the Enchanted Land; those souls wished just then they
could journey for ever and ever, subject to no influence but the
sublime passions of human nature and the immutable laws of God.

The night was warm and calm and clear. A crisp sweetness was in the
air, and the moonlight world to them was very lovely. All doubts and
fears and sorrows had gone out of it; the future was a glorious vista,
radiant with flowers of promise, with resplendent hope, and the
marvellous faith that abides in the vernal spirit.

In the dawn of that new life earth and everything there seemed holy.
Love, the deep, pure love of youth, had thrown a glamour over all; and
in that holy hour they walked in Paradise.

The notes of a dreamy waltz floated harmoniously to their ears; low,
haunting sounds reached them from the great bush, mingled with the
lowing of far-off kine; and from high overhead came the call of the
black swans as they passed in straggling file, their fleeting forms
silhouetted against the brilliance of the everlasting stars.

At length they stood again on the spot where they had met. Time had
flown on magic wings, and all too soon they had to go their separate
ways. With a strange, soft look in the depths of her luminous eyes, and
blushing like the dawn in spring, the girl turned her pure face up to
him, and whispered, "Good-night."

"Good-night, little sweetheart," said Sid, and they kissed each other
on the lips. "Good-night, and good-bye!"

Hours later she lay with closed eyes on the pillow, going over and over
the whole scene again in her mind; for the old, old story that was told
in the world's beginning, and that will be told till the end of time,
was ineffably sweet that moonlight night.


CHAPTER XVI.

On the Track of the Explorers.

The following evening Sid, Ben and Murrin camped at the Rock Holes,
where the initials cut on the gidgee tree had quickened Sid's interest
in the lost squatter. The sap wood had been taken off with the piece of
bark, so that the part could never be grown over again. The bark had
formed a thick ridge all round it, the growth indicating such a length
of time that Ben at once decided that the mark had been made during a
mustering trip, and gave it no further thought.

Sitting by the fire after tea, he looked upon the beautiful rolling
downs that stretched towards the homestead. The waving Mitchell grass
showed snow-white under the rising moon. Horse-bells tinkled along the
timber, a dingo howled here and there, and towards the rugged ridge
behind them the thuds of bounding wallabies were frequently heard.

"Without a doubt, the squatter is the most improvident person on the
land," Ben remarked, after a long study of the scene. "If a few dams
were made in the creeks out here, or three or four excavated tanks on
the plain, this corner would carry ten times the number of cattle
that's on it, an' there be no need to worry about them in dry summers
either. If your old man had done that, lad, instead of goin' out to the
back o' beyond to look for water, he might have been here to-day."

He knocked the bowl of his pipe on the palm of his hand, and blew
violently through the stem!

"'It's a happy-go-lucky country this, an' no mistake--revellin' in
plenty for a few seasons, and perishin' for rain in the intervenin'
periods. Enough fodder an' water go to waste during the good years to
serve for the bad ones; still, very few who have felt the pinch bother
about storage an' conservation. After a big drought, when hundreds have
been ruined, an' seen how the calamity might have been averted, you'd
think they'd take the earliest opportunity to prepare for a possible
recurrence of the days of famine. But the man on the land is an
optimist. In the midst of his troubles he consoles himself with the
reflection that they cannot last; an' in the time of his prosperity he
dreams that it is going to last forever. Most of them think there won't
be any more prolonged scorchers; that old Jupiter Pluvius is goin' to
be a bit more regular with his sprinklin' business out west. I hope
they're right; but the records of the past half-century show that it's
a prudent course while we're enjoyin' the best to get ready for the
worst."

He picked up a live coal with his fingers, and lit his pipe. He was in
an unusually talkative mood, as though he were rejoicing in the greater
freedom of the wild bush; but the topic failed to arouse any enthusiasm
in his hearers. Murrin had already turned in; for the trio had ridden
all day to reach the Rock Holes. Sid had spread his nap on dry grass,
and lay on his back gazing up at the gracious skies, with many thoughts
and fancies running through his mind. The fleecy clouds formed quaint
images overhead, and once or twice he imagined he saw Myee stretching
strange arms to him through illimitible space.

When he dropped off to sleep Ben was still sitting beside the fire, his
arms folded across his knees, scenting the air with wreaths of tobacco
smoke; and he was still talking in a desultory sort of way of dry
plains, excavated tanks, and multitudes of cattle.

They were up at daylight, and by sunrise they were in the saddles
again. This day they travelled only half the distance of their first
stage, having to cross the range of scrubby hills that formed the
western boundary of Kanillabar. Beyond were wind swept flats and
parallel hills of soft sand, covered with porcupine grass and spinifex,
the nasty spinous nature of which formed a natural barrier to stock.
For 50 miles Murrin acted as guide, leading them along winding gullies
and lignum flats, through mulga and coolabah forests and brigalow
scrubs. The territory was inhabited by a tribe of blacks, with whom the
Kanillabar tribe occasionally mingled. Beyond the fifty-mile point the
country was as strange to Murrin as it was to his white companions.
They had now to travel more warily, camping early or late, accordingly,
as they found water. As a safeguard against possible failure in this
respect, they set out each morning with five well-filled waterbags, one
slung under the neck of each horse. In the dry atmosphere of those
regions the travellers' liquid consumption was enormous, besides which
there was a considerable evaporation from the bags, especially in a hot
wind.

Sid took the lead, surveying the country around and ahead with a pair
of field-glasses whenever a clear view was obtainable. A thick clump of
gidgee or a patch of scrub directed him at times to a good pot-hole.
The presence of large numbers of galahs and corellas was a sure sign of
the proximity of a large pool. Other infallible guides were the flock
pigeons and squatter pigeons, and the convergence of bird and animal
tracks. Emus and kios (plain turkeys) were plentiful in the clear
country. On the stony hills, on the sand hills, and over the long
flats, they were easily tracked.

Now and again he made excursions to left and right, whilst Ben and
Murrin, who each led a loaded pack-horse, rode straight on, meeting
again at a spot some miles away, that had been located by means of the
glasses. Whenever smoke was discovered, all three rode towards it
together, as it was not considered safe to encounter blacks alone. Both
Ben and Sid were armed with revolvers, whilst the latter carried a gun
as well, by which abundant game was added to their necessarily limited
supply of salt meat. Many wandering blacks were met with; occasionally
a camp was discovered. Murrin acted as interpreter. About the first
thing he had to assure the community in camp was that the white men had
no hostile or dishonourable intentions. After that the dusky warriors
showed a friendly front and a disposition to talk. They were useful in
directing the travellers to grass and water, but they could tell
nothing about a lost white man.

One grey-haired patriarch, with a jovial face and a cunning eye, who
had taken a great fancy to a small axe strapped on one of the packs,
offered to "tell um, plenty" in exchange for the implement. Sid
willingly handed it to him, and thereupon he said that a long time ago
a young lubra in the neighbourhood of Mingo Creek was carried off by a
Yanbo blackfellow. She escaped, and when she returned to her own people
she told that the king of the Yanbo tribe was a white man. He lived in
a rich country, far away to the westward of Mingo Creek.

This information was somewhat discounted by Murrin, who remarked, after
grinning broadly for half an hour after leaving the camp:

"My word! big liar that pfeller!"

Each evening Sid wrote up his journal, describing minutely the country
they had passed through, and the nature and quantity of the vegetation.
He also drew maps or the route, showing the hills, plains and belts of
timber, the direction and fall of the watercourses. The latter being
nearly all dry, he ascertained the fall in level-looking country by
noting the lean of grass and herbage that had been washed by flood-
waters, and the little heaps of drift against stems and roots, which,
of course, were always on the upper side.

A week out they reached a good stream, which proved to be Mingo Creek,
for on following it down they discovered the marked tree where storm
and flood had caught the pioneers, and from which Dick Cranston had
turned back alone. Here they camped, and before sundown more carving
was done on the tree, till it assumed the form of a living memorial
tablet.

While Ben mixed up a damper by the firelight, Sid reclining on his
spread rugs looking at the letters, his thoughts dwelling on that
stormy night of long ago. Murrin, squatted on his blanket, was softly
singing a corroboree song to himself, beating time on the ground with a
stick. In the grass not far off, the myrlumbing (night parrakeet)
called to its mate, its note varying from a peculiar whistling sound to
a frog like croak of alarm.

Between the creek and the last waterhole they had passed was a dry
stretch of 40 miles, where the heat haze in summer shimmered on the
stony hills, and mocking mirages made the claypans on the lower levels
look like gleaming pools. In wet seasons the lignum flats became
impassable lakes, and the little, winding creeks developed in a night
into rushing rivers twenty miles wide. At either time a footman who was
not well-acquainted with the country, and who was not skilled in
bushcraft, in attempting to make home without proper provision, took a
big risk of meeting sudden death. Sid preferred to think that his
father had never made the attempt.

"Say, Murrin," he called to the singer, "what makes you think that that
blackfellow tell lies?"

Murrin's expansive grin returned. The transaction with the dusky nomad
vastly amused him.

"That pfeller want um axe," he replied. "You give me gun, I tell you
lot better yarn."

"You'd better get to bed, Murrin," Sid returned impatiently. "We pull
away early to-morrow."

"Where to-morrow?" asked Murrin.

"Where sun go down."

Murrin's broad forehead was a series of corrugations as he gazed
thoughtfully into the fire.

"Plenty blackpfeller that away," he declared. "Savage pfeller."

"You frightened?"

"My word! Suppose you sleep 'longside a fire in that towri, you wake up
dead next time."

Lulled by the soft symphony of the breeze stirred lapunya leaves, Sid
dreamed of a white monarch who ruled a savage race; whilst Ben sat
watching his damper baking in the ashes.

In the morning, after crossing Mingo Creek, they were forced to deviate
a long way down stream to get round an impenetrable scrub of "dead
finish." Farther on brigalow scrubs and wide belts of dense lignum set
them beating about for a way through; but late on the fourth day they
crossed a chain of rough hills, and saw before them a wide scope of
magnificent country. This was the rich towri of the Yanbo tribe.

The blacks were unapproachable. Frequently smoke signals were seen in
the distance; but when the horsemen rode up the blacks had disappeared.
Murrin was exceedingly circumspective. He gave repeated warnings to
keep wide of scrubs and low thickets, where there was danger of being
met with a shower of spears. They doused their fire before dark, and
sought shelter in a thick clump of bushes. When blacks were known to be
near, they chose an open space, and took turns at watching the horses.
On this duty Murrin was most exemplary; he could have been trusted to
watch all night without closing an eye.

On the edge of a narrow plain, just as they had halted for lunch, a
huge kio, walking slowly and majestically away, with head high, caught
the leader's ever-roving glance. He rode round it in gradually
lessening circles until he got within range, when he shot it without
drawing rein. At the sound of the gun a naked savage, who had evidently
been stalking the kio, jumped up from a tall tussock, and ran like a
startled emu.

Sid galloped after him, and by smart horsemanship and much dumb show,
got him up to the camp. He was a fine specimen, tall, powerful, and
athletic. They induced him to sit down with them, and, though scared
and suspicious at first, he ate the tucker they gave him; in fact, when
he got fairly started, he ate them out of everything they had that was
cooked.

"Now you talk to him, Murrin," said Sid, when there was nothing more
for him to eat. "Ask him about white man."

Murrin yabbered to him for several minutes, and the captive yabbered to
Murrin; but neither could get a glimmer of intelligence from the other.

"No good, boss," said Murrin, with a gesture of lordly contempt. "He
talk bloomin' foreign language."

A little dispirited at this, Sid took a new billycan from the pack,
and, with the point of his penknife, scratched a "missing friend's"
message on the bottom of it.

"If this should meet the eye of Claude Warri, last heard of at Mingo
Creek, he is requested to communicate at once with a party now
exploring in the Yanbo towri."

He presented the can to his wondering guest, without directing his
attention to the message, and signed to him that he could go. The
recipient grinned delightedly, and went off with a stately step.

Sid reasoned that if his father was living with the tribe, he would
naturally overhaul that can the moment he set eyes on it, and seeing
the message, would endeavour to reach the party.

CHAPTER XVII.

Dick Cranston and Berkley Hart.

Meanwhile the overseer had wandered into Elysian fields. He rode off
one fine morning in the direction of Bogalby, which was not much more
than half a day's journey for a young man whose spur was love; but Love
was a jade who spurred only one way.

The owner of Bogalby, Mr. Archie Kenwary, J.P., was a lifelong friend
of the captain's. He had a daughter whom the captain considered an
excellent match for Master Rod. She was rich; and though she would have
been hopeless in a beauty show, she was not altogether unattractive.
The overseer had been taking frequent holidays of late, and it was
supposed that he was going to see her. This time he was so long away
that the captain was becoming impatient, when Mr. Kenwary happened to
pay him a call; and he brought the disquieting news that the absentee
had not been to Bogalby for at least three months. At this the captain
became furious, and said things that should not be said in the presence
of a J.P. The latter, who was a mild, nervous, old gentleman, pulled at
his moustache with long, slender fingers, and thought only of the
vagaries of young men in general, and the casualness of one in
particular.

It was a depressing circumstance to both, especially to the captain,
who had fondly imagined that an engagement would shortly be announced.
He was now positive that Rod had no serious intentions in that
direction.

That evening he handed Berkley a letter, with instructions to start at
once for Goondi Outcamp, and to ride on from there to Wonnaroo next
day. At this point he remembered that the Goondi girls were growing up,
and with an abrupt halt he added:

"If he's not at Wonnaroo, he may be at Goondi."

It was a slack time just then, and had the erring son been dallying in
Carinda Kenwary's neighbourhood, the captain would have been content to
send a message by the mailman. But there was something in the wind he
didn't like. Rod had been deceiving him, from which he deduced that
there was a secret attachment somewhere. He trusted to Berkley's prying
nature, without saying anything pertinent to him, to discover what it
was.

Berkley rode hard, cursing up hill and down dale. Four long night hours
and a rough camp; an early start from Goondi Outcamp on a fresh horse;
another change of horses at Tibbonong, and Berkley eventually reached
town in a bad humour, and with a craving for stimulants. Dick Cranston,
expectantly gripping his beer pump, greeted him pleasantly. Men from
far out generally came in with good cheques.

"Pump it up," growled Berkley, throwing some money on the bar. "If I
was gettin' my due, it would be charged to the blighted overseer. Have
you seen anything of him lately?"

"He's staying here," said Cranston.

"Ugh!" Berkley grunted disapprovingly. "He was supposed to be at
Bogalby, payin' his addresses to the adorable Carinda."

Social items of this sort were cheerfully purveyed for outside gossip
by Miss Kian Hook. She told Berkley in confidence, and Berkley confided
the intelligence to the general public.

Cranston laughed--a hard, grating laugh like the whinny of an old horse.
He was short, stout, and flabby-looking. His shaven face was puffed and
sallow, set with big smoky eyes.

"Precious little intention he had of going to Bogalby--not while there's
a pretty girl waiting for him on another track."

Berkley peered at him through half-closed lids. "You needn't run me in
a brumby, Dick," he said, biting the tip off a vile cigar to which the
publican had treated him.

"If you want to see him at once you'll find him at Morella," Cranston
added.

"What th' pigjumpers takes him down there?" cried Berkley.

"Keira Warri. Didn't you know they were engaged?"

"Dog bite me, no!"

"Well, they are. You ask Joe Steel, or Jake Gowrie."

Berkley banged his fist on the bar.

"Holy Smoke!" he said, "that will be great news for the captain. He'll
tear his beard out when he hears it. Why, the report was that his nibs
was booked to marry Carinda Kenwary. I know the boss an' old Archie
want him to, an' they've been doin' their utmost to gratify their own
wishes, at any rate."

A pleased look came into his face at the thought of what would probably
happen.

"I reckon there'll be an all right bust-up when Mr. Rod gets back, an'
unless I'm very much mistaken that wont improve Master Sid Warri's
prospects."

"I heard he gave somebody a drubbing out there," said Cranston. "Pretty
good with his hands, isn't he?"

"Look out he doesn't drub you," Berkley retorted. "Do you know where he
is now, Mr. Cranston? A hundred miles the other side of Mingo Creek,
lookin' for his father."

"The deuce he is!" Mr. Cranston's big eyes bulged.

"I thought that would interest you," said his visitor nastily. "Have a
drop of brandy, Richard. You look pale."

"What set him on that quest?" asked Richard, ignoring the advice. "Has
he heard anything?"

"The captain wants another run, an' young Warri, Ben Bruce, an' Black
Murrin are explorin' for him, an' lookin' for your old friend at the
same time."

"Bah!" he's dead long ago," said Cranston, an ugly set on his grey
lips. "Wild blacks wouldn't keep him all this time."

"Wouldn't they? Just cast your recollection back a few years, Dick, to
the happy time when you were mismanagin' th' squattage for the old lady
an' featherin' your own nest."

"When you were helpin' yourself to tobacco," snarled Cranston, glaring
at him.

Berkley scowled back.

"Only one person smoked tobacco that cost him nothing when you had the
sellin' of it," he retorted. "You always had a remarkable genius for
lookin' after number one, Dick. Only a man with your special gifts, and
the ability to grasp opportunities with both hands, could have bought a
flourishin' business like this in the time you did."

"You be careful what you're saying," Cranston snorted. He took a glass
from the tub, wiped it briskly, and set it down hard on the shelf.

"Well," Berkley continued, holding his cigar from him and eyeing it
critically, "just when you were nicely set up an' prospering Black
Derry happened to hear from the neighbourin' tribe that Warri was
livin' with another lot a long way out, an' he came in hot foot with
the glad tidings. That was good of Derry. You loaded him up with
presents; then you threatened to shoot him dead if he mentioned the old
boss to anybody else. You recollect that, don't you?"

Cranston eyed him wrathfully. "I recollect you were hangin' about when
Black Derry came to see me--pokin' your nose into other people's
concerns, as usual," he returned.

"I was there on legitimate business from Bogalby at the time," Berkley
corrected.

"And when you heard the wild-cat yarn about Warri," Cranston continued,
"you advised me to say nothing about it, as it would only upset the old
lady again, just when she'd got used to bein' a widow."

"No, I didn't," said Berkley. "I'm not in love with old Warri, or young
Warri; I don't suppose I'd be prostrated with grief if I saw the lot of
'em stone stiff; but I wouldn't damage my reputation to help your
little schemes. What I said was that it wouldn't be much loss to us if
he stopped there."

"And you never mentioned the report yourself, so he would stop there,"
Cranston sneered.

Berkley showed signs of impatience.

"You asked me not to--out of consideration for the poor, sorrowin'
widder (if widder she is), until you investigated an' made sure, if
there was any truth in it. If you ever did any investigatin' it wasn't
in the old boss's interests, I'll bet sixpence."

"If you've come here to insult, me, you'd better get out of my bar,"
said Cranston, in a loud voice.

"Don't excite yourself," said Berkley. He threw the butt of his cigar
into a cuspidor, and tried to spit out the taste of it. "What I want to
say is this: Warri 'ad been lost about 12 months when Derry heard about
him, an' if he was safe with the blacks for a year, he'd be safe for a
lifetime. Some superstition must 'ave got the upper hand of 'em.
Anyhow, I won't be a bit surprised to see young Warri land home with
him alive and well."

The publican, leaning on folded arms, gazed sullenly at the floor.

"You ought to be glad to think he might be droppin' in to see you any
day," Berkley pursued with malicious enjoyment, "because he'll be able
then to tell certain suspicions minded people that you didn't help him
to get lost."

Cranston snatched up another glass, and stood with his back to the bar,
wiping it a lot more than was necessary. He worked up steam at it, and
finally dropped it and broke it. The crash was followed by the entrance
of Mrs. Cranston, a woman of cheerful countenance and generous
proportions, who shortly relieved her husband of his unpleasant
customer, taking him into the dining room for refreshments of a more
substantial kind.

After his repast Berkley slipped away to see what he could pick up at
Morella. The news of the overseer's engagement with pretty Keira Warri
had been as good as a tonic to him. He walked along quite jauntily,
thinking mainly of the captain, and smiling in gleeful anticipation.

Lights showed faintly through the front windows of the house.
Shadowgraphed on one of the blinds were two heads in the closest
possible juxtaposition. They separated smartly when he knocked, and
presently the door was opened by Keira Warri.

"Excuse me, miss," said Berkley, raising his hat, "is Mr. Bryne here?"

The overseer immediately presented himself. He received the captain's
letter with a puzzled expression, and after reading it stepped out on
to the verandah.

"Who sent you down here?" he asked unpleasantly.

"Mr. Cranston," was the prompt reply.

The overseer thrust his thumbs into the armholes of his vest, and
strode slowly to the verandah edge, where he stood frowning at the
stone step. He wanted to know next how the captain had located him. So
he naively inquired: "Anybody called at Kanillabar while I've been
away?"

"Mr. Kenwary came yesterday," Berkley informed him.

The delinquent whistled very softly whilst he pondered over this aspect
of the situation. He found himself in the position of a skipper who
suddenly saw breakers close ahead, and no way of getting round them. He
had been sailing recklessly on the charmed sea of sentiment, unheeding
the beacon lights of position and fortune, and whatever course he took
now meant a sacrifice.

At last he grasped at a straw, and with it dismissed the unwelcome
messenger:

"Tell the captain I was bitten by a snake, and that I'll be home day
after tomorrow."

CHAPTER XVIII.

The Overseer gets the Sack.

Berkley made as much dust fly going back as he had made going in.
Feeling that the information he had gleaned was of vital importance, he
lost no time in hunting up the captain. The latter had just finished
tea, and was ensconced in a deep leather chair in his smoking-room. A
tasselled cap was on his head, carpet slippers on his feet, which were
crossed on the table; and the bowl of a long-stemmed pipe rested on the
bulge of his vest.

"He's in Wonnaroo," Berkley announced from the doorway.

"Who's he?" asked the captain, as though he had forgotten all about
Berkley's mission.

Chilled by this reception, the latter explained in a cheerless,
deferential manner, and in the same breath delivered the overseer's
message. The captain's feet dropped on to the floor, and he started up
in quick alarm.

"Is he all right?"

"Yes," Berkley assured him; "I saw him at Warri's. They told me he
might be there till late, so I went down."

"Who told you?" asked the captain.

"Dick Cranston--an' one or two others I asked.

"Asked what?"

"Where Mr. Rod was. They said if he wasn't at Morella that Miss Warri
would be able to tell me where to find him."

A new light flashed into the captain 's eyes.

"Er--why should they think Miss Warri would know where to find him?" he
inquired, tentatively.

"The report's about town that they are to be married," Berkley replied.

The captain's hand moved slowly down his beard, and his brows darkened.

"Always some silly report going around," he commented. Then he asked:
"How is Mrs. Warri?"

"I didn't see her," said Berkley. "Only the girl."

"Miss Warri? She quite well?"

"Yes." With that the matter ended so far as the disappointed Berkley
was concerned. He had expected to see the captain explode, and he had
not even fizzed. He had shown a little anxiety as to the state of Rod's
health; beyond that his equanimity had not been disturbed in the least.
Berkley was disgusted.

It was nearly 10 o'clock that night when the overseer arrived home. His
sister Wilga met him in the hall.

"Where have you been?" she exclaimed, catching both his hands; and
before he could answer she added: "My word, you're in for it, my lad."

"What for?"

"Dad's had a parrot visitor, and he's as cross as two sticks."

"What said the parrot?" asked Rod.

She whispered in his ear: "K-e-i-r-a!"

Rod laughed guiltily. "Where is the captain?" he asked.

"In the smoking-room--waiting to jump on you with both feet."

"I'll go and have it out with him, then."

The captain was reading a book. He continued to read for half a minute
after Rod entered the room. Then his shaggy brows slowly lifted, and he
peered at him over the top of the page.

"Er--you've come back, young man," he said at last, sitting up. He
looked him over from head to toe, and from toe to head. "Well, well!"
he commented. "You haven't altered a great deal, considering the time
you've been away."

"Were you wanting me?" asked Rod, a little vexed and rebellious.

"Er--wanting you? Certainly not, certainly not." He put the book on the
table and took off his glasses. "There's no supervising required on a
place like this. It's quite able to take care of itself. And--of course--
I'm here when there's a long mountain ride to be done, or--any spinning
through the bush after wild cattle. Just the sort of exercise for an
old man like me."

The overseer regarded him with a hard grin, admitting to himself
meanwhile that his father had good reason to complain since the head
men were absent. He repeated the excuse he had sent on with Berkley
Hart, describing where and how the incident happened, and showing a
wound on his ankle, which looked not unlike the prod of a spur. The
captain had been thinking about that snake-bite in the interval.

"What bit you the other times you were going to Bogalby, Rod?" he
asked, eyeing him closely. "A goanna?"

Rod coughed and shuffled his feet uneasily.

"I didn't go," he said, "because the old people had got it into their
heads that I didn't want to see anybody but Carinda when I visited
there."

"Well?" said the captain, taking the pipe from his mouth and regarding
him with a puzzled air.

"I was afraid Carinda might think the same."

"Very considerate of you," said the captain, sourly. "Er--went to
Morella, didn't you?"

"I did."

"Hear you're engaged to Keira Warri. That true?"

"Yes." Some of the ruddy colour went out of the captain's face. His
eyes blazed.

"You tell me you intend to marry that patchwork sewing girl?"

Rod's spirit rose in revolt. An angry flush showed under the sun-tanned
skin. "Keira Warri is as much a lady as anyone in this house, and if
she can sew and do things for herself, she will be a better wife than
the society doll who has never had to soil her hands, and consequently
has no idea of managing a home."

"That's enough, sir!" said his father, sternly. "You drop that silly
notion at once."

"What's silly about it?" Rod defended warmly. "You don't know her--"

"Don't want to," the captain interrupted, waving his hand to stop any
further description of her merits. "She's not the mate for you."

"Why not?" the overseer persisted. "Nobody can say anything against
her, or against her family."

"Wouldn't believe 'em if they did, would you?" the captain snapped,
growing more irascible.

"If I heard them they might be sorry they spoke," the young man
valiantly returned.

His sire stared at him with parted lips as if he doubted his own ears.

"Er--might be sorry I spoke, Rod?" he questioned, looking dangerous.

"You wouldn't say what wasn't true,' said Rod, with a sort of filial
respect that left the captain speechless. "She's a good girl--one that
any man living would be proud of."

The captain held up his hand again. "Every sentimental calf gets that
idea about the pretty face he's struck on."

"Must be inherent in the blood," his son observed sarcastically.

The captain shot a ferocious glance at him, and leaned forward with the
hand holding the pipe resting on his knee.

"Made up your mind to marry her, Rod?"

"I'm not going to tie myself to anybody I don't love--and don't want,"
Rod declared.

"Made up your mind to marry her, Rod?" the captain repeated.

"Yes!" Rod answered, staring at the lime-white hearthstone. The captain
eyed him fixedly for a moment, white with rage.

"Better think over it," he advised. "Think well what that step will
cost you." He stood up and rapped on the table with his knuckles. "If
you're on Kanillabar when the sun sets to-morrow I'll take it to mean
that you've decided to respect my wishes. Hear that?"

The overseer bowed gravely and withdrew.

In the seclusion of his own room he thought over the matter till well
on to midnight. Then he turned out his drawers and wardrobe, and sorted
out what things he didn't want, or couldn't carry. Of the others he
folded some on a couple of blue blankets, and some he stowed in a
valise, and rolled them up.

While the stars were yet twinkling above him, and the household still
asleep, he got his horses and rode away. Not without a pang, however;
the hobble chains and the battered quart-pot swinging on his saddle
dees jingled a rather sad tune to him under the lifting fog in the
early morning. He had little that he could call his own; a hundred
pounds in money, the hardy hack that carried him, and the pack-horse he
led. Well, he had worked hard all his life; and he thought of many
things he might turn his hand to, of many places where he might go and
prosper.

He concealed nothing from Keira Warri--except that his father had called
her a patchwork sewing girl.

"I am sorry, Rod," she said compassionately, "that you have lost so
much through me."

"What I've lost would have been worthless without you," he returned
stoutly. "While I have your love I won't worry about anything else; and
I'll come back before very long to claim you for my bride."

"You're not going away from Wonnaroo?" she asked quickly.

"Yes--a long distance away. As I've got to make a fresh start I'll make
it in fresh fields."

He placed a hand on her head, and imprinted a kiss on the upturned
lips. She smiled bravely, despite an absurd little teardrop that
trembled on her eyelash.

"I'm going to the Logan River," he continued. "I've a lonely bachelor
friend down that way--Bede Lowan. You may have heard Sid speak of him.
He's Myee Norrit's uncle--managing Byndoora for his sister, Mrs. Cudgen.
He's often asked me to go down, so I'll pay him a visit while I've got
the time. Perhaps he'll be able to put me on to something."

A troubled look crept into the girl's face while he was speaking.

"It's a long way," she sighed, gazing at the darkening skyline, and
thinking woefully of the weary time that would elapse before he
returned to Wonnaroo.

"We'll write often, and then it won't seem so far," he said
encouragingly.

"Be sure you do!" She laid a warning finger on his chin. "Far tracks
generally mean long intervals between letters; and--sometimes--men
forget."

"That won't be with me, darling" he promised, and his arm unconsciously
tightened about her waist. "I'll always be true to you."

"Through sunshine and shower?"

"For ever and ever!"

Her arms slipped round his neck, and her head nestled against his
shoulder. So they stood while the twilight faded, and one by one the
early stars peeped, out and winked.

CHAPTER XIX.

In the Towri of the Yanbo Tribe.

When a month had passed and they had gleaned no tidings and found no
traces of the white man they sought, Ben Bruce inclined to the same
opinion as Murrin about the axe deal. Sid's faith, however, was
unshaken. Latterly they had seen many blacks, some of whom, though
excited and suspicious, had shown no fear of the strangers. The tribe
was a very big one, divided into several clans, and spread over a great
area of scrub and plain and hill. Some fled at their approach; other
clans came boldly forth to see them. Unfortunately, Murrin could not
understand them, nor make himself understood.

The trio continued to travel slowly westward, zig-zagging far to left
and right, and sweeping the broad plains with field-glasses from the
summits of the clearer hills. An abundance of grass and water, blue
bush, and cotton bush, kept their horses in good nick. They rolled out
of their blankets at daybreak, and as soon as breakfast was over they
packed up and mounted. Crows and eagles, flocking round the smouldering
embers, chorused joyously as they rode away. Barely in the day's ride
did they put their horses out of a walk, for those animals had a long
journey yet when the quest was relinquished. The sun and the shadows
gave the time by day, as the stars denoted the hour by night. When the
sun was in the zenith they halted for the midday meal and a rest, and
when the sun was getting low they sought a camping-place for the night,
always with more thought for the horses than for themselves, and
usually had the fire going and the billy boiling while the afterglow
still reddened the western sky. After eating and cooking they yarned
until it was time to turn in. That was the ordinary routine; but the
days were not without incident.

On a morning after a wet night they came to a big tree, from which two
sheets of bark had been freshly stripped. A short distance away, on a
bit of high ground, the two sheets lay side by side in their original
circular shape, like hollow logs. Murrin uttered a warning whisper, and
held up his hand.

"Mine think blackpfeller sleep there," he said, his gaze intently fixed
on the two round objects. "They too far from camp last night when rain
come on, an' they strip bark to make um dry bed."

"Let's steal on to them, Ben," said Sid, dismounting.

Handing their reins to Murrin, they tiptoed up to the first sheet and
peeped in at the end. A shaggy black head lay just within the cubicle,
pillowed on what looked like a dillybag. Motioning Ben to take hold of
one edge of the bark, Sid stepped round and grasped the opposite edge,
and pulling quickly together they drew it open, disclosing a lubra
wrapped up in a bilby rug. She woke with a violent start, stared for
one fearful moment, then leaped to her feet, yabbering hysterically to
her consort who slumbered in the other improvised bed chamber, and fled
across the landscape as hard as she could go. Binghi thrust his head
out, uttered a cry of mingled astonishment and annoyance, and scrambled
into the open with all speed. He stood up, facing them in speechless
wonder, his naked body glistening in the morning sun.

Murrin rode up and addressed him in the Mingo Creek dialect, at which
his ebony face instantly brightened, and he answered in the same lingo.
Sid was delighted; at last he had found someone with whom he could
talk--per aid of an interpreter.

By way of gaining the aborigine's confidence, he unpacked some tucker
and placed it before him. The black man appreciated the timely
breakfast, and while he ate he was plied with questions concerning the
white man who lived there. They told him that the Mingo Creek blacks
had seen their brother with the tribe, and they wanted to know what the
tribe had done with him.

Nilgirry, the black man, then related that a long time ago the dead
grandfather of Goruyana, the king, had come back to them bleached and
white, carrying in his hand the spear of Durrimboey, and wearing a
wonderful necklace that talked tick-tick all day and all night, and
that told what time the sun came up and what time the sun went down.
Goruyana was very old, and when he died Queeta, the white man, was made
king. For many moons he lived with the tribe, and then while they were
hunting the kangaroo they lost sight of him on a lignum flat. When they
searched for him they saw his tracks crossing the red sandhills towards
Mingo Creek. Then strong winds blew out his tracks, and they saw no
more trace of him.

After Nilgirry had concluded Sid remained for awhile in deep thought.
The story had the appearance of truth. It was widely believed among the
aborigines that a black man who had died or had been killed in battle
became a white man--or ghost--in another country, because the body when
flayed was perfectly white. Among cannibal tribes, who ate the slain,
the body of a black man was skinned before being roasted; but when a
white man was killed to eat, the body was not skinned, as that was
supposed to have been done when he figured on the bill of fare as roast
nigger. A white man, especially if he appeared without clothes, was
perfectly safe among the most savage races and the most inveterate
cannibals, if any member of the tribe could trace a resemblance in him
to a deceased relative, for that member took him under his protection
in the belief that it was his reincarnated father, or brother, or other
relative, returned to him. Sid had always cherished the idea that such
had been the case with his father.

"What do you think of it?" he asked his interpreter.

"That very good yarn," Murrin replied. "I think you ought to give him
twopfeller axe."

"Don't you believe him?" Sid queried, a little exasperated.

"Some," said Murrin. "But I don't think old boss run away longa Mingo
Creek. Suppose they want to track him, they track him all right."

"You think they killed him?"

"No, they wouldn't kill him. If he sit down here one time, he sit down
somewhere yet. . . . I think you soon find new mother now."

Sid's face crimsoned. "You ask him," he said sternly, "if there were
any marks on the necklet, and if so, tell him to show us what they were
like."

A long colloquy ensued between the two blacks, and at last Nilgirry
took up a stick and drew on the ground the monogram, "W."

"My father's brand!" cried Sid, jubilantly. "It was engraved on the
face of his watch. That's proof that he's here."

"Or has been," Ben Bruce amended. "We'd better make Nilgirry lead us to
his camp."

"He'd only waste our time," Sid returned. "If he doesn't want us to
find the governor he'd take us to any camp but the right one. We'll
push on without him."

He presented Nilgirry with a butcher's knife, and also with a pannikin,
on the bottom of which he scratched another "missing friends"
advertisement.

