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Title: Bertha Shelley
Author: Aubrey Burnage
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BERTHA SHELLEY,

THE LILY OF THE HUNTER VALLEY!

[An Australian Story of Forty Years Ago.]

BY

WILLIAM AUBREY BURNAGE.



Published in serial form in The Newcastle Chronicle
(N.S.W.), commencing Saturday 15 May, 1875, and
In book form in 1876. (this text)





CHAPTER I.
CHAPTER II.
CHAPTER III.
CHAPTER IV.
CHAPTER V.
CHAPTER VI.
CHAPTER VII.
CHAPTER VIII.
CHAPTER IX.
CHAPTER X.
CHAPTER XI.
CHAPTER XII.
CHAPTER XIII.
CHAPTER XIV.
CHAPTER XV.
CHAPTER XVI.
CHAPTER XVII.
CHAPTER XVIII.
CHAPTER XIX.
CHAPTER XX.
CHAPTER XXI.
CHAPTER XXII.
CHAPTER XXIII.
CHAPTER XXIV.
CHAPTER XXV.
CHAPTER XXVI.
CHAPTER XXVII.
CHAPTER XXVIII.
CHAPTER XXIX.
CHAPTER XXX.
CHAPTER XXXI.
CHAPTER XXXII.
CHAPTER XXXIII.
CHAPTER XXXIV.
CHAPTER XXXV.
CHAPTER XXXVI.
CHAPTER XXXVII.
CHAPTER XXXVIII.
CHAPTER XXXIX.
CHAPTER XL.




CHAPTER I.


"Lo! 'tis a gala night
Within the lonesome latter years!
An angel throng bewinged, bedight In veils, and drowned in tears
Sit in a theatre to see
A play of hopes and fears.
While the orchestra breathes fitfully
The music of the spheres!"

—EDGAR ALLAN POE.

IT was night. No moon nor stars shed their pale beams upon the silent streets of York; and that grand old city of a thousand memories lay in placid slumber, wrapped in a mantle of thick darkness,—save here and there in some of her narrow back alleys, where taverns of questionable respectability still drove a stealthy trade in the "cup that maddens" with the abandoned wretches at their gaming tables. A cold, drizzling rain was falling; and the rude gusts of a December wind howled and moaned by turns, as they swept boisterously along through the network of streets and lanes away to the broad Atlantic. It was a night to lead the homeless poor almost to doubt the Mercy that could leave them, weary and broken-hearted, exposed to the pitiless storm with scarce a rag to cover their shivering limbs.

Along one of the narrowest and dirtiest of the back streets, a man was hurrying with rapid strides. He was so closely muffled that, had it been daylight, it would have been impossible for anyone to have recognised him. His broad-brimmed felt hat was shoved low down over his face, and a thick comforter, rolled several turns around his throat, concealed the lower part of his features. A heavy great coat enveloped him to the heels, and fitting loosely, defied recognition by his figure. It was a dangerous part of the town to be out in at such an hour; but the heavily-loaded cane, ironically called a "life-preserver," which he carried, would have warned any desperado lurking about to think twice before attacking him. Stopping before the most disreputable-looking tavern in this most disreputable street, he applied his eyes to the crevices of a shutter, through which light was streaming.

'All right,' he muttered; 'the knave and the fool are both there, waiting to be put to work. And now, my brave Sinclair, you'll rue the day, that you were mad enough to come between me and Anne Egerton.'

Shoving his hat still further down over his eyes, and burying his chin yet deeper in the folds of his woollen comforter, so as to avoid detection from any late stragglers in the bar, he knocked at the door. Being far after twelve, it was shut and locked; but giving a private watchword, he was admitted.

In the room that the traveller had taken the precaution to reconnoitre before entering the tavern, sat two men playing cards. The table was covered with a miscellaneous litter of greasy cards, brandy bottles, half-emptied glasses, and tobacco pipes; and a vacant chair at one side of the table showed that the party was not complete.

Throwing down a card, one of the players exclaimed, 'Twenty-seven and four—thirty-one, with a pair! Four holes! I'm out, Darby!'

'Yes, Bow, it's your game. But I'm hanged if I'll play another hand to-night. I wish Mr. Clayton 'ud come, It's past one now; and I want to get to roost. It's not often I crawl off to my bunk before morning; and I'd like to get to bed early to-night for a change.'

'It's deucedly wet and dark, Darby; but I 'spects he'll be here directly. I don't care about playing any more either,' he continued, throwing down the cards, 'it's slow work, playing for the honour of the thing.'

'You're about right, old man,' returned his companion, looking up. 'There's nothing like a heavy stake to give the game an interest. But it won't do 'twixt me and you, 'cause the winner 'ud only have to share it back! And if one on us got sharping, there'd likely be a row; and that's best avoided, as we've some ugly secrets to keep. Here, try these cigars—they're real Spanish. I knocked the fellow on the head as smuggled 'em; so I know they're right 'uns,' said Darby, handing Bow a cigar-case handsome and costly enough to have belonged to a peer of the realm.

'Holloa, mate! where'd you get that spicy case from?' asked Bow, helping himself to a couple.

After eyeing the cigar-cage for a few moments silently, as if weighing the propriety of answering the question, Darby suddenly burst out into a boisterous fit of laughter. Any person hearing it, and not seeing from whence it came, would have taken it for the chattering of an ape with a severe cold.

'What the devil's the matter with you, Darby! What's tickling your fancy now?' asked the other worthy, gruffly.

Disregarding the question, the facetious Darby laughed, in his peculiar way, till his whole face became as bright a crimson as his nose, and the tears fairly rolled down his unwashed cheeks in a grimy flood. After laughing till he had thoroughly exhausted himself, he gasped out, 'That cigar-case, Bow! By Jove, it was a jolly spree!' and then rolled away into another fit of merriment, by way of bringing himself round.

'What about the cigar-case, Darby?' asked the other, irritably.

'I can't see nothing to laugh at in it, 'cept you bought it. It's many a day I 'spects since you bought anything.'

As soon as the mirthful Darby had subsided into a normal condition, and his flaring nasal organ had again monopolised the crimson of his features, he began to enlighten Bow upon the secret cause of his recent ebullition of merriment.

'You remember, Bow, about two years ago, before you joined pals with me, that old Sir Humphrey Grey was found dead on the London road—shot through the head? Well, he lost this identical case that night, and he aren't likely to find it again, I reckon.'

'What, did you cook him, Darby?' asked Bow, with a shudder. 'I thought Black Jim did that job. He got lagged for it any how.'

'I never tell tales, Bow! I'm mum as a mouse when it pays! But he lost this cigar-case that night, and here it is.' Here he gave way to another paroxysm of laughter, which was soon cut short by the stranger gently opening the door, and entering the room.

Hubert Clayton took off his heavy greatcoat, hat, and comforter, and sat down to the table. He was a singularly handsome man, and a striking contrast to his two companions. He appeared to possess every trait of masculine beauty. But it was a beauty that had the unaccountable effect of causing all he came in contact with an undefined sensation of repulsion. Tall, of an elegant figure, with eyes dark and full of expression, and features almost faultless in contour; yet, withal, an indescribable something that neutralized the usual consequence of good looks—it was the beauty of the serpent—the comeliness of the beast of prey! None could look upon him without at once observing the unusual handsomeness of his person; yet few could entertain for him other sentiment than aversion. Perhaps it was his eyes that, bright as the dark orbs of woman, were nestless as the eyes of a wild cat! Perhaps it was the lips that, perfect in outline as a very 'Cupid's-Bow,' had a sinister habit of drawing tightly together, in a manner painfully suggestive of a cruel and remorseless disposition! Or, it may have been his teeth, which, when he smiled, gleamed in their glittering whiteness, like the incisors of a wolf or panther! And yet this man, from whose base and treacherous nature all recoiled by instinct, was loved, as few better men are ever loved, with a patient, changeless devotion. There was one gentle girl, whose whole soul was bound up in his existence, and who loved on in spite of every obstacle that reason could urge against him. But this lady possessed the rare quality of discretion; and though she would have cheerfully given her life's blood to turn him from his evil path, she would hold no communication with him. Under the guise of a gentleman (he was one by birth and education) he had won her heart; but, when she learnt the dreadful truth (it laid her on a sick bed for months) that he had long forfeited all claim to the name of gentleman, she steadily refused to see him again. But she loved him with even an intenser devotion than before, and still held the hope, dearer than life, of his yet reforming and becoming more worthy of her. Many offers of marriage had been made to her; but she declined them all, though some of her admirers had coronets to lay at her feet. She would marry Hubert or none. Poor Anne! It was the old old tale of misplaced affection! Pity the tyrant Cupid has such illimitable, such arbitrary power! Every effort of reason is vain, when he gives forth his mandate, as pert Titania found when she fell enamoured of Nick Bottom, the weaver, with the ass's head.

Darby Gregson, the hero of the cigar-case adventure, was a short, thick-set man, about forty years of age. There was nothing particular about him to distinguish him from the rest of his villainous species, but a pair of twinkling grey eyes, small, and deep-sunk, which, together with a very prominent and warm-coloured nose, gave him a striking resemblance to a dressed pig. He was quite a lion among the criminal class at York, having achieved more daring robberies (and, it was whispered—murders) than the greatest expert among the inhabitants of the country gaol, and without ever having been caught. He was clever enough to so arrange his plans, that if the police discovered a crime, some one else was implicated by circumstantial evidence, and often condemned; while he, the real perpetrator, sat among the crowd in court, not even suspected—unless, indeed, by some of his own class, and who, only having vague suspicions, did not dare to breathe them, fearful lest they should be the next victims of his consummate cunning.

Mister Bow, the winner at cribbage, was a young man about twenty years old, though, to judge from appearance, no one would have taken him for less than double that age. He was a tall, lank, awkward built youth, of a most comical figure. His little, spherical head was set low down between his shoulders, in a way that would be sure to occasion considerable difficulty to any but an adept in the art of adjusting the noose, should it ever be the pleasure of fate to promote himself to the top of the tree in his profession. His lower limbs, too, were decidedly excentric, and so wide apart at the knees, that, had he joined a troup of acrobats, he might have won immortal fame by leaping through them, after the manner of jumping through a hoop. What name was bestowed upon him at the baptismal font, neither he nor his friends had ever heard. Indeed, it was a question he had not yet decided whether he ever had been inside a real church. He had once, in the park, listened to a "ranter," as he irreverently called the preacher; but that was so long ago, that he could recollect nothing but having picked a little girl's pocket of her handkerchief, and sold it for a penny to buy a bit of bread. He had always gone by the name of Bow, ever since he could remember. Where he got the name, or what it was given to him for, he knew not. Some of his companions held the opinion that he was called so from the shape of his legs, while others, as positively, declared that it was from Bow-street in London, whose levees he had been in the habit of visiting almost from infancy. He had no recollection of father or mother; and was not fully satisfied that he had ever had either. Anyway, the first that he remembered of himself was being taken to Bow-street on his tenth birthday, for stealing a sausage from a cook-shop for breakfast. From that day, poor Bow had been almost a constant pensioner at the old gaol. There are many like poor Bow—men with natural good qualities enough to become useful members of society, if society had only given them a fair chance at the start. On the particular occasion in which poor Bow first tried his hand at stealing, he did so at the bidding of a hard master. He had not eaten anything for two long days, and he stole this same sausage to appease the craving of hunger. Poor child; his little heart ached almost as much at the sin he felt he was committing, as it did at his empty stomach. From that day, driven by the same hard master (what honest employment could a homeless, friendless urchin, of ten years old, hope to find in busy London?) he had sunk from one stage of crime to another, till he was here the pal and accomplice of Darby Gregson, the most desperate villain in York.

Hubert Clayton sat for a few minutes gazing into the glowing embers in deep thought. There were depths of crime, which even Bow was incapable of; and it was this fact that held Mr. Clayton in reverie. Suddenly, looking up, he said, with his soft, insinuating voice, 'Bow, will you kindly oblige me by asking the landlady for a look at the morning's Guardian—that's a good fellow?'

Bow hurried away to the bar for the paper, and as soon as he was out of hearing, Clayton leaned across the table, and asked in a whisper, 'Do you think Bow is safe, Darby? I am afraid he is too chicken-hearted for the job.'

'Safe!' returned the other villain, under his breath; 'Yes, safe as a Newgate-street-bird always is—that's unless you're going in heavy. I wouldn't trust him with the knife; but if its only swearing a bit thick, he's right. Before I've finished his edecation, he'll use the knife like a butcher; or he'll not larn as smart as my last pal did.'

Hearing the returning steps of Mr. Bow, they turned the conversation to the weather.

'Yes; its an awful wet night, Mr. Clayton—bad enough to drown all the paupers in York,' said Darby Gregson.

'Sit down, Bow, and let us settle the business we arranged for to-night,' said Clayton, to Bow, as he received the Guardian. 'Just say before I open my plans whether you will go in for it,' he continued; 'It's not too late to back out yet, but remember, six inches of cold steel under the left shoulder-blade, if either of you try to back out after I let you into my secret.'

'I'm your man,' said Darby Gregson, with energy. 'You can't have too ugly a game for me; and you, Bow—,' he continued, turning to his companion in many an "ugly game," 'You're not going to turn Methodist at this time o' day?'

'Me? I'd like to know what I'm to do fust!' replied Bow, with hesitation. Whatever little moral courage he had ever possessed, poor fellow, had been knocked out of him years and years ago, when, as a child, he had the bitter alternative of stealing or starving.

'Recollect two things, Bow. Fifty pounds hard cash, and that we're not going to use the knife; so make up your mind at once,' said Clayton, impatiently.

'All right, Mr. Clayton, I'll go in for it,' answered Bow, after a pause. His dearest wish was to get money enough to buy a donkey and cart and a small stock of the articles peddlers deal in, so that he might turn hawker, and 'live respectable-like.' He often had a twinge of conscience at his nefarious mode of existence, and had several times peeped through the door of a Methodist meeting-house—he had never dared to approach a church; it seemed far too grand for penniless sinners. But his vile companions had jeered and laughed him out of it. Pity that the "Servants of 'the King" do not go more out into the highways and hedges to bring in guests for the feast. And ye, Pharisees, who gather up your garments around you, as if fearful of touching even the hem of the contaminating garments of such as poor Bow, and exclaim, in your egotistical sell-righteousness, 'I thank thee, O Lord, that I am not as this man!' what have ye to show that, with his training, ye would even approached the door of a house of prayer? That ye would not have sank to the knees in moral pollution, where he is but over his boots? Or that, had he had your opportunities, he would not have far outstripped you in all but your hard-heartedness and hypocrisy? When the day of judgment comes, ye may find to your cost, that many such, judged by the law of their own hearts, fallen and corrupt though they be, shall stand in better plight than ye, who had the law and kept it not but in empty and and outward show.'

'I'll go in for it,' Bow reiterated, 'if there's no murder in it!'

'Its settled upon then,' said Clayton, taking some papers out of his breast pocket, 'and now to business. You, Darby, are a clever pensman, just copy this signature upon this cheque.'

'Yes, I'm pretty smart with the goose quill; and I need be, as its about all I ever learned at school!' said Gregson, taking the papers. 'John Greville?' he asked, looking at the signature. 'Who's he?'

'Sir John Greville, of Farleigh Hall, near Cambridge,' returned Clayton.

With the dexterity of an adept, Darby Gregson copied the name, and so perfect a copy was it, that Sir John himself would have hesitated before swearing that he did not write them both.

'Now, I want this forgery fastened upon Mr. Sinclair. You know, Percy Sinclair, of Elmsdale?'

'Yes,' answered Darby, nibbling his pen.

'This is my plan. He will be home from college in a few days, and I have learnt that he wants to buy a horse. Now, I will give you my brown cob—it will just suit him—and you must manage to sell it to him. Don't stick at a price, but let him have it at any reasonable figure. This cheque has not the amount filled in, so you must put down in it whatever you get for the horse, and then take it to the bank. Express a doubt as to the genuineness of the signature, and refuse to take the change unless they guarantee it to be no forgery. They will find out the forgery quick enough; and then you must swear that you received the cheque from Sinclair, in payment for the horse.'

'Capital!' cried Gregson, with enthusiasm, delighted at the depth of the villainous scheme. 'Really, Mr. Clayton, you lick me holler; I can't hold a candle to you after this!'

'The amount of the cheque tallying exactly with the price of the horse, and Sinclair's just coming from Cambridge, where Sir John Greville lives, will be evidence enough to transport a parson,' continued Clayton. 'You share whatever you get for the horse between you two.'

'I don't half like the job, Mr. Clayton,' said Bow, 'but——'

'There's no buts in it!' roared Darby. 'You're a chicken-hearted sneak if you want to back out now.'

'Its too late now to think of consequences,' said Clayton, with one of the repulsive smiles that most exhibited his glittering, pointed teeth; and drawing a cruel-looking glass dagger, he continued, 'This for anyone who breaks faith with me.'

'You must have a queer grudge against Mr. Sinclair,' said Darby, 'What's it for?'

'I hate him! that's enough for you,' answered Clayton, savagely.

'No, but it isn't enough,' replied Darby, decisively. 'We've agreed to do the job, and we'll do it; but we must know why. Mustn't we Bow?'

'Yes,' said Bow, in a more determined tone than he usually spoke in.

'I'm a bit curious, Mr. Clayton, but you needn't be afraid of me or Bow blabbing; we're as mum as moles when it pays.'

'Well, then, if you must know,' Clayton answered, in no very pleasant tone, 'he prevented me from marrying his cousin, Anne Egerton, by his cursed interference. He didn't want her himself, and he wouldn't let me have her.'

'How?' asked Darby, eagerly.

'I have told you all I will!' returned Clayton, with ill suppressed anger. 'I don't like talking about such matters.'

'If you wan't Bow and me to go in for the job, you must tell us all about it!' declared Darby.

'Curse you for a pair of inquisitive magpies!' he exclaimed, with an expletive or two it is best to leave out. 'He heard something about that affair at Ascott, and told her about it!'

'Didn't want a card-sharper, etc., etc., in the family. Ha, ha, ha!' laughed Darby.

'Come, a truce to this fooling, or we may quarrel; and that's hardly worth while under the circumstance!' said Clayton, rising. 'I made a good haul at Epsom last week; and I will give you another hundred between you, the day he is lagged!'

The plot laid to his satisfaction, the arch villain left the tavern, and returned through the drizzling rain to his lodgings; and Bow and Darby, after drinking success to the scheme in another glass of brandy, laid down upon the floor and were soon asleep.


CHAPTER II.


"What power is there like love! One gentle word
Or tender glance more potent is to soothe
The raffled brow, by anger overcast,
Than all the bitter might of stern reproof!"

—BEAUMONT AND FLETCHER.

A week after Clayton and his villainous companions had laid their plans to fasten the terrible crime of forgery upon Mr. Percy Sinclair, that gentleman and a friend were riding together, homeward bound from Cambridge. It was night, but far different from the dismal, rainy night that Clayton had repaired to his rendezvous with Darby Gregson and Bow. Through the clear frosty air the stars sparkled like living diamonds; and the broad bosom of the earth was shrouded in a robe of spotless white; while the bare limbs of the trees, and roofs of the farm-houses, were covered with the feathery snow flakes. They were trotting briskly; but, reaching a rough part of the road, they drew rein, and, as they walked their horses carefully over the ruts made by the late rains, resumed the conversation that had been interrupted by the rapid pace they had been travelling at.

'You were saying, Sinclair, that you thought of entering the church. Now, I think that a man with your powers should choose the legal profession. There are dolts enough for clergymen, without the pulpit monopolising all the talent of the country!' said George Darrell, a college friend of Mr. Sinclair's.

'I differ with you, Darrell. I think there is no-more honorable use to put the talent you are pleased to credit me with than to the service of heaven! You appear to me to hold strangely inconsistent views upon this subject. Now, if you admit the truth of eternal punishment and reward, you must concede the necessity of having those, whose privilege it is to preach salvation, men able as well as willing to fulfil their sacred office with success. And if you deny our theology, why have the clergy at all? No, Darrell, the cause of our church being so lukewarm and paralysed is the presence of so many incapable in our pulpits.'

'Hem! Be that as it may, I think the country needs clever statesmen quite as much as able preachers, and as I believe you possess, in a high degree, the powers necessary, you will see why I endeavour to dissuade you from entering holy orders. A good man needs little more than a mediocrity of brains to become a good clergyman, or even a bishop; but a great statesman—and our country is sorely in need of such just now—must possess mental endowments of a far higher order.'

'I will allow, Darrell, that a Pitt or a Fox requires to be a far cleverer man, as the world counts cleverness, than is indispensable to the clerical profession; but I am not vain enough to suppose that I possess the stupendous intellects of such men; and I think I cannot better employ the little tallent I do possess than in preaching the way of salvation to my fellow sinners.'

'You may be right, Sinclair, as you usually are, but I confess I fail to see the necessity of your burying yourself in a curacy, when there are so many as well adapted for the surplice as you are, and so few, as well fitted to shine at the bar, or in the senate.'

'Well, Darrell, we will have a further conversation upon this subject another time. Our roads diverge here. I turn aside to Elmsdale, and I suppose you ride on into York.'

'Yes; I want to get home as soon as possible. My father's health is very precarious; and I fear from my sister Ada's last letter, he is not long for this vale of tears—as you persons call it.'

'I trust your forebodings of evil lack foundation Darrell. You will come and spend a week with us if possible? We have splendid shooting at Elmsdale,' said Sinclair, as he turned his horse's head to a narrow path that left the high road.

'If I possibly can. But can't you take a ride out?' asked Darrell, reining up.

'I have to go to York to-morrow to buy a horse, as old Marlborough is broken down; and I will call on you; but I shall not be able to spare more than a couple of hours, as I am reading hard,' answered Sinclair.

'Don't read too hard, my friend! With all your preaching predilection, you seem to think enough of the things of this world to strive hard for the highest honors Alma Mater has to bestow.'

'Well, its cold sitting here; so, till next we meet, adieu,' returned Sinclair, laughing.

'Au revoir!' exclaimed Darrell; and, putting spurs to his fiery, blood horse, was soon out of sight.

Sinclair loosened his rein, and old Marlborough, needing no urging, was soon trotting briskly, despite his being broken down.

In Elmsdale House, on this same winter's night, the bright, scarlet curtains were drawn closely over the windows to keep out the hard, freezing air, and upon the hearth a huge fire of logs was roaring and crackling merrily, and shedding a warm, ruddy light around the room. The candles were not vet lighted, although it was nearly nine o'clock. Little did the family circle, sitting round the fire in this cosy room, know of the biting frost, or the keen cutting wind without; except, indeed, by the latter's ceaseless moaning and whistling, as it strove pertinaciously to enter through the crevices and keyholes.

The party round the fire was not a large one. Mr. Sinclair, a retired physician, sat in an armchair on one side of the fireplace. He was a white-haired, benevolent-looking, old gentleman, whose genial kindness, almost as much as his skill, had made him a universal favourite with his patients. Opposite to him sat his wife—her husband's equal in every good and genial quality of heart. She was busily engaged by the flickering light of the fire in knitting a pair of woollen socks for "the boy," as she fondly called her only son. Percy had never worn a pair that she had not made, and never should while she had willing fingers, and a heart overflowing with maternal love. Before the fire sat the young lady of about eighteen summers. There is no need to speak of her gentleness and kindness of disposition. That was proved by the loving way the little people crowded around her; and the beauty of her character was reflected vividly upon her sweet and delicate features. Leaning upon the back of her chair, stood Florence, a bright little damsel of fourteen; and Maud, the pet and plaything of all, lay cosily nestled upon her lap; while Alice knelt at her feet.

'O, cousin Anne, do tell us a tale!' asked Alice, fixing her large blue eyes upon the young lady's face.

'O yes, yes, do!' exclaimed Florence, delightedly.

'Tell Maudie petty tale; do, tousin Anne.'

Cousin Anne answered the little pet by imprinting a kiss upon its fat, dimpled cheeks, and the affectionate little creature twined its tiny arms about her neck, and hid its laughing face among her flowing tresses.

It was a picture of calm, domestic happiness—that scene around the bright December fire—one could never grow tired of gazing upon; one that would tempt any bachelor to cast away the miserable misnomer, called 'single blessedness,' and embark upon the sea of matrimony.

'Well, Maudie dear, what shall it be?' asked the sweetest voice (save one) that I ever heard.

'O, puth in booths, tousin Anne!' cried the little thing, delighted at the idea of being allowed the honour of choosing.

'O, no, Maudie,' said Alice. 'We've heard that so often! Tell us a new one, cousin.'

'A new one, dear?' asked the young lady, smiling.

'Ess, tousin Anne, about 'Hey diddle diddle.''

The novelty of 'Hey diddle diddle' set the children laughing; and after their merriment had subsided, and they had wiped away the tears that trickled down their young cheeks, cousin Anne commenced the promised tale, in the orthodox fashion of—

'Once upon a time, a very long while age, there lived in a large forest an old deer and her two young fawns. Little deers are called fawns, you know.'

'Ittle dears like Allie and me, tousin Anne?' interrupted brighteyes, looking up.

'No, birdie. Little deer with four legs.'

'Like little lambs, aren't they?' asked Alice.

'Yes, dear. Well, the old doe and her two fawns lived in this beautiful forest. There were such large oak trees, with wide-spreading branches, and on the ground there were such soft, green grass and lovely flowers, all growing wild. Little violets, and bluebells, and yellow primroses and cowslips; and there were dear little white daisies, and large red poppies, and lots more, too many for me to tell, it would take so long.'

'All night, eh, tousin Anne?' asked bright eyes, again.

'Yes, darling—to tell you all of them.'

'O, don't tell all, tousin Annie. Maudie want to seep by-bye.'

'Don't talk, Maudie dear; you interrupt,' said Alice, gently stroking her baby sister's silky hair.

'And there was a clear, pebbly brook winding its way between the green, flowery banks. The brook used to sing all day and all night to the little fawns; and the dear little birds used to sing to—oh, so sweetly. There were thrushes, and blackbirds, and larks, and pretty little goldfinches.'

'And 'ittle dicky-birdies too, tousin Anne?'

'Yes, pet. And the busy bees used to hum so merrily; while they were gathering their honey; and the bright yellow butterflies used to fly about among the long grass in the warm sunshine. Sometime the little fawns would chase them; and then they would fly a little way to a pretty flower, and stand tiptoe on it, till the fawns would nearly catch them, and then away they would fly again!'

'Oh, what fun,' exclaimed Alice, clapping her hands excitedly.

'The little fawns like to live in this beautiful forest, where the grass was so green and soft; and they thought it was the most beautiful place in the world. But one day the mother deer saw a large, fierce wolf prowling about, and she was frightened that he wanted to kill her two dear little fawns; and so, while the little things would be scampering about, she would stand upon a big rock and watch for the wolf.'

'But, cousin, why would the wicked wolf want to kill the harmless little fawns!' asked Alice.

'To eat them, Alice,' replied Cousin Anne.

'Maudie, eat wolf!' exclaimed birdie, sitting up—her eyes glowing with sympathy for the poor fawns.

'Oh, don't talk, Maudie!' exclaimed Florence, impatiently. 'You keep interrupting.'

'Speak gently to little sister, Flo.,' said her mother, looking up from her knitting.

As answer, Flo. stooped over the talkative little puss, and, kissing her, whispered, 'Don't talk any more, that's a dear.'

'One day,' continued cousin Annie, 'when she was watching, she saw the wolf stealing along, and it came up close to the little fawns; but they didn't see it. Then the mother called them to run to her as fast as they could; but they wouldn't, and pretended they did hear.'

'What naughty 'ittle tings!' cried the irrepressible Maudie.

Flo. put her finger on birdie's lips reprovingly, 'Oh, don't talk any more, Maudie!'

'Then the mother deer——'

'O, if here isn't Percy!' cried Florence, rushing into her brother's arms, as he stood in the entrance of the half-open door.


CHAPTER III.


There's a divinity that shapes our ends,
Rough hew them as we will.

—SHAKSPEARE.

Directly after breakfast, next morning, Percy Sinclair saddled Marlborough and rode into York to look about for a successor to his old friend. It was upon Marlborough that he had received his first riding lessons, and the old horse had served him faithfully for so long, that he had now fairly earned his pension. A false step the night before, which nearly resulted in a fall, urged his master to superannuate him at once, though, with care, there was plenty of work in him yet. Percy Sinclair was so absorbed in 'reading up,' that he could not rest till he removed all excuse for leaving his studies, and so lost no time in setting forth on his horse dealing expedition. He had barely ridden half-way, when he met a rough-looking man, mounted upon a beautiful brown cob. He drew rein and gazed upon it with admiration. It was a deep-chested animal, with a magnificent barrel, and a splendid set of legs. It came along proudly champing its bit, and prancing (the rider was touching it with the further spur); and with its arched neck, and fiery, glancing eyes, was a grand looking horse. As the rider came abreast of Percy Sinclair, he reined in, and, wheeling the cob half round, said, 'There, Mr. Sinclair! Don't see a piece of horseflesh like this every day.'

'He is a splendid animal, certainly. Will you sell him?' Percy inquired, as he recognised in the speaker the notorious Darby Gregson.

'What do you think he's worth?' asked the cautious Darby, in reply. He intended wringing as much as he could from his victim, though he was not to 'stick at a price.'

'That is not for me to say!' returned Percy Sinclair. 'What is it you want for him? Name your figure, and if it is not too high, I may purchase him. I want another horse.'

'Yes; I know. I was bringing him out to Elmsdale to show him to you.'

'Indeed! Why, I only returned home last night.'

'I know; I saw Mr. George Darrell at the Royal Hotel this morning; and I heard him telling Mr. Werning about your old chestnut stumbling yesterday. He said you wanted a new one.'

'Yes. The old fellow is getting rather shaky now.'

'Well, what do you say to half a century?' said Darby, half inclined to ask for a whole one.

'Fifty pounds! Yes, I will give you that for him, if he is as sound as he looks!' Sinclair replied.

'Curse it! he'd have given the hundred, if I had only asked,' muttered Darby savagely. His avarice was whetted by the readiness with which Sinclair agreed to the price. 'Don't you think he's worth seventy-five?'

'To be candid with you; if he is as good as he looks, he ought to be worth a hundred guineas,' replied Sinclair; 'but with me, it is not so much what he is worth, as what I can afford to give. Will you take the fifty; I can give no more.'

'You are going into York? asked Darby, who could not sell without Bow being by to witness.

'Yes!'

'Well, he is not mine; he belongs to my mate. But he wants to sell him; and if you will go with me, I dare say he'll take fifty; though it really isn't enough.

Disregarding the last suggestion, Sinclair replied, 'Thank you, I will see your mate; and if you have no objection to changing horses, I will try his on the way.'

Darby raising none, they changed; and the cob acquitted himself so well that Sinclair felt half inclined to give the other twenty-five that Darby had asked for; but recollecting several expensive books he required, he decided to buy a commoner horse, if he could not get him for the fifty.

Bow was wailing for them at a livery stable in one of the back streets.

'Mr. Sinclair 'll give fifty for the cob, Bow, and I think you had better take it,' said Darby to his companion, as he dismounted from Marlborough.

'He can have him at that,' answered Bow, in a husky voice.

Darby Gregson looked at his mate with a frown, and said significantly, 'You'd better go over to Turner's and get a glass of brandy. This cold weather's too much for your nerves. Just go and warm 'em up a bit!'

Bow hurried off as if glad to be released. He looked more like a culprit going to his own funeral, or a lovelorn swain at a rival's wedding, than the thriving horse-dealer Darby had introduced him to Sinclair as. He had not been himself since the night of the conspiracy. He had undertaken work that his heart was not in; and conscience, that still small voice that will be heard, was making him very uncomfortable.

After the sale was effected, and Darby Gregson with his usual cunning had contrived to let all the idlers about the stables understand that Mr. Sinclair was the purchaser of the splendid brown cob at the door, they went across the street to Turner's Weaver's Arms, to settle and give a receipt. A couple of betting-men were at the door; one of them recognised Clayton's horse. 'Holloa, Gregson,' he exclaimed, 'What are you doing with the Captain?'

'O, Clayton sold him to my mate, Bow; and he has just sold him again to Mr. Sinclair, here, for fifty notes. Dirt cheap, isn't it?' answered Darby.

'Has the cob foundered, or what's wrong with him?' the betting man asked with a significant leer.

'Nothing. He's sound as a bell,' returned Darby, grinning.

The betting man shrugged his shoulders incredulously, and Darby Gregson followed Sinclair into the parlor. Bow was already there, and held in his hand the five ten-pound notes that Sinclair had just given him. Darby Gregson wrote out a receipt, as Sinclair was impatient to get away; and the pretended horse-dealer signed it with a cross. Wishing the villains good day, Percy Sinclair left the parlor; and, sending Marlborough back to Elmsdale by the ostler, he mounted 'Whirlwind,' as he called his new horse, and rode on to pay his promised flying visit to George Darrell, little dreaming of the terrible storm that was brewing. It must have been some strange presentiment of impending trouble, that led him to give his horse so ominous a name. An awful whirlwind was about to burst on his devoted head.

As soon as Mr. Sinclair left the room, Darby Gregson filled in the cheque with the amount received for the horse, and then rang for drinks. As the bar-maid entered, the cheque slipped from his fingers, and fluttered away under the table. He stooped down and searched for it with great diligence, but in an opposite direction, and the girl picked it up and handed it to him.

'Ah! thank you, Dora!' he said, with a grin, intended for a smile; and taking the paper from her, asked if she didn't think the signature a strange one.

'John Greville! Yes, it is a curious scrawl—the G's more like an E,' she said, carelessly. 'What shall I bring you?'

'Dark brandy! And you, Bow?'

Bow shook himself up from his brown study, and jerked out 'Gin,' and then relapsed again. Poor Bow, he would have given his life to undo the work of the last ten minutes; but had not the courage to inform against Clayton and Gregson.

After swallowing the spirits, the pair went into the bar; and Darby offered the cheque to the publican to take out the price of their drinks.

'Fifty pounds! No, I haven't it by me! John Greville, who's he? I don't know the name,' said Mr. Turner, as he drew a pint of half-and-half for a thirsty mason.

'I don't know the man; but the cheque's right enough. I got it from Mr. Percy Sinclair just now, for the horse I sold him,' Darby said.

'I dare say it's safe; but I haven't the change,' returned the publican.

Darby's infamous purpose being served, he pocketed the cheque, and paid in silver for the drinks, and then, followed by the miserable Bow, left the hotel.

As soon as they were in the street, Darby proposed taking the cheque to the bank at once to get it off their hands; so they repaired to the Bank of Yorkshire, and presented it for payment. As if fate was party to the atrocious conspiracy, Mr. Inspector Barlow, of the York detective force, stepped in just after them.

'I want this cheque cashed,' said Gregson to the cashier. He felt rather confused, despite his bombast, for he felt the Inspector's eyes to be upon him, as a cat's upon its anticipated prey. Many a time the Inspector had run him close; but hitherto, by his cunning stratagems, Darby had foiled him.

The cashier glanced at the cheque. John Greville! This is a Cambridge cheque, I see. There will be a discount to deduct; and you must endorse it,' he said, regarding Darby and his queer-looking companion with suspicion.

'Ah! that reminds me! I offered the cheque just now to one of my tradesmen to take a small account out; and the man (he comes from Cambridge) says the name is a forgery. Now, if it is, I am not going to endorse it. Am I?'

At the mention of forgery, Mr. Inspector Barlow pricked up his official ears, and listened attentively, though he was just then very busy searching the "Wanteds" in the mornings Guardian.

'If you have anything about with his signature on, you might compare them;' suggested Darby, who was anxious to get away out of the inspector's sight as soon as possible.

'A cheque of Sir John's was passed through this bank yesterday,' said the cashier, after a moment's reflection. 'We can soon see if this one is genuine,' saying which he went in search of it.

'Where did you get that cheque from?' asked Mr. Inspector Barlow, authoritatively, as he took out his memorandum book.

Bow hung down his head, self-condemned; but Darby replied with the lie he had new repeated at least a dozen times in the last hour, 'From young Mr. Sinclair, of Elmsdale.'

'What business transactions had you with Mr. Sinclair?' pursued the inspector, as he jotted the information down.

'I sold him a horse this morning,' returned Darby, quailing beneath the piercing eyes of his old enemy.

Here the cashier returned with a genuine cheque. After a careful study of the two signatures be called the inspector, and said, 'Mr. Barlow, just look here a moment; this is as clever a forgery as I ever saw!'

The inspector examined the cheques attentively for a few seconds. 'Yes, Mr. Ingram, it is a forgery; and a clever one!'

'Not so clever, but there is a blunder in it,' replied the cashier, looking at the names through a pocket microscope. 'See, Sir John's second initial is L—Lionel, I think—and in joining the last letter of John to the surname he makes a minute capital L in the hairline. There is only a curve in the forged signature.'

'You are right!' exclaimed Mr. Barlow, admiringly. 'Pity you never joined the force. You would have made a good detective.'

'Here, Mr. Barlow, this is more your business than mine; you will know best what to do with it,' said the cashier, handing the cheque to the inspector.

'Yes, I think I can work up a case!' the officer replied. 'And now what about these men?'

'Well, I think the best thing you can do, sir, is to go back to the "Weaver's Arms" with me and Bow, and old Joe Turner and the barmaid can prove who paid it to me,' said Darby.

Mr. Barlow scratched his head very deliberately for a couple of minutes, and then, saying, 'Just wait here for a moment,' darted out into the street, and across to the barracks, from whence he returned almost immediately with a brand-new policeman.

'Murphy, stay with these two gentlemen till I come back; I shall be back in half an hour!' said the Inspector, and then darted off again.

Mr. Murphy, alive to the great responsibility of his position, planted himself firmly by the wall close to the opening of the door, from which situation he eyed his prisoners, much as a cat would a mouse, always seeming to be looking somewhere else, yet ready to pounce upon them if the least attempt was made to escape. After a professional survey of his charge, out of the corners of his eyes, Mr. Murphy decided that Bow, whose face was pale as pipeclay, and whose whole appearance exhibited symptoms of remorse, was the one that would swing, Mr. Darby Gregson being only 'accomplish.' Mr. Murphy, having been in the force only about a fortnight, formed very decided opinions, and prided himself upon being able to see through a prisoner 'like a lamplighter.' In what particular way the simile of the lamplighter was used I am not in a position to say. Probably Mr. Murphy's meaning had reference to the traditionary expedition of that remarkable biped. With a withering glance at poor Bow, and a grave shake of his judicial head, Mr. Murphy muttered, 'Yer jist up for infanticide or bigamy, ye spalpeen, as sure as I'm one of his Majesty's officers of the pace! Ah! yer don't think it p'r'aps, but I can see through yer jist like a lamplighter.'

Altogether unconscious of being seen through like a lamplighter, poor Bow stood in the farthest corner of the room, diligently counting the flooring boards within view, while Darby Gregson spent the time chatting loquaciously with the various customers that passed in and out of the bank. In half an hour Mr. Inspector Barlow returned. 'The people at the 'Weavers' Arms' corroborate your statement about your receiving the cheque from young Mr. Sinclair for the horse,' he said, addressing Darby. 'I daresay some one else passed it into his hands; but the next step is to see him and learn where he got it!'

'You don't want me or Bow any longer?' asked Darby, anxiously. He was alarmed lest Bow should turn informer.

'Murphy, go to the station and tell Sergeant Hawkins to meet me at the corner of the Haymarket in an hour; he is to be mounted, and to bring my horse with him.'

'Yes, sir,' answered Mr. Murphy, in his deep-toned, professional voice.

'In plain clothes, tell him!' Mr. Barlow called after the expeditious Murphy, who was already out on the pavement.

'And now, Mr. Gregson, I don't think I shall need the attendance of either yourself or your mate any farther to day.'

'Will you take down our address?' asked Darby.

'O, no; not at all necessary, my dear fellow. We will keep our eyes upon you, never fear. We'll catch you quick enough when we want you.'

Rather disconcerted by the abrupt manner of the inspector, Darby called on Bow to follow, and the pair slunk off, leaving that gentleman in earnest conversation with the bank officials, about an embezzlement that had been lately discovered in the bank accounts.


CHAPTER IV.


The quality of mercy is not strained;
It droppeth as the gentle rain from Heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice bless'd—
It blesseth him that gives, and him that takes;
'Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown!

—SHAKESPEARE.

While Percy was riding into York to make his new purchase, Dr. Sinclair was out in his gig, visiting among the neighbouring poor. Since he had given over active practice, he had taken the indigent portion of the community around Elmsdale entirely under his own charge, thus relieving poorer professional men of the burden such a class of patients invariably are. He spent his leisure hours in prescribing gratuitously for all the poor within five miles of home; and while on his daily rounds, distributing medicine and advice, he was often enabled to alleviate much distress attributable solely to absolute destitution.

Mrs. Sinclair and the housekeeper were in the breakfast-room, making arrangements for the approaching Christmas holidays, and the little people were with the governess, at morning lessons.

'What, Anne, going out?' asked Mrs. Sinclair, as Miss Egerton entered the apartment, dressed for walking.

'Yes, aunt; I am going down to the Oaks to see Ella Blake. Her mother has just sent me word she is worse.'

'Poor child; I don't think she will last long,' the old lady said, with sympathy.

'Will you tell uncle of the change directly he comes in?' Anne asked.

'Yes dear. And, Mrs. Butler, send James down with some more wine and jellies, she must have finished the last by this time,' Mrs. Sinclair said, turning to the housekeeper.

'I shall be back in an hour, I think, aunt; but if the poor girl is very much worse, I may stay longer; so you must not be uneasy if I am not back to lunch,' said Anne, as she passed out on her errand of love.

Miss Egerton was an able seconder of her uncle's practical benevolence; and there was not a sick-room among the poor for miles about where her gentle ministering had not assisted as much as her uncle's physic in restoring the invalids.

What pleasure is greater than that of labouring for the good of others—of contributing to the happiness or need of the weak or unfortunate? There is no joy to compare with it in the whole round of the life of a purely selfish person. The heart that can feel for the sorrows of others and delight in alleviating their distress, is susceptible of a variety of pleasurable emotions the unsympathetic are strangers to. Beyond the consciousness of having done right, the delight of making others happy is in itself a happiness far deeper and more lasting than any pleasure within the grasp of the churl, who lives for himself alone.

It was a far more beautiful morning than we in this sun-browned southern world may ever hope to see. Nature had on her winter robe of white and blue. The snow sparkled and glistened in its dazzling purity, and the azure concave above shone like a vast inverted sea. It was studded here and there with little fleecy clouds, that looked wondrous, like snow-clad isles in that far-off illimitable ocean of blue. Miss Egerton, though her soul was in full sympathy with the beauties of Nature, gave no heed to the scene, but hurried on, her thoughts intent upon the youthful sufferer she knew was anxiously expecting her. A quarter of an hour's brisk walk over the snow brought her to the Oaks, a farm of her uncle's, tenanted by Mr. Blake. The mother of her patient met her at the porch.

'Oh! Miss Egerton, Ella is so much worse to-day; and she has been asking for you all the morning!'

'I am very sorry to hear it, Mrs. Blake! I hope she will soon rally again,' replied Anne, hopefully.

'I am afraid she never will get better any more!' answered the mother, sadly. 'She has been ailing for more than a year now. She seemed to take a change for the worse last night, and she has been getting lower ever since!'

'Poor Ella! Is she in much pain, Mrs. Blake?'

'She was a while back; but I think it's more languor now,' replied Mrs. Blake, as she led the way through the front room, with its quaint diamond-panel windows and sanded floor, to the bedroom beyond.

Upon a small bed by the window, lay the wasted form of a young girl in the last stages of consumption. The fell work of that mocking disease which so well counterfeits the flush of health, was almost complete.—The bud was nearly blasted: the tender stem all but cut through! Ella lay weak and helpless upon the bed; her eyes closed, and her long, dark hair shadowing her clear, pale brow, and making the transparent whiteness of her skin the more startling by the abrupt contrast! With what an ethereal loveliness this disease clothes its victims! It would seem as though a bodily preparation for the sphere of eternal beauty had commenced on earth!

'Ella dear,' Anne said, softly, as she stooped over the invalid, and kissed her cold brow, 'How do you feel to-day?'