The following afternoon they came upon a recently deserted camp.
Gunyahs, bare sticks and poles, scattered boughs and burnt out fires,
marked the place where a fairly large community had lived for a brief
period. Most of the gunyahs were intact. Shaped like an old-fashioned
bee hive, with a small entrance on the lee side, they were built of dry
mulga wood and thatched with boonti bush, which was weighted and
rendered more weather-proof with earth and sand. They were rain
shelters, which were abandoned for more open structures on the return
of fine weather.

The horsemen rode round the lifeless village in hopes of finding some
clue. Whilst Sid restricted his attention to the gunyahs, and Murrin
looked for tracks, Ben circled the big trees in the vicinity in search
of a possible message.

Discovering nothing of importance, they followed the tracks; and twenty
miles away they came upon the aborigines encamped by the side of a long
lagoon. A bush-covered rise hid the approach of the horsemen. When they
were descried close to the camp, the fighting men rushed for their
spears, yabbering excitedly, and presented a hostile front to the
visitors.

Murrin hastily shouted greetings to them in all the languages he knew.
His luck was in, for shortly he found a voluble linguist in an old
fellow who introduced himself as Toonahri. This veteran, whose numerous
battle scars gave an impression that he was a quarrelsome person, or a
domineering character who meddled in other people's affairs without
proper authority, stood a little in advance of the others, holding a
grounded spear in his right hand and a couple of boomerangs in his
left. Murrin informed him that he and his companions were great friends
of Nilgirry, and when Toonahri had repeated this to the company, the
general attitude towards the visitors was more satisfactory. Murrin
followed up his advantage with the intelligence that he was an
ambassador, bearing an important message to the white king.

"Where message-stick?" asked Toonahri, suspiciously. Murrin, who had
been impressed by Sid's methods of sending information abroad, had
employed an idle hour at the camp-fire in inscribing a message of his
own on a piece of red gidgee. This he now produced. Toonahri examined
it closely, and discussed the hieroglyphics with some of his comrades.
He was satisfied as to its genuineness, but in returning it he
dolefully related that the white king had been assassinated a long time
ago by an enemy, and his body had been carried away. Beyond telling
that, he professed ignorance of everything and everybody.

The discrepancy between his yarn and Nilgirry's convinced Sid that his
father was still somewhere in that towri, for if he had wandered away
as described by Nilgirry, or had been assassinated as Toonahri
asserted, the particulars would have been known to all the tribe, and
there would have been no reason for withholding the truth.

Following his custom, Sid bestowed a pocket mirror, which had the usual
inscription on the back, on the unveracious Toonahri, and left him
ecstatically swopping grins with his reflection.

For three more days the search was continued. Other small communities
were met with, and other versions of the story of the missing potentate
were elicited from reluctant individuals. One, with a fine flight of
imagination, narrated that his majesty had climbed a very high tree to
look at the country, and when he got to the top the limb broke, and he
fell so hard that he made a deep hole, which he dragged in after
himself, and he was never seen again. The place had since been shunned
by the tribe in the persuasion that a debil-debil lived there. The
debil-debil, in fact, had taken the royal climber.

"We'll never get the truth from the blacks," said Ben, "unless we
happen to drop in accidentally on the mob that this famous monarch is
with."

"That seems to be our only chance," Sid agreed.

They had ridden straight ahead from the last fictionist they had
interviewed, and then turned sharply, as was their wont, and rode at
right angles for a couple of miles before selecting a camp. This was
done in case they were followed, as they sometimes were in wooded
country. Ben dismounted that evening with a somewhat listless air, and
when he had hobbled his horse out, he stood with his hands on his hips,
gazing dreamily at the corella hole where they had halted.

"Getting tired of it, Ben?" asked Sid, coming up with a billy of water.

"No, lad," said Ben. "I've enjoyed the trip right through; but I was
just thinkin'. . . as we're sure to be comin' out here with cattle very
soon, an' we'll have a better chance of learnin' the country an' lookin
round then, it would be a good plan to go in an' let the Captain know
how things are. You see, it's not like as if we were giving up the
search an' goin' back for good. We'll merely suspend operations for a
little while, an' during that time one of your messages might drift
into the royal gunyah. Then the cattle, spread over a wide area, and
stockmen riding about every day, will help each party to find the
other."

The same thought had occurred to Sid, and he decided to follow that
course.

"We've already stayed beyond our allotted time," he reflected, "and if
we're not home soon, they'll begin to think we have perished, or been
killed by the blacks."

He wondered as he spoke if two love eyes, far away, were watching the
sun go down and the pink and purple splashes turn to dusk.

Their last bit of flour was used up at that camp, and on the homeward
journey they were reduced to kangaroo meat and game. For all that, Sid
did not hurry. He had washed many a dish of dirt in his weeks of
travel, and now that the main quest was relinquished he gave more
attention to prospecting.

They camped early, and whilst Murrin hunted for game and Ben did the
cooking, Sid wandered about the neighbourhood, armed with a light pick
and a dish. He fossicked in creeks and gutters; here and there along
likely-looking ridges, in valleys and gullies; but the golden speck was
elusive. Excepting for the tantalising glitter of "fools' gold," he
could not find a colour.

His hopeless prospecting kept Murrin in good humour. Ben, who thought
his young mate's only ambition was to get rich quickly, cracked a dry
joke about it once or twice; but he did not know that Sid wanted to
find the gold that would make a ring for somebody's finger. However,
that was not to be; and his failure in that respect was his keenest
disappointment as he rode back to the homestead.

CHAPTER XX.

Thorns Among the Roses.

The captain, who had espied the homing explorers in the distance, was
standing on the office verandah when they rode up. Their return was a
great relief to him, for of late he had been compelled to do a lot of
run work himself. Usually, when he had far to go, he drove out in a
buggy, taking a saddle with him in the vehicle; and when driving became
impracticable he saddled and mounted one of the trotters. On one trip
his charger fell and got away from him, and he had to walk three miles
to the buggy; and when he reached it, tired and hungry, he found a
goanna eating his lunch. The men remembered that day, for every little
thing that went wrong, or that wasn't done with lightning celerity,
provoked a wilting explosion of language. For that reason they also
felt greatly relieved when the leading stockmen returned.

The captain was eager to know the result of the expedition. After
eliciting all particulars concerning grass and water, he inquired about
the lost squatter, and finally invited them into the office, where he
produced three glasses and a bottle of whisky. Ben and Murrin drank
liberal doses, but Sid declined to touch it.

"He doesn't drink," said Ben.

"Don't smoke neither," Murrin interrupted, grinning pleasantly. Murrin
had lamented that fact more than once on the way home, for he and Ben
had run out of tobacco.

"And he doesn't swear," added Ben.

"No!" said the captain, sitting back and looking up at the paragon.
"What do you do when you get annoyed with an obstreperous beast, or
when your horse deserts you several miles from home?"

"Talk complimentary to it in Murrin's language," Sid answered.

The captain accompanied them to the yard, where Sid, after letting his
horse go presented him with his journal for perusal. The captain
glanced at a few pages, then tucked it under his arm.

"I'll--have a look through this while you get something to eat," he
said, moving off. "Come back to the office after."

Ned Young's clamorous bail had just announced that tea was ready; so,
leaving his pack in the saddle-room, he went with Ben to the hut; and
while they washed at the latter's room, Murrin excited the cook's
curiosity by relating that "all about they had heard that old boss
Warri was king of Yanbo blacks, and had plenty of wives." That was a
little detail that Sid had intended to keep from the gossips. Berkley
guffawed, and thereafter he alluded to the luckless old gentleman as
"Combo Warri." It was a relishable tit-bit for Berkley--and for the
jovial cook, who loved a joke even if it was at the expense of his own
father and Sid, finding the cat was out, blushed at the thought of such
a report reaching the ears of Myee.

When he returned to the office the captain was absorbed in the journal,
but he shoved it aside, and laid down his spectacles as the author
entered.

"Er--think you could manage a cattle run, Sid?" he asked, motioning him
to a chair.

Sid sank slowly into the seat, his gaze meanwhile fixed wonderingly on
his boss's face.

"Take full charge of everything?" he queried at last.

"Think you could manage a cattle run?" the captain repeated.

"Yes!" The answer was now prompt and decisive.

"Out west?"

"Yes."

"Take cattle out and settle there?"

Again Sid answered in the affirmative. He was prepared to butt right in
at anything he was asked to tackle.

"I'll send Ben out first to get yards and huts put up," said the
captain slowly. "Meantime you'll be head stockman here. If you shape
all right, I'll give you charge of the new place."

"You'll hold the land permanently?" Sid asked, a note of joy in his
voice.

"Think I will."

The captain drew the journal in front of him again. It was copiously
illustrated with maps. These were properly drawn to scale, but the
actual miles were all guess work; a plain was marked as "about nine
miles wide," and a hill "about 200ft. above surrounding level." In
addition, "spinifex," "heavy sand," "stony rise," "bad crossing," and
"mulga scrub," along the route out to the locality marked "suitable for
a homestead," showed the captain what sort of driving he would have if
he undertook the journey in a buggy.

He discussed the route for two hours, while Sid was yearning to be in
the garden with Myee. He wished he had not drawn any maps.

The sweets of promotion buoyed him up till at last he was free to hurry
to his own room. The door was locked, but almost immediately Miss Hook
appeared with the key in her hand. She welcomed him in her sweetest
manner, shook hands with him, and lit the candle on his table.

"I kept the room locked up while you were away, in case you'd left your
valuables behind," she said, opening the window.

"Thank you," said Sid.

"Some people do leave valuables lying about," she went on, kicking an
old pair of boots against the wall; "specially when the love microbe
has got into the brain."

The delicate thrust passed unnoticed.

"You don't seem to be in a very good humour, young man," said Miss
Hook, a little tartly.

"I'm tired," was Sid's excuse.

"And disappointed?" looking at him narrowly. "Aren't you a little
disappointed, now?"

"What about?"

Miss Hook sniffed. "Because somebody else didn't come to meet you
instead of me," she said, her head rocking like a parrot's. "Don't
blame me; I asked her to take you the key, an' she waved me away. If
you knew as much as I do, you wouldn't waste your time running after
Miss Norrit"

"What do you know?" permitting himself an undignified curiosity.

Miss Hook gave a few gentle taps to a bit of loose paper on the wall.

"Don't think I'm meddlin' in what doesn't concern me," she prefaced
apologetically. "But I don't like to see a young fellow being made a
laughing-stock of when he's reaching after grapes that's too high for
him, an' can't see it for himself. Some would say he deserved a fall to
take the conceit out of him. But I don't hold with a young lady giving
encouragement to any one in a humbler position than herself, just to
make a fool of him. An' that's what Myee Norrit is doing with you.
You're not the first she's had on a string, if that's any consolation,
for she amuses herself with every simpleton who comes along. Only the
other day I saw her kissing Mr. Rod--when he was going away, that was.
We thought she was going to marry the overseer, for they used to sit
together of an evening, with their arms around each other's necks, as
lovin' as two turtle doves. After he was gone, I heard her say to
Wilga: 'This is dead slow; I'll have to find another sweetheart
somewhere.' An' Wilga says, 'What about Sid? He ought to be back soon.'
'Oh, says Myee, 'I forgot; him. An' I really believe he's gone on me,
too.' 'I thought you fancied him?' says Wilga. 'I?" says Myee, throwing
her head back an' laughin'. 'O, Wilga, you must think I'm easy to
please! Sid was all right to spoon with; he was good fun; but I want
someone for keeps.' 'You shouldn't encourage him if you don't mean
anything,' says Wilga. Wilga is more level-headed an' more
affectionate. 'If he's got any sense,' says Myee 'he ought to know I
don't mean anything. A girl must have some amusement with thrills in
it; something of the sweet-sensation sort; and Sid is just It, when he
doesn't get too serious.' "

During this long speech Sid sat on the corner of the table, listening
with feelings of amusement and resentment. He did not believe a word of
it, though deep down somewhere a vague fear was germinating from a
thought that her specious story had some origin in actual fact.

"Recollect," said Miss Hook in conclusion, shaking her bony finger at
him, "I warned you before what would happen. It's no use breaking your
neck over a little flirt like Myee. She's only making a fool of you."

"Who said I was breaking my neck over her?" Sid queried.

"Oh, don't tell me!" cried Miss Hook, throwing up her hands. "I don't
go about with my eyes shut."

"I wasn't reflecting on your excellent powers of observation," said
Sid. "I wished to ascertain if you've heard anybody coupling our
names."

"Indeed, I have. Your spoony-winkin', I may say, is common talk among
the girls an' the men. But the captain and Mrs. Bryne have no suspicion
of what's been going on; neither have Myee's parents. If they had,
you'd very soon know about it. I can promise you if the captain heard
about your love-makin', even though the girl was only laughing at you,
your reign here would be short."

Sid's lip quivered slightly. "Would you feel it very much if I got the
sack?" he asked, with an air of innocent sincerity.

Miss Hook glared, then sniggered. "No, young man; I'd sleep just the
same as usual."

"You mentioned before that I might lose my billet--"

"I spoke from purely disinterested motives," said Miss Hook. "You're
only, a boy yet, an' seeing you blindly making trouble for yourself, I
thought I might be doing you a service by opening your eyes."

Sid felt cheered by these words. He felt sure Miss Hook would not go
out of her way to do him a good turn any more than Berkley Hart would;
and it was in his mind all the time, that she and Berkley were keeping
company. If she did him a kind service the act would certainly not have
Mr. Hart's approval. So he deduced that the pie was poisoned, and that
Mr. Hart had a very long finger in it.

He snuffed his candle when she had gone, and quietly made his way round
to the wishing-tree. Not that he expected to see Myee that night, for
the hour was late. He strolled slowly up and down on that holy ground,
where she had walked with him in the moon light, and kissed him good-
bye. He was anxious to know from her if anything had happened in his
absence, but his confidence in her was unshaken.

In the morning, however, his faith was rudely shattered. She was out
early, cutting flowers for her own room. Sid stood at his gate, a
hundred feet away, twisting a horse hair cracker for his whip. There
was nobody else about. He hastened to complete his task, expecting that
she would come to meet him. But there was no welcome in Myee's face.
She looked at him coldly; the coral-red mouth that had always had a
smile for him was now frigidly firm; and while he stared back in
surprise she turned away, and went into the house with a stately mien,
her head as haughtily carried as if she had nothing but contempt for
him.

Sid's face blanched He felt dazed, and utterly crushed.

"She cut me dead!" he groaned, blindly stumbling towards the yard. "Oh,
Myee! I could never have believed it."

He greeted his mates with a forced gaiety, and even tried to whistle.
As they rode out on to the run he recounted the talk of the previous
night in the office. Ben Bruce was unusually gay that morning. Any good
fortune that came to Sid, any good work he performed, always pleased
him. Besides, he was strangely elated at the prospect of being shortly
exiled in the remote western regions.

Sid, despite a brave effort, was as cheerful as the chief mourner at a
funeral. Myee's freezing reception had smothered all the joy he had
derived from the captain's words. What was the use of promotion if the
girl was false? His heart beat with dull, heavy, throbs all day, and
the beautiful sunset that illumined their homeward ride had a
hopelessly saddening effect on him.

"You ought to be giving three cheers for yourself this evening," said
Ben; "but there's evidently a thorn among the roses somewhere. You look
as happy as a sick crow in a storm."

"I didn't have much sleep last night," Sid told him.

"Must have been excited," said Ben. "I thought you were too level
headed to get excited like that."

CHAPTER XXI.

Sowing Seeds of Mischief.

"Myee had been busy on the evening that Sid returned, and was not aware
that he was near, until the Captain mentioned the fact at tea time, and
recounted in jovial mood what his men had discovered. It was observed
that Myee's appetite was temporarily affected by the intelligence, and
under the covert glances of Miss Wilga Bryne a richer colour sprang
into her cheeks.

As soon as she could get away unnoticed she slipped out to the wishing
tree, where she loitered for several minutes before returning to the
house. A dozen times more she went to the spot in the course of the
next couple of hours. With a little hope still lingering in her breast
she at last sat down in the library, having first thrown up the window,
and pretended an interest in books.

Here Kian Hook found her shortly after leaving Sid in his room. The old
nurse glided in with an air of mystery, and with a peculiarly promising
smile, drew from under her apron the photograph of a pretty girl.

"Do you know who that is?" she asked, in a loud whisper.

"Myall Steel, isn't it? The daughter of the storekeeper in Wonnaroo."

"Yes. She's grown into quite a young woman since I saw her--nearly two
years ago now. And isn't she handsome?"

"She looks nice. Where did you get the photo?"

"Don't give me away," Kian Hook whispered. "I took it off Sid Warri's
table to show you."

"Off Sid's table?"

Miss Hook nodded. "That's his girl, you know."

Myee gave a little gasp. The photo dropped from her hands, and as it
lay face downwards on the table her startled eyes rested on the
inscription boldly written across the back of it: "Yours with eternal
love, Myall Steel."

Her lips went white; her hand clutched the table, for the floor seemed
to be reeling under her.

Miss Hook, noticing the open window, stepped across and shut it. In the
interval Myee made a determined effort to pull herself together.

"Who told you Myall Steel was Sid's girl?" she asked, speaking calmly,
while a tumult was raging within her breast.

"It's common talk," said Miss Hook. "An' why should she send him her
photo--with that on it?" pointing to the inscription.

"Did she send it?" Myee questioned.

"How else would he get it?"

"It may belong to somebody else, or he may have picked it up," Myee
suggested. She found it hard to believe that Sid was insincere.

"He doesn't deny that she's his sweet heart."

"How do you know that?"

 Miss Hook coughed behind her hand.

"I was chaffing him about her, an' I says, 'Miss Steel will be thinkin'
you've given her up, Sid.' 'Why?' he says, turning very red in the
face. 'You've missed a good many mails lately,' I says. 'Well,' says
he, 'I've been off the mail track.' Do you know, seeing you two so much
together here, I thought that he was a little bit struck on you. One
gets that impression when she sees a young man with his arm round a
girl, an' always running after her. Knowing about Myall Steel, I spoke
to him once or twice about it, an' he just laughed at me, an' said he
didn't mean anything--only just havin' a bit of fun. 'She mightn't look
at it in that light,' I says, 'an' as you're engaged to another girl,
you're not actin' fair to either. No matter what her position is,' I
says, 'you let a young lady know that you're appropriated, an' see if
that doesn't make a difference."

Myee faced her with burning cheeks. "I think you presume too much, Miss
Hook--"

"Now, my dear, don't get into a flurry," Miss Hook interrupted.
"Whatever I've done or said has been for your good. I've seen a lot
more of the world than you have, an' I tell you there's a bad streak in
a young man who doesn't play the square game with his fiancee. I
wouldn't trust him as far as I could see him. For your own sake, an'
your own good name, you should drop him. Shun him like poison, my dear.
If I were a young lady in your position, I should be very sorry indeed
to have myself talked about in connection with an affair that is
capable of a wrong construction."

Again the hot colour flew to Myee's cheeks.

"Who's talking about me?" she questioned, standing imperiously erect.

"The men in the hut," Miss Hook answered. "An' I've been afraid their
talk would reach the captain's ears. You see, my dear, if he were a
gentleman in your set, nobody would take any notice of you being with
him in a friendly way; but when you're associatin' so much with one of
the stockmen--unbeknown to your own circle--people talk an' make harm of
it, especially when they know he's engaged to another girl."

Further discourse on the painful subject was cheeked by the entrance of
Wilga Bryne. Miss Hook made a rapid curtsey, and withdrew, twiddling
her thumbs in front of her. Wilga, whose hair was in curl papers,
screwed up her face behind the retreating back, and, imitating the
nurse, stumped stiffly up to Myee. The latter leaned against the table,
staring blankly at the wall.

"What's the matter?" cried Wilga, tilting her playfully under the chin.
"You look as if you'd seen a ghost."

Myee's gaze dropped to the floor, but she did not answer.

"What is it?" Wilga entreated, putting an arm across her shoulders.
"Had a tiff with the boy?"

"I haven't seen him," Myee replied, still vacantly staring. "I don't
want to."

"Why?" Wilga's face grew suddenly grave. "What has he done to you?"

"He's false. He's engaged to Myall Steel. Writes to her--" The last word
was sharply clipped by a little gasping sigh.

"Who said so?"

"Kian Hook."

"I wouldn't believe her. She's an old cat!" snapped Wilga.

"I've tried not to; but it must be true." She sank down into the chair,
dabbing a tiny handkerchief to her nose. Then, resting her elbow on the
table and propping her hand against her cheek, she repeated what Kian
Hook had told her. At its conclusion Wilga looked up at the ceiling and
whistled softly.

"The idea of the old thing talking to you like that!" she exclaimed.
"Such a straight, lady-like, old dear she is herself. You must feel
awfully chastened, anyway."

"I was too hurt about Sid to take much notice of her insinuations,"
Myee rejoined. "I really didn't care what she said about my scandalous
behaviour."

Wilga pondered. After a while she said:

"Did he ever kiss you?"

"Lots of times."

"Did you kiss him?"

"Once,"

"Only once?"

"I--I think it was only once. I was so madly happy I forget. It was the
night before he went away."

"Did he propose to you?"

"Yes."

"And you never told me, sly boots!" Wilga reproached. "If a nice boy
proposed to me I'd fall over and break my neck in my hurry to tell you
all about it. And did you say you loved him?"

"Yes--or something to that effect."

"Put your arms round his neck and kiss him right on the mouth?"

Myee nodded.

"An' did he hug you as if he couldn't help it?"

Again she nodded. "Squeezed me so hard it hurt," she said.

"Then I don't believe Kian Hook," Wilga stoutly asserted, "Sid is a
quiet young fellow, an' that sort doesn't trifle with a girl's
affections."

"But he didn't come to see me to-night, though I waited an' waited,"
said Myee, with a sob in her voice. "And that photo?"

"He may be able to explain," said Wilga, encouragingly. "Come on to
bed--it's late; an' we'll see what to-morrow brings."

To-morrow, as has been seen, confirmed the ill report. Sid, quelled by
her unconscious demeanour of cold disdain, did not rush forward to
greet her, but simply stared in injured amazement. That evening he did
not leave his room; for one thing, he was writing to his mother, and
what he had to tell her covered half a dozen sheets of paper. Myee went
now and again on to the veranda, and between times watched secretly
through the curtains, hoping yet that he would come and sweep away the
ugly clouds that the evil winds had gathered. The day-long hum of the
great hinterland had ceased, leaving an oppressive silence. The lone
hours brought despair; and that night her pillow was wet with tears.

The next few days seemed the longest the victimised couple had ever
known, a dismal spun out period of existence, during which both nursed
an aching pain that would not rest. Sid was yearning for an opportunity
to speak to her--"to have it out with her," but believing he was not
wanted, he did not go again to the places where they had been wont to
meet; and not knowing that he had gone there at all, this fact
convinced Myee that the tenor at least of what Kian Hook had told her
was true. Still she could not believe that he was as callous as he was
painted.

"I'm going down to him," Wilga announced one evening, seeing him
leaning dejectedly across his gate.

"What for?" asked Myee, clutching her sleeve.

"To see what he means by his beastly conduct," said Wilga.

"Indeed you won't!" cried Myee, her eyes flashing. "You'll do nothing
of the sort."

"Why not?" queried Wilga. "There 's a mistake somewhere, I'm sure."

"I'd rather die of a broken heart than go cringing to him," Myee
declared.

"Faugh!" said Wilga. "If he proposed to you, an' you really care for
him, you've got a right to ask him for an explanation. That isn't
cringing. In fact, you've got a right to him, an' if he doesn't
recognise it you can sue him for breach of promise."

"Wilga! How can you say such a thing?" Myee exclaimed in shacked tones.

"He wouldn't thrust me aside so easily," Wilga went on. "I'd make
things so lively for him that he'd soon be glad to take himself
elsewhere. You'd better let me go an' see him. If he's been
deliberately deceiving you, I'll warn him to get off o' Kanillabar or
look out for the consequences."

"What would be the consequences?"

Wilga placed a dainty pink finger on her lip and reflected. "We'll have
to think of something very humiliating--something that will cure him of
flirting."

"A lot of good that would do me," sighed Myee. "You don't know the
misery I feel."

"I'm sorry for you, dear," said Wilga, sympathetically. Her eyes
wandered again to the lonely figure at the gate. "He doesn't look
happy, anyhow," she remarked. "There's something wrong about that yarn
somewhere. I think we ought to see him an' give him a chance to
explain."

Myee was firm. "If he wants me, he'll come to me like a man; if he
doesn't, he shall never know that I shed a tear for him; he shall never
know that I cared."

"That's silly," said Wilga. "You must remember he hasn't the run of the
place like we have, an' unless you put yourself in his way, he hasn't
much chance of speaking to you. An' that reminds me. Supposing he
wanted you ever so much, would your mother consent to your marrying
him?"

"If she wouldn't--and he loved me--I'd marry him without her consent."

"Wilful Myee!" murmured Wilga.

CHAPTER XXII.

"Colonial Experience."

Sid's first duty as head-stockman was mustering horses. A buyer was
coming to inspect, and the Captain had a score or two of culls he
wanted to part with. Some were getting too old for active work; some
lacked stamina, though they looked well; others had some vice or defect
that was not apparent on a casual acquaintance; and there was the
outlaw, the notorious buckjumper that none of the men would put a
saddle on. He had been offered for sale so often that the Captain
despaired of ever getting rid of him. The vicious eye of the rebel
proclaimed his character so plainly that nobody would take him on
trust; every prospective buyer wanted to see the beast ridden. That
request was tantamount to an order to pass him out; for the crack rider
suddenly developed a bad limp; the next man had a jumping toothache;
one had a touch of sunstroke; whilst Murrin, when he was appealed to,
became doubled up with pains in the stomach.

The outlaw was again drafted out for sale. The horses were ridden about
the home paddock, so that any with an inclination to buck might have
their fling before the buyer arrived. They were also groomed, their
tails were pulled, their hoofs cut, and their manes combed. The last to
be dressed for inspection was the outlaw, who had to be blindfolded for
the purpose. Charlie Clay suggested putting a dummy on him.

"I'll tell you what, he said, "we'll strap a dry cow-hide on him as
well, leavin' the sides free, so that at every bound they'll flap down
on his ribs an' flanks like a pair of big wings."

"That would only drive the brute frantic," Sid objected. He had been
thinking while the grooming was proceeding. He was in a reckless mood
that day. For a whole week he had caught only a passing glimpse of
Myee, and then she was in the company of a gentleman visitor--Mr.
Gilbury Marr, who bought cattle for a big meatworks. He was a young
man, handsome, well-made, a smart bushman and roughrider; and he was a
native of the Logan River, so that, Sid ruefully reflected, he could
talk to Myee of the places and friends of her childhood. The Captain
had made Mr. Marr a sporting offer in Myee's presence. "If you can ride
that horse," he said, alluding to the outlaw, "I'll give him to you."
Mr. Marr, however, had no use for such a beast. The mention of this in
the yard decided Sid.

"Lead him up here," he said. "I'll put my saddle on him."

While this was being done the Captain came to the rails.

"Er--want to commit suicide, Sid?" he inquired.

"I'm going to sell this horse," Sid answered.

The Captain looked amused.

"If you do," he said, "you can have half what you get for him."

Sid led the animal out on to the level sward between the house and the
huts. Murrin held him by the head, gripping an ear with one hand and
covering the nearside eye with his arm, while Sid prepared to mount.
Word had passed into the house that the rebel was going to be ridden,
and the womenfolk clustered at the garden gate to witness the
performance, for even on squattages, where buckjumping is common, a
brisk set-to between man and horse is always an entertaining spectacle.
The Captain stood a little way out from the group; the stockmen waited
here and there, some on their horses, some filling their pipes, with
the bridle reins over their arms.

The big bay quivered and bent his back at the slightest touch. A
highly-strung, powerful animal he was, that gave the impression of
being a mass of nerves and muscle. Timorous and suspicious of every
sound and movement, with the roguery and wickedness of a brumby
stallion, bucking and kicking with lightning swiftness, he was as
unpromising a quadruped as a breaker could handle.

Sid sprang into the saddle with the lightness and quickness of the
practised stockman. His leg, was no sooner over than the bulk of
opposing tissue under him swung back from Murrin's grasp, and for ten
seconds the rider was treated to a terrific whirlwind of bucks that
taxed him to the utmost to keep his balance. The horse took a breath
and went at it again, plunging round and round and across the square,
his back like an arch, his head doubled under his chest. He made two or
three high, powerful leaps straight ahead, then propped with a backward
spring and spun round; he bounded with a twisting and screwing motion
that made it appear as if he were flying through the air on his side;
in the space of five minutes he tried all the tricks and devilment of
his outlaw breed.

Sid hung on. The thought of being thrown while all eyes were on him--
especially Myee's--sent a cold shiver down his spine. And Myee watched
with many a catch of her breath, her eyes sparkling, her cheeks aglow.
She admired the robust man of action, and being squattage-bred and no
mean equestrienne herself, could judge the seat and hands and every
move of the one before her. He was an attractive balance rider--a style
that threw into relief the curves of his supple body; the firm, full
thighs, whose grip of the saddle was rarely shifted; the thin waist and
the broad shoulders, with the slight stoop characteristic of the
regular horseman. He was then as fine a young Australian as a lass
could cast her warm glances at; tall and straight, and just old enough
to wear a modest moustache.

After a brief spell, the outlaw bucked furiously up to the garden
fence, which he struck with his front hoofs. In the effort to spring
back, his heels slipped under, and he fell on his side. Sid dropped
smartly on to his feet; and as the outlaw lifted his head he slipped
back into the saddle, and the horse rose with him. The men cheered him.
The girl clutched the rail tightly, swayed by an emotion that surged
like a flood tide. Then she tore the gate open and rushed out, with the
others crowding after her; for the rebel had vigorously set to work in
a new way. Rolling from side to side in a galloping buck, he tore up to
the home-paddock fence, which ran into the corner of the cattle yards a
little way from the house, and, bounding over it, landed with his head
between his legs. A few quick bucks followed, and then, like a
maddened, wild thing, he raced away into the bush, varying his gallop
at intervals by vicious kicks and flying bucks. The men followed; and
it was not till the day's work was done that the rebel, jaded and foam
flecked, was ridden back to the yard.

He was mounted again next day, when he made another determined effort
to get rid of his burden. Failing to do so, he submitted sulkily to the
will of his conqueror; but his spirit was not broken, only temporarily
subdued. On the following morning the buyer came to the yard to
inspect. Sid had got up early, and galloped the outlaw round the home
paddock. Then he had rubbed him down well to remove all signs of recent
riding. When he was mounted after breakfast he went off as quietly as
an old stager. Excepting for his ugly eye, he was a magnificent looking
animal.

"How much?" asked the buyer.

"Eight pounds," said Sid." Horses were fairly cheap, then, and that was
considered a good price for a stock horse.

The buyer looked him over again, moving slowly round him"

"I'll take him;" he said finally.

The captain clutched his beard, walked away a few paces, and came back,
his face beaming. He did not say a word about the deal, either then or
later; but for a couple of days after he wore the look of a man who had
just been laughing, or who was just going to laugh.

It was about a week later that Sid heard the sequel from Jake, the
mailman. Walking down from the branding shed, with his coat over his
shoulder, his sleeves rolled up to his elbows, he came upon Jake, who
had just delivered his mail, standing near the store in earnest
conversation with Kora Danz.

"I hear they're talking about you all down the road as a great horse-
dealer, Sid," said the latter, laughing.

"Well, now, Sid," drawled Jake, "I didn't think you'd, take a gentleman
down like that. Sellin' him a brute at top price that the captain
couldn't give away."

"Well, he bought him in broad daylight, with his eyes open," Sid
rejoined. "How did he get on."

"He got on him at Goondi," Jake replied. "But he didn't stop on him two
seconds. I believe the outlaw nearly knocked Goondi yard down with him.
Everybody there knew the horse, an' couldn't make out how he had come
to buy such an animal. When he got to Goondi Outcamp he heard more
about his purchase, for the blacks there knew about him, too. The buyer
put the pack on him at the Outcamp, reckonin' he'd quieten him on the
road that way. When I met him he was collectin' the pack along the
stock-route an item here an' there, and inquirin' if anything had been
seen of a wild brumby careering across the country. He swears you had
the beast mesmerised; but I told him it was just skill in handlin' that
comes of experience. He's one of those smart chaps who thinks he knows
a p'int too much for anybody in these benighted backblocks. I like to
see these flash jackeroo fellows fall in the tub."

"In the tub?" Miss Danz queried.

"Talkin' of experience," Jake explained, "I remember one day when I was
a kid, the old man says to me: 'Jake, let's see how far you can walk
backwards with your eyes shut.' I shut my eyes, an' walks backwards,
an' I was gettin' along smilin' when all of a sudden I sits flop into a
big tub of water. The old, man, while I was splutterin' an' splashin',
roared fit to split. About a week after, we were standin' near the same
place, an' he says to me: 'Jake, let's see how far you can walk
backwards with your eyes shut.' I looks round very carefully. The old
chap grinned, an' patted me on the woolly-butt. 'That's experience,
Jake,' he says, 'what you an' every other chump has got to pick up.
You'll find yourself blunderin' into many a tub before you've picked up
enough of it to make a handy bush whacker.' That was 20 odd years ago,
an' I've been meetin' tubs an' pickin' up experience ever since."

"Experience," Jake went on, "puts commonsense into a head where there
was none before. It's your compass where there's no tracks, your
divinin' rod when you want water. Some fellows get it by sheer grit an'
doggedness, some by buyin' villainous horses unintentionally, an' some
by-seein' other people break their necks. It doesn't come to you with a
sudden jump. It's an expensive acquirement generally. Take a man who's
been all over the world in ships an' trains, an' so forth; turn him
adrift here, an' he's lost in ten minutes. But the man who's knocked
about the big sheep an' cattle runs is at home in any situation, an'
can pick himself out of any bush, doesn't matter where. He's swallowed
the experience. It's a fine thing to have in strange places; but
'tisn't to be gathered up like sticks.

"When you come to reckon up, the knowledge of little things in the bush
costs a lot one way an' another. Not to speak of the annoyances an'
fears you have, the skin an' hair you lose, an' the knocks you get; the
learnin' of little wrinkles you'd think nothing of sometimes costs a
thumpin' stack of money.

"I remember once I was ridin' along a telegraph line with a line
repairer, an' when ever he saw two birds light on a wire he'd bet me
that a certain bird would fly off first. He was a gambling monomaniac
in that respect. I wasn't long losin' a pound. Kept on betting in the
hope of winning it back, an' doubled it. I dropped to it last. The bird
that lights first is always the first to fly off. Travellin' soon
afterwards with another chap, I reckoned to profit by the bit of
knowledge I'd paid for, 'See those two crows,' says I. 'Bet you a
sovereign the far one flies off first.' 'Done' says he. Riding close to
a metal telegraph post, he gave it a smart tap with his whip, an' the
nearest crow flew off instanter. I paid for some more experience.

"There are lots o' things you come to know an' thoroughly understand,
an' yet you can't tell them or learn them to another. It's acquired by
long familia-arity. I heard a fellow say once that it was the external
equivalent to instinct. A miner would say that it was the precious gift
that was mined out of all sorts of hardships, an' a farmer would put it
that it was the fruit that grew on a bitter tree called blunders. If
you're long in the company of even a workin' bullock you'll see
different expressions on that bullock's face. In the same way you come
to see plain English written in your dog's face; to know when he thinks
you're a hero, an' when he reckons you're a lunatic, which is pretty
often, an' you come to understand the moods an' emotions of even a
goanna. Anybody who's got a bit of gumption at all can tell when a
horse is pleased, or narked, or frightened; an' when he's tired or
sick; but the man who handles an' rides the prad anyways regular sees a
lot more than a stranger could twig with a telescope. It all comes
natural when you go through the proper course of tubs.

"Years ago 'colonial experience' was quite an institution in its way.
Swells used to send their sons out to squattages to learn it. They'd
get ten or fifteen bob a week, maybe, an' have to rough it in the yards
an' outcamps, an' the bush generally, same as any other knockabout. At
first the other hands were inclined to look up to them a bit, an' call
them 'Mr. So-and-so,' an' think them lucky beggars to have plenty of
money an' be doin' that sort of work just for the fun of it. But after
a time it was discovered that their people were mostly ragged swells,
who couldn't afford to keep them, or else they were good-for-nothings
turned out of the old home to shift for themselves. They weren't men
enough to own up that they had to go an' graft for a livin'.

"Sometimes you meet a bullock-puncher on the track who's not well up to
the game. Has trouble in every bit o' loose ground, an' gets bogged to
his eyes in every worm-track of a creek. He's hoarse from shoutin', an'
blessed near blind with sweat. Even the beastly flies seem to know he's
worried, an' enjoy tormentin' him. He makes a swipe at Straggler--an'
knocks his hat off. Straggler looks round to see what's happened. The
others switch their tails. Some cough. The driver's nearly boilin'.
Then Leopard starts feedin'; an' that makes him madder. He makes a
tremendous swipe at him with the whip; but it gets round his own neck
somehow, an' nearly jerks his bloomin' head off--an' breaks the handle.

"Then an old driver comes along. He takes the damaged whip, straightens
the team up with a word or two, just gives a high-up flourish--an' away
they go. To look at him you'd think bullock-punchin' was the simplest
thing in the world! It's like everything else--just wants a little
experience--just the adequate course of tubs.

"By the way, Sid, I'm comin' out here to continue my education in that
respect. The captain mentioned that he'd be wantin' some new hands to
go west shortly, so I recommended myself for the principal vacancy--as
your lieutenant, to be exact."

"Jake's mail contract will expire in three months," Miss Danz put in,
"and he wants to have a spell at something else for a while."

"And you're going out with me?" cried Sid, joyfully. "You're just the
man I want."

"He'll be good company for you, Sid," said Miss Danz.

Sid wondered if the pretty governess had anything to do with Jake's
decision. Jake was only about 32, though he looked older, probably on
account of the rough, roving life he had led. He was a grand mate
wherever he was, a favourite with women as well as with men, and quite
at home in any company.

"Did the boss want to know if you could ride?" asked Sid.

"He did," Jake answered. "I says to him, 'haven't you seen me ridin'
through here week after week for years?' 'Er--yes,' he says, 'I can
ride, too, providin' the horse doesn't object.' Thinkin' he might have
another outlaw on the premises, I hastened to insinuate that I wasn't
comin' here to saddle up an earthquake, or to get astride of a jumpin'
velocipede. I can manage a horse as well as most, but I like something
under me that's fairly civilised, so I can fill my pipe or strike a
match when I want to without dismounting or askin' the moke's
permission."

CHAPTER XXIII.

Sons of the Open.

Ben Bruce had gone out to superintend the forming of the new squattage,
taking with him two handy men and an aboriginal horse-boy; and
provisions, tools, and other requirements on half a dozen pack-horses;
whilst Charlie Clay and another blackboy followed the leaders' blazed-
tree line with a horse team, laden with stores, fencing wire and
galvanised iron. The two latter returned after delivering their load,
and a month later the cattle were mustered.

The mob drafted for the new run was placed in a small paddock at the
homestead, and before the sun had risen next morning the men had
rounded them up for the final count.

"Go ahead there, Murrin, an' keep them steady," the Captain shouted,
ranging his big brown mare in a convenient position for counting as the
sliprails were thrown down.

Murrin, in snow-white moles, striped shirt and slouched hat, and a pair
of long necked spurs dangling from his heels, rode on at a slow walk as
the mob filed out.

Sid was in charge--a rover's post of honour that did not give the
exhilaration it usually does to one who shoulders the responsibility
for the first time. Jake Gowrie, his lieutenant, or second-in-charge,
was the last away, having stopped to pack up the campware. That done,
he waved a cheery good-bye to the homestead hands, and rattled off with
the pack-horses in front of him--which he handed over to the care of
Charlie Clay as soon as he caught up. The girls, watching from the
verandah, heard him singing in the distance and he was still singing
when he joined Sid:

"I wonder who's kissing her now!"

"Look here, Jake," cried Sid, "if you sing that again I'll knock your
head off."

Jake stared.

"Say! didn't the little lady give you a good-bye kiss?"

"No, she didn't."

"Well--all right, Sid. I didn't know."

After a reflective interval he spoke again;

"My old man used to tell me 'twasn't reasonable to expect to swim
through honey an' never run agin a sting. He wasn't far out. Reckon my
career's been mostly stings--an' wax; but, glory be, I'm used to it
now."

The Captain rode with them for three miles, talking of Yanbo and the
track thereto most of the way. "Take them steady, Sid," were his only
instructions before turning back. It was a big trust he imposed in Sid
Warri, and incidentally in Ben Bruce, for he had seen nothing of the
new place. He said he would drive out some day when the track improved,
and the rough pioneering work was done; but he never did.

The mob consisted of twelve hundred head of mixed young stock--the worst
sort on the road. With only three assistants, one of whom was much of
his time occupied in looking after horses, pitching camp, preparing
meals, breaking camp again and packing up, Sid's job was no sinecure.
The rouseabout was a cheerful soul, who seemed to thrive on long hours
of hard work. Murrin was one of the best cattlemen in the back country.
The road life he revelled in. The camp-fires, marking stages through
the primeval, glowed pleasantly with the traditions of youth; called
back the ghosts of ages to roam in indisputed sway over the wide, grey
plains of his forefathers, to hunt and war and woo in savage ways, 'mid
wild, immemorial hills. To him the dingo's howl, breaking anon the
serenity of night, was an emotion-stirring cry from the cradle of his
race. He was at home--a happy, willing, civilised savage.

Jake Gowrie was an old hand on the stock route. He was droving before
he was 12 years old. At 17 he was horse-boy from the Gulf to Wodonga, a
trip that took nine months, during the whole of which time he did not
once see the inside of a house or a hut of any kind. After running the
mail continuously for five years, he looked upon the present trip as a
holiday. If he obtained insufficient sleep at night when the cattle
were troublesome, he had the happy knack of working in his sleep in the
day. In open places, while the mob fed quietly along the slow pace, the
creaking of the saddle, and the warm atmosphere were conducive to
slumber, and Jake slumbered. A good droving-horse knows its work like a
good sheep-dog, and when man and horse know each other, forty winks is
a perfectly safe indulgence. If the animal stopped to feed, or turned
aside, Jake woke instantly. Now and again the horse, by looking round
and smelling Jake boots, intimated that it was his turn for a spell,
and Jake, dismounting, would dawdle along, leading him by the bridle.

Once Sid rode up behind, and with his whip flicked the horse that Jake
was nodding on. The resultant jump brought Jake into startled
wakefulness. Instinctively his hands jerked the reins; involuntarily he
cried, "Whey, whoap!" to the cattle. Then he realised where he was.

"Look here, matey," facing round sheepishly, "don't you do that again.
Might break a man's neck."

Sid laughed softly as he ranged alongside.

"Spoilt the loveliest dream I've had since I don't know when," Jake
continued, with an injured air. "I'd just proposed to her, an' she was
holdin' her sweet, little face up to me, as lovin' as an affectionate
angel dropped down from heaven, when the bloomin' horse jumps an'
spoils it all."

"Who was the girl?" asked Sid.

"Now, you want to know too much," said Jake, cutting slices from a plug
of tobacco. "I thought for a moment I was on the night camp an' the
cattle were rushin'."

"I hope you don't sleep when you're on watch?"

"No, old boy, that isn't my style. . . . When do you reckon we'll be
back for the second mob?"

"About five weeks from the day we left. Going to propose then?"

Jake filled his pipe and lit it. After a few draws he said:

"I've a good mind to. Feel I'd be a lot more contented out here if I
knew it was all right; an' if it was all wrong, the wild west would be
a good place to bury my misery in."

"I think you are on a good wicket, Jake," said Sid quietly.

"Don't know; there's always a risk wrapped up in a petticoat."

"She likes you, anyway."

"Who?"

Jake held the pipe from his mouth, his face full of surprised interest,
the while he waited for a reply.

"Kora Danz," said Sid, gazing ahead with half-closed eyes. In the pause
that followed Jake clouded his sun-bronzed face in tobacco smoke.

"She's a jolly fine girl," Sid added, still studying perspective
landscape.

"I think there's a heifer or two moochin' off in front," Jake remarked,
and thereupon he gathered up his reins and cantered away. From plain to
hill they moved, from hill to plain again; through scrub and forest,
over stones and sand and grassy flats, along creeks and gullies, always
with their faces to the setting sun. Some days were short, some were
long, according to the distance to water; and there was a dry stage of
forty miles, over which the thirsty beasts dragged weary feet, sniffing
the wind, and growing ever more sullen and troublesome. Then the
maddened rush for water at Mingo Creek, the lively work of steadying
and spreading them. There were anxious days for Sid till the rough
country beyond that stream was crossed.

Regularly he brought the mob on to camp at dusk, and held them until
the man who took first watch had his tea. Regularly he took them off
camp at the first grey of dawn, feeding them along until Murrin and
Jake had finished breakfast and caught up, when he returned to let the
night horse go and to have his own morning meal. And in between there
were long, slow rides by day, and lonely watches by night, riding round
and round the camping cattle. Now and again there was a sudden rush, a
rumbling sound like the roll of distant thunder, a crashing of dead
timber, and a wild ride through thick and thin to head the stampeding
mob; sometimes when the nights were so dark that the rider had perforce
to trust his life to his horse's eyes; whistling and shouting as he
swung with the leaders, ringing the panic-stricken brutes until they
quietend down, and bringing them back in the pitch-dark to camp.

For two and a half weeks, in sunshine and starshine, they kept the
track. On the last day they were met by Ben Bruce, who had seen them,
like aerial giants, looming through the morning haze. The four drovers
by then were vying with each other for the first glimpse of their
journey's end.

"See where those crows are settlin', " said Ben, pointing to a hillock
far down the long, grey valley? "That's our homestead. Doesn't look
much from here, but I think you'll like it. We've got the hut built, a
small paddock fenced in, an' we're workin' now on the yards. How long
are you stayin' with us?"

"A week at the outside. Got to get back for another mob as soon as this
lot has steadied down. They oughtn't to give any trouble here, unless
the blacks disturb them. Seen any about?"

"Plenty. An' they're none too pleased to see us here. Seems to me
there's a camp somewhere behind that scrub at th' back. If we get time
we might have a look round."

The scrub was a dense tangle difficult to approach, and impenetrable on
horseback. On the southern side was a vast cane-grass swamp, which
merged into a long, lignum fringed lagoon towards the front. Down the
northern side a creek with steep, scrubby banks ran from the western
hills, and junctioned with the lagoon near the hut. At this point the
water was shallow. It was the only ford that Ben had so far discovered.

" 'S a bit lonesome on first acquaintance," Ben remarked as the signs
of settlement came into view; "but you'll have plenty of work to keep
you from noticin' it; an' there's good fishin' an' huntin' to fill in
any spare hours you have."

"What do you think of it, Jake?" asked Sid.

He had been in raptures with the locality not long before, but now he
sensed there the sad loneliness of an empty world. It had not changed
since, only his outlook on life had changed.

Jake swept the silent wilderness with critical eyes.

"Looks a healthy country--an' peaceful," he observed.

"It's like heaven to be here," Ben declared in a burst of confidence.
There was a refreshing primitiveness about the whole place that
appealed to lovers of the simple life, and particularly to one of his
temperament. "All that troubles me is that I've got to leave it an' go
back to Kanillabar."

"You ought to 'ave been king of the tribe out here instead of Queeta,"
said Jake. "What's the specific complaint against headquarters?"

"I like plenty of room to stretch myself in," soberly answered Ben.
"Kanillabar isn't far enough out for me. Too many visitors pryin' an'
cacklin' around."

"Strikes me you must 'ave vegetated in a mighty queer corner of the
globe, Benjamin."

"I've been in some queer corners," Ben rejoined, gazing gloomily into
space. "I've tasted the sweets of life and its bitters--an' all the
flavours between."

"You've had an interestin' time, so," Jake commented. "I like variety.
A life that hasn't some ups and downs in it is too monotonous to be
worth livin'."

"You wouldn't relish the 'downs' that plomb the depths of hell, would
you?" Ben questioned aggressively.

The wonted gravity of his countenance had suddenly deepened to a scowl.
Without waiting for a reply, he spurred his horse, forward, ostensibly
to turn the lead.

"Curious character!" Jake murmured, looking after him.

As they approached the watering-place the silence of the plains was
broken by a tumult of bird voices. Thousands of galahs and corellas
rose shrieking from the grass, their commingling whites and pinks and
French greys flashing splendidly in the gold light of the setting sun
as they wheeled and rose and swooped again over the strange beasts
invading their haunts.

The cattle were camped by the creek bank that night, and watched as
usual. Next morning they were counted over to Ben, who took delivery,
and signed the papers that were to go back to the captain. Then, day by
day, they were tailed on the Run of Plenty. No further watching was
needed, and in the hut at night--

Around the blazing logs the stockmen sat,

And told the tales of cattle, camp and yard

CHAPTER XXIV.

A Prey to a Thousand Fancies.

With horses refreshed and eager to get back to their own run, Sid led
Jake, Murrin and Charlie Clay a merry pace on the homeward journey. To
him the way was long and lonely, despite the companionship of jovial
mates. He was impatient to fling the miles behind, restless when the
saddles were off; for his interests were centred in Myee, and day and
night his mind was a prey to a thousand fancies.

As he neared the homestead where so many pages of his young life had
been written in the sands of time, he tried to shake off the blues and
look happy. He talked and laughed--and between times looked wistfully
towards the shrubbery and sighed. As for Jake, when he was not smoking
or spinning yarns, he sat back and sang till the ridges echoed. He,
too, had an eye for the shrubbery that surrounded the big house,
looking with happy anticipations for a little lady who had been wont to
meet him when he came with the mail.

But it was early; the only persons visible were the captain, Berkley
Hart and Kian Hook. The latter was leaving the store with groceries.
She greeted the travellers with an extravagant curtsey and a gracious
"How do you do?" The captain, after shutting the store door, stood on
the end of the verandah, his thumbs hooked under his braces. He wore
neither vest nor coat; on his head was a fur cap, a treasure from the
Logan Valley; and thrust negligently into the hip-pocket of his
capacious trousers was a big, coloured handkerchief.

"How'd you get on?" he called out by way of greeting.

"All right," answered Sid, reining in, and fumbling in his pocket for
his droving papers.

"Didn't lose any?"

"Not a hoof."

"Er--how did they look--deliver 'em in good condition?"

"Better than when they started."

The captain looked pleased. He glanced over the papers, inquired about
the progress of the work at Yanbo, and then, lightly grasping his beard
as was his habit when in a meditative mood, he said: "You'll have your
meals with us, Sid, while you're here." Sid's heart leaped, and his
checks tingled. The improved position would give him the opportunity he
craved for a talk with Myee.

When he reached his room he commenced at once on his toilet. He had
fallen into careless habits in respect to dress, and now he had to
bustle about to make himself presentable. Creases for once troubled
him, and he brushed vigorously to get them out of his best coat; his
tie was arranged with unusual pains; his hair was combed and brushed
with more care than he had bestowed on it for months. He worked so
industriously, and was in such a ferment over the coming meeting, that
when the bell rang he was perspiring uncomfortably in a garb that he
had become unaccustomed to. Jake had sauntered up, and was surveying
him critically through the window.

"How's this suit look?" asked Sid, standing back and spinning slowly
round.

"Well," said Jake, " 'cepting you've shoved your legs a little too far
through the pants, an' the coat fits you a bit too soon, I reckon
you're, just It."

Sid shook his limbs, and tugged and pulled to adjust the garments to a
body that had grown too big for them.

"You'll be right among the girls tonight," Jake remarked; "an' if you
don't make the best of your chances, 'twon't be my fault. My old dad
used to tell me that the man who's too backward in comin' forward
generally gets left."

"See you by-and-bye," said Sid, passing out.

"Good luck!" Jake called after him, "and mind how you pass the
mustard."

Kora Danz met him at the door. Her cordial welcome and good-natured
simplicity made his clothes feel much better. She led him into the
dining-room, where he made his bows to the company. Mrs. Bryne received
him with equal warmth; whilst Wilga whose glances were more critical
and curious, beamed sweetly on him across the table. Myee came in
immediately after, and she entered on the arm of Mr. Gilbury Marr who
was elegantly groomed, and wore a red rose in his buttonhole. A cluster
of similar flowers pinned to Myee's white dress suggested, that she had
given it to him. She greeted the young stockman coldly, and thereafter,
excepting for covert glances when he wasn't looking, took no further
notice of him. He felt chilled--humiliated.

The captain, who had donned a loose white coat, talked disjointedly of
cattle and feed and water, and of the new run out west. His wife and
Kora Danz were more interested in the life of the western men and in
the savage races that dwelt around them. Meanwhile, Mr. Marr, the
cattle-buyer, monopolised the fair Myee. Sid could scarcely conceal his
irritation and uneasiness. He looked for a sign of friendly
recognition; furtively tracing the lineaments of her flushed face;
watching the little dimples that came and went in her cheek as she
chatted and laughed; and mentally bestowing many an uncomplimentary
title on the gentleman who apparently engrossed her attention.

She betrayed no consciousness of his scrutiny; nevertheless she was
aware of every stealthy look that was directed towards her, and the
more she saw him noticing her the more agreeable she made herself to
the visitor. Mr. Marr was flattered; Mr. Warri was flattened.

He was glad when the meal was over. The ladies repaired to the drawing-
room; the men went out on to the verandah. In a little while the
captain left to look for his pipe, which he had left in the office.
Gilbury Marr made some trite remarks about the weather, and crossing
his hands under his coat-tails, commenced pacing slowly along the
boards. Just then Myee came out, and stood looking into the night. Sid
moved quickly to her side.

"Nice evening," he remarked, following her gaze.

"Yes," she answered, without turning her head.

"Will you come for a walk?" he asked, in a low voice. She felt his
breath on her cheek, and for one heart-suspending instant she wished
that the intruding cattle-buyer was a thousand miles away.

"I've something else to do," she told him, a suspicion that he only
wanted to amuse himself with her giving an iciness to her speech.

"Can you do it to-morrow?" he asked.

"No. Why should I?" defiantly. She stood very still, never deigning him
a look. He edged nearer, and nudged her gently with his elbow.

"A stroll down the path won't keep you long," he entreated. "Down to
the gate and back."

"What for?"

"To get away from this fellow who's hanging around with his mouth
open."

"And what does it matter about him?" she asked, with unyielding
placidity.

"You know it matters a lot, Myee."

"I know nothing about it, Mr. Warri," she retorted, and, the
objectionable third person joining them, she turned abruptly, and was
gone.

Chagrined and embittered by the unexpected rebuff, Sid went into the
garden alone.

It was a cool, calm night, the heavens resplendent with brilliant
constellations. He wandered about the grounds, treading the winding
paths where walked the ghosts of other nights and other years; and at
last he sat down in the Lovers' Bower, and gave way to heart-rending
reflections. The realisation that Myee was drifting further from him
engendered a dull sense of despair he could not overcome. He held the
very ground sacred that she walked on; everything that her dainty hands
touched was endeared to him--everything except Gilbury Marr. At the
thought of that person his face set hard and his brows darkened. Had
the cattle buyer cut him out? What was he doing here again so soon if
Myee's blue eyes were not the attracting magnet? He determined to have
it out with her next evening when the interloper would be gone.

But ere that time arrived there came grave news from Mooban that
changed the aspect of everything. Luke Cudgen was dead. He had died
suddenly that day after a hot morning's work on a drafting camp. The
report reached Sid in the mustering yard, and when he had finished
there, the buggy was at the gate, and Myee, beautifully trim in a grey
travelling suit, with a long, green veil floating from her hat-brim,
was waiting for the captain to drive her home.

The sun was just dipping beyond the gold green hills, bespangling the
sky with commingling tints of opal, purple and indigo blue. The languid
air was laden with the perfume of fruit and flower, and on the fair,
sweet face of the girl fell the softened hues of the dying day, giving
it an ethereal loveliness.

He hastened up to offer his condolences. His heart was beating with
tremendous thumps, while something rose up in his throat and stuck
there. The circumstances did not help to break down the restraint that
had arisen between them. The stiffness and chilliness of her demeanour
made speech difficult, whilst the presence of others in the near
background stifled the impulse to ask her the reason why.

"You've got a late drive," he remarked, when the formalities were over.

"Yes," she agreed, her face bent over the glove she was buttoning. He
proffered assistance eagerly, seeing a means in the service of thawing
her icy armour.

"Let me do that for you."

Her reply was firm, but gentle. "I can manage, thank you."

He bit his lip, and for a moment did not speak. Then a tiny trunk in
the vehicle caught his eye, at which he became possessed of a new fear.

"You'll be coming back to Kanillabar, won't you?" he asked anxiously.

"I don't know--yet."

She drew a long, tremulous breath, looking over the peaceful scene,
bathed in the glory of sunset, where they had joyed in golden hours.

The captain and Mrs. Bryne now came out, followed by Kora Danz and
Wilga. The two former mounted the front seat, and the last-named
climbed in behind them, whilst Kora Danz handed up an armful of wraps
and rugs.

"We are going now," said Myee, looking up at him for the first time.
She held out her little gloved hand, and he gripped it hard.

"Good-bye, Miss Norrit!"

"Good-bye--Sid!"

There was a little break in her voice, a slight tremor on her lip. He
regarded her with a puzzled expression as she got quickly into the
buggy and seated herself beside Wilga. Once she looked back before they
disappeared round the stables; but he could not see the longing in her
eyes, nor did he guess that her heart ached for him.

"We'll have tea as soon as you are ready, Sid," said Miss Danz.
"There'll be only you and I to-night."

Jake Gowrie was coming towards them to hear the news, which reminded
Sid that there were other heart-lone, people in the world besides
himself.

"Would you like Jake to join us?" he inquired.

A colour that matched the sunset sprang into her cheeks.

"You can ask him if you like," she said, laughingly, and hurried away.

Sid gave the invitation to Jake as coming from the little lady, upon
which Jake didn't want to hear any more news, but darted back to put on
his best clothes.

And after tea that evening he sat for two hours talking with Kora Danz,
whilst Sid, locked in his room, wrote a long letter to Myee. This he
put in his pocket, where he carried it a week, pondering what to do
with it next. Finally, miles out on the run, he tore it into little
pieces, and gave the pieces to the winds.

His love dream was ended; and soon he left Kanillabar to take charge at
Yanbo.

CHAPTER XXV.

One Night in Yanbo Hut.

The new settlement was at least picturesque. The hut was built of
galvanised iron and lined with hessian. A partition ran crosswise
through the centre, one half being subdivided into two bedrooms, the
other half being a combination dining-room and kitchen. A skillion
along the back was used in part as a store and part as a meat-house.
There was no flooring, and grass grew lankly along the inner side of
the outer walls and under the plank table. Thick sacks, ripped open at
the ends and sewn together lengthwise, with two poles thrust through
them, resting on forked stakes, comprised the bunks. Here and there,
driven into the uprights or into the wall-plates, were stout pegs, on
which the stockmen hung their saddles and bridle; and a few iron
spikes, each with a special claimant, for hats and coats. Nails of
various sizes also stood out from the woodwork, and on these hung
spurs, straps, mirrors, towels, and other small articles.

As Sid and Jake entered the domicile, a man called out from one of the
bedrooms: "Whose belt is this on my nail?"

"Mine," answered a burly fencer, who was pickling meat.

"Well, said the first speaker, "find some where else for it."

A smile hovered at the corners of Sid's mouth as he noted the place and
its customs. It was a drop back into the primitive, a rugged home and a
rugged life. Ben Bruce, ruling in his quiet, unbending way, revelled in
its wildness and isolation; that is, insofar as a man of his
temperament could be expected to revel.

"It's just the scenic prescription for a bush hatter," grumbled a man,
who answered disrespectfully to the name of Monty. "But 'tain't the
front entrance to Paradise for 'n ordinary bachelor who's got no wife
to talk to, an' to look after him, an' keep him generally from engagin'
in arguments with himself. Even Chips here is gettin' to be like old
Ben--can't talk for thinkin'."

Chips was a bush carpenter, whose handiwork was more appreciated on
backblock squattages than in well-settled districts

"If I thought anything of a girl--which I may say I do--I wouldn't ask
her to come out here," Chips returned.

"I suppose she wouldn't come," said Monty. "Which shows she doesn't
think much of you."

"I wouldn't ask her," Chips repeated decisively.

"Ask who?" queried Monty.

"The girl I'm thinking about," said Chips. "Nice place to bring a
wife," he added contemptuously. "Might as well bury her."

"It's a jolly good place for a girl to get a husband, anyway," Monty
contended. "If one dropped in here to-night, the whole darn lot of you
would be fallin' over one another to wait on her."

"That's only common hospitality," said Chips. "I'd wait on the darlin's
anywhere."

"Maybe," Monty grudgingly admitted. "I ain't sayin' as you'd lay awake
half the night rehearsin' the meltin' smile she'd give you for makin'
some idiotic remark which you imagined was clever; you'd only sneak off
with some bit of ribbon she happened to drop--as females are in the
habit o' doin'--an' wrap it up in several folds of paper when nobody was
lookin'."

"What do you think I'd do a silly thing like that for?" demanded Chips.

"Dashed if I know," said Monty. "I was only wonderin' the other day
when I saw you with a piece."

Chips stamped out of the room to wash himself, and presently he called
loudly from the rear: "Where's the soap? Pity some of you blokes can't
put things in their proper places when you're done with 'em."

"Sure you didn't swaller it?" Monty called back.

"Now, then, tea-o!" the cook here interrupted.

Tin plates, tin pannikins, iron knives and forks were laid on the bare
planks; the tea stood near the fire in a bucket; a huge lump of salt
meat in a big tin dish occupied the centre of the board, and everybody
helped himself. The two end seats were wooden blocks, and at the sides
were two long, immovable stools. Each man's place was marked with his
initials, unskilfully cut into the table.

"Seen any blacks about?" asked Sid, when the company had finished
carving.

"Plenty," said Ben. "Your old friends, Nilgirry and Toonahri, gave us a
call, but we had no interpreter to get any news out of them. I fancy
there's a camp somewhere behind that scrub. But there's no white man
there, or he'd have found us before now."

"Have you been in the scrub, or round it?"

"No," drawled Ben, shaking his head. "Chips was in there one Sunday,
lookin' for wallabies. He'll be able to tell you about it."

Monty guffawed into his pannikin, and nearly choked. Chips looked at
him reprovingly.

"What are you making that horrible noise for?" he demanded.

"I was thinkin' how ill you looked when you came back and said you'd
smelt blacks," Monty answered.

"So would you have smelt 'em if you'd had pluck enough to go in," Chips
retorted. "They sneak through there to spy on us, an' watch the hut.
Can't make out what we're doin' here, an' don't want us here, anyhow."

"You haven't seen any spyin' there, have you?" Ben asked, eyeing him
sternly.

Chips, somewhat abashed, admitted he had not. A silence followed, which
was presently broken by a sudden clatter that made everybody start. A
bucket had been knocked off the bench at the back of the hut. The men
looked inquiringly at one another, listening intently. It was deep
dusk; and there was neither stir in the air nor a sound from the bush.

Jake was the first to make a move. Drawing his revolver, he tip-toed to
the back, whilst Chips endeavoured to keep an eye fixed on two opposite
doors at once. They heard him pick up the bucket and put it back on the
bench. In a little while he returned, looking serious.

"Strong smell of blacks about that bench," he said; "but I can't see or
hear any."

"Did you shut the door?" Chips inquired breathlessly.

"No," said Jake. "You left your hat out there; I thought you might want
to get it."

"I don't want it any more till mornin'," Chips dissented.

"Might blow away," said Jake. Chips glanced timidly towards the
darkening doorway to note the state of the weather, and concluded that
no immediate atmospheric violence was to be expected.

"I left my swag out there, too," Murrin interposed, rising to get it.

"That accounts for the scent I noticed," said Jake, when Murrin had
gone. Resuming his seat, he added dryly: "It was your dog that knocked
the bucket over, Sid. He's nosing around after something to eat."

For a second or two Chips stared stupidly at the speaker. Then, amid
the laughter of his fellows, he swung his legs over the stool, and
slouched shame-facedly after Murrin.

It was now quite dark outside. Going to his room, Ben Bruce lit a
greasy slush-lamp, which stood on a square packing-case against the end
wall. Then he sat on his bunk, and commenced cutting at a plug of black
tobacco. Excepting for the malodorous lamp, the room was neat and
clean. It was ceiled with what had once been a tent, which was tacked
on to rough joists and white washed. The walls were papered, and pasted
up here and there were coloured pictures from the Christmas numbers of
various periodicals. On the floor was a dingo-skin foot-mat, the skin
being neatly sewn on to a piece of saddle-cloth.

"I shot that brute through the window here," said Ben, giving the skin
a dig with his heel. "It was bright moonlight, an' I was lookin' out of
the window when I saw him jogging along from the creek. There was a lot
of them about at first; a darin' lot o' devils they were, too; but
latterly they got a bit scarce. We've been layin' strychnine baits all
over the run, so you'll have to look out for that dog of yours--if he's
any value."

"I'll keep him tied up for awhile,' said Sid, who was undoing his pack
on the opposite bunk. "I want him for a watchdog more than anything."

When he had finished unpacking, and made his bed, he turned to his old
mate, and said quietly:

"I've got some news for you, Ben. Luke Cudgen's dead."

"What!" Ben shouted, and sprang to his feet as though something had
bitten him. "Luke Cudgen . . . Dead. . . . Never!"

"Died the day after I got back to Kanillabar," added Sid, watching him
closely.

For awhile Ben stared obliquely at the wall with a wild sort of look,
then turned away with a slight reel. "Dead! Dead! Dead!" he muttered,
half fiercely. He fell to pacing the room, continuing to mutter to
himself as if he had become unconscious of Sid's presence. His hands
trembled, his face was ashen pale. At length, slewing abruptly, he
inquired: "Did he say anything--make any confession?"

"I didn't hear," said Sid, eyeing him curiously. "But his death was
unexpected."

"D--good job!" cried Ben, his voice shaking with excitement. "I wish
I'd been alongside him--to let him know who I am--before he gasped out
his miserable life. If there's a hell for the wicked, that hound has
gone by the shortest cut to the hottest part of it."

"What did he do?" asked Sid, tense with expectancy.

Ben appeared not to hear him. Plunging his hands into his pockets, he
strode out of the hut with bent head. The other men were sprawled about
the grass in front. One spoke to him, but he did not answer. He went on
down the paddock, down to the dark lagoon where the waterfowl splashed
and chattered; and to and fro among the fringing trees, a lonely man on
a lonesome shore, he walked for hours.

CHAPTER XXVI.

A Face in the Scrub.

Whether Ben went to bed at all that night nobody knew. He was about in
the morning when the other men turned out, and he had the drawn look of
a man who had known no mental rest. He was moody and grumpy and busy
all day. For most of them it was a day of cleaning up and preparing for
the track. Their work was completed; and early on the following morning
they left for Kanillabar. With them went the cook, who declined to cook
any longer in that outlandish place; so Sid and Jake, for the time at
least, had to do their own cooking between them. Charlie Clay, the
leader of the departing contingent, was commissioned to inform the boss
that Ben would remain three or four days longer, and that, on his
return to the head squattage, he would be leaving the captain's service
for good. This was a development that caused Sid some surprise; but he
waited in vain for reasons. Ben kept his own counsel; nor would he
engage in any further discussion concerning the late owner of Mooban.
He could have kept his own men back with him, but a desire to be alone
in this crisis, to think out his future plans, decided him to send the
men on in advance. He also desired that his engagement should terminate
as soon as he got back to the homestead.

After seeing to the cattle the quartette who remained at Yanbo returned
early to the hut, and let their horses go in the little paddock. In the
afternoon Murrin was set drawing wood with a horse and slide; Ben
undertook to prepare supper, whilst Sid and Jake, each armed with a
pair of six-shooters, went off to explore the scrub.

A tree had been felled across the water, which made a very serviceable
foot-bridge, and having crossed by this means, they were soon plunging
through the thicket. Turning often from tangled clumps, stooping low
under drooping boughs, they progressed slowly in perpetual gloom.
Decaying leaves and twigs crackled underfoot; wallabies retreated
before them with resounding thuds, whilst swarms of big, grey
mosquitoes bore them unwelcome company.

In a couple of hours they broke through the thicket, and viewed the
receding sun glistening over a broad sheet of water, which was dotted
here and there with cane grass and reeds, and alive with water-fowl.
Sid surveyed the unpromising scene with disappointment.

"We're on the wrong track, Jake," he observed. "There's no camp
hereabouts, and it doesn't look a very likely place for one across the
water, either."

Jake was carefully scanning the distant tree-tops.

"Can't see any smoke," he said, "but there's a couple of eagles soaring
above those scrubby ridges, an' I'll bet my Sunday hat there's open
spaces under those birds. There's rippin' good livin' here for black
brother, and it's these natural resources--fish, fowl an' wallaby--that
determines where he'll make his home."

"That's what decided me in choosing this spot for our homestead," said
Sid. "I knew that such a rich locality must attract the population of
the towri from time to time, and especially in the egg season."

"Sure," said Jake, his gaze resting on a bevy of green pygmy geese. "I
was just thinkin' of the pancakes an' fritters we'll have when the
poultry start layin'."

The sun was now getting low, so they turned back and retraced their
steps to the hut. As the cattle had to be seen to almost daily, on the
next occasion Sid sauntered off alone, leaving Jake and Murrin to
attend to them, and Ben in charge of the hut. For a time he picked his
way along the scrub and the reedy marsh. The route was difficult,
projecting points of scrub and lignum frequently terminating far out in
the water. In other places the ground was squashy--black, oozy traps in
which he sank to his boot-tops. This forced him to strike into the
scrub sooner than he had intended, the noisy flapping of pinions
through the interlacing foliage marking his way.

Far in, on a half-buried log, he sat down for a spell. In a few seconds
all was quiet, save for the hum of mosquitoes, and now and again a
slight rustling among the decaying vegetation on the ground.

A quarter of an hour had elapsed when he heard something treading on
the spongy bed behind him. He looked carelessly over his shoulder,
thinking it was some big bird from the marsh, when the oscillation of a
cluster of boughs caught his eye, and caused him to slide round on his
seat to take a steadier view.