The sufferer opened her large, liquid eyes, and, smiling faintly, answered in a tone so low, that Anne had to put her ear close to the invalid's mouth to catch her feeble whisper. 'I don't think I shall live long now, Miss Egerton. Do read one of the beautiful chapters we used to learn at Sunday school! That one about Charity, in the first Corinthians!' Anne took out her pocket Bible, and turned to this really beautiful description of 'Heaven-born Charity,' and read it in a clear, subdued voice. Then she talked to Ella of heaven, in a way that roused the girl's drooping heart, and made her cling yet closer to the promises that never fail.

Presently, Dr. Sinclair came in to see his gentle patient. 'Well, Ella,' he said, kindly stroking her long hair. 'Have you been silly enough to get worse again, after all my physic?'

She replied by a feeble, languid smile, and a glance full of gratitude from her large, lustrous eyes.

'Anne, you have been talking too much to Ella this morning. She is too weak to bear it;' Dr. Sinclair said, noticing the girl's flushed face.

'Good-bye, dear! I will come and see you again to-morrow!' said Anne, rising at the hint.

Dr. Sinclair left some medicine for his patient; and then took his niece with him in the gig, and drove home. Percy was back by one o'clock; and after lunch he and Anne went round to the stables to see his new horse. She admired the beautiful creature exceedingly; but Percy was restless, and proposed a walk in the park; so they soon left Whirlwind to his oats and his own meditations.

'I say, coz., do you believe in presentiments?' Percy asked, rather abruptly.

'No, Percy! Why?'

'Oh, never mind, coz.! I'm as superstitious as an old woman to-day; but let us talk of something else.'

They sat down upon a seat under the bare limbs of a young elm, and talked of many things else—of what had happened at home during Percy's last term at Cambridge, and of all the troubles and triumphs he had undergone during that period. Then Anne surprised him by asking whether he had seen Hubert Clayton during his ride into York.

'No, Anne, I did not! May I enquire why you ask!'

'Poor fellow, I hear he is going down hill faster than ever now! Mr. Fairfax told me yesterday he is getting so notorious, that even the betting men and gamblers shun him. I wonder whether anything can ever be done to reclaim him!'

'There is only one thing that can soften or humanize Mr. Clayton. If he is ever fortunate enough to meet with some serious accident, that will confine him to his bed for months, he may be led to see his errors. Sickness is the only reformer for such as he! And I am afraid, that unless he died, while melted and humbled by adversity, he would relapse again into his former vicious habits!'

'Poor Hubert,' said Anne, with tears in her eyes. 'Does it not seem strange that one with so many advantages over others, should be so utterly lost to every instinct for good!'

'I wish, Anne, that you could overcome this unfortunate preference for one so thoroughly unworthy of you! If there was any prospect of his changing I would not be so anxious for you!'

'I can never change, Percy. When I thought him all goodness and honour, I promised to be faithful until death; and I could not change my heart even were I willing to break my word. The purposes of the Lord are deep and His power infinite. Who can tell that He may not, in His own good time, melt Hubert's heart and change his disposition?'

'Pardon our interruption, Mr. Sinclair; can you grant my friend and I ten minutes, private interview?'

Percy and Anne turned round at the sound of the voice, and saw two strange gentlemen standing before them.

'Certainly, sir; but would it not have been better to have called at the house and left the servants to inform me of your request?' Percy said, with rather more hauteur than an aspirant for pulpit fame should have exhibited.

'We saw you from the gate,' said the stranger, without noticing Mr. Sinclair's anger, 'and when we explain our business you will see the reason we wished to speak with you before entering the house.'

'You speak in enigmas!' returned Percy. 'Anne,' he continued, 'You had better go in; and I will speak with these gentlemen here, as they wish it.'

Miss Egerton went home, wondering at the strange manner of her cousin's visitors. Directly she was out of hearing Mr. Inspector Barlow opened the conversation by saying, 'I have called to make some enquiries about a cheque that passed through your hands lately. It is a forgery; and I want you to tell me the name of the person you received it from, together with all other information you can furnish, me with concerning it.'

'A cheque? I do not understand you!'

'We do not for a moment wish to link your name with it, beyond its having passed through your hands. The cheque is a forgery, and it has been traced to you. What we want is the clue that will carry us on to the actual culprit.'

'A forgery; and traced to me? I do not understand you!'

'Mr. Sinclair, are you mad? If you deny having had the cheque in your possession, what conclusion can I come to but that the crime is at your door? As you value your liberty, give us the information we require, and let us go. Recollect, we have no idea of your being complicated.'

Percy Sinclair stood for a few moments perfectly bewildered. Recovering himself, he said, 'There is certainly some mistake! Come with me into the house, my father may be able to explain the mystery; I only returned from Cambridge yesterday.'

'Stay a moment! The forgery was most probably committed there; for it is the cheque of Sir John Greville's you paid Darby Gregson for a horse with, that has been forged.'

'I? I paid him in ten-pound notes. He will tell you so.'

'He tells a very different story; and both his mate and the people at the 'Weavers' Arms' say they saw the cheque with you.'

'This is getting serious,' said Percy Sinclair, more and more puzzled. 'I assure you, I paid him in ten-pound notes.'

'Have you the numbers?'

'No; I very seldom trouble to take them down.'

Did you get the notes at the bank? If so, and you remember the date, we may get the numbers there,' said Mr. Barlow, anxiously. He was beginning to think Mr. Sinclair knew more than he chose to tell.

'No; my father gives me a quarterly allowance, and I put into my desk what I do not use. I could not say to six months when I received any particular note, or to what quarter's savings it belonged.'

'You have nothing then but your bare word to support this assertion about the notes?' Mr. Barlow asked, impatiently.

'Nothing; as I never dreamt that I should ever need anything.'

'Hem,' said Mr. Barlow, thoughtfully. He turned to his companion, and they held a conversation apart for a few minutes. Turning to Percy Sinclair again, Mr. Barlow said, 'I am sorry to say, that unless you can give me the name of the person you received this cheque from, it will be my painful duty to arrest you upon the charge of forgery!'

'Arrest me for forging a cheque I never saw? Impossible!'

'Only too possible, if you persist in feigning ignorance! Either the person you received the cheque from forged it, or you did; and unless you give me a clue I am driven to apprehend you!'

'I tell you, on my honour, that I received no cheque from any one; and I paid none to Darby Gregson!'

Mr. Inspector Barlow, seeing the impossibility of getting the information he came for, was reluctantly compelled to take Mr. Sinclair in charge. He had entered the park firm in the conviction of Mr. Sinclair's innocence; but his manner, and strange denial of having had the cheque, much altered his opinion. Laying his hand upon Percy's shoulder, he said, 'You must consider yourself my prisoner. Do you wish to see your friends before I remove you to the station?'

Percy Sinclair was some moments before he could answer, so surprised was he at the unexpected turn of events. At last be exclaimed, 'Either there is some terrible mistake, or you are playing an unpardonable joke upon me!'

'I would to heaven it was a mistake, Mr. Sinclair,' said Sergeant Hawkins, who had till now left the conversation to his chief. 'You are the last man I ever thought to arrest; but it is only too true that Darby Gregson swears he got the cheque from you, and several others are ready to take oath they saw it with you. So you must either account for its possession or come with us.'

'Do you wish to see your friends before we go?' Mr. Inspector Barlow asked, kindly.

'No, thank you; it would only distress them. I can leave a note at the lodge for my father.'

They started on their melancholy walk, and soon reached that indiscriminate abode of vice and misfortune—the county gaol; and soon Percy Sinclair heard the grating of the prison bolts as the heavy door closed upon him—a prisoner, arrested for forgery!


CHAPTER V.


Black shadows fall
From the lindens tall,
That lift aloft their massive wall
Against the southern sky;

And from the realms
Of the shadowy elms
A tide-like darkness overwhelms
The fields that round us lie!

—LONGFELLOW.

Much surprised at the mysterious manner of her cousin's visitors, Miss Egerton hurried back to the house.

'What have you done with Percy, Anne?' Dr. Sinclair asked, as she entered the drawing-room alone.

'I have just left him in the park, uncle, talking with two gentlemen,' she answered.

'Do you know who they are, Anne?' pursued the old gentleman, laying down his book.

'They are strangers to me, uncle; and I expect they are not friends of Percy's, for he seemed very much annoyed at their disturbing him in the park, instead of coming to the house.'

'Some one come about the lease of the farm that Schofield left, I dare say; I will go and see them,' said Dr. Sinclair, rising. 'They have no right to bother Percy about these matters. In what part of the park did you leave him, Anne?'

'Near the oak avenue, uncle; you can see him from the lawn.'

Little aware of the real object of his son's visitors, Dr. Sinclair went in search of them, to attend, as he supposed, to the business of letting his vacant farm; and Miss Egerton retired to her boudoir. Her conversation in the park with Percy had revived the bright memories of the past, when Hubert first won her trusting love; and her heart was full. Would he never forsake his evil ways? Would he never become more worthy of her? Poor Anne! Strange that so much sorrow should be crowded into the life of one so fair!

The scene that met her view as she opened the door was not calculated to relieve her feelings. The children had strayed from the nursery into her room, and were up to their eyes in mischief; Little Maud was perched upon the table, blue-eyed Alice, standing tiptoe upon a footstool, was peeping into the mysterious chaos of her cousin's desk, while Florence, presiding over the fun, was scattering the contents of the desk about and searching for curiosities. Miss Egerton stood at the door, spellbound.

'Look Allie! here's a bit of poetry addressed to cousin Anne, and it's got Percy's name at the bottom,' said Florence, as she opened an old envelope and drew out a letter.

'O, what fun, Flo! Let me see it!' cried the excited Alice.

'Wait a little, and I'll read it,' said Florence.

Alice mounted upon the table, and sat with arms folded in an attitude of deep attention, while Miss Florence read in a voice of great importance—


"Lines to my-cousin Anne, on presenting her with a brooch on her twelfth birthday.

Accept my love with this brooch, sweet Anne,
And wear them both as long as you can.
The one is made of mother-of-pearl,
But the other's of far more worth, my girl.
The one you'll wear till it's broken or lost,
And then forget it—so little its cost;
But the other will follow you night and day,
Till death—that's if you don't fling it away.
The more it's worn the brighter it shines,
Like gold that comes from the Indian mines.
Then say, dear maid, you accept with the brooch
My love? Ah! a frown? Nay, do not reproach!
What! Anne, art offended? O, fie! O, fie!
Though anger may add a new charm to your eye,
And give a fresh touch to the delicate tint
Of lily and rose on your cheek, 'tis a hint
That of my gifts, the best of the two,
You do not prize as you ought to do.
I'm sorry, indeed, that my offer offends,
But come, my girl, let us kiss, and be friends!"

While Florence was reading, the pair perched upon the table looked on as grave and knowing as a couple of young owls, and when she had finished they joined her in a hearty laugh. For a moment, Anne felt very much inclined to box Miss Florence's ears (what young lady would not, at finding the contents of her desk strewn upon the table, and her letters made a laughing-stock of, by a troop of mischievous children?) but she suppressed her rising temper, and, closing the door behind her, startled the youngsters, in the midst of their mirth, by stepping up to the table and saying, gently, 'Who gave you permission to enter my room, Florence?'

Florence turned round, and the burning flush which overspread her cheeks showed that she knew she had done wrong in opening her cousin's desk; but she artfully concealed her feelings, and asked, with quiet effrontry, 'Did Percy write this for you, cousin Anne?'

'Yes, Florence, your brother did write those lines, when he was a little boy no older than you. They are only childish nonsense; but I value them as I do many other things in my desk, as mementos of the happy days of childhood. But this is not the question. What would you think of any one who would go into your papa's library, when he was away, and pry into his desk?'

'I would say he was very mean and wicked!' replied Florence, her eyes flashing at the bare idea of anyone daring to touch anything belonging to her father.

'Why would it be wicked and mean, Florence?' asked Anne, looking steadily into the delinquent's eyes.

'Because he—he—because he would be interfering with what did not belong to him,' replied Florence, in confusion.

'I think I know a little girl who has been interfering with what does not belong to her. What can I think but that she is both mean and wicked?'

Poor Florence hung down her head and was silent.

'Now, don't you think, Flo., that a girl who could open another person's desk is unworthy of being trusted?'

The little culprit burst into tears, and Alice and Maud, though not exactly knowing what was the matter, joined in chorus.

'I have been very thoughtless and wicked, cousin Anne; but I am really very sorry, and I won't do so any more!' sobbed the repentant Flo.

'I will forgive you, Florence; and I hope you will, in future, recollect the meanness of prying into other people's secrets, and never be guilty of it again. Now, go and tell aunt what you have done, and ask her forgiveness too.'

'Oh, cousin, I don't like to!' exclaimed Florence, ashamed to own her fault.

'My dear child,' said Miss Egerton, 'if you really are sorry, you will go without murmuring. If you were not ashamed to open my box, why be ashamed to confess it? Your mamma will be far more vexed at knowing you were afraid to own your fault, than at your being guilty of it.'

Florence reluctantly went into the drawing-room to report her misconduct, and Anne set to work sorting her papers, and putting them back into the desk, while the little ones, still perched upon the table, dried their eyes, and amused themselves by watching her at work. Anne had scarcely completed her task when Florence came running back in great excitement. 'Oh, cousin Anne, mamma's crying, and papa's walking up and down the room so fast, I think he must be ill!' she said, as she burst into the boudoir.

Without waiting to lock her desk, Anne hurried into the drawing-room—a strange terror at her heart. She found her aunt in tears, and her uncle pacing the room in great perturbation. An open letter was lying upon a table near her aunt's seat. It was written hurriedly, and was in pencil. She picked it up and read it. It was from Percy, explaining the cause of his having to accompany the police into York, and asking his father to go to him at once. The note was concluded by an assurance of his innocence, and a request that his father would keep the real nature of the charge a secret from his mother and the girls, as long as possible, as it would be sure to distress them. It was plain enough now, why the strange gentlemen wished to see him alone! Dr. Sinclair stopped before Anne, and, taking the letter from her, read it again.

'There is only a mistake, Mary. I have no doubt it will be easily removed!' he said, to comfort his wife, though he had grave doubts of the mistake being removed without the delay and disgrace of a regular trial, 'I will go at once, and see what can be done,' and without waiting for a reply, he hurried away to the stables, and taking Marlborough, galloped off to town. Being broken-down seemed no hindrance to the old horse, and he covered the distance as quickly as even Whirlwind himself could have done.

Mrs. Sinclair was completely prostrated by the dreadful intelligence. She relapsed from one fit of hysterics into another, till she was completely exhausted. Her boy, her Percy, in jail for a terrible crime! Oh, it was agony to think of! Anne strove to compose her aunt by leading her thoughts to Him whose all-powerful arm still held Percy in its protecting fold; but her grief was too recent, too poignant to allow her to think of anything but the awful calamity that had fallen upon her beloved son. She realized all the danger of the position of one accused of forgery, and all the disgrace that would cling to him, even if acquitted. The possibility of his being guilty never once crossed her mind.

Miss Egerton had no time to give way to her own sorrow. With much difficulty, she and the housekeeper removed Mrs. Sinclair to her bedroom, and after sending the children up to the nursery, she sat watching by her aunt's bedside. Her heart was very heavy, and she longed to go to the prison to comfort her cousin; but duty bade her remain where she could be of service, and she sat watching all the long, weary hours, until her uncle returned with the distressing details of the arrest. Oh, how long seemed those tedious hours to the pale watcher! Time crawled by slowly, as if bent on prolonging her suspense.

Percy Sinclair, on finding himself locked in the cold cell, sat down upon the rough prison stretcher to collect his thoughts. All had occurred so suddenly, that it seemed more like a dream; but as he glanced around the dim-lighted cell, and up to the grated window, the terrible truth of reality was forcibly impressed upon him. But half-an-hour ago, he was a free man, with prospects so fair and promising, and now——! He had not long been brooding over his altered position, when he heard the bolts slowly drawn back, and some one enter the cell. Supposing it to be the jailer, he did not look up, but sat with his head supported upon his hands, in deep dejection.

'My son, what terrible visitation is this that has fallen upon us!' exclaimed a voice tremulous with grief.

Percy rose at the well-known voice, and in a moment was in his fathers arm's.

'You cannot believe me guilty father?' he asked eagerly.

'I will not believe you are capable of anything dishonourable, or contrary to law, my dear boy. But what is it they accuse you of? your note was so vague!' answered the father.

Dr. Sinclair sat down, and Percy narrated to his father his conversation with Mr. Inspector Barlow, and at a glance the old gentleman saw the strong points of the case.

'My poor boy; it is indeed a serious charge, and there is so much circumstantial evidence against you, that I am afraid you will be committed; but we must strive to prepare a strong defence for the assizes. The court is so close, there is no time to lose. I must retain counsel at once!' he said.

'But, father, would it not be better to wait and see if I am committed before engaging a barrister?' Percy asked.

'My son,' returned the old gentleman, 'if this villain, Gregson and his companion, swear to the tale they told the police, and the people at the hotel support their evidence, nothing can save you from committal; and we must take advantage of the extra time to prepare your defence. Who would you like to have as counsel? There is no one in York I have much faith in.'

The father and son discussed the different aspects of the case, and the various barristers available. Percy recollected a rising young lawyer in London, who was gaining celebrity as a subtle and eloquent special pleader.

'I will start by to-night's coach for London, Percy, and see this Mr. Granville Dudley. He is said to be the most able pleader at the bar, and if money can secure his services, I will bring him back with me. I must go now, my son, as your mother is anxiously waiting my return. She is much affected by this trouble. Keep a brave heart. I have no doubt all will come right in the end!'

They parted with heavy hearts; for though each spoke hopefully, to reassure the other; both were oppressed with dark forebodings. When the door closed upon the retiring form of his father, Percy returned to the stretcher, and his gloomy meditations. As Dr. Sinclair was being let out at the gate, he begged the turnkey to make his son as comfortable as he could. He offered the official money to do so, but he drew back, and said, proudly, 'No, sir, thank you all the same! I never takes no pay to be malevolent. I've been up myself, and as innercent as a babby, and, of course, I've a sort of fellow-feeling for criminals. Whatever I can do to aggravate your son's comfort I will do cheerfully, and expect no other reward than the reputation of my own conscience!'

Dr. Sinclair, seeing honest Bob Starkey's benevolent meaning through his somewhat contradictory English, pressed his hand, gratefully, and then, mounting old Marlborough again, galloped back to Elmsdale, to allay the fears of his family, and to prepare for his stage-coach journey to London.


CHAPTER VI.


Your hearts divest of all vindictiveness,
And banish pleading pity from your breasts;
Then shall your free, unbiased minds be blank,
Unsullied tablets, on whose virgin white
Dark-hinting prejudice, or weak compassion,
Has writ no guiding notes; and so your verdict
Shall be as truth may find.

(From Judges summing up in author's MS. drama "Constance.")

The surprise in York at the announcement that a college student preparing for the church had been arrested for forgery was intense; and the report caused a profound sensation among the prisoner's immediate friends. Now was the time to discover of what metal they were formed. Some few, among whom was George Darrell, remained firm in their belief in his innocence; but the majority shook their heads doubtfully, and stood aloof till the sunshine of prosperity should again smile upon him. Public opinion was against the prisoner. With its usual inconsistence, the populace jumped at the conclusion that the word of Gregson and the landlord of the Weavers' Arms was incontestible proof of guilt. But it was at home that the blow fell heaviest. Words are powerless to describe the consternation and anguish that shrouded the prisoner's family. Ten years at least seemed to have been added to the age of Dr. Sinclair. He had hitherto been remarkably erect, but now he stooped like a decrepit old man, and seemed scarcely to have strength to move about. His wife was thrown upon a sick bed, and lay dangerously ill. Miss Egerton's grief was no less acute; but, through her aunt's illness, the management of the house devolved upon her, and she had no time for demonstrative sorrow.

As Dr. Sinclair predicted, Percy was committed by the magistrates to stand his trial at the ensuing York Assizes; and as the sittings were so near, bail was refused. Dr. Sinclair succeeded in retaining Mr. Granville Dudley, the special pleader, and that gentleman returned with him from London. The time intervening between the committal and the day of trial was occupied by the counsel in the arduous task of studying the case and preparing the defence. The evidence against the prisoner was only circumstantial, and it had many weak points; but it was strong enough to convict him, unless the links could be broken; and Mr. Granville Dudley had a task before him worthy of his great reputation, and demanding his best efforts.

At length the day of trial arrived. It was beautifully clear and bright, and a striking contrast to the sad feelings of many who had those near and dear to them waiting to be arraigned for crimes of which, alas, too many were guilty. But not even guilt is able to sever the golden links of affection; and many a heart ached with hopeless dread as the hours drew on for the motley crowd of prisoners to be tried—those hearts aching the most that were only too well assured of the guilt of their friends. The uncouth savage, apprehended in the act of robbery with violence, was loved as devotedly, and mourned for as sincerely, by his ill-used wife and little ones, as was the gentlemanly bank clerk, charged with embezzlement. Is is only in adversity so great that the full strength of home ties can be realized.

The excitement caused by the trial of Mr. Percy Sinclair was so intense that, hours before the court opened, the streets adjacent were thronged with an eager crowd, anxious to secure seats. When the doors were thrown open, the police had much difficulty in checking the rush; and before a third had obtained entrance, the court was crowded to suffocation!

Mrs. Sinclair was still confined to her room, and Miss Egerton had to remain with her, so that neither were in court; but Dr. Sinclair was present. A sad wreck the trouble of the last few weeks had made of him! As he entered the court by a private door, he passed his son's friend, Mr. George Darrell, who whispered, 'Whatever be the result of to-day, I, for one, will never believe him guilty!' With a grateful pressure of the hand, the old gentleman passed on, his heart too full of grief for words, and took his seat beside the counsel for his son. A case that had been postponed from the previous day was on for consideration, before the one could be heard that had so aroused the public interest. The people in court sat out the hour it occupied with ill-concealed impatience. At last the case was disposed of by the burglar being convicted and sentenced to fifteen years penal servitude; and the next (Rex versus Sinclair) was called.

The low buzz of impatience ceased instantly; and in breathless silence the crowd waited the appearance of "the forger," as the foregone decision of public opinion had already designated the prisoner. Beyond the circle of his immediate friends, few held the hapless Percy innocent.

The prisoner entered the court escorted by two policemen, and took his place in the dock. He was very pale; and on his careworn features, were traces of intense mental suffering—evidences of guilt thought the prejudised crowd—but there was an air of calm resignation about him that seemed strangely at variance with his position. He stood proudly erect, and glanced round the court for a moment, as if anxious to discover his friends among the throng; and a hum of sympathy arose from the excited crowd. Though convinced of his guilt, had the crowd possessed the power of deciding the verdict, it would have acquitted him to a man. Yet no! In a front seat sat one who, had he been judge or jury, would have condemned even to the death. He was there to watch the progress of his vile plot, and gloat over the misery he was causing. Before him sat the grief-stricken father of the prisoner, breaking visibly under his load of sorrow. He regarded him for a moment with a curious glance, much as a surgeon experimenting in vivisection might have observed the symptoms of his subject. Then he turned his attention to the prisoner, and meeting his gaze, gave him a glance of unquenchable hate, and vindictive, triumph. "Ah," he muttered, "None may thwart my wishes, without being crushed out of my path! Bitterly shall you rue the day you interfered between me and Anne Egerton!"

How any human heart could thus glory in misery of its own making, is a problem in ethics that would puzzle a Plato.

The prisoner saw his father sitting near his counsel, but the old gentleman never raised his head. He sat gazing vacantly upon the heap of papers upon the table. He could not have borne up, had be met his son's eyes.

The Crown Prosecutor opened the case by briefly explaining the nature of the charge. He accused the prisoner with forging and uttering the cheque before the court, with intent to defraud Sir George Greville, of Farleigh Hall, of the sum of fifty pounds. He would not detain the jury with a long address, as the evidence was so simple and conclusive. In support of the charge, he would call witnesses to prove, first, that the cheque was a forgery, and secondly, that the prisoner paid it to one of the witnesses for a horse. The prisoner, then, would have the onus probandi of accounting for its possession; and, if he could not do so to the satisfaction of the jury, a verdict of "guilty" must be found.

Sir John Greville was the first witness called. He gave his evidence very reluctantly; for he was one of the few who refused to believe the prisoner guilty, whatever proof might be brought against him. But, on being pressed, he was compelled to swear that the signature was a forgery.

The prisoner's counsel had nothing to ask this witness, so he was sent down. The next witness called was Mr. Darby Gregson. No difficulty for the crown prosecutor here. The witness very readily described the sale of the horse, and gave his version of the settlement at the Weaver's Arms. In examining him, the crown prosecutor laid great stress upon the date of sale, and amount of purchase money corresponding exactly with the forged cheque. When Sir Thomas Beaumont finished questioning Darby Gregson, the witness turned to retire. Mr. Granville Dudley was on his feet in a moment. 'Stay a minute, Mr. Gregson! I have a question or two to ask, if you have no objection.'

Darby looked as if he had a very decided objection; but he returned to the box.

'Who was in the room, when the prisoner paid you this cheque?' the advocate asked.

'No one, only my mate Bow!' answered the witness.

'No one else then could have seen the prisoner hand you the cheque?'

'No! But Dora Hudson, the barmaid, came in just after; and she saw that he did give it to me,' replied Darby.

'No one, then, but yourself and your mate, saw the cheque in the prisoner's possession?'

'I don't know who saw it,' said the witness, sulkily. He did not like the line of questioning.

'Will you swear that anyone else did see the cheque in prisoner's possession?' asked Mr. Dudley, looking narrowly at the witness.

Darby Gregson hesitated a moment; but, feeling it scarcely safe to swear falsely just here, replied, 'No; I won't say that anyone did!'

'Were you ever in Cambridge?'

Darby hesitated again. It was not a question he wished to answer.

'You are on oath, recollect. The truth, mind! We can easily find you out, if you prevaricate,' said Mr. Dudley, sternly. 'Where you ever in Cambridge?'

'Yes!'

'How many times have you been there?'

'I don't know.'

'A dozen times, do you think?'

'No!'

'Half-a-dozen, then?'

'I can't say. P'r'aps I was.'

'That will do, Mr. Gregson. You may go down now,' Mr. Dudley said, as he resumed his seat, and made some notes.

Darby Gregson exchanged a triumphant glance with Mr. Clayton, and left the witness-box. He was glad the ordeal of cross-questioning was over, as he was fearful of contradicting himself.

The next witness-called was Bow. He shuffled into the witness-box in a state of great excitement, and glanced round the court with a frightened look, as if seeking for protection. Hubert Clayton caught his eye with a significant glance of warning. It seemed to bring him to himself at once; and his answers to the crown prosecutor's leading questions strengthened the evidence Darby Gregson had just given. Mr. Clayton smiled with satisfaction, as he heard Bow dismissed by the prosecuting counsel. Bow was the one weak point in his villainous scheme; but his restless eyes glittered with anger, as Mr. Granville Dudley rose, and politely requested the witness to remain.

'In what street was this horse-selling business transacted?' he asked, looking steadily at Bow.

'In Oxford-street,' the witness answered, trembling. He had just caught a glimpse of the prisoner's pale face, and, longed to tell of the foul conspiracy; but a warning-glance from the arch-villain restrained him, and in his confusion he scarcely knew what he was saying.

'At the Brown Bear Inn?' Mr. Dudley asked.

'No, sir. We was in the parlour of the Black Diamond Tavern.'

'Or the Weavers' Arms?'

'Yes, it was at the Weavers' Arms?'

'In what street did you say?' again asked the counsel for the defence. He saw the witness's confusion, and determined to make the most of it.

'Harper's Lane,' answered Bow.

'Are you sure it was Harper's Lane?'

'Yes; it—it—it was Oxford Lane,' stammered Bow.

'As you are so clear upon the locality, perhaps you can tell me the time this business took place?'

'Yes, sir.'

'Very well, then. What o'clock was it?'

'Just after breakfast, sir.'

'Yes, yes! But I wish to know the hour,' said Mr. Dudley.

'It, it was nearly two o'clock.'

'Two o'clock? How do you know it was two o'clock?'

'Cause Darby wanted to get to roost early.'

'O, indeed! Well, was it daylight or lamplight?'

Bow was completely confused. 'There was no lamps, only candles,' he said, helplessly.

'Had you had dinner at the time the prisoner settled for the horse.'

'No, sir; it was only just after breakfast.'

'And the lamps were burning?'

'No; there was only candles.'

'Very good!' Mr. Dudley said, as he jotted down some notes. 'Did you see the prisoner writing upon this cheque?'

'No sir.'

'Did you see it in his possession at all?'

'Yes! No! I went to ask for the paper. You did not see the forgery committed then?'

'No, sir.'

'Are you sure?'

'No sir.'

'That will do, Mr. Bow. You may go down now,' the lawyer said, resuming his seat. A satisfied smile about his lips showed that he was pleased with the result of the examination. As the witness tottered out of the box, Mr. Clayton gave him a glance that made his blood run cold—a glance full of relentless hate, which said plainly enough that Bow's life would be worth but little when Clayton should meet him alone.

Several other witnesses were called; but they only proved the sale of the horse, and that they saw the cheque in Darby Gregson's hands. These the prisoner's counsel declined to question. The examination of witnesses for the crown was concluded in about two hours. No witnesses for the defence were called, beyond a professor from Cambridge, who gave testimony to the prisoner's exemplary conduct at college, as the evidence for the crown was of a nature not to be rebutted by conflicting proof. The crowd in court, who had been wavering in their decision every five minutes during the examination, now settled themselves down to listen as the celebrated special pleader rose to address the jury.

Mr. Granville Dudley rose, and glancing anxiously at the prisoner, commenced his address.

'My Lord, and gentlemen of the jury—During the period that I have had the honour of practising in the law courts of my country, I have defended prisoners charged with every shade of guilt—from the revolting crime of infanticide, to the lesser but serious offence of burglary; but never before did I approach a case in which I was so firmly convinced of the innocence of the accused, or so doubtful of my ability to establish it. I am deeply impressed with the magnitude of the responsibility I have undertaken; for, should I fail, an innocent man must be convicted and condemned. I charge you, then, to throw aside whatever opinion you may have formed upon this case before entering these walls, and to follow me attentively, and without prejudice, while I go through the evidence against the prisoner at the bar, and demonstrate to you the possibility of his innocence. If I prove that this evidence is not inconsistent with the innocence of the accused, you are bound, as you respect your oaths, to give him the benefit of the doubt, and a verdict of acquittal. If there be the least possibility of the prisoner being guiltless, and you convict him, you yourselves will be committing the great—the awful crime of condemning a possibly innocent man! I admit that the cheque before the court is a forgery; but I deny that the prisoner either forged or uttered it. The evidence that would fasten the crime upon him is wholly presumptive—with the single exception of the testimony of Gregson; and you could not convict the prisoner upon the evidence of a man who has, according to the records of this court, been far oftener in the dock than the witness-box. And then this presumptive evidence tells as pointedly against the witness Gregson as it does against the prisoner. I do not charge Gregson with the crime, nor insinuate that he is in any way connected with it, though I have my own thoughts upon the subject; but if I show you that this evidence implicates the one as much as the other, you cannot reconcile your oaths with a verdict of "guilty" against the prisoner! In examining the witnesses, my learned friend laid much weight upon the fact of the prisoner, during his college terms, residing in the vicinity of Sir John Grenville, where, he presumed, the prisoner would have many opportunities of studying Sir John's signature. Now, the witness Gregson has had the same opportunities. He admits having visited Cambridge at least half a dozen times; and the cashier of the Bank of York has proved that, even here, in the witness's regular place of abode, specimens of Sir John's signature float about as negotiable paper. Thus far the presumptive evidence is as applicable to Gregson as the prisoner. Then, the forged cheque being dated on the day the prisoner purchased the horse, and its being filled in with the exact amount of the sale, appears to tell seriously against the prisoner. But here, again, it points as unerringly to the witness. Gregson swears the prisoner wrote upon the cheque, and then handed it to him in liquidation of the purchase-money. But his evidence here is totally unsupported; and I wish you to observe that it would have been possible for this witness to have pocketed the cash the prisoner paid him, and as soon as he had gone, to have entered the date and amount into a previously-forged cheque, for the purpose of defrauding his mate. The only witness whose testimony in any measure corroborates Gregson's in the matter of the forgery is the man Bow; and you must all have observed the strange hesitation with which he gave his evidence. He contradicted himself repeatedly; and, I ask you, did he not look like a man committing perjury for the first time? You can never find a verdict upon the evidence of a man who at one moment swears it was at two o'clock in the morning the forgery was committed, and the next that it was directly after breakfast—who cannot say, with certainty, whether it was by lamplight or daylight, whether it was in the Black Diamond Tavern or the Weaver's Arms—whether it was in Oxford-street or Harper's Lane! It was evident he had but half learnt his lesson. The evidence of the other witnesses for the Crown only proves that the forged cheque was in Gregson's possession, and, consequently, whatever weight may be attached to it, tells exclusively against him. No witnesses have been called for the defence, excepting Professor Harwick; as, under the peculiar circumstances of this case, heaven alone can prove the prisoner's innocence. But you have had his whole life before you; and Professor Harwick's testimony of his blameless and exemplary conduct at the university is borne out by your experience of him from boyhood here at York. I challenge your whole community to point out a single instance in which he ever did anything mean or dishonorable! And can any suppose that in the utter absence of motive, he could change so completely as to commit this crime. If he had been in debt, or was living in luxurious debauchery, such a crime might have been possible; but while living within his quarterly allowance, and knowing that to ask for extra money was to receive it; can any be so absurdly credulous as to believe that he could have been mad enough to risk punishment and disgrace for the purpose of indulging in what, in his instance, would have been as unnecessary as hazardous a crime. And now, gentlemen of the jury—if you are positive the evidence against the accused demonstrates the impossibility of any one else having forged this cheque; if you are certain that the prisoner, and no other, is guilty, you must, of necessity, convict him. But, if the merest shadow of a doubt is upon your minds; if you would hesitate for one moment to stake your salvation upon the truth of the prisoner's guilt—as you value your happiness in this world and the next—as you would yourselves be preserved from the most appalling of all calamities, an unjust conviction—you must acquit the prisoner! Look round upon this venerable gentleman, the father of the prisoner, who has lived a life of usefulness among you, and who is now fast breaking under the load of sorrow and disgrace, that this false charge against his only son has brought upon him. As you must meet Him before the bar of heaven, to answer for your verdict of to-day, be careful you do nothing that shall there condemn you for being unrighteous judges here. Think of the once happy home, now the abode of grief; where sorrowing mother and sisters are awaiting your decision in the anguish of suspense. Your verdict shall dispel the cloud of trouble that now enshrouds it, and light up with joy the sorrowing feature of the loved ones at home; or it shall cast the withering blight of disgrace, misery, and despair upon their hearts for ever! And think of yourselves. If you condemn the guilty, you perform your duty well. But, if you condemn the innocent, beware! "With whatever measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again."'

The secret of true eloquence lies not so much in what is said, as in the manner of saying it; and though, perhaps, there was nothing particularly affecting in Mr. Granville Dudley's address to the jury, of which the above is but an outline; yet the tone of thorough conviction and earnestness with which he pleaded, and his touching appeal on behalf of the prisoner's friends, won over the vacillating crowd; and, as he sat down there was scarcely a dry eye in the body of the court. After a silence of a few seconds, the Crown prosecutor rose, and replied at some length to the speech of the prisoner's counsel. He urged upon the jury the danger of being carried away by an appeal to their feelings, and charged them to view the evidence before them dispassionately. It was no concern of theirs what the result of the verdict might be; They were bound by their oaths to find a verdict upon evidence alone. The cheque had been traced to the prisoner, and he had not accounted for its possession, and the natural conclusion followed that he was guilty. Certainly, no one had seen the prisoner forge the cheque (what man would be idiot enough to admit witnesses to such a crime?) and no one had actually observed the prisoner place the cheque in Gregson's hand—he was too wary for that; but ample evidence had been adduced to establish, beyond a doubt, the fact of Gregson's receiving it from the prisoner. It is a wise provision of our criminal code, that the guilty shall not escape through their cunning in avoiding eye-witnesses to their crimes. If the evidence brings the crime to the door of the accused, and he fails to rebut it, he must be regarded as guilty. This crime has been brought to the door of the prisoner: he had so failed, and they must perform their painful, but imperative duty. He (Sir Thomas Beaumont) could not resume his seat without expressing his entire disapprobation of the treatment the witness Gregson had received from his learned friend. To establish the prisoner's innocence, not to attempt to shuffle the charge upon another, was the duty of the counsel for the defence.'

The crowd, always unstable as water, was again undecided in its opinions. The words ringing in its ears altogether effaced the effect of Mr. Granville Dudley's address, and "guilty" or "not guilty" was a problem that sorely puzzled it.

The judge briefly summed up, and concluded his charge to the jury with the usual caution to give the prisoner the benefit of any doubts it might entertain, and the jury retired to deliberate upon its verdict.

The two betting men, who had spoken to Darby Gregson at the Weaver's Arms, on the eventful morning, were among the crowd on the benches, and they soon made a book by offering to give three to one on "Conviction," and to take four to one on "Acquittal." Hubert Clayton laid no wager; but while waiting for the jury to return, he registered a vow to wreak a terrible vengeance upon the unfortunate Bow, if the prisoner should escape from his plot.

Who shall describe the agony of suspense endured by the venerable mourner at the table, or his anxious son in the dock, as they waited for the jury to return with its verdict.

After an absence of nearly a quarter of an hour (which appeared, to those most deeply concerned, a quarter of a century), the jury returned into court. Again the buzz of impatient expectation ceased, and the oppressive silence that followed was broken by the official voice of the clerk of arraigns, as he asked in a monotone, 'Gentlemen of the jury—How find you the prisoner, "guilty", or "not guilty"?'

'Guilty! with a strong recommendation to mercy!'

To the plotter, exultation; to the victim, despair!


CHAPTER VII.


Can these things be? Can fortune stoop so low
As aid the arm that deals the secret blow,
And crushes human hearts in fiendish glee?
Dwell, justice, still on earth, that we should see
The vile triumphant and their victims, they—
The best and noblest of the sons of clay!

—Author's M.S.

Look here, Bow, I'm hanged if I'm going to be gulled like this! The money we got for the horse is all we have yet had for the job, and we was to get fifty pounds cash down, and another the day he was lagged.' The speaker was Mr. Darby Gregson, his hearer, Mr. Bow. The latter was much changed since the midnight rendezvous, at the Black Diamond Tavern, in Harper's Lane, and he looked more like a subject for dissection, strayed from the hospital hard by, than a living man dunning for payment. They were standing on the pavement on the opposite side of the street to Mr. Hubert Clayton's lodgings, and were watching for the appearance of that gentleman. He had failed in keeping his part of the infamous contract, and they were tired of the delay. Darby Gregson was determined to wait no longer, and Bow———Well, let him speak for himself. 'I'd give a good deal more 'an my share, Darby, to get the poor young feller off agin! I can't sleep for thinking of him. It sits on me like a nightmare!'

'Come, drop that wining, Bow, I'll not listen to none o' that foolery. Suppose you was to go and inform agin yourself; you'd only get sentenced to life for your pains; for you see, you'd be up for wilful and corrupt perjury!'

'All I know, Darby, is, I'd like to forget it. I never goes to sleep, now, but I'm swearing away young Mr. Sinclair's life.'

Darby Gregson did not like the turn their conversation had taken, and wishing to get Bow out of the way before Mr. Clayton should appear, he thought it prudent to send him away on other business. 'I say, Bow, just go down to the Black Diamond, and see if costermonger Ned is knocking about. We must manage to take the measure of Arkright's plate before the new moon. I will stay and see Clayton.'

'All right, Darby; how long'll you be?'

'I don't know. I saw him go in half an hour ago; and he has'nt come out again since. It's no use going to the door; they'd only swear me out he wasn't in.'

'Mr. Arkright went to Leeds to-day!' said Bow, after a few moments' reflection. 'Would'nt to-night suit well? It'll be dark enough.'

With all Bow's scruples, and remorse for the horse-stealing villainy, here he was, ready and eager to 'take the measure' of Mr. Arkright's plate, as Gregson called it; or, in other words, to commit burglary. Shall we blame him, or attribute his depravity to accident of birth, and force of education?

'Capital thought of yours, Bow! Tell Ned not to blab it to the other coves. Three on us is enough for this job. The fewer on us, the more each'll get.'

'I hope we'll make a tidy lift this time, Darby! What time shall I tell Ned Shaw?'

'I'll see him at the Black Diamond in an hour. We must crack the nut about half-past two o'clock in the morning. Everybody's dead asleep between two and three.'

Bow started on his mission of diplomacy to costermonger Ned; and Darby Gregson sat down upon the kerbstone to wait for his vile employer. Darby had either been mistaken in supposing Mr. Clayton had recently entered his lodgings, or that gentleman had slipped out again the back way; for while he and Bow were unfolding their intentions upon Mr. Arkright's plate, Mr. Clayton was standing close behind them, concealed by a loaded brewer's dray. What he heard appeared to please him, for a smile flitted over his handsome features; 'Ah,' he muttered, 'the very thing I wanted. Now, instead of paying you the price of your knavery, I will send you after Sinclair. I'm not quite fool enough to leave you here to turn on me the first time that you may take offence!'

As soon as Bow was out of sight, Mr. Clayton walked a short distance down the street, still keeping the dray between him and Mr. Darby Gregson, and then turned round and approached him. Darby was so intent upon watching the entrance door of the Belgravia Private Boarding Establishment, that he did not hear his steps. Mr. Clayton stood for a moment with a peculiar smile upon his thin lips, and then startled Mr. Darby by giving him a heavy slap upon the shoulder, and saying 'Where the dickens have you been all the morning, Darby?'

Darby turned round with a wondering stare. 'O, is it you, Mr. Clayton! I was just waiting here for a friend!'

'One you hadn't much faith in, eh?' asked Clayton, with a low, grating laugh. 'Well, to tell you the truth, he has as little in you! Where's that chicken-hearted mate, of yours?'

'Bow? I haven't set eyes on him since yesterday.'

'Hem! That's rather transparent, Darby! Well, I wanted, to talk to you both upon money matters. I shall not be able to settle with you for about ten days. The twenty-five pounds each, you have already had, will keep you going till then.'

'Ten days! That'll be Wednesday week. All right, Mr. Clayton; I've no doubt you'll be as good as your word. You see, if you aren't, we can easily bring you to reason by——'

'Come, Darby, my boy, none of your threats. I know what you mean: but I reckoned all that, before I engaged you. I'm not afraid of anything you can do. If you swear that you perjured yourself at Sinclair's trial, what value could a jury set to anything you might swear against me? So, you see, you have nothing but my acknowledged generosity to induce me to settle with you.'

Darby Gregson was quite taken aback by this view of the case. Cunning as he was, he had been completely overreached by Clayton; and for a moment he was speechless from rage and surprise; but, recovering himself, and seeing the only chance of getting his infamous wages was submission, he replied, meekly, 'You quite misunderstand me, Mr. Clayton! Neither me nor my mate doubts your word. You will settle with us on Wednesday week?'

'Yes; at Joe Turner's. You and your mate may meet me there after the theatres are out. Till then, adieu!'

'So long!' answered Darby, clumsily lifting his hat, in response to the other's elegant bow.

Mr. Hubert Clayton took the shortest way to the office of Mr. Inspector Barlow; and the discomfited Darby bent his steps to the Black Diamond, to hold counsel with Ned Shaw, the costermonger and housebreaker. He found Ned and Bow in the private parlor hatching their plans over a bottle of cognac. On the circle of rogues being completed by the arrival of their ringleader, it was definitely settled that they should take advantage of Mr. Arkwright's absence, and "crack the nut" during the small hours of the following morning. Costermonger Ned, in his double character of vendor of vegetables and general spy for the housebreaking community of York, had visited the house, and noticed that a back window on the ground floor was unprotected by shutters. He proposed cutting the glass away with his diamond chisel; and then unfastening the bolt by inserting his arm through the aperture, raising the sash. This would admit them; and the work of securing the valuables would then be easy.

When the villains had settled their plans to their satisfaction, they separated to avoid suspicion, arranging to meet by the Haymarket at two o'clock in the morning.

While the burglars were arranging their plot, the arch-villain Clayton was quietly circumventing them, and saving (though from no motive of benevolence) the family of Mr. Arkwright from the loss and danger of the midnight visit of the desperate wretches.