The ground just there was not so thickly studded with trees, and he was
able to see for several yards ahead. The treading sound had ceased, the
leaves were still.

Presently he started, and half sprang to his feet. Through a small
break in the foliage he saw for an instant a dark face, with a pair of
large, bright eyes peering at him. Craning forward, and swaying his
head to left and right, he searched the spot; but the face, or whatever
it was, had vanished. Where it had been there was now an opening in the
foliage with a dim light slanting through it. So he could not have been
mistaken. Something with big eyes had been watching him--whether man,
dingo or wild cat he could not guess.

He sank back on the log, still keeping his gaze fixed on the bush.

Withered, leaves dropped with a faint rustle about him. At times his
senses were quickened by a perceptible stir in that one magnetic spot.
Then his heart gave a bound, and he held his breath. The small opening
had been suddenly filled by an unmistakable human face, the ebony
blackness of which intensified the brightness of the searching eyes. As
before, it remained there but an instant.

Instinctively Sid drew his revolver and advanced towards the spot. As
he did so he heard light steps pattering quickly away. Guided by the
sound, he followed as quickly as he could. The pursued kept to the
thickest part of the scrub, dodging stealthily from clump to clump.
Thoughts of an ambush, of lurking spears waiting a chance to strike,
did not deter the pursuer. For ten minutes the chase continued, and
then the patter of retreating steps abruptly ceased. Sid paused and
listened; he moved cautiously along on tiptoe to a clear spot, and
listened again with bated breath; but, not a sound could be heard.

For a couple of hours he beat about, without discovering anything more
than a short spear, which lay near the butt of a closely boughed tree.
He was glad of that weapon, for when he returned at sundown it bore
dumb witness that admitted of no argument, and proved that Chips was
right in his surmise.

They got further proof before they were many hours older. The two
following days all hands were engaged at stockwork, the second mob,
which had been tailed near the homestead, having to be split up and
distributed about the run among the first lot.

On returning the first day they were alarmed to find that someone had
been plundering their stores. Nearly, all the cooked food had been
taken, only just sufficient being left to serve the victims for supper.

"Blacks have been here," said Sid, pointing to a footprint.

Jake, searched the place with a puzzled air. "Can't make out why they
didn't take the whole pot an' bilin," he said. "Maybe there was only
one; but even so, he couldn't 'ave resisted that nice, shiny tomahawk,
an' the butcher's knives. His ancestry is against him."

"It is rather strange," Sid agreed. "Perhaps something frightened him."

A brief survey of the apartment sufficed to answer the question.

"Say! where did he get in?" asked Jake.

"Here! This shutter's been forced."

"We'll have to put a stop to this," said Sid, "or there'll very soon be
a famine on the premises." After a moment's reflection he added: "I'll
tie the dog up under the window to-morrow."

Jake laughed outright. "If that dog twigs a wild blackfellow sneakin'
up he'll be too darned scared to bark. Wouldn't wonder if Binghi stole
him."

However, Sid secured the animal to a stake under the shutters before
going out next morning.

Jake, who intended to be back early, put a duff on to boil, and left a
pair of plump ducks simmering in the camp oven.

When they got back at noon, with considerably sharpened appetites, the
utensils had been removed from the fire, and the pudding and game
extracted. Nor did their grievances end there; nearly a whole damper
and a loaf of brownie had been taken from the bag cupboard.

The watch-dog was quietly gnawing a bone held between his paws.

"I'm blest if the thief hasn't been feeding the wretch!" cried Sid,
disgustedly.

"If that mongrel belonged to me," said Jake, "do you know what I'd do
with him?"

"What?" asked Sid.

"I'd swop him for a pole-cat," was the reply.

"And what would you do with the pole cat?"

"Drown it."

CHAPTER XXVII.

Sad Days of Long Ago.

Directly after lunch Jake went out and shot another brace of ducks. He
did not relish having to cook dinner again, but he did it cheerfully.
In the meantime, Sid and Ben went down to the lagoon with fishing
lines, taking with them a lump of Jake's dough and the gizzard of a
duck for bait.

"Feel I'd like a fish for breakfast," Ben observed. "I'll be makin' a
start for home to-morrow--want to get away early."

"For home?" Sid queried.

Ben nodded gravely. "Down on the Logan River. You've heard of
Byndoora?"

"Yes; belongs to Myee's mother, doesn't it?" Sid avoided the name of
Cudgen for fear it would rouse Ben from the quiet, communicative mood
he was in. The old stockman's face was drawn, his eyes shone with an
unusual lustre, but his manner was more like a rational being's than it
generally was.

"In a sense it does," he replied; "but when everybody's got their
rights it belongs to me."

Sid stared in amazement.

"I owned Byndoora when I was last heard of," Ben went on, "and I was a
lot better off then than the man I'm workin' for. With the wife an' one
blue-eyed little girl, I was as happy as the day was long."

He paused while he selected a shady corner, threw his line out with a
disinterested air, and sat down on the bank. Sid understood now that he
had been brought here to receive a confidence, and his heart beat a
little faster.

"Did you ever see a notice in the papers offerin' 500 reward for
information that would lead to the capture of an escaped prisoner named
Bernard Brewster?"

Ben spoke the words slowly, gazing steadfastly at the still lagoon.

"I think I have," Sid answered.

"You could put your hands on that five hundred if you had a mind to,
Sid," said Ben, still looking down at the water; "for the notorious
escapee is sittin' here doin' a little fishin'."

Sid gasped. For a moment he feared that the old man's mind was
wandering; then he recollected his strange behaviour on several
occasions at Kanillabar. While he sat speechless, Ben plunged into the
hidden pages of his life, laying bare his tortured soul to his
astonished mate.

"I was ridin' one day through a rough part of the run, about twenty
miles from home, when I came upon two fellows skinnin' a beast which
they'd, shot. I knew one of them, a bad character, who was known as
Jadine. I'd had some cross words with him before, as he'd been
prospectin' for gold about the run. If I'd given a thought to the
position the pair stood in just then, I might have acted with more
caution; for they had nothing but gaol to look forward to if they were
reported. But I rode straight up and jumped off to look at the brand.
As soon as I bent over the hide I received a blow on the head that
dropped me senseless. It was Jadine who struck me, while the other
scamp was edgin' off towards a clump of bushes where three horses were
tied up.

"They must have packed me on one of the horses and carried me across
country, for when I came to I was a long way from my own run, as I
learnt after, and there wasn't a bone in my body that didn't ache. I
was lyin' in a cave in a lonely gully. I sat up, and tried to recollect
things; but it was no use. My mind was an absolute blank. I didn't know
what had happened; could remember nothing--not even my own name. That
was the queerest part of it; I hadn't the honour of my own
acquaintance. My coat, vest and hat were gone, and there was nothing in
my trousers pockets to help me to identify myself, or tell me where I
lived.

"All ways were the same to me then; and I managed to totter along a
little way at a time till near sundown, when a prospector saw me from a
distance and took me to his camp. He'd been an army surgeon before he
took to diggin', and had lost his position through drink. In a couple
of weeks he fixed me up as good as new, except in regard to my mental
faculties. He took me to be a traveller lookin' for stock work or
shearin', and reckoned under the circumstances I couldn't do better
than knock about with him.

"We were in a wild, mountainous part, and in the three months we worked
together we never saw a soul. We did fairly well. Then he said we'd
take a trip to Gympie for a change. So off we went, and eventually we
pulled up at a pub, where a number of the local diggers used to gather
in the evenin' for a yarn--an' a glass or two when their luck was in.

"We hadn't been there long when in walked Jadine, of all persons in the
world. The sight of that fellow's olive-tinted face, an' the sound of
his gruff voice, set every thing spinnin' around me. I seemed to wake
up where he'd knocked me out; I thought I was standin' by the half-
skinned beast again, an' he was attacking me. What followed was like a
dream to me; but half a dozen witnesses testified that I snatched up a
bottle, without provocation, an' dealt him a blow with it that
stiffened him on the spot.

"I relied on the doctor to clear me; but when the case come on he was
hopelessly drunk. I couldn't even get him brought into the court, as I
didn't know his name at that time. I used to call him 'Doctor.' He
christened me Ben Brewster--from the initials B. B. on my belt--which
happened to be the maker's brand. Under that name I was committed, an'
afterwards tried for murder.

"In the interval he paid me one visit. I confided everything to him,
an' he promised to see a lawyer, an' to write to the wife to come down,
telling her that I was in hospital suffering from a severe fall that
had affected the brain. It wasn't till I stood in the dock that I
realised that I'd put my trust in a rotten stick. Not a one came
forward to say a word for me; an', to cut it short, I was sentenced to
15 years' hard labour.

"Of course, I was a lunatic to have acted the way I did. It was a long
while before I could keep my mind on a subject an' think coherently. I
didn't worry much. I was often blissfully ignorant of what I was. If
I'd received justice, I should have been sent to the asylum. Even now
that old hurt sometimes affects me, and I seem to go all to pieces, an'
lose the hang of things.

"The doctor, after he left me, went to a pub, got drunk, was
shanghaied, an' eventually landed in San Francisco. From there he
wandered about California, where he managed in the course of a couple
of years to make a pile. With that he returned to Australia. Instead of
coming to see how I was getting on, he went straight to Byndoora.

"He had an introduction to Mr. Bede Lowan, representing him to be a
rich gentleman just retired from the army, an' lookin' for a good
squattage property to settle down on. He found that the wife had heard
nothin' concernin' me; that she believed I'd got lost an' perished in
the bush; an' the d--schemer never said a word to undeceive her.

"When I'd served about four years I got a chance to escape, an' I
slipped away quick an' lively. An old swagman gave me a suit of
clothes, an' all the rations he had; an' with these I made tracks to
our old mountain camp, keepin' off the roads, an' travellin' mainly at
night. I stuck there until I'd grown a big beard and moustache (up till
that time I'd always been clean shaven). Then I made for Byndoora,
intendin' to tell the wife that I had lost my memory through a fall,
an' that it had suddenly come back to me after I'd been knockin' about
for years on the goldfields. I reckoned that once re-established in my
old position I would be safe.

"Near the home paddock gate I saw a Government notice nailed up on a
tree that concerned me deeply. Among other things, it warned the public
against harbouring me, an' offered 500 reward for my capture. I read
it over an' over again, comparin' my appearance with the description
given. After which I tore the infernal thing down and burnt it.

"I hadn't got along much farther when a stockman, ridin' home, overtook
me. From him I got some information that pretty near wrecked what
little sanity I had left. I'd been declared by legal process to be
dead; and the woman I called wife had been married a year to the
rascally doctor. They'd gone to live at Mooban, which they'd bought
between them, leaving Byndoora under the management of her brother,
Bede Lowan.

I didn't go another step just then, I was fairly knocked over. The
stockman thought I was done up with the trampin' in the heat; and after
a bit he took my swag on to the hut. They were all new hands on the
place, so for the night I accepted their hospitality. What to do next I
didn't know. The way out of my predicament that I'd depended on so much
was closed; the door, in a way o' speakin', had been slammed in my face
just as I was going to walk in. If I made myself known now, the doctor
would betray me for a dead certainty. I could have parted him from his
wife, but I would have gone straight back to gaol, and there'd be the
stigma for ever on my daughter, the only one I had left in the wide
world. Byndoora, I ascertained, had been settled on her.

"As for her mother, the hound she'd given her favours to was welcome to
her, for my part. All the sentiment I had felt for her perished. I
hated her. She thought so little of me that she married the first
fellow who asked her--a mere apology for a man--an ugly, ill-shaped
specimen that no considerate mother would look at--an' when she had no
proof that she was widowed.

At daylight I shouldered my swag, an' headed west, little caring at
first where the tracks led me. I only wanted to get into the wild back
country, where I'd be away from the police. But as I tramped on, a
vague notion of revenge drew me in the direction of Mooban. I took an
odd job here and there, until I reached Kanillabar; and there, while
lookin' round for the captain, I came face to face with my own
daughter. I nearly broke down then. My arms made an involuntary
movement towards her before I recollected myself; but she didn't
recognise me. Her sweet, sunny face banished all thoughts of revenge
from my mind, and for her sake I determined to wait until God should
open the way for me to go back.

"I was offered a lonely billet at Glenboon, which was just the sort of
refuge I wanted. The only person I lived in dread of was the doctor. I
didn't meet him for a long time, and then I nearly ran into him at the
horseyard. I was head-stockman then. He peered at me once or twice as
though he had a suspicion that he'd seen me somewhere before; but it
passed at that. All the same, whenever I saw a policeman come to the
homestead, I thought he had recognised me, and that the policeman was
after me. I avoided him whenever he came to Kanillabar, so he wouldn't
get a close look at me, and for fear I wouldn't be able to keep my
hands off him. The sight of the rotter used to make me mad. I stuck to
the place, an' took the risk of discovery, because there I could see my
daughter every day--though at a distance--and know how she was getting
on. Often when I heard her cheery voice and her merry laugh I longed to
go to her and take her in my arms; but I dared not touch her, dared not
look too hard, for fear she would find me out.

A tear glistened on his eyelash as he finished speaking. He brushed it
away with the back of his hand, and rose slowly to his feet. He had
apparently forgotten his line. In the old habit, his hands went into
his pockets, and he walked a few paces along the lagoon edge and back
again, his face bent down.

For awhile Sid sat staring into vacancy like one half-dazed. A wave of
pity and tender feeling swept over him as the recollection of an early
ride at Kanillabar, when Myee had spoken of her parent's mysterious
disappearance, flashed out from a confused jumble of thoughts.

"And you are Myee's father!" he said, springing up suddenly, and
grasping the martyr's hand.

"Aye, lad," said Ben, meeting the intent gaze with a sad, far-away look
in his, eyes. "My name is Ben Norrit."

A brief silence ensued; then Sid asked: "Why didn't you go to Bede
Lowan, and trust him?"

"Bede and I never got on well together. He wouldn't have welcomed me
back; managin' Byndoora was the best billet he'd ever dropped into.
Mind you, he wouldn't have betrayed me; but he couldn't have done much
for me if he'd wanted to ever so much, barrin' give me a job, without
lettin' his sister know. Anyhow, workin' as an employee on my own
squattage, tuckerin' at the hut, and Mr. Bede Lowan doin' the grand at
the house and bossin' me about, wouldn't have made my lot any happier."

"How do you intend to go back now?"

"In the same way as I was going back at first. Now that Cudgen's dead,
no one knows my secret but you; and no one anywhere would dream of
connecting Ben Norrit, the squatter, with Bernard Brewster, the escaped
prisoner."

"I mean," said Sid, "will you go back to the old relationship--to live
again as husband and wife?"

The old man's brows puckered, and his face seemed to darken.

"We'll be nominally husband and wife, I suppose--when I take the
necessary steps for the restoration of my citizen rights; at present,
you know, I'm legally dead--thanks to the lovin' beauty who couldn't
wait to see the funeral. Our domestic arrangements will depend on what
transpires when I see her and the girl. Till then, don't let out a word
as to my identity."

CHAPTER XXVIII.

The Captain Visits Morella.

Gariuda Kenwary's failure to capture Rod Bryne led to a coolness
between the two families. She considered that she had been slighted;
she further suspected, from the captain's warm regard for Sid Warri,
that he didn't want her any more than his son did; and that the latter,
instead of being expelled by a wrathful parent, had been sent away
until the matter should be for gotten. The Kenwarys left off calling at
Kanillabar, and this had the effect of softening the captain towards
the rebel. He admitted to himself--but to nobody else--that he had been a
little too hasty. He had suffered much inconvenience by the loss of his
overseer, and when he received notice from Ben Bruce his thoughts
turned more persistently to the absentee.

With two widely-separated runs to control, and unable to knock around
himself, he was left in something of a hole. A conviction that Rod
would never come back unless he was asked was not an alleviating
circumstance. Nor was there any joy to be derived from the reflection
that Keira Warri was the only one who was cognisant of the young man's
whereabouts. The thought of approaching her was not pleasant. After
what had happened, she would probably decline to give any information--
unless he capitulated. Yet there was no alternative. He had reached a
stage when Rod's services were indispensable. It would soon be branding
time, and there was the usual round of seasonable work to follow that
needed a smart and competent overseer. He thought of bringing Sid in,
and leaving Jake in charge at Yanbo; but he had not yet got the measure
of Jake in his new capacity. His only hope of surcease from worry was
to unearth the erring son.

He had to go to town about the time he arrived at this conclusion, and
in the quiet of a pleasant afternoon, he made his way to Morella.

The door stood open, and Keira Warri, warned by the click of the gate,
appeared before he had time to knock.

She received her important visitor with a little inward flutter, though
she presented a calm exterior, for she guessed at once that the visit
somehow concerned herself.

A hasty survey of the gracious figure, and the lovely face, set with
sparkling eyes, was productive of a secret admission that she was at
least more richly endowed by nature than the opulent Carinda. Health
glowed in her checks; the grace and beauty of youth was in every curve
of her supple body. Wholesome and well-bred, if penurious, was this
maid of Birro Creek--adorable and desirable.

The captain sat down, placed his stick and his hat on the table, and
inquired if her mother was well. Keira answered in the affirmative, and
volunteered the information that she was making cakes.

The captain glanced around the room.

"Nice, quiet place, this," he observed.

"A little too quiet," said Keira. "Sometimes not a soul passes all
day."

The captain grunted ungracefully. "Er--didn't happen to see anything of
Rod, did you?"

He asked the question as if the thought had just occurred to him.

Instantly her manner became grave and reserved.

"Not since be went away," she replied, gazing out through the window at
the dim, blue hills, and wondering how long that far land would hold
her lover.

"Heard from him?"

Her cheeks reddened.

"Yes." The monosyllable was flung at him as if in defiance.

"Write letters to him?" the captain, pursued, unruffled.

"What would you do?" she demanded, with a flash of resentment.

"Want to find him--urgently," said the captain, in an easy voice. "Er--
write often?"

Keira' bit her lip to suppress a bashful smile.

"About once a month."

"When did you hear from him last?"

"A week ago."

"Answered the letter yet?"

"Of course!" Her look and tone clearly evidenced that she considered
the question superfluous.

"Where was he?"

"I can't tell you that."

"Why not?"

"I promised him I wouldn't tell anybody."

"Asked you to, did he?"

"Yes."

"Asked you not to tell his father?"

"Not to tell his father above all."

The captain took hold of his beard, and studied her. She met his
naturally ferocious look without wavering, and he soon formed the
opinion that she was not the sort who could be led into betraying a
confidence.

"Suppose I want him to come back?"

Keira hesitated a moment. Then she said:

"You could write, and I could address the envelope and post it."

This simple solution did not meet with the appreciation it deserved.
She saw by the stubborn look that came into his face that his dignity
was combatting any further surrender than he had already made. She
resolved to speed his deliberations to the conclusion she desired.

"You'll have to write soon," she prompted; "he's thinking of going to
America."

"To America!" cried the captain, aghast. "What's the silly coot think
he's going to do there?"

"He didn't tell me that," she replied, watching him narrowly under her
drooping lashes. "He only asked me if I'd go with him."

"Eh?" The captain's aspect became more ferocious. "What did you tell
him?"

"I said I preferred to remain in Australia; but if he had to go--"

"Of course," grunted the captain, as she paused, "you'd go to Halifax
with him."

She laughed gaily. The low, silvery ripple of that laugh seemed to
fascinate and yet irritate the captain. He stared at her until the
mirthful lips hardened under the intense look.

"When do you expect him?" he asked brusquely.

"I'm not expecting him," she returned. The captain eyed her for another
embarrassing space.

"He'll have to come for you, won't he--if you're going with him to
America?"

"Not necessarily; I could meet him somewhere down country," she
answered.

The captain's mouth gaped for just a second, then his lips shut clam-
tight. He did not doubt that she would go; she was just that style of
girl--trustful, faithful, determined; and he became more anxious about
the rover: He threw one leg impatiently across the other, regretting
deeply that he could not deliver his views to the delinquent right
there. He remembered a couple of restless wights who had been lured
away by the deceptive greenness of distant fields; and, like other
gullible emigrants he had heard of, they had discovered that Australia
looks greenest of all when seen from other lands. The idea of a young
man leaving this great country to seek his fortune! it was
preposterous. His glance, wandering round the room, was arrested by a
photograph standing on a corner of the mantelpiece. He stepped over,
and, leaning forward with his hands behind him, peered closely at it.
It was a recent photo of his son, taken in a hamlet on the Logan River.
His mouth softened a little as he looked into the honest, handsome
face. By a trick of fate a thin, female voice somewhere at the back
broke in on his thoughts, and it was singing: "O where, and O where,
has my Highland laddie gone!" He had some Scottish blood in his veins,
had the captain, and that song stirred every fibre of his heart.

A sly, oblique glance directed towards the big chair in the corner
showed that the girl was apparently unaware that he was looking at
anything in particular. She had become interested in the cat, which was
purring contentedly at her feet, and brushing its sleek coat against
her dress.

His face came slowly round to the line of his vision, his studious
scrutiny being transferred from his son's photo to his son's fiancee.
He had not noticed before the sheen of her luxuriant hair, crinkling
like the surface of a shaded lakelet in a light breeze. Being used to
the ways of young ladies, he further observed that the dainty bow of
ribbon clinging to its thick folds matched the peachpink of her cheeks.

She looked up sharply, at which he turned from the mantelpiece and
frowned at the cat.

"Er--I'll have a word with your mother before I go," he said
reflectively.

Keira was conscious of a sudden chilly feeling.

"Aren't you going to write?" she inquired anxiously.

"I don't know where he is," stubbornly.

A shade of annoyance and disappointment swept over the girl's face.

"Why can't you leave it with me?"

"Want to wire to him, girl," said the captain, shifting his frown from
the cat to the engagement ring on her finger. "Want to wire to him."

"I'll send the wire this afternoon," she promptly volunteered,
springing up. The captain's face lifted briskly, and there was an
inscrutable twinkle showing under his shaggy brows.

She fluttered past him into the adjoining room, and presently she
reappeared with her hat on, and a parasol and a pair of gloves in her
hand. "I'll go and send it straight away," she said.

The captain stood looking at her, half amused, half resentful. The girl
drew on one glove, with nervous energy, a dogged firmness about her
mouth.

"What shall I say?"

The other glove was half on before he spoke. Then he said slowly:

"Say for me that it's all right."

"What's all right?" she queried, fixing him with big, inquisitorial
eyes.

"Say for me it's all right," the captain repeated. "Tell him to come
back home."

CHAPTER XXIX.

Success and Its Bitter Sweets.

When Ben had gone, Sid left Murrin at work near the hut, thatching a
horse-stall with cane grass, and took Jake with him into the scrub. A
big, naked footprint near the water indicated that the robber had
followed the creek; and along this course Sid quietly picked his way,
ducking and dodging, and worming slowly through the tangled growth,
pausing here and there to recover his hat, or to listen when he heard
an unusual sound. Jake trod cautiously at his heels, a mulga stick in
his hand, a quid of tobacco in his mouth.

They were not in a hurry to get over ground. Anticipating that their
quarry would return to the neighbourhood, they were waiting more than
actively searching for him. Rapid progress in such a place would have
been useless, since the unavoidable noise would have betrayed their
presence to his attentive ears.

Wind fanned the treetops, but where they walked the air was still and
warm. The charm of the fragrant shade stole upon their senses as they
advanced, while the green splendour of the bush was refreshing to eyes
aweary of the shimmer of wide, grey plains and the glitter of stony
hills.

Before they had gone a mile a wallaby dashed past them in rapid flight,
following a winding marsupial pad through the scrub. Instantly they
sought a convenient hiding place, crouching down shortly under thick
cover on the edge of a narrow space that was clear of undergrowth.

Mosquitoes swooped on to their backs in high revel. Stung through their
thin shirts, they wiggled and squirmed, and admonished each other for
not keeping still. Under the torture minutes seemed hours, though in
reality it was not very long before a change occurred.

The attention of the itching and blistered watchers was arrested by a
faint commotion in the near distance, like the recoil of a springy
branch that had been bent aside. It was succeeded by a painful interval
of silence, then by the sudden, loud crack of a brittle stick.
Something was slowly approaching--something that was decidedly not a
marsupial.

Dead leaves crunched as under heavy feet, and simultaneously there was
a rustling movement among interlacing boughs.

In another moment a remarkable looking creature stepped into view, the
first sight of which elicited a gasp from Jake.

It was a very fat man, whose lower frontal part bulked forward
excessively. A huge, snow-white beard, grizzled and matted, swept his
hairy chest. His only covering consisted of a furred cap and a loin
girdle of emu feathers. His body and legs were black, his face and arms
streaked and spotted with tan. The tip of his nose was almost fiery
red, while his forehead, lips and eyes were unlike the typical
aborigine's.

He stood awhile in a listening attitude, grasping the trunk of a small
tree with both hands. Sid bent over to Jake, who was taking
observations on his hands and knees.

"What do you make of him?" he whispered.

Jake shook his head. "New breed to me," he replied. "Never met his like
even in a picture-book."

"He doesn't look natural," mused Sid, with a mystified air.

Jake took another lingering look at the curiosity.

"Queer fellow!" he remarked, bending down with a convulsive movement of
his shoulders, and contorting his features in an alarming fashion.
"He'd be an extra special to a travelling menagerie, that chap."

Starting forward again, the uncouth savage moved with a short,
lumbering stride across the clear space. When he had reached the middle
of it Sid sprang out and confronted him. The wild man started back with
an ejaculation that was something between a grunt and a bark. Then he
threw up his right hand, and cried in a strong voice: "Queeta, King of
Yanbo!" And having thus briefly introduced himself, he ran off into a
rapid aboriginal speech.

Sid and Jake looked at one another and back to the strange figure in
blank amazement. They saw now by the little white spots and streaks
here and there that he was painted. Especially was this noticeable in
the ears, under the arms, and between the fingers.

"What is your right name?" asked Sid, with an uneasy feeling.

His majesty thrust his fingers into a crude skin pouch that was
attached to his belt, and drew forth an old watch and a brightly
polished silver chain, and pointing to two initials engraved, on the
case, he answered:

"Claude Warri."

Sid's eyes threatened to start from his head.

"Good God!" he gasped, stepping back from the old man, and regarding
him with unfilial horror. Further speech failed him, and in the
distressful pause that ensued Jake stepped forward.

"Where did you belong to fore you took to the wilds?" he asked.

"Kanillabar--I'm the owner of Kanillabar. Squatter and king!" He spoke
with fierce energy.

"My father!" came hoarsely from the incredulous Sid. He was white to
the lips. He reeled under the shock; and, clutching a branch, stood
with his back to the old monarch. Could it be possible that that awful
monstrosity was the father of his being! Could this be the parent of
whose rescue he had dreamed of from early boyhood, for whom he had
searched for long, and exiled himself in the lonely heart of a
continent! How could he take that beastly looking savage into the
society of the gentle Myee?

"If you're Claude Warri, of Kanillabar, that's your son an' heir," said
Jake. "Maybe you remember Sid?"

"Sid! . . . My son!" the old man repeated huskily, feasting hungry eyes
on the sturdy form of his disgusted offspring.

"This has been the dream of his life," continued the truthful Jake.
"He's spent I dunno how many years searching the bush for traces of
you. An' here you are at last, full an' hearty!"

"What's the matter with him?" the old man inquired, eyeing him
suspiciously.

"He's overcome with emotion," said Jake. "Can't trust himself to speak
yet. Let him be awhile till he recovers his composure."

"There's no need for him to hide his feelin's from me," the king
returned. "Sid, my boy, let me look at you!"

On this impulse Sid swung round and advanced like a man walking in his
sleep.

"You don't look very pleased to see your father!" his parent reproved.

"I--I can hardly believe it," Sid stammered, with a sickly smile.

The king gathered him into his fat arms, and sobbed on his shoulder,
pouring forth his thanks in broken utterances, and mixing his English
with aboriginal endearments.

Jake faced, about, and bashed wildly at the mosquitoes to hide his
feelings. Sid made a noble pretence of returning his loving parent's
embrace. The blood flew red to his face. Modest as men are modest, with
the quiet reserve and undemonstrative ways of the bushman, he had a
lively sense of the incongruous. A good natured sympathy for others
helped him to conceal his relief when he was released from the bear-
like hug. The bear, panting with excitement, stood back a pace.

"At last!" he said, impressively, lifting his hand above his head.
"After--many--years!" As he finished this dramatic speech he let his hand
drop to his side, and bowed his head.

"Say!" Jake interrupted, looking perplexedly from black father to white
son; "how the rumblin' thunder do you come to be blackwashed?"

The old man held out his arms and surveyed them sadly.

"I've been tryin' to get it off," he said, "but it's a hard job, dang
it. I'll tell you about it by 'n 'bye--an' why I didn't go to you some
days ago. I went to the hut two or three times, after watchin' you
away, an' helped meself to a little o' your tucker--"

"Gripes, old party," Jake interjected, "you must have an all-fired
powerful appetite when you feel inclined for alot."

"I was hungry, or I wouldn't a touched anything. I'm no good at
huntin'. I've lost my activity. Still, I only intended to have a look
round, an' to get a bit o' soap, an' some matches, when I first
ventured to call; but I got to tastin' one thing an' another--things I'd
been a stranger to for ages an' I simply couldn't help havin' a tuck
in. My next visit was for th' purpose o' gettin' a gun, an' a tomahawk,
an' a knife, an' little odds an' ends like that; an' then I saw the
plum duff an' the roast ducks, just ready to take up, an' a bigger
supply o' fresh damper, an' brownie than seemed necessary for immediate
requirements, an' I couldn't resist. I hope you weren't badly
inconvenienced?"

"Not at all!" Sid lied manfully.

"The duff and the game helped us to find you."

"Where did you dine that day?" asked Jake.

The old man smiled pleasantly.

"On a little island in th' swamp--where I camped. Lord, man, that was a
great feast!"

"Well, well!" said Jake, scratching his head, and glancing over the
spoliator's ample proportions. "I suppose you could do with a bite
now!"

"I do feel a bit empty," the fat man replied, looking up at the sun.

Jake turned away abruptly.

"I'll get along an' sling the billy," he said; and therewith he dived
under a drooping bough and disappeared, leaving father and son to
follow at their leisure.

Reaching the hut, he called to the dusky rouseabout to bring in some
wood. "Get a hurry on, Murrin," he enjoined, brushing a wet eye with
the back of his hand; "the squatter-king is comin' to dinner."

Murrin was standing in a state of suspended animation, for he had just
discovered the distinguished potentate in the act of crossing the log,
taking short, deliberate steps, and grotesquely swaying in the effort
to keep his balance. Jake, slewing on his heel, squinted breathlessly
at the spectacle, and dropped down on the doorstep in laughing
convulsions.

CHAPTER XXX.

Unwelcome Visitors.

Sid's most immediate concern was the disgusting condition of his
father. He entertained no thoughts of ever making him a shining member
of society; he had little hope even of restoring him completely to his
old-time rugged simplicity; but he commenced at once on the task of
improving his appearance. It was a disheartening task from the start,
for the old savage was not a willing subject to work upon. He had been
far from a model gentleman in the days of his social eminence; a rough-
moulded, bluff-spoken personality, who had made his way in the world by
sheer grit and doggedness, and moved in the highest circles in the
district by the magic power of money, and the influence of a wife of
refinement and education. Years of existence in the primitive state,
hunting his meat in the wild, and consorting only with wild blacks, had
rubbed all the polish off him, dragged him down almost to the level of
the brute. As the choicest product of the garden reverts quickly to the
wild state when uncared for, so he had dropped from the high pedestal
of civilisation to the stage of the club and the spear. Not a simple
savage, but a cynical one was he, who had tasted all the phases of
life, and seen their mockeries and hypocrisies, who had preached the
noble doctrine of brotherly love and goodwill to mankind; who had
stepped back into the stone age, and enthusiastically clubbed his
foemen, and had been in turn decorated with the scars of honour; He was
blissfully indifferent as to looks; only the natural pride of the
patriarchal warrior was strong within him, and that needed no clothes
for adornment.

Sid led him to a log at the back of the hut, where he left him seated
while he obtained a bucket of water, a lump of smoke hardened soap, a
flesh-brush, and a towel. The veteran eyed these preparations with
disapproval. He could see no necessity for hurry; there would be plenty
of time to wash to-morrow, when he was feeling in better nick. It was
only with much moral persuasion that he submitted to the cleansing
operation. He was soused with water, liberally soaped, scrubbed and
rubbed, and soused with more water. All to so little purpose that the
improvement was scarcely noticeable. He was induced to use his own
endeavours on hands, face and neck, which he did perfunctorily, and
without any heartening result.

Sid propped his hands against his hips, and surveyed the unhandsome
bulk in despair. The latter was drying himself with the towel, and
making a noise with his mouth like a man makes when grooming a horse.

Jake came out, and announced that dinner was ready.

"Haven't made the slightest impression on him," lugubriously from Sid.

"Well, you've modified the odour of him some, anyway," said Jake.
"That's satisfactory, for a start. You can get close to him now without
wantin' to throw the windows up an' lean out after a different
atmosphere."

"Can you suggest anything to take that black off?" asked Sid.

Jake examined the pigment. "Strong soapsuds ought to loosen it but
he'll want soakin' for a day or two."

"I can't' soak," the old man objected. "I've got a touch of the
rheumatics now."

"Tain't uncommon like tar," Jake went on; "an the best thing to shift
tar is grease. Suppose we lather him well with taller, an' set him in
the sun till it runs off?"

The king shook his head. "I've been greased all over with goanna ile,
and that only made it shine."

He stood up and readjusted his girdle of emu feathers. "It'll wear off
in time," he added composedly.

"We'll hunt you up some decent clothes," said Sid, "and you can throw
that abomination in the fire."

"Never mind the clothes now," his father dissented. "Let's 'ave
something to eat."

But Sid insisted on clothing him, and rummaged through his limited
wardrobe in search of out-sizes in garments. There was nothing,
however, that their efforts could drag on to the colossus. Jake's
scanty belongings were then overhauled, with no better success. As a
last resort, Sid seized upon an old blanket, and was meditating how to
fashion a robe out of it, when the impatient potentate went on strike.

"Come on, come on!" he cried, waddling resolutely up to the table.
"We'll tuck some grub into us, dang it." And with no other covering
than his paint and the scant girdle of feathers he sat down to his
first meal in civilised quarters. To Jake and Sid he was a painful
embarrassment. His majesty appeared happily oblivious of anything
unusual. He was in his customary court dress. Hundreds of times he had
dined with the queen and other ladies and notables without any paint on
him at all. He devoted himself absolutely to the banquet. Jake's bread,
fresh from the camp-oven, was a delight to his senses. He looked at his
first slice and smelt it, bit out a huge mouthful, and examined it
again. Potatoes, cooked in their jackets--which he ate, skins and all;
smoked salt meat, which he took in his hand and tore with his teeth;
cold dried-apple pie, left over from the previous day; and black billy
tea, well sugared, provided for him a sumptuous repast. He ate to
repletion; wiped his dripping whiskers with a cross-sweep of his bare
arm, and, sliping down, on to the floor, he stretched himself out on
his back, where it was necessary to step over him in clearing the table
or to reach the fireplace.

A little dark grey lizard, walking upside down on the ceiling and
catching flies with wonderful ease, attracted him, and he lay watching
it with the contentment of a man who had found heaven, and had nothing
more to wish for. It kept him interested until he fell asleep, when his
terrific snoring drove the other occupants out of the hut.

Sid sat down on the end of the verandah, and, propping the heels of his
palms under his chin, stared vacantly into space. The realisation of
his long hope had only brought heart-burnings. His father was a
disgrace. The blacks' camp was a more appropriate setting for him than
the home of respectable whites. There would be great excitement when it
became known that he had been found; a public banquet would be given in
Wonnaroo to welcome him home; and how everybody would stare and laugh
when they saw and heard the old heathen! A mental picture of the guest
returning thanks--after wine--brought a hot flush to the young man's
cheeks.

"Well, Sid," drawled Jake, dropping down beside him, "your
prognostications were plomb correct. Don't you feel proud? I'll lay
there wasn't another anywhere who gave old Monarch a chance of bein'
still on deck."

A prodigious snort vibrated along the iron wall in response to the
compliment.

" 'Tis to be hoped he sleeps to a different tune at night time," Jake
concluded.

"What will they think when I take him back," Sid asked, despondently.
"What would they think if they saw him now?"

"Look here, boy!" said Jake. "Life's too short to be worryin' over what
other people think; have a good solid think of your own. If we get his
majesty into a decent suit o' togs he won't look half so conspicuous."

"We'll have to get them from Wonnaroo--made to order," said Sid.

"Just so. We'll have to take his measurement somehow, and send 'em in
to your sister."

"Then we've got to get him home. He'll never ride in--and he can't walk--
"

"You'll want a waggonette," Jake interposed, spitting with the easy
precision of long practice on a foraging greenhead. "A tilted cart
would be better; you could smuggle him home without being garped at by
inquisitive an' disrespectful people."

Sid's dog, couchant on the grass in front of them, interrupted with a
low growl.

"Hulloa!" cried Jake the next instant. "Here's three ladies comin' to
see us."

Three gins, dressed in the same fashion as the king, and carrying short
spears, were tentatively approaching from the creek side. Two were
young and comely; the third was taller and much older, spare and wiry-
looking. She proved, on Murrin's services being requisitioned, to know
enough of the Mingo Creek dialect to make herself understood. She
wanted meat, declaring in plaintive tones that she was very hungry.

"Why doesn't she catch a wallaby?" asked Sid. "They're plentiful
enough, goodness knows."

The gin shook her head, and yabbered dolefully.

"She say wallaby too much run away. She poor ole woman," Murrin
interpreted.

"Where does she camp?"

"Long way," was the answer, accompanied by an indefinite flourish of
her arm.

At this juncture a peremptory tap-tap called Sid to the window. Pulling
it open he looked in just in time to see his father bob down and roll
under the bunk. Puzzled by these peculiar antics, he beckoned to Jake,
and hurried into the room.

"What's up?" he asked anxiously. "What are you doing under there?"

A black arm shot out and waved frantically at the window.

"Shut the winder, dang it!"

Sid closed it, his face clouding as he did so. After a brief interval--

"Did yer shut it?"

"Yes."

"Make it fast?"

"Yes!" impatiently.

The ungainly figure crawled out, and slowly rose up on to its
elephantine legs. Jake, framed in the doorway, looked on with tears in
his eyes. The old man peeped through a crack in the window, listened
breathlessly for a moment, and recoiled.

"Don't let 'em see me!" he commanded, in a loud whisper. "They've come
after me."

"All of them?" Jake queried, holding on to the door.

The king peeped again through the shutter.

"They've tracked me through th' scrub, dang it," he whispered. "If they
sight me they'll have the whole tribe down here."

"They must be fond of you," Jake observed. He shot a covert glance at
Sid, who was so intensely interested that he had not moved.

"Well, it ain't for me to say it," returned the old man, with the first
suggestion of modesty he had shown; "but I was a good boss to 'em all.
I shared everything with 'em that they caught for me, fair an' square,
an' never walloped one of 'em more 'n was necessary."

"What are you goin' to do with 'em'?" asked Jake.

"Send 'em away!" waving his hand by way of dismissal. "I'm done with
'em."

Jake took down two revolvers from the wall, and holding them behind him
walked leisurely out. The three gins were still parleying with Murrin.
Stepping close up to the tall one, he flung his arms out suddenly and
fired with quick alternation into the ground at her sides. The gin
leaped and yelled simultaneously; she danced and ducked and jumped; and
in a surprisingly, short time she was merely a streaking smudge in the
distance.

Sid rushed out, the melancholy expression that had settled on his face
giving way to a look of alarm.

"What have you done?" he cried breathlessly. Jake and Murrin were
bending and twisting in paroxysms of laughter.

"Only dismissed the old lady and her attendants," said Jake. "No two
ways about it, she can sprint some, that old girl."

They stood talking together in the lengthening shade of the building,
talking mostly of aboriginal social problems, until the shutter was
cautiously opened, and a gruff voice barked through the aperture.

"They gone?"

"Long ago," said Jake.

"Out of sight?"

"Miles."

With an approving grunt the king waddled out into the open, and looked
at the sun. Before very long he looked at it again, his hand gliding
caressingly over his protruding anatomy. "Beginin' to feel a bit
empty," he remarked.

CHAPTER XXXI.

The Tale of his Wild Career.

That night, squatting in the big fireplace with his heels in the ashes,
Claude Warri, with much prompting, told of his life among the blacks,
and how he had got there. The term of his long banishment began at the
camp on Mingo Creek, where a heavy thunderstorm had led to continuous,
steady rain, and decided him to turn back. His two black guides went
after the horses in the morning as usual, whilst Cranston prepared
breakfast. They returned, and reported that the horses had crossed the
creek. The water thereabouts, according to aboriginal legendary lore,
was the home of a debil-debil, and no promises or threats could induce
the superstitious pair to go into it. Warri therefore took the bridles
(Cranston having a damper to make and meat to cook), and being shown
where the horses had crossed, resolved to go after them himself before
the creek rose.

The water in mid-stream was armpit deep, so he took off his clothes and
made them into a bundle, which he carried on his head, intending to
dress again on the opposite side and ride back. His watch and chain,
which he had carried in the open pocket of a loose blue jumper, he hung
round his neck for safety.

In mid-stream he stumbled in a hole, and dropped the bundle, which was
carried away by the current. He landed on the western bank, dressed
only in a white cork helmet and a watch and chain, and struggled along
the shore for miles in the hope of recovering his clothes. Failing in
that, he went in search of the horses. That quest also was resultless.
He then returned to the crossing, and found the creek running a banker.
Heavy rains, far up among the hills, had caused the sudden rise.
Continuing along the creek, he came opposite the camp, only to discover
that Cranston and the two guides had packed up and ridden away.

"How did they get the horses?" Jake here interposed.

"Th' horses were on their side all th' time," the old man replied. "Th'
tracks went into the water all right, but there warn't a hoof-mark
opposite."

"Then they deliberately sent you astray," cried Sid, rage and horror
possessing him as he reflected on the subsequent career of Mr. Richard
Cranston.

"I was lost by design," said his father. "It was Cranston who persuaded
me to go to look for new country, an' he meant me to perish there. Why,
I've never been able to think."

"Never mind," Sid broke in, wishing for the present to stave off
inquiry concerning the publican. "Go on with the yarn."

"Lemme see! I was sittin' on the bank in a blue funk when you
interrupted me," the old man resumed. "I sat there for a hour or more,
starin' over the flood, an' swipin' at th' flies. I tried to think at
first that Cranston was lookin' for me, an' would come back; but th'
bush only grew more deadly lonesome with the waiting an' watchin'.
Seemed as if I was looking into another world, a grey, melancholy
world, where there was no hope, an' nobody would ever come.

"By'n'bye I set about pullin' up blue and barley grass, an' plaitin' it
into a sort of short skirt to go home in. I was no bush man then, an' I
'adn't much of an idea how I was goin' to get home; but it put in the
afternoon. I 'adn't quite finished it when rain set in, and I had to
hunt about for shelter. I found a little bit of a cave under a hill,
an' squeezed in there for the night. No fire, no tucker--cold an' rainy;
I tell you, it was the most miserable night I'd ever put in. The
mornin' was little better--still rainin', the flood higher, an' only a
crow mopin' at the old camp. I had to get a move on or starve.

'There was plenty, o' live meat about the bush, what with birds an'
wallabies an' kangaroos, an' one thing an' another; but they were all
quite safe when I was huntin'. I 'adn't wind enough to run down a
winged duck, an' my feet were too tender, anyway. I struck out for
swamps, an' lignum flats, thinkin' I might find eggs about the edges.
The rain cleared off about noon, an' the sun came out steamin' hot.
Before evenin' I was burnt red. Near dusk I found three young parrots
in a low gidgee tree. I had one of 'em for supper; the other two lasted
me all next day. A little raw parrot was very sufficin'. Meantime, I'd
lost Mingo Creek. Dodgin' around scrubs an' sheets o' surface water,
an' runnin' after things I had no hope o' catchin', I'd lost my
bearin's altogether, and must have wandered away west. I was gettin'
fair done in, too.

"On the fourth day I came to a creek that had only a little, muddy hole
here an' there. I dropped down for a spell in a shady spot on the bank,
an' was lollin' there, rubbin' my sore arms an' shoulders, when two
blackfellers blew up. That's how it seemed to me; a puff o' wind
whisked some dust into me eyes, an' when I looked up, there they stood
in front o' me."

"Mingo Creek blacks?'" interrogatively from Sid.

"Messengers from Yanbo tribe--makin' back," said his father.

He drew his knees up, and sat blinking into the fire. Murrin had just
thrown on a big back log, around which the red and gold flame-tongues
licked and leaped.

"Well?" prompted Sid.

"Lemme see!" waking from his reverie. "What was I doin' when you
interrupted? You're always putting your mag in."

"Sittin' under a tree scratchin' yourself," said Jake.

"No, I wasn't; I was done scratchin'," the old man dissented. "I was
arguin' with two wild blackfellers, an' neither of 'em could understand
what I was sayin', an' I couldn't understand what they were sayin'. One
was carryin' a fresh-killed wallaby, the other one a firestick. I
signed to 'em that I was hungry, an' after awhile persuaded 'em to cook
dinner. We camped there that night. Next day I went with them, because
they could get tucker an' I couldn't. I'd had quite enough o' battlin'
with the bush on my ace, so I didn't care much where they took me. My
only chance o' survival till a search party came out was to be adopted
by the tribe. If none came, I reckoned to hang on until I could talk a
bit o' the language, an' then offer 'em a big reward--whatever they
happened to value--to take me home."

"And why didn't you do that?" asked Sid, as the old man paused and
shoved his heels out into the ashes again.

"None o' the Yanbo blacks know where Kanillabar was, an' they wouldn't
go out of their own towri without risk to themselves."

"But the pair who picked you up were messengers returning from Mingo
Greek?' Sid questioned.

"That's different. They could take a message stick to a neighbourin'
king an' get a passport back; but they wouldn't chance takin' me
through th' towri, even if they'd known where to go. The Yanbo tribe
was afraid of the Mingo Creek blacks, an' so was I. See that broken
toe? We 'ad a fight with some of 'em near our border, before I was
king, an' not bein' lively enough on my pins, I was the casualty.
They're not safe company, wherever they are. My new friends didn't want
me to go back, anyhow. I was one o' the tribe, they said, who'd been
killed a long time ago, an' had jumped up whitefeller. It was fortunate
they recognised me, as I might 'ave been killed again."

"The messengers recognised you?" Sid queried.

"No-o!" in a prolonged growl. "The old men o' the tribe, dang it."

"But you haven't arrived there yet," Sid reminded him.

"Where was I?" looking half round with a ponderous expression.

"On the way to the camp," said Sid.

"No, I wasn't; I was done travellin'," the old man returned. "You're
always interruptin' an' contradictin'." Silence for a minute. "It was a
big camp, alongside a fishin' hole a day or so's tramp to the north of
here. Soon's we got into it, the king o' the tribe, old Goruyana,
claimed me as a near relative of his, who'd been killed in a fight with
the Mingo Creek warriors, an' flayed an' roasted an' eaten. It was
because I'd been, skinned that I was now white, they said. I thought it
peculiar that nothin' else should be missin' but me original skin.
Howsomever, if they liked to take it that way, I didn't see any reason
why I should grumble. It meant protection to me. In fact, my life was
sacred. Old Goruyana was delighted; I suppose he'd never expected to
see me any more. Seemed I'd been a great warrior in my time, an' the
miracle of my uprisin' added to his importance. They got up a
corroboree in my honour. The play was based on my own experiences--
showin' how I died an' resurrected. They had a wallaby drive an' a big
feast; foot-racin', jumpin' an' climbin', aquarium sports, mimic war,
an' other games, which pulled me comfortably through the first week.
Time dragged for a while, but I soon got used to the life. The most
unsatisfactory part of it was the uncertainty of dinner. It was seldom
punctual, an' sometimes there was none at all. Seein' I was booked to
be a wild man, I reckoned I might's well make the best of it. My old
life was done with, it seemed to me; I was too far out ever to meet
with white folks again. The black people were my people; their laws
were my laws. . . . So I got married."

A peculiar guttural squeak emanated from Murrin, and he ducked down
suddenly after a coal to light his pipe. "She wasn't what you'd call
charmin', though she had plenty of admirers," the narrator proceeded.
"She was active an' willin', but still it was a little too much for her
to keep us both decently provided for, an' to hump the rugs and other
baggage when we shifted camp. Howsomever, we always 'ad something in
the dillybag, except when she got sick, or cut her foot, or was
otherwise incapacitated for active duty. That was an inconvenience when
you 'ad no reserves to fall back on. Shove that log in a bit, Sid.
It'll be rollin' agin me foot directly, an' burnin' it."

Sid obeyed, with reddened cheeks. Murrin, crouched in a back corner,
grinned across the fire at the exquisite laziness of the old savage.

"What did you do between meals?" asked Jake, with a slight emphasis on
the pronoun.

"The bossin'," was the reply. "In me spare time I fished near camp, an'
did a bit o' cookin'. When Goruyaua died, they made me king, an' after
that I was kept a lot busier."

"Managin' the affairs of State?" queried Jake, a serio-comic expression
on his face.

"An' attendin' th' councils relatin' to ceremonies, evil Spirits, war,
the game supply, an' the control o' the weather," the king rejoined. "I
was contented enough, till one day a feller came in with a billycan,
an' said white men had given it to him. Then another feller--Nilgirry--
came with a billy, an' he said the same white men had given it to him.
They knew all about me, he said, an' wanted to find me to kill me. I
thought they must be Cranston an' his friends, an' when the old men
proposed to paint me black so I wouldn't be conspicuous, I didn't
object. We made our main camp away up at the head of this swamp about
then. There's a fine, sheltered little valley up there, hemmed in by
rough, rocky hills an' scrub. Then I heard that the white men had built
a house an' yards, and brought a big mob of strange beasts here. From
that I knew a squattage was bein' formed, on my towri, an' I made up me
mind to see for myself. None o' the tribe wanted me to go, so I slipped
away unbeknownst, wadin' along through the water so I couldn't be
tracked; an' campin' on the island at night; an' when I thought anybody
was about in the day. I wanted to make sure who I had to deal with
before walkin' in an' introducin' myself. I wasn't particularly anxious
to run agin Cranston after what he'd done to me--unless I could get hold
of a gun. 'Twouldn't be good for him if I turned up, you see, an' the
scamp could put a bullet in me, if he 'appened to drop across me,
without any risk in an uncivilised part like this--"

"Didn't you see the messages I scratched on the bottoms of the
billycans?" asked Sid.

"They'd been on the fire when I saw 'em." The king chuckled
sardonically to himself. "Nice place to write a message," he remarked,
addressing the back log. "Any one but a fathead would a known 'twould
burn off first bilin'."

He wriggled into a more comfortable, position, and threatened to go to
sleep.

"You were reconnoitrin' round the cookhouse," Jake reminded him.

"I was 'connoitrin' in the scrub," the king amended gruffly. "I saw his
nibs here sittin' on a log, tryin' to curl the little moustache he's
cultivatin', an' he no sooner spied me than he grabbed hold of his
revolver and set after me. I nearly busted gettin' away, dang it; an'
only for fallin' over the creek bank, an' havin' no breath to move for
a while after, he might a plugged me for a thievin' blackfeller. If he
hadn't been so mighty smart with that revolver I might a stood me
ground, an' been saved a lot of unpleasantness." He spoke with the air
of one who had been grievously wronged. "I never dreampt o' Sid bein'
out here--much less tearin' after me like a murderin' bushranger. . . .
This your own turnout?" he asked, abruptly turning to his son.

"No; I'm looking after it for Captain Bryne."

"Ugh!" grunted the king. "Formin' a squattage?"

"Yes."

"The derned hide of him!" the king snorted. "Squattin' here without so
much as by your leave, or good-day to me, or anything. I'll have
something to say about that when I see him, you mark me. Where's the
jumper live?"

"At Kanillabar," said Sid, looking down at the floor. "He owns
Kanillabar now."

The old squatter-king gave a convulsive start. "Dang it!" was all he
could say for a minute. Then, blinking at his son in a half-dazed
fashion, "What did your mother sell out for?"

"She had to; she was heavily in debt."

"How was that?" asked his father. "Who was her manager?"

"Richard Cranston."

"Wha-at!" The old man staggered to his feet, and, stooping before Sid,
with one hand held out, he said: "You tell me Dick Cranston was her
manager? Dirty Dick Cranston?"

Sid nodded. Too well he realised now how his mother had been ruined.
Poor soul, she had trusted a rotten stick, no suspicion ever entering
her mind as to his cupidity and dishonesty.

"Good lor'!" gasped his father. "An' where; is he now, the dirty
thief?"

"Keeping the pub in Wonnaroo."

"He! keeping the pub!" his father repeated, suddenly enlightened.
"Keepin' the pub!" He wobbled up and down the room in considerable
agitation. After awhile he stopped and leaned on the table. "I see it
now! That's what he lost me for--to rob her an' set himself up in
business!" He came back to the fireplace, and sank limply on to the
floor. "Blamed fool of a woman to trust a fellow like that! My word,
I'll 'ave a reckonin' with him. Sid!" slewing sharply towards the young
man, "you get me a conveyance quick. I'm going home!"

CHAPTER XXXII.

A Time of Shine and Shadow.

The trip to headquarters was assigned to Jake, a decision that put him
in remarkably good spirits. Truth to tell, Jake was becoming very
lovesick, and it was the mental picture of little Kora Danz that made
him whoop for joy when the order was given to saddle up and take the
track.

Well mounted, and leading a hardy pack horse, he set out at daylight on
a fine, crisp morning, carrying an important missive from Sid to his
mother, a message-stick from Murrin to his relatives, and commissioned
to bring back stores and some very necessary clothes in a waggonette.

Part of the way--through the territory of the Mingo blacks--was still
regarded as unsafe for a man to travel alone; but Jake had travelled
mateless so much through the wide spaces of outback that he lost no
sleep on the journey through anxiety. He boiled his quart and watered
his horses at sundown, then rode on a couple of miles, and camped
without a fire. Up horse-hunting at dawn; on again at a steady jog as
he had ridden year in and year out on the mailman's track.

He reached the homestead in the sweet gloaming hour when the ardent
swain is prompted to barter the world for a kiss, and to sacrifice his
life on the altar of love; and at the western gate, admiring the lovely
evening colours of bushland and sky, stood the little lady he had been
dreaming of for ages and ages.

"Whatever brings you in!' she exclaimed, going out to meet him; and he
noticed that her cheeks were like apples that had suddenly ripened. He
dropped the reins on the ground, and shook both her hands at once. He
had learned the truth of the cook's words at Yanbo, that a period of
exile in the womanless bush makes a man very loving.

"I came in to see you," he declared, oblivious of everything else in
her bewitching presence.

"I don't believe you!" she murmured, smiling demurely into his face.

"Seems like ten years since I saw you last," he added, forgetting to
let her hands go.

"You mean ten weeks?"

"I mean ten centuries!"

She laughed merrily, and as her head bowed slightly towards him, one
sun-browned hand slipped from hers, and absent-mindedly got on to her
shoulder. The delicate perfume that was about her intoxicated him.
Impulsively he lifted her other hand to his lips and kissed it.

"This," he said, holding it out and straightening one of the small,
white fingers, "would look better with a ring on it."

"Would it'?" eyeing him coyly.

"Suppose, when I go into town, I happen to come across a nice one in
Joe Steel's jewellery department, and I happen to buy it in an
abstracted moment, an' fetch it out here without thinkin' what I'm
doin', would you wear it for me--for ever and ever?"

Her quick nod of assent was as the mystic sign of a marvellous
magician. Instantly he was transported into the halls of Elysium,
breathing ambrosial air. The mere hand was promptly dropped, and the
whole palpitating girl was crushed in his strong arms, and the drought
of eons assuaged at the fountain of her delicious lips.

It would have been excusable if the little lady had commented in
stereotyped phrase that it was sudden, for it took her some minutes to
realise that she was engaged. She wanted to hear the sweet avowals that
countless beaux have whispered to countless maids; but there was no
time for love passages. The captain, in tasselled cap and carpet
slippers, chanced to come out, cigar in mouth, for his evening smoke as
Jake enveloped his goddess in a thrilling embrace. Perhaps he was
surprised to see the ex-mailman there, and diverting in such fashion
with the prim governess. They only knew for certain that he made a
spasmodic slap at his cigar, as it dropped from his mouth, and sent it
spinning out on to the lawn.

The captain had no respect for lovers at the moment. He precipitated
himself between them, lines of worry on his brow. The little lady stood
back, thankful for the dimming light as she felt her face grow hot, and
surreptitiously straightened her hair.

"What's keepin' Ben?" asked the captain, before Jake had time to
explain his errand. "What's he doing?"

"Why--isn't he here?" cried Jake in surprise.

"No!"

They looked blankly at one another. Then--

"Haven't seen a sign of him!" said the captain.

"He left Yanbo six weeks ago!" said Jake.

By force of habit the captain's hand went to his beard, and the frown
on his face became more accentuated. Jake briefly related the
circumstances under which Ben had left Yanbo.

"Where's he got to?" the captain wondered. "He wouldn't get bushed."

"Perhaps he cut across to Mooban, or Goondi, or went to town," said
Jake. "He was finished up when he left Yanbo, I believe, and I heard
him say he was goin' to be his own boss in future. Did he have any
money to draw?"

"Nearly six months' wages."

"Well, you'd think he'd call for that," said Jake, "unless he means to
write from Wonnaroo or somewhere?"

"But why would he go away like that?" The lack of a logical reason for
such a course of action exasperated the captain.

"Why did he send you notice from Yanbo, an' choose to travel alone?"
Jake asked in return. "He was always a queer fellow. You never knew
what he was going to do next."

"That's so, that's so," said the captain. "Er--where did he mean to
settle?"

"Didn't hear. That was another thing about Ben--always as close as an
oyster about his own affairs--an' nothing much to say about anybody
else's."

"Very reserved," the captain corroborated, lapsing into a still more
reflective mood.

Jake, impatient to return to his young lady, presently electrified him
by switching on to Sid's degenerate father, and the obstacles in the
way of getting the old semi-savage back to the family home.

"Well, well," the captain ejaculated. "Old Claude Warri--after all these
years!"

His face reddened and wrinkled as Jake proceeded to describe the king's
condition, his unchoice manners, and his sublime indifference to
appearances. No one could more keenly appreciate the humour of the
squatter-king's position than Captain Bryne. As Jake repeated the story
that was told in Yanbo hut, embellished with his own impressions and
observations, the old gentleman took a tight grip of his hirsute
appendage, and shook in his boots. Only at the recital of Cranston's
treachery did he look grave, and punctuate with grunts and ejaculations
expressive of astonishment and deep concern.

Kora Danz, who had repaired to the gate, heard only so much of the
recital as was suited to a lady's ears; but she had the gist of it, and
with an excited flutter of skirts she carried the new sensation into
the house. Soon afterwards, with skirts in violent agitation, Kian Hook
flew with it to the hut. By the time Jake had left the captain and made
his appearance among the men, it had got down to the blacks' camp, from
which he shortly received a mixed audience, who were as eager to hear
about the white king as to receive message sticks from Murrin. He tore
himself away from them all before their curiosity was half satisfied,
and rushed back to the spot--the most beautiful spot on earth that
night--where he had met his divinity.

He spelled next day at the homestead, whilst messengers were sent to
Mooban, to Bogalby and to Goondi to ascertain if Ben Bruce had gone to
any of those places. They heard nothing of him; and the mailman,
passing through that afternoon, reported that nothing had been seen of
him in Wonnaroo.

"The crows 'ave got him," was Ned the cook's conjecture. No one offered
a different opinion, which encouraged him to make further lugubrious
remarks. "I'm not astonished," Ned continued. "He was the sort of man
you'd expect to end up tragically. Shunnin' the company of his fellow-
men, half his time with the mulligrubs, an' always hankerin' after
lonesome places. . . . Well! I should imagine he's got a solitary
enough berth now, poor devil."

The morning brought a new sensation. Berkley Hart and Kian Hook were
missing. The former had drawn his wages the previous evening, saying
that he wanted Jake to pay a bill for him in town; the latter had also
drawn her wages, stating that she desired to send an order by Mr.
Cowrie. An examination of their rooms disclosed that they had taken
their belongings with them; and when it was found that Berkley's own
three horses and his saddles were gone, there was no doubt in anyone's
mind that he had eloped in the night with Kian Hook.

To their old associates their abrupt and secret departure was a glad
surprise. Joy pervaded the hut, and there was great rejoicing in the
camp at Brumby, the cowboy. He went about his duties like a new boy,
whistling cheerily, his hat tilted high, his sleeves rolled up, a
picture of goodwill and willingness.

The captain and Mrs. Bryne were justly annoyed. Though nobody ever
regarded Kian Hook as a paragon, her place was not easy to fill.
Domestic servants being as scarce as diamonds, Mrs. Bryne entertained
small hopes of finding another as unattractive to the wifeless
backblocker as Miss Hook. A girl with any pretensions to good looks was
carried off too quickly. What incensed the captain was the secret
manner of her going, as though she was a young girl whose alliance with
the groom had been forbidden. She was old enough twice over to please
herself. She was old enough to have better sense. This reflection
suggested that the seasoned pair had eloped to escape an unflattering
send-off by the late associates.

Leaving it at that, the captain focussed his thoughts again on Ben
Bruce. The stockmen were sent out to the western hills, a couple to
Black Derry's camp, the rest to Rocky Holes, where a mob of horses were
running.

And from Rocky Holes came the first tidings of the missing man. His two
horses were found running with the mob, and on the camp, where a horse
had been rolling, his saddle with a battered quart-pot and a dry
waterbag strapped to the dees, was picked up. Ample evidence these of a
grim tragedy in the lonely bush.

The three following days were spent by all hands, including Jake
Cowrie, in searching the surrounding country. Horse tracks were
followed in all directions; miles upon miles of hill and plain were
traversed; but nothing further was discovered.

Then Jake went on to Wonnaroo, carrying a report of the matter to the
police. Having delivered this, and spent an interested hour in Joe
Steel's jewellery department, he strolled leisurely towards Morella.
Day had closed, but a crescent moon threw a faint light over the
scattered house tops. The streets were deserted, except for a docile
cow that lay here and there on the footpath. A wind with a sharp bite
in it wailed softly through the trees along the creek, giving an
inviting look to the lighted windows.

Jake was a welcome visitor at Morella. He was admitted by Kiera Warri,
and ushered into the cosy little sitting room, where her mother, in
frilled cap and plain print, sat knitting before a cheery fire.

"I've come with an extra special from the back o' beyond," he informed
them, dropping into a chair between them and shoving his hat underneath
it.

Kiera looked puzzled. From his coat pocket Jake produced a crumpled
letter, the inscription of which conveyed a glimmering of intelligence.

"You have news from Sid." she inquired as he handed it over. "I'm just
dying to hear about him."

"Uncommon news," said Jake, "He's found the old man."

Had he exploded a bomb in their midst it could not have been more
startling in its effect. Mrs Warri flung up her hands in sheer
amazement, scattering her knitting on the floor. Kiera paused in the
act of opening the letter, her face and eyes aglow with excitement.

"My father!" "My husband!" the exclamations broke from their lips
simultaneously.

After a breathless pause, during which they looked at one another with
a half stunned expression, Jake found himself suddenly beseiged by a
multitude of questions, tumbling one after another so rapidly that he
hadn't time to answer half of them.

In desperation he pointed to the letter in the girl's hand. "That will
give you the hang of the situation," he reminded her.

"Oh, I forgot!" She hastily unfolded the sheets, and read aloud the
strange history of her exiled father, whilst her mother, leaning on her
shoulder, ran over the lines as quickly as her tear-dimmed eyes could
decipher the writing. When they came to the end of it, they fired more
questions at Jake, interspersed with ejaculatory comments, and read
parts of the letter over again to settle arguments between themselves
as to the exact wording and meaning of certain passages.

Ultimately Mrs. Warri sank back in her seat, her hands clasped on her
lap, a benign smile on her lips, and her eyes grew dreamily dim. She
was picturing to herself the grand old man as she had seen him last,
long ago, when she had waved him good-bye across the homestead paddock.
The picture was presently shattered when Keira read out from a slip of
paper the size of the clothes he needed.

"My goodness!" she cried; and leaning forward again, mumbled over the
prodigious figures. "Whatever did you measure with?"

"We measured him with a piece of string, an' then we measured the
string with a two-foot rule," said Jake. "The figures are all right,
missus. He's increased since he took up the king business. There's not
a stock size in shirts or pants in the district that'll look at him.
You'll have to make 'em special; an' you'll have no time for fancy
trimmin's. But he ain't particular. Easiest man alive to please in the
matter of toggery."

"What's he wearing now?" asked Mrs. Warri.

Jake scratched his head reflectively. "What he was wearin' when I left
was mostly paint, an' he was tryin' to get that off."

"Hasn't he any clothes?"

"Only what he came in when he abdicated--just a tabby, a bilby-skin cap,
an' a watch an' chain."

Mrs. Warri looked horrified. "How very extraordinary!" she said, her
gaze wandering slowly from Jake to her daughter. "Fancy your father
going about like that!"

Keira bent forward, and became absorbed in the slip of paper.

"I never heard of such a thing!" Mrs. Warri continued. "He must be just
like a blackfellow."

Jake thought he was worse, but he didn't say so. Several little matters
that particularly interested him were not mentioned in the letter.
Neither was anything said about Dick Cranston.

"Has he got long hair?" Mrs. Warri asked.

"He's got a beard like a horse's tail," Jake answered; "but he kept his
hair fairly short by running a firestick over it whenever he found a
difficulty in getting his cap on."

"What a thing to do!" the old lady exclaimed. "But I suppose the poor
man had no way of cutting it. Now, Jake, just tell me what he looks
like."

Jake suppressed a grin. "I'm afraid I can't give you any idea," he said
seriously. "He's got a monopoly of his own looks."

"What am I to make of that?"

"Well, he's the only wild white man I've seen; an' he's so fat. There's
no one I could liken him to. He's the one an' only."

"He must be dreadful!"

"Not at all," said Jake, easily. "There's a lot more of him to make up
for the long time he's been away. He's a celebrity. When you get him
back--which will be in about a month, bar accidents--you'll have the
greatest man in the county."

He fished his hat out from behind his heels, and moved to the front
edge of the chair.

"I'll have to be toddlin', Mrs. Warri. You'll get busy with the togs at
your earliest inconvenience?"

"My, Jake," Mrs. Warri exclaimed, "what a hurry you're in! The night is
young, and I'm sure there's a lot you haven't told us yet. Sit down,
man. We'll make you a cup of tea, and then Keira will go along to the
store and get the material; and you can keep me company, and tell me
everything while she's gone. You may smoke if you want to. I like the
smell of tobacco. Mr. Warri used to be very fond of his pipe--however
did he get on for a smoke in the wilds?"

"Must a chewed pitchcurri," said Jake, and with a sigh of resignation
he thrust his hat back under the chair.

 CHAPTER XXXIII.

News From Wonnaroo.

Jake did not tarry longer than was necessary in the township, and in
due course he was hard-going once more on the western road. Express
journeys either way invariably ended after dark, since they comprised
two fifty-mile stages. Captain Bryne was nursing a cold when he
arrived. As the express messenger was expected to have gleaned some
important intelligence in his travels, he was invited to the house, and
enjoined to sit down, and make himself at home.

The captain lolled in a big chair at one side of the grate, his wife
nestled in another big chair at the opposite side. Kora Danz and Wilga
Bryne sat at the table with their heads together over an illustrated
paper. A cat purred on the hearthstone, the picture of cosiness.

"Did you see anything of the runaways?" asked Mrs. Bryne. She was still
feeling resentful against Miss Hook. She had been very good to Miss
Hook, she reflected many times over; and in return for her goodness the
old thing had treated her most shabbily.

"No, but I heard of them" said Jake. "It's true enough Berkley Hart
eloped with the old girl. They were married in Wonnaroo, and left for
parts unknown the same day."

There was nothing vindictive in the nature of Mrs. Bryne, but she was
not in a frame of mind at that juncture to wish the bride happiness.

"I can't say I admire Berkley's taste," was her comment. "He wasn't
bad-looking--dressed up; and I'm sure he was years younger than Kian."

"They were neither of them chickens," said Jake. "Berkley wasn't as
good as he looked; not by a long chalk. My opinion is he deserved to
marry Kian."

"Then we should sympathise with both rather than congratulate them,"
laughed Kora Danz.

"What do they intend to do?" asked Mrs. Bryne. "They could have got
married like ordinary people, and stayed on here if they wanted to.
There was no necessity for them to sneak away in the night as if they
were committing a crime.

"They left no specifications behind 'em," Jake returned; "but I've got
something more than a suspicion that Berkley had a hand in Dick
Cranston's little schemes regardin' your predecessors. Cranston's gone,
too; wound up his business in next to no time, an' left as if he had an
important appointment somewhere. They do say a rich uncle of his was
dyin'; and havin' the biggest interest in the will, he wanted to see
the poor old chap an' say good-bye to him. That's the yarn about town.
When I made a casual remark about it to Joe Steel an' the overseer,
they winked at one another an' grinned. Afterwards I had a chat with
the postmaster, and he said if Cranston's uncle had been taken suddenly
ill, it was a mystery to him how Dick had come by the news, for he
didn't get any telegrams, and it was more'n a month since he'd had a
letter through the post."

"You saw Rod at Joe Steel's?" asked Mrs. Bryne. "What was he doing
there?"

"Buying a packet of tacks," said Jake.

"When did he get back? We've been expecting him every day, but we
haven't heard a word from him--"

"He was in town when I got there. He's bought Cranston's business,"
Jake went on, as if unconscious of the bombshells he was dropping in
their midst. "And he's under contract to the State Government to marry
Miss Keira Warri."

"What's that?" The captain, suddenly electrified, sat bolt upright.

"He had to say, when applyin' for the transfer of the license, who his
housekeeper would be--being a bachelor, and he said on oath that he was
going to get married to Keira Warri."