'Ah! Mr. Clayton, you here!' said Mr. Inspector Barlow, looking up from his books—books in which the criminal class of York were registered like so many beasts of prey, and their dark deeds chronicled.

'Yes, I have called to see you upon a little matter of business.'

'Indeed! Well, take a seat,' returned the Inspector, shutting his journal and turning his scrutinizing gaze upon his visitor.

Mr. Clayton did as he was bidden, his ever restless eyes taking stock of all within view without appearing to be looking at anything.

'By-the-way, Mr. Clayton, I have wanted to speak to you for some time past, but I have been too busy to spare time.'

Mr. Clayton fidgeted in his seat. 'Has that white-livered tool, Bow, been here?' he asked himself, anxiously.

'Have you any idea what I enter in this book?' asked the Inspector, trying to catch his visitor's eyes.

'Not the slightest,' replied Clayton, at that moment studying that pattern of the floorcloth.

'The names of all who cause, or are likely to cause trouble to society.'

'Indeed!' said Clayton, much alarmed by the ominous information.

'Your name is not here yet, Mr. Clayton.'

'I am most happy to hear it,' Clayton replied, with a feeble attempt at a laugh.

'Take my advice, young man, and drop your present acquaintances and mode of life at once, or you may find yourself registered here before long. I knew and respected your father, and, for his sake, would be sorry to see you in trouble. It was only last night that you were seen in company with a known gambler to leave the lowest house in the city. Recollect, I caution you to give up that man's company and live the honourable life your lamented father did, or you will soon have cause to repent your folly.'

'Truly, I ought to be grateful for your polite attention,' said Clayton, with a ghastly smile.

'And you are not? Well, as you will, and now about the business.'

'If I put you on the trail of a pack of burglars, will it be necessary for me to appear against them?'

'That depends upon the circumstances of the case.'

'I overheard a plot to break into a house to night. If you promise that my name shall not transpire, I will give you information that will enable you to take the burglars in the act.'

'I promise you,' said the Inspector, as he opened his note-book, and, pencil in hand, waited for the information.

'Mr. Arkwright's house is to be entered and robbed between midnight and three o'clock to-morrow morning.'

'Do you know the men?'

'No. I have a suspicion; but, as it is so easy to implicate the innocent, I decline to say whom I suspect. I would not, for the wealth of the Indies, have the sin upon me of assisting to condemn the innocent.'

'How tall were these men? Can you give me any particulars that may assist in identifying them?'

'I can give you no further information. Catch them in the act, and you will not need to identify.'

'You are right; we will catch them in the act; and give them a free passage to His Majesty's colony of New South Wales.'

'And now, having told you all I have to tell, I will wish you good-day,' said Clayton, rising.

'Good day, Mr. Clayton, and thank you! And don't forget my hint. I assure you, on my honor, your name is in every body's mouth.'

Mr. Inspector Barlow returned to his books, and Mr. Clayton left the office in deep thought. York must indeed be getting too warm for him, when such a hint was necessary.

As he was walking slowly back to his lodgings, a companion in many a midnight revel met him. The gentleman was on horseback, and returning from parade, where, he had, for the last time, done duty as lieutenant in one of the regiments of light cavalry. He was a man barely thirty years old, yet he wore upon his dissipated features the unmistakable traits of premature age; and it needed but a glance to perceive that he had ruined his constitution, as well as his reputation, by 'fast living,' as a career of vice is fashionably called. 'What is in a name?' asks the poet. More than is usually suspected! 'Mr. Smith is a very wild fellow, a fast young man, industriously engaged in sowing his wild oats.' Society smiles upon him, and receives him with open arms. Tear away the mask; speak in honest, plain English, and say 'He is a heart-less and debauched scoundrel, scattering misery and destruction in his path,' and society turns from him in loathing and contempt! 'What is in a name?' A great deal! Would the world but call every act by its proper name, and more would be done towards purifying the moral atmosphere than by a score of repressive laws!

'Holloa, Clayton, what's up? Why you're looking as glum as a cat in a showerbath!' said the horseman, reining in.

Mr. Clayton looked up with a start. He had been so engrossed with his thoughts, that he had not heard the approach of the other. 'What, Harrison, is it a fact you're sold out? Renwick told me this morning that you had.'

'Yes, Clayton. My uncle had an heir born a week ago; and so my creditors have come down upon me like a flock of harpies. Cursed nuisance, isn't it? and so I've had to sell out; and I'm off to Botany Bay, or New South Wales, or whatever they call it.'

'Out of the frying-pan into the fire. No one ever thinks of going to Botany Bay, unless a considerate Government provides him with a free passage; and then I expect he'd rather choose his own location, and stay at home.'

'I've tried often enough, Clayton, to teach you to judge rationally, instead of jumping at conclusions. Now, you just know nothing about the matter!'

'What are the peculiar advantages offered by the Antipodes? I have just been thinking of a trip to Italy.'

'The advantages are free grants of land and servants, and Government assistance. A few years there, growing wool and tallow, and we shall be able to return to civilization millionaires—a pleasanter prospect than the present of being sent to the Marshalsea!' (debtor's prison).

'By Plutus, I'm more than half inclined to go with you!'

'Can you find the wherewithal? I've none to spare, and you're usually pretty short.'

'I made a good haul at the two last race meetings, and I fleeced a couple of greenhorns at Kenford's last night, so I'm pretty well in for a while,' replied Clayton, unguardedly.

'You'll lend me a couple of hundred?'

'I'll not lend you a couple of hundred, or any other sum, larger or smaller; so don't expect it, Harrison. But if you're ballasted with cash enough for the venture meet me at my lodgings this afternoon, and I may arrange to go with you. I should like the excitement of shooting blackfellows and chasing mad cows amazingly.'

'Holloa, here comes Hollowboy, the sheriff's bailiff! He has a strong attachment for me, so I'm away down this lane. Put him off the scent, Clayton, and oblige yours, etcetera, Ralph Harrison, Esq., late lieutenant in his Majesty's eighth regiment of Hussars,' said the ex-lieutenant, with forced gaiety, as he trotted off down the lane.

'That Botany Bay idea is not a bad one,' said Mr Clayton, as he watched the retiring figure of the intending emigrant.

'Worn't that Lieutenant Harrison a talking to you jest now, governor?' asked a gruff voice, at his elbow.

'Yes, my man,' replied Mr. Clayton, turning round, and recognising Mr. Hollowboy, the terror of all the debtors of York.

'What street did he turn down? I lost sight of him through a 'bus coming betwixt us.'

'He rode down that lane to the first crossing, and then turned to the right.'

The sheriffs bailiff followed in pursuit, while the pursued, turning neither to right for left, lost no time in increasing the distance between him and the baffled instrument of justice.

Full of projects for the future, occasioned by the inspector's hints, and his own subsequent conversation with Harrison, Mr. Clayton returned home to his lodgings.

The sentence passed upon the unfortunate victim of Hubert Clayton's revenge, was "transportation for life to the penal colony of New South Wales." We must cast a veil upon the first few weeks following the day of trial, no uninspired pen being equal to the task of describing the sad effects of the verdict upon the prisoner's unhappy family.

At length arrived the day that was to drag Percy Sinclair from all he held dear on earth, and send him forth on his dreary voyage to the antipodes. The sensation in York was almost as great as on the morning of the trial. The social position of the prisoner, and the esteem that the community felt for his venerable father, in no small degree occasioned the general interest evinced; but there was a still deeper cause at work. During the weeks since the trial, the people had had time to carefully examine the evidence, and the public opinion was, well, to say the least, considerably surprised at the verdict; and more than one advanced liberal was heard to impeach the judicial institutions of the country. 'If its a matter of a few paltry pounds,' growled an old barber, who gave more time to politics than shaving, 'the cleverest men in the country are empannelled for the jury, but if it's a charge that may take a man's life or liberty, any clown is good enough, even if he don't know a big B from a bull's foot!' And the sentiment was echoed by the crowd of idlers collected in his shop.

At ten o'clock this morning, a police van drew up in front of the prison, and immediately after, half a dozen prisoners, all ironed, were hustled through the gate, and placed in the van. Percy Sinclair was one. The door was locked, the escort formed, and the command was given 'forward!' and the sad cortège started southward, en route for the depôt, from whence the prisoners were to embark on their long and dreary exile.

A sorrowful group were gathered round the fire in the drawing-room of Elmsdale House on the evening succeeding the departure of Percy. In an arm-chair, on one side of the fireplace, sat Dr. Sinclair, his little daughter Alice upon his knees. Florence, seated upon a hassock by his side, was leaning caressingly upon his shoulder, and gazing sadly and thoughtfully into the embers. On the opposite side Mrs. Sinclair was nursing the wee pet Maudie, who, too young to understand the grief that oppressed the others, yet seemed infected by its influence, and lay silent and still in her mother's arms. Miss Egerton was at a table apparently reading; but the pages were damp with tears, and her thoughts were with her unhappy cousin, whom she loved with all the tender devotion of a sister. It was a sad spectacle, this bereaved family mourning for the beloved one torn from their midst! Not a word was spoken by the sorrowing group. In silence they grieved for the lost. That morning they had parted from him who now occupied the thoughts of each; and 'should they ever see him again?' was the question that forced itself upon the minds of all. Desolate, as when the sable hearse carries off the victim of Death, seemed the cold future now! Ay! more desolate: for then there is no uncertainty to add the tortures of suspense to the pangs of parting. No need then to ask the feverish question, 'Shall we ever see him again?' For this world at least the question is settled.

That morning, as the police van rolled away with its freight of sin and shame, the broken-hearted mother of 'the forger' fainted. This new trouble distracted for the time Dr. Sinclair's attention from his grief; and after some delay she was restored. With returning consciousness came memory. 'My boy! My poor, poor boy! I have nothing left to live for now!' she wailed piteously, wringing her hands in her despair. With a strong effort her husband assumed an appearance of tranquility. 'Mary,' he whispered, 'Do you forget, we have three yet left to us! Baby Maud is perhaps crying for mamma now. Will you not return to her?'

The appeal had the desired effect. Mrs. Sinclair allowed herself to be assisted into the gig, and driven home; and here she sits pressing the darling to her heart.

We must now leave the mourners, and follow the exile across the billowy main to the far-off land of Australia. Who can tell whether we shall ever meet with them again. Perhaps in the course of our story we may, perhaps we may not! The future, in fiction as in real life, can only be read when it ceases to be 'the future.'


CHAPTER VIII.


"Look to the waters! asleep on their breast,
Seems not the ship like an island of rest?
Bright and alone on the shadowy main,
Like a heart cherished home on some desolate plain.
Who as she smiles in the silvery light
Spreading her wings on the bosom of night,
Alone on the deep, as the moon on the sky,
A phantom of beauty, could deem with a sigh,
That so lovely a thing is the mansion of sin,
And souls, that are smitten, lie bursting within?
Who, as he watches her silently gliding,
Remembers that wave after wave is dividing
Bosoms, that sorrow and guilt could not sever,
Hearts that are parted and broken for ever?
Or dreams that he watches, afloat on the wave,
The death-bed of hope, or the young spirit's grave?"

—T. K. HERVEY.

Four months had passed since the convict transport Southern Cross left her moorings in the Thames, and started on her long and perilous voyage to New South Wales. She had experienced changeful weather since leaving England—now stormy now still: nearly lost in the Bay of Biscay through the heavy gales, considerably endangered on the line by the protracted calm. But she had passed safely through these perils of the deep, and was now sailing in the Great Southern Ocean before a gentle breeze, three-fourths of her journey done.

Midnight upon the sea! The waning moon, rising upon the wide circle of waters, was shedding a softened splendour upon the vast scene, and illuming the white sails of the lonely vessel till she glistened in its silvery rays like a floating iceberg. Above, the dark blue sky, gazing down with its million eyes upon the foam-flecked waves; below, the dark blue waters, proudly bearing the vessel onward upon her course. No imagination of poet, or painter can create a scene of such glowing, such wondrous beauty, as this presented by Nature to those who traverse, the vast wilderness of the deep.

All but the watch were in their berths, and, excepting one prisoner, were quietly sleeping. But one in this silent hour was brooding over his wrongs—hope and despair at war in his weary heart. Nearer and nearer, as day succeeded day, he approached the land of his exile. His heart was filled with a vague dread. Had he foreseen the dangers and troubles awaiting him there, could he have borne up? His feelings were well expressed by the lines he had that morning written upon a piece of rough paper that he had picked up:—


"God doth impart
His blessings, oft disguised in charity.
Then, aching heart,
Cease brooding o'er thy matchless misery!

There is no sense
In troubling for the future, when we have
Omnipotence
Of watchful love in all extremes to save!"

It had been well for Percy Sinclair, could he have exchanged the delicate sensitiveness of the poet for the callous indifference of the felons around him—at least as far as concerned his mental suffering. The novelty of their position past, they settled down to their degraded situation readily, as if it were natural to them: It was so to most. But he—never shall the iron leave his soul—never shall he know a moment's rest till he can walk erect again upon God's earth a free man, all taint of crime removed. Shall that day ever come? Who can peer beyond the dark veil into the future? All caged in that floating prison may again be free; none may. Time and time's Master may alone tell what is in store for each, for all!

From the lonely vessel speeding through the moonlit waters, we turn to the then almost unknown continent of Australia.

On the eastern coast a large river (large at least for Australia) meandered through an extensive valley, and, after a course of upwards of a hundred and fifty miles, flowed into the Pacific Ocean. Upon the dark foliage of the dense cedar bushes, and primeval forests of gums and ironbarks that clothed the valley, shone the same moon, in her universal power and splendour, tipping the topmost boughs with a silver radiance. Could they of to-day, glancing back over a period of forty years, look from a bird's-eye view upon this Valley of the Hunter, as it appeared under the moon on the night of our story, what an almost incredible change would they perceive. Now, through its entire length can be seen, in the presence of towns and villages, of cultivated fields, and meadows dotted over with sheep and cattle, and in the extermination of the beautiful cedar bushes, and wholesale destruction of other timber, the progress of civilization. Then, but in small settlements, at distant intervals along the river, where adventurous sheep and cattle farmers had pushed forward their flocks and herds in search of new pastures, the mighty forest was undisturbed, save by the native wild beasts and wilder man. Where now stand the growing centres of white population, were the encampments of the indigenous proprietors of the soil. Where now stands Newcastle, the second city of the colony (and, in the eyes of the world, the first in the southern hemisphere) was a small village, numbering less hundreds than now it does thousands. Maitland, another village of forty years ago, has since expanded into a populous and wealthy town. Barely in any country has the face of nature been so completely transformed in so brief a period.

As we gaze back (in imagination, of course) upon the moonlit valley, we can discern a new-built homestead, standing upon a slope, about half a mile from the river, and facing an extensive and partially-cleared "flat." The farm appears as if snatched from the forest that presses round it on all sides, as though jealous of the intruder's presence. The house was erected in the style of architecture prevalent at the time—a wooden building with a passage running through, and a broad verandah in front and on two sides. The droop of the roof was steep, and the material employed in covering the house was shingles, or thin boards split from gum or ironbark billets. Near the river was a row of huts for the Government men, and, about half-way between them and the house, were the yards and pens for the cattle. We cannot now stay to describe the farm or station in detail, but must turn to the real object of our visit—to introduce to our readers the "Lily of the Hunter Valley," the loveliest girl that Australia (in the year 1835) could produce. We do do not pretend that our heroine was fairer than some of the lilies now blooming upon the banks of our noble river; but if all women were only as beautiful as she, and as good as they looked, what a terrestrial paradise our world would be.

Late as it was, a candle was burning in a small, but tastefully arranged bedchamber, and an open book was lying upon the carpet by the bedside. These links of circumstantial evidence were sufficient to convict the occupant of the room of the dangerous practice of reading in bed. But a glance at the sweet beauty of the sleeper would disarm any but a misogynist of all thought of reproof. It is useless to attempt a description of her loveliness. The rich colour of her cheeks, the dazzling whiteness of her brow, the exquisite contour of her whole features would baffle the brush of an artist, and no pen can portray the luxuriant wealth of her lightbrown tresses. Her ruby lips were parted—the sweetest of sweet smiles wreathing them ('tis said, they dream of heaven who smile in sleep), and they disclosed a set of teeth—to what may we liken them? Twin rows of tiny pearls! The similie is too hackneyed, and yet there is nothing else in nature at all resembling them. Her eyes—well, of course, being asleep, her eyes were out of sight; but we will tell our readers (in confidence) that they were of heaven's own hue—a rich and pensive blue. She appeared, in her gentle slumber, more like an exquisite piece of Grecian sculpture, than a breathing, human being. Never yet had trouble cast its baleful shadow upon her young life. Looking at all that is in store for her in this veritable vale of tears, one could almost wish that she might escape it by passing away before the dark side of the world ("the beautiful world" as she called it) should appear to her. If they so young, so fair, so good, must meet with bitter trial, how can we expect our journey to the grave to be through a path of roses? But away; let her sleep on. She shall awake to the stern reality of life soon enough—too soon!

And now, back over forest and flood, to the lonely ship. We left her in all the glory of moonlight. No moon now visible. We left her (and not half-an-hour since) gliding along before a gentle breeze, all sail set. She is now dashing along under bare poles, the heavy seas pursuing her, overtaking her and leaping upon her trembling bulwarks, as if bent upon thrusting her and her load of shame down, down beyond the light of heaven. Dark the scene as the lowest depths of Tartarus, save ever and anon, red flashes of lightning illuminated it with momentary and ghastly brightness, and revealed to the terrified mariners the vast expanse of black and surging waters. Stealthily as a beast of prey approaches its victim, came the hurricane upon the ship. A cloud, a little cloud, rose upon the distant horizon. It was followed by others, till a vast mass of moving vapor encompassed the southern sky, and, advancing upon the wings of the storm, soon blotted out the light of the moon, and changed the bright scene to one of gloomy darkness. Among the wretched prisoners in the hold, there were more prayers (if prayers they may be called) offered for the destruction of the transport than their own safety, and even Percy Sinclair, as the rolling of the ship caused his chains to bruise and chafe his limbs, felt so despondent that he almost hoped the night would prove his last.

Bravely the vessel bore on through the struggle of wind and wave, her creaking timbers witnessing to the terrible force of the storm. Hour after hour passed, as she plunged along in her mad career, the issue still uncertain—now settling down in the black trough of the seas, as if abandoning herself in despair to the seemingly inevitable, now springing upon the crest of the mountain rollers, as if inspired with new life, and, shaking the salt spray from her quivering sides, dashing forward through the darkness—fleeing before the rude breath of the storm-fiend. The blackness of night, chequered by the intermittent glare of the thundercloud, gave place to the dull light of morning—the hurricane unabated. At daybreak the foremast went by the board, and in cutting away the wreckage, several men were washed overboard by the heavy seas that continually swept the ship.

Fortunately for the plot of our story, the weather moderated about noon, or one of our principal characters had been lost to us. At mid-day the wind began to lull, and gradually subsided into a steady breeze; and the bruised and battered Southern Cross, victorious in the late direful struggle, lay helpless upon the waves, a sad witness to its terrible violence. If any earthly situation could shadow forth, however faintly the horrors of the gloomy, nether world, the hold of that floating prison during the continuance of the storm was a foretaste of the tortures of a lost hereafter. Shut down by battened hatches that precluded ventilation, and almost smothered the unhappy wretches confined below, lying in pitchy darkness, and dashed from side to side by the rolling of the ship, the intervals of the startling crashes of thunder filled by the shrieks of the timid and maniac laughter and blasphemies of the hardened—it seemed a very pandemonium to Percy Sinclair.

Soon after two o'clock the hatches were lifted, admitting to the almost stifled prisoners the inestimable blessing of pure air. With a will worked the crew and some of the more handy among the guard, and before night the Southern Cross was sailing under a jury foremast; and at midnight, when the moon again shone brightly upon the waters, none could have observed a trace of the storm, save in the heavy swell of the waves. On she sped before the favoring wind toward that land to be the grave of most of her motley living freight.


CHAPTER IX.


Maiden! with the meek, brown eyes,
In whose orbs a shadow lies
Like the dusk in evening skies!

Thou whose locks outshine the sun,
Golden tresses, wreathed in one,
As the braided streamlets run!

Standing, with reluctant feet,
Where the brook and river meet,
Womanhood and childhood fleet!

Gazing with a timid glance,
On the brooklet's swift advance,
On the river's wide expanse!

—LONGFELLOW.

Another four months, and the Southern Cross has given up her charge, and her mixed assortment of prisoners are penned in Hyde Park Barracks—the more desperate portion to be employed upon public works, the remainder to be assigned to various masters, and scattered broadcast among the settlements. From Sydney, the capital town of the young colony, we turn northward, and reach the scene of our future chapters—the Valley of the Hunter River. Situated several miles above the mouth of the river was an extensive cattle farm, the property of Walter Shelley, Esq. Our readers may recollect it as the scene of our late midnight visit. The owner of the estate had named it Field Place, after the birthplace of his illustrious namesake, the immortal poet Percy Bysshe Shelley.

Field Place was a large Government grant of some two thousand acres; and was surrounded by almost unlimited grazing land, the nearest neighbour being at least ten miles away. Mr. Shelley had been a military officer in a regiment Stationed in New South Wales; and on resigning his commission, and marrying the only daughter of one of the high colonial officials, he had received, as a free grant, this splendid estate. He had prospered beyond his most sanguine expectations, and now possessed some of the best sheep and cattle in the colony. There was nothing in his appearance or manner to lead a stranger to guess his original profession. He had completely merged the soldier into the cattle-farmer—or, in the expressive term of the colony, the squatter. Few of his comrades, who, like himself, had relinquished the sword for the plough and the stock whip, were so thoroughly successful—probably because they did not relinquish with it the fashionable indolence and indifference, that in times of peace are its usual accompaniment. It was his boast to possess the best flocks and herds, the least troublesome government servants; and—when business carried him to the neighboring village of Newcastle or Maitland, and he took a glass or so too much wine—the handsomest wife and daughter in the colony. The latter part of the boast, though, perhaps, only excusable on the plea that "when the wine is in the wit is out," was, nevertheless, as true as the former. Few matrons of thirty-six were as fair and comely as Mrs. Shelley, and Bertha—'tis seldom two such lilies are seen in a lifetime!

It was early morning, and before the stars had faded from the sky, the pride of Field Place was up and out, inhaling the invigorating air, and adding to the bloom upon her cheeks and the brightness of her eyes by the healthful exercise of walking. A young friend, the daughter of their next neighbour, and a girl of her own age, was expected on a visit that morning, and Bertha, accompanied by her father, was to ride out to meet her; and wishing to start directly after breakfast, she had gone down to a small paddock at the back of the stockyard where her pony was usually kept, to take him to the stable for his morning's feed. Snowflake never remembered receiving his corn at any other hands than hers; and guided by self-interest (what can we expect from men, when even horses are actuated by mercenary motives?) directly he heard her voice, singing as she came along, he trotted up to the slip-rails, and stood waiting impatiently for them to be taken down.

'Good morning, Master Snowflake,' she said, gaily, as she let him through. 'You must make haste over your breakfast, old fellow, or you'll lose it; for you have to take me for a ride directly I have finished mine! Come along!' The pony regarded her for a moment with his large grave eyes, as seriously as if he knew all about it, and then, without waiting for further parley, trotted off to the stable to lose no time in beginning. Bertha followed him, laughing at his hurry, and, having filled his bin with corn, left him to enjoy himself, while she got her own breakfast, and prepared for her ride. On the verandah she met her father returning from the huts, 'Well, pussy, ready for your ride this morning?' he said, smiling at her excitement. 'See those red clouds along the top of the hills to the east! Don't you think it will rain to-day?'

'Now, Papa,' she answered, gravely, holding up a finger in mock reproof, 'Don't you prophecy rain! It doesn't look more like a change, than it did when you went to Newcastle last week. Mind, I shall be ready in an hour, so don't keep me waiting,' and without staying for a reply, she hurried into the house. Her father followed, and found breakfast ready and his energetic little daughter busily engaged in cutting sandwiches for their lunch in the bush. 'I have some good news for you, Grace!' Mr. Shelley said, addressing his wife as he took his seat.

'Indeed, Walter,' replied the lady, looking up.

'May I guess, papa?' Bertha exclaimed, forgetting her hurry and laying down her knife.

Mr. Shelley looked at the bright, eager face, a roguish twinkle in his eyes. 'Yes, Bert, you may try; but you can't guess, so you had better give it up.'

'Is it a matter of great importance?'

'Yes!'

'Very great importance?'

'Yes!'

'Are we to have a new Governor?'

'No! It's of more importance than a doz'sn new Governors.'

'You have bought me the new saddle you promised?'

'Guess again, pussy! More important still!'

'We are not going to live in Sydney again?' Bertha asked, with a frightened look. The forest flower had no love for town life.

'No, it is something of even more importance yet. Do you give it up?'

Mrs. Shelley looked on with an amused smile upon her fair face, while her husband was teasing Bertha. With a sigh of relief at the escape from Sydney life, that young lady demurely 'gave it up.'

'You won't tell your visitor, Miss Blair!'

'No, papa!' this said eagerly; girls dearly love to be the keepers of secrets, though, as a rule, not very successful in keeping them unassisted.

'I found a hen's nest in the stockyard with a dozen eggs in it.'

'Oh, papa!' was all that Bertha could exclaim in her vexation and disappointment; and her father indulged in a hearty laugh at her evident annoyance.

'But to be serious, Grace,' he continued, turning to Mrs. Shelley, 'I was told by the overseer, just now, that another transport is in. He heard it yesterday from Mr. Drayton, who was passing on his way to Sydney. We want another hand or two; so I will start to-morrow for Sydney myself to try if I can procure a couple more. I dare say your father could select me a couple of respectable men from among the cargo—men sent out for some minor offence.'

'And try if you can get me a cook, Walter. I want another girl; the work is getting too much for Janet,' said Mrs. Shelley, handing her husband his tea.

Mr. Shelley agreed to attend to the request; and no more time was spent in talking, all being anxious to get through the breakfast, and about the business of the day; and before the sun was an hour high, Bertha and her father were mounted, and attended by a tame black-fellow upon one of the stock horses, cantered off to meet their expected guest. The road led through the beautiful valley, now along the bank of the broad Hunter, now among the trees of the park-like bush, far away from sight or sound of the river; through dark brushes and open forest it wound along—the musical note of the bell-bird falling upon the ear as they rode through the dense cedar groves, the homely song of the magpie as they emerged upon the open ground. They cantered along, the silent bush resounding to the joyous mirth of the merry light-hearted girl, as her father recited anecdote after anecdote of his youth, and of the many strange and amusing things he had witnessed in his campaigning days. As they reached the outskirts of the station they overtook the overseer riding along slowly, and attentively examining the road.

'Holloa, Davy, what's the matter now?' Mr. Shelley asked, as they reached his side.

Without looking up the overseer replied, 'Them infernal blackskins has been at the sheep again, Sir. Just after you left the stockyard this morning, Jack, the boy, came up, and reported twenty sheep missing from his flock. I sent him on with the rest, and went myself in search of the runaways.'

'Ah! Do you think you are on their trail?' Mr. Shelley enquired, as he dismounted, and stooped down to examine the path.

'Yes, Sir, I've got it as sure as a gun. They can't be far off; for the tracks are quite fresh,' replied Davy Collier, the overseer.

'Bale dat track belongin to jumbuc!' suggested Jerry the blackboy.

'Why, you black devil—I beg your pardon, Miss; black rascal, I mean,—the tracks are as clear as your pipeclay teeth!' exclaimed the overseer, eyeing Jerry suspiciously. 'Come, now, I believe you know more than you pretend to about these jumbucs. Where did other blackfeller take 'em?'

'Bale dat Jerry know, Daby,' answered Jerry with a look of injured innocence. 'Me tink it alonga dat scrub!' he continued, pointing in a direction at right angles to the track of the sheep.

'Well, what do you think, Davy?' Mr. Shelley asked, remounting his horse.

'That the darkies have taken them to the Broad Lagoon, where we may find them in a quarter of an hour, and that Jerry here is what I was lagged for—accessory before the fact,' replied Davy.

'You tink it jumbuc [sheep] go dat way?' asked Jerry, with a grin, pointing in the direction of the Broad Lagoon.

'Yes, you nigger, and very well you know it,' answered the overseer; but before he had concluded his complimentary affirmation, Jerry had put spurs to his horse, and was out of sight among the timber, following the trail at full speed.

'Well, you're a cute un!' soliloquized Darby Collier, looking after him. 'Will you ride with me after the sheep, Sir? It's not more than a mile to the black's camp on the Broad Lagoon!' he added, as he was about following in pursuit.

'I think we will, Davy. There's no danger, Bertha, the blacks are only some of our own tame ones.'

'Very well, papa; I'm not a bit afraid!' replied the adventurous young lady, feeling very like a heroine, at the prospect of riding to the rescue.

The three left the road and slowly followed the trail down a long slope, and through a natural gap in a brush, and found themselves upon a large plain, scantily timbered as an English park; but, before Bertha could express her delight at the beauty of the prospect she now beheld for the first time, Davy exclaimed 'Well, after this, I'll back a darky agin a Yankee for cuteness; blowed if I won't! Look there, sir, Jerry and half the tribe driving the missing sheep this way. I'll lay a crown they'll swear they just found them.'

And there, about half-way across the plain, were the truants with their dusky keepers, who were urging them along with great energy, probably wishing to put as much ground as possible between them and their camp, before they should meet 'Misser Selley.'

The overseer pressed forward at a gallop, and, before Bertha and her father could come up with them, he was in the midst of the jabbering crowd.

'Look here Daby, me make-a-light jumbuck! [find sheep.] What you give it me?' bawled a dignified old darky, who carried upon his breast a brazen advertisement of his kingly rank.

'Give it you this, you infernal old thief! What for you steal him jumbuc?' said the overseer sternly, and, showing the length of his heavy stockwhip. A perfect Babel of tongues joined in asserting their innocence, and protesting that they never steal him anything belongin to "Misser Selley,"—one old fellow asking in a tone of injured dignity, 'What for that jumbuc want to come along a blackfeller like a that?' The question delighted the sable crowd, who accepted it as unanswerable, and shouted 'Budgery, Euringa pialla [good Euringa talk] like a-that!' Flattered by the popular applause, Euringa essayed again. 'What for that murry gourri jumbuc yan [good fat sheep come] along a blackfeller?'

Before Davy could retort to the sophistry of the unbleached philosopher, Mr. Shelley and Bertha rode up.

'That murry budgery [very good] Missie Berta,' shouted a chorus of voices; for the 'budgery white piccaninny' was a great favorite among the blacks who visited the station.

'Missie Berta murry coula [very angry] belongin to blackfeller, when that man jumbuc like-a this,' said the overseer.

'Bale that Euringa, man jumbuc Missie Berta!' asserted the sophist.

'Bale that King Bony!' said the chief; 'Bale that me! bale that me!' shouted each a turn, anxious to retain the good graces of Missie Berta.

Jerry sat upon his horse and grinned in silence.

'Where did you make-a-light jumbuc, Jerry?' the overseer asked him abruptly.

'That King Bony and lot a blackfeller fetch him jumbuc back to station,' replied the cunning savage, gravely.

'Well, Davy, now that they are found, I will leave you and Jerry to drive them home; and we will continue our ride,' said Mr. Shelley, turning his horse's head towards the brush they had just crossed.

'Very well, sir,' returned Davy, heading the sheep for the gap.

Leaving the overseer to attend to the driving, Mr. Shelley and Bertha retraced their way through the brush to the road beyond; and after a brisk ride of a couple of hours met Mr. Blair and his daughter Edith.

'Here they are!' cried Bertha, excitedly, as her friend appeared in sight; and urging her pony to a gallop was soon at her side.

'O, I'm so glad you've come, Edith!' exclaimed the impetuous Bertha, as soon as the preliminary salutations were over. 'I was afraid you would disappoint me.'

'Mamma says I may stay with you for a fortnight,' replied Miss Edith; and Bertha fairly clapped her hands with delight. It was seldom indeed she had the pleasure of the company of a friend of her own age.

Miss Blair was a direct contrast to Bertha, though a very beautiful girl. Her eyes and hair were dark brown, and her manner gentle and retiring, while her companion was a very lily in complexion, and as impetuous and energetic as Edith was quiet and reserved, but in kindness of heart and sweetness of disposition they were well matched. Equal in beauty of character they were, though of different types of loveliness; equal in graces of person; and there are many who would prefer the brown eyes and delicate features of the gentle Edith to the more dazzling fairness of the light-hearted Bertha.

'By the right, wheel, Forward!' said Mr. Shelley, in a tone of playful command, at the same time turning his horse's head in the direction of home. The others followed his action, and they rode slowly back, the girls in advance laughing and chatting merrily as their ponies cantered along; and their fathers following, gravely canvassing the condition of the colony and other kindred topics.

'I hear, Shelley, that the bushrangers are away beyond the Wollombi, somewhere—in the direction of Windsor,' said Mr. Blair, after he and his companion had exhausted the land question, treatment of convicts, city gossip, and other usual items of conversation. 'Four of them were taken about three weeks ago and hanged. From what they said, it appears the gang is completely dispirited and disorganized, and it is the current opinion, in Sydney, that the survivors will be arrested and dispatched before long.'

'I hope so, Blair. However, we have no cause to complain; they never molested either of us,' replied Mr. Shelley.

'But that is no proof they would always be so considerate. However, we are safe now, or at least till there is another gang formed.'

'Bourke [Sir Richard Bourke, Governor] seems determined to stamp out the crime. All runaways are to be hung, without enquiry being made as to any actual deed of robbery.'

'Rather warm that! However, it is better to hang an incipient bushranger at once, than to wait till a dozen valuable lives are sacrificed.'

'Holloa? What's this? Sheep tracks?'

'Yes; my blacks walked off, last night, with a score of fat wethers; but the overseer got on their trail, and found them over by the broad lagoon yonder. The cunning rascals tried to persuade me they had found them, and were taking them home,' said Mr. Shelley, laughing at the recollection of the scene on the plain beyond the cedar bush.

'Don't tell me villainy is born of our artificial society, and that to be an unfettered son of the forest is to be all that is honest and noble,' exclaimed Mr. Blair, joining in the laugh. 'My experience is that our noble savage is as cunning and avaricious as his white brethren.'

'Look, Blair, our girls are nearly out of sight; we had better overtake them,' and, loosening rein, they set their horses into a gallop, and soon came up with the light-hearted pair, who were chatting away quite oblivious of all the world but themselves, the subject of their discussion at the moment being the relative merits of their respective ponies, Ruby and Snowflake.

'What o'clock is it, papa?' enquired Bertha, as the gentlemen rode up.

'About dinnertime, you think, eh?' answered Mr. Shelley, laughing. 'Riding appears to sharpen your appetite.'

'Not far from one, I should say,' suggested Mr. Blair, looking at the shadow under his horse's feet.

Mr. Shelley looked at his watch. 'You are not far out,' he said; 'it wants ten minutes. There is a creek [Australian synonyme for brook] about a quarter of a mile further on, where we may boil the tea for lunch. Canter on, girls.'

The girls cantered on (or rather their ponies did, which was all the same), and in about ten minutes the party had reached the creek, and dismounted. Mr. Blair hobbled the horses, while Mr. Shelley made the fire, and set down the quart-pots of water to boil; while waiting for which performance on part of the pots, the girls made an impromptu swing of a tough vine depending from the branches of a large gum tree; and enjoyed themselves immensely, their fathers beguiling the interval by discussing business topics.

'Oh, by-the-bye, how are you off for men?' asked Mr. Shelley, after they had satisfactorily settled a suit between two neighbours higher up the valley, that was being tried in Sydney. 'There is another transport in.'

'Is there? Well, I'm full handed at present,' replied Mr. Blair, throwing some more sticks upon the fire.

'I am going down to-morrow to get a general hand, and Mrs. S. wants a housemaid, or something of the sort, and had you required another man, I could have got him for you quicker, perhaps, than you could have procured him yourself. Fullerton manages these matters for me very expeditiously.'

'It is very convenient to have a friend at court,' said Mr. Blair; 'and if I had needed another hand, I would have been glad to avail myself of your kindness. O, I tell you what you may do—buy me a strong dray and a tarpaulin. Mine are both pretty well worn out. In fact, they were so when I got them.'

'I will execute that, and any other commission you entrust to me, with pleasure; and now that the water is boiling, call the girls, while I throw in the tea.'

Mr. Blair rose, and walked in the direction of the peals of ringing laughter that saluted his ear, and Mr. Shelly made the tea and took out of his saddle-bags the sandwiches Bertha had prepared.

'Papa is going to have a flower garden made in front of the house, Edith, and a summer house. Won't that be delightful?' said Bertha, pausing for a moment, from the exercise of swinging her friend. 'And that reminds me I must ask him to get the seeds and cuttings while he is in Sydney. He is going to-morrow.'

'I wish he would get some snowdrops, Bertha. Will you ask him to; they are such dear little things. Come peeping up directly the snow is off the ground! Oh, we love the snowdrop in England!' exclaimed Edith, with enthusiasm.

'England must be a beautiful country, Edith! I wonder whether I shall ever see it.'

Wonder on little lady; 'tis the hand of mercy that hides the future! Wonder on!

'I forgot that you are a native, Bertha, and can know nothing of our beautiful English spring,' said Edith.

'How old were you, Edith, when you came to Australia?' Bertha asked, rather envious of her companion's good fortune, in having seen more of the great world.

'Between twelve and thirteen; but young as I was, I remember, vividly, the beautiful, green meadows, dotted over with daisies and cowslips and little blue violets. The grass and trees there are a real bright green, not a browny-green as they are here. And then the sweet singing-birds, Bertha; they are not, perhaps, as lovely in form and colour as your parrots and lyre-birds, but oh, such sweet, such delightful singers!'

'Now, young ladies, come along,' shouted Mr. Blair from a distance—saving his legs at the expense of his lungs.

'Come along, Edith; "that cobbon pot belongin to boil," as our blackboy, Jerry, would say,' exclaimed the impetuous Bertha; and the bright pair abandoned their swing, and ran a race back to the fire.

Half-an-hour spent over their lunch in the bush, and the party were mounted again, and cantering homeward, under the smiling sun. Would that the sun could smile thus for ever—the dark cloud of care never obscuring its brightness!


CHAPTER X.


Spirit of BEAUTY, that dost consecrate
With thine own hues all thou dost shine upon
Of human thought or form, where art thou gone?
Why dost thou pass away, and leave our state,
This dim vast vale of tears, vacant and desolate?
Ask why the sunlight not for ever,
Weaves rainbows o'er yon mountain river;
Why aught should fail and fade that once is shone;
Why fear, and dream, and death, and birth,
Cast on the daylight of this earth
Such gloom; why man hath such a scope
For love and hate, despondency and hope!

—PERCY SHELLEY.

Sydney in 1835! The metropolis of Australia forty years ago, bore a very different aspect to its present. In place of the magnificent public buildings and substantial warehouses of to-day, were humble slab or weatherboard tenements; and the lumbering bullock-dray, now a rare sight in its streets, was the ordinary means of transit. But time, that has made these changes among the works of man, has been powerless to alter the face of our beautiful harbour. It is now disturbed by more constant navigation, and the presence of the crowd of vessels continually moving upon its waters has scared away the flocks of waterfowl that at one time frequented it; but the 'harbour with a hundred bays' defies the hand of man to mar its beauty, which must remain co-existent with time itself. Then, as now, through its varied extent, were places vieing with, nay, surpassing in natural picturesqueness and beauty the most vaunted bays of the older world. The numberless romantic coves along its shores were each in itself a study for a landscape painter. Alike, yet how different! Each with its background of abrupt forest-clothed hill, its open sward, covered with a carpet of rich verdure, and its foreground of dark-blue waters. The same in general features, yet with what infinite variety of detail! Then, as now, the tourist would well be repaid the trouble of a journey from Europe to witness the beauty of the fairest harbour upon the face of the whole earth.

Hyde Park Barracks was a large brick building, at the eastern extremity of King-street, and was employed as a sort of head-quarters for the unassigned convicts. To this barracks Mr. Shelley and his father-in-law, Mr. Fullerton, went, armed with the necessary authority, to select a couple of servants.

'I have my eyes on a gentlemanly-looking young fellow, who arrived, the other day in the Southern Cross,' said Mr. Fullerton, as they walked up Macquarie-street, towards the barracks. 'I think he would suit me as a clerk, but if he takes your fancy you may have him.'

'What was he transported for? I don't want anyone likely to demoralize my men,' replied Mr. Shelley.

'I don't know. I intended to inquire, but it slipped my memory. I don't imagine he was either a burglar or a highwayman, though, from his appearance.'

'O, by-the-bye, a girl, too! A cook I think it was that Grace said,' exclaimed Mr. Shelley, as if suddenly recollecting something he ought not to have forgotten.

'Here you will find all you may require, from a scullery maid to a legal adviser; and from the villain who cheated the gallows, to the unfortunate wight, transported through Justice being as blind as she professes so be,' replied Mr. Fullerton, as they entered the gate.

It was the hour for the unemployed prisoners to be assembled in the barrack yard; and Mr. Fullerton pointed out the subject of their conversation standing among several other men, all dressed in the prisoner's motley garb of shame. Before finally deciding to take his father-in-law's choice, Mr. Shelley examined the group attentively; but seeing none to compare in evident respectability with the thoughtful-looking young man his attention had been directed to, he selected him, and took down the name of 'Percy Sinclair, forgery, ex Southern Cross,' upon his printed form of application. He also picked out a pale, thin, young man, about twenty years of age.

'What do you want that youth for? He is not strong enough for bush work, I should think?' said Mr. Fullerton.

'O, he'll do for a shepherd,' returned his son-in-law. 'The poor fellow doesn't look able to rough it with some of the masters, I know. Well, my man,' he continued, addressing the youth, 'what were you sent out for?'

'Cos I stealed a bit of a loaf out'r a baker's cart, when my brothers and sisters was a starvin!' he replied—his eyes flashing defiantly, as if he would repeat the crime (if, in the eyes of heaven, a crime it was) under similar distressing circumstances. Who would not, and still claim to be a man?

'And now about the maid servant for Grace,' said Mr. Shelley, bent on redeeming his promise to his wife. ('Oh, that all husbands would do the same!' sigh some of our fair readers.)

They repaired to the part of the barracks set apart for female convicts.

'What do you think of that girl yonder?' Mr. Fullerton said, pointing to a young girl standing by a window, and gazing listlessly out upon the street. 'I don't suppose, from her appearance, she ever fried a steak or peeled a potatoe in her life; but it would be a pity if a girl like her were assigned to some of the heartless wretches about here, gentlemen though they call themselves. If she should be a little awkward in the kitchen at first, Grace could teach her the work.'

'She is, certainly, a most interesting-looking girl. I wonder what in the category of crime her's was?' replied Mr. Shelley. 'Unless appearances are strangely deceptive, her presence here, in a convict barracks, is another of blind Justice's blunders. Well, make enquiries for me, and if you think she will suit us, enter her in the application form. It seems an anomaly to look for moral character in such a registry office as this; but you see, I am more anxious to obtain servants with the least possible amount of vice, than I am to secure useful ones!' said Mr. Shelley, thoughtfully.

'If the face is an index of the mind, you cannot do wrong in taking her. Goodness seems written upon her every feature, and if those dove-like eyes of her's, beaming with innocence and truth, belong to a depraved and guilty woman, I have lost all faith in physiognomy. You wonder, perhaps, why I take so great an interest in this girl. I will tell you; but it must go no further. I was through here yesterday with Brownlow (you know him—the most heartless libertine in Sydney.) He appeared struck with the girl's appearance, and told me he should apply for her, as he was in want of a housekeeper!' said the elder gentleman.

'If that's how the wind blows,' returned Mr. Shelley, 'I will take her. Can you get the assignment papers made out by to-morrow?'

'I will try. And now about the flower-seeds for Bertha. You can get the best variety from old Ben. Jacobs, in Castlereagh-street. I will see about these papers at once, while you are attending to any other business you may have on hand.'

'Thanks. I have enough to attend to, to keep me employed till dark; so don't wait for me, when you are ready to go home!' said Mr. Shelley, as they were passing out of the Barrack gate.

'Very well! But manage to get back in time for an early tea. I have not had a good game of backgammon since you were in Sydney last!' replied Mr. Fullerton.