"Bought the pub!" the captain ejaculated.

"The whole going concern."

A mingling of astonishment and annoyance showed in the captain's face,
not at the announcement of the intended marriage, for that he had
agreed to; but because his son had abandoned pastoral pursuits for a
backblock caravansary. Had Rod consulted him before taking the step,
especially after the captain had humbled himself and asked him to
return home, he would have felt less hurt about it.

Mrs. Bryne and the girls, no less surprised, leaned inquisitively
towards the ex-mailman, who for years had been their faithful news
purveyor. Of late they had missed him, for his successor was a
meditative person, who was suspected of writing verse in his spare
time, and reciting them to his horses on the road.

"Believe he got it dirt cheap," Jake informed them. "Berkley Hart, you
may depend, told Cranston all about King Warri, an' I suppose that's
what put him on the wing. Berkley and his bride didn't get much of a
start of him, anyway."

"Settin' up to be a publican!" the captain mused, blinking ponderously
at the cat.

Jake nodded. "Reckon he ought to do well. Cranston made a good thing
out of it, and he wasn't a highly-esteemed citizen, by any means. He's
the only prominent resident I've known to leave Wonnaroo with out
gettin' a send off. Of course, he didn't wait for the folks to get a
move on, but it would 'ave been all the same if he had. All the love
Dick had won in the district wouldn't 'ave materialised into so much as
a purse o' coppers. Not that I hold with that sort of thing," he added,
after a pause. "Wonnaroo specialises a little too much in send-offs, 'S
all right if you're the guest of honour, an' you're not comin' back any
more. But there was Joe Steel, for instance. He went for a six months'
trip, an' they gave him a send-off, an' a purse o' twenty sovereigns.
Since then everybody who subscribed to it has taken a holiday, or got
married, or broke his leg under distressful circumstances, or had his
house burnt down, or some other misfortune, and, of course, Joe, being
a business man too, couldn't refuse to subscribe as much as the person
concerned had given him. In the end, he'd returned the twenty
sovereigns an' the price of the purse, an' a little extra by way of
interest. An' he hasn't got to the end of his responsibilities yet. I
didn't tell you that Myall Steel's goin' to be married to the
bookkeeper at Goondi.

"I knew they were engaged," said Mrs. Bryne, "but I didn't hear they'd
arranged about the wedding."

"They're expectin' to hitch up about the same time as Rod an' Miss
Warri," said Jake.

"That will be three weddings this quarter," said Wilga, with feminine
enthusiasm.

"And that won't exhaust all the marriageable young ladies in the
county, either," Jake rejoined.

He caught the pearl flash of Kora's teeth, and the inscrutable gleam in
Kora's eyes, and wondered wistfully, as he thought of the sunset trade,
when he might be hitching up himself. But he went on as if he had not
noticed, and as if he had no thought of anybody else's engagement.

"They were talkin' matrimony, those two, when I was runnin' the mail.
Every trip out I had a scented letter for the book keeper, sometimes
two; one written in expectancy and impatience before the mail came in,
and the other in delirious haste before it went out. One day, just
before Rod went away, he was in a deuce of a stew about a photo of hers
he'd lost on the road, and asked me if I'd seen anything of it. I knew
there'd been only one other person along that road; so I made inquiries
about the valuable, an' found it here."

"Who had it?" The question came impulsively from Wilga Bryne, who was
the only one present who knew the tragedy of that photo.

"Berkley Hart picked it up an' he gave it to Kian Hook."

"Was there anything written on it?" asked Wilga.

Jake, with thumb and finger pressed against his chin, one eye screwed
up, and his lips parted, squinted at the wall for a second or two.

" 'Yours, with eternal love, Myall Steel,' was the inscription," he
said then. "I remember it well; I carried the photo in the loose bag,
and havin' to run through the letters at every hut an' camp, that
lovin' message got to be the most conspicuous scrawl among the
addresses."

"It's the same!" said Wilga to herself; and later that night she sat at
her little table, and her pen scratched across a sheet of paper, line
after line, at a great rate. What she set down referred to Myee, and to
Sid Warri, and Berkley Hart, and Kian Hook, and Jake Gowrie, and Myall
Steel, and other people who had become mixed up in the story of the
photo. Her sympathies were with the lovers, and she wrote with the
joyous feeling that she was telling something that would mend the
breach between them, and that soon the clouds would pass away.

The captain had sunk into a contemplative mood, from which he presently
roused himself.

"Hmph!" he grunted, tilting his head back and looking half-vacantly at
his wife. "N-never thought Rod would go in for a pub."

Mrs. Bryne smiled dreamily. "I don't think it will last long; he'll be
wishing himself back among the stockmen before the year is out. He's
been used to the saddle and the open all his life."

"So was Cranston," said her husband, grumpily. "Doesn't matter what a
man's been used to in this country, he'll adapt himself to anything
else if there's money in it"

"Good luck to him! I'm very pleased he's settled down."

"In a pub?" queried the Captain, knitting his brows.

"I've been worrying about him," pursued Mrs. Bryne. "So many young men
who go away from their native districts are never heard of again, and
you don't know whether they're dead or alive."

"Pleased he's settled in a pub?" demanded the Captain, eyeing her
aggressively.

"Better that," said his wife, "than wandering about, Heaven knows
where. Do you know, I hardly slept a wink that night the men brought
Ben Bruce's horses and saddles home. Perhaps a poor old mother, or a
sister, is wondering where he is to-night. And where is he?"

"God knows!" growled the Captain.

"The bush is very sweet and very beautiful," Mrs. Bryne continued, "but
it is terribly tragic too. What happened to Ben might happen to any man
who so lightly mounts and rides away."

The search for Ben Bruce had been continued during Jake's absence.
Stockmen, blacks and police had ridden and tramped for days in vain. A
rain-storm along the western boundary had obliterated the tracks of the
homing horses, wherefore the quest had been abandoned as hopeless.

"He must have perished on the dry stage," the Captain surmised. "Er--
might keep a look-out as you go back, Jake."

"And look out for yourself, Jake," added Mrs. Bryne, unconsciously
expressing a thought that was in the mind of Kora Danz.

"I'll do that," said Jake, rising to go, "as a solemn duty to the few
good folks in the world who have an interest in me."

"That's right," said Mrs. Byrne pleasantly. "Always think of your
mother, for she's always thinking of you, and wondering if you are
taking care of yourself."

"She needn't worry," the Captain put in dryly.

Jake smiled at the governess.

"Nice night outside," he remarked from the doorway. "Beautiful moon."

The little governess accompanied him out to look at the splendours she
had seen a thousand times before, and so charmed was she with the
moonlit scene that more than an hour elapsed before she returned to the
room.

CHAPTER XXXIV.

Along the Homeward Way.

Driving outward in a heavily-laden waggonette, Jake had little
opportunity of doing more than keep a look-out along the track. That,
in itself was a help to Sid, who took up the search for his old mate on
his way home with his father. The news that the martyr had perished on
the eve of his emancipation hit him hard, but he could not but think,
in view of all circumstances, that it was for the best. He was the only
man who knew Ben's secret, and the problem that now perplexed him was
what he should do with it. Should he tell Myee's mother, or leave her
in happy ignorance of the truth?

With a pair of field glasses slung at his side, he rode wide of the
track, now on one side, now on the other, leaving his father,
comfortably seated in the waggonette, to guide the team of four horses.
Staunch old stagers, seldom put out of a walk, they required but little
guiding, and the driver's hardest work over the monotonous plains and
stony hills was to keep awake. He wore a bushman's veil, hanging loose
all round from the band of his new white helmet, to keep off the flies,
and beguiled the tedium of travel by an excessive consumption of
tobacco.

Sid had succeeded in removing the aboriginal paint, and in his new suit
King Warri looked presentable enough. Unfortunately, the boots were too
narrow for his flat feet, and rather than suffer the uncomfortable
things he decided to remain barefooted. This was another worry to Sid.
Every time he looked at the heathenish extremities they seemed to be
bigger. Hitherto he had not noticed them particularly, but now that his
father was dressed for visiting they looked painfully conspicuous.

King Warri saw nothing amiss. He had reached that happy state that
could ignore conventionalities with the utmost serenity. His broken
toe, which stuck up over its neighbour, excused his barefootedness, for
it was a deformity most difficult to get into any boot.

When they drew up at their night camp, he climbed down and indulged his
stiffened nether limbs in gentle exercise, carrying in one small stick
of wood at a time for the fire. He grunted as he picked up each piece;
he grunted again as he threw it down. Exhausted with his labours, when
he had gathered half enough, he sat down alongside the little pile and
set it alight.

Sid attended to the horses. By the time he had watered and hobbled
them, and filled the billy for tea, the fire had burned out. He carried
more wood, and while the billy boiled he made the two beds on the
ground, and unpacked the tucker-box.

Day was closing in solemn silence. Frail mist wraiths drifted across
the hills; banks of purple and golden clouds turned slowly to leaden
grey, and the evening star flashed out, the first sparkling jewel in
the crown of night.

King Warri sat with his heels in the ashes, contentedly munching his
meal.

"That's the only suit you've got, Dad," Sid reminded him.

"I know that, boy. One at a time's enough for me."

"But you'll be meeting ladies at Kanillabar," Sid protested. "You want
to keep it clean."

"Ladies!" his father echoed. "The ladies didn't worry about a man's
dress where I've come from. They didn't wear any themselves."

"You're going among civilised people now, not among blacks"

"Well, I suppose that'll be a change. When you live among Christians,
you must live like a Christian--or somewhere thereabouts. But I don't
want any la-de-da business, bear in mind."

Having made a considerable hole in the provisions, he wiped his hand on
a bunch of saltbush, and felt around for his tobacco.

"You might get some more wood, boy," he suggested in the meantime.
"Place ain't homely without a bit of a blaze."

Sid built the fire up again, and laid in a supply of fuel for the
night.

"That's something like," his father approved. "Y' oughter done that in
daylight. 'Tisn't safe fumblin' around after wood in th' dark. Might
get bitten be a snake."

He picked up a red coal with his fingers, placed it in the bowl of his
pipe, and sucked noisily at the stem.

"Old Abe Myers at Goondi yet?" flicking the coal off and belching out
smoke.

"Yes." The monosyllable came wearily from Sid's bed.

"Ought to be some fine lumps o' lubras there by this time."

"Lubras?" Sid queried.

"He has some daughters, hasn't he?" a little louder, with a touch of
irritation in the voice.

"I believe he has."

"If I was a young man, I'd know he had. There wouldn't be a girl in the
county I wouldn't know. You don't take after your father, Sid!"

"I hope not!"

The old man took the pipe from his mouth, and his head came partly
round.

"You hope not! What do you mean, dang it?"

"I mean one girl's enough for me."

"Oh!" After a long pause: "Do I know her?"

"No; she came after your time."

"What's her name?"

Knowing his father's sentiments in respect to girls, Sid did not like
to say he hadn't got one. The old man would think he was lacking in the
first attributes of manliness. He would say it wasn't natural for a
young fellow of his age to be without a sweetheart. At the same time,
Sid thought it improbable that his father would meet the girl his heart
was aching for, as Jake had told him she was not at Kanillabar; so he
answered recklessly:

"Myee Norrit."

When his father spoke again, after an interval of silence, he pretended
to be asleep.

"Well," said the old man, stretching lazily, "I'll have a bit o'
brownie, an' turn in, too."

The mornings in camp were nearly all alike. Sid brought up the horses,
harnessed them up, and got the breakfast ready; then he roused his
somnolent parent and packed up the bedding. Through the forenoon and
afternoon he was rarely with the team; riding wide among low hills and
scrubs, and following the beds of dry watercourses, he was sometimes
lost to the driver's view for hours at a stretch. Providing meal hours
came regularly and the team didn't stick him up on a sandhill, the
driver raised no objection till Mingo Creek was crossed.

Then he began to take a livelier interest in his surroundings.

"Better keep handy along here," he enjoined. "I don't like those Mingo
Creek blacks."

Sid, however, became more engrossed in his search. They were facing the
dry stage, where no rain had fallen for months. On the soft hills,
where the hop bush and tussocks broke the wind, tracks remained visible
for a considerable time. Presupposing that Ben had perished in this
part, Sid reasoned that the horses had got away from him, and so left
him without water; and he examined the ground closely for hoof-prints
deviating from the road.

Half-way across the desert strip the supposition was proved correct.
Here and there he saw the tracks of two horses; in places they were far
apart, in other places they crossed, and again they indicated that the
animals had stopped now and again to feed; which left no doubt that
both were then free from control. The colt which Ben had been leading
had doubtless been responsible for the breakaway.

Over that arid belt was their longest day's journey. From the tops of
the clearer hills Sid surveyed the surrounding country with his
glasses, and scanned the horizon for crows. Those black scengers of the
bush at last directed him to the horrible thing he sought, the stripped
body of a man who has died of thirst.

Half eaten by crows and dingoes, it lay on a barren, red dune, where
the unfortunate in his dying delirium had been trying to swim.

"Poor old Ben!" he murmured, standing with hands behind him, his head
bared and bowed. "Your life-track was hard to the end. . . . Your
problems are solved now. God rest your soul!"

Stacked near by were some of his clothes, in one of the pockets of
which was a letter addressed to Mrs. Ben Norrit. Sid had seen him
writing in Yanbo hut the night before he left, and from what had been
said he deduced that the victim had intended to post the letter to his
wife, warning her that he was returning, then shave clean and dress
himself exactly as he had been dressed when she last saw him.

This determined his course of action. He must deliver the letter.
Further, unpleasant as the task was, he resolved to wrap the remains up
in the light tarpaulin he had on board and convey them to the
homestead.

His father protested vigorously. He didn't want to ride with a corpse
that was simply shrieking for burial; and, so far as he could see, it
wouldn't matter to the late lamented where his body, or what was left
of it, was planted.

"Where's there any sense in cartin' a man home in that condition?" he
said warmly. "The proper thing to do is to start a cemetery with him
right here."

But Sid had his way, and the gruesome bundle, tightly bound with
straps, was placed in the back of the waggonette. King Warri whipped up
the horses, and drove back to the road with an unusual display of
energy, intermittently spitting right and left as he went. Then he
filled and lit his pipe as if he had only a small allowance of time to
do it in.

He rode uneasily, occasionally muttering to himself, and tugging
impatiently at the reins. When they eventually drew up on the bank of a
long, deep pool, he got out of the vehicle expeditiously, and ambled
away to windward.

"He ain't no attar of roses, poor feller," he mumbled, picking up
kindling-wood some twenty yards distant. Sid, after letting the horses
go, carried the campware down to him without protest.

The next day was a severe trial to the old man. He shifted from side to
side, according to the way the wind was blowing; but when it was
directly behind him he had no escape. He smoked almost continuously;
still the immediate atmosphere did not suggest a sanitary
neighbourhood.

"Boy, I'm gettin' pizened!" he finally snorted. He pulled up; and
shifted the seat as far forward as he could get it, so that he had to
rest his feet on the frontboard. The relief this gave him, however, was
so slight as to be almost imaginary.

"Not satisfied yet," he grumbled, after a couple of minutes. "Wants the
whole caravan to himself." Another interval, while he guided the team
through a clump of mulga. "Can't you do something to improve him? A
heap of wild flowers on top of him might sweeten him some. There's lots
o' blue an' yaller ones on these flats."

"There's not much scent in them," Sid told him.

"Any scent at all's better 'n his," said Warri pere. He shook the
reins, putting the horses into a brisk pace, and reached out after
fresh air. The waggonette creaked and bumped over the uneven ground,
and flies swarmed around the perspiring driver.

"They tell me he wasn't a sociable sort when he was alive, an', by gum,
boy, he ain't no ways agreeable when he's dead. Think you could truss
him up so he would ride easier? Seems to aggravate him every time he's
shook up. He ain't pleasant company when he's quiet, but when he gets
fair rattled, goin' over a bumpy flat, there's no stayin' in the
carriage with him."

Sid glanced at the corpse, and said nothing. He was thinking of too
many things at once to engage in a frivolous conversation. This seemed
to exasperate his father.

"What a' you makin' all the noise about?" he expostulated. "Why don't
you keep quiet sometimes an' give somebody else a chance to talk, dang
it. Get up there!" to the horses. "Anybody 'd think this was the girl's
funeral instead o' Benjamin's. How long d'you reckon he's been dead?"

"About six weeks," said Sid, reflecting that the girl was very much
concerned in that funeral, though she might never know that the
unfortunate was her father.

"We disturbed him too soon," said the old man. "Another month would
'ave mummified him so he wouldn't have minded the shakin' and joltin'
so much, an' could a travelled without wantin' all the road. . . . He
ain't makin' himself popular, I can tell you."

"He was a good friend to me," said Sid, resenting his father's
irreverent way of speaking. "A real good mate."

"That may be," said his father. "That may be. But he ain't none too
good now."

He knocked the ashes out of his pipe, cast a complaining glance across
his shoulder, and immediately filled the pipe again.

Towards evening a turn in the road brought the wind in his face, and he
freshened up.

"I remember a song the stockmen used to sing when I was on Kanillabar,"
he observed. "Goes something like this:

Wrap me up with my stockwhip and blanket,

An' bury me far down below,

Where the dingoes and crows can't molest me,

In the shade where the coolabahs grow.

That's' what your friend here's been begging of us ever since we picked
him up."

He repeated the lines several times, and finally, failing to recall any
more of the song, dropped into a plaintive corroboree chant.

CHAPTER XXXV.

An Embarrassing Guest.

Though Sid had timed himself to reach the homestead in the dusk,
desiring in his youthful modesty to escape a demonstrative welcome, all
hands and the Cook turned out to meet him. It was an event they could
not afford to miss. They had been expecting him for days, and as soon
as they heard the rattle of the waggonette down by the stockyard, they
moved in a body towards the house to intercept it. They surrounded the
team, bringing it to a halt opposite the side gate. The captain came
shuffling out the next minute, and with him was Gilbury Marr. The
presence of the cattle-buyer was an aggravation to Sid. He was a bit of
a dandy, with an exaggerated conceit of the infinitesimal niche he
filled in the universe. There was nothing loud about him--except his
airs; he knew how to dress, and this evening he was particularly well
dressed. Sid's garb, in his own opinion, formed a painful contrast,
whilst his father's was a disgrace.

The old man climbed down immediately, grunting his relief with each
deliberate step. The crowd closed around him; they could not have been
more curious if he had been some new animal for the Zoo. To divert
attention from him, Sid hastily informed them of the nature of his
load, and where and how he found the body, upon which the captain gave
orders to Monty, the new groom, and to Chips, the carpenter, who then
took charge of the team and its burden. The waggonette was shortly
drawn up in front of the carpenter's shop, lights were procured, and
work was commenced at once on the coffin.

The captain led the late arrivals into the house, where dinner was
waiting. A new embarrassment was also waiting for Sid, for Myee and her
mother were there. He noticed their quick change of countenance as his
barbarian progenitor waddled into view, saw them look with bated
surprise at his extremities. It was only momentary; recollecting whence
he had come, they found ready excuses for him.

The captain introduced him to Mrs. Bryne, the only one who betrayed no
consciousness of anything uncommon. "The lost sheep come back to the
fold," he added to the formal introduction.

"And I'm sure you must be very glad to be back again, Mr. Warri," said
his hostess, smiling.

"Glad an' disappointed, ma'am," Mr. Warri replied. "When I was here
last I owned this place, an' now I own nothing, dang it."

"You're lucky to be alive, Warri," said the captain. "Lucky to be
alive. Thousand to one, if it hadn't been for Sid, you'd never have
seen the place again."

"You ought to feel proud, Sid," said Kora Danz. "You always believed
that he was living out there, though everybody else ridiculed the idea;
and you succeeded where others failed."

Sid was not feeling at all proud; he had an uneasy feeling that the
triumphal return could not have been made under more unfavourable
circumstances.

"If everybody was as faithful as Sid," said his father, "I'd 'ave been
back when my old woman was here. I wouldn't a minded been in exile so
long if what I regarded as my son's heritage wasn't lost. But I don't
want to talk about that now. Time enough for that."

"Your exile wasn't a very great hardship I should imagine, Mr. Warri,"
Gilbury Marr interposed, holding his head back and looking down his
nose. "You were king of the tribe, I believe?"

"I was," Mr. Warri affirmed, with an emphatic nod. "I made the best of
a bad job, young man."

His mouth snapped on the last word like a trap, and his lingering look
plainly said: What have you got to say about it? Mr. Marr did not
pursue the subject. Nor did the others, discouraged by his manner, make
any further allusions to it till later in the evening, when he became
more convivial--and talked too much.

He was introduced to the rest of the company, and when he came to Myee,
he paused with a thoughtful expression.

"Myee Norrit?" he repeated, holding her hand. "Lemme see! Why, you're
Sid's sweetheart, ain't you? He was tellin' me about you on the road."

Poor Myee! She shot a vivisecting look at the culprit and withdrew her
hand quickly. Sid gasped, and in that awful moment he wished the floor
would open under him and let him drop out of sight. His father,
realising that a blunder had been made, though not suspecting he had
caused any mischief, stared blankly from one to the other. The young
couple turned away in different directions, smothered in blushes. What
hope there had been of a reconciliation that night was irremediably
shattered.

The surprising words had arrested everybody's attention, and all eyes
turned wonderingly in their direction. Only Wilga Bryne knew of their
love affair, and she knew that it had been broken off. So she was no
less surprised than her mother and father, and Kora Danz. As for Mrs.
Cudgen, she stood as one who had been struck speechless. She had a warm
regard for Sid, but she had not the remotest idea that her daughter
harboured sentimental thoughts about a young man. She recognised with a
little pang that it was not too soon for Cupid to appear on the scene.
Myee was all she had. She admitted that, in a place like this where a
girl's circle of male acquaintances was narrow, there was danger in Sid
Warri. Still, when she looked at his plebeian father, she shrugged her
shoulders, and hoped there was no truth in what she had heard.

It was a matter for private investigation, and to cover the confusion
caused by the old man's indiscretion, Mrs. Bryne tactfully hurried them
all in to dinner. Sid was paired with Kora Danz, and he took the
opportunity to slip a letter from Jake into her hand as they went to
their places. He observed that Mr. Marr was with Wilga Bryne, whilst
Mrs. Cudgen and her daughter, both dressed in black, came in together.
A cloud had settled on Myee's face, and not once did she favour the
abashed swain with a glance.

His father was taking stock of everything with the natural
interestedness of one revisiting the scenes and associations of his
youth.

"Same old table," he remarked, squinting down at its nearest leg. "Same
old pictures on the wall"--his head pivotting slowly round. "I remember
that one there, where th' young feller's kissin' his girl good night at
the sliprails--Here!" turning sharply to Sid, who sat at his elbow,
"mind whose shins you're kickin'. I've got no boots on, bear in mind."

A contagious grin disturbed Mr. Marr's placid features. "I presume
boots were a novelty in your kingdom," he remarked, spreading a
serviette with genteel fingers.

"I presume they were," said Warri. "An' if you wanted a serviette with
your emu egg, or your grilled goanna, I presume you'd have to make
shift with a bit of wallaby skin."

Mr. Marr joined with a mirthless cackle in the general laugh, and some
of his self assurance evaporated.

"Howsomever," the king continued, "boots don't worry me. I don't
suppose I'll ever wear 'em again."

"You have had an injury to your foot, Mr. Warri?" interrogatively from
Kora Danz.

"That's so" said Mr. Warri, slewing in his seat, and thrusting the
maimed foot up in the air for inspection. "Got it through joinin' th'
tribe in a shindy against a neighbour instead o' mindin' my own
business."

"You were lucky it was only your toe," said Mrs. Bryne,
sympathetically.

"I thought it was rotten luck it wasn't somebody else's toe," said
Warri. "I wasn't as active as the blacks in pickin' my feet up out of
the way."

"Worst of having big feet, Warri," chuckled the captain. "What are you
thinking of doing with yourself now?"

"Don't know--till I get back home." He placed his brawny arms on the
table, with a knife and fork sticking up through his fists. "Sid's
goin' in with me, captain. He'll want a fortnight's holiday in town."

"Oh, a couple of days will do me," Sid hurriedly interposed.

"You'll want a fortnight, boy," his father repeated. "I might have some
business to do before you go back."

"You can manage that--whatever it is--without me."

"No, I can't," decisively. "You're always interruptin' an'
contradictin'."

"If I'm away that long," Sid protested, "Jake will think the crows have
got me, too, and will be coming in to look for me."

"Jake will be all right. All he'll be worryin' about is the lovin'
message he's expecting from the girl."

"Who's the girl?" asked Mrs. Bryne. "I didn't know Jake had one."

"Sid knows something about that," with a jerk of his knife towards his
discomfited son. "I heard him tell Jake he'd give her a kiss for him
when he saw her."

"Love by proxy!" shrieked Mrs. Bryne. "And we always thought he was so
quiet and modest."

"Still waters run deep," from Gilbury Marr, who regarded the young
gallant with a cold eye.

"I'm afraid you're telling tales out of school," Mrs. Cudgen put in.
She had been studying the old man closely, and was inclined to think he
was more wag than fool.

Sid, whose reddened face was bent over his plate, peeped furtively
under his lashes at Wilga, and caught that convulsed young lady peering
at him in the same way. Kora Danz, flushed and flurried, caught up the
teapot, and asked Myee if she would like some more tea. The captain was
beaming and shaking in his seat. His sly looks, and the governess'
heightened colour, were startlingly informative. Then everybody
remembered the meetings when Jake was running the mail, and wondered
why they had never guessed it before.

Sid did not apprehend any reproaches from the governess; but he was
desperately anxious to mend the new breach with Myee. Her mother,
however, wanted to talk to her, too, and immediately after dinner she
took the girl to her room.

"Myee" she said gravely, "is that true what Mr. Warri said about you
to-night?"

"No," said Myee, stoutly. "He's an old fool."

"Is there anything between you and Sid?"

Myee faced her mother's keen scrutiny without flinching, and answered
truthfully: "We hardly ever speak to one another."

"Yet he appears to have started the gossip," mused her mother. "It
wasn't a very nice thing for his father to say before everybody."

"He was insulting!" Myee declared, with a quivering lip.

"I shall speak to Sid about it," her mother promised.

Sid was having a word in private with his father, reproving him with
unfilial warmth for certain stupid remarks of his.

"A nice mess you've made of things," he complained. "You couldn't have
done worse if I'd been Dick Cranston."

"Worse 'n what?"

"Nobody but an ass would have talked to a girl like that."

"Ass!" his father echoed. "What d'yer mean, dang it?"

"In front of her mother, too!" Sid pursued in righteous wrath. "She'll
never forgive me. It made so little of her."

The old man, standing with his thumbs stuck in the top of his trousers,
eyed him for a moment with the solemn aspect of a koala. Then his
features relaxed.

"You ain't awake yet, boy. Want to shake yourself," he said, breaking
into a low chuckle. "Never spoke a word to the pretty little thing all
the evenin'. Well, well! I thought you had more go in you, Sid. Wait
till I see your mother an' Keira."

"You tell anything about me, and I'll tell them about the--"

"Look a here!" The old man raised a big, fat fist. "Don't you go
puttin' your mag in where it isn't necessary. Just you leave my affairs
alone."

"Well, you leave mine alone."

Just then Mrs. Cudgen appeared in the doorway. "Sid," she called
softly. "I'd like to speak to you when you're not engaged."

As Sid departed, the captain and Gilbury Marr, who had been over to the
carpenter's shop to see how Chips and Monty were getting on, joined
King Warri, and the three repaired to the smoking-room, where cigars
and decanters were produced. The captain relished a hot toddy going to
bed; he enjoyed a tonic on getting up in the morning; and he liked
something with a bite in it between times. King Warri, who remarked
that he had forgotten the taste of it, was not loth to refresh his
memory; and over the cigars and the warming liquor they improved each
other's acquaintance.

CHAPTER XXXVI.

The Dead Man Claims His Own.

Mrs. Cudgen led the way to the school room, which was lighted with a
shaded kerosene lamp, standing on the teacher's desk. Sid entered
deferentially, hat in hand, feeling like a truant who was going up for
punishment. In that room, long ago, he had received his first
schooling, and more than once he had been shut up there for stealing
away fishing and falling in the creek. It looked big and empty now,
though his mind's eye saw faces at the little desks that his companion
could not see; and outside the southern window, where the night lay
dark and stormy, the wind sprite tapped on the frosted pane, and
whispered sadly of a deserted lovers' bower.

He sat down at the corner of the desk, and Mrs. Cudgen seated herself
with an air of ominous gravity near the wall. He guessed what was up,
and shrewdly forestalled her. Quickly taking the letter from his
pocket, he placed it on the desk between them.

The address on the envelope at once awakened a sharp interest. She
tilted it on to its edge, and looked at it wonderingly, then turned it
over in search of postmarks. Finally, she tore it open, and instantly
her face blanched. With a catch of her breath, clutching the sheet with
both hands, she ran quickly over the few pencilled lines:

"Dear Wife,--This is to inform you that I am in the land of the living,
and am at last steering home. As you have doubtless long believed me
dead, I thought it advisable to notify you of my coming. I need only
say here that I lost my memory through an accident, and was unable to
recall even my name. All the past was as blank to me as the hours of
sleep. I wandered away, as one in darkness, until I fell in with a
prospector, with whom I worked in lonely mountain gullies until, I
suppose, all hope of finding me had been given up; and subsequently I
drifted westward, far from the haunts of those who knew me.

"Now that the veil has been lifted. I look forward to a twilight peace
in my old home, Byndoora. You may expect me the day after you receive
this.

"Your husband, Ben Norrit."

When she had finished reading it she crushed the letter slowly in
trembling hands and turned her death-white face to the bearer.

"Where did you get this," she asked, hoarsely.

"Out near Mingo Creek," answered Sid. "From Ben Norrit--"

"Then you know him!" She bent forward suddenly, and grasped his arm,
which rested on the desk. "Where is he now?"

"Over in the carpenter's shop--"

"Here!" Her eyes rounded, and her hand unconsciously tightened on his
arm, as a vague fear for a moment gripped her heart.

"I got it out of his pocket," Sid hastened to explain. "The man you
knew as Ben Bruce, the dead man I brought in to-day, was Ben Norrit."

"My gracious!" she cried, starting back with a look of horror. "And
it's--my husband they've been talking about--who perished!"

"Yes; but, of course, they're not aware of the relationship, or of his
true identity."

For awhile she stared at him, her lips dry and parted, and her raised
hands came slowly together. The muffled tap, tap of the coffin-maker's
hammer filled the interval. She shuddered at the sound, and, leaning on
the desk, recalled to mind the strange incident at Sid's door, when Ben
had fled from her and climbed out through the window.

"When did he recover his memory?" she asked, eyeing him narrowly.

"I can't tell you that," said Sid.

"He must have known me," she said, "or why did he run away when he saw
me here? I remember now he often acted as if he were afraid of being
recognised."

"He always avoided strangers. He was peculiar in his ways--the result of
his accident."

"How long have you known that he was Ben Norrit?"

"He told me only the night before he left Yanbo."

"What did he tell you?"

Sid related just so much of the story as Ben himself had intended to
tell her, sparing her any mention of Dr. Cudgen, and of all that had
befallen from the time they left the diggings till he returned to the
bush; by which she was led to believe that, after the accident, he had
worked all the time as digger and stockman without knowing who he was,
or where he belonged to.

"What a dreadful thing!" she exclaimed, her mind picturing the man she
had loved in the Logan Valley, with whom she had lived the happiest
period of her life, from whom she had been so strangely parted,
knocking about through hard and wasted years, when he should have been
enjoying the fruits of a laughing land, as one of the squattocracy of
the Logan country.

"Does anybody else know?" she asked in a whisper.

"Nobody else."

"Not even your father?"

"No; he doesn't even know I had the letter."

She looked at him steadily, searchingly, and he defined her thoughts.

"I think the wisest plan now is to keep the secret," he said.

"Yes, that is the best thing to do," she agreed, a great relief in her
voice. "I wouldn't like Myee to know. He is dead and gone now, and it
would do no good to anybody, Sid, if we told. People have forgotten
him. The first tragedy was bad enough, but this would be a hundred
times worse if it became known. And there is no reason why it should."

"None whatever," said Sid. "Don't confide in your best friend, and only
we two will know how he lived and where he died."

"Ah--and where he lies buried," she sighed. "My poor girl would like to
know that. They were very fond of each other.

"It's from her particularly you must keep the secret," said Sid,
thinking again of his first talk with Myee about her father, and the
realisation of what the actual facts would mean to her. Her own father
had lived, an outcast, in poverty and misery, yet often near her
through all the time in which her mother had shared the life and
fortunes of that other man, and called him husband. Still, a knowledge
of the position could bring nothing but pain to Myee.

"I was always rather eager to see behind the curtain," continued Sid,
"for the man was a mystery to everyone here. I was more closely
associated with him, and saw more and knew more than the rest. But now
I wish he had not satisfied my curiosity; and I think she would regret
it even more if the truth were revealed to her."

"Yes," she said slowly. "The curtain's been dropped again--we'll let it
hang."

Considering the interview at an end, he rose to go. He was afraid she
would question him about Myee, but she had forgotten all about the
incident. The sounds from the carpenter's shop kept her mind dwelling
there.

"I wonder," she said, "if they have sent anything over for the men? I
can't ask, and, of course, you can't. If it had been at Mooban, I could
have attended to things myself."

"You can leave that to the captain," he assured her.

She left him at the door, gliding swiftly away like a woman with a
guilty conscience. He saw her again, a little later in the drawing-
room, where she was chatting and laughing with the rest as though she
had no cares in the world. Myee was at the piano. Kora Danz, sitting
near her, appealed to him for a song. On another night he would have
seized the opportunity to waken tender memories with some favourite
melody of Myee's, to charm the frown from her face, the haughty look
from her eyes; but to-night he thought of her dead father, and her
twice-widowed mother, and begged to be excused on the plea of a sore
throat. Mrs. Bryrne was kindly inquiring into the genesis of the
complaint, when his father waddled into the room. The captain had just
left him to take a bottle over to the shop, where the men from the hut
were gathered, watching the carpenter and his assistant, and holding a
sort of wake on the corpse.

The old gentleman had no scruples about proprieties. He was in the mood
to sing, and, discovering himself in congenial company, he shuffled up
to the piano, coughed loudly to clear his throat, and started off
without respect to the accompanist, in a deep voice that cracked and
broke a bit at first, but improved with use.

Come, Stumpy, old man, we must shift while we can

All our mates from the paddock have fled.

Let us wave our farewells to Kanillabar dells

And the hills where your lordship was bred;

Together to roam from our drought-stricken home

Tho' it's hard that such things have to be,

And it's rough on a "hoss" when he's nought for a boss

But a broken-down squatter like me!

No more shall we muster the river for fats,

Or speed on the twenty-mile plain,

Or rip through the scrub by the light of the moon,

Or see the old stockyard again.

Leave the slip-panels down, it won't matter much now,

There are none but the crows left to see,

Perching gaunt on yon pine, as tho' longing to dine

On a broken-down squatter like me.

The captain came in as he finished, wearing a comically pent expression
that seemed on the point of exploding. Everybody in the room looked
intensely happy, excepting Sid and Myee. The singer retired
ungracefully across the room. The captain sat down beside him, and
presently, to the discomfiture of Mrs. Cudgen, they began to talk about
the dead man. While they conversed among themselves she listened
attentively; but now and again when she was appealed to she became
uneasy, and her dissemblement appeared painfully awkward to Sid. He was
ensconced in a corner near the instrument. Gilbury Marr was
monopolising the vivacious Wilga under the curtained window; and
shortly, when Kora Danz left to prepare supper, Mrs. Cudgen went out
with her, and the three old people were left chatting together. Then
Sid leaned over to Myee, who was listlessly turning pages, and
pretending to be absorbed in music.

"Don't look so cross, Fairy!" he said softly. "The old man didn't mean
anything this evening. It was only his joke."

Her heart throbbed a little quicker as he uttered the old pet name, but
she did not turn her head.

"The joke was in very bad taste," she said cuttingly.

"I gave him a talking to about it," said Sid.

Her lip quivered slightly, and she stared more steadfastly at the music
folio in front of her.

"He's been a wild man so long, you know, and he's so delighted to be
back among white folks again, that he's hardly got his proper balance
yet. I can tell you, he keeps me on tenterhooks."

"You'll have a lot of trouble with him, I suppose, teaching him the way
fathers should go."

Sid eyed her sharply, a suspicion in his mind that she was laughing at
him. But her face was set and cold.

"He'll be a different man after he's been here awhile," Sid predicted,
studying the beautiful profile, and hungering to feel its velvet
softness again as he had felt it that far night in the moonlit garden.
He could not help contrasting that time with this; the eve of his
setting out to find his father, the night of his return with the lost
parent. Then he stood in a world of all pervading happiness; now life
seemed mostly worry and trouble.

She began to play, a slow, haunting tune, that acted electrically on
his emotions; and, with his mind dwelling on other scenes, he watched
the dainty fingers dancing lightly over the keys. He forgot his dead
mate, everything but the girl who sat so near him, and yet was so
distant.

"Shall we sing something together?" he said, desperately.

"You've got a sore throat," she reminded him in a serene matter-of-fact
way that almost made him laugh.

"It's better," he told her.

"It couldn't have been very bad," she commented, so far unbending as to
flash upon him a look of mingled scorn and doubt.

"There was nothing wrong with it at all," he confessed.

"Oh!" She faced half round, and her expression hardened.

"I thought you didn't want to play for me."

"And why did you think I didn't want to play for you?"

"Because I seem to have got into your bad graces, somehow."

"Has--no one--got into your bad graces?" She spoke the words with some
hesitancy, and, drawing a book in front of her, bent over it as if
something of exceptional interest had suddenly caught her eye.

"Only our mutual friend, Kian Hook," he replied.

"She's gone," said Myee.

"Pity she ever came," Sid rejoined grumpily.

"So I say."

She raised her head as she spoke, and listened. The men were singing in
the carpenter's shop. The storm had passed, and the words came softly
to them on the dying wind:

There's tea in the battered old billy;

Place the pannikins out in a row,

And we'll drink to the next merry meeting,

In the place where all good fellows go.

Just afterwards supper was announced. The man from the wilds, who had
been showing symptoms of drowsiness, immediately livened up again; but
Sid was chagrined, for it ended his chat with Myee just as it was
drifting into a promising channel.

In the morning he was kept busy up to the time of his departure. The
funeral had been arranged for the forenoon, in deference to the wishes
of his father, who was impatient to get home; and he continued on his
way after the burial, turning out for the night at Goondi Outcamp. The
men were given a holiday, and every man, including the cook and the
blacks, followed their old mate to his last resting-place, on the
sandhill. Of all the funerals Sid had seen in the backblocks, that was
the strangest, for in the procession was the dead man's daughter, who
knew not that he was her father. There followed, too, a widow, looking
pale and careworn, whose relationship no one guessed. She placed a
wreath on the grave, and then she knelt down beside it with bowed head,
and they wondered why she cried.

"Must 'ave reminded her of the doctor," Ned Young surmised on the way
back. "It is only a couple of months since she buried him."

CHAPTER XXXVII.

Return of the Wanderer.

"What a woe-begone look!" exclaimed Wilga, the following evening,
skipping up to Myee, who was lolling disconsolately on a garden seat,
her thoughts wandering with the travellers down the morning road. "For
goodness sake get a new expression, if it's only a mask. The one you're
wearing is getting positively monotonous. Why don't you cheer up?"
tapping her playfully on the cheek, "I never see you merry now, like
you used to be." She slipped an arm round her girl-chum's neck, and the
golden head was nestled against the dark-brown. "Is that little love-
flame flickering yet? I thought you had forgotten him."

"Do you think love is something that comes and goes like influenza?"
questioned Myee.

"Someone has described it as a disease," said Wilga. "'I've never
experienced it; but it seems to be something dreadful."

"Your turn's coming." Myee returned. "There's a party by the name of
Marr who's pretty constant around here."

Wilga hid her laughing face on her friend's shoulder.

"Of course," continued Myee, "it's an advantage to be courting with pa
and ma's consent."

"I'm not courting!" Wilga stoutly protested.

"What were you doing behind the curtains last night?"

"Just making myself a little more agreeable than usual--and for a
particular reason. You were flirting outrageously with him when he was
here before."

"I did it to make Sid jealous."

"And you'd have done it again if I hadn't cornered the ways and means.
That's a dangerous game. Most men hate flirts."

"Then you are really in earnest?"

"Oh, you're very smart!" cried Wilga, pouting. "I was extra nice to
Gilbury last night, because I wanted to keep him away from you."

"Jealousy!" murmured Myee.

"No," said Wilga. "I wanted to give Sid a chance, because I think
you're simply a pair of sentimental idiots. Two souls with but a single
thought, you know, and each waiting for the other. You know what Kian
Hook told you was a tissue of lies. Perhaps he was told some plausible
tale, too. . . . And you did manage to strike up a conversation, I
noticed. What did he say to you?"

Myee repeated the conversation word for word.

"What a pity!" said Wilga. "If you'd had half an hour to yourselves,
you might have arrived somewhere. I'm sure you would have made it up
again. It's just what I have told you all along; you've been so stand-
offish that he thinks you don't want him. Next time he comes here give
him an opportunity to speak to you alone. He asked you to go for a walk
with him once, and you refused."

"I couldn't go then."

"Well, go next time."

"I won't be here when he comes back. I might never see him any more--
unless he comes to Mooban, and he's not likely to do that."

She looked out at the darkening skyline, where the sun had set,
thinking of far-off Yanbo. where not even a mailman went. Another realm
it seemed to her, whence tidings would come but once or twice a year.
Her heart grew heavy as the daylight faded, and the silence of the
illimitable bush was broken anon by the lonely howl of a dingo.

"You remember," said Wilga, "you told him to wait for five years, and
if he asked you again then you would give him your answer. I thought
when I heard of the silly proposition that you'd want to make a new one
inside a year."

"I didn't propose that he should treat me as a stranger," Myee
complained.

"I think the boot's on the other foot," said Wilga. "If you can survive
the five years, you'll find him riding up to Mooban about then to see
your mother about a dog." After a pause she added: "I bet I could send
him over there full gallop."

"If you say a word to him I'll never speak to you again," cried Myee,
with sudden warmth.

"What a cantankerous little puss you are! When you catch yourself in a
reasonable mood, just ascertain what you really do want. You are
practically engaged to him, and yet you act as if he had never proposed
to you. I'd like to catch myself doing that if I cared for somebody,
and were languishing for love--"

"You needn't languish," Myee broke in, a faint hint of reproach in the
grey-blue eyes. "There's the gallant Gilbury at the door, looking all
ways for my dear Wilga. I'll go and help Kora with the tea."

"You stop here, you cat!" cried Wilga, springing after her.

"No accommodation for three," Myee whispered back, and wrenched herself
away from the restraining hand.

Meanwhile, Sid and his father had reached Tibbonong, where they spent
the night under Bill Bunty's hospitable roof. Soon after breakfast they
were moving again, Sid driving, the old man smoking and relieving the
tedium of travel with tiresome reminiscences. The road had not changed
much since he had last been along it, and there were stumps and bends
and waterholes, and other landmarks that recalled memories of past
trips to town. He was in jovial spirits, and talked prophetically of a
time when the family would be returning to Kanillabar. Between times he
inquired about the old hands in Wonnaroo, manifesting an exceptional
interest in Joe Steel. The information that the storekeeper was a
wealthy man gave him supreme satisfaction.

"I set Joe up in business twenty years ago," he said. "Now Joe'll have
to set me up again."

"In what way?" asked Sid, who had been wondering for what purpose he
was required to remain a fortnight at home.

"You wait," said his father, puffing thoughtfully. Night had fallen
when they reached Birro Creek. The old man showed a childlike
exuberance when the lights of the town suddenly blazed out before him.
The creaking waggonette rattling over the old bridge recalled to him
how he used to go spanking into town with a four-in-hand. He was
president of the race club then, and an important member of the
progress committee. His lip drooped a little at the recollection.

"Pull in at the store, Sid," he commanded abruptly. "Want to see Joe."

"You'll have plenty of time to see him to-morrow," Sid objected. "It's
too late to stop now."

"Pull in!" peremptorily. "Doesn't look well to drive past old friends
without callin'. Where's your manners?"

"You drove past all the other places," Sid reminded him.

"Haul up, an' don't have so much to say," his father admonished.
"You're always puttin' your mag in where 'taint necessary."

The store was open, though the storekeeper was not visible. The old man
waddled in and thumped loudly on the counter. There being no immediate
response, he cut off a lump of cheese, and after a look round, plunged
his hand into a biscuit tin. Sid hitched the horses to the rail, and
went off to the hotel to see his old overseer. A final glimpse of the
store's interior revealed the big man seated on a case of pickles;
cheese in one hand, biscuits in the other, his eyes roving round the
shelves, his jaws working with evident relish.

When Sid returned, accompanied by Rod Bryne, who was eager to meet his
prospective father-in-law there were half a dozen other men in the
store, old residents whose beaming faces showed the pleasure they felt
at seeing their long-absent compatriot; and a dozen youngsters
clustered at the window, excitedly whispering to one another and
jostling for front positions. Already there was talk of celebrating the
return. Sid did not give it time to mature, but bustled the celebrity
back to the waggonette, and drove on to Morella.

Whilst Sid took the horses out, Rod escorted the wanderer up to the
house; and, pushing the door open, led him into the front room. Mrs.
Warri was sitting by the hearthstone, quietly knitting. Keira was busy
at the sewing-machine, the rumble of which had drowned the rattle of
the waggonette.

"Mrs. Warri," said Rod, swinging his hat off with a sort of salute,
"allow me to introduce you to your husband."

"Oh, my goodness!" cried the old lady, starting violently. Her hand
flew up, and her ball of wool went spinning across the floor. At the
same, time Keira jumped to her feet, and stood staring speechlessly at
the apparition. The latter, his arms hanging limply at his sides,
beaming fatuously on wife and daughter, suggested a tramp who had been
dragged out of a rubbish heap.

Keira was the first to step forward. She went slowly towards him, her
features striving vainly to veil emotions that were rending her. There
was a curious note of inquiry in her utterance of the word father, and
she held out her hands to him with the same suggestion of uncertainty.

His lips trembled. He pressed her silently against his massive chest,
and kissed her on the forehead; and when he lifted his face a tear was
making a glistening track down his cheek. He looked at his wife. She
had not taken her eyes off him; neither had she moved from the tense
attitude into which his advent had thrown her. She seemed incapable of
rising; she appeared to be mesmerised.

"Well, old woman," he said unsteadily, "how are you?"

To his consternation she put her hand to her face, and burst into
tears. The old man propped himself against the corner of the table, and
stared at her. He looked from her to his daughter and back again.

"Dang it!" he said at last, perplexed and exasperated. "Are you all
cryin' because I come home?"

She sprang up then, and threw herself limply into his brawny arms,
which disconcerted him a little more. He just stood and patted her on
the back. Keira nestled up to Rod, talking in low tones until the old
couple's shattered feelings had been restored to something like normal.
Sid came bounding in soon afterwards, and a more lightsome spirit was
infused into the family circle.

"I should never have known you," said Mrs. Warri, wiping her eyes. "How
dreadfully you've altered!"

"That's natural," said Mr. Warri. "You didn't expect me to come back as
young as I went away, did you?"

"Why, no; but you've filled out so!" Her glance swept amazedly down to
his feet. "Why, man," she exclaimed, "where are your boots?"

"Can't wear boots," was the reply. "Got a broken toe."

Mrs. Warri collapsed. Keira, holding her skirt and bending forward,
stepped slowly from behind him as if she were looking for a mouse.

"You don't mean to say you went into Joe Steel's like that?" she
questioned, her shocked feelings reflected in her face.

"Now, my girl," said her father impatiently, "how else would I go in?
Do you think I left my feet on the door-mat? What is wrong with 'em,
anyway?"

"But you can't go about like that--not in town. You'll have to get boots
made to fit."

"I tell you I can't wear 'em. What's the good of arguin'!" he
expostulated.

"You look like a blackfellow, dad," Keira persisted, in distressed
tones. The simile drew a sharp look from her father, and before he had
thought of a suitable retort, she added: "Everybody will be talking
about us."

"Let 'em talk, girl; let 'em talk," he returned. "God bless me soul,
can't a man go barefooted if he wants to? This is a free country, isn't
it?"

Keira subsided into the corner chair.

"Anybody's think I was the only man around who's got feet," he added,
dropping into another chair. Then, turning to his wife, he abruptly
changed the subject. "An' you went an' lost Kanillabar while I was
away? Trusting' to a dirty thief like Cranston! Where was your sense?"

"Well, dear, it's no use crying over spilt milk," said Mrs. Warri. "One
thing, I didn't lose myself."

Sid grinned. "You were the first who trusted Cranston," he said quietly
to his father, "and he left you in the bush. Considering your
experience, I don't think you have any cause to reproach mother."

The old man glared. He had not thought of it in that light before.

"Was countin' on havin' a settlement with that feller," he said
regretfully. "Twas a great disappointment."

"He had a smash-up on the road." Rod Bryne interposed. "His team bolted
down the range, and his turnout capsized. They say he's a cripple for
life."

"Is that so?" said Warri, with lively interest. "'Well, well! 'Twarn't
all beer an' skittles with Dick after all. . . . But he ought to have
broke his neck."

Keira bit her nether lip, and looked abashed at her parent. The latter
turned his attention to the clock.

"I suppose you've had no tea yet," Mrs. Warri interpreted, suddenly
jumping up. "I clean forgot. But there's hot water in the fountain, so
you can come along to the kitchen. It will be all ready in five
minutes."

"Ah!" said Mr. Warri, following promptly. "I do feel a bit empty."

When they returned nearly an hour later to the front room, they found
it full of people. Women occupied the chairs, men sat all round on the
edge of the table, the centre of which was piled as if for a banquet;
and still there was not seating accommodation for half of them. The
surprise party had been hurriedly arranged to give the old squatter a
hearty welcome home.

CHAPTER XXXVIII.

The Big Man Gets Busy.

Though he had very little sleep that night, and woke with a bad head,
and but a hazy recollection of recent happenings, King Warri was up
again before sunrise. Once more he was a man of action, the responsible
head of the family. His general activity and the old dominant will had
subordinated the rest of the household before they had time to dress.
He knocked the women up to get the breakfast ready; he roused Sid out
to milk the cows, and he bustled around, making a great clatter,
without doing anything useful beyond noting the assets and inspecting
his new demesne. Sid was tired and sleepy. The unwonted animation of
his progenitor did not infect him. He came out leisurely, lifting his
face to the fresh morning air.

"For heaven's sake, boy, chuck yourself about!" said his father. "You
turn round like a bullock team."

"What's all the excitement about?" asked Sid, rolling up his sleeves.

"Business, boy. Got business to attend to." He snatched up a rusty axe
and cut two small pieces of wood with unnecessary noise.

"You'll be getting thin if you work like that," Sid warned him, moving
off with a bucket in each hand.

The old man dropped the axe and stared after him, his mouth agape,
whilst Sid went whistling towards the milking pen, stopping now and
again to admire the scenery.

After breakfast a heated discussion ensued about clothes. Mr. Warri was
going out. He had only one suit, which he had worn continuously for
nearly a month. He had slept in part of it on the road. In the opinion
of his women folk, though they had brushed him well and put a tie on
him, he was a disgrace to the family. They endeavoured to persuade him
to remain indoors until they had fitted him out respectably. They
bounced and they coaxed, but it was no use; he was deaf alike to
commands and entreaties. He had urgent business to transact, which
couldn't be delayed an hour. As to the nature of it he gave no hint. He
had an idea that if Sid knew before it was all fixed up there would be
open rebellion. He waddled off with an important air, one thumb hooked
in his vest, a heavy blackthorn stick swinging in the other hand. He
went first to the hotel, where he was presented with a bundle of
cigars. With one of these in his mouth, pattering barefooted down the
street, he became at once a prominent identity of Wonnaroo.

He spent nearly all day with the storekeeper; much of the following day
was also occupied on the latter's premises. Then he settled down more
permanently to the sober joys of domesticity, going out only for an
hour or two of an evening. Still, he was not wholly contented. He was
restless, like one who was expecting something important to happen, and
was impatient for the time to come.

The passing days brought no enlightenment to Sid. His holidays were
spent in drawing wood and water, straightening up the garden, mending
the fence, and occasionally fishing and shooting. A direct question to
his father only elicited the curt reply that he would know what he was
wanted for when the captain came into town, which would be on the
occasion of the double wedding. Keira Warri and Myall Steel were
excitedly preparing for this momentous event of their lives; but King
Warri exhibited no concern at all in their affairs. Girls would get
married; that was the height and the end of their ambitions. Such was
his view of the matter; and though the mother thought sadly of the
coming days when her last bairnie would be gone, and she would be alone
with her uncouth partner, it rarely for a moment took his mind away
from the absorbing idea he had been secretly nursing for weeks.

It was a brighter future he pictured for them than his wife dreamed of.
Town life he abominated. The bush was his mother calling to him in the
voice of birds, with the morning light and the redolent wind, appealing
to him with the subtle incense of her evening breath. He understood her
in all her moods, laughing, weird, and tragic; he had absorbed the
imperious spirit that permits no lasting peace outside her wild
dominion. The little home on Birro Creek made him lonely, and he pinned
his faith in Sid to take him back to his olden sphere.

Like his father, Sid had waited for the wedding festivities with an
object that was purely personal. He had cherished a faint hope that
Myee would be there. But Mooban was not represented. Thereafter the
gaiety of the auspicious occasion only reminded him of his loveless
lot.

There was a dance at night, held by the magistrate's permission, in the
commercial room of the hotel, and he was among the gay throng the night
through, throwing himself into the fun with an abandon that left no
suggestion of a heart pining for an absent face. At the commencement of
it the old people were grouped at one end of the room; but after a
couple of dances King Warri and Captain Bryne retired to a little
private parlour. The former closed the door, and, seating himself
opposite the captain, drew from his pocket an official looking
envelope, which he laid on the table, and planted both fists on it as
if to prevent it from escaping.

"I've some papers here pertainin' to a bit of land, captain." he said,
speaking with deliberation. "I only got 'em by last night's mail--just
in the nick of time, as luck happens."

"Been speculatin'?" asked the captain, pleasantly.

"I've taken up a twenty-mile block," said Warri.

"Oh! going in for squatting again?"

"I'm givin' Sid a start. If he agrees to what I'm doin', I suppose
he'll be leavin' you, captain. I don't know, mind you. But I take it
he'll put his own interests before anybody else's. Only natural. I want
to tell you before we go any further that I haven't consulted him. He
knows nothing at all about it, bear in mind."

The captain gave him a curious look. "You'll have to stock up to a
specified number within six months to hold the block."

"That will be all right." He took the documents from the envelope, and
spread a map on the table. "The p'int I wanted to talk to you about,
captain, is this: My block is out west, comprisin' a choice part of the
towri that I'm king of, an' which I always had an intention o' securin'
from the Government for grazin' purposes as soon as I was able; an'
that little selection of yours happens to be right in the centre of
it."

"Eh?" The captain's head went up with a jerk. Then he drew the map
sharply towards him, and his brows puckered. He had leased only a small
area, which embraced the best water, intending to make use of the open
country around it. By this means he calculated on having a big run rent
free. He relied on the remoteness of the locality to protect him
against encroachment, and he had been ready to make a gigantic grab at
the first suspicion of another having designs on it. In King Warri he
had not suspected a rival. He had been caught asleep, and so
effectually hemmed in that his little selection was virtually useless
to him. His face flushed angrily.

"Pretty sharp dealin', that, Warri," he snorted, pulling at his beard.
"Pretty sharp dealin'."

"Smart, captain," Mr. Warri amended; "but nothin' unordinary in the way
o' speculating. You were tellin' me, when I was at Kanillabar, about a
desperate race between three land-owners for a bit o' good grass
country that had become available in a bad time. An' the feller that
was in the lead slipped the sliprails up in the other fellers' faces,
an' drove the pegs hard an' tight to delay 'em; an' while one o' those
two was gettin' the pegs out an' puttin' the rails down, the other
undid his traces, so that when he got aboard again an' whipped up his
horses the animals jumped out o' the shafts an' got away, leavin' him
sittin' in the trap, helpless, an' swearin' like old Harry in a dust
storm. 'Twas a good race, you said; an' the grass was to the
fleetest'."

"There was no race in this case," grumbled the captain.

"No," with a quiet grin; "but if you'd get a hint as to what was in the
wind, I wouldn't a seen you for dust. You'd a donkey-licked me, dead
sure. I ain't as smart as I used to be, bein' a bit too fat an'
troubled with rheumatics in one o' me legs, an' I' couldn't afford to
take risks. Got to rely some on strategy."

The Captain chuckled ironically. He was feeling very sore, "It wasn't
the sort of treatment I'd expect between gentlemen," he said with a
little significant emphasis on the last word. "I stood to your wife
when you were lost. I paid your son to find Yanbo, and he was out there
as my manager--"

"If it hadn't been for me he wouldn't 'ave been out there at all,
Captain." Warri interrupted. "As for standin' to th' missus, you got
Kanillabar from her at bargain rates because you had her in a corner.
There was no sacrificing benevolence about anything you did, Captain,
so far as I can see. I aint blamin' you for makin' a good deal when you
had th' chance; but there aint no occasion to set yourself up as a
protector of grass widows an' orphans. Another thing, as king o' the
towri, I had prior right to Yanbo. 'Taint accordin' to th' law we
whites are regulated by, I know, but it's justice. Howsomover, you can
see how you're situated by the map."

The Captain did not commit himself. He waited with an unfriendly
glitter in his eye.

"I'll make you a fair offer," Warri continued. I'll sell out to you for
five thousand; or I'll buy you out--land, stock an' plant--for five
thousand."

The Captain, sniffed. "Why, man, the cattle I've got out there's worth
that."

"Maybe, if you had 'em here, but they aint worth as much out where they
are. An' they've been eatin' grass all the time, dang it."

"But you had no use for the grass--even if you had a claim to it. You
had no stock."

"Ho! hadn't I? What about my kangaroos? My wallabies? I had to live on
them. They were as valuable to me as your cattle are to you. An' they
were frightened away by your stockmen--an' got poor an' scarce."

"A kangaroo squatter!" laughed the Captain. "Er--reckonin' them in with
your block?"

"They even shot em!" Mr. Warri added aggrievedly. "Th' poor blackfeller
gets punished when he spears a beast of yours to eat, but you kill his
beasts just to amuse yourself, an' if he makes a fuss about it you
order him off his property."

"Reckonin' the kangaroos in with your block, Warri?" the Captain
repeated.

"No, I'm not," Warri replied. "They're the blackfeller's birthright--his
means o' subsistence."

The Captain bent over the map again, and drummed on the table with his
fingers. After very little reflection he concluded that Warri's block
wasn't worth the price. He was pondering the offer for his own when Rod
Bryne came in. The Captain, regarding him as a useful ally, invited his
opinion on the situation. On being informed of the particulars. Rod
threw his head back and laughed heartily. The Captain frowned.

"Very funny, isn't it?" he said with bitter sarcasm.

"Dead funny," said Rod, fixing tearful eyes on the map. "You must have
had a sleeping draught to get yarded up like that."

"We'll have a draught of something from your bar, Rod--when you're done
cacklin." said the Captain. "You might be able to talk some sense
afterwards." Rod repaired to the bar, looking happier than when he had
left the improvised altar that morning with his new-made bride.
Presently he returned with three glasses on a tray, and when these had
been drained and cigars lit, they talked it over between them in a
calmer spirit. Rod transpired to be a good ally--to his father-in-law.
He was pleased with the smart move the old man had made. He had formed
an impression that he had become a careless and shiftless heathen.
Careless he was in many respects, but, as it was soon said in the
township, he had some go in him yet. His coup against Captain Bryne
raised him considerably in the estimation of the citizens. What was
before regarded as contrary to the canons of respectability was now
viewed in the light of the picturesque. His life story was looked upon
as a thrilling romance. Those who had laughed at "Bare-footed Warri"
came to treat him with more serious respect.

Some time in the small hours of the morning the three came to a
definite agreement, which was to be formally drawn up and signed in the
afternoon. They drank each other's healths, and parted on the
friendliest terms.

It was while, walking unsteadily home in the grey dawn that King Warri
first apprised Sid of what he had been doing. "I've bought Yanbo from
the Captain. Sid," he said, "an' I've taken up more country around it,
makin' a twenty-mile block."

Sid stopped momentarily. "Where did you get the money?" was his first
question when he had recovered his breath. The way he asked it threw a
cloud on to the old man's face. It was an unkind, reflection on his
financial status.

"Where did yer think I got it?" he returned irascibly. "Think I robbed
a bank?"

"Where did you get it?" his son insisted.

"I borrowed it from Joe Steel," the old man explained.

"How much did you borrow?" The borrower was silent for a few steps, as
though the sum required reckoning up. Then he said: "I've agreed to
give the Captain five thousand for Yanbo an' all that's on it. Bought
it in your name. I'm not goin' out there again, an' I'm relyin' on you,
bear in mind, to pay Joe Steel back in five years with interest at five
per cent. The captain's to be paid three thousand this afternoon, an'
the other two thousand in two years, with interest at five per cent."

"That's ten per cent for that two thousand," Sid interpolated.

"A few bullocks will pay that," said, his father, complacently. "I had
a long argument, I can tell you, to get th' Captain to agree to those
terms. Wanted the whole lot planked down, dang him, an' if it warn't
for Rod puttin' in a spoke for me, an' twittin him with puttin'
unneccessary obstacles in the way of a young feller just' embarkin' on
his own hook, th' Captain not bein' in want of money, an' you bein' a
member of the family, in a way o' speakin', he'd a never give in. He
was a bit grumpy at bein' out-manoeuvred by an old duffer like me; an'
he was in a bit of a hole for want o' men, an' didn't like losin' the
best one he had into the bargain. Howsomever, there were three smart
stockmen, just off a drover trip, stayin' at the pub, an' he engaged
the three of 'em. His missus. I hear, has got hold of a good girl too--
you were dancin' with her, I recollect. Tall girl in a blue dress,
trimmed with mosquito nettin' and the ace o' spades. Belong to these
parts?"

"That's the blacksmith's daughter," Sid informed him.

"Oh!" said his father. "Well, see here. You ain't got no time to be
leanin' against posts an' foolin' around after girls, bear in mind. You
can pick up a girl any time when you're not busy, but clearin' off a
big debt an' buildin' up a bank account takes a mighty lot of elbow
grease an' a close application to business all th' time--"

"What are you doing with the balance after the Captain's paid?" asked
Sid, breaking in on the homily.

"I haven't got any balance," was the reply.

"You've got two thousand out of the--"

"Contradictin' again!" said the old man, disagreeably. "Clean the wax
out of your ears an' you'll hear better." He stumbled and tottered over
a bit of lumpy road, and breathed heavily up a slight rise towards
Morella. At the gate he spoke again. "I was goin' to say when you
interrupted me that th' two thousand will be handed over to you to
complete stockin' the run an' to carry on with."

CHAPTER XXXIX.

On the Rising Road.

A wonderful feeling of elation possessed Sid that memorable morning.
Often afterwards, a thousand miles away, it came back to him in the
holy calm and the soft light of dawn. It was the great turning point in
his career, whence the road seemed straight and fair. The goal that had
been far off and difficult to reach was suddenly brought within actual
view. He saw it now in the light of realism, and, buoyed with a great
hope, he looked towards it with the confidence and exhilaration of a
robust young manhood. His was not an excitable nature, but in these
first hours of change his brain was in a riot. He formed plans of his
own, daring plans begotten of a restless ambition and a masterful faith
in himself; and with the family characteristic of holding in, he said
no word to anybody until he got back to Yanbo a fortnight later.

And there came to him the pride of ownership as he crossed his
boundary, as yet an imaginary line, and viewed the flowing pastures of
his own run. The humble hut and the rough yards took on a more imposing
aspect. He noted where improvements could be made, where fences would
be run, looking round with a mind brimming with ideas. The very
atmosphere seemed to have changed; but amidst it all there was a touch
of sadness, a consciousness of something lost. He felt no regret that,
in pursuance of his plans, he would be leaving it again very shortly.
The thought that he might never abide there permanently made him glad.

"I'm going to make you manager, Jake," he announced, after a reflective
interval that evening. They were sitting one at each front corner of
the big fireplace. Sid's dog lay coiled on the floor between them,
whilst Murrin stood at the table washing up.

"Manager of what?" asked Jake, pausing in the act of reaching after a
coal.

"Yanbo," answered Sid; "I've bought it, and you and Murrin are included
in the plant--providing you're agreeable to the arrangement. You're
settled now, if the letter I brought you with the mysterious crosses at
the bottom of it hasn't made you restless again; and you'll be
practically your own boss--"

"Hold on a bit, till I get my breath," cried Jake, holding up his pipe.
Then, pointing with it, his elbow propped on his knee: "Bought the
ranch? That a fact?"

Sid nodded; and, slewing from the fire, gave brief particulars of the
transaction.

Jake stepped over and threw out his hand. "Put it there!" he said,
heartily. They shook hands, and as he resumed his seat he remarked with
a delighted chuckle: "Old Spot wasn't too slow, after all. The cunnin'
old schemer! Never thought he could beat the captain as simply as that.
I'll bet Cap pulled his whiskers a bit when he heard of it. One thing
an' another, he's had a lot to occupy his mind with lately."

"He won't miss Yanbo," said Sid. "It was rather too far out for his
purpose, though he had intended to make a big, independent property of
it in time. He said as much when we made the transfer, and he reckoned
if I could do that for him I can do it for myself."

"So you can," said Jake. "But if I'm to be manager of the ranch, what
are you goin' to be?"

"I'm going droving," said Sid. "I'll buy on northern and north-western
runs where cattle are cheap, and sell down south where the market's
good. I want to make a rise before the bills come in."

"You couldn't do better, Sid," Jake approved. "There's a lot of money
in that business if you're successful."

"In doing this I'll be breaking right away from my father's ideas, and
if he found it out he might make a noise about it. I've been provided
with two thousand for the purpose, mainly, of stocking the enlarged
run; but I've got to pay that sum to the captain in two years;
therefore I'd have to sell enough of the present stock to make up the
amount before the time expired. That would mean a lot of hard work for
very little profit. My object is to double the capital before I lay out
any more here. The old man wouldn't see the benefit of that, so he'd
better not see at all. I'll go away quietly, and as this place isn't
troubled with visitors, he'll think I'm at Yanbo all the time."

"How long will you be away?"

"About two years."

Jake whistled softly, and fell into a meditative mood; "Say!" after a
long pause. "I was thinkin' of gettin' married before two years."

"Well, there's nothing to stop you."

"I was thinkin' of gettin' married inside a year," Jake added.

"What date?"

Jake looked at the almanac on the wall. "About the end o' this month,"
he replied.

Sid laughed. "You're gettin' too swift, Jake."

"Well, you know, Sid, this isn't the liveliest part of Australia we're
located in. 'Twould be a lot more cheerful an homely with a Mrs. Gowrie
on the premises."

Sid mentally admitted the truth of this. Brighter and more comfortable
it would be for himself with little Kora Danz in the house; but he
thought, too, of the loneliness of it all for a young woman, isolated
from all her sex but the wild denizens of the bush. With the thought
came the conviction that she would not hesitate to face the inevitable
hardships, for she belonged to the dauntless women who hearten the
pioneers and help to transform the wide wastes into realms of happy
homes.

"You'll want a couple of rooms put on to the hut," he suggested.

"Well, it would be more commodious," said Jake. "I'll make a bit of a
garden, too, with peach trees in it, and get some fowls, so the hens
cacklin' around and the cocks crowin' will make the place less
unfamiliar."

"You can bring them out with the bride; but you won't be able to get
away this month. Let me see. I'll send Bill Bunty out with the building
material, furniture, and other necessaries; and I'll get Chips to come
with him. He's got nothing much to do at Kanillabar; and while he's
here putting up the rooms, you can go in; but get back as soon as
possible. You'll have to look after the run, Murrin, while he's away."

Murrin's forehead wrinkled. "You leave me revolver?"

"What for?"

"Suppose wild blackpfeller come pokin' about, I give him hint to get
home very quick."

"Better leave that to Chips," said Sid. "He'll have all the artillery
that's necessary."

A week's hard work was put in about the homestead and on the run before
he departed for Wonnaroo. There he spent another week, then left,
ostensibly to take heifers out to Yanbo. His father, content with the
progress of the business he had launched, settled down to a slumbrous
life at home. He milked the cows in the morning, and fed the pigs and
the fowls; he chopped wood--sometimes, exercised gently with gardening
tools, and gathered up the eggs. At certain hours he was to be found
regularly in a particular sunny corner when the weather was cold, and
in a particular shady spot when the weather was warm. In these two
favourite places he rested from his labours, smoked his pipe, and
meditated. In the evening he sat on the store verandah with the oldest
inhabitants, or watched a game of cards at the hotel.

Jake's visit to town, when Kora Danz became Mrs. Gowrie, was a notable
time mark to the old man in those dull days. Jake reported that Sid was
in great heart, and doing fine. So were the heifers.

"Who did he have to help him out with them?" Mr. Warri inquired.

"This was one of the little details that Jake had overlooked.

"Why--a couple of blackfellows," he said desperately.

"Where from?"

"Away up by the head of the creek somewhere." It seemed to Jake that
the old man asked these questions just for the sake of talking.
"They're both strangers to you," he added hurriedly.

"Tell Sid to send a letter in by one of 'em," Warri instructed.
"They'll be kept on, I suppose, till you get back?"

"No--they've left," said Jake. "They wouldn't stop."

By that time Sid was well up in the northern part of the State. He had
now but one object, and that was to make money, though always with him
was the thought of Myee, try as he would to thrust it aside. He saw her
face in the lonely camp fire as he sat staring into it, with only a dog
for mate, and his tinkling horse-bells alone breaking the deep silence
of the night; he saw her form in the fleecy clouds scudding overhead as
he lay in the breezy open. She came to him in his dreams, only to
sadden his waking moments. It was with a feeling of pique that he was
pursuing fortune. He knew it could not buy him happiness. Her love
alone could give that. Still, from this pursuit he derived a grim
satisfaction.