Promising to return home in time for the coveted game, Mr. Shelley bent his steps towards Hyde Park, or the Race-course, as it was then more commonly called, and his father-in-law turned down Macquarie-street, to attend to the business of getting the assignment over.

Two nights after the thriving squatter had selected his new hands, he placed them on board the little Sophia Jane, and started homeward. The steamer left the wharf at eleven o'clock, and passed down the harbour.

Percy Sinclair finding the fore-cabin close and hot went on deck, and paced its contracted space in gloomy reverie. He liked the appearance and manner of his new master, and felt that he ought to feel grateful for falling into the hands of Captain Shelley, as that gentleman was still called in Sydney; but he could not dismiss the haunting thought, that he was now, to all intents and purposes, a slave, and in a position more degraded than that of the negros in the United States—they were accepted to be such through no fault of their own; but he, and those in his shameful situation, were looked upon as having, led by their evil passions, voluntarily abandoned their good name, and forfeited with their liberty all claim to sympathy and respect. To those, who, like himself, were victims of a miscarriage of justice, these bitter reflections occasioned the acutest mental suffering.

Wrapped in this cloud of gloomy reverie, Percy Sinclair passed down the harbour, unconscious of the moon-flooded beauty that lay upon the scene. As the steamer was rounding the North Head, he was aroused by a touch upon his arm, and, on turning round, found a young girl, also arrayed in prison garb, standing at his elbow.

'I hope you will forgive me, sir, for addressing you, but I would so much like to know whether you are assigned to Mr. Shelley of the Hunter River?' she said, in a low voice.

'Yes!' answered Percy Sinclair, in a blunt preoccupied manner—he had evidently left his politeness behind him.

'I beg your pardon, sir, for disturbing you,' she answered, timidly.

Percy noticed the disappointed tone of her sweet voice, and, holding out his hand, said kindly 'Make no apology, Miss? It is for me to beg your pardon for my discourtesy. Yes, I am assigned to Mr. Shelley. Are you?'

'Yes, sir,' she answered smiling, reassured by his altered tone, 'and I hoped you were also; because he is, I am told, a kind and just man, and because, as I am going among strangers, I would like someone I have seen before to be there too. I was one of your fellow-prisoners in the Southern Cross.' This last sentence was said in a low whisper, as though the poor girl was loth to speak of her shame, and afraid of hurting her companion's feelings.

'Ah, I remember having seen you on the deck of the transport. Well, as we are still to be fellow-prisoners,' he said, with bitter emphasis upon the last word, 'and may be thrown very much in each other's company, it will be convenient to know each other's names. Mine is Sinclair—Percy Sinclair.'

'My name is Marion Macaulay.'

'Marion Macaulay? Too pretty a name for a convict!' he said, thoughtlessly.

'I might say the same of yours,' she replied, and added, 'It is not always wise to judge by appearance; but unless I heard it from your own lips, I could not believe you guilty of anything very wicked.'

An expression of pain flitted across his features. 'I am very grateful to you for your good opinion of me, Miss Macaulay,' he replied. 'I must admit that I hold the same of you. However, we are here—guilty, or not guilty—and whatever facts may say to the contrary, we are, in the eyes of all, convicts.'

'I cannot say why, unless it is because you so strongly resemble a very dear friend of mine, but I feel strangely drawn to you, and would so much like to have you as a friend! Have you a sister?'

'Yes,' he replied, mournfully, the picture of home rising vividly before him.

'Then, may I be that sister, till you see her again?' she asked, eagerly.

In spite of himself, Percy Sinclair began to feel a deep interest in his fellow-prisoner. Taking both her hands in his, he said, gently, 'Yes, Marion, we will be brother and sister, true and dear to each other as such for ever.'

The girl fairly wept—her heart overpowered by the joy of having found a friend, after those weary friendless months at sea. 'It is so new to have anyone to care for me, ever so little,' she sobbed, 'that I can't help this weakness.'

With all a brother's solicitude Percy strove to comfort her. After she had relieved her pent-up feelings by a few minutes' silent weeping, she looked up and said, in a voice tremulous with emotion, 'Oh, Mr. Sinclair, my heart is slowly, slowly breaking. May I tell you my sad story? It is all, all true—too true!'

Feeling that the recital of her troubles might compose her a little, he led her to a large coil of rope by the bulwarks, and making a seat of it for her, said tenderly, 'Tell me all your grief, if its relation will ease your heart!'

She began the story of her past life, but at first his thoughts would wander continually back to Elmsdale; to his beloved parents and sisters, and the pure-minded, true-hearted Anne. As Marion proceeded in her narration, however, he became absorbed in its mournful interest.

'I am the daughter of a clergyman—a curate, who laboured in a small country town in the county of Westmoreland. We were poor, as the family of a curate usually is; but we were all so contented and happy, till papa died, two years ago. I was just seventeen then. Mamma, only survived him a month; and my brother Reginald and I (there were only two of us) were left to fight our way alone through the cold world. Reginald obtained a situation as tutor in a gentleman's family; and I went out as governess. I was engaged in the family of a gentleman the next neighbour of Reginald's employer; and after the first pangs of our grief had subsided, we gradually became more contented and reconciled to our altered circumstances. I used frequently to meet my brother, as the parks of our respective employers adjoined; and for nearly a year we were very happy. About that time a gentleman, a school friend of my brother's, came on a visit to the neighbourhood, and renewed his acquaintance with Reginald. I often saw him in my walks with my brother; and he was so noble and good, and so very kind, that when one day I met him alone, and he told me he loved me, I found I already loved him as devotedly as he did me. He was not in a position to marry, being only a poor artist and writer for the magazines, and we were to wait for a year, by which time he was to get the situation of editor of one of the London Reviews, as the gentleman who then occupied it intended resigning. This is the anniversary of the day we were betrothed and, and—' Overcome by emotion she could say no more for a few minutes, but, by an effort, suppressing her sobs, she continued: 'Living with my employer's family was a young lady, a cousin, named Sara Grey. She had met Edgar in Paris two years before; and though he only thought of her and treated her as a friend, she fell violently in love with him. When she learnt that we were engaged, she seemed to go mad with jealousy. She accused me of having undermined her in his affection, and threatened to have a terrible revenge. Well, she kept her word. The eldest of my pupils had a small gold brooch set with diamonds. One day, about a month after Sara's threat, I received permission to visit a sick aunt, who lived in a neighbouring town, and to stay a few days. I packed my little carpet bag with a change of things, and Edgar drove me over in a gig that a friend of his lent to him. I found my aunt so very ill that I had no time to open the bag; but next morning, having occasion to take out a clean handkerchief, I unlocked it, and, on lifting up a dress, I out rolled the brooch. How it came there I couldn't tell; I picked it up, and at that moment entered a police officer with a search warrant. No need to search! He found the missing piece of jewellery in my hand! But I cannot tell you more now, I feel so very, very miserable!'

She leaned her arm upon the damp bulwarks, and, resting her fair head upon it, appeared to sleep, but the deep sighs that continually escaped her shewed that the unhappy girl was only too much awake to her misery.


CHAPTER XI.


See, the fire is sinking low
Dusky red the embers glow,
While above them still I cower—
While a moment more I linger,
Though the clock, with lifted finger,
Points beyond the midnight hour.

* * * * * * *

Every quivering tongue of flame,
Seems to murmur some great name,
Seems to say to me "Aspire!"
But the night-wind answers, "Hollow
Are the visions that you follow;
Into darkness sinks your fire."

—LONGFELLOW.

It was afternoon, and all was hurry and bustle in Field Place, for Mr. Shelley and the new servants were expected home. The black boy, Jerry, was stationed as sentry upon the landing stage to watch for and report the first appearance of the Sophia Jane round the bend of the river. Bertha and her friend, Edith, were engaged in assisting Mrs. Shelley in some household duties, but they could not restrain their curiosity and impatience, and were continually making excuses for running out upon the verandah to watch.

'I wonder what sort of a girl papa has brought!' said Bertha, as she put away the work she had finished. 'I hope she may be some one I can like. I wonder if she will be able to speak French!'

'And I wonder whether she will be a good cook!' said Mrs. Shelley, smiling at her daughter's estimate of a servant's qualifications.

'Mamma had one servant who was an educated woman,' said Edith. 'Sometimes real ladies are unfortunate enough to come out to the colony as prisoners.'

'Oh, how dreadful that must be! Well, if there were any real ladies upon the Southern Cross, I hope papa has brought one!' replied Bertha.

'And how about the cooking, Bertha? If your papa brings a lady, who talks French she will be precious little use in the kitchen!' said her mother.

'O, you can teach her the useful art of cookery in return for what she teaches me!' replied Bertha. 'I dearly want to learn French.'

'That cobbon big ship come along now, Missie Berta!' shouted the excited Jerry, bursting unceremoniously in among them.

'Come along, Edith. Will you go with us down to the river, mamma?' asked Bertha, snatching up her hat.

'No, my dear. Papa will be hungry, I expect, so I must stay and attend to the tea.'

Away ran the girls, Jerry in advance, and were soon by the bank. The Sophia Jane was then a couple of hundred yards from the landing stage, and preparing to bear up to it.

'O, I am so glad papa has returned,' said Bertha. 'I'm always frightened when he is away; the sea is so dangerous.'

'Perhaps the hutkeeper has neglected to prepare tea for the new men. Would it not be right to send Jerry to him, with orders to do so at once?' said the thoughtful Edith.

'Certainly, Edith dear! Jerry, go and tell Brown to put the kettle on at once, and to set the tea things. The new servants may be tired and hungry.'

Jerry scampered off with his young mistress's orders, and the girls sat upon a log, watching the approach of the boat, and speculating upon the probable appearance and disposition of the new arrivals, Bertha still harping upon the possibility of the new cook speaking French.

'I often think, Bertha,' said Edith, after a pause, 'when I look at the prisoners, what a strange book could be written of their histories; what harrowing tales of broken hearts and crushed hopes it would shew! Strange that people will sin, when sorrow is its certain consequence.'

'What a queer girl you are, Edith—always moralizing. Look, papa is waving his hand!'

The girls waved their hats in return; and in a few minutes the little steamer was puffing away at the landing-place. Mr. Shelley assisted the female servant ashore, and, after kissing his daughter and shaking hands with her companion, he returned aboard to help the men servants in getting the dray and other purchases off the steamer.

Marion Macaulay stood apart, watching the scene with a half-frightened gaze.

'Look, Edith, what a nice-looking girl the new cook is.'

'What a sweet expression she wears, Bertha. Could you fancy any one like her being very wicked? How sad and lonely she looks too! Let us speak to her.'

'Come along, then,' said the impulsive girl, leading the way to the new servant. 'Are you tired after your long journey?' she asked, kindly.

The young girl turned. 'Yes, Miss, a little. Are you Miss Shelley?'

'Yes! Here, sit upon this box, and rest yourself, while we are waiting for papa!'

'Thank you, Miss! But I am more seasick than tired!' she replied.

'And more heartsick than either!' said Edith mentally, noting the sad expression of her features.

'Then come along up to the house, and we will get you a cup of tea, and then you can lie down and have a sleep,' said Bertha.

'Thank you! You are very kind!'

'What is your name?'

'Marion Macaulay, Miss!'

'What a pretty name! Well, come along. You look very unwell!'

The girls walked up to the house, and introduced Marion to her new mistress; and, after the young girl had a cup of tea, she was sent to her room.

Mrs. Shelley was pleased with Marion's appearance, but she shook her head when Bertha asked her what she thought of the new cook, and said 'I am afraid I shall have to teach her that useful art, in return for what she may teach you; as you suggested just now!'

The dray and other things being safely landed, Mr. Shelley took the new hands down to the huts, where he left them, saying as he turned away, 'Now make yourselves as comfortable as you can! I shall not expect you to do much until next week.'

Percy Sinclair's heart sank, as he sat down upon a rough stool in his new quarters. He was now in verity a slave, to be driven hither and thither at the will of another—to be lashed like a dog, if it so pleased his master; for so the law allowed.

'Come, draw up, mate, and have a pannican o' tea. It's no use bein down in the mouth; you might have got into wus hands than our old man's. Come, draw up!'

The speaker was Hal. Brown, the hut-keeper, a one-legged reminiscence of the battle of Corunna.

Percy Sinclair obeyed mechanically, and took his seat at the table.

'And you, too, young un'!' Hal. continued, addressing the more youthful-looking 'hand.' 'Jest you draw your stool up too, and take this!' he said, filling another pannican with the refreshing beverage.

Hal. Brown saw, and shrewdly guessed the cause of the low spirits of the 'new hands,' and did his best to rouse them. 'Come lads,' he said, encouragingly, as they sat, Percy Sinclair gazing gloomily into the fire, and his companion aimlessly turning his spoon round and round in his tea. 'Englishmen oughter be like cats—always come down on their feet. Brown-studyin won't mend the matter—make it wus most likely—and a good linin' o' damper and beafsteak, washed down with a quart o' hot tea, 'll very likely improve it; so just take my adwice, and set to like alligators.'

Thus advised, Percy and his companion, whose name, by-the-way, was Giles, helped themselves to the new wheaten damper and steaming steak; and, if they didn't altogether set to like alligators, they ate at least as hearty a meal as could be expected under the circumstances, Hal. Brown the while striving to amuse them by relating some of his many adventures. Having a very fertile imagination, Hal. was never at a loss for an adventure, and could tell thrilling accounts of hairbreadth escapes by sea and land, in any ocean or continent his hearers chose. On one occasion he had been caught giving personal reminiscences of Richard the Third, on Bosworth Field, in which he figured as having encountered Crookback himself; but on a bystander pointing out the impossibility of the thing, he coolly replied, 'Ah, I forgot, it was my grandfather! Well, its all the same!'

It is strange what a powerful influence a cheerful companion exerts upon the spirits of even the saddest. Before the meal was half over, his hearers were listening with great interest to his absurd and improbable tales.

'I'll jest tell you a little adventure that happened to me about six months ago,' he said, as he seated himself comfortably with his back to the wall, and his wooden leg stretched out before him, one end of it resting upon the table. 'I was settin here as I may be now, when in comes our old man. 'Holloa, Hal.!' says he, 'Can you drive a team?' 'Yes, sir,' says I. 'I've done a power o' drivin in my time,' though, between us three, I knew no more about drivin than old Brindle, the off-side poler. 'Well,' says he, 'the bullock-driver is down with the tic-doloro in the stomach, and so you'll have to take the dray to Newcastle instead. Get the cattle yoked by daylight to-morrow, as we must start directly after breakfast.' 'All right, sir,' says I; and off he goes to the overseer to get the dray loaded. I followed him to the door, and saw the overseer drivin the bullocks up to the stockyard to unyoke 'em. I was rather afraid I couldn't manage the yokin-up business, so says I to myself, 'By St. George, if I could only turn 'em out with their neckties on, I'd be right as a Jew in the mornin!' 'I'm going to the yard, sir,' says I, callin after the master; 'And if you want to speak to the overseer I can send him up to the house.' 'Ah, do Hal.!' says he. 'Tell him to come at once, it'll be dark in half an hour; and I want him to see to puttin a couple o' cases into the dray.' There wasn't no time to lose, as the overseer was takin down the rails to let 'em into the yard; so says I, 'All right, sir,' and got over to the yard as quickly as my two legs would carry me.' (Here Hal. happened to look down, and saw that he had only one leg and a fraction; but not thinking it necessary to correct so trifling a mistake, be repeated, with an emphasis on the numeral,) 'As fast as my two legs would carry me.' 'Never mind unyokin the cattle, Davy,' says I, 'the bullock-driver 'll be here in a couple o' minutes. You're got to trot off to the house, the old man wants you at once.' 'But the bullock-driver's in bed, Hal.' says he, 'got a touch o' the ague or somethin' o' the sort.' 'Never mind him, Davy,' says I, 'he's better agin. Jest you look sharp, the master's waitin'.' So Davy leaves 'em in the yoke, and started off to the house; and I jest turned them out, yokes and all. Well, I was up and had the cattle in the dray next mornin', before anyone else was about. 'Holloa, Hal.,' says the old man, when he came down after breakfast, 'you're ready early.' 'Yes, sir,' says I. 'I've got an uncommon knack o' gettin' the cattle into their harness early.' Well, we started about eight o'clock, and got along all right for a couple o' hours, till the old man got tired o' the slow time we was marching at, and cantered on, leavin' me to fetch the team along; and then my troubles began. The leaders took a fancy to the short grass under the logs by the roadside, and in ferretin' after it they kept tangling the chains and wheels among the logs. I talked to the wretches till I couldn't stand it no longer, and when I found moral suasion, as the parsons call it, wouldn't go down with 'em, I laid into 'em with the whip. I swore if they didn't hit out and make up for lost time, I would; and I cut 'em right and left, till they shook 'emselves together and made off through the bush at the double. They knocked me down and the whole team went over me. The wheels would have gone over my head, too, as I lay stunned by the hoofs of the bullocks, only I made a dive and caught a grip o' the pole at the ring-bolt, and hung on like a old fool. On they went at a gallop through the bush, draggin' me and the dray after 'em like a squadron o' light cavalry at the charge.'

Here the old fellow paused, and wiped the perspiration from his pinched features and bald head. 'My eyes, it was hot work!' he said, glowing at the recollection. 'Well, they pulled up after about five miles. When I managed to get out o' my uncomfortable sitivation, I found we'd bin travellin' on one wheel—the near side one had snapped off clean as a carrot. The boxes had got piled up on the offside, and balanced the dray, so that when the cattle stopped it was standin' up all right like a goose on one leg.'

This last was rather too much for his hearers; and, in the hearty laugh, which it caused, Percy Sinclair forgot for the moment his own troubles.

'The cattle had wasted so much time fishin' for the short grass among the logs, that it was nearly sundown, so I turned the wretches out, and made the fire to boil my quart. After I had got my supper, I sat thinkin about one thing and another, till it got dark, and the moon rose. I can't tell how long I was sittin thinkin, but presently I was startled by hearin a whole troop o' dingoes behind me, howlin' like devils! I jumped up, and looked round; and all was as still as a church yard. Then I heard a bullock bell tinklin! It was right off in the bush, and sounded nearly a quarter of a mile away from my camp. Holloa, says I, that infernal off-side leader's on the tramp. I must fetch him back before I turn in! I called Pincher, the cattle dog, to go with me; but he was standin under the dray with his back up and his tail as brushy as a aggrawated tom cat, and his two eyes shining like a rack o' bagonets. He wouldn't budge a inch, he knowed a game worth two o' it; and if I'd only had as much savvy as the dog, I'd have knowed there wasn't a bell on any o' the cattle. But I was a old fool, and I forgot it. Well, I hadn't gone more than two hundred yards, when I sees old Snowball, the off-side leader, as I thought, makin right for the bush. I tried to head him back to camp, but the faster I ran the faster he ran; and so I followed him on and on through scrubs and gullies, over creeks and ridges, till I was pretty nigh baked. What puzzled me more than nothin was, that whether I went fast or slow, the white bullock was always the same distance in front o' me, and I could see him jest as plain when the bushes and logs was between us, as I could on the open ground. Well, at last I got desperate like, and puttin on a spurt I dashed right up to him. Round he turned, and down went his head to rush at me quite nateral. O' course, I shut my eyes, not partic'larly wishin' to see my latter end under such werry unfavourable circumstances; and on he came like a hurricane. I felt his horns graze my two sides, and then double up and nearly squeeze the wind out o' me, and I felt his breath on my face as cold as a snowstorm. I opened my eyes for a moment, and the bullock was gone, and a girl with a face as white as the moon was holdin me in her arms. Round her neck she had a piece o' rope tied tight; and on the bark o' a gum tree jest behind her there was two letters cut, E. R., with 1829 under it. I didn't see no more, for I jest fell down in a fit, and there I lay till——'

'Look here, mate,' interrupted the overseer, who had entered unobserved, and stood listening at the door during the latter part of the hutkeeper's story, 'if you believe a word Hal. Brown tells you, you'll pay him a better compliment than they do who know him best. He is known about here as the biggest liar out of' [Perhaps it may be as well not to specify where!] 'We call him Old Iperbly.'

'Iperbly?' Percy Sinclair asked in surprise.

'Yes; it's a name the master gave him; it means stretching,' answered the overseer, in explanation.

'Now, Davy,' exclaimed the hyperbolical Hal.; 'none o' your slanderin' a fellow like this, before company! It's all true,' he continued, turning to his new friends; 'it's all true, every word of it. You may pound your lives on it!'

'Why, you blundering old magpie, you do think these men are green enough to believe you would be sent to drive a team to Newcastle with a wooden leg?' said the overseer.

Hal regarded the substitute alluded to for a moment with an air of reflection, and then burst into an uproarious fit of laughter. 'It's not the first time you've bowled me out, old fellow,' he said, stroking the ungainly appendage affectionately, when at length his merriment had subsided.

'Liars have need of a good memory, Hal.,' the overseer observed, laughing, as he took off his spurs, and hung them and his stockwhip on a peg in the well.

'Ah, well, this same wooden leg o' mine once saved my neck; so I mustn't quarrel with him,' said Hal.

'Indeed!' said Sinclair, incredulously.

'I was to have been strung up jest after the battle o' Corunna, for stickin' my bagonet into a friend o' mine; only a cannon ball carried away my left leg, and the doctor's swore I couldn't survive the shock, if they hung me up with a wooden one,' Hal. explained.

'Well, limp off now, and look to your hurdles,' said the overseer. 'The new hands'll hear enough of your adventures, before it's your next turn to be hanged, I expect!'

Old Iperbly went forth on his afternoon's expedition of inspection and repair to the sheepfold; and the overseer turned to introduce himself to his new fellow-servants. 'What is your name?' he inquired, addressing Percy.

'Mine is Sinclair,' be replied; 'and this young man's is Giles.'

'Well, I'm Davy Collyer, the overseer,' said that functionary. 'I daresay we'll know each other pretty well before long. Can you ride?'

'Yes,' replied Sinclair, 'I was considered a very good rider at home.'

'Riding trained horses upon a good road, or even after a fox hunt, is a very different matter to keeping the pigskin down a mountain with one of our unbroken colts under you,' suggested Davy Collyer. 'Anyhow, it's as well to know as much to begin with. Mr. Shelley says you are to help me with the cattle. And you,' he said, turning to Giles, 'are to help Jack, the boy, with the sheep.'

'When shall I begin to assist you?' Percy asked. 'Mr. Shelley said he did not expect us to do much till next week; but I would rather be at work; it will leave less time for thinking.'

'I shan't have a horse in fit for you to ride, till Saturday; but, if you'd rather be doing something, you may drive the pigs down by the river, to-morrow, and mind them. And you can take a tomahawk with you, and cut down some of the wattles,' the overseer replied.

'I loik to work too; can't 'ee give I no work?' said Giles.

'Yes; you may go out with Jack, the boy, he'll show you what your work is.'

'Thank'ee, zir,' said Giles.

Davy Collyer rose, saying as he did so.

'Well, the best thing you can do now is to turn-in, and make a long night of it. Good bye!'

They took, the overseer's friendly advice, and turned in; but it was long before Percy could sleep, though his companion was soon snoring. His thoughts were busy with the last six months of his life; and, like a rapid panorama, sped before him the trial, his parting with the loved ones at home, and the long dreary voyage of the Southern Cross, with its storms and calms. At last, he fell asleep, thinking of the poor girl, who, if her tale was true, was, like himself, another victim of presumptive evidence.

Directly after breakfast, next morning, Percy Sinclair placed a hatchet in his belt, and, taking the whip the hut-keeper gave him, drove the pigs to the riverside, and began his dual occupation of pigherder and woodsman. It was a beautiful day: the waters of the broad Hunter reflected back the clear, cloudless sky, and a bracing breeze was blowing; but he paid no heed to the beauty or novelty of the scene. He worked hard to drive away thought. It was his first day of practical slavery. He, who, till his arrest, had always had servants to wait upon him, was now compelled to labour at the will of another. The change was so new, so sudden, that to think of it made his head and his heart ache; and to dispel thought he laboured hard. The pigs being as pig-headed, as they proverbially are, he had no time for idle reverie.

'What do you say to a run round the farm, Edith?' Bertha asked, as she and her young friend emerged from the parlour, where they had been engaged upon some needlework. 'We can easily get back by dinner time.'

Edith would like it immensely; so the bright pair sallied forth, and rambled down by the wheat-field, past the stockyard, had an interview with their ponies in the little paddock at the rear of it, and on across the creek over the log bridge, and reached the river in the midst of a beautiful cedar bush, talking, as they went, in the merry, hopeful strain of innocent girlhood. They found a shady little nook under a spreading cedar, and sat down upon the grass, and talked of many things—of their respective childhood, and what each could remember of it, of their visits to Sydney and Newcastle, and of the poor convicts, who were sometimes so cruelly treated. The last theme naturally turned their conversation to the new servants.

'Well, what do you think of the new cook now, Bertha? She couldn't have suited you better, I think—talks French, and is a real lady,' said Edith.

'You can't guess half how glad I am,' Bertha replied. 'She can teach me when mamma is too busy. You know, I want to be a clever woman some day. And then she will be company for me, when you have to go home. Have you seen the new men yet?'

'No; have you?'

'Yes; I saw them when I went down to the paddock to drive the ponies to the stable to feed them. One is a rough plough-boy looking fellow; but the other appears to be quite a gentleman.'

'Don't move, Bertha!' Edith whispered. 'Look there, under that wattle tree!'

Bertha looked in the direction indicated; and they both sat motionless, watching a small animal that slowly crept from the thicket, and hopped along towards the river. It was a wallaby, an animal resembling a kangaroo, in form, but not half so large. After quenching its thirst, the little creature fed about upon the soft grass, the girls watching its graceful movements with great interest; but presently a laughing-jackass (a large grey bird, of the kingfisher species), on a neighbouring tree, scared the timid beast away by its discordant cachinnation.

'Ah, there; it has gone!' Bertha exclaimed, in a disappointed tone, as it fled to cover.

They sat, still talking with all a girl's exhaustless repertoire of chitchat, till the shortened shadows warned them it was time to return home.

'We will keep by the river till we reach the landing-stage, and then go up to the house along the path,' said Bertha rising.

Edith raising no objection to the proposed route, they began their homeward walk. Slowly they sauntered, as those in the early flush of youth delight to walk, when surrounded by the beauties of nature.

Percy Sinclair worked with energy, and by noon had a considerable number of the young wattles felled. His unusual exercise had given him an appetite, so he drove his charge to the river's bank, and sitting on a log, where he could keep them under his eye, he began his lunch of beef and damper. He had not been seated many minutes, when he saw a beautifully marked diamond snake glide from under a heap of rubbish. It was the first he had ever seen; and lacking the colonist's inveterate antipathy to the reptile, instead of attacking it, he sat quietly watching its movements. Presently his thoughts wandered away over the dark sea to Elmsdale; and in dreaming of parents and sisters, he forgot the presence of his comely, but dangerous visitor.

'Look, Edith, there comes the Sophia Jane on her way back to Newcastle.'

The voice roused him from his reverie, and he glanced up.

'What interesting girls! how very lovely the fair one is!' he mentally ejaculated, as his gaze fell upon the bright features of the beautiful Bertha. But in another moment the color had left his lips, and all thought of her loveliness forgotten. The snake was standing erect just behind her, its mouth open, its forked tongue protruding, and its vindictive eyes glittering like diamond?

'I can't see her, Bertha,' exclaimed Edith.

'You can see her better here, Edith,' said Bertha, and all unconscious of her terrible danger, was stepping backwards right upon the angry reptile. Its head swayed backwards and forwards several times, as if gathering force for the blow, and then darted at her arm, which was only protected by a thin muslin sleeve. With a spring Percy bounded forward and, throwing his arms around the girl, lifted her beyond the reach of danger. When he stood her down, she turned round upon him, her eyes flashing with anger, and exclaimed, haughtily, 'What do you mean, sir, by touching me? I shall tell papa directly I get home!'

'Allow this to plead my excuse,' Percy said, smiling at her anger, and holding out the hand to which the snake was still clinging.

Bertha turned sick with horror, and said as he shook the reptile off, 'Oh! you will die! The bite of a diamond snake is certain death! What can we do?'

'It is certain death, unless the part is cut out,' said Edith, who, though pale from fear, still kept her presence of mind. 'You must cut the piece out at once, sir: Have you a knife?'

'No, unfortunately,' replied Percy, 'But perhaps this may answer the purpose!' and taking up the hatchet, and laying his hand upon the log, he severed the bitten finger just above the first joint, before the girls could perceive his intention. Bertha gave a slight scream, and stood trembling by, while Edith, saying, 'Bravely done, sir, it was your only chance!' tore up her handkerchief in slips and bound up the wounded hand.

'Thank you, Miss,' Percy said, when she had finished the task, 'I think I can get back to my work again now;' and he continued, turning to Bertha, 'Do you think, Miss, you can forgive my rudeness now in lifting you out of that reptile's way?'

'Can you ever forgive my ungrateful words?' she asked in reply, 'You have saved my life; that I can never forget. You must go up to the house with us, and papa will dress your hand properly. I hope it isn't very painful!'

'It is nothing,' he said, making light of the pain that really was very acute. 'If I go with you, these pigs will be getting into mischief.'

'Never mind them, sir; you have saved his daughter's life, and Mr. Shelley will care nothing what becomes of them,' said Edith. 'You really must go with us, and have your hand properly dressed.'

Percy left his charge to look after each other, and accompanied his new acquaintances to the house. Mr. Shelley met them at the door. Bertha ran up to him, and said, pointing to her preserver, 'Oh papa, that gentleman has just saved me from a diamond snake, and it has bitten him.'

'Ah! What? Bitten by a diamond snake? Then we must cut the piece out at once! Blood!' he exclaimed, noticing the bandage, 'You have already done so?'

'I chopped off the bitten part of the finger, sir; and this young lady very kindly bound the wound up with her handkerchief,' said Percy.

'Then there is no danger, I hope,' Mr. Shelley said kindly. 'Go in, girls, I will attend to Mr. Sinclair. Come this way.'

Percy followed his master into a little room off the kitchen, and there Mr. Shelley removed the bandage. 'How much time elapsed between the bite and your cutting off the finger?' he asked, anxiously.

'Barely a minute, sir,' Percy replied.

'Good; then there cannot be much danger,' Mr. Shelley returned. After applying some Friar's balsam to the wound, and binding it up, he said, 'Now, you may tell me how it occurred. Something was said about your rescuing Bertha from the snake. Was she in any danger?'

Though there was no tremor in her father's voice, nor tremble in his skilful fingers,—he held such command over himself—yet the deep earnestness of his tone showed that her escape had been uppermost in his mind while dressing the mutilated hand.

Percy Sinclair briefly described the manner of the accident, or adventure. During his recital, Mr. Shelley listened silently, deeply moved by the narrow escape of his darling. When Percy concluded, he seized his hand, and shaking it gratefully, exclaimed, 'You saved her life at imminent risk to your own! I can never pay the debt of gratitude I owe you.'

'Don't look at it in that light, sir; I only did what any other man would have done,' said Percy depreciatingly. 'I was rather amused,' he continued, 'at the energy with with Miss Shelley resented my touching her, before she discovered my motive in-doing so.'

'The darling. I don't believe I could have survived her loss. Dinner is ready. Come in, and allow me to introduce you to her mother.'

Mr. Shelley led the way to the dining-room. As they entered, his wife rose from a seat, where she had been sitting, listening with tear-filled eyes, and thankful heart to the girls' account of the adventure.

'Grace, but for the courage of Mr. Sinclair, we should have had no Bertha now,' Mr. Shelley said, as he led Percy forward.

Mrs. Shelley thanked him as only a mother can who so narrowly escapes losing an only child. Bertha approached her preserver, and said half in fun, half in earnest. 'And now, Mr. Sinclair, you must allow the heroine of this adventure herself to thank you for saving her life. I hope your hand isn't very painful.'

'No, miss; It is not nearly so painful as I had expected it would be,' answered Percy confusedly, as he gazed upon the rich beauty of her animated features and sparkling blue eyes.

During dinner—the conversation still running upon the all-absorbing topic—Mr. Shelley said, turning to Percy, 'if I had the power of making you a free man, Sinclair, I would gladly do so. However, I will do what I can. Here you shall be treated as such. You shall be my friend, and act for me as superintendent.'

'Thank you, sir; thank you,' I will be faithful to you in both relations,' answered Percy.

The afternoon passed pleasantly away; and towards bed time, Percy Sinclair rose from the sofa, upon which Mrs. Shelley had insisted on his lying, for the purpose of returning to the huts. Mr. Shelley laid his hand upon his shoulder. 'Don't go back to the huts, Sinclair, Mrs. Shelley has prepared the little room off the kitchen for you. You can call it your own for the future.'

Percy retired to bed in his new quartets, and soon fell asleep. The incident of the morning appeared to have improved his position. It had done so in reality, but that one fair face would intrude itself upon his dreams. Better for him had the adventure of the snake never occurred. Better for him—for more reasons than that of his mutilated hand—had he still been herding at the huts, dreaming of any one else under heaven, than of the daughter of the kindest but proudest gentleman in New South Wales! Could he but wake in his bed of last night, and find the rescue a dream, what despair and misery in the dark future had been spared to him!


CHAPTER XII.


The river nobly foams and flows,
The charm of this enchanted ground,
And all its thousand turns disclose
Some fresher beauty varying round;
The haughtiest breast its wish might bound
Through life to dwell delighted here,
Nor could on earth a spot be found
To nature and to me so dear.
Could thy dear eyes, in following mine,
Still sweeten more these banks of Rhyne.

—BYRON.

Two years had passed away since the little steamer Sophia Jane landed "the forger" at Field Place. His colonial experience had been far more agreeable than he could have anticipated—more agreeable, indeed, than fell to the lot of most of the unfortunate exiles to New South Wales. He had not been subjected to the degradation of the lash, as he had seen many, and his master treated him more as a friend or a son than a convict-servant—never forgetting the occasion of his having rescued Bertha from the fangs of the snake. In comparison with others of his unfortunate class, Percy Sinclair had nothing to desire save the removal of the stain of infamy from his name. His position upon the station was that of general superintendent, and being kind and just, he was as great a favourite with the men as with the master. He was looked up to and liked by all, and could not, even among his own family at Elmsdale, have been more thoroughly comfortable. Yet, surrounded with all that ought to have made him happy, he was feverishly anxious to leave Field Place, and willing to hazard the harshest treatment from another master (and he knew some to be brutal as the slave-drivers of America), rather than remain with Mr. Shelley. And for the cause of his restlessness, Master Dan Cupid—the urchin at the bottom of so much mischief—was solely responsible. During the two years that he had been assigned to Mr. Shelley, he had been frequently, almost constantly, in the company of the bright and beautiful Bertha; and, to be so, and remain heart-whole, was beyond the power of human philosophy. His had been one of those inexplicable cases of love at first sight. He had loved her from the day he saw her first, from the hour that in snatching her from the reach of the snake, he had been bitten in her stead—his mutilated left hand was a memento alike of the adventure, and the dawn of his love. But with the love that filled his heart, was the consciousness haunting him day and night, that the sweet object of his thoughts was as far above him as the daughter of an English gentleman was above a convicted felon—as far beyond his reach as though she lived in another world. "Win her heart! Perhaps he might; such things bad been. And what then? Cast a blight upon her fair young life for ever! For how could he ever dare to aspire to win her hand? No hope before him—none! No father dared give his daughter to a convicted felon!" Many, many a bitter hour these reflections had cost him. Had he, like Jacob, been called upon to wait seven years, aye, seven years twice told, he could have joyfully waited, borne up by the strength of Hope. But for one in his position hope was presumption, madness! Could he live in the same house with her, see her dear face, hear her sweet voice every hour of the day, and not love her? Impossible! He must flee from the sweet yet hopeless thrall! Better fall into the hands of the most brutal of masters, than remain! More welcome labour, starvation, the lash (the daily bill of fare of so many of his class), than the torturing conviction that fate had sealed his lips—that his honor forbade his ever breathing his devotion.

One morning, he formed the resolution of asking Mr. Shelley to request the Government to cancel his assignment, and recall him to Sydney. He had been superintending some work in the barn, and seeing his master approaching alone, he determined to make the request at once.

'Well, Sinclair; how would you like a run to Newcastle to-day,' Mr. Shelley asked, as he entered.

'Very much, indeed, sir,' replied Percy Sinclair, hesitatingly.

'Saddle your horse, then, and go with me, I have business there, and you will be company.'

Percy thanked his master for his kindness. 'But, sir,' he continued, 'I have a very great favour co ask of you. I hope you will not think me ungrateful, but I would much like you to get me returned to the central depot, or exchange with some one on the Hawkesbury.'

For a moment, Mr. Shelley was dumb from surprise. 'What! Are you serious?' he asked, at last. 'You would be treated very differently there. Why do you wish to leave us?'

'I cannot hope to be as kindly treated any where, as I have been here. Don't ask me why,' Percy answered, evasively.

'If you can give me a reasonable cause for wishing to leave Field Place, I will endeavour to gratify your desire, but not otherwise. You little know the misery of a condition of unmitigated servitude. I have seen more of it than you; and for your sake—I have not forgotten my lasting obligation to you—I must refuse, unless you can give me a sufficient reason,' Mr. Shelley answered gravely.

Percy was about to press his request upon his master, feeling it necessary to his future peace to escape from the dangerous fascination of the object of his hopeless love, but she entered at the moment, and interrupted their conversation.

'Two letters for Mr. Sinclair, and one for papa,' she said, handing each his own. 'Mr. Drayton brought them from Newcastle on his way home.'

Percy was conscious of feeling very confused as he took his letters from the dear hand, and of saying something, he didn't know what, in return.

Mr. Sinclair is thinking of leaving us, Bertha,' said her father, as he opened his. 'Try and persuade him to change his mind!'

'Going to leave us!' exclaimed Bertha, opening wide her beautiful eyes in astonishment. 'Why, Mr. Sinclair?'

If Percy had shrunked from telling Mr. Shelley the cause of his resolution, how could he reply to her pointed question! he said something about wishing to see more of the country, and then sat upon a cask to read his letters.

'Come along, Bertha! We will leave Mr. Sinclair to his letters and his reflections, hoping, however, that he will change his mind and stay among his friends,' Mr. Shelley said, leading the way back to the house. He returned to the door directly, and said. 'Get your horse ready as soon as possible, Sinclair. We must start in an hour.'

Percy promised to do so, and after a few minutes' thought, he opened his letters. One was from his father giving him news of home, the other from Anne Egerton, telling him what his father in kindness had hidden, that through the failure of a bank her uncle had lost a considerable part of his fortune. Elmsdale would still remain his and a few hundred yearly; but in consequence of her uncle's reverses, she intended going out as governess, as she was loth to be a burden to them. She asked her cousin to let her know if there was any opportunity of her getting such a situation in the colony. He folded up his letters, and without waiting to speculate upon their various items of news took a bridle from the stable hard by, and went for his horse.

His back was scarcely turned when a head was thrust out from under a quantity of hay upon the loft, and the gruffest of gruff voices exclaimed in a gruff whisper, 'The young fellow Clayton let in for forgery, or I'm a Methodist! Queer, how people do meet. Him and the master is going to Newcastle; that'll be two less to manage to-night. Now that I've learnt all that I can, I'll watch a slant, and slip away into the bush. To-night, we'll find enough here to keep us bushrangers jolly for a month!'

There was no mistaking the physiognomy of the desperate Darby Gregson. Transported for burglary nearly two years before, he had escaped, and joined the gang of outlaws that infested the Hawkesbury and Hunter Rivers, and the intermediate ranges of the Wollombi.

Four hours' ride brought Mr. Shelley and Percy Sinclair in sight of the little settlement of Newcastle. They entered the village through a honeysuckle scrub, the road, knee deep in sand, and drew up before Rouse's Hotel. After dinner, Mr. Shelley said to his companion, as they were smoking upon the verandah, 'I have business with several gentlemen, Sinclair, so, if you like, you may amuse yourself the while by strolling through the village. Be here at five o'clock; it will be moonlight; so I think we will return to-night if I get my business finished.

Mr. Shelley went out to attend to his business, and Percy bent his steps to the top of the hill at the back of the settlement, from which point of advantage the little town lay spread below him like a map.

He stood upon the hill between the ruins of an old windmill and Christ's Church, the blue waters of the Pacific behind him, and before the broad estuary of the Hunter River. The hill, which was covered with a carpet of coarse verdure, and dotted at intervals with the picturesque grass-tree, undulated toward the river, where it fell abruptly to a broad belt of sand, that formed the southern bank of the estuary. The village lay rather to the right of the hill, and consisted mainly of one street, running from the river up the slope to the top of the cliffs. The military barracks was situated at the upper end of the street, and opposite to the cottages of the commandant and officers; and at the lower stood the stockade. The houses were principally constructed of slabs or weather-boards, and had a rough and primitive appearance. The street was extended, where it reached the river, by a wooden pier or wharf, at the end of which a small vessel was discharging ballast. The road inland traversed the bed of sand upon the bank of the river for a short distance, and then entered a thick scrub, where it was soon hidden from view by the dense growth of native honeysuckle. Several teamsters were encamped at the entrance of the scrub, and were engaged in unyoking their cattle and driving them across the ford to an island in the angle of the river.

[This island received its barbarous appellation of 'Bullock Island' from this practice. It occurs to us that there would be a peculiar appropriateness in permitting the island to retain the name 'Onybegamba,' bestowed upon it by its original possessors, and in calling the town now rapidly rising upon it 'Shortland,' after the discoverer of the river.]

On the brow of the hill facing the scrub the Australian Agricultural Company's coal-pit was situated, and a tramway, crossing the road upon a wooden bridge, and reaching the river at the nearest point, carried the coal-trucks to the shoots, under which the colliers received their cargoes. While, from his station on the hill, Percy Sinclair was gazing upon the scene, a train of loaded trucks, impelled by gravitation alone, began to travel down the incline. Two sets of waggons, attached to an endless hawser, were employed—the full ones running down to the shoots, and by their weight hauling the empty-ones back to the pit. In the back-ground of the landscape before him, the river appeared from among the cluster of islets that concealed its upper stream, and rolled down a channel nearly two miles wide in a straight course, till reaching the North Shore it turned abruptly to the east and flowed into the sea. From the seaward extremity of the northern bank the shore stretched away in a semicircle, enclosing an extensive but, owing to its numerous reefs and shoals, useless bay. At the entrance of the river a large rock or island stood sentinel; and from the nearest point of the mainland to it a gang of convicts were employed in constructing a breakwater. To the right, overlooking the sea, and separated from the town by a dense scrub of wiery, furze bushes, stood the gaol, and between the scrub and the upper portion of the street was the hospital.

Percy Sinclair spent an hour upon the hill, gazing gloomily upon the beauty of the scenery, and contrasting its brightness with his own prospect. His heart was filled with thoughts of so sombre a hue, that they cast a dark shadow on all he looked upon. He had been happier had he followed the golden advice of the philosopher, to compare his state only with the situation of those in a worse position. But, perhaps, this would, to him, have been an impossible task, inasmuch as he felt his case to be more desperate than the condition of even the miserable wretches, who bore upon their backs the visible badge of their slavery—the mark of the lash.

After an hour of self-imposed torture, he rose from the grass, upon which he had been reclining, and walked along the hill to the town. He slowly passed down the street, heedless of all but his own gloomy thoughts, and reached the landing stage upon the bank of the river. He stood for some time silently watching a number of prisoners, taking ballast from the vessel lying at the stage; but, presently, rousing himself, he entered into conversation with one, who had been wheeling ballast down a plank, and was now resting upon the shafts of his barrow.

'Hot work for a day like this,' Percy said, addressing him.

'Yes, sir; it be too hot for a blackfeller!' the man answered, wiping his face with his cuff.

'Have you been out long?' Percy enquired. 'Yes, sir, a goodish bit; I came out in '32.'

'You have been out a long time. May I ask what you were transported for?' Percy asked, with what might, perhaps, appear unpardonable curiosity; but in those days, such a question followed as a matter of course, when prisoners met for the first time.

'I don't like to talk on it, sir;' replied the man, 'for when I thinks o' the lass an' the two little 'uns, as I left at home, I feels dangerous like. I was out o' work—couldn't get a job nohow—an' my Lizzie an' our two little 'uns was a starvin—hadn't tasted a mouthful o' wittles for two whole days. Oh! it was horrid to see 'em gettin thinner an' thinner, an' whiter an' whiter day arter day—dyin' by hinches, as I calls it—an' never a morsel to give 'em. I'd a' laid in a ditch, an' rotted, afore I'd a stole a' haputh for myself; but it druv me mad to see my Lizzie a wastin' away, and to hear our little 'uns a cryin'—"Gim me a bit o' bread, daddy—on'y a little bit; I'ze so hungerly!" Yes, sir; I stole a sheep to save the lives o' 'em as I'd a' worked my fingers off to a' kept honest, if I could.'

'Yours is a hard case; but there are thousands of others as hard,' said Percy, too deep in his own troubles to feel much affected by the poor fellow's story, 'My own experience is as bitter as yours, though perhaps in a different way.'

'You can't tell what it be, sir; it's only we poor convicts as knows what real misery be.'

'I am sorry to say I am as much a convict as you. I am a lifer; but, thanks to Providence, I have a kind master, who treats me more like a friend than a servant.'

'What, you be a prisoner, and dress like a gentleman? Then you must belong to Mr. Shelley. He's the on'y master on the river, as I've ever heerd of, who'd treat a man like that.'

'Yes; I am fortunate enough to be assigned to him,' replied Percy.

'Don't you live up the river near Maitland?' the man asked, thoughtfully.

'Yes; the station I am on is between this and Maitland.'

'I heered the sergeant tellin the captain jest now, that the bushrangers be on this side agin; they was seen on the Wollombi on Monday, comin this way.'

'Surely not!' exclaimed Percy, his heart sinking at the thought of Bertha being in the hands of the outlaws. 'Where are they now?' he asked, anxiously.

'The sergeant said as how he 'spected they'd attack some o' the stations between here and Maitland, an' then rush off to Scone. Anyway, they go up to-morrow with some soldiers.'

To-morrow! Who knows that, perhaps, even now they may be attacking the station, and he not by to protect her? He must at once see Mr. Shelley and warn him of the danger, and then gallop home. With a hurried 'Good-day; thank you!' to the ballast-wheeler he turned to go, but to his utter astonishment encountered Hubert Clayton, who, carpet bag in hand, was hurrying to a boat that was waiting to row him across to the brig in the stream. 'Ha, Sinclair, didn't expect to see me, I suppose!' he said, with a triumphant smile, as he recognised his victim.

'I did not indeed;' said Percy, 'but I am glad to meet a familiar face in my exile. Have you been long in the colony?'

'About eighteen months. I have a station on the Cowpasture River; but my boat is ready, and time and tide wait for no man. Good-bye.'

He shook hands with Percy, and turned to enter his boat. As he passed a constable on the steps, he whispered, 'That man yonder, in the grey suit, is a convict at large; see if he has his pass.'

Percy had not gone more than fifty yards, when a rough hand was laid upon his shoulder, and a surly voice asked, 'Are you a prisoner, or a free man?'

'A prisoner,' Percy replied, impatiently.

'Where is your pass?'

'My pass?'

'Yes, your pass. You aren't deaf, I hope.'

'I—I haven't it with me,' said Percy, with ill-concealed annoyance.

'I thought as much. Well, come along, I must lock you up; it won't do to let such cattle as you stray about the street.'

In vain Percy protested that his master was in town, and urged his necessity to look for him at once. The constable was inexorable. As he locked him in however, he said, 'If I see Mr. Shelley, I will let him know where you are.'

Two hours of intolerable suspense and anxiety passed before Mr. Shelley learnt of the arrest of his servant. He at once left the company he was in, and hurried to the lockup.

'I am sorry that this unpleasantness has occurred, Sinclair. We must be careful it does not happen again. It is always wisest to have a pass in your pocket in case of accident.'

'Have you heard, sir, that the bushrangers are on the river again?' Percy asked, disregarding the suggestion.

'Yes, Russell told me that they were seen on Monday, by some settlers, at the head of the Wollombi Brook, and that a party is to start in the morning to patrol the road to Maitland, in case of their attacking any of the stations along the river,' answered Mr. Shelley.

'I feel very uneasy about the ladies, sir,' replied Percy, 'Though it is very improbable that the bushrangers will molest them to-day, or even that they are in the immediate neighbourhood of Field Place; yet, we have no guarantee that, at the present moment, the homestead is not in flames, and those we lo——, that your wife and daughter are not, even now, in the power of the outlaws. The men will all be away till dusk, you know.'

'That is not very likely,' said Mr. Shelley, turning pale at the bare idea. 'It is more probable that they have gone northward from Maitland. They would scarcely venture so near to the head quarters of the military.'

'If your business is not concluded, I would like to get my horse and gallop home at once, in case of being needed,' Percy said, earnestly.

'We will both go, Sinclair. It is not at all probable that anything is wrong; but you have imparted a share of your uneasiness to me, and I shall not feel satisfied till we get home.'

They hurried back to Rouse's Hotel, got their horses, and were soon galloping homeward as fast as the sandy nature of the road would permit.

The camp where Darby Gregson had left his desperate comrades was situated in a deep ravine at the back of a range, about three miles south of Field Place. A range of low, rugged hills, covered with a dense forest of stunted gumtrees, and bordered at its base by almost inaccessible brushes, afforded a good cover to the outlaws. On the opposite side of the range from the river, a path, unknown to any but themselves, led through the rough broken country to the head of the Wollombi, and thence across the higher range to Wiseman's Ferry, upon the Hawkesbury. This line of retreat, along which they had reached the Hunter Valley, being open, the bushrangers felt secure, and determined upon boldly attacking the stations along the river, repairing to their fastnesses when too closely pressed by the police. Field Place being the first in their programme, Darby Gregson had been despatched at night to reconnoitre. His previous housebreaking experience in York now stood him in good stead. With much difficulty he had succeeded in concealing himself in the loft over the barn, the dogs being very uneasy and wakeful, from which post he learnt that Mr. Shelley and Percy were to be absent in Newcastle, and that all the hands but Hal. Brown, the hutkeeper, would be away from the homestead till evening. Soon after Mr. Shelley and Percy started for Newcastle, he stole from the barn, and escaped into the bush. Retracing his steps up the ridge he met the chief of the gang—a rough looking fellow with shaggy, beetling eyebrows, and a sinister gleam in his dark eyes—a man who looked every inch a villain. He had all Darby Gregson's ferocity and cunning, tempered with a yet deeper touch of cruelty. Why he had never been hanged, was a question Justice would have found difficult to answer, unless as a set off against having hung some innocent persons by mistake. He had been convicted of manslaughter, and transported for life for deliberately murdering a sick wife, to avoid the expense of supporting her. In the same sittings Justice had sentenced a woman to death for striking a half-drunken husband with a hammer in self defence, when he was kicking her in his, brutal passion. So much for upright, infallable Justice.

'Well, Darby, how does the land lay?' Nat Bryant asked, as Gregson reached him.

'Pretty snug, captain. All the men 're away, except a one-legged old feller, and he's hutkeeping nearly half a mile from the house. Shelley and one of the hands went to Newcastle this morning, and won't likely get back till late to-night.'

'Then we will lose no time in getting to work, Darby,' said the captain promptly. 'It's no use risking a fight when we can help it.'

'There's four fine-looking women there, captain,' Darby suggested.

'Hang the women, Darby,' returned his more practical chief. 'It's rations we want. How 're they off for beef and flour? That's the main point.'

'I hadn't much chance to look about, captain; the dogs was too restless. All I learnt was that the coast is clear.'

'Well, trudge along, Darby; let's get back to camp, and lose no time in getting the other fellows out,' said Nat Bryant, leading the way up the ridge.

They walked on in silence for a quarter-of-an-hour till they reached its summit, and then pausing for a few minutes to rest themselves, turned and looked down upon the lowlands by the river. To the right and left, as far as the eye could reach, the valley was covered with a dense brush, excepting immediately beneath the ridge upon which the bushrangers were standing, where the forest penetrated to the river's brink, and left a few thousands of acres clear from the undergrowth of brushwood. The homestead of Field Place was visible at the foot of the range, the blue smoke curling upward in the calm morning air; and half a dozen cows and a horse were seen grazing about the stockyards. To the left of the clear ground, about a mile from the house, and hidden from it by the outer angle of the brush a small herd of cattle were being tended by two men on horseback, and a quarter of a mile further on two shepherds were rounding up a flock of sheep.

'Look, captain, all the men are away out o' sight o' the house,' said Darby Gregson, pointing to the stock-keepers and shepherds, 'we could burn the place down, and them never the wiser.'

'Yes, Darby; but come along. There's no time to lose. It'll be as well to have the job over before they get back to the huts,' replied Nat Bryant, turning to descend the further side of the range. Darby Gregson followed; and they descended the precipitous face of the hill with extreme difficulty, having in places to lower themselves in the crevices of the rocks by means of the vines and saplings that grew among them. Reaching the bottom of the hill they entered a deep gully or ravine, which was filled with a tangled growth of young timber. Although it was early forenoon, the gully was as dark as night, the steep hills on all sides and the dense foliage shutting out the light of day. They entered the gully by a pathway that had been cut through the brushwood, and followed it for fully a quarter of a mile, when they suddenly emerged upon an open space, clear of timber, and covered with a rich carpet of grass, soft and even as an English lawn. This natural clearing was almost circular in form, and occupied a space of about two acres. A tiny stream of water flowed through the open space; and in its centre a large and graceful cedar tree rose to a height of nearly fifty feet. This beautiful spot was the temporary retreat of the bushrangers; and they had erected a small hut of sheets of bark under the tree. As Darby Gregson and the captain entered the clearing, three other desperadoes rose from the green sward, and advanced to meet them.

'Now, lads, stick your pistols and knives in your belts, and follow me. The coast is clear in the station over the range; and we must get at their beef-casks as soon as possible, for ours are nearly empty,' said Nat Bryant.

'How about the horses, captain?' asked a thin, wiery fellow, in appearance much resembling a Scotch terrier. 'We can't get them over this part of the range.'

'They're hobbled in the flat at the bottom of the gully, Jennings, and they'll be safe till we get back,' returned the captain of the band of ruffians.

The gang promptly armed themselves, and were soon clambering the steep side of the range, on their way to the scene of their meditated robbery.

By the time they had reached the top of the hill side, they were out of breath from the exertion, and paused for a few minutes to rest. The captain of the gang took advantage of the opportunity afforded by the delay to unfold his plans.

'Now, my lads,' he said, addressing the men, 'recollect that the first consideration is provisions. Beef and flour we want; and we must have them at any cost. After the rations are secured, if we can contrive to carry off the women to our camp in the gully down yonder, we will do so; and the devil help them if they ever escape again. You, Darby, take Jennings and Foley down that side of the ridge, and wait in the edge of the brush till you see Hollingshed and me coming up on the other side. We must take the house front and rear, to prevent the women escaping. Don't show quarter to any man you may meet; but just shoot him down as you would a 'possum. It's not likely we will see any, for the master and one of the hands are in Newcastle, and the rest are among the cattle and sheep in the open country round there at the back of the brush. But if you do, give no quarter.'

After each of the gang had passed his opinion upon the feasibility of the plan, or suggested an amendment, orders were given to continue their march; and, separating into two parties, they began to descend the hill towards Field Place.

They had not left the crest of the hill more than five minutes, when the boughs of the tree, under which they had been talking, commenced shaking, and a dark figure—tomahawk in hand—slid slowly down the trunk to the ground. 'Halloa! What dat wild white-feller want?' Jerry exclaimed, as from behind the cover of the tree be watched the retiring bushrangers. 'Me tink it dat make-a-light [go to] station, and kill Missie Berta. Jerry get it tunder gun, and shoot him wild white-feller.'

Animated by the determination to protect his young mistress, the black boy lay flat upon his face, to avoid the 'wild white-feller' from seeing him, and, in that posture, crawled in a direction at right angles to the way the bushrangers were taking, till he reached a hollow in the ridge that completely concealed him, and then, mounting to his feet, ran swiftly across the open ground, to the cover of the brush, and reached it unperceived by the robbers. He ran on, dodging the saplings, and crawling under the tangled bushes, till he reached the edge of the brush, close to the stockyard. Hal. Brown was at work, making a pigsty, and the excited Jerry startled him by rushing up, and exclaiming, with great vehemence, and with all a black's energetic gesticulation, 'Look here, Perbly, dat wild white-feller comin' along ridge to kill Missie Berta! dare, dat much wild white-feller,' he continued, indicating the number of bushrangers upon his fingers; and then, without waiting for further parley, he raced away up to the house.

'What the black imp is drivin at is past thy comprehension. Anyway, there's a screw loose somewhere; so I'll jest go up to the house and see. But it's the duce of a distance to march at the double with a wooden leg. Ah, there's old Kitty; I'll ride her,' Having no bridle at hand, Hal. snatched up a thong of stringy bark, and, catching the quiet old mare, and making a halter of the bark, he mounted her. To steady himself, he clung to the mane with one hand, and with the other thrashed the mare with a small paling he had snatched up. Old Kitty started off towards the house at a short trot, but was soon so discomposed by the flapping of Hal.'s wooden extremity against her flank, that she in creased her pace to a gallop, much to the discomfort of her rider, who had some difficulty in keeping his seat.


CHAPTER XIII.


They come, a ruthless band,
On deeds of darkness bent—
Their passions rudely fann'd
By moody discontent.
Ah, heaven help the gentle prey,
That in their hands may fall this day!

—Author's M.S.

Mrs. Shelley and her servants, Marion Macaulay and Janet Wilkins, were sitting sewing in the parlour, and Bertha was practising a music lesson.

'Marion,' Bertha exclaimed, pausing from the difficult exercise that had called for long and patient application, 'did you ever try to improvise music!'

'Improvise music, miss! You mean, to compose as I played?' said Marion, looking up from her work.

'Yes; think in music, and play as you think.'

'No, miss; I have always been satisfied to play the compositions of others. Although I can play passably, I am no genius.'

'Well, I always fancied I could compose tunes if I tried; and I did so this morning, when you were in the diary with mamma, and I ought to have been dusting the furniture.'

'Ah, that is why the dust is so thick upon the chair and table legs,' said Mrs. Shelley, smiling, 'Well, the next time you are ambitious of being a musical improvisatrice, just finish your work before you try. I think you will be wiser in studying your exercises than in attempting the impossible.'

'Well, just listen, mamma,' Bertha replied, 'and I will play over what I composed this morning.'

As the fair girl spoke she touched the keys, and a silvery ripple of music, soft as the plash of falling waters, caused her mother and Marion to suspend their breath in astonishment and delight. The dulcet prelude was followed by passages now grand and solemn, now, joyous and sparkling; one moment of wierd and fantastic feeling, the next of exquisite and tender sweetness—a rapid and startling succession of every emotion known to the human breast.

'Oh, how beautiful!' exclaimed her hearers, as she finished, and turned to them with her blue eyes beaming with pleasure, and her delicate features animated with the excitement of "thinking in music."

Genius, the creative, the highest power of the human mind, how should they of coarser clay revere thee—thou of all man's endowments the most godlike—thou that acceptest teaching of none but heaven!

'Shall I play it again, mamma?' Bertha asked, proud that her mother was pleased with her performance.

Before Mrs. Shelley could answer, Jerry, the black boy, rushed in, tomahawk in hand, and panting from the exertion of his long race. 'Look here, Missie Berta, dat wild white-feller come along by-by and kill him you!' he exclaimed, as soon as he had recovered his breath.

'What do you mean, Jerry?' asked his young mistress, half afraid he had gone mad.

'What is the matter, Jerry?' Mrs. Shelley asked kindly, as he stood staring from one to the other, in great perplexity.

'All dat much bushranger,' he cried, extending the fingers of one hand; come along pleasantly, and kill him everybody.'

At this moment, Old Iperbly limped in. 'There's no time to apologise for intrudin', ladies; the bushrangers are comin', if I understand Jerry right,' he said, as he wiped his red face with the sleeve of his jacket.

'Yes, 'Perbly, dat one, two, por, seben tree bushranger,' answered Jerry, counting upon his fingers.

'Now, look here, ladies,' cried the hutkeeper noticing their terrified looks, 'it's no use faintin'. Jest brush about and get all the muskets you can, and the domed wretches shan't touch a 'air o' your heads while Hal. Brown's got a leg to stand on.'

This energetic speech had the effect of rousing them from the feminine tendency to faint, and in a few minutes they had collected and brought into the parlor all the arms and ammunition in the house.

'Oh, Hal., do you think——'

'Thinkin be domed,' exclaimed the veteran savagely, 'there's no time for thinkin'! Don't any o' you say nothin' unless it'll help us out o' this fix.'

Hal. Brown saw the only way to keep them from succumbing to their terror was to keep them from talking of their danger, and acted accordingly. The arms available were six muskets, a pair of horse pistols, and the sword Mr. Shelley had worn when in the army. There were also a hundred rounds of ammunition for the muskets, and a few charges for the pistols.

'There's no time to lose, if Jerry isn't givin' us a false alarm. Let me see;' he continued scratching his head for an idea, 'we can't well hold this house long; they could set it afire, and smoke us out. Jerry go into the tool shed, and get some nails, and a axe, and the biggest auger you can find, and run up to the dairy with 'em.'

Jerry darted out to execute the order.

'Now ladies, the only chance as I can see is to get to the dairy, as soon as possible. It stands away from any buildin or fence, and so we cannot be surprised. Pick up some o' them muskets and cartridges and come along.'

They carried the weapons and ammunition to the dairy, as directed, while Hal. looked about for a stout cord, and some strong boards. Everything procured that the old soldier's sagacity suggested, they entered the dairy, and Hal. barricaded the door and open window by nailing strong boards against them. Then he took the auger and bored a couple of holes through the door.

'Here, Jerry, bore a hole through that thin slab at the end o' the dairy wall, while I load them muskets,' he said, handing the tool to the blackboy.

'Now, ladies, don't say a word any o' you but jest watch me load these muskets, and then you'll know how to, if there is any casion,' he said, as he drew out the ramrod of one of the pieces ready for loading.

In silence the four women watched him charge the muskets. They were pale from terror, but Jerry's determined manner prevented them from giving expression to their emotion of fear. As he laid down the last one, Bertha said, 'Oh, what will happen to——?'

'Now, look here, Miss, if you'd like to see all o' you with your throats cut and your eyes gouged out, just begin to talk; and if you wouldn't, just do what I tell you, and ask no questions!' Hal. interrupted with well-feigned sternness. He knew the natural weakness of his little garrison, and took the only course to obviate it—that of insisting on silent and unreasoning obedience. The muskets and pistols loaded, he turned his attention to boring more loop-holes. He bored a couple—one at each end of the front wall, and then knocked out the wooden shelf-pegs that were driven into holes previously bored. By this means he secured several loop-holes in each of the walls, and would be enabled to fire in any direction that danger threatened.

'Now, Jerry,' he said, when all his preparations were completed, 'you must watch at that hole in the door, and tell me when you see them comin'. Take this musket, and when I tell you, fire it.'

'Jerry took the weapon, and the post assigned him, and kept a sharp look-out. Hal. then set one of the girls to each of the other sides, and gave another look to the weapons.

'I can load a musket, Hal.!' Mrs. Shelley said, while he was so engaged.

'That's a good job, ma'am! You'll have practise enough presently, I'm afraid; unless Jerry is makin a fool o' us!'

'Here come dat bushrangers,' exclaimed Jerry, excitedly, and raising the muzzle of his musket to the loop-hole to fire. Hal. gently removed it. 'Don't fire till I tell you to,' he said, in a whisper; and then, turning to two of the girls who had shrunk back from their posts in terror, he said, 'Back to your loopholes, and watch; or I'll open the door, and let them domed wretches in!'

The threat had the desired effect.

Hal. Brown looked through a loop-hole, and saw the two parties of bushrangers approaching the house from opposite directions.

'By St. George,' he muttered, 'this'll beat Corunna!—five to one! it's to a big odds! I've seen some warm work, in my young days, but nothin' as hot as this'll be!'

The bushrangers stealthily approached the house; and Darby Gregson led his brace of villains over the garden fence, and in at the back door, while Hollingshed and the captain entered at the front.

'Oh, where are they Hal.? Are they coming this way?' asked Marion Macaulay, anxiously.

Hal. Brown turned upon her savagely. 'By St. George,' he muttered, 'if any o' you speak agin without orders, I'll capitulate at once! All you've got to do is to watch your side o' the dairy, and tell me when you see 'em comin'. You see, ma'am,' he whispered to Mrs. Shelley, in explanation, 'I don't want to be uncivil, but we must keep up discipline! I'm not goin' to risk my life to save you all, unless you help me; and you can't do no good by chatterin' and faintin'.

'You are right, Hal.,' replied Mrs. Shelley; 'and we will cheerfully do whatever you direct. If we do escape, I——'

'Wery well, ma'am; but there's no time for talkin' now,' interrupted Hal., turning back to the loophole to watch the movements of the enemy.

Mrs. Shelley sat upon a low stool, a loaded musket in her grasp ready to hand to their protector. She was very pale, and her lips were tightly compressed. Bertha stood at her post, watching through a loophole at one end of the dairy, her beautiful features flushed from the intense excitement of fear. Nothing but the brusque and decisive manner of old Hal. prevented her from fainting. Marion Macaulay was as timid and fearful, but more self-possessed, and ready to follow the old man's orders. She was stationed at the opposite end. Janet Wilkins, the housemaid, whose post was to watch at the back, was so stupified by fear that she stood motionless as a block, hearing and and seeing nothing.

The bushrangers spent a quarter of an hour in eager search through the house, but not finding the ladies, they assembled in the verandah, and, after a few minutes' consultation, gave up the search under the impression that their prey had escaped into the bush. They then set about collecting provisions, some carrying flour bags and others rolling beef-casks out of the store-room, and heaping them on the green before the house.

'Now, girls,' said Hal. Brown, turning from his post of observation, 'if you'll jest sit down here and hold your tongues, you may leave the loopholes. The bushrangers are busy robbin' the stores, and me and Jerry's enough to watch 'em.'

The girls took advantage of the permission and seated themselves by Mrs. Shelley, Marion Macaulay saying, timidly, as they did so, 'May I ask you one question, Hal.?'

'Well!' answered the old veteran, gruffly, not wishing to encourage talking.

'Do you think they will go away quietly with what they steal, or that they will look for us again before they go?'

'How can I tell what they'll do; I aren't inside o' them!' he growled in reply, as he turned to the trustworthy Jerry, who was intently watching the movements of the bushrangers. 'Jerry,' he said, touching him on the shoulder to divert his attention for a moment, 'Where did you fust see 'em?'

Without taking his eyes off the outlaws, Jerry replied, 'Right along top ridge, Perbly. All him bushranger come along over dother side range.'

'Then they won't pass us in carryin' the rations away, ladies; they'll take the short cut back round the other end o' the house,' Hal. said, to reassure them. But the next moment he threw them back into the arms of despair, by doubting whether the bushrangers might not set fire to all the buildings before leaving, as was their usual custom; in which case they would not be likely to overlook the dairy.

The bushrangers loaded themselves with the rations and started with their burdens round the further end of the house, as Hal. Brown had predicted, and away up the hill. Old Kitty was grazing in their line of march, and on reaching her Darby Gregson caught her, and, throwing his bag of beef over her back, led her up the ridge by Hal. Brown's halter of stringy bark. Hal. watched their retreat with much satisfaction. Although ready enough to figure as hero in the thrilling adventures he treated his friends with, he had no ambition to incur personal risk if it could be fairly avoided.

'All dat wild white-feller go now Missie Berta!' cried Jerry, delightedly, as he saw the last of them disappear up the ridge.

'God be praised for our deliverance!' fervently ejaculated Mrs. Shelley. 'It is a merciful providence that they did not think of the dairy. They would have killed us all if they had found us!'

'Perhaps the bushrangers may meet papa and Mr. Sinclair. Oh, I shall be so uneasy till they come home!' Bertha said, anxiously.

'You have nothin' to be afraid on, Miss Bertha,' Hal. returned. 'The domed bushrangers are gone the wrong way to meet the master.'

'We may go back to the house now, Hal. Knock away the boards and open the door.'

Hal. stood with his back to the door. 'No one leaves this fort, ma'am, till the men come back at sundown,' he said, firmly. 'Perhaps I ought not to be so bold, but you see I know more about bushrangers than you do, and I won't let anyone out o' this till we have a reinforcement. I have been a soldier, ma'am, and so has the master, and I'm certain he'll see that I am right.'

'Do you then think there is more danger, Hal.?' Mrs. Shelley asked, gazing at the old man in blank despair. 'Do you really think they will return?'

'If the homestead was in flames, ma'am, I'd think they wasn't comin' back; but bushrangers isn't often satisfied without doin' more mischief than robbin' a store-room. No, they'll come back sure as a gun; and so not one o' you 'll leave these quarters if I can prewent it, and I think I can. Jest sit down all o' you and make yourselves as comfortable as you can under the circumstances, and me and Jerry 'll watch. Perhaps, if they should find us, we can hold out till the men come home at sundown.'

'Hal., could not Jerry find his way through the brush to where the men are, and give the alarm?' Marion Macaulay asked, eagerly.

'No! I've thought o' that, Marion; but the bushrangers 'll most likely be back before Jerry could reach the back o' the run; and I can't spare him; Jerry's a good shot.'

'But, Hal.,' persisted Marion, bent on devising some means of escape, 'could not we all steal away into the brush? They could never find us if we once got into it.'

'Have they got any horses to ride us down with? that's the question! Recollect, it is more than a quarter o' a mile to the brush. Are they watchin' the place now from among the trees on the ridge, their horses standin' close by?'

'I don't know!'

'Then, if we don't know, we must not risk ourselves! It'll take 'em longer to storm us here than to cut us to pieces on the open ground. A weak army always fights behind entrenchments, and we must not expose ourselves,' Hal. replied.

Half an hour of intense suspense passed, Hal. Brown and Jerry both watching the part of the bush where the enemy had disappeared, and the weaker part of the little garrison seated upon a wooden bench, talking in whispers, their anxiety increasing every moment.

A furious barking at the back of the dairy, and a loud voice swearing, suddenly startled them all, and caused Mrs. Shelley and the girls to spring to their feet in terror.

Not a sound out o' any o' you, as you walue your lives!' muttered Hal. warningly. 'Back to your posts!' he said, as he stepped to the loop-holes at the back of the dairy.

The bushrangers were within a hundred yards of the dairy, and as Hal. looked out, old Nell, the bull-dog, was in the act of springing at the throat of Nat Bryant. With a bound aside the captain of the gang eluded his grasp, and, at the same moment, a pistol shot from Darby Gregson broke the dog's leg. But, though baffled and wounded, the determined beast would not give up the contest, and in another spring, fastened upon the outlaw's shoulder. Nat's pistol had dropped from his hand in the struggle, and he could not get at his knife. He was consequently powerless, but Jennings leaped forward, and by a blow with the butt of his pistol, stunned the dog, which relaxed its hold and rolled back apparently lifeless.

Hal. turned to his little garrison. 'Mind ladies,' he said, slowly, 'if you don't do exactly what I tell you, and be cool, you'll be in the hands o' the bushrangers in five minutes. No faintin or screechin mind! Bertha pick up two muskets and stand ready to hand 'em to me. Jerry, you go to the furthest loophole on this side and fire when I tell you. And you, Marion, pick up the other two muskets ready to give to Jerry. You, ma'am, stand there by the ammunition, and you'll be ready to load the muskets. Janet, stand by that loop-hole and tell me if they move past the corner!'

The cause of the bushrangers being in the opposite direction to which they had disappeared, was, that they had returned further along the range, and were approaching the house more to the right. They were now standing facing the house; and hoping that they might pass on without noticing the retreat, Hal. determined not to fire unless the enemy showed a disposition to attack. 'Jerry,' he whispered, 'if they come past that little stump about thirty yards away, you fire at the big chap that old Nell flew at. Aim at his belt, and you'll hit him somewhere.'

'All right, Perbly!' the black boy replied, 'Bale Jerry miss him.'

The bushrangers stood for a few minutes in earnest conversation, and then started again towards the house. They had only proceeded about fifty yards when Hollingshed suddenly stopped, and pointing to the dairy, said something to the captain. They were too far off for the watchers to hear their words; but it was evident from the whole band turning back and slowly advancing towards the dairy, that they had been in reference to it. 'Jerry!' Hal. whispered again, 'Are you ready?'

'Yes, Perbly!' replied the black boy, in an undertone.

'Then fire at the big chap when they pass the stump; and I'll shoot the vagabond as turned 'em back. Be brave, girls; and ready to help us, and we'll save you yet!' he continued to the girls, who, pale from terror, were standing at their posts.

The bushrangers approached to within fifty yards, and halted again, as if undecided upon their movements. Hollingshed again exerted his influence, and, after a few minutes energetic persuasion, he succeeded in inducing them to continue their advance.

'Jerry!' Hal. whispered again.

'All right, Perbly! Jerry know!' replied the watchful black boy.

'Aim at his belt!'

They reached the fatal line. A loud report that reverberated among the hills beyond, and Hollingshed sprung high in the air, and rolled over, dead, shot through the heart by the old soldier's deadly aim. Jerry's shot had not been so successful. Nat Bryant escaped with his life, but it was an exceedingly narrow escape; for the young savage's bullet had cut its way through the outlaw's ear. Both the marksmen snatched another musket from the girls behind them, and fired again.

'Cease firing, Jerry,' cried Hal., 'reserve your last shot till I tell you.'

Mrs. Shelley loaded the discharged musket rapidly, while Hal. and Jerry watched the enemy through the loop-holes. As soon as the smoke had sufficiently cleared away, the bushrangers were seen standing far beyond gunshot, engaged in an animated consultation. The captain tied a rough woollen comforter round his head, over the wounded ear, and then turned to his men, and addressed them with great energy. He was out of hearing from the dairy; but Hal. concluded, from his vehemence and his pointing at the fallen outlaw, that revenge for their comrade's death was the burden of his words.

'Now, ladies, it is war to the knife! If you don't want to be carried off by the domed wretches yonder to their camp, to be housekeepers to 'em, just screw up your nerves, and do what I tell you. Marion, get right into the corner there, and then you can watch two sides; and you, Bertha, into this corner, to my right. You've loaded them right, ma'am. Janet, you be ready to take the muskets, as me and Jerry fires 'em, to Mrs. Shelley, and hand the loaded ones back.'

Under most circumstances of such great danger, Hal.'s little garrison would have been helpless from terror; but he had inspired them with so much of his cool courage that even the frail and delicate Bertha watched at her post with the quiet heroism of the maid of Saragossa; and the trembling, stupified Janet roused herself, and stood ready to hand the muskets to Hal. and Jerry.

'They are coming again, Hal.,' Bertha said, in a steady voice.

The bushrangers were approaching again, knives and pistols in hand. When just beyond musket-range, they halted, and extended ready to take the dairy at a rush.

'Ready, Jerry?' Hal. asked.

'All right, Perbly!' replied the boy.

'When they pass the stump, give 'em two shots, as fast as you can. Here they come! Fire!' he cried, as the bushrangers made a dash. They were met, at thirty yards, by a couple of bullets; but the lead taking no effect, they rushed on. Scarcely a quarter of a minute, and another couple of bullets met them in fall career—one grazing Foley's cheek, and the other striking the trigger of Darby Gregson's pistol.

'Take 'em in the rear! Quick lads!' Nat Bryant shouted, and with a few springs reached the front of the dairy, closely followed by the others. The bushrangers were so close that the besieged heard the order. 'Quick, Jerry, to the loopholes at the front!' cried Hal. 'Fire right in their faces!'

Two more shots sprang forward to greet the out-laws, but missed their mark in the hurry of aiming.

'Curse them, they've drilled the slabs like a honeycomb!' growled Jennings, as he followed the others, who had beat a precipitate retreat to a safe distance.

'To the loopholes, girls. Now, Jerry, bear a hand here to charge these muskets,' cried the old man, as he began rapidly reloading.

In a few minutes the firearms were ready again.

'Jerry, where's your tomahawk?'

'Me got him, Perbly.'

'You, Marion, take this pistol, and you Mrs. Shelley, take this one; and when they come within range point at one of them and pull the trigger,' Hal. said, handing them the weapons.

'Give me one, Hal.,' Bertha asked, with quivering lips. 'Give me one. I can help to defend mamma.'

'That's a brave girl! Take this musket and pull the trigger when I fire.'

'Oh, if papa and Mr.——,' Bertha began.

'Silence in the ranks; there's no time for talkin'!' thundered the stern disciplinarian.

'They are going back to the house again, Hal.,' said Marion.

Hal. looked out and found the bushrangers in full retreat to the house. They went straight to the tool shed, and were soon busily employed in sawing and hammering some ironbark slabs.

'What are they doing, Hal.?' Mrs. Shelley enquired, anxiously.

'You'll know soon enough,' said Hal., who saw through their intention. 'When they attack us agin, we'll have to fight at closer quarters, that's all. It's a long time, ma'am, since I was a little boy sayin my prayers by my mother's knee, but I can remember it as if it was only yesterday,' Hal. continued, his eyes moistening at the recollection. 'I remember the last time I ever saw her—it was the day after I 'listed. She said to me then, as she laid her hands on my curly head, 'Henry, says she, you're goin' to where there's heaps o' danger; but God is there, too, and whenever you are in danger pray to him.' We are all in danger now, ma'am; and though I don't care very much for myself, yet I am afraid for the sakes o' all o' you. I can't pray. It's so long ago since I did, that I've forgotten how; but, if God will answer anybody's prayers, He will Bertha's. If there ever was a angel on earth, she's one.'

'We will all pray, Hal.,' Mrs. Shelley said, kneeling. The girls clustered around her, and deep and earnest were the supplications offered to the throne of mercy by the helpless ones for deliverance from the hands of the bushrangers.

'Look, Perbly, here day come!' cried Jerry, excitedly, as the bushrangers, their work concluded, emerged from the toolshed.

Each man was carrying upon his shoulder a broad ironbark slab about six feet long, on the under side of which they had nailed strips of green hide. Hal. watched them for a moment, a bitter smile upon his withered features. He could not but admire their ingenuity, though a strong presentiment suggested that it would prove fatal to him. With a muttered curse upon the heads of the approaching bushrangers, he turned from the loophole. He regarded the helpless ones at prayer with a pitying gaze. No hope of saving them now. The outlaws would be enabled to force their entrance, and, at close quarters, what could a battered old fragment of humanity do against such odds? 'Jerry, give me your tomahawk, and you watch 'em while I knock out the bottom o' one o' these slabs,' he said, turning to the blackboy.

Jerry handed the weapon to Hal., and then turned again to the loophole. Hal. limped to the side of the dairy, opposite to where he expected the bushrangers would direct their attack. The old soldier loosened the lower end of a slab by a few heavy blows of the hatchet, so that it could swing upon its upper fastening, and be pushed aside at the bottom wide enough to allow anyone to crawl through. While he was so engaged, Jerry snatched up the auger, and, knocking out the handle, made a good substitute for a waddy, or black-fellow's club.

'Look here, Jerry,' said Hal., pointing to the displaced slab, 'if the bushrangers take us by storm, they'll only knock me on the head. They'll take the ladies back with 'em to their camp in the mountains. When I sees no chance left, I'll whistle, and then you slip out here and away into the brush. When the master comes home, you can track 'em and lead him to the rescue.'

Though not fully comprehending Hal.'s words, the brave young savage, understood sufficient to know that on Hal.'s signal, he was to escape into the brush, and track the 'wild white-fellers' to their camp; and he grinned in anticipated triumph, as he pictured to himself the 'cobbon fight' there would be when the master and 'Misser Sinlar' should catch the wild white-feller. 'All right, Perbly; Jerry know! Bale Jerry lose him track!' he said, confidently.

Old Hal.'s words to the blackboy awoke Mrs. Shelley to the probable nature of their terrible fate. Till now she had looked upon death as the inevitable sequence of the tragedy, should the bushrangers but obtain possession of their stronghold. Now she realized all the horror and degradation of the fate suggested by Hal.'s order to Jerry. With ashy lips, and face rigid in its death-like whiteness, she rose from her knees, and confronting him, asked, in a tone of deepest anguish, 'What? Could they, would they dare to outrage us?'

'Whose to prewent 'em, ma'am, if they once get hold o' you?' Hal. replied, as he turned to the loophole to conceal his tears. The expression of agony upon her features, and the pleading eyes of his beautiful young mistress, quite overcame him, as he thought of their being, perhaps, in a few minutes, in the hands of the cruel and pitiless outlaws.

She laid her hand heavily upon his arm, and said, in a low, husky voice, 'Hal., we are face to face with death; you could not break a promise made to us now? Promise that you will do at once, and without question, whatever I may ask of you!'

Hal. hesitated a moment, and then turning to her, he replied, piteously, 'Don't ask me, ma'am; I couldn't!'

'Promise me, Hal. You have acted nobly in risking, perhaps sacrificing, your life in our defence; crown your generosity by snatching us from their power.'

'I couldn't, ma'am!' he replied, gloomily. 'I know what you want me to do, but I couldn't.'

'What! Would you allow my darling to live to be outraged by those wretches?' she exclaimed her eyes flashing with indignation at the thought. 'Would you permit that innocent child to live to be made the companion of the vilest scum of the land? No, Hal., you cannot, when one stab with that sword will place her out of their power for ever! When you think it impossible to hold out longer, kill us both; and if you escape, tell my husband we preferred death to dishonor.'

The girls clustered around Mrs. Shelley, weeping in their terror and despair. The manner of Hal. told them plainly enough that hope was at an end. Prayer may have made them fitter for death; but it is beyond the power of ordinary humanity to meet it with passive stoicism.

'No, ma'am, I can't! so it's no use askin',' Hal. replied, after a moment's reflection. 'And another thing: Jerry 'll escape, and lead the master on the track of the bushrangers; and you may be saved before long.'

'No, no! It'll be too late then! Better death now, than to fall into the hands of the bushrangers!'

'What do you say, girls?' Hal. asked indecisively.

Bertha and Marion Macaulay both cried eagerly, 'Yes, yes, Hal. Better die than be taken away with the bushrangers!'

Janet Wilkins, in her bewilderment, could not comprehend the situation, and begged hard that her life might be spared.

Hal. limped up and down the dairy a couple of turns, unable to decide how to act. He stopped suddenly before the vigilant Jerry. 'Are they half-way yet?' he asked abruptly.

'Yes, Perbly. Day along big anthill now,' the black boy replied, without removing his watchful eyes from the approaching outlaws.

'You are brave girls,' Hal. said, turning to Bertha and Marion, 'but I can't do what you ask. If you aren't afraid to die rather than go with the bushrangers, don't be afraid to fight to save yourselves from their clutches. They haven't got us yet, and there'll be more blood shed afore they do. They'll likely burst in the door; so each o' you girls take a musket, and the moment they spring in, fire into their faces. You take the pistols, ma'am, and you, Jerry, take two muskets and stand by the loose slab. The moment the door gives way, fire among the wretches, and then slip away through the slab and away into the brush; and if the bushrangers do carry the ladies off, just watch which way they go; then you can lead the master to save 'em.'

'Couldn't we all escape into the brush, as well as Jerry?' Marion inquired eagerly.

'They couldn't help seeing you, and then they'd catch you without much trouble,' Hal. replied.

'Oh, it is dreadful to die or be carried away, and never see papa again,' Bertha cried wringing her hands in her despair.

'Stop! Not another, word! I can't stand it!' cried Hal., desperately. 'We've too much else to do to waste time in screechin'. Where are they now, Jerry?'

'Right along dat hollow stump,' said Jerry, 'who was acting sentinel.

'Take up the position I gave you, Jerry! I'll watch 'em now,' Hal. said, taking Jerry's place.

The bushrangers were about a hundred yards distant, and still carrying their slabs. At about fifty paces they halted, and, holding their slabs before them in the form of shields, and presenting nothing to the aim of old Hal. but the upright faces of the slabs, they continued their advance. Hal. stayed at his post till they reached the front of the dairy, and, covering the loopholes with the slabs, commenced battering the door. Then he retired to the farther corner, from which he would have better aim, and motioning the others to follow his example, levelled his piece at the door. In less than two minutes it was forced open, and the captain of the gang sprang in, closely followed by the other desperados. A blinding volley met them as they entered; and Nat. Bryant fell back wounded in the side. In a moment he was on his feet again, and fired at Hal., shooting him through the fleshy part of his right arm, as the brave old fellow was levelling another musket to fire again. The piece fell from Hal.'s powerless grasp; but he snatched up the sword in his left hand, and prepared to continue the struggle. He made a furious lunge at Nat. Bryant, as that worthy incautiously approached within arm's length; but Nat. was too quick, and sprang back in time to avoid the thrust. Before Hal. could recover himself, Jennings knocked his wooden leg from under him, with the butt end of a discharged musket, and the old man fell over on his side! In a moment the bloodthirsty wretch was upon him, and wrenching the sword from his grasp, ran him through the chest with it; and Bryant, pointing a pistol at the old hero's head, and saying, 'You've done us mischief enough for one lifetime, old fellow,' pulled the trigger, and he, who had figured as hero in so many fictitious adventures, fell back, desperately wounded in the defence of helpless women.

'Don't! Oh, don't kill poor old Hal.,' pleaded Marion Macaulay, earnestly. 'He fought so bravely for us: do spare his life!'

'Couldn't think of it, my beauty; He shot the best man I had,' Nat. Bryant replied. 'And look here (pointing to his wounded side), how nearly he cheated me of you. Another half-inch higher, and I'd have gone to glory first. No, no! my darling; he's as dead as a door nail, so wipe your eyes, and let's see how you look when you smile,' he replied, as he and his companions tied their hands.

With sinking hearts, they submitted to be pinioned.

'Now, lads,' said Nat. Bryant, as he lightly fastened Bertha's hands, and attached her to the other three prisoners, by means of a long cord tied to the wrists of each; 'I'm Captain, so I'll choose first. This little angel of brightness will be mine. There's just one apiece for the rest of you, so draw lots at once, and let's get away up the mountain as quick as possible. Its getting late, and the men'll be home soon.'

'Have you a mother or a sister?' Mrs. Shelley asked, turning to the wretch, who had signified his intention of keeping possession of her daughter.

'I suppose I had a mother,' returned Nat. Bryant, grinning, 'or how I came into this wicked world was a miracle. And I had a sister too! What about them?'

'Think what would be your mother's feelings, were her daughter in the position of my darling now! If you have any respect for a mother's feelings, spare my child!'

'After all the trouble we have had in getting her? No, no, my dear! There'd be an odd number, if I let one go; and then we might quarrel.'

Seeing no hope of prevailing upon their captors to release any of them, Mrs. Shelley determined to watch closely, and to allow no opportunity to pass that might offer a chance of escape. While his comrades were noisily engaged in allotting their prizes, Nat. Bryant turned to collect the arms and ammunition scattered about the floor; and as he was so employed, she managed to step over and conceal by her dress, a knife, one of the bushrangers had dropped, and taking advantage of a moment when his back was turned, picked it up with her fettered hands, and slipped it unobserved into her pocket. With a lightened heart she now watched the proceedings of the bushrangers. She had now in her power the death for herself and child that should snatch them from the hands of the bushrangers, if no other alternative for dishonor presented itself.

'Well, lads, haven't you settled whose is whose yet?' asked the captain, as he laid the collected arms by the door.

'Yes, captain,' returned Darby Gregson, 'It's all cut and dried now. I'm to be your father-in-law, and Jennings has won the dark-eyed lassie. Here's Foley swearing that we've cheated, 'cause he's let in with the fat little scullerymaid. He's as savage as a Myall, he didn't get first pick!'

'Well, escort your better halves, and come along!' said Nat. Bryant, leading the way. They led their unresisting prisoners out, and commenced their march up the ridge, and after an hour's slow climbing reached its summit, where they had previously left the stolen provisions. The sun was just setting behind the hills, and the prospect along the river and the hills beyond was extremely beautiful, the topmost branches of the trees being tinged with the delicate hue of the peach blossom.

'D—— it! I came away without the muskets!' said the captain. 'I meant to fetch them away with us. We would have had less to fear, if we had taken all the arms with us.'

'Shall one of us go back for 'em, captain?' one of the men enquired.

'No, Foley! You'd only meet the hands, and give them a clue to our track. It can't be helped now. Have we rations enough for supper?'

'Yes! But not much to spare,' replied Jennings.

'Then we will leave this stock here for a couple of hours! Cut the ropes that bind the women together, and each man look after his own. Be careful, or you'll break their necks getting them down the hill.'

The bushrangers cut asunder the cords as directed, and began the hazardous and difficult descent. It was quite dark by the time they reached the wooded glen at the bottom of the range; and the outlaws, each firmly grasping the hand of one of the prisoners, groped their way along the narrow path through the brushwood. When they entered the clearing the moon was shining down upon the peaceful and lovely scene, clothing it in silvery splendour.

'Now, lads, tie the ladies' hands, and fasten them together again, and then show them into the hut,' the captain said, throwing himself upon the soft grass, 'and set to work getting supper. This wound in my side makes me stiff and sore, so I'll lie down here a bit.'

The orders were promptly obeyed; and soon the prisoners were confined in the rude hut of the bushrangers, and the quart-pots of tea boiling merrily. The damper and corned beef were brought out and spread upon the grass.

'Shall we fetch the ladies out, captain, or send 'em their supper in the hut?' asked Darby.

'Let them have their right hands free, Darby, and give them their suppers where they are,' said the captain.

With very poor appetites, the helpless prisoners began the meal.

'Eat all you can, and slip anything you can hide into your pockets,' Mrs. Shelley whispered, when Darby was absent a moment at the fire. 'We may escape, perhaps, and be——.' Darby's return prevented her from finishing the sentence; but Bertha and Marion Macaulay caught her meaning.

'Make yourselves comfortable, ladies, while we're away. We've got to fetch home the rations from the plant on the mountain directly after supper; but, when we've got everything housed and snug, you'll see what faithful spouses we'll make. We'll not leave you again while the grub lasts,' said Darby, while filling their pannicans with tea.

By a great effort Mrs. Shelley succeeded in steadying her voice, and asking 'How long do you intend staying here?'

'O! I can't say to a day Mrs. G. (you know you're Mrs. G. now.) Till the honeymoon's over, I suppose!'

The wretch's words made her blood run cold; but, suppressing her emotion, she enquired in a careless voice, 'Does this little creek run into the Hunter?'

'Ha, ha! Is that your little game?' he asked, derisively. 'Well, don't try it on: that's all! If you were to bolt, you'd be catched again in no time. Nat. Bryant, the captain's as good as a blackfellow at tracking.'

Mrs. Shelley asked no other questions; the quickness with which Darby had guessed her meaning, and his boast of his captain's cleverness in tracking, dispelled for the moment her hopes of escape. 'At least, I have the knife,' she mentally soliloquised. 'That avenue of escape is still open!'

Darby left them, and retired to the fire, where the other outlaws were getting their supper, and consulting about their future movements.

'Perhaps papa and Mr. Sinclair are back from Newcastle, mamma. If they are, Jerry will track us, and shew them the way here. Then they could rescue us!' Bertha said in a low tone.

'Don't speak, darling, they may overhear us. Wait till they have gone up the mountain, and we will try to escape into the bush, and hide till papa comes. If we get away we can walk down the creek in the water part of the way. They can't track us then. Fill your pockets, girls; we may be days before we are found, if we are fortunate enough to escape.'

'Now, lads,' said the captain, as the others rose from the grass, 'if you've finished your suppers, get ready for fetching the rations down the mountain. It's best to get them down as soon as possible. If there's a party out after us, and they found them we'd be likely to starve, before we could lay in another store. Take ropes with you, or you'll find the beef casks rather awkward to manage. I'll stay behind and look after the ladies.'

The three subordinates took ropes with them, and started on their errand, and the captain bent his steps to the hut. Entering the door, he bowed gallantly, and apologised for his intrusion. 'You must forgive me ladies, for subjecting you to the indignity o' being tied in your future home; but the truth is you're hardly reconciled to the change yet, and might want to escape. As I'm rather fagged, I might drop off to sleep; so you will see the great necessity for securing you. I don't think you'll be so anxious to leave us though, after to-night. We've some capital rum here, and when the other fellows come back we'll brew some punch, and enjoy ourselves grandly.'

While he was speaking, he was dexterously pinioning their hands together and to a chain that was fastened into one of the corner posts. 'Would you like to know, Beauty, what this chain is doing here?' he asked, noticing Bertha's terrified gaze. 'One of my men once turned informer, and I chained him here and left him to starve and rot. Ha, the little tragedy frightens you, does it? Well, if any of you try to escape, I'll use that chain for the same purpose again.'

Having secured them to his satisfaction, Nat. Bryant returned to the fire, and, rolling himself up in an opossum rug, lay down upon the grass. The terrible words of the cold-blooded wretch tingling in their ears, it was some time before any of the prisoners spoke again. At last Mrs. Shelley roused herself and whispered, 'We must escape before the other men return, or die! Marion, you can put your hands into my pocket; draw out the knife I have hidden in it. Don't speak any of you!' she entreated, as Janet Wilkins, shuddering at the naked blade, gave a slight scream. 'Now, Marion, cut my ropes.'

Marion Macaulay succeeded in severing the thongs that bound her mistress, and Mrs. Shelley crept to the door and looked through a crevice. All was as still and silent outside as the grave. The ruffian acting as sentry was lying before the fire, 'Asleep, or in deep thought?' that was the momentous question, upon which hinged their escape. She watched him anxiously for ten minutes. He lay as still as if in a deep sleep. Fervently hoping that he had dozed off from the fatigue and loss of blood, she turned to the girls, and whispered, 'Now is our only chance. He is lying down now with his back this way. If he rises and begins to pace up and down before the door, this knife alone can save us from their power. Don't speak! Keep your hands still, or you may rattle the chain, and I will liberate them.' She cut their thongs, and then bade them take off their boots, setting the example herself by pulling off her own. She then carefully examined the walls to discover some opening other than the door, by which they could leave the hut. Finding none, she turned to the girls again. 'Not a word, as you would value your lives! If we can once get the hut between us and the bushranger yonder, we may, perhaps, escape into the brush before he misses us. Listen! I will creep up, and stand behind him, while you steal out. If I can but reach him unobserved, you are saved. Not a word, darling. Get behind the hut as quickly as possible, and then step into the creek, and walk down the stream for a few hundred yards. If I am not with you in half an hour, or if you fancy you are pursued, escape into the brush. Silence, Bertha! I know what you would say! You all know what to do now. Wait till I beckon to you, and then go; and may heaven help you!'

She silently embraced her child, and then, grasping the glittering blade tightly in her resolute hand, softly opened the door, which fortunately was unfastened, and crept cautiously along the velvet turf, till she stood close behind the unsuspecting sentry. She found to her dismay that he was not asleep; but he was evidently in deep thought; for he was aimlessly plucking up the blades of grass, and laying them in heaps. With a nerve none could have expected a delicate woman to possess, she crushed down the terror this discovery occasioned; and, bending over the reclining bushranger, held the point of the weapon to his left side, and beckoned to the girls to steal away. They obeyed the signal with beating hearts, and noiselessly leaving the hut, reached the creek, where it was concealed by the shadow of the cedar tree, the noble woman the while standing ready to plunge her knife into the sentry, should he rise by so much as a hair's breadth. With an icy feeling at her heart, and features rigid, in her intense excitement, she waited till the girls should have escaped far enough down the stream to be out of sight and sound from where she stood. As she stands, death in her resolute eye for the wretch at her feet, should her child's safety demand it, who shall accuse her of acting other than as a noble and heroic woman? Deeds of blood and violence ill associate with the sacred name of woman; but if the verdict of twenty centuries acquits of murder the hot-headed Brutus, who played traitor to friendship, and stabbed to the heart the aspiring Caesar, how much more shall we acquit her who slays to rescue an only child from the most awful fate misfortune could have in store for her? For herself she would shed no blood—unless, indeed, her own, to escape from insult and outrage—but for her darling, her only child, there was no limit to the deeds she would perform, or the dangers encounter. The tedious minutes crawled by with leaden feet, as she waited in an agony of suspense for the girls to reach a safe distance. She had just resolved that they must have passed the edge of the brush where the creek entered it, and that she might safely steal away, when a sudden gust of wind rustled her dress. The quick ears of the bushranger caught the slight sound and he glanced up in surprise; but before he could speak or rise, her knife sank to the haft in his brutal heart. With a scream of horror the homicide sprang away, and followed the steps of the girls, who were anxiously waiting for her a short distance down the stream.


CHAPTER XIV.


To th' rescue! Draw each bright steel blade,
And follow, where I lead!
For bloody vengeance have I prayed;
For death, it is their meed.

The young, the fair, the innocent
Are captive in their den!
Then draw your blades, on vengeance bent,
And 'quit yourselves like men.

—AUTHOR'S M. S.

'We must pull up here, Sinclair, or the horses will never carry us home; mine is trembling under me now. If they do knock up, we loose our only chance of reaching home early,' said Mr. Shelley, as they were galloping down a slope, their horses flecked with foam, and all but winded.

'We will be compelled to walk them up the long rise over the flat yonder. For heaven's sake, sir don't let us loiter upon level country,' cried Percy, urging his jaded horse with the spur, and leading the way, in headlong career, across the flat. On reaching the foot of the rise, they reined in, and commenced slowly climbing the long, though not steep, ascent.

'We shall be home in an hour, if the horses hold out,' said Mr. Shelley, hopefully; 'and, I dare say, Bertha will laugh heartily at our mad haste.'

'I trust she may, sir,' was all Sinclair could answer. His torturing imagination was busy picturing every possibility of danger to his heart's idol, that could present itself in his absence. He could ill brook the tardiness of their progress, and longed to dash on at every hazard. But for the cooler judgment of the elder gentleman, the horses must have given in at half the distance—so recklessly he rode.

The horses rested by their slow ascent of the hill, Percy touched the gory flanks of his again with his spurs, and led the way down the opposite slope at a racing pace. At the foot of the slope they encountered Davy Collyer, the overseer, who was riding at the top of his speed to meet them. Dragging his horse back upon its haunches by the force of reining him in, he shouted 'The bushrangers have carried off the ladies, and killed old Hal.' Deep into their quivering flanks the spurs were driven, and the horses dashed on at increased speed, Percy, with lips compressed and heart on fire leading the way. No thought had he to question for particulars. She was in the power of the cruel and remorseless! He would rescue her, or die!

The feelings of the husband and father were none the less acute; but they were held under by judgment, and the rough experience of a soldier's life. Grasping the rein of the overseer's horse, so as to keep abreast of him in their headlong gallop, he learnt all that Davy could tell—that on going up to the house at sundown, he found no one there but Jerry, who told him of the fight in the dairy, and the escape of the bushrangers to the mountains with their victims.

Davy Collyer could tell nothing more; for directly he had heard Jerry's brief version of the fray, he had sent him on to the huts for the men, who had just returned home, and, springing again into the saddle, had galloped off to meet Mr. Shelley.

Nothing further was said during the remainder of their homeward race, each being too intent upon his own thoughts for conversation. Half an hour's ride brought them in sight of the homestead, which suddenly burst upon their view as they turned the corner of the brush. The serenity of the beautiful scene, as it lay bathed in the cold rays of the silver moon, appeared little suggestive of the wild and lawless deeds that had been committed during the last few hours; but the riders had no leisure to moralize upon the contrast of the calmness of silent nature and the turbulence of human passions.

'To the dairy, sir!' shouted Davy Collyer, dashing on by the back of the house towards the scene of the struggle.

Mr. Shelley and Percy urged on their jaded horses and followed as fast as the beasts could carry them. The overseer, being mounted on the freshest horse, reached the dairy first, and sprang from the saddle among the men who were waiting outside.

'Did you meet the master, Davy?' asked Jack, the boy, rising.

'He and Mr. Sinclair's just behind. Are you all here?' answered and enquired Davy, in a breath.

'There be all on us here, zir, except poor old Iperbly; he be dead as a red herring,' said Giles, from the top of a stump upon which he was perched.

At this moment Mr. Shelley galloped up. He was greeted by a cheer as he hastily dismounted. 'Where is Jerry?' he asked, abruptly.

Jerry stepped forward from the shadow of the hut, where he had been waiting as patiently as a young Indian.

'Quick; tell me what has happened?' cried the grief-stricken gentleman.

'All dat many bushranger kill old Perbly, and steal Missie Berta and everybody!' answered Jerry, sententiously, as he indicated the number of bushrangers upon his fingers.

'Get a light, Jack,' the overseer said to the shepherd; 'the master will want to go into the dairy.'

The men had brought a bush lamp with them from the huts, and Jack lit it by a firebrand from a burning log close by. Mr. Shelley snatched it from him and entered the dairy, followed by the men. A sickening spectacle met their gaze; the floor to the left of the door was slippery with gore, and poor old Iperbly, the favorite of all, lay in a dark pool of his life's blood.

'Look here, Misser Selley, dat old Perbly murry budgery teller; bale dat frighten bushranger. Him fight like it warrigal!' said Jerry, pointing in admiration to the prostrate veteran.

Mr. Shelley regarded Hal. silently for a moment, and then, turning to the men, said, hurriedly, 'The poor fellow is dead; but the living claim our first thought. Arm yourselves and follow me. We may rescue them yet, if we waste no time.'

The order was unnecessary; for the men had already distributed the arms Nat. Bryant, the captain of the gang, had forgotten to take away, and only waited to be led against the marauders. The wife and daughter of their kind master were so great favourites, that there was not a man on the station who would not have risked his life in their defence.

'Where is Mr. Sinclair?' asked Mr. Shelley, missing him, as he was about to leave the dairy.

'Here he is, sir,' replied Davy, as Percy approached on foot.

'My horse stumbled over a dead man—one of the bushrangers, I think, from his appearance—and fell with me,' he said, in explanation of his delay. 'I had some difficulty in getting on to my feet again, as the brute lay heavily upon my right leg.'

'Are you hurt?' asked his master, anxiously.

'No; it's nothing. A mere bruise,' Percy answered, snatching at the same moment, a musket and sheath knife from the shepherd.

'That's fortunate; get him another horse, Davy. Which way did the bushrangers go, Jerry?'

'Bale dat horse no good, Misser Selley! Bushranger no got him horse. Dat go down dother side range. Get him tunder gun, and Jerry track him!'

'Lead on then, Jerry, as quickly as you can. Keep well together the rest of you, and follow the blackboy close. Be silent! We may perhaps take them by surprise, and shall then have a better opportunity of rescuing my wife and child.'

Mr. Shelley spoke with as little visible emotion, as if he were giving orders to a company on parade. He had learnt by experience, and in a stern school, that action, not sentiment, is of service in such a dire extreme. Plenty of time for thinking of their danger, when the time for action had passed.

Jerry required no second bidding, but leaving the 'tame white-fellow' (as he called the squatter and his men, when talking of them to his own dusky countrymen) to follow as best they could, he struck off in a direct line up the ridge for the point of the mountain where he had seen the bushrangers descend the opposite side with their fair prisoners. Mr. Shelley and his men followed the eager young savage in silence, and in a short time reached the summit.

'Look here, Misser Selley, dat wild white-feller steal him too much plenty beef!' cried Jerry, turning back and pointing to a beef-cask the bushrangers had left on the mountain. 'Bale dat wild blackfeller steal him too much plenty beef like a dat!'

Disregarding Jerry's insinuating contrast of the black and the white freebooters, Mr. Shelley asked abruptly, 'Can you see the tracks in the moonlight, Jerry?'

'Bale dat much light enough!' replied Jerry, shaking his head negatively.

'Good heavens, then, how can we track them?' exclaimed Percy, turning savagely upon the startled blackboy. 'If you do not track them, I'll——'

'Control yourself, Sinclair,' interrupted Mr. Shelley. 'Too much depends upon our coolness and judgement, to risk anything by rash excitement! How can you find the rangers, Jerry?' he asked, quietly, turning to the blackboy.

'You see him brush along bottom dare?' Jerry asked, in reply, pointing down the dark side of the mountain. 'Blackfeller got him path along dare. Wild white-feller can't help him go along dat path. Come along, Jerry find him!' saying which, Jerry cut short further discussion by swinging himself down the precipitous face of a huge rock to a shelving ledge by means of a young and pliant sappling. 'Come along! Dat no break him?' he shouted from below, and disappeared in the gloom of the long and steep descent. Grasping their weapons firmly, the white men slowly and cautiously followed. They found the descent extremely difficult and dangerous; but, after twenty minutes toil and exertion, they reached the brush at its foot. A low cooee from the blackboy directed them to the entrance of the brush, where the imp was reclining lazily, upon a fallen tree. 'Bale dat white-feller can murry-make-haste down mountain!' exclaimed Jerry, in conscious superiority, as his master and Percy came strangling up, followed by the men.

'Lead on, Jerry! There, is no time, to lose;' whispered Mr. Shelley to the blackboy, who immediately rose and dived into the dark path. 'Follow me, my men; and remember—a steady hand and a still tongue!' said Mr. Shelley, following Jerry into the heart of the brush. Percy was close behind him; and they hurriedly groped their way along, closely followed by the men. They had some difficulty in keeping up with their guide; but Jerry considerately waited for them every now and then; and so, when he reached the bushranger's camp, they were close behind.

'Here camp belongin to bushranger!' he said, in a whisper, as he drew back into the shadow of the brush.

'Halt! Not a sound, any of you!' commanded Mr. Shelley in an undertone. Percy with difficulty, restrained his impulse to rush into the outlaw's camp, and strike dead at his feet those who had carried off his idol.

'Don't move, any of you, while I go forward to reconnoitre,' Mr. Shelley whispered, and then stole cautiously to the edge of the clearing. Jerry, who fully realized his own importance, and did not consider himself included in the order, kept close behind him. The three wretches, who had been despatched up the mountain for the provisions, had just returned. Their burdens were heaped by the fire, and they were standing by the corpse of their dead chief.

'Don't wake him, Darby; he's tired after our work this afternoon. You know his horse knocked up yesterday, and he walked pretty near all the way from the Lake,' Foley said to his comrade.

'Tired, be d——! If he's been and gone to sleep, and let them women escape, I'll cut his throat, before he wakes again,' muttered Darby Gregson, in a threatening voice. 'See if he has Jennings.'

The miscreant addressed entered the hut. 'Stick your knives in him mates! He's let 'em escape!' shouted he, excitedly, as he rushed out again.

With a gleam of ferocity upon his repulsive features, Darby prepared to execute his diabolical threat. He drew his keen sheath knife, and wiping it upon his coat sleeve, knelt down by the aide of his fallen chief. 'By Judas, what, is this?' he exclaimed, springing to his feet again, and looking at the knees of his canvas trousers.

'Blood!' cried his comrades, in surprise and consternation; and the intending murderer drew back in horror.

'He's saved you the trouble, Darby, by cutting it himself,' said Foley shuddering.

'No, he hasn't: look here!' Jennings exclaimed, pointing to the handle of the knife embedded in their captain's heart. The three bushrangers looked at the rugged bone haft, for a few seconds, in dismay.

'Look here, mates, we'd better clear out. The women have been traced and rescued; and, now they know our camp, the sooner we quit it the better,' said Foley.

During this brief conversation, Mr. Shelley had conceived a plan of attack. The bushrangers were too far off to admit of his hearing them, and, consequently, he was unaware of the escape of his wife and daughter, and he concluded they were confined in the hut. It was impossible to fire upon the bushrangers from where be stood, as they were in a direct line with the hut, and a bullet reaching them would be likely to pass and enter it. He turned to Jerry, the blackboy, at his elbow, 'Jerry, keep under cover of the brush, and creep round, till you get on the other side of the hut yonder, and then cooee.'

The boy, without reply, turned to execute the order, and, keeping in the dark shadow of the brushwood, stole along, as directed. He was not alone. Percy Sinclair had heard the order, and, weary of inaction, determined to follow. They crept along, unnoticed by the bushrangers, who were standing by their dead chief, undecided whether to stay or to retreat to their horses and escape. Jerry knew the position of the path that led from the lower side of the clearing, through the brush, to the gully below, where the bushrangers kept their horses, and he hurried along to reach it, before the wild white-feller should turn to it. But the wild white-fellers were so stunned and paralysed by the mysterious death of their captain, that they did not know where turn, or what to do.

'I think we'd better get out of the brush the way we came in, Darby. There's no telling how many's on our track, or which way they are hiding. I vote you should be captain. What do you say Foley?' asked Jennings.

'Two of us gone out of five! That's quick work,' said Jennings, meditatively; and then starting, he replied to Foley's question—'Yes, Gregson'd better be captain now. There were four to vote for Bryant, and now there's only two left to choose—just half.'

'The coast is clear the way we've come, lads; let's escape at once. I'd rather face 'em in daylight,' the new-chosen captain said.

'Let's get back through the brush, and away up under the face of the mountains.'

Before Foley or Jennings could reply a prolonged cooee from Jerry caused them to spring round in terror, and to dash off towards the spot where Mr. Shelley and his men were waiting for them. Mr. Shelley ordered his men to hold fire till the flying bushrangers were within thirty yards. At about that distance a sudden blaze illuminated the entrance to the path and revealed the avenging party to the terrified outlaws; and a volley of lead was poured into their faces. The foremost of them fell forward, pierced by several bullets; but the other two, who had been shielded by the body of the one that fell, escaped unscathed, and turning back fled for the other opening from the clearing. Here they were met by Percy and Jerry. Percy shot the newly-elected captain in the neck, as he dashed past, and Jerry sprang upon the miscreant Jennings, and tried to capture him. Poor Jerry had overrated his power. A blow on the head with his tomahawk would have laid the ruffian dead at his feet; but he was ambitious of catching a wild white-feller single-handed; so dropping, his weapon and throwing his arms around the bushranger's neck, he shouted to Percy that he had 'yarded wild white-feller.' Directly Jennings found himself attacked he struggled fiercely to free himself, and shaking the blackboy's puny grasp from his throat, he gave him a couple of heavy kicks on the bare shins (a very tender point with Jerry) and then dashed away through the scrub after his comrade, before Percy could intercept him; while the unfortunate blackboy rubbed his bruised shins and howled.

Paying no attention to the suffering of poor Jerry, Percy hastened towards the hut, where he expected Bertha was held a prisoner. A strange and contradictory emotion filled his breast, as he approached the hut. He could save her even at the expense of his life; but he, a convict, could not hold her to his heart and tell her of the love that would count it a privilege to die in her defence. While her safety was a matter of doubt, no thought had he but of her rescue; directly he looked upon her safety as assured, the gloomy thoughts that had made him miserable for months past, returned; and he felt again how far above him the fair and beautiful Bertha was. He entered the hut to tell her and her amiable mother of their rescue, but to his horror no voice replied to his eager words, 'Thank heaven we have saved you!' He spoke again, and receiving no answer, a wild terror filled his heart, as he groped his way round the contracted extent of the hut. 'My God! they are not here!' he cried wildly, when the terrible truth became apparent.

'What? Not here!' exclaimed an anxious voice at his side; and Mr. Shelley entered the hut, carrying a blazing brand he had snatched from the fire outside. The torch shed a flickering light around the hut, and showed that the ladies had occupied it, but were gone. 'See,' cried Percy, picking up a small pair of boots, 'these are Bertha's! They have been here, and are gone. Have they escaped, or——'

'Or been murdered? We must examine the dreadful alternative, Sinclair. There is too much at stake to allow our feelings to usurp sway over our actions,' said Mr. Shelley, calmly. 'Light that lamp on the shelf in the corner, Davy.'

Davy did so; and Mr. Shelley minutely and slowly examined everything in the rude unfurnished room. 'Yes; they have been confined here, Sinclair, and that quite recently, for these boots are as warm as if only just taken off. Now, what were they taken off for? The answer to that question might, perhaps, throw some light upon their movements.'

'There's one of the bushrangers dead alongside of the fire, sir, with a knife stuck in him,' said Jack, the boy, entering the hut.

'Then they have quarrelled, and the ladies escaped into the bush the while,' suggested Davy Collyer.

'Where is Jerry?' Mr. Shelley asked, turning to look for his trusty black boy.

'Jerry murry sick belongin' to legs, Misser Selley!' whined the poor fellow, ruefully rubbing his barked shins.

'Giles, hold this lamp close to the ground outside, and Jerry will see if he can find the tracks of Mrs. Shelley and Bertha!'

The mention of 'Missie Berta' caused Jerry to forget his sick legs at once, and he set to work diligently to discover her tracks. 'Here Missie Berta track, and plenty track belonging to Missie Selley and dother white lubra,'—[woman]—cried Jerry, delightedly examining the evidences of the recent presence of his young mistress. 'Halloa, dat Missie Berta go along dis way, and tree or two more track; and Missie Selley go along dat way belongin' to fire. Bale dat no got any boots.'

'Follow Mrs. Shelley's track first, Jerry; hold the light low, Giles!' said Mr. Shelley, quietly. Jerry slowly followed the faint footprints, and reached the side of the fallen outlaw. 'Dat Missie Selley stand still here!' Jerry explained, as he pointed to the well-defined outline of her footprint, where she had stood waiting behind the doomed sentry.

'And a knife! I see it! I see it! Her hand drove that dagger home!' said Mr. Shelley, with a shudder. 'Follow up the track, Jerry!'

'Dat Missie Selley run along here,' Jerry explained, following the track to the brink of the shallow creek.

'Jack, stand by the footprints where they enter the creek. Now, Jerry, go back to the hut, and follow Bertha's track,' Mr. Shelley ordered. Jerry easily traced them down to the creek; and Mr. Shelley stood for a few minutes in deep thought, endeavouring to decide upon the next step to take.

All the time these wise precautions occupied, Percy Sinclair was pacing impatiently up and down, anxious to dash off at once in search of the gentle girl, who, his imagination hinted, might even at that moment be lying cold and dead, perhaps within a short distance of where he stood.

'Davy, stand by these tracks. Now, Jerry, cross over and examine this bank,' Mr. Shelley said, stepping across the stream.

Jerry examined the bank minutely, but found no trace of their having left the water on the farther side.

'The creek runs down from the mountain we just descended, sir. Don't you think they would be most likely to follow the water up?' asked Davy Collyer.

'And pass the fire, Dave? Not over likely, I should say, with a bushranger, perhaps a dozen, skulking about. I guess they went down the creek,' the stockman said.

'I think, from the appearance of the dead bushranger, and Mrs. Shelley having left the others and gone to him, that all of the gang were away, when they escaped, except the one left to guard them, and that he dropped off to sleep, and she stabbed him to assist Bertha to escape. If so, there would be no one to watch them walking up the creek; and I believe they have gone up. Get into the creek, Jerry, and then you can examine both banks, and see where they left the water.'

Jerry stepped in, and the party slowly made its way along in an opposite direction to where the prisoners had left the clearing. Half an hour's weary and tedious walk brought them to where the water bubbled up through a chasm in the rock too narrow for a human being to creep through; and Jerry, finding no trace of tracks, it was seen at a glance that they were searching in the wrong direction.

'There is no help for it, Sinclair; we must return to where the tracks enter the water and wait for daylight. It is impossible that they scaled these heights, and the brush is too dense here for them to have penetrated it,' Mr. Shelley said, sadly. Now that action was suspended, now that they could do nothing but hope and wait, his pent-up emotions burst through his hitherto iron will, and he fairly broke down.

'What! give up the search, and they, perhaps, perishing from hunger and cold?' asked Percy, bitterly.

The sorrowing husband and father heard him not. Now that he could do nothing more to rescue them from exposure to the dangers of an unsheltered night, he surrendered himself a prey to the direst forebodings. 'Could those delicate home-flowers survive the chilling damps of a night in the bush?' was the burden of his torturing thought.

The baffled seekers slowly returned along the stream to the clearing, and in a few minutes the men had transferred the bushrangers' camp-fire to the part of the bank where the fugitives' footprints entered the water. Mr. Shelley threw himself upon the damp grass, and silently gave way to his grief; while Percy Sinclair paced the distance between the hut and the fire, restless and wretched that his darling was in danger, perhaps dead, and he unable to do anything but think of her. Though the men were deeply grieved at the loss of their amiable mistress and her daughter, and participated keenly in the sorrow of their master, they were too hungry to give way to their feelings. The discovery of the bushrangers' attack upon the station had prevented their getting their suppers. They accordingly set to work to make up for lost time, by preparing a meal at the expense of the freebooters.

About a quarter of an hour after they had returned to the clearing, Percy stopped suddenly in his walk, and laying his hand upon the young savage's shoulder, whispered, 'Come this way, Jerry, I want to speak to you!'

Jerry rose and followed him to the shadow of the cedar tree.

'Jerry, it is very cold for Missie Berta to be in the bush,' he said, slowly, and watching the expression of the blackboy's features as the moon, peering through the boughs of the cedar tree, revealed them.

'Too much murry cold!' Jerry returned, reflectively, an expression of pain flitting over his dusky features.

'They can't be far, Jerry. Let us take the lamp and try to track them. They have gone down the creek, I believe.'

Jerry looked wistfully towards the fire, where the shepherd was busily engaged frying some beef; but, muttering to himself, 'Never mind, Jerry, dat Missie Berta too much murry hungry to,' turned to Percy, and said, 'All right, Misser Sinlar, come along; we find him.'

They took the rude bush-lamp with them, and stepping into the creek, followed its course downward, examining the banks every step of the way. When, a few minutes after they started, the men had prepared supper, and their absence was discovered, it caused great consternation among the party, as there was no trace where they had disappeared to.


CHAPTER XV.


A PRIEST.—Blood on her hands, my Lord! Is it not murder?
COUNT RANDOLPH.—What! murder! thus to snatch an only child,
From foul dishonour? No! weak sophist! No!
And if it were, more glory to be damned
For such a murder than, by craven fear,
To win salvation!

(Author's drama.) THE VENDETTA.

The girls reached the stream, as Mrs. Shelley directed, and waded down it nearly two hundred yards, when Bertha stopped suddenly, and refused to proceed another step till her mother overtook them. The housemaid begged her to hurry on, lest the bushrangers should pursue them; but her young mistress was resolute. 'No, Janet, I'll not forsake mamma! Not even to save my life!'

The bed of the little creek was formed of fine gravel; and the water being only a few inches deep, they had no difficulty in wading down the stream; but the brush was so dense on both banks, that it was impossible to leave the water. They had waited, barely five minutes, when they discerned Mrs. Shelley's white dress, as she fled down the stream towards them.

'Don't speak, Miss, or the bushrangers may hear us, if we are pursued,' Marion Macaulay urged, as Bertha turned to call to her mother.

As Mrs. Shelley reached them, she observed that one of her hands had a deep, crimson stain upon it. With a shudder she stooped and washed it off in the clear stream at her feet. 'Mamma! Oh, I'm so glad. I thought you were never coming! If you had not come very soon, I would have gone back again. I could not escape without you, mamma!'

'My darling, you are saved if we can only find our way home!' said Mrs. Shelley, embracing her child. 'But we must hurry on, or the other wretches will be back soon. Do not speak any of you. There may be other bushrangers about, that we have not seen.'

She held her daughter's hand in hers, and pressed rapidly forward, closely followed by her two maid servants. For nearly a quarter of a mile they found the water as shallow, and the bed of the stream as firm; but then their progress became impeded by the large boulders that were embedded in the gravel, and by the deep cavities between them. They succeeded with extreme difficulty in continuing their flight, by stepping from one slippery stone to the next, till presently further advance was barred by a precipitous fall in the bed of the creek. The stream fell a depth of about twenty feet into a large basin, or waterhole, which was brim full, and flowing over on the lower side. Nothing could be seen by the terrified fugitives but a yawning black abyss, and the splash of the falling waters fell dismally upon their ears. Further advance was impossible; and it was equally impossible to penetrate the brush on either side of the creek. Nothing remained for them but the alternative of passing the night ankle-deep in the chilling water, or returning to the bushranger's camp.

'We might be able to find a path down the precipice, mamma, if we search about,' Bertha said, as she approached the verge of the abyss and peered over into the darkness below. At that moment, they were startled by a loud volley from the direction of the bushranger's camp, and, in turning abruptly round, Bertha lost her balance, and with a wild shriek for help, fell over into the pool below.

With a scream of horror, Mrs. Shelley and her two maid servants approached the verge of the precipice, over which Bertha had fallen. Not a sound, save the incessant splash of the falling water, broke the awful silence! and nothing but black darkness was visible in the depths of that yawning gulf.

'Merciful heavens, she is killed—a retribution upon me for shedding the outlaw's blood! And yet, and yet, Oh God, could I leave her to such a fate? But we will not be separated even in death!' As she spoke, she attempted to fling herself over the precipice, but Marion Macaulay interposed, and, by a strength unusual in so slight a frame, dragged her back from the dangerous edge of the cataract. Mrs. Shelley struggled wildly to break free, but the slow witted Janet had presence of mind enough to fasten upon her hands and assist in holding her back. 'Let me go to my darling! Let me go!' the frantic mother cried, struggling to free herself. With great difficulty the girls dragged her out of the stream on one side, where the dense brush had left a few feet of land clear; and holding her down, prevented her from destroying herself in her frenzied grief. They sat cold and silent upon the damp ground, holding their heart-stricken mistress between them, their limbs stiff and frozen from their long immersion in the stream, and their hearts numbed with grief and horror at Bertha's terrible fate, and aching in the utter hopelessness of despair. For nearly an hour no sound broke the stillness of the wild scene but the moans of the miserable mother, when Janet suddenly exclaimed, 'Oh, Marion, look! Here comes a light!' Marion called at the top of her voice; and the girls were overjoyed at hearing Jerry's answering cooee. In a few minutes Percy Sinclair and the faithful blackboy were among them. At a glance Percy noticed the absence of Bertha. 'Where is Bertha? Speak! Did she not escape? Have they carried her off?' He cried, as he beheld with dread anticipation the terrible anguish of her mother.

Janet pointed to the precipice, or cataract, and said, 'The dear young lady fell down that rock, and is killed.'

'My God!' was all Sinclair could utter. He sprang to the verge of the silent and dark abyss, and peered down its gloomy depths. Love, as true, deep, and unselfish, as that of a generous and noble-hearted man, waits to make no calculation of cost or consequence in the service of the being it adores! He would save her, or die. Without the hesitation of a moment, he leaped into the darkness, and fell full twenty feet into the deep and icy pool.

As Percy Sinclair disappeared over the verge of the waterfall, Jerry put down the lamp upon the bank, and turning back ran up the stream to the bushranger's camp at his utmost speed.

Percy fell heavily into the deep pool at the foot of the waterfall, and its icy waters closed over him, as the impetus of his headlong descent caused him to sink below the surface. As he rose again, he found himself in total darkness; and the extreme coldness of the water almost froze his blood, and for a few moments took away his breath. Recovering himself, he swam several times round the dark pool, in eager search of the object of his perilous leap; and in doing so, got severely cut and bruised by striking himself against the sharp rocks, that projected over its margin. Unconscious in his feverish anxiety of the wounds inflicted upon him by the jagged edges of the stones, he carefully examined the abrupt wall of rock, and discovered nothing, but that it was too steep on all sides, except at its lower edge, where the water flowed away in its new level, to admit of his leaving the water. He had hoped that Bertha had fallen upon a brush-clothed bank, which would have broken the force of her descent; but the iron of despair chilled his heart, as he discovered that the position of the banks of the pool made it impossible for her to have fallen upon them, and that, had it been otherwise, she must have been dashed to pieces upon their hard and rugged surface. 'She has fallen into the pool, and is drowned!' he ejaculated in despair, as the terrible idea took possession of his mind; and though the pool was covered with the gloom of night he dived down into its icy depths, in the melancholy hope of discovering the body of the gentle and lovely girl whose safety and happiness he would have thought cheaply purchased at the cost of his own life. Again and again he dived, till his limbs were numbed by the freezing water, and his strength all but exhausted, when suddenly, a low moan caught his ear. With renewed hope he set to work to search the banks again, but he found nothing but the cold, slimy rocks, that he had already examined inch by inch. He paused, and listened with breathless anxiety, and had just concluded that the sound he had heard must have been only an echo of his own beating heart, when another moan distinct and unmistakeable came from above him, and appeared to have proceeded from about half way down the cataract. He swam to the upper side of the pool, and vainly attempted to scale the face of the precipice. Foiled in this by its perpendicularity, he groped his way round to the lower side, where the water escaped, and, after great exertion, succeeded in climbing to the top of the rocks between which it flowed. From this position he slowly crept upon his hands and knees round the edge of the pool till he reached the front, and found himself right under the face of the cataract. Here he was stopped by the acclivity becoming too steep for climbing. He waited and listened in an agony of suspense. Thrice he distinctly heard a low moan. It seemed on a level with him, and only a few feet from where he knelt. The rock fell abruptly to the water between him and the spot from whence the moan came, so that he was unable to approach nearer; and it was so slippery that several times he narrowly escaped falling over in his fruitless attempts to proceed further. He strained his eyes to no purpose. The waning moon was low, and whatever little light she gave was withheld by the dense brush. The wild scene was shrouded in the thick dusk of the tomb. It is impossible to describe the emotions that thronged his tortured breast, as he knelt upon the sharp, cold rocks above the black pool, listening to the moans of the poor girl he had risked his life to save, and unable to reach or help her—his quick fancy prompting every possible danger. 'Was she lying bruised and mangled upon a shelving ledge of rock, or impaled upon the upturned point of a broken root?' As her pitiful moans smote upon his aching ears, his senses seemed to leave him—his heart was maddened with despair. Oh, that a death, the cruelest ever devised by the most fiendish ingenuity of bigot or tyrant, could have saved her! Joyfully would he have offered his life as ransom for her safety on any terms! Had the torture of his situation been continued many minutes longer it is probable that he would have lost his reason for ever—no human brain could have long withstood so great a strain—but a light appearing over the top of the cataract, fanned his expiring hope into a feeble flame, as he recognised the features of his master and the blackboy peering over into the darkness. His drooping energy was revived in an instant. 'Fasten a loop in a strong rope, and lower it gently down!' he shouted.

'All right, Misser Sinlar, Jerry come along by-by!' cried the blackboy in reply, as the overseer set to work to prepare a rope he had providentially brought from the bushrangers' camp.

'Is she safe, Sinclair—is she safe?' the anxious father called in grief-stricken accents.

'She is alive, sir; that is all I can say yet,' Percy returned. 'Lower a rope as quickly as possible.'

In a few seconds the rope was let down over the edge of the rock, and Percy perceived that the quick-witted Jerry was seated in the loop, holding the bush lamp in one hand, and with the other guiding his descent and protecting himself from the jagged edges of the rocks.

'Steady,' Percy shouted, as he noticed the line beginning to sway backward and forward. 'Steady, or the rocks will fray the rope! Suspend him a couple of yards more to your right.'

The men, who were paying out the rope that Jerry was descending by, altered its position and let the black boy down slowly and cautiously.

'Holloa, Misser Sinlar, where dat Missie Berta?' enquired Jerry eagerly, as he reached the rocks upon which Percy was kneeling. 'Ha! you hear him?' he exclaimed, as a low moan reached his quick ears. 'Dat along here, Jerry find him; you hold him rope!' He slid out of the loop as he spoke, and, handing the end of the rope to Percy, held the lamp above his head, and peered through the darkness in the direction from whence the sound had come. The flickering light revealed to Percy's view a narrow ledge upon the face of the precipice that had been concealed by the gloom. Though the ledge appeared in the indistinct glimmer, too narrow even for a goat to find footing, Jerry crept along its dangerous way as nimbly as a chamois. He was suspended above the dark pool, and had nothing to support him but the insecure footing of the ledge, yet he moved on wholly unconscious of the peril of his position. He had only proceeded a few yards when he uttered an exclamation of surprise and horror, as the light of his lamp fell upon a heap of drapery caught in the branches of a large tree, that had recently fallen from its upright position in the brush below, and bridging the pool was leaning against the face of the precipice some distance from the-top. 'Here dat Missie Berta!' he shouted, as he hurried along the ledge to the head of the tree. He stopped short as he reached it, and examining its position attentively for a few minutes, cautiously attempted to descend a limb to where his young mistress lay. A creaking sound caused him to scamper back to the more secure footing of the ledge. His experience in bush craft suggested the danger of adding his weight to a leaning tree that had little to prevent it from sliding down into the pool. Baffled in his attempt to reach his young mistress, by crawling down to her, he scratched his woolly head in great perplexity. Jerry was as shrewd and observant as his race usually are, and lost no lesson impressed upon him by experience; but he lacked the ingenuity, that enables Europeans to devise or invent, and when he found himself in a position where experience failed him, he was thoroughly paralyzed.

'Is she safe?' cried Mr. Shelley, from the top of the waterfall.

'Yes, dat all right! Jerry find him by by!' the black boy answered; and then, observing Percy preparing to follow him, he shouted, 'Bale you come, Misser Sinlar! White feller can't come along dis way.'

Seeing the truth of Jerry's words, and determined to reach him at any hazard, Percy called to the men holding the rope to fasten its upper end securely directly over where Jerry was standing; and when they had done so, he firmly grasped it in both hands, and, springing off the rocks upon which he was kneeling, swang himself over the pool. 'Where is she, Jerry?' he asked the astonished black boy.

'My word, you murry clever belongin' to rope!' he exclaimed, after he had gazed upon Percy for some seconds in silent admiration. 'Bale blackfeller can do like it dat!'

'Where is she, Jerry? Where you see Missie Berta?' Percy repeated impatiently; but another low moan immediately below him answered the question. At the moment Jerry held the lamp so that it threw its feeble light upon the branches of the fallen tree.

'Lay hold of the rope all of you, and when I speak again, haul it slowly up,' Percy called; and then stepping upon the tree, and supporting his weight upon the rope, he slowly descended to where Bertha lay. He found that she had fallen among the branches of the tree, and had thereby been saved from otherwise inevitable death. But she was insensible; and the moans that continually escaped her, were proof that she had sustained serious injury by the fall. He tenderly lifted her delicate form from the entanglement of the branches, and had barely time to fasten the rope around her, when the tree began, slowly to slide down the face of the rock. Taking a double turn of the rope round his left wrist, and clasping the loved one tightly to his side, he shouted to them to haul away. The anxious watchers above had scarcely drawn up the slack, when the sliding tree increased its pace downwards, and falling with a splash into the pool, left Percy and his precious burden suspended in mid air.

'Pull away, Misser Selley; murry make haste!' cried Jerry, excitedly, as the tree sank from under Percy's feet. Fortunately, the distance to be hoisted was not great, or it is hardly possible that Percy could have held on, supporting his own weight and that of the insensible girl upon his one hand.

Bertha's head rested helplessly upon his shoulder, and her soft hands clung trustingly to his neck. She was slowly reviving from a stunning blow upon the head, she had received from a projecting rock, in her fall. She was alive, and clinging to him for protection; and Percy felt repaid a thousand-fold for all the danger he had encountered in her rescue.

Their perilous position was noted with horror by the anxious father; but, ever cool and self-possessed in the presence of danger, he calmly directed the men, who were drawing up the rope, and lay prone upon the rocky bed of the shallow stream, leaning over the edge of the fall, ready to assist his child and her preserver. Mrs. Shelley was still seated upon the grass, and detained by Marion Macaulay and Janet Wilkins. The quiet heroism that had sustained her, while Bertha's safety depended upon her vigilance and judgement, utterly forsook her the moment her child fell over the precipice; and, had she not been forcibly held back, would have thrown herself over the rocks in her grief and despair. Slowly the rope was drawn up, and in a few seconds Percy and his charge were on a level with the top of the precipice. It was found impossible to draw them both over together, without cutting their faces against the sharp edge of the rocks. 'Steady, a moment!' Mr. Shelley was compelled to order, though he was fearful Percy's strength could not hold out much longer. 'We must contrive to lift them over separately.'

'One of you hold on to me, while the rest draw her up!' Percy said quickly. 'The rope is fastened to her; remove her hands from my neck. Quick! my fingers are numbing.'

Mr. Shelley did so, and Percy relaxed his hold, and was held suspended over the abyss by the frail strength of his coat collar, while Bertha was carefully lifted out of her dangerous position, and laid upon the grass by her mother's side. Directly she was in safety the grateful father turned to assist her preserver from his critical and uncomfortable situation; but Davy Collyer and his subordinates had already landed him safely upon the bank of the stream.

Mrs. Shelley's revulsion of feeling at the unexpected and wonderful escape of her child was so great that she could not speak—she could only press her to her breast, and weep tears of joy.

'Holloa, Misser Selley, send dat rope down here belongin' to Jerry! Bale dat want camp down here all night!' shouted the black boy, impatient at being left upon his cold perch upon the face of the precipice. The men lowered the rope over the rocks again, and in a few seconds hauled him and the lamp safely up. 'Where dat Missie Berta now?' he demanded as soon as he regained his feet. Davy Collyer had taken the lamp from him as he appeared up the side of the precipice, and was standing with it where its flickering beams fell upon the group on the bank; and the black boy uttered an exclamation of delight, as he recognised his young mistress lying dreamily upon her mother's breast, her eyelids half closed, and a faint smile upon her pale features. Mr. Shelley was kneeling by her side, examining a wound on her temples; and the servants were standing around, anxiously waiting to learn the extent of her injuries. Percy was standing in the background, silently regarding the fair young face with a gaze of yearning solicitude and devotion. He had saved her! Her precious life had been snatched from the jaws of death by his reckless courage, and he felt a firm conviction that she would recover—that she had experienced no further hurt than the blow that had stunned her.

The group would have formed an excellent study for an artist, each figure around the beautiful centre betraying upon its features the same emotion of anxiety, yet with such variety of expression. Not the least interesting part of the picture would have been the faithful young savage, who loved his young mistress with the fidelity of a Newfoundland dog.

'Jerry murry glad dat Missie Berta get him all right by by,' he joyfully exclaimed, as he pushed unceremoniously forward, and threw himself on the grass at her side. His voice seemed to bring back her wandering thoughts, and, raising herself upon her arm, she looked enquiringly, from one to another of the group around her, and, recognising the familiar faces, said, in a low tone, 'Then we really are saved from the bushrangers! But didn't I fall down a deep hole in the creek, or have I only dreampt it?'

'My darling, we are saved! Oh! I thought you were killed!' murmured her mother.

'Yes, my child, you did fall over the precipice, but our brave friend, Mr. Sinclair, has again laid us under a lifelong obligation by rescuing you,' replied Mr. Shelley, tenderly kissing her.

'But where is Mr. Sinclair? Surely, he didn't get killed in saving me?' Bertha anxiously asked.

'No, my child. God has permitted your life to be saved without that sacrifice,' her father answered, reverently.

'But where is he, papa? If he is safe, he ought to be here.'

Percy stepped forward, and Bertha, holding out her hand, said sweetly, 'I am very grateful for your rescuing me. Mamma and papa would have been so grieved had I been killed. But, oh! look papa,' she exclaimed, as the light fell upon his features, 'Mr. Sinclair's face is covered with blood!'

'It is nothing,' he said hurriedly, as all eyes were turned anxiously to him. 'Merely a few scratches from the rocks. I am only too happy in having been in time to save you, Miss Shelley. Do not think any more of it. There's not a man here who would not have done the same had he been fortunate enough to have reached the precipice first.'

'It's true enough, sir, that we'd any of us be ready to risk our lives for you or yours at any time, for you've been a good master to us; but such a leap in the dark as Mr. Sinclair took, I'm afraid is more than any of us would have been game for; so it's no use pretending we would,' said the overseer, candidly.

'Bale dat Jerry plenty game enough,' said that individual ingenuously. 'Dat Misser Sinlar budgery game feller, like him Old Perbly.'

'If Miss Bertha is sufficiently recovered, would it not be better to get back to the bushrangers' camp at once,' Percy interrupted, to change the subject. 'It is cold for her here,' and without giving time for reply, he beckoned to the shepherd to follow, and hurried away to prepare the hut for her reception.

Mr. Shelley took the hint, and the whole party left the scene of the late adventure, and retraced their steps to the camp. When they reached it, all trace of the recent struggle had been obliterated, and the bodies of the dead out-laws removed.

'Where is Mr. Sinclair?' Bertha enquired, as they reached the fire.

'He's gone home to look after Old Hal.; and he told me to tell the master everything is ready for the ladies to pass the night in the hut, if he thinks it would be better than to climb the mountain in the dark,' answered the shepherd, as he threw another handful of tea into the boiling pot.

'Strange that he did not wait till we came up,' said Mr. Shelley, in surprise. 'Has he gone alone?'

'Yes, sir! He went away directly he made the hut comfortable like for the ladies.'

'But he cannot find his way through the brush and up the mountain in the dark,' doubted Mrs. Shelley. 'The moon has gone down.'

'Oh! if he should get lost after having risked so much for me! The thought is terrible!' Bertha exclaimed, shuddering.

'I don't think that's likely, Miss,' said the shepherd. 'He can't lose the path through the brush; and though the mountain's a bit steep, when he's once at the top, he can see the fires in the burning off.'

'Then you do not think he can lose himself?'

'No, Miss; he can't well do that. The mountain's right before him, and it'll be lighter climbing it than in the brush. He'll get home right enough, never fear,' replied the shepherd.

'Well, take Giles with you, and go after him. I don't like the idea of his going alone,' said Mr. Shelley, thoughtfully.

'I—I don't think—I don't like to, sir!' said the shepherd, uneasily. 'He'll find his way all right, sir!'

'It be too dark, zir!' supported Giles. 'We be froighten. There moight be ghosts an' things.'

Mr. Shelley saw it would be useless to urge the superstitious fellows further. Though they were brave men, and would encounter real danger without flinching, they would not risk a meeting with imaginary ones. 'Come, Jerry,' he said, turning to the blackboy, who was close at his elbow, 'you are not frightened too?'

'Bale Jerry can find him,' returned the blackboy, hastily. He was determined not to leave his young mistress again till she was safely home.

'Why you know the way well enough, Jerry. No fear of you losing yourself,' said the overseer.

'Bale Jerry can find him tract,' he reiterated doggedly. 'Bale Jerry no want to go!'

'Never mind, Davy. If Jerry will not go, and the others are frightened, Mr. Sinclair must manage without them. He is not likely to lose his way. I am sorry he went. It was thoughtful of him, but I am afraid he can be of no service to old Hal. The poor fellow seemed quite dead when we left him!'

'Do you really think that he is dead?' Bertha asked, the tears gathering in her eyes, as she remembered the brave old man's gallant defence of their retreat.

'I am afraid he is, my child,' Mr. Shelley replied. 'But come along, we must repair to the hut at once. The night air is damp, and you have already been too much exposed.'

'If ever there was a hero, Hal. is one,' said Mrs. Shelley. 'He could easily have escaped, instead of going to our assistance; he voluntarily sacrificed his life in our defence.'

'Poor fellow! But if we are not careful, more lives may be sacrificed; for we all have wet feet, and must get them dry, or we risk our death by colds. Bring us some tea into the hut, Davy.'

'The shepherd found some capital rum in the hut, sir. Wouldn't a pannican of hot rum and water be the best thing to prevent the ladies catching cold? It isn't right for ladies to take it as a general rule, but there's a time for all things, sir,' said the overseer.

'Yes, perhaps it would. Mix some Davy, and make haste.'

Davy turned to prepare the spirits; and Mr. Shelley led his wife and daughter to the shelter of the outlaws' abode. They found everything carefully prepared for their reception. Percy had made a comfortable couch for Bertha and her mother, by spreading a quantity of twigs and leaves upon the bare floor, and covering them with a large opossum rug, and a new pair of blankets, recently stolen from a store on the Hawkesbury, was spread over it for a coverlet. He had also laid some blankets out for the maidservants to sleep upon.

'How thoughtful Mr. Sinclair is,' exclaimed Mrs. Shelley, as she noticed how carefully everything was prepared.

'Yes, Grace; but we will leave further conversation till to-morrow; I am anxious for you both to get to rest at once, or the chill you have received from wading down the stream, and the excitement you have undergone during the last few hours may lay you upon a sick bed. Here comes Davy with the hot spirits. Give Bertha and the girls a good pannican full each, and take as much yourself, and then wrap yourselves up in these blankets and get to sleep.'

Mr. Shelley tenderly kissed the dear ones he had so nearly lost, and left them and returned to the fire, while they drank the warm mixture Davy had prepared, and then lay down upon their primitive couches. They lay for a few minutes, thinking over the strange and exciting incidents of the eventful day; but the mysterious spell of the spirit soon enveloped their faculties, and, in a short time, they were deeply folded in the arms of health-giving sleep.

'Davy, you and I must take turns to watch during the remainder of the night, as it is quite possible the bushrangers may be lurking about. We have no idea of the numbers of the gang; and we must not allow them to take us unprepared,' Mr. Shelley said to the overseer, as they finished their hot spirits, and lay down by the crackling fire.

'I will keep watch for the first turn, if you like sir,' replied Davy.

'I could not sleep, if I tried, just now, Davy; so I may as well watch first,' said Mr. Shelley, rising. 'Each of you keep your musket by your side ready for use, if we are molested; and I will keep watch for the first couple of hours.'

The men all begged to be permitted to mount guard in his stead; but Mr. Shelley refused, and began to pace up and down before the hut, where the dear ones were sleeping. Jerry had already chosen his post—he was lying, coiled up upon the grass before the door. He raised his head as his master passed him—'Bale dat dam bushranger can get him Missie Berta nother time,' he said, defiantly.

'That's right, Jerry, you mind him,' Mr. Shelley replied, smiling at the faithful guard.

The hours slowly past, but Mr. Shelley did not call Davy to relieve him; the sleepers in the hut were too precious to leave to the charge of any eyes but his own; and the grey dawn broke before any of the men around the fire awoke.


CHAPTER XVI.


Oh, I defy thee, Hell, to show,
On beds of fire that burn below,
An humbler heart, a deeper woe!

—EDGAR ALLAN POE.

Percy Sinclair found himself on the top of the range overlooking Field Place, without having any very definite idea of how he had reached it. Wrapped in the cloud of his own gloomy thought, he had mechanically traversed the dark passage of the brush, and climbed the steep ascent of the mountain, totally unconscious of his movements. A curious medley of emotions held possession of his breast—gratitude to heaven for the deliverance of his heart's mistress, and fear that her long exposure to the chilling damps of night might even yet prove fatal, were mingled with regret that it had not been another who had saved her. Sweet though it was to feel that she must again owe her life to him, he knew only too well the danger of his situation. Had he been a free man, and thereby her equal, he would have rejoiced at any accident through which he could have proved his devotion, but in his position every new service that he rendered her but added to his love—and his despair. That morning he had decided upon leaving Field Place, if he could prevail upon his master to allow him to do so; and the events of the last few hours had made it the more urgently necessary that he should do so at once. He felt that the new claim he had made upon their gratitude, would cause her parents to treat him with increased confidence and kindness; and that, unless he escaped, he might in some unguarded moment be betrayed into giving utterance to his passion. Shame and sorrow must, then, follow—whether she returned his affection, or treated it with scorn, still shame and sorrow! He, a convict, could never win her hand; and, if it were possible to win her heart, he would only be casting a dark cloud of trouble over her young life. No! With, or without her father's consent, he would go!

He rested upon the summit of the range for a few moments to calm his thoughts, and then began the descent towards the homestead, the burning stumps near the dairy directing his steps. As he glanced at the distant fires, his thoughts reverted to the brave old man lying upon the cold floor of the dairy. 'Poor Hal.! I wish it had been my hap instead of yours to have died in her defence!' he apostrophised, as he hurried down the hill.

As he neared the house, he was startled by the number of fires between the dairy and the house. The land being burnt off was at the back of the dairy, and there had been but one fire before it—that of a burning stump—and he now counted six or seven. This discovery thoroughly roused him from his reverie; and, fearing that the outlaws, driven from their den in the mountains, had returned to the house in the absence of its defenders, he approached with great caution. A strong breeze was blowing; and, being to leeward (to use a nautical term) of the fires, he was enabled to advance to the cover of the dairy unheard. He stood in its shadow for a few moments, undecided how to act. He noticed several strange dogs lying around the centre fire, and he began to doubt the correctness of his first supposition—dogs forming no part of a bushranger's train—when a low whining within the dairy suddenly set them on their mettle, and a furious baying resulted in a dozen black heads rising simultaneously from behind the fires. Percy Sinclair saw at once that the blacks, who usually hung about the station, had returned from their recent visit to a tribe on the Yimming (Patterson River). He walked boldly up to their camp, although the persistent attention of their dogs would have daunted a less resolute man, and was greeted by the hoary-headed monarch, Bony, with, 'Holloa, Misser Sinlar, where you come from? Where Misser Selley and all dother white-feller?' while Euringa and the rest of the darkies exerted themselves to pacify the dogs.

As soon as order was restored, Percy explained to his eager audience what had occurred during the day.

'Where dat my piccaninny? Where Jerry?' demanded an old gin, anxiously. 'Dat dam bushranger shoot him too?'

'No, Dolly, Jerry's all right. He tracked the bushrangers for us, or we should never have been able to find them,' replied Percy.

'Dat Jerry murray budgery piccaninny, belongin' to me!' exclaimed Dolly, with maternal pride. 'Bale dat no jerran [frightened] anything! What dat Missie Selley pialla—dat cobbon budgery good job Jerry find him?'

'Yes, Dolly; she says Jerry is a brave fellow. They will all come home in the morning, and then she will tell you all about him.'

'Where all dat bushranger yan [gone to]?' asked Euringa, as interpreter for one of the other blacks, whose stock of English was not sufficient to enable Percy to understand him.

'Some of them are shot, and the others have escaped into the bush.'

'Ha!' exclaimed King Bony, emphatically; and the profound observation was echoed by his dusky followers.

'Dat poor old Perbly very near dead, too!' said Dolly, with feeling. 'Bale him can pialla [speak] dis long time!'

'Holloa, Misser Sinlar, you murry wet! Where you bin?' interrupted Euringa, surveying Percy's drenched clothes.

He satisfied the blackfellow's curiosity upon the subject, and then turned to Dolly. 'Where's old Hal. now? In the dairy?' he asked.

Dolly led the way to her own fire a few feet from where they were standing, and pointed to a blanket as dark as herself; 'dat poor old Perbly; him got it murry deep cut here!' she continued, throwing back the blanket, and pointing to his breast, 'me word that murry deep cut.'

'Poor fellow,' said Percy, stooping over him and feeling his pulse. 'There is not much life left in him.'

Hal. was insensible, and the gin had carefully bound up his wounds with slips torn from an old gown Mrs. Shelley had given her. The bleeding was staunched; and though his pulse was weak from loss of blood, Percy began to hope that with care he might rally and recover.

'I will be back in a minute or two, Dolly. You mind him till I come back,' he said to Hal's self-appointed nurse and then hurried on to the house, Dolly the while calling back with a shrill voice the dogs, who seemed bent on accompanying him. Percy went to a small chest in the dining-room, where he knew Mr. Shelley kept a small bottle of spirits; and not finding the key in it, burst the chest open. He found what he was in search of, and returned to the camp with it. Knowing their propensity for rum, he ordered all the blacks, who had gathered round old Hal., except Dolly, to return to their own fires; and he then poured a small quantity of the spirit down the wounded man's throat. It partially revived him, and Percy waited for a quarter of an hour when he repeated the dose. The spirit seemed to infuse new life into the old man. The colour returned to his cheeks, and his pulse became firmer and more even.

'Look here, Misser Sinlar, you catch him cobbon feller cold, 'spo' you keep all dat wet tings on!' said Dolly prophetically. 'You drink him cobbon pannican rum, and den lay down along bed.'

Percy saw the truth of the black woman's words, and though caring little in his gloomy mood what became of him, he decided upon following her advice. 'Will you mind him till daylight, Dolly, and give him a little of this every now and then?' he said, handing her the bottle.

'All right, Misser Sinlar, me give it; bile Dolly drink it,' she replied proudly. 'Dat oder blackfeller drink it; bale Dolly drinkit.'

Percy left her in charge of old Hal. and the bottle; and though the struggle was hard, she bravely resisted the temptation of sharing it with her patient; but gave him his diminutive doses at frequent, if not regular, intervals. Percy retired to his little room off the kitchen, and soon got to bed. His limbs were aching with the cold, and the cuts and bruises about his face and hands were smarting acutely; but the large dose of spirit he had taken soon soothed him into forgetfulness.

Directly dawn had penetrated the dark hollow of the brush, Mr. Shelley called the men; and before half-an-hour had passed, the quarts were boiling for breakfast, and a good meal was prepared from the outlaws' larder.

'Davy, we must contrive a litter of some kind to carry the ladies up the mountain. They can never climb it by themselves,' said Mr. Shelley, thoughtfully. 'You may find some tools in the hut when they rise.'

'I'm afraid the mountain's too steep for that; but we'll try, if you like, sir. The ladies are coming now. I will look for the tools at once,' replied the overseer, as Mrs. Shelley and Bertha left the hut, and, followed by Marion and the housemaid, approached the fire.

'My darlings, how are you this morning,' Mr. Shelley exclaimed, delightedly, as he advanced to meet them.

'I feel quite well, Walter. I think Davy's receipt last night preserved us from the ill effects of our wet feet.'

'I am quite recovered from my terrible fall, papa, and I am intensely anxious to get home to see how poor old Hal. is, and whether Mr. Sinclair reached home safely.'

'Make haste, then, to get your breakfast over. Davy is looking for tools to make a litter to carry you up the mountain.'

'To carry me? I would much rather walk, papa. All that I want is to make haste. But for Mr. Sinclair's bravery I should have been dead before now; and I am anxious to ascertain if he is safe.'

The party took breakfast hurriedly, and then began their long walk home. Mr. Shelley left the overseer and Giles to bury the fallen bushrangers, and with the remainder of the party pushed on through the brush. The ascent of the mountain was not nearly so difficult in daylight; and Jerry was able to point out a path that wound along among the rocks, and was not so steep as where they had descended. About nine o'clock they reached the house, and found the blackfellows holding a feast in the verandah. They were greeted with a wild shout of pleasure as the darkskins recognised them.

'Holloa, here dat Missie Berta! Here dat Missie Selley!' shouted the blacks in chorus, as they approached.

After a few words of welcome to the tame blacks, as those frequenting the station were called, Mr. Shelley enquired of Dolly where Mr. Sinclair was. 'Dat Misser Sinlar gone sleep in him room,' she replied. 'Where dat Jerry?'

'Gone to the dairy with the overseer to see if Hal. is alive. Ha, here he comes!'

Jerry approached with an expression of pain upon his honest black face.

'Bale dat old Perbly in dairy, only old Nell,' he said anxiously. 'Where dat old Perbly go to?'

'Dat all right; Euringa and Minnighi bring him in kitchen. Dat get all right by by,' answered Dolly.

'Then the brave old man is not dead,' exclaimed Bertha joyfully. 'Come mamma, let us go to him.' They entered the kitchen, and found that old Dolly had made him a bed by the side of the fire. He was sensible, but so weak that he could not raise a hand. He looked up as they entered, and whispered fervently, 'Thank God you are saved. It was your prayin' to Him in the dairy that saved us all.'

'Don't speak, Hal., you are too weak yet. We have great cause indeed for gratitude to heaven for the wonderful preservation of you all; and I trust we may never forget the mercy that has been extended to us. I have learnt your gallant defence of my wife and child; accept my deepest gratitude for your heroism,' Mr. Shelley said, as his wife and Bertha knelt by the old man's side, too much overpowered by pity and gratitude to speak.

'You have bin a kind master, sir; and I'd have freely died to serve you; and the Missis and Miss Bertha has always had a kind word for us prisoners; an' there isn't one o' us that wouldn't do anythin' for 'em.'

'I believe you, Hal.; but you must speak no more now; you must rest, and try to get round again. I will examine your wounds in a few minutes, and in the meantime, Dolly, you kill a fowl, and Janet will make some broth for Hal.'

'All right, Misser Selley. Me wring him neck,' answered Dolly, pleased at receiving an order from the master.

'Dear old Hal., we shall never forget your bravery,' said Mrs. Shelley rising, and brushing a tear from her eyes. 'Walter send a man to Newcastle for a doctor.'

'Take your horse, Davy, and start at once,' Mr. Shelley said, turning to the overseer, who had just entered the kitchen.

'Yes, sir! I can't well get back with one before dark though; for if I push the horse going, he will likely knock up coming back.'

'Lose no time, Davy. You can get a fresh horse from Meredith. I wouldn't risk the chance of losing Hal. for the price of a thousand horses.'

Davy started for the doctor, and Mr. Shelley saying, 'Make Mr. Sinclair a bed in the parlor, Grace; we must give his room to Hal. for the present,' entered Percy's room; Mrs. Shelley went into the house to prepare the parlor for Mr. Sinclair; and Bertha knelt by old Hal.'s side, waiting anxiously to learn how her other preserver was.

Percy awoke as Mr. Shelley entered. 'Are all home safe, sir!' he asked.

'Yes, thank heaven! the wetting in the stream appears to have done them no harm; and Bertha's fall over the rocks has left nothing more than a small contusion upon the left temple. Sinclair, I cannot express my gratitude for your reckless daring in leaping down that precipice to her rescue. It was a leap that a brave man might have recoiled from!' said Mr. Shelley wringing Percy's hand, 'It is the second time we have to owe her life to you.'

'You would wish to repay me for saving Miss Shelley?' Percy asked, gloomily.

'Can you doubt it?'

'Then promise me two things—first, never to mention the subject to me again while I remain here; and, second, to exchange me with some one upon the Hawkesbury River, or to send me back to the central depot.'

Mr. Shelley rose from the seat, he had taken by the bedside, and stared at Percy in surprise. 'What have we done to offend you, Sinclair?' he asked after a few seconds. 'Something must have happened that I know nothing of, to cause you to wish to leave us. I recollect now, you said something about this yesterday morning.'

'I hope you will believe me, sir, when I say that, so far from wishing to leave Field Place through offence of any kind, I feel that I have always received the utmost kindness from you and your family, and that I can never hope to be treated so well anywhere else I may go. The reason that urges me to leave is one that I cannot tell you; and, as a gentleman, I am certain you will not press me to divulge it. As you value my service in saving Miss Shelley's life, promise me that you will grant my request!'

Mr. Shelley could hot help feeling annoyed and hurt at Percy's strange wish to leave him and he had a suspicion that something must have happened to have offended him. Yet, in the face of his late service, he could not well refuse a request so urgently made. 'You may go, Sinclair,' he said, slowly, 'but remember that our home is always open to you; and, as soon as you grow tired of the reality of your new life, I will contrive to get you back again. When you recollect that last night you again restored to us the one flower that brightens our home, you will not be surprised that Mrs. Shelley and myself will both be grieved at your going.'

'If I could tell you why I go, I am afraid you would be only too pleased!' Percy thought, but he kept his thought to himself, and thanked his master for his permission to leave.

'You have several ugly cuts and bruises about the face, I am sorry to see,' said Mr. Shelley, 'I will bring something to bind them up in a few minutes. I have to go now and examine old Hal. He is dreadfully wounded, but I think he will recover.'

'I shall get up directly, sir; I feel none the worse for my wetting,' replied Percy; and Mr. Shelley left the room, pondering over his servant's determination to leave—'Bertha, Mr. Sinclair is going away in a few days!' he said, as he approached Hal.'s side.


CHAPTER XVII.


'Going away!' exclaimed Bertha, rising, the color leaving her cheeks. 'Going away! Why?'

'Why, I have no idea. You remember he said something about it in the barn yesterday morning, before we started for Newcastle. He must have some reason, though what, I am utterly at a loss to know. I am very sorry indeed that he wishes to leave us; but I can't well refuse to let him go, since he is so urgent,' her father replied.

'Going to leave us! Why?' she repeated to herself, as if the intelligence came upon her so suddenly, that she could scarcely comprehend it. 'Going to leave us! Surely he cannot mean it!'

'He is serious, Bertha; and considering the obligation we are under to him, for having twice saved your life, you may be sure your mother and I will both regret his unaccountable determination. He will be out in a few minutes, so go and see about breakfast for him.'

Mr. Shelley turned to Hal., and Bertha left the kitchen and repaired to the parlor, speculating upon the cause of Percy's wish to leave her father's service, 'Mamma, Mr. Sinclair is going away, papa says,' she exclaimed, as she entered the room, 'I wonder what is his reason!'

'Going away? Nonsense, Bertha!' said Mrs. Shelley, incredulously, 'He could not be so unwise! We treat him like a gentleman, as he deserves; but he would find his position very different among strangers. He would be used by most masters, as other Government men are, with more rigor than justice.'

'I don't believe he ever did anything to deserve being transported, mamma!' Bertha exclaimed, decidedly.

'Perhaps not, Bertha! But, whether or not, he is a convict, and would be treated simply as such by most masters.'

'I wonder what he was sent out for!' said Bertha.

'I don't know. It is a subject he always avoids.'

'I expect it is because, if guilty, he naturally wishes to forget it, and, if innocent, he feels that no one would believe him, if he were to tell them,' suggested Bertha.

'Perhaps so! But, innocent or guilty, he shall not leave us, if I can prevent it. After his saving you again last night, Bertha, I shall not allow him to risk his peace by such a mad act. How is he this morning?'

'He is getting up; so I expect he has escaped catching cold. I must set Marion to get his breakfast ready,' replied Bertha.

'Do you know, Bertha, I sometimes fancy he is in love with Marion. Perhaps he wishes to leave because he is fond of her, and, being only a convict, sees no prospect of marrying her,' said Mrs. Shelley.

'I dare say that is just the very reason, mamma!' exclaimed the fair girl, with enthusiasm. 'I dare say that is the very reason! I have noticed lately, that he spends a good deal of his leisure time in talking with her. Sometimes when they are conversing in the kitchen, and I disturb them, he goes out until I return to the house. It must be terrible to be in love, and have no prospect of winning the object of——'

'Terrible to be in love? What can you know about the subject, Bert.?' interrupted Mr. Shelley, laughing, as he entered. 'Have you experienced that terrible ordeal?'

'Me, papa? No!' replied Bertha, blushing crimson at her father's question. 'We were speaking of Mr. Sinclair's leaving us. Mamma thinks he is fond of Marion!'

'Is it true that he really does wish to leave us, Walter?' Mrs. Shelley enquired.

'Yes, Grace; he asked me to allow him to go, and I cannot well refuse.'

'I believe he is in love with Marion, and being in no position to marry, I expect, is the reason why he is anxious to leave,' replied Mrs. Shelley.

'If that is the cause, and they are fond of each other, Grace, I can see no obstacle to their union,' said Mr. Shelley, thoughtfully. 'I will give him good wages as superintendent, and a cottage to live in; and he will be more comfortable than half the free men.'

'Do, Walter; it would be, after all, but a small payment for what we owe him. We should never miss his wages.'

'Oh, papa, I am so glad! I was afraid we should never have an opportunity of showing him our gratitude, and here is one ready at our fingers' ends. It will make him so happy, and there is no one more deserves happiness; he is so brave and good!' said Bertha, warmly.

'But what if we are wrong in our supposition, and he should persist in wishing to leave?' Mr. Shelley asked.

'Then refuse to permit him to!' Mrs. Shelley replied, with decision. 'It would be a poor return for his services to allow him to commit such a mad act.'

'I cannot, if he persists in his determination, Grace,' returned Mr. Shelley.

'What? Allow him to make himself miserable for life, Walter? There would be no kindness in that. If he leaves Field Place, he may be sent to work on the roads, or assigned to some brutal master,' pleaded Mrs. Shelley, determined upon restraining the deliverer of her child from the unhappy position he was bent upon running into.

'Even if that were certain, I could not refuse him now, Grace, for I have promised,' her husband replied, sorrowfully. 'You cannot regret his wishing to leave us more than I do; but I have promised, and I cannot break my word.'

'When is he going, papa?' Bertha enquired, anxiously.

'I don't know, my child; I shall not think of letting him go until I can exchange him to a good master. It will not be until after mustering, as I shall stipulate that he stays a month longer, in the hope that he may change his mind and remain altogether.'

'Well, I shall be sorry enough if he does go,' said Bertha, with a sigh. 'I would do anything to make him happy and contented! Perhaps, if he knows that he will have a prospect of winning Marion, he may stay. May I tell him what you propose, papa? Marion is a good girl, and well deserving of such a noble, generous man.'

'Yes, Bertha; but here he comes! See about his breakfast,' Mr. Shelley said, as Percy entered. 'We are all very much hurt and disappointed at your resolution to leave us, Mr. Sinclair,' he continued, turning to Percy; 'and we have decided to claim a month's notice. If, at the end of that time, you are still of the same mind, I will endeavour to arrange to place you with a friend of mine, who is a gentleman in every sense of the word, and will know how to appreciate you.'

'Thank you, sir; I would prefer leaving at once, but I thank you for giving me permission to go soon,' replied Percy, smiling faintly.

'Bertha and I are determined that you shall have time to reconsider your determination; and you must, of course, allow ladies to have their own way.'

'Certainly, if you wish it, ma'am,' Percy replied, resignedly. 'I would rather not wait so long, as I am certain not to alter my mind; but I will cheerfully do so if you wish it.'

'You have several bruises about the face, Mr. Sinclair; go with Mr. Shelley, and be will cover them with sticking plaster,' said Mrs. Shelley. 'Are they painful?'

'No, ma'am; they are nothing, but a few scratches. I had forgotten them, till you spoke,' replied Percy..

'Come this way, Mr. Sinclair, and we will attend to the bruises at once, while your breakfast is being prepared,' said Mr. Shelley, opening the door into an adjoining room. Percy followed him, and Bertha hurried away to the dining-room, to prepare his breakfast, while her mother returned to the kitchen to attend to old Hal.

Marion was in the dining-room when Bertha entered, and she was so distressed at the news of Percy's projected departure that Bertha felt the more certain she was correct in her surmise of the probable cause of Percy's wish to leave.

'Surely, Miss, he cannot be serious!' Marion exclaimed. 'He appeared so happy and comfortable here, that it seems impossible he can really mean to go. Oh, I should be so sorry if he did leave us.'

'We are all grieved Marion, very much grieved; but papa says he cannot well refuse to let him go, if he presses it; so I am afraid we shall lose him. Marion, I very much wish to ask you a question, which I am afraid you will take as impertinent. You need not answer it unless you like, you know; but it is a desire to befriend you and Mr. Sinclair, that induces me to speak. I hope you will not be offended, and think me inquisitive; I owe so much to Mr. Sinclair—he has twice saved my life, you remember—that my first thought is naturally his happiness; and you, too, have been so good and, kind, that I could do nothing which would give me greater pleasure than to assist you.'

Marion gazed at Bertha with amazement, as she made this rambling attempt to introduce the subject of her benevolent intentions. 'I really don't understand you, Miss,' she said, in a tone of pained surprise, as a faint glimmer of her young mistress's meaning flashed upon her.

'Nay, don't blush so, Marion!' Bertha exclaimed, smiling at her heightened colour. 'I think any girl might be proud of the love of so brave and noble a man.'

Before Marion could reply, Percy entered, and she hurried away to hide her confusion. Percy approached the table, and took his seat in silence. He felt ill-at-ease, at Bertha's presence—so strangely inconsistent is love—and unable to commence a conversation.

'I expect you are very hungry, Mr. Sinclair. Did you have tea last night?' Bertha asked, sweetly.

'No, Miss Shelley, I have eaten nothing since I had dinner at Rouse's Hotel, in Newcastle, yesterday,' he replied, turning to her.

'You must be dreadfully hungry, then,' she said.

'No; I am not hungry, Miss Shelley; but I would like a cup of tea.'

'Mr. Sinclair, I shall feel hurt if you call me Miss Shelley again. After what you risked for me last night, you ought to be sure that we all look upon you so much as a friend that this distant manner is unnecessary. Call me Bertha. I shall never forget that, but for your noble courage yesterday, it would have been too late for any to call me at all.'

Percy's face grew warm as she bade him to call her by the dear name, that to him had more music in its sweet, simple sound, than lay in the mystic chords of the wild Æolian Harp. He made some confused and scarcely audible reply, to the purpose that he was only too happy in having had an opportunity of serving her, and that so long as he had succeeded in saving her, it mattered very little to his own useless life.

'I do not remember much about it, Mr. Sinclair, as I must have been stunned in the fall; but I have an indistinct recollection of your holding me in your arms, as they were drawing us up. And that terrible fight in the dairy! I shall never forget it!'

'I think you owe more to Hal. than to me, Miss Bertha. It requites courage of a far higher class to face danger for so many hours, than to act upon impulse. And, besides, Hal. saved your mamma and the two maidservants as well as you, while I can only lay claim to having rescued one,' said Percy.

'Whether or not, Mr. Sinclair, there are few men who would have dared the leap; and, though I am grateful indeed to poor old Hal., for his share of the dangers encountered yesterday, you must permit me to feel grateful to you too. Now, it is no use to say anything more,' she said, in mock reproof, 'because I shall have my own way, and be grateful, whether you like it or not! I feel hungry, too; for the long walk up the mountain has sharpened my appetite; so I will sit down and breakfast with you.'

She poured out the tea, and served Percy and herself to the cold meat and damper, chatting the while about the exciting adventures of the previous day, and then took a seat on the opposite side of the table. She chatted on for a few minutes, altogether forgetful of her sharpened appetite, and striving to repress her eagerness to dive at once into the subject of the little cottage and her father's proposal. Unable to restrain herself further, she abruptly exclaimed, by way of preamble, 'Do you really intend to leave us, Mr. Sinclair?'

'Yes, Miss Bertha, I must go, I am sorry to say,' he replied sadly, but firmly.

'Will you not stay just to please mamma and me, Mr. Sinclair? We shall be so very sorry, if you go!'

'I think I have given you proof that I would do much to serve you, Miss Bertha. As you are grateful to me, repay me for what I have done for you by not pressing the question further,' said Percy gloomily.

A few minutes silence followed, when Bertha suddenly startled Percy by exclaiming, 'I know your secret, Mr. Sinclair; but there is no necessity for your leaving Field Place. Papa says some arrangement can be made that shall be mutually agreeable.'

Percy gave her a glance of keen enquiry; and as her clear blue eyes met his unflinchingly, he had great difficulty in controlling his emotion. Know his secret? Impossible! or she could never sit talking so freely with him, a convict! He bit his lip, as he figured to himself with what different feelings she would receive his secret, were he to reveal it there! He said, as a bitter smile flitted over his pale features, 'I don't think you do know my secret, Miss Bertha.'

'Promise that you will not be angry or offended with me, and I will tell you what I think it is,' she said, smiling.

He felt inclined to seize her hand, and declare that nothing she could do or say could displease him; but he restrained himself, and said simply, 'I promise!'

'Is not the cause of your wishing to leave us that you love some one you feel you have no prospect of marrying?'

In his surprise and confusion at this unexpected question, Percy dropped his cup of tea. 'Whatever can she mean?' he thought. 'Can she have discovered that I love her—have read the secret I have guarded so jealously, and now upbraid me with my presumption and ingratitude to her father?'

Bertha accepted his emotion as a further proof of the certainty of her supposition. Seeing that he did not immediately answer, she apologised sweetly for the bluntness of the question, and assured him that it was his happiness alone that urged her to ask it. 'You are so determined to go; and I am sure none of us have in any way given you occasion to be dissatisfied with us, that you must have some very strong reason for your strange determination,' she said. 'And if I have guessed the cause correctly, I may tell you that it can be removed. Papa knows your secret, and sees no reason why it should drive you away.'

Percy was perfectly dumbfounded. 'Know his secret, and see no reason why it should drive him away!' For a moment the delightful thought possessed him that, perhaps, gratitude would compel her father to overlook the foul stain upon his name; but common sense (an attribute that usually lies dormant in the breast of a lover) came to his rescue, and warned him of the absurdity of such an assumption, and he dismissed it. Another thought, equally absurd, suggested itself to his excited imagination—'Perhaps she loved him, and, reading his heart, had herself spoken to her father on his behalf.' He drove this idea from his mind in shame—he would not for one moment tarnish the bright image impressed upon his heart by a thought so unworthy of the sex, whose chiefest claim to homage is its coyness and reserve.

Bertha saw his confusion, and thinking to set him more at ease, told him of her father's offer of the cottage and regular wages as superintendent of the station, unfortunately omitting to mention Marion by name, and concluded by asking him to answer, plainly and without reserve, if she was right in her conjecture of the cause of his hurry to leave, and whether the arrangement her father proposed would induce him to alter his determination.

Percy pushed his plate from before him, and sat silent for a few seconds, gazing through the open window, then, slowly rising, he turned to the bright, eager face that was bent enquiringly upon him. 'Miss Bertha,' he said, in a faltering voice, 'it is impossible that you could have guessed the motive that drives me from Field Place. If you could have done so, and your kind words are not prompted by gratitude alone, you are a very different girl from what I have taken you for.'

Bertha rose instantly. 'You are angry at my interference, Mr. Sinclair, and think me impertinent,' she exclaimed, sorrowfully, her eyes filled with tears at the thought of having offended her preserver. 'Pray forgive me, and believe that I am only actuated by a desire for your happiness. I may have been unwise in speaking, but——'

'Forgive me, Miss Bertha!' Percy interrupted. 'It is I who need forgiveness for speaking so; I did not mean to hurt your feelings—I scarcely know what I am saying.'

'You are not angry with me then, Mr. Sinclair?' she asked, eagerly.

'Angry with you? Impossible!' he answered, impetuously; and, checking himself, he continued, 'I must leave you, Miss Bertha, or I may be tempted to tell you something I am in honor bound to conceal!'

'Wait, one moment, Mr. Sinclair!' she said, laying her hand upon his shoulder as he turned to leave the room. 'My dearest wish is to promote your happiness; and, if you are really not angry with me, I would like to settle the matter we have been talking about. Am I right in thinking that your unfortunate and, I am certain, undeserved position as a Government man appears to you as an obstacle to your fondest hopes? I am sure papa does not think it so.'

Percy Sinclair's heart beat fast, as the sweet voice spoke so hopefully of his future, and the beautiful face, flushed with excitement, was lifted to his. Her clear, blue eyes were fixed upon him, as if she was striving to read his inmost thoughts in his averted eyes. Honor, discretion—all fled from him in the ecstacy of the moment; and, totally misunderstanding her meaning, he seized her hand, and, carried away by his excitement, exclaimed, 'Do you—can you mean what you say? May I dare to hope that I, marked with the dark brand of felony, may yet win——'

'Jerry, tell Davy to come to me for a note before he starts for the doctor!' shouted Mr. Shelley, from the verandah, unconscious of interrupting a scene, and then opened the door and entered the room. 'Finished breakfast, Sinclair?' he said, as he entered. 'If you have, we will take a walk across to the dairy.'

'I have finished, sir, and am at your service,' Percy replied, while a glow of shame spread over his pale features, as the entrance of his master brought back vividly to mind the terrible truth of his position, and the degrading consciousness of having, even for a moment, forgotten his honor.

'And I will go and attend to Snowflake. I expect the poor old fellow is getting hungry, for I had no time to think of him yesterday afternoon,' said Bertha, leaving the room.

'Take a seat, Sinclair. As we are alone, we may as well talk over this matter here,' said Mr. Shelley, taking a chair himself. 'Your determination to leave us cannot be the result of a mere love of change; and I should like to know what is your motive. I will not ask you again to confide in me, but I think that I have discovered it; and I shall ask you, as man to man, whether I am right.'

Percy took a chair, and sat down, and waited in silence for Mr. Shelley to explain himself fully. He could scarcely credit the evidence of his senses, when Mr. Shelley began in the same strain that Bertha had been talking in; and he half believed that he must be dreaming, or have been more seriously hurt by the blow upon the head he had received in the pool the night before, than he had imagined. 'Mrs. Shelley, Bertha, and I have been talking the matter over; and we fancy that you may perhaps be fond of Marion, and wish to leave because you can see no prospect of marrying her. If such is really the case, you may rest assured that we shall put no obstacle in your way. If she loves you, you may marry her; and we will give you the new cottage to live in, and a regular salary.'

With lips compressed, and face pale from emotion, Percy listened to his master's generous proposal. His short-lived hopes, which had been raised by a breath, were as quickly dissipated. Her words, that he had madly taken as referring to himself, had reference to another. How grateful he was now for the unspeakable service his master had unconsciously performed in interrupting him, and saving him from the intolerable shame of betraying his true sentiments to her.

'I am very grateful indeed, sir, for the great interest you and your family have always shewn in my welfare; and I am especially grateful for this new expression of your kind solicitude for my happiness. But I assure you, that great as the friendship is that we entertain for each other, neither Marion nor myself ever thought of each other as anything more than friends?'

'Hem!' said Mr. Shelley, meditatively, 'in that case it is useless to pursue the matter further! Well, I ask you, as a personal favor, to wait contentedly till the end of the month, when Meredith will return to his station; and I will arrange with him, for you to spend six months in his service. At the end of that term, we can reconsider the subject, before applying to Government to cancel your assignment papers.'

'I will stay, sir, with pleasure, if my doing so will please you. Mustering will be over by then,' replied Percy, with resignation.

'Thank you. You will oblige us very much by staying. I must go now, and write a note to the police magistrate, to acquaint him with the movements of our late aggressors. I see Davy is mounted, so I must hurry,' said Mr. Shelley, rising.

'And I will go and see poor old Hal. again,' Percy said, as his master left the room; but instead of doing so, he stood leaning upon the mantlepiece, and gazing gloomily into the fire, his brows contracted in deep thought. To have been mad enough to mistake her words, and to think them a confession of love on her part; to so far forget his position, and the debt of gratitude he owed his master, as to take advantage of that supposed confession to lay bare his heart, and plead his cause, was an act that smote his sensative and noble nature with shame and remorse. Grateful he felt to providence that he had been interrupted, and grateful, now that cooler judgment had tempered the bitterness of his disappointment, that her heart was free from the feverish touch of love. His position now was a painful one; but how would that pain have been aggravated by the consciousness that her future, as well as his own, was darkened by the cloud of despair. Little dreamt the ruthless Clayton of the full measure of anguish his cowardly vengeance would heap upon the head of his hapless victim!

'Mr. Sinclair, Miss Shelley says you have something of importance to tell me,' exclaimed Marion Macaulay, entering the room. 'Is it true you are going to leave us?'

'Sent her to hear a tale of love,' thought Percy, bitterly, as he handed her a chair. 'I am to leave Field Place at the end of the month, Marion,' he replied, as he took a seat opposite. 'Miss Shelley is under a slight mistake as to the cause of my wishing for a change of scene; and as you have honoured me with your confidence in reference to your engagement to Mr. Edgar Raby, I can speak the more freely. She fancies that I am in love with you, and wish to leave on that account. Mr. Shelley is under the same impression, and has made the generous offer of paying me regular wages, and giving us the new cottage to live in.'

'How good of him. There are not many masters, Mr. Sinclair, who would offer to pay wages to their Government servants. But what can have led them to look upon us as lovers, I wonder!'

'They think that, seeing no prospect of marrying you, I wished to leave the place. What gave them the idea of my regarding you as other than a friend I cannot tell,' he replied.

'But do you really mean to go, Mr. Sinclair? You can find no home in the colony so comfortable as this for those in our position. Most Government servants are treated as slaves. Do think over the question again, and change your mind. I, for one, will miss you terribly.'

'No, Marion! If I could tell you my motive you would admit that I have no other course before me. I must go. Mr. Shelley wishes me to stay till after mustering next week, and, of course, I must do so; but I shall have seen Field Place for the last time on the first of next month.'


CHAPTER XVIII.


Alas, the lore of woman! it is known
To be a lovely, and a fearful thing;
For all of her's upon that die is thrown!

—BYRON.

For a brief period, we turn from the exciting events and scenes at Field Place, in our sunny land of New South Wales, to the shores of merry England, to the fair domain of Elmsdale, where the cloud of trouble—bred of the hate and cowardly vengeance of one, who possessed of man nothing but the form—still hung like a pall upon the hearth-stone. Time had, it is true, somewhat blunted the keen edge of grief, and shown the mourners that, for all human sorrow, the bright sun still sheds his genial rays, and the moon her silvery splendour—that, though "man is born unto trouble as the sparks fly upwards," yet each fair season, in its appointed turn, contributes its full measure of blessings to his happiness—still there were moments when each member of the bereaved family felt all the torture of the first pangs of their separation from the innocent one (they would as soon have doubted the justice of heaven, as his innocence!) whom Fate's ruthless instrument had torn from their midst.

Other troubles, too, had fallen upon the family of the unhappy exile. A private bank, in which Dr. Sinclair had invested two-thirds of his fortune, and in which he had placed the whole of the dowry of his orphan niece, suddenly collapsed, leaving Anne Egerton penniless, and himself but a fraction of his former affluence. In comparison with the heavy trials he had already endured, this was as nothing; but it added gall to the bitterness of his brimming cup of sorrow; for the consolation, which had hitherto supported him, that his family was well provided for, was rudely snatched away by the catastrophe, and he could see nothing before his daughters and niece but the cold reception the short-sighted, hard-hearted world offers to those, who must work for their bread or starve. And the cherished hope, that he could give pecuniary assistance to his son, as soon as he received his ticket-of-leave, was also dissipated by the great commercial crash, that had resulted in the failure of his bankers. Elmsdale had, fortunately, been settled on his wife; so that a home was always open for his family, and sufficient was saved from the wreck of his fortune to buy a joint annuity of a few hundreds a year for himself and her. This income he was employing to prepare his niece and daughters for the situations of governess, the only field in which they could in future hope to move.

On the afternoon, in which we return to Elmsdale, Dr. Sinclair was seated in his library with an old friend of his son, Mr. George Darrell. Warm as was his friendship for his old college fellow-classman, Percy was far from Mr. Darrell's thoughts just then.

'Do you think, sir, her affections are already bestowed upon another? I have heard that she was fond of Mr. Clayton, who went to New South Wales two or three years ago!' he asked abruptly, after a few moments thought.

'I believe she was fond of Clayton at one time, George; but I think that his unfortunate conduct weaned her affections from him. I have not heard her mention his name, since he left England,' replied Dr. Sinclair.

'You are her guardian; are you not?' Mr. Darrell asked after another awkward pause.

'Yes; she was the only child of my widowed sister, who committed Anne to my charge on her death bed. As you may naturally suppose, I am as solicitous of her happiness, as though she were my own daughter. Have you ever spoken to her upon the subject yet?'

'No, sir! I thought it prudent to make certain enquiries of you first!' Mr. Darrell replied.

'I trust the enquiries you wish to make, George, are not prompted by a mercenary spirit!' said Dr. Sinclair, dubiously; a suspicious frown contracting his brows. 'If so, you are not worthy of her. I can hope nothing more for my own daughters, than that they may prove their cousin's equal in every virtue of heart and mind.'

'Believe me, sir, pecuniary considerations form no part of the enquiries I wish to make,' Mr. Darrell exclaimed, hurt by being thought capable of such baseness. 'The subject is of an entirely different nature. But it is one that cannot be answered by any person but you. I come to speak to you first as her guardian.'

'Most men leave the parent or guardian as the last person to be consulted. You are acting upon my own view of these matters, George, and I honor you,' said the old gentleman, pleased at what he considered the fine sense of honor, displayed by the young man.

'I will be candid with you, sir,' returned Mr. Darrell, smiling at the old gentleman's words. 'I do not deserve your good opinion in this matter. To my mind, it is quite time enough to consult a parent or guardian, when the lady herself has consented; and I assure you, I should not have spoken to you upon this subject, until Miss Egerton had accepted me, but for the question I am about to ask of you.'

'Indeed!'

'You say she did love Hubert Clayton once; perhaps she does still; but, I would never have accepted that as a reason for abandoning the pursuit of my dearest hopes; nor would I have allowed your opposition, were you pleased to place an obstacle in my way, to deter me from pressing my suit. What has bound my tongue, when on many occasions I have been sorely tempted to speak, was the thought that, perhaps Percy loved her.'

The frown that had been gathering upon Dr. Sinclair's features during the young man's expression of independent action, gradually gave way to a smile of satisfaction, as Mr. Darrell avowed the generous motive of his silence.

'It seems to me impossible,' Mr. Darrell continued, 'That any man could have had the uninterrupted intercourse with her that he had, and remain insensible to her unrivalled charms. Had Percy been here to plead his own cause, love her as he might, I should have felt no compunction of conscience in striving to wrest the prize from his grasp; for in love as in war, fair rivalry is both legitimate and honourable. It is because he is away and in trouble, that I would rather lose the one star of my hope, than try to supplant him in her affections. Tell me, then, honestly—does he love her?'

Dr. Sinclair rose from his seat, and taking Mr. Darrell's hand, exclaimed, 'Darrell, my words were but empty compliments, when I said just now, I honor you. Now I do so with all my heart. You have shewn a noble instance of generous friendship; and I am glad indeed to be able to relieve your mind of any apprehension on Percy's account. He loves her as a sister, nothing more—but on his behalf I thank you for the generous solicitude you have shown for his feelings. It was his mother's and my wish to see them married; but they never appeared to think of each other but as brother and sister, and we allowed matters to take their own course. Your noble conduct is an additional reason for my believing that Anne's home will be a happy one, should you win her heart.'

'Thank you for your kind words,' said Mr. Darrell, pressing the old gentleman's hand gratefully. 'Now that I am assured I shall not be acting ungenerously by Percy, I will do my utmost to win the only girl I ever cared anything for.'

'Of course you distinctly bear in mind, George,' Dr. Sinclair said, resuming his seat, 'That we exert no influence in your favour; she is at perfect liberty to judge for herself. If she consents to marry you, we will raise no obstacle in your way; but you have proved yourself too generous to expect us to attempt to influence her.'

'Should she reject my unsupported suit, I would not marry her, if she consented through pressure. I want to win her heart. If she would marry me in deference to your wishes, I should only win her hand,' Mr. Darrell said with feeling.

'There is one matter I must explain to you, George, before you speak to her. I may as well do so at once. You are aware that at her mother's death a fortune of ten thousand pounds was left to her, I being appointed sole executor.'

'My dear sir, as her fortune is not the object of my pursuit, I am not at all anxious to learn its extent,' the young man interrupted.

'I believe you, George; nevertheless, I must explain everything to you now. Six months ago, her dowry was nearly eleven thousand pounds—to-day, she has not a penny,' Dr. Sinclair said in a low voice, as he watched with keen enquiry the effect of the intelligence upon the young man. For a few seconds he stood gazing upon the carpet as if weighing the unwelcome news. Then looking up, he exclaimed, 'Are you serious, sir, or only trying to test my love for her?'

'But too serious, George! But too serious!' replied the old gentleman sorrowfully. 'Six months ago, her dowry was nearly eleven thousand pounds—to-day, she has not a penny—all lost in the failure of my bankers.'

'For her sake I am very much grieved to learn this, sir; but I hope you do not think so meanly of me, as to believe that the state of her banking account has any influence upon my sentiments. Of course, for both our sakes, the more fortune each contributes towards a settlement, the better for each; but I have enough for both. It is the priceless jewel I covet—not its golden setting.'

'I am glad indeed, George, to hear you speak so!' replied Dr. Sinclair, with visible emotion. 'It shews me even more unmistakeably the noble disinterestedness of your nature. Now that we fully understand each other, you have my consent to your suit, and my earnest hope that you may win her. In doing so, you will earn a prize above rubies. If she prove as good a wife as she has a ward, he is favored indeed of fortune, who wins her!'

'Will she be at home this afternoon, do you think, sir?' Mr. Darrell enquired.

'Either in the house or the park, George. She employs her leisure time in sketching the gems of nature, as she calls her favorite nooks.'

'I will endeavour to see her this afternoon then, sir. It is but natural that I should be anxious to learn my fate at once,' said Mr. Darrell, rising. 'Now that I know I shall not be playing traitor to Percy, I will not lose the prize through delay.'

Dr. Sinclair let his young friend out at a side door, and then returned to the library. He sat for some time brooding over his late financial reverses. Bitterly he reproached himself now for not having invested her money in consols, as he had originally intended. In his attempt to secure her higher interest, he had lost her all, and left the beautiful daughter of his brother-in-law, Colonel Egerton, a pauper, dependent upon his bounty, and when heaven should remove him, to her own exertions for bread. The loss of her fortune made it the more necessary that she should make a good match. He examined the prospects of his niece from every point of consideration, and had just concluded that she could not refuse so eligible an offer, when he mechanically opened a little volume of Waller's poems, that had been left upon the table, and his eye caught the inscription on the fly leaf—'To Anne Egerton, with the changeless devotion of Hubert Clayton.'—'Silly girl! Silly girl!' he muttered, as he lingered over the words. 'She loves the scoundrel still; and being the embodiment of truth and constancy, she would rather work her fingers off in her own support, than marry a better man!'

Dr. Sinclair's reverie was here disturbed by the entrance of his daughter Florence with the morning mail.

'Three Australian letters, papa! Two for you, and one for Anne!' she said, as she handed them to her father. 'One of yours is addressed in a strange hand, the other is from Percy. Do open it quickly, papa. I am certain there is a note in it for me!'

Dr. Sinclair took the letters eagerly, and broke the seal of his son's epistle.

'Give me Anne's letter, papa; and I will take it to her at once. You told me yesterday to cultivate patience a little more. I am terribly anxious to read dear Percy's letter; so here is a fine opportunity to exercise the virtue I have so little of,' said the merry girl, snatching up her cousin's letter, and bounded away with it.

'Impetuous as a fawn, and gentle as a dove!' exclaimed her father, gazing affectionately after her retiring form. 'A beautiful character, when a little softened by time!'

Dr. Sinclair gave his spectacles an extra rub, and then turned to his son's letter. It appeared to please him exceedingly; for a smile of satisfaction spread over his features. Percy was in a position of far greater comfort than fell to the lot of most prisoners, and had the prospect of getting a fair start in life, as soon as he was due for his ticket-of-leave. He wrote that he could never return to England, until the crime for which he had been transported was cleared from his name; but he would have an excellent opportunity of winning a fortune in the new southern world, after he had received his ticket. He concluded a long and sanguine letter, by assuring his father that he should not require his share of the parental fortune, as his master had promised to start him on a small station; and therefore he would like it divided equally among his sisters and cousin.

'Poor boy! his share will be small indeed!' the old gentleman said, with a sigh, as he replaced the letter in its envelope, and took up the second. At this moment blue-eyed Alice burst into the room. 'Have you got a letter from dear old Percy?' she asked, eagerly, as she threw her arms about her father's neck. 'Flo. says you have.'

'Yes, darling, I have.'

'Did he say anything about me?' the eager little girl enquired.

'Yes, Alice. He asked how his little sister is, and whether she is always a good girl,' replied her father.

'Did he? Well, papa, you mustn't say I'm always good, because I'm not—it's so hard to be good always, you know—but you may tell him I try very very hard to be! May I try to read his letter, papa? Governess teaches us to read writing hand every day now.'

'Here it is, darling. I think you had better take it to mamma, and ask her to read it to you. She is in the drawing-room,' replied her father, handing her the letter.

'No, papa! Mamma is in the nursery with poor Maudie. She is so sick. Nurse thinks she has been eating some berries in the shrubbery,' said the sympathizing Alice.

'Tell mamma I will be with her in a few minutes!' Dr. Sinclair said, as the bright little damsel ran off with the letter; and he then opened the one her entrance had interrupted him from looking at. It was from a clergyman in Sydney, an old friend of his own—one who had gone to the Antipodes a few years before in the fervent hope of being permitted to do service to the Lord in that distant and neglected part of the vineyard. He wrote to beg Dr. Sinclair to procure him a respectable young person to fill the position of governess to the family of a wealthy squatter. 'The very thing Anne wanted,' he said to himself, as he folded the letters, and put them in his escritoir. 'However, if she is wise enough to accept young Darrell, she will escape the trials inseparable from such a situation.'

Florence hurried to Anne's boudoir with the letter, and found her cousin looking over the contents of her writing desk. 'A letter for you, Anne, and from Percy!' she exclaimed, tossing the missive into her cousin's lap.

Anne stooped over it, as she picked it up, in a manner to conceal her face; but she was not quick enough to escape the quick eyes of Florence.

'What is the matter, Anne? Your eyes are red, and you have been crying,' said Florence, with concern.

'Nothing is the matter, dear,' protested Anne, in confusion. 'I have a headache, and the excitement of looking over some old relics has made me nervous.'

As Anne spoke, she put a faded letter into her pocket; Florence caught sight of the initials 'H. C.' in one corner, and, guessing the true cause of her cousin's nervousness, left the room. Anne went into her dressing-room, and, after bathing her eyes, returned to read her letter. It was written in a very different strain to her uncle's, and on a later date.


"Field Place, Hunter River,
"New South Wales,

"September 18th, 1837.

"Dearest Anne—You asked me in your last to be candid, and tell you truly whether I am happy in my southern home. I know that the question was dictated by your gentle heart, and that no one feels a deeper interest in my welfare than you do; accept my grateful thanks for your kind solicitude on my behalf! I will respond without reserve to your invitation, and tell you everything that concerns me. I am not so thoroughly happy here as you would wish me to be; but the 'terrible realities of convict life,' which you allude to, are not, even indirectly, the cause of my discontent. If you could see me here, you could not possibly guess, from appearance, that I am a prisoner. I am treated with the utmost kindness by my master and his wife and their angelic daughter (heaven bless her!) and with respect by the men. You remember the account I gave you of the snake adventure just after I arrived here? From that day I have been treated more as a guest than a servant, so extravagantly have her grateful parents overrated their obligation to me.

"I have every cause to be happy and contented; yet, dear coz., I must confess to being the most wretched man in the settlement—more miserable even than the unfortunates, who rarely pass a week without receiving their customary fifty lashes. You will naturally conclude that the cause of my lowness of spirits is separation from the loved ones at home, and the dark stain of infamy that clings to my name. Bitter as these sorrows were at first, the magician Time has, in a measure, soothed them; but there is one sorrow that is beyond the power of Time to assuage. I could not, had I the choice of all the masters in the colony, find one, who would treat me with a tenth of Mr. Shelley's kindness; yet I have determined to leave Field Place. To be plain, dear coz., I, a convict, am mad enough to love my master's beautiful daughter—to love the daughter of one, whose proudest boast is, that the taint of crime never polluted his name. It is, of course, impossible that I can ever hope to win her; and equally so to see her, I would shed my heart's blood to save from a moment's disquietude, and not to love! I know that she likes me, next to her parents, above all else besides. She has shown her preference in a thousand guileless ways. I feel that I could easily fan that liking into love, and that, once loving, she would be true to me, despite all opposition (in truth and constancy she is your counterpart, as she is in many other of your rare virtues); and I know that, though the shame would break their hearts, her parents would sacrifice themselves rather than the happiness of their only child. But I could not repay their kindness to me by such base ingratitude, nor cast a cloud of trouble over her young life by enlisting her affections. As I am fearful that, in some unguarded moment, when we are pandering alone on the bank of our beautiful river, I may lay bare my heart to her gaze, I am determined to hazard hardship and ill-treatment at the hands of another master, and escape from the torture of my present position. I shall beg of Mr. Shelley to exchange me to some distant station, where I shall never hear even her name. If he refuses, I will leave Field Place without permission, and take to the bush. I would prefer death, even by lingering starvation, to risking her future happiness by remaining longer here!

"Here comes the overseer for the letters, to take to Newcastle, so I must conclude. I would read this over before closing it, if I could wait; perhaps, if I did, I should burn instead of sending it, for I do not know what I have written—my brain seems on fire.

With cousinly love,

"PERCY."

Anne Egerton's tears fell fast upon her cousin's sad letter, as she realized the painful situation he was placed in.

'Poor fellow! His is indeed a sorrowful case! Snatched from his home, and transported for a crime he is innocent of; and then to be unfortunate enough to fall in love with the lady, of all he ought not to!' the gentle girl murmured. 'But I will go out to Australia at once; for if his honor drives him to take to the bush, as he says, there is no foreseeing what misery it may occasion him!'

Feeling deeply grieved by the tone of her cousin's letter, and not having overcome the emotions roused by looking over the relics of the earlier days of her young life, Anne went out for a ride round the grounds; and in a few minutes Fairy, her favourite pony, was cantering swiftly along with her through the oak avenue and round by the rippling brook, that skirted two sides of the park. The bracing, morning air and the healthful exercise soon restored the roses to her cheeks, and the brightness to her eyes, and when she met the family at luncheon all traces of sorrow were removed from her sweet face—if not from her heart.


CHAPTER XIX.


Thou wast that all to me, love,
For which my soul did pine,
A green isle in the sea, love,
A fountain and a shrine,
All wreathed with fairy fruits and flowers,
And all the flowers were mine.

Ah, dream, too bright to last!
Ah, starry hope that didst arise
But to be overcast!
A voice from out the future cries,
"On! on!"—but o'er the past
(Dim gulf!) my spirit hovering lies,
Mute, motionless, aghast!

—EDGAR ALLAN POE.

After luncheon, Anne Egerton passed a few restless hours in the library, vainly trying to shake off the sadness her cousin's letter had cast upon her. The excitement of her brisk ride through the bracing air of early Spring, and the animated conversation at the luncheon table, had for the time dissipated her melancholy, but it returned with increased intensity, directly she was left alone with her own thoughts. She took up the prized volume of poetry, that she had accidentally left in the library the day before, and attempted to banish care by committing to memory one of Waller's exquisite little poems, commencing with—


"Go, lovely rose,
Tell her that wastes her time and me,
That now she knows
When I resemble her to thee,
How sweet and fair she seems to be."

While she was so engaged, her uncle entered the library. He sank feebly into his accustomed chair, saying, 'Percy is in high spirits, poor boy. He talks of having an opportunity of making his fortune as a cattle farmer, when he gets his ticket-of-leave. Considering the extent of our losses, it is most fortunate, Anne! I hope he is not too sanguine.'

Anne received the assurance of Percy's high spirits, with a smile of pleasure. Though her cousin's letter, to herself, proved that his mood was far from being as hopeful as his letter to her uncle would indicate, she was glad he had dissembled, rather than add fresh pangs to his father's present sorrows.

'I have decided to go out to Sydney as a governess, if I can obtain a situation,' she said, 'And then shall be able to see him. He would be much happier if one of us was near him.'

'Going to Sydney, Anne? Surely you cannot mean it!' her uncle exclaimed aghast. 'Must my mad neglect of your interests drive you into exile?'

'It is but railing at Providence, uncle, to complain at what has occurred! You thought you were acting for my good when you placed my money in that unfortunate bank; and you have nothing to reproach yourself with. Don't you think it would be better for him, if one of us was near him?'

'Yes, Anne; much better. And if it was not for the duty we owe to the younger ones, his mother and I would have gone long since. But I do not think you are called upon to make the sacrifice, unless, indeed, you love him well enough to share his fortune—or misfortune, rather,' Dr. Sinclair answered, earnestly.

'We love each other, uncle, as tenderly as brother and sister; but neither of us ever regarded the other in any other light,' said Anne, softly.

'We will talk over this matter to-morrow, if you wish it, my dear girl. For the present I have to look through some law papers connected with the loss of our respective fortunes. Are you going out anywhere this afternoon?'

'No, uncle, excepting to the fir copse near the river; I want to finish my sketch of the long reach. I shall finish it this afternoon if possible, as I wish to send it to Percy,' she replied.

'Very well, my girl. But be in before sundown; the night air is not good for you. You are scarcely over your cold yet,' said her uncle, professionally.

'I can't leave my work till after dusk, uncle, for I want to represent the scene of a 'Sunset at Elmsdale,' and of course I can only do so by a study of Nature at that hour,' Anne answered. 'So don't be uneasy at my absence till then.'

'Well, do as you like, my girl! Do as you like! Only be careful of good health while you have it,' the old gentleman said, as his niece left the room.

Dr. Sinclair turned to the study of the law papers before him, and Anne took her sketching apparatus, and, accompanied by her faithful attendant Brontie (a spaniel that Clayton had given her years before), walked on to the scene of her artistic labours.

She had not been at work more than an hour when Brontie's quick ears caught the sound of approaching hoofs. He gave a warning bark to his young mistress, and scampered through the copse out into the park to reconnoitre.

'Ha! Brontie, my boy! Keep quiet, old fellow, and let me steal upon her unawares!' said George Darrell, springing from his horse, and patting the spaniel's curly back. Brontie seemed vastly pleased at being noticed by the young man, and stood wagging his tail in mute satisfaction, while the horse was being hitched to the broken bough of a young fir tree. But he was no traitor to be bought with a smile and directly Mr. Darrell showed a disposition to penetrate the copse, he stood his ground like a trusty guardian, as he was, and strove gallantly by his ceaseless growls and the menacing exhibition of his glittering teeth, to hold the path against further advance.

'It's no use, Brontie! A brigade of infantry should not drive me from my purpose!' Darrell said, smiling at the faithful creature's determined opposition. 'But you might have permitted me to reach her unobserved, old fellow!'

Inch by inch Brontie contested Mr. Darrell progress through the fir copse, and by his extravagant noise frightened his young mistress, who stood by her easel waiting in terror the solution of her spaniel's uneasiness.

'I must beg Brontie's pardon, Miss Egerton for I have seriously offended him by disturbing you!' said Mr. Darrell, as he reached Anne's side, and much to the dog's evident annoyance, shook hands with her. 'You have a faithful protector in Brontie.'

'Yes, Mr. Darrell. But the foolish fellow ought to have known better than to bark at you. Brontie is no respecter of persons; and those whom he allows to approach me without question at the house, must not presume to do so when I am out, without first consulting him,' she said smiling.

'Brontie appears fully to appreciate the importance of his charge, Miss Egerton! He is certainly a most intelligent dog,' Darrell replied, 'Come, old fellow, let us be friends!' he continued, turning to Brontie; but the distrustful spaniel would not respond to Darrell's overtures of peace, and growled menacingly.

It's no use attempting to conciliate him while I am present, Mr. Darrell!' said Anne, laughing. 'He is obstinacy itself.'

As if to verify her words, the dog lay himself down in front of where they were standing, and kept a close and unremitting watch through his half-closed eyes upon Mr. Darrell's movements. A rustic seat was placed beneath the boughs of a large beech tree, immediately behind where Miss Egerton had been engaged in giving the finishing touches to her picture 'A Sunset at Elmsdale.' Upon it they seated themselves; and entered into a general conversation upon every possible topic, but the one that had drawn Darrell to the fir copse. The introduction to her guardian of the subject of his wishes was a matter of little difficulty; but it occasioned him considerable embarrassment to determine how to approach his declaration to herself. After disposing of music and the drama, poetry, the last published novel, anecdotes of the fidelity and intelligence of dogs (the latter occasioned by Brontie's unwearying vigilance) and half a score of other themes, in a disconnected and cursory conversation, painting was introduced; and Anne invited Mr. Darrell's judgment upon her view of the Long Reach. He pronounced the picture perfect; and though a connoisseur of high art might have discovered blemishes in its outline or colouring—defects unseen by the ordinary observer, who receives the greater pleasure in beholding with uncritical eye the beauties of a fine painting—to the amateur it was perfection itself. The landscape represented, and which lay spread before them under a flood of glorious evening sunlight, was a beautiful specimen of English rural scenery; and she had transferred it to her canvas, in all its rich variety and freshness. In the background ran a low range of hills, partially wooded, and along its base lay a broad stretch of meadow land carpeted with the tender verdure of Spring, and dotted with sheep. To the right of the hills could be distinguished the city of York, with the setting sun burnishing the windows of its ancient cathedral. In the mid distance stood the church of a village, that was hidden by a swell of the undulating meadow-land. Its pointed spire rose tall above the grove of yew trees surrounding it; and the rank ivy, so closely associated with the sacred edifice of an English church, clung with its accustomed tenacity to its mouldering abutments, and concealed all save its diamond-paned windows. In the foreground was the long reach of the river. It stretched from an abrupt turn in the extreme distance to the left of the scene to where the fair artist stood; to the right of which it swerved from its straight course, and flowed at an acute angle away towards the city.

Anne had fastened the beauties of this calm and lovely scene upon her canvas, as naturally as though it were but a painted shadow of the bright original.

'How great a difference the warm rays of the setting sun makes upon the scene,' said Darrell, as he gazed musingly upon the glowing landscape. 'Indeed, we may almost attribute the whole beauty of nature to his beams.'

'Yes,' replied Anne, regarding his preoccupied manner with an enquiring smile. 'You are right, Mr. Darrell; under a clouded sky, the scene would lose much of its attractiveness. Each individual feature of beauty would still be there, but it would want the mellowing and harmonizing influence of the glorious sunshine.'

'And is it not so with our lives, Miss Egerton? What avails power, wealth, fame, if our existence be not brightened by the sunshine of life—the love of a true and gentle heart? Without that one and only influence of beauty, life, even in its most favored aspects, is like a landscape under a clouded sky—like a body without a soul. Sweet Anne, be my sunshine! I have loved you long and dearly. The brightness of your smile is to me of more worth than aught else this world can give, the sunshine of your love more precious than aught that heaven can offer!' said Darrell, seizing her hand in his excitement. 'I love you devotedly! May I dare to hope that you can return my love, that I may yet win the lodestar of my hope?'

Darrell's impetuous wooing was interrupted by a warning growl from Brontie, who had risen to his feet, and was glaring at him with resentful eyes.

Anne was in tears. 'I am very sorry indeed, Mr. Darrell, that you have spoken to me so. I never had the slightest idea that you regarded me in such a light,' she said, gently withdrawing her hand from his grasp.

'Has my vehemence startled you, dear Anne? Forgive me for distressing you. I would rather suffer any pang than cause you one moment's uneasiness! But, perhaps your uncle is deceived, and you do love Percy Sinclair. If so, forgive me; and I will keep my passion secret in my breast, though it gnaw my heart out!'

'I love Percy as a sister would, Mr. Darrell; nothing more. But, I beg of you, never mention this subject to me again.'

'Nay, but if your heart is free, there can be no wrong in telling you how passionately I love you,' exclaimed Darrell.

'I know it, Mr. Darrell, I know it! I am grateful for your high opinion of me; but if you really do value my happiness, promise never to speak to me upon this subject again,' Anne pleaded in distress.

'And leave my future drear as a world that knows no sun? You could not be so cruel as to expect it. I would freely make any sacrifice that would conduce to your welfare, Anne; but in this I should sacrifice my only hope, without adding to your happiness.'

'Are there none that could brighten your future as well, nay, better than I, Mr. Darrell? Among your friends are many good and beautiful girls. Emilie Beaumont and Ada Gordon are both better suited to make you happy, than ever I could be,' said Anne, with trembling voice.

'Happy must be they, who win them, Anne. But you, and you alone, could find the way to my heart. It is you, or none. Tell me, then, do you consign me to a lifetime of misery, or brighten my future with the promise of your love?' Darrell asked with emotion.

After a few seconds pause, Anne looked up into his face, and said, timidly, 'I will make you my confidant, Mr. Darrell. My heart is not free. Four years ago, and on this very spot, I plighted my troth with Hubert Clayton. I thought him, then, the best and noblest of men; and I loved him as fervently as ever man was loved. I have since learned that he has no claim to such qualities—that there are few who less deserve to be loved—yet my heart has never changed. I love him to-day as devotedly as I did on the day of our betrothal; and though I will never marry him, unless he sincerely repents, and forsakes for ever his evil way, I would die to change his nature to what I once thought it—to what I yet hope it will be! Yes, Brontie,' she continued, addressing the spaniel, who had thrust his head into her hand, 'you were a witness of my vows; for it was on that day he gave you to me.'

Darrell saw at a glance it was useless to press his suit further. But that she loved another, he would not have relinquished hope, even though repulsed with scorn. He would have patiently waited, in the hope of living own her objections, and earning her love by his devotion. As he gazed sadly into her earnest truthful eyes, he read only too unmistakably, that her heart was sealed to all, but the one so unworthy of her. His disappointment was as deep and acute, as only they may know, who have undergone a similar ordeal; but he determined to bear it with fortitude.

'My disappointment in learning this secret, Anne (permit me still to call you by that sweet little name, though I may only do so as a friend), is increased tenfold, by the knowledge of the utter worthlessness of the object of your affections. Had it been your cousin, Percy Sinclair, bitter as my sorrow at losing all hope of winning you must be, I should at least have had the consolation of feeling that your choice was an honorable man, who, despite the verdict that exiled him, was worthy of your devotion. But as it is, I cannot——'

'Do not say anything unkind of Hubert Clayton, Mr. Darrell, I beg of you! His own conscience must be severe enough; for the wicked are never really happy,' interrupted the gentle girl, pained at hearing a word uttered against the reprobate. 'And try if you can forget that you ever thought of me as other than the dear friend, which I shall ever hope to be. It may be hard to do so at first, for our affections are not always in proportion to the real worth of those we love; but you will soon learn to think of me as I do of you, as the truest of dear friends.'

'I will try; but, dear Anne, it will, as you have said, be hard, very hard, to school my heart to regard you as other than the dear girl, whose love I prize above all earthly considerations, and, I fear, heavenly ones too. I must submit, without murmur, to the cruel fate that withholds from me the only blessing I ever coveted,' Darrell replied, bitterly.

'I think we had better return to the house now, Mr. Darrell; the air is growing chilly. My picture is scarcely finished, but I can complete it to-morrow,' said Anne, anxious to terminate the embarrassing interview.

Darrell took up the easel, and, drawing her arm within his own, led her through the copse to where he had left his horse. Both were busy with their own thoughts, and they walked on in silence, till they reached the outskirts of the little grove, when Anne suddenly said, 'Mr. Darrell, will you please ride on up to the house, and I will follow alone. You may carry my easel, if you will oblige me by doing so. I will see you again at dinner, but I would like to be alone for a little while now. The subject of our conversation has made me feel nervous; and I have a slight headache.'

It was impossible for Darrell to refuse the request; so he rode on, leaving the fair girl to the company of her own thoughts, and the protection of her faithful spaniel.

'Poor Mr. Darrell! I am very sorry he loves me; for I know by my own experience how hard, how seemingly impossible it is to tear from the heart a true and passionate love,' she soliloquised ingenuously. 'This is another reason why I should go out to Australia. I will do so as soon as possible; and he might then forget me, and transfer his love to another. Perhaps it was a wise dispensation of Providence to deprive me of fortune, that I should be compelled to go forth and earn my own bread.'

Full of projects for a speedy departure, she hurried on, and by the time she reached the house, her mind was fully made up to leave the land of her birth, and seek her fortune in the almost unknown southern world.


CHAPTER XX.


And woman: Beauty was the power
That with angelic grace
Breathed love around her glowing form,
And magic in her face;
She twined the tendrils of her hair,
And on that brow—her throne is there.

—REV. R. MONTGOMERY.

All was bustle and stir at Field Place, for the sun had risen upon the day that mustering was to begin. Mrs. Shelley and her servants were busy preparing breakfast for all hands in the kitchen. The stock horses were at the door saddled and ready, and the men and dogs lounging about upon the grass before the door waiting to dispose of their early breakfast.

'Well, Davy, did you find the white bull yesterday afternoon, that is missing?' Mr. Shelley asked, as the overseer entered the kitchen, stockwhip in hand.

'No, sir! Mr. Sinclair and me scoured the whole of the country at the back of the brush for three or four miles; but we couldn't find him; and the stockman tells me this morning that a score of young cattle are missing too,' replied Davy Collyer.

'Gone with him most probably. Where do you imagine they have rambled to?'

'I think they've strayed away up the river towards Mr. Blair's station, sir! We found tracks late last night leading that way; but it was too dark to follow them up.'

'They can hardly have reached Blair's yet, Davy; for I saw the bull, myself, the day before yesterday. The first thing to do to-day, is to have another search for the truants. If you don't begin to fetch the cattle in till to-morrow, it will not matter much,' said Mr. Shelley.

'We'd better separate into three parties, I think, sir. We'd have a better chance of dropping across the missing cattle. It'd be as well to send Giles and the stockman down the river. You and Grey could search the ridges between the station and the top of the range, and Mr. Sinclair and me could ride up the river. We could hardly miss them then, sir, if they are anywhere get-at-able at all,' suggested the overseer.

'Very well, Davy! We will follow your advice. I don't think they are likely to have crossed the range.'

'No, sir, it aren't at all likely. It's too steep in most places. And they can't well know the passes,' replied Davy.

'Breakfast is ready, Walter!' said Mrs. Shelley, from the foot of the table.

'Call the men in, Davy! By-the-bye, where is Mr. Sinclair?' asked Mr. Shelley.

'Him and Miss Shelley's in to see how Hal. is getting on this morning,' the overseer replied, as he left the kitchen to call the men in to breakfast.

Percy Sinclair and Bertha found the veteran much better. His wounds were slowly healing; and the old man was in high spirits at the prospect of being able to quit his bed in a few days. He was weary of the monotony of the sick room; for he was of necessity quite alone the greater part of the day. Being unable to read, and having no audience for his marvellous 'yarns,' he found slow-paced time drag heavily.

'Good bye, Hal.! I will come in and read to you directly after dinner. I would do so this morning, but I am going out for a ride,' said the pitying girl, who was grieved at seeing the brave old man confined so long to his room.

'God bless you, Miss, for your condesension to a poor, useless, old fellow like me! I would be glad, if you would just read a chapter out o' the Book my mother used to read, when I was a boy!' said Hal., gratefully.

'The best Book that you could have read to you, Hal.! You must try to remember what it teaches, and learn to live by its golden rules,' said Percy.

'If you would teach me a paragraph, sir, I could say it over to myself, and learn it, when, I am lyin' here,' Hal. suggested.

'A text he means, Mr. Sinclair! I will tell him one!' said Bertha, eagerly. 'Repeat this Hal.—'What shall it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?''

Hal. had a tenacious memory; and after saying it over a couple of times, was perfect in it.

'Thank you, Miss! Now I can think over that paragraph as I lay here, and not feel lonely,' said the old man.

'Very well, Hal.! I will see you again directly after dinner! Come along, Mr. Sinclair! Breakfast must be ready by this time.' saying which, Bertha led the way out of the room.

'I think you had better not go out riding to-day, Miss Bertha!' Percy said, as they were walking across the yard to the house. 'It will be hardly safe for you, as we shall be driving the cattle about; and they may get irritated.'

'O, but I must, Mr. Sinclair! The air is so bracing that I long to be in the saddle and galloping across the bush. The cattle can't be so very dangerous, and Snowflake is too fleet for them to overtake us. Besides, Jerry will be with me,' Bertha pleaded.

'Would it not be better to refer to your papa? He will not forbid your riding, if you can go safely, Miss Bertha. A wild bullock is a far more formidable beast than you appear to imagine,' said Mr. Sinclair, sorry to throw any obstacle in the way of her pleasure, yet fearful that harm might happen to her, should she go.

The matter was referred to Mr. Shelley; but as he had determined to spend the earlier portion of the day in searching for the missing cattle, he decided that Bertha might take her morning ride in safety.

Breakfast over, the squatter and his men mounted their horses, and, dispersing, rode away after the truants, each party taking the direction previously agreed upon. The extent of stations in the days we are writing about, was much less than now; and the number of cattle depastured was proportionately smaller; consequently the operations of mustering and branding were on a scale of less magnitude than at the present time. Parting from the other horsemen at the stockyard, Percy and the overseer rode leisurely along through the open bush, searching every gully and nook where the stray cattle could possibly be hidden, but to no purpose. After a couple of hours unsuccessful search Davy proposed that they should separate; one looking through the lower ends of the gullies along the brush, the other examining the upper portions on the slope of the range. Percy took the suggestion, and, leaving the overseer to scour the higher ground, rode along the low country by the brush. He had not proceeded more than a mile, after parting from the overseer, when he came upon the tracks that Davy had found the evening before, and forgotten again. Not being an adept in the bush art of 'running a track,' he dismounted, and putting his arm through the bridle-rein, slowly followed the trail on foot. There were hoof prints of several beasts; and Percy felt rather proud of the achievement of finding them. 'If I can only succeed in yarding the cattle alone, it will be quite an adventure,' he thought, as he plodded along the track. He was aware of the danger of attempting to drive the bull unaided, but was determined to hazard it for the excitement of the chase. It wanted but a week of the day upon which he was to leave Field Place, and enter the service of Mr. Meredith, the gentleman with whom Mr. Shelley had arranged for him to stay; and though the choice of leaving was entirely his own, though his honour forbade his remaining longer, the near approach of his separation from the beautiful cause of his unrest increased his discontent and made him desperate and miserable. To an experienced stockman the encounter he meditated, would have been as safe as most hazardous enterprises, where success owes as much to good fortune as skill. But to him, who knew so little of practical bushriding, it was madness to attack single-handed the bull, who had often defied half-a-dozen good horsemen, and had never been yarded without the assistance of dogs. But to Percy life had lost its value, and no thought of consequences crossed his mind, as he pressed on, eager for the fray.

The tracks crossed the high road, and passed down a long slope, and through a gap in the brush into the open plain beyond. As Percy entered the plain, he discovered the missing cattle grazing quietly upon the banks of the Broad Lagoon—the place to where, on a former occasion, the blacks had carried off some sheep. He turned to his horse and tightened his girths, then mounting, he unwound his heavy stockwhip, and, taking a firm seat in the saddle, rode slowly along the edge of the brush, for the purpose of preventing the cattle from escaping at the lower end of the lagoon. Cautiously as he rode, he failed to reach the opposite side of the brush, unobserved. The runaways heard the crackle of the dry twigs under the horse's hoofs, and stood with heads erect waiting for him—the bull to the front, as if determined to fight for his liberty. When Percy had approached within a hundred yards of the little herd, the bull stepped forward, lowered his head, and with a bellow of defiance, charged full at his daring antagonist. The practised stock-horse knew his work, and waited for no signal of the rein. With eyes and nostrils dilated, and flanks quivering with excitement, he stood his ground till the bull had all but reached him, when he suddenly swung himself aside, turning upon his hind legs, as upon a pivot. As the baffled beast dashed by, Percy dropped the heavy lash of his stockwhip upon its hide with the full force of his strength, and the weapon—a terrible one when wielded by a strong and steady arm—sank into its hide like moulten lead. With a bellow of rage and pain the bull turned again, and prepared to renew the conflict. The battle had now fairly begun!

While Mr. Shelley and his men were employed in searching for the missing cattle, Bertha, mounted upon her pony Snowflake, and accompanied by her faithful attendant Jerry, was riding slowly along the Maitland road, buried in deep thought. The weather was delightful, and her pony in excellent spirits; but neither the beauty of the wild scenery, the exhilarating influence of the bracing air, nor the mettle of her pony, could rouse her from her reverie. Snowflake seemed determined to break off into a gallop, but she checked his repeated attempts. 'No, no, Snowflake, I am thinking; and you must not disturb me!' she exclaimed, as the pony, impatient at the slow pace, tried to jerk the reins out of her hands. She was worrying her little head by striving to discover the motive of her preserver's unaccountable determination to leave Field Place. Little dreaming of the noble sacrifice he was making in his devoted solicitude for her happiness, she naturally concluded that it must have been caused by some misunderstanding—that he had been offended at something one of them had said or done, and, consequently, the wish to leave. As she strove to call to memory any cause she herself might have given, she felt hurt and annoyed that he would offer no opportunity for apology or explanation by telling them candidly what had occurred. Jerry watched her quiet movements and thoughtful features with concern. He had never before seen her in other mood than light-hearted mirth. Her ringing laughter was wont to startle the echoes as she rode merrily along, and her bright smile, as she chatted with Jerry, or sang some of her beautiful songs, always appeared to him too sweet and lovely to belong even to a "murry budgery white lubra." He was seriously of opinion that she was one of the angels he had heard Mrs. Shelley speaking of; and he was more than half inclined to believe that she had been stolen from the skies. Indeed, he accepted the bright colour of her eyes as a proof of relationship to the blue heavens above him.

'What for you murry coula [very angry] belongin to Jerry, Missie Berta?' he asked, after they had ridden a couple of miles in silence. 'Bale dat Jerry murry bad fellow, like it Myall.'

'Angry, Jerry? I'm not angry with you; so don't be silly enough to think so. But don't talk to me just now, there's a good fellow; I am busy thinking,' Bertha replied, and sank back again into her reverie.

Forbidden to speak, Jerry racked his brains to think of something else to rouse his young mistress. 'My word me get it! Missie Berta like it little 'possum!' he mentally exclaimed, as the brilliant idea struck him. He let his horse drop behind Bertha's pony, while he tried to solve the important problem. 'Where dat plenty 'possum get to now?' After a few minutes intense cogitation, Jerry touched his horse with the spur, in delight at having found a satisfactory solution of the question, and was by Bertha's side in a moment. 'Look here, Missie Berta, you like it little 'possum?' he exclaimed, forgetting in his anxiety to please her, that silence was the best way to do so.

'A little 'possum? yes Jerry,' she replied, dreamily, and without looking up.

'Dat plenty in wild apple tree scrub, along Broad Lagoon, Missie Berta; you come?' he asked.

'The Broad Lagoon? Where is that, Jerry? Away through the cedar brush, isn't it?' she replied.

'You know where all dat wild blackfeller man, jumbuc, dat long time ago?'

'Yes, Jerry, I remember. Well, lead on anywhere you like, only don't speak again; I am too busy thinking to care about talking,' Bertha said sadly.

'What good dat too much think?' Jerry asked philosophically, but receiving no reply.——Bertha had relapsed into her brown study, and was being rescued again from her terrible fall down the precipice—he pressed forward, and led the way towards the gap that opened through the brush to the plain of the Broad Lagoon.

Bertha's reverie was presently broken by an exclamation from Jerry, who was a little distance in front; and rousing herself, she found she was riding through the gap that she had passed with her father two years before, when going to meet her friend Edith Blair. Jerry was waiting for her at the further opening of the gap, shouting and gesticulating like a madman. Bertha loosened rein, and was up with him in a few seconds. The spectacle that met her gaze, blanched her cheeks with terror. The conflict between Percy and the white bull was raging fiercely. As the terrified girl caught the first glimpse of the struggle, the bull was in the act of charging. The hollow thud of the heavy lash, as it cut its way through the brute's bleeding hide, shewed that the horse had safely wheeled from the bull's path. Bertha understood at a glance the imminent danger of her preserver's position; and her blood ran cold as she saw the bull stop short in his headlong rush, and with head lowered and tail erect prepared to charge again upon his imperturbable antagonist, who, firmly seated in his saddle, and, with reins held short, calmly awaited the onset of the infuriated beast. With a bellow of baffled rage and defiance, the bull dashed again at the wary horse, as he stood watchful, waiting for the moment to wheel aside. The merciless lash again descended upon the quivering flanks of the bull, as he missed his aim through the dexterity of the old horse, who again foiled him by swerving aside; and loud the report of the stockwhip resounded through the encircling brush. As the bull sprang forward to the charge, Bertha slackened the rein she had tightened in her horror, on first encountering the terrible sight of the struggle, and, but that Jerry was quick enough to seize her bridle, she would have rushed to Percy's rescue, and the arms of certain death.

'No, no, Missie Berta! dat Misser Sinlar all right! Bale dat bull can catch him! Dat old Captain murry good stock horse. You stop here along a Jerry. Dat bull get him too much plenty stockwhip by-bye!' said Jerry, springing from his saddle, the more effectually to restrain his young mistress from riding nearer.

After vainly striving to free her rein from the black boy's determined hold, Bertha sat silent and motionless upon her pony, gazing with aching eyes upon the fearful scene, her very breath suspended in dread anticipation in view of his pressing peril, who had twice risked his life in rescuing her, and unable to do anything to save him! Percy was too intently engaged to observe that there were witnesses of the combat; and long and fiercely the struggle continued, the bull charging furiously upon him, and, before he could be well prepared, round and upon him again.

'Oh, Jerry, let me go; I will save him!' the excited girl exclaimed, desperately endeavouring to wrench her rein free.

'Bale dat no good, Missie Berta! Bale Jerry let him you go, Dat wildfeller bull soon kill him you!' replied Jerry, as he took another turn of the reins round his wrist.

'Then go you, Jerry! Surely you can do something to save him!' she pleaded with tears in her eyes. But Jerry shook his head doggedly, and refused. 'Bale me no got it stockwhip,' he replied. 'Misser Sinlar can beat him fight by-by!'

Jerry's estimate of Percy's power was overrated; and the horse too was beginning to show signs of distress. It was in a perfect lather of sweat. The poor beast had done a severe day's work the day before, and was, consequently, far from equal to the prolonged strife. It was beginning to tremble under its rider, and had narrowly escaped the horns of the bull during the last two or three charges. Percy's arm, too, was losing its steadiness; and as his blows fell lighter upon the bleeding hide of the bull, the latter seemed to acquire fresh courage and endurance