A smart stockman, a good judge of cattle and country, he would have
disappointed his confidential henchman if he had not succeeded. He
embarked on his new venture with a modest mob of 400 beeves. He thought
more of that small lot, and was more anxious about it, and more
constantly with it, than was the case with his greater undertakings
later on. The least disturbance at night brought him to his feet as if
he had been roused up with an electric battery; and as he had to do a
long watch himself, he was dead beat for sleep before the trip was half
over. Flooded streams and dry stages, two extremes that drovers have to
fight against, increased his worries. Moving slowly southward, from
dawn to dusk, through sunshine and rain, to the tune of the creaking
saddle and the tramping hoof, he travelled for weeks without a spell.

The three months with that little mob was excellent training. His next
journey was twice as long, and with twelve hundred scarey bullocks on
the road he experienced hardly any anxiety at all. He bought them as
stores at a low figure, fattened them on the way, and, catching a good
market, netted nearly three thousand pounds for the trip. This success
spurred him north again with feverish speed. With barely time left to
crowd in another trip, he rode a thousand miles in fifteen days,
finishing with a hundred miles in one day on one horse. Cattle-dealing
ever exacted long rides, and hard riding, and demanded a wiry
constitution for the roughing inseparable from the overland. Sid had
grasped the great stock-gambling profession with both hands, and he was
built to weather the speediest race and the hardest road.

Eighteen months had gone by when he set out with his third mob, and his
paternal parent was growing impatient. Sid's remissness in not coming
to see him, "the senior partner in the concern," as he loved to
describe himself, and talk business now and again offended him. At
times he was quite worried about "the business." After sitting inert
for an hour or so on a log he had polished with constant use, he would
jump up and waddle briskly for a few yard's, then stop short, and fix a
contemplative eye on the horizon. That being unproductive of even a
lucid idea, he would presently mooch across to the fence, and, folding
his arms on the top rail, watch the dusty road that ultimately merged
into the dignity of a street.

Eventually Jake came in for supplies, and he dutifully called on the
old gentleman to give an imaginary account of the erring son.

"Why doesn't he come down, dang it?" Mr. Warri demanded testily.

"His enthusiasm won't allow him," Jake, answered. "He's that busy he's
hardly got time to eat."

"I'm sure he could have spared time to come and see us at Christmas,"
Mrs. Warri chipped in.

"He ought to come an' report to me, Christmas or no Christmas," said
Mr. Warri. "Did he send a letter?"

"No-o," Jake drawled. "He was going to write, but the ink got spilt."

"Ain't he got a pencil?" Warri inquired fretfully.

"He did have one, but it wasn't to be found when it was wanted. He must
have lost it."

"A nice squattage he must be makin' of it--no ink an' no pencil," Mr.
Warri grumbled. "Take a bottle out with yer. A big bottle. An' buy a
pencil, in case he spills it again with his clumsiness."

"He'll be in himself next time," said Jake. "You can expect him."

"Time he was movin' with stock," said Mr. Warri. "Dunno what the feller
can be thinkin' about. You tell him to get a stir on, an' chuck himself
down here. I want to see him."

He was greatly interested in stock quotations at this time. He read the
papers regularly, and calculated, week by week, according to current
prices, how many head would be sold from Yanbo to meet the bill that
would shortly be falling due. One day he came across an item that put
him in a panic. Under "Border Crossings" it was briefly mentioned:
"1000 bullocks, bound for Muswellbrook. Sid Warri in charge." He
started violently on reading it, so much so that he fell backwards off
the polished log. Struggling up, he read it again and again, running
his finger slowly along under the words. Then he waddled agitatedly
into the house, calling loudly to his wife.

"Look a here!" as that lady appeared. "Here's news for yer!" He held
the paragraph under her face, and read it out to her.

"Goodness me!" said Mrs. Warri, poring over it. "Why, that's a long way
from here."

"Hundreds of miles down east," roared her husband.

"How ever did the boy get there?" eyeing him perplexedly. "An' none of
us knowing a word about it."

"I'm bein' deceived, woman!" he shouted; and banged the crumpled paper
on the table. "Deceived by th' whole bilin'. Where's me hat?"

"What are you going to do?" Mrs. Warri inquired pacifically.

"Where's me hat?" he repeated in a louder voice.

The hat being found, he tucked his paper under his arm, and bustled off
up the road. Arriving in a breathless state at the store, he submitted
the startling item to Joe Steel, who failed to throw any light on the
proceedings. He took it to Rod Bryne, who proved equally dense. He
showed it to several old cronies, who were unanimously ignorant on the
subject. His daughter poured him out a stimulant that he appeared to be
in need of, and remarked that there was no occasion for alarm. Sid
evidently knew what he was doing, and would be there when he was
wanted.

"What he knows ain't the p'int," said her father, peevishly. "I don't
know what he's doin'. An' I've got a right to know, bear in mind."

The next couple of months were a sore trial to the old man, He went to
the post office on mail days, and waited about the door, obstructing
the traffic, until the letters were sorted. But there came no letter
for him. He was filled with vague fears, chiefly concerning Yanbo. He
watched the main roads day after day until the specified hour arrived
when the balance of two thousand pounds, plus two years' interest, had
to be paid to Captain Bryne. He went at the last moment to the store in
the desperate hope that Joe Steel had received some word. From the
verandah he saw the captain drive up to the hotel, and in a blue funk
he waddled hastily home to avoid meeting him.

CHAPTER XL.

The Neglected Partner.

Mrs. Bryne and Wilga had gone to Brisbane for a midsummer holiday. A
belated letter to Myee Norrit bore evidence that the change had not
been in vain.

"By a marvellous coincidence," wrote Wilga, "Mr. Gilbury Marr came to
Brisbane to visit his aunt just at the time of our arrival. The dear
old thing hadn't seen him for years, and she was overjoyed to think he
had come from the other side of the State purposely to see her. I have
been everywhere with him. He knows the city so well, and has been a
most indefatigable guide. Nothing appealed to me more than boating; it
was unsurpassingly delightful--irresistible. . . . A lovely afternoon on
a charming river. We were alone in the boat, Gilbury pulling one oar,
and I pulling the other, and feeling--I don't know how. Perhaps you do.
The receding sun shot golden shafts across the water, and the calm,
cool air was suffused with the perfume of hidden flowers. I don't know
how it happened, but suddenly I discovered that only my oar was
working; the nose of the boat was stuck into a little sandy beach, and
Gilbury's arm was round my waist. I nearly fainted. I can't recollect
half what he murmured into my ear. My brain was in whirl, and I had
palpitation of the heart. I only remember he said he would give up his
roving life and buy a ranch if I would be his wife. I must have said
yes, or something to that effect, for in a moment I was enveloped in
the other arm, and he was kissing me savagely. I thought he was going
to eat me. Did I--? I forget. I think I did--just a little, timid one,
because I was in too much of a flutter to speak when he wanted to know
if I loved him. Anyhow, there's a little golden ring on my finger now,
proclaiming to all and sundry that I am engaged. Believe me, I'm
blushing yet."

With life's sweets and bitters fresh in remembrance, the letter had a
disquieting effect on Myee. She lived again that one hour of burning
love she had known; sighed again for its poignant aftermath; then
tossed her haughty little head, and told herself that the girlish
romance was over and done with. She had no love tokens to remind her of
him, and it was only when she went to Kanillabar and loitered in
pleasant nooks where they had dallied together that her heart throbbed
again with the pain of yester-year.

Wilga and her mother returned by coach to Wonnaroo on the same day that
the captain's arrival stampeded King Warri. The captain had come in to
meet them. Rod Bryne, though not sharing his father-in-law's anxiety,
was sufficiently interested to give unusual attention to the boss of
Kanillabar. Joe Steel hovered about the pub all the afternoon, not
daring to mention anything concerning Yanbo, yet waiting expectantly
for the captain to broach the subject. But the captain did not mention
it. He only asked if the big man was keeping well. Joe couldn't
understand it. Neither could Rod, whose occasional tentative references
to Jake and Mrs. Gowrie were unproductive.

The night passed, and another day waned, and King Warri's non-
appearance about town began to cause remark. The old man was simmering
in a perpetual state of nervous expectancy.

The reason of the captain's silence was mentioned casually by Wilga,
who expressed astonishment at the rapid progress Sid was making. That
was in the evening. From her Keira obtained all the particulars she
required. She did not wait to satisfy the curiosity of her husband, or
to relieve the worry of Mr. Steel, but slapped on her hat and rushed
straight down to Morella. The old couple were in the kitchen, trying to
deceive each other that their appetites were unimpaired. Her impulsive
entrance was announced by a flutter of skirts and a clatter of
crockery, as the old man knocked his cup over.

"Dang it all!" he cried, irritably. "Where are yer tearin' to?"

"The captain's paid," she panted in breathless excitement.

"Paid?" echoed her father, staring blankly at her.

"Sid posted a cheque to him from Muswellbrook," she went on. "He
intended to come home, but he was doing so well that he decided at the
last to keep on droving for another year or two. He says there's more
money in it than there is in Yanbo."

"And where do I come in?" Mr. Warri inquired. "Why didn't he write to
me?"

"I suppose he didn't think it was necessary," said Keira. "He's awfully
busy."

"Ho!" Mr. Warri exclaimed disagreeably. "Didn't think it was necessary!
Too busy to write to his father--who put him on his feet! Clears off
adoin' what he likes with the money, without so much as by your leave,
or good-bye to me, or anything. An' puttin' his man up to stuff me with
a rigmarole of lies. The hide of him!"

"No doubt he did it with the best of motives," said Mrs. Warri, who had
more confidence in Sid's ability to get on than in her husband's
judgment. "The boy's discharged his obligations in regard to the
agreement--"

"He ain't discharged his obligations in regard to me," Mr. Warri
interrupted. "Thrust me aside as if I was nobody. The dashed feller!
I'll talk some conversation to him when I see him, you mark me."

"He saw a chance to make a rise, and I suppose he thought you would
stand in his way if he told you," said Keira. "You ought to be pleased
that he has succeeded so well."

"I've got no tangible evidence of it," Mr. Warri growled, shoving his
hand into an empty pocket. "Never a thought of his father, who set him
up. Base ingratitude, I call it."

Keira smiled at her mother, "He knows you're comfortable," she said,
whilst Mr. Warri brooded darkly.

"Much more comfortable than Sid is--roughing it on the road," added her
mother. "But Sid isn't one to grumble; and he's got his head screwed on
the right way. I remember the captain telling me, when you were
married, that he could buy and sell his father."


"Eh?" Mr. Warri became aggressively alert again. "Sell his father?"

"The captain was asking very kindly after you, dad," Keira hastily
interposed.

"Ho!" said dad, chuckling unpleasantly. "We're people with cheque books
now. Wonder he hasn't been down."

"It's pretty certain you'd have been out if he had called," said his
wife. "Unless he caught you unawares."

Mr. Warri slapped viciously at a fly that wasn't interfering with him.
"When did he get the cheque?" he asked presently.

"About a week ago," answered Keira.

Her father looked round sharply. "A week ago!" he bellowed. "An' I've
been worryin' all the time through the danged feller not droppin a line
to say it was all right. Worryin' unnecessarily. Here!" shoving his
chair back and shuffling about the floor. "Where's me hat?"

"You're not going up town to-night?" his wife questioned.

"Where's me hat?" was his only response.

"Dear-o-dear!" Mrs. Warri exclaimed, in mild protest. "I never saw such
a man for losing his hat. Why don't you hang it up in its proper
place?"

"Why don't you leave it where I put it?" Mr. Warri returned.

"There it is in the wood-box--where you left it," triumphantly.

"Tain't where I left it. I hung it up on the bellers, an' you must 'ave
knocked it down." Saying which, he tapped it on his hand to knock the
dust off, and went out, thumping the floor, and subsequently the road,
with his heavy stick. Ruminating as he went along, he gradually lapsed
into a more tranquil frame of mind.

Keira remained with her mother until he had reached his destination.
Discovering Captain Bryne in a private parlour, happy and reposeful, he
was soon chatting cheerfully with him.

"I haven't been about the last day or two," he remarked, stretching his
leg, and making a wry face. "The rheumatics have been troublin' me." He
lit his pipe, and sprawled comfortably on the lounge. "You got Sid's
letter in time?"

The captain nodded.

"I was afraid it would be late, Sid bein' so far away, an' not always
where he could catch a mail," said Warri, guardedly. "Howsomever, the
contract's completed now?"

"That's so," said the captain. "Sid's doing well, I hear?"

"Very well," Warri rejoined complacently. "'Very well indeed."

"I was surprised when I heard," said the captain. "Er--I thought he was
out at Yanbo."

Mr. Warri chuckled knowingly. "They all thought so," he said, chuckling
again as though it was a fine joke in which he had shared.

"Even Joe Steel an' Rod,"' said the captain, quietly.

"All of 'em," said Warri, his mouth wrinkling round his pipe stem. He
was beginning to enjoy himself. "Sid ain't one who goes around talkin'
about the big things he's goin' to do, an' never doin' anything; he
just sets to work an' leaves the talkin' to others. There he was away
down country, making his fortune an' gettin' known as a big boss of the
overland, before a one of 'em here knew what he was at. He knows his
way about, does Sid. He's a doer, captain, as you ought to know; he's
peggin' in good an' hard while the braggarts are wastin' valuable time
advertisin' their intentions."

"Thought so yourself, didn't you?" said the captain, looking steadily
at the swing lamp.

"Thought what?"

"That he was at Yanbo."

Warri eyed him suspiciously. "Who told you that?"

"Keira," said the captain, still looking at the lamp.

Mr. Warri's face underwent a sudden change. "Fat lot she knows about
it," he said sullenly. "Always puttin' her mag in where it's not
wanted. Never trust a woman with a secret, captain."

"What secret?" asked the captain.

Mr. Warri was nonplussed. He stretched his leg again, and ran his hand
down it caressingly. "Think we'll soon have some rain," he observed.
"Always get the twinges when there's rain hanging about." He rose
stiffly, and picked up his stick. "I promised the missus I wouldn't be
away long. So I'll say good-night, Captain."

One great satisfaction he derived from this humiliating episode was the
fact that the captain had been paid without the Yanbo herd being levied
on. This made him feel all the more secure in regard to Joe Steel.
Financial matters worried him no longer. He saw Kanillabar drawing
within reach. He was more confident; but he had not forgiven Sid. It
annoyed him to think that he had not been consulted in any way, that he
had not been informed of what was going on. He had been ignored as
utterly as though his son had no cognisance of his existence. And he
was aggrieved all the more because everybody knew it.

Mrs. Warri was not vexed by such trifles as those. She wanted only to
hear from her roving son. Mr. Warri wanted to hear from him, too, and
as the months rolled by he became a regular caller at the post office
again. And always when he returned he answered the mother's inquiry
with a shake of his head.

"I can't understand Sid at all," she said musingly. "It's strange he
never scratches a line to us."

"Spilt the ink," said Mr. Warri gruffly.

CHAPTER XLI.

With the Old Folks at Home.

Another two years had gone by, two years that were crammed with hard
work and rough travel for Sid Warri, who had latterly three or four
mobs moving simultaneously on different routes. In those two years he
bought and travelled and sold fifteen thousand head. These were but the
beginnings of the big things that eventually made him a pastoral
magnate, a lord of the overland. But at this stage a report from Jake
pertaining to Kanillabar sent him speeding home.

He reached Wonnaroo in the rich glow of a September sunset, which,
bathing the olden scenes in a mellow light, revivified the dormant
chords of memory, and set his pulses tingling. His eyes followed the
sheeny ribbon of trees that marked the course of Birro Creek; they
roamed slowly over grey-green flats that were dotted with browsing
goats, and lingered enraptured on the splendour of the engirding hills.
He had traversed the scenic wonderlands of the eastern slopes, where
nature appealed incessantly to his aesthetic sense; but nothing had
touched him like this glory of little, sleepy Wonnaroo. He remembered,
as though it were but yesterday, his thoughts and feelings when he had
carried his swag out of the township, and having made good in the
interim, it was with a warm glow of pleasure that he rode back to it.
Familiar faces met him at every turn; and there were many whilom boon
companions, mostly young people, who had grown unfamiliar. He had made
friends in a hundred other places, but there were none so near to him
as these old friends of his boyhood.

At the hotel he found Captain Bryne, from whom he learnt that Wilga and
Myee had changed places for a month. This added considerably to his
happiness. He had intended to buy some cattle from Mooban, but this
little arrangement decided him that he didn't want them.

"You're thinking of leaving Kanillabar, I believe, Captain?" he said
when they were alone in the private parlor. The Captain looked him over
with a calculating eye.

"Want to buy it?" he asked.

"I heard you were trying to sell," Sid returned.

"W--want to buy it?" the Captain repeated, watching him narrowly.

Sid was affecting a manner of indifference though he could not deny to
himself that the Captain was aware of his love for the old squattage.

"If you're not asking too much," he said.

"Er--how much is too much?"

"Anything over what you gave my mother for it, above the value of
improvements."

The Captain shook his head. "Worth more now, Sid, than when I bought
it."

"The difference is the unearned increment," said Sid. "That doesn't
amount to much out here. Anyhow, under the circumstances I think you
can waive that."

"There's no sentiment in business, Sid. You've been long enough dealing
to know that. R-remember the first deal you ever made?"

"Do you mean when I sold the outlaw at Kanillabar?"

"Ah," said the captain, holding his cigar from him, and regarding it
contemplatively. "You got a good price that morning, Sid, for some
improvements that were only temporary."

"Everything is only temporary, if it comes to that," said Sid. "I know
I got a lot more for that horse than he was worth; and I'm glad you've
got scruples on that point. You're the seller at the present time."

"Don't know," said the captain. "Don't know. Er--I'm not anxious to
sell; but if I saw a fair price for the property, includin' stock, I
wouldn't say no to it. But I'd want two-thirds cash, an' it must be a
clean sweep. Walk in, walk out."

"That will suit me," said Sid, "if we can agree about the figure."

The captain smoked thoughtfully for a few seconds. 'Worth a big lump
Sid," he said then. "Worth more than you think."

"I know it's not going to be bought for a tuppenny stamp," said Sid.
"And I know it's only from a local man that you can hope to get
anything like a decent price, speculators down below don't put much
value on property out here."

"I'd rather sell to you than to anybody else," said the captain.

"That will help us to clinch matters," Sid rejoined.

"At an honest value," the captain hurriedly qualified. He pulled a few
more whiffs from his cigar. Then he drew a sheet of paper towards him,
and began to make heiroglypaics on it, mumbling to himself and
occasionally tapping irresolutely with the pencil. It devolved into a
crude catalogue of horses and cattle, acres of freehold and leasehold,
together with particulars of tanks and dams, fences, wells and
windmills, and details of general plant and household furniture. He was
still engaged on this when Keira came in.

"You are not going any further tonight, are you, Sid?" she inquired.

Sid looked at his watch.

"Dad and mum will be in bed," she continued. "So you'd better stay here
and go down in the morning."

"Think I'd better," he agreed.

"Sid's not frettin' about home," said the captain, adding to the
inventory a mob of wild beasts he had been unable to muster.

"He never is," said Keira. "After being away so long it's a wonder he
thought of coming back to this part at all."

Sid smiled quietly, he had said little about himself. Even when asked
how he had been getting on, he simply answered, "Not too bad." Nor had
Keira any notion of what he was so earnestly intent on at that moment.

He talked with the captain till midnight, at which hour they were
joined by Rod Bryne, who was impatiently waiting for them to go to bed.
He speedily helped his father to a decision, and Sid retired shortly
with the happy thought that the great object for which he had left home
in boyhood had been accomplished. The tumbled castle he had
contemplated then had been rebuilt. Kanillabar was his own. He was
tired, but there came little sleep to his eyes that night. The years of
striving, of toil and travel and adventures, passed and repassed in
dumb review, like pictures on a screen. Of all the events of his life
this was the greatest; but there was one among the promises of the
future that he counted greater still. On the coming days his mind dwelt
more than on anything, the days when he would again be with the girl
who had swayed his whole career.

The captain left for home that morning. After seeing him off, Sid
saddled up and rode down to Morella, wearing a satisfied smile as his
mind's eye followed the captain.

Mrs. Warri, in an old print dress and black apron, a large sun hat on
her head, was sweeping in the front as Sid rode up to the gate. She
dropped the broom and ran to meet him, her face redly radiant. For a
moment he was lost under the large hat, receiving an emotional welcome
with stoical calmness. Such a fuss as she made over him, to his
unassuming nature, appeared undeserved and extravagant.

"What a great big fellow you are!" she exclaimed. "And as brown's a
berry. My! but you're lookin' grand, Sid."

He knew while she talked to him, and her glistening eyes roved over
him, that she was the proudest woman that morning in all the west.

Mr. Warri at first was not visible, but the sound of their voices
presently reached him in his shady nook, where he had just settled
himself down for a well-earned rest, having cut three sticks of wood
that morning, besides milking two cows, and feeding the pigs and fowls.
He scrambled up and moved towards the front to see who was talking, the
sounds indicating that there was some excitement about the premises.

"Ho!" he cried, halting momentarily at the corner. "You've come back."

He brightened instantly, and waddled with a suggestion of briskness
round to the verandah steps. "How are you, Sid?" He grasped his son's
hand in both of his own and shook it with unexpected warmth.

"Pretty good," said Sid. "And how are you?"

"Middlin', just middlin'," said his father, his face clouding again at
the remembrance of his wrongs. "I might a been dead an' buried for all
you troubled about me. When I was a young feller like you I used to
take a pleasure in writin' home an' gettin' a letter from the old folks
now'n again."

"I was going to write a dozen times," said Sid, apologetically, "but
something always happened to put it off."

"Hm!" grunted his father. "Upset the ink bottle. Lost th' pencil. Too
busy--Eh? What happened when you went off drovin' instead o' goin' out
to Yanbo as agreed on?"

"Oh, for goodness sake give it a rest," said the mother. "Hasn't he
done better where he's been than he could have done at Yanbo?"

"Maybe," said Mr. Warri, grudgingly. "But that aint th' pint. I ought
to 'ave been consulted. Look a here!" leaning on his walking stick and
shaking a finger at the delinquent. "If it hadn't been for me you'd
never have had Yanbo. You'd 'ave been stuck out there workin' for wages
all your natural life. An' after I set you up on your own feet, you
clear out to follow th' concern, dang it?"

"How were you a partner?" asked Sid, innocently.

"How!" his father snorted. "God bless me soul, didn't I take up th'
land!"

"In my name," said Sid. "And without consulting me," he added with a
grin.

"Didn't I borrow th' money?"

"Also in my name, and also without consulting me," said Sid.

His father spat vehemently into the grass. "Didn't I buy th' Captain
out?"

"Again on your own initiative," said Sid. "And I paid him."

"Ho! you paid him. You're th' man with th' cheque book!" said Mr.
Warri, nastily. "An' where do I come in, I'd like to know?"

"You're not in it at all, so far as I can see."

His father threatened to choke. "What do you mean, dang it!" he cried,
glaring fiercely.

"You presented me with a dead horse," said Sid, with a sly wink.

"No, I didn't!" his father denied acrimonously. "I gave you a start on
a certain definite understandin'--"

"It amounts to the same thing," said Sid.

"Same thing!" Mr. Warri sneered, turning impatiently and dropping down
on the step. "Always interruptin' an contradictin'. Never saw the like
o' such a feller. S'pose it's nothing to do with me if Joe Steel aint
paid?"

"You needn't worry about Joe Steel," said Sid, easily. "I don't suppose
you'll ever see him again after you get back to the old place."

"What old place?" sulkily.

"I've bought Kanillabar. You'd like to go back there, wouldn't you?"

"Oh, Sid! do you really mean it?" cried his mother, whilst Mr. Warri
sat looking at them with gaping mouth.

"Yes, it's ours again," said Sid." You'll be out there in about a
month, I expect."

"Oh, I am glad!" She put her hands round his neck and kissed him with
tender gratitude. "I didn't say anything before, but it nearly broke my
heart when I left Kanillabar, and I've never been happy here."

"Bought it!" Mr. Warri ejaculated, brightening up again. "When did you
buy it?"

"Last night. I called at the pub to see Keira and Rod, and by a stroke
of good luck I found the Captain there. I didn't intend to stay, but it
was too late to come down after we'd concluded our business."

"You should 'ave come an' told me," said his father. "Takes me to deal
with Captain Bryne. But, of course, I'm not consulted on anything these
times. I'm nobody. Only an old fool who knows nothing, an' who's
expected to keep in th' background an' take any bone that's chucked to
him."

Sid was unpacking his valise on the verandah and handing the contents
to his mother, who was joyously chatting the while, regardless of her
husband's complainings. The big man, who sat facing the path, glared at
them out of the corner of his eye.

"Am I talkin' to myself?" he demanded.

His wife had no ears for anything but the cheering information she was
tardily dragging from Sid.

"Howsomever," Mr. Warri continued when her chatter had ceased. "I'm not
goin' to interfere with th' management of the ranch. You can run it
your own way, an' if you run it to perdition you can't blame me. But I
don't want any la-de-da business, bear in mind. An'--see here! You'll
have no time to be leanin' agin posts an' foolin' around where it ain't
necessary. You keep on th' spot, an' trust nobody. D'yer hear?"

Receiving no answer, he peered across his shoulder, then turned slowly
round, and finally stood up and uttered an indignant grunt. Sid and his
mother had gone inside.

CHAPTER XLII.

Conclusion.

Sid was riding towards Kanillabar to complete his purchase and take
over the run, when he observed a young woman riding along a narrow flat
a mile outside the home paddock fence. She sat astride, the erect form
robed in dark grey, and a green veil floating from the felt hat that
graced the proudly poised little head. He knew at once that it was
Myee. There was nobody like her in all the back country; he had seen
none to rival her in all his wanderings. Four years ago, on the
sandhill just ahead of them, they had parted with exasperating
politeness. He had been courted himself since then. More than one
pretty lass had cast warm glances at him by the flowerful ways of the
eastern side, but always there came before him a vision of the western
girl; and amidst the sweetest arcadian scenes the west wind would steal
his thoughts and fan unfading fires that she had kindled. No longer the
laughing, careless child of the wild he was wont to gallop with; her
form had developed into graceful womanhood, her beauty ripened in
time's most generous mould.

He thrilled with expectation at the sight of the nymph-like figure. He
thought she was alone, and cantered towards her with the set purpose of
having it out with her there in the quiet bush. In reality the Captain
had deviated from that course only a few minutes before, and was riding
parallel with her just across the brow of a low ridge. Perhaps her
random fancies were with her cowboy hero, who was now owner, when she
had asked his old boss to take her with him. They had gone to a new dam
that was being finished, and were on their way home.

At the moment of recognition she turned white, and then red. She drew a
deep breath and her heart began to thump. Her first impulse was to
escape, but the reflection that the Captain would shortly be with them
gave her confidence. She smiled faintly as he drew alongside.

"How do you do, Mr. Warri?" she said in a mechanical voice. "You're
quite a stranger."

"I wasn't always a stranger," he returned, holding the hand she gave
him as if he wanted to keep it. "And I wasn't always Mr. Warri."

"You've been away a long time, and you've grown up," said Myee.

"Wasn't I grown up when you saw me last?"

"Not so much," looking at him shyly.

"But you had changed before then, Myee. You had changed when I came
back from my first trip to Yanbo. Before I went away you were a warm
little Fairy, and when I came back you were merely a frozen image of
your former self. Instead of meeting me joyfully as you used to do, you
avoided me. You never gave me a word or a look, only when common
politeness demanded it. You flirted with Gilbury--the dandy you used to
mock--"

"Excuse me, Mr. Warri, I never flirted with anybody."

"Oh, hang it, Myee! You made me positively hate him."

"I'm very sorry. I didn't know my friendliness to Mr. Marr could
concern you so much. I used to laugh at him before I knew him well, but
I have learnt to respect him since."

"Oh, you've learnt to respect Gilbury! Tell me at once that you adore
the villain."

"Don't be impertinent!" with a flash of resentment. 'Mr. Marr is
engaged to be married to Wilga Bryne."

"Is he?" cried Sid in gleeful surprise. "Then I won't say anything more
about Gilbury. . . . . Well, why did you freeze on me like you did?
What did I do?"

"You didn't do anything--only freeze. It must have been infectious."

Sid looked at her in perplexity. "I tried to have a talk with you and
you wouldn't let me," he went on after a pause. "So it's no use saying
it was my frigidity that turned you into an iceberg. I didn't force my
company on to you because you made me feel that it had become
distasteful to you. Now I want to know your reason, and you're not
going out of this paddock till you tell me."

She glanced towards the hill and laughed. "You're getting ridiculous,"
she said, fixing him with an impudent grey-blue eye. "The sun must be
affecting your head."

His hand reached out suddenly after her bridle rein; but as quickly she
dug her little heels in hard, and the horse jumped away. His jaws set
determinedly as he gathered in the slack of his own reins and cantered
after her. At this she quickened her pace. The pursuer responded and
very soon both were riding at racing speed. From the flat they swept up
a gentle slope. The home-paddock fence intersected their course on the
high level, and as they approached it Sid called out to her to pull up.
She flung back a laughing challenge, and, leaning forward, rode
straight at it. For an anxious moment Sid held his breath. Then, as she
bounded gracefully over it, he thrilled with exultation. She slackened
on the other side, laughing back at him; but he was over in a second or
two, and again she was working vigorously to get away. It was too late.
In a few lengths he was along side, and, catching her round the waist,
lifted her out of the saddle on to his own horse.

For a brief space Myee struggled for breath. She was surprised and
indignant; but there was a little undercurrent of exhilaration
engendered by the chase and a sense of conquest by a giant's strength
and mastering will. Her latent nature, the age old self that persisted
as strong as life itself, shamelessly exulted, whilst the conventional
girl vehemently protested.

"You--bushranger!" she hissed, turning a hotly-flushed profile
dangerously close to his lips. "How dare you!"

"I would dare more than that for you," he replied, holding her on the
pommel of his saddle. "I told you that you're not going home till you
answer my question."

"You told me I wasn't going out of that paddock," she corrected, her
eyes flashing. "I've got out of it, and I'm going home."

Sid pulled up. "That is my home yonder, Myee, and I want to take you to
it. When we've had a chat and cleared the atmosphere a bit, we'll be
ready to start. Shall we sit here or on the grass?"

"I'm not going to sit anywhere. Please let me down."

She tried to screw out of his grasp. He held her more tightly, while
two rebellious heels were endeavouring to move the horse on. Her fresh
beauty, enhanced by a glow of excitement, and the soft tresses against
his cheek, filled his heart with passionate longing.

"There's the captain!" she suddenly exclaimed, as a clatter of hoofs
sounded behind them. Sid looked back quickly, then whistled softly, and
urged his horse forward with a feeling of humiliation. The girl sat
submissively still in the restraining arms, a hurt and expectant look
on her pretty face.

"I hope you enjoy the position," she said crossly.

"Why didn't you tell me he was there?" said Sid, trying desperately to
think of a suitable excuse. The captain had emerged from the opposite
valley just as pursued and pursuer were getting into full swing. With a
vague notion that the latter was some desperado who meant harm to the
girl, he rode hard in their tracks. He was not necessarily going fast,
but he was doing his utmost to get a little more pace out of the heavy
animal he bestrode. He was too far behind to see the jump, but he
gained the hilltop in time to witness the capture. This put him in a
mild frenzy, and absent-mindedly he felt for the revolver he wasn't
armed with. The fence delayed him; he had to turn down to the gate,
which he opened and shut with unwonted celerity. He dashed up to the
brigand with the fire of battle in his eye which the next moment gave
place to a look of blank astonishment.

"Er--you, Sid!" he ejaculated. "Why--w--what's the matter?

"My horse bolted," said Myee, quietly and promptly. She lifted a
smiling face to the captain, who was subjecting both to a discomforting
scrutiny. An emotional wave, warm, tender, and rapturous, surged
through the miscreant on whom she had unexpectedly thrown the cloak of
a hero. Though he blushed to wear it, his finger covertly pressed her
arm in thankfulness. The captain looked incredulous.

"Bolted!" he repeated, with elevated h brows. "Well, well! I never knew
old Wallaby to do that before. What startled him?"

"Must have been my horse coming up behind him," Sid replied.

"Strange! Very strange!" said the captain, eyeing the docile quadruped
with rapt attention. "Er--couldn't you manage him, Myee?"

"Of course I could manage him, but Sid thought I couldn't, evidently."

He rode on for awhile, pulling thoughtfully at his beard.

"Thank you, Fairy," Sid whispered in her ear.

"Perhaps you'll be good enough now to put me down," she said coldly.

"You're not going to walk?" questioned Sid. "It's too far--and too
rough--for those thin shoes."

"I'm certainly not going to ride up to the house in this fashion."

To his chagrin the captain here intervened.

"You can get on behind me, Sid, and let Myee take your horse."

This they did, and as they rode along the captain inquired further
about the runaway and the gallant rescue. He went over it all again at
the tea table, embellishing their account of the incident with his own
initial impressions.

They escaped as soon as possible, and ere long they were on the lawn,
strolling aimlessly at first, and talking banalities about the weather
and the beautiful night. Her manner had changed. In the deepening dusk
her icy armour disappeared, and she was not afraid of the desperado.

They drew near to the tree that had been the silent witness of their
first affectionate meeting, and of their parting.

"Do you remember what you told me here five years ago?" asked Sid.

"Yes," she said, "but I thought you had forgotten."

"There you perplex me again," said Sid. "I am of the same mind as I was
then. I have loved you always; love you more than I can ever love
anything else in the world. You were my little sweetheart when we
parted here, and the five years that have gone since have been one long
period of misery to me. I was told that you never cared, but I wanted
to know from your own lips."

"Who told you?" she interrupted.

"Kian Hook."

"Oh!" The name was a revelation. She took hold of the lapels of his
coat, and looked up into his face. "Listen, Sid!" she said, with a
pathetic tenderness in her voice. And she related what Kian Hook had
told her; and Sid, more angry with himself than with the old mischief-
maker for having been so easily deceived, recounted what Miss Hook had
said to him.

"The wicked old cat!" cried Myee, viciously. "The spiteful old hag!"
she added with intense feeling.

The tremor in her voice and the tears in her eyes made further
discourse superfluous. They spoke to him with the tongue of angels.

Gently he drew her to him, and her hands crept along his coat collar
with a hesitancy wonderful and wistful, until, like a tired child, she
nestled at last in his strong arms; and the warm lips that clung to
his, reverently and passionately, told him more than he could have
known from all the words of speech in all the world.

And so they stood again where they had stood that other night, which
seemed so very far away, in a shrine that was sweetened with childhood
memories, and beautified with the glamour of early love. There they
found a happiness more perfect than hearts could know that had not been
seared by the brands of care. The swan song came down to them from the
starlit realms of space, and the green leaves whispered in a fragrant
wind that seemed to blow directly from some heavenly land. Indeed,

All earth now seemed of heaven a part,

For Love's divinest light lay everywhere.

_____________________________________

THE END



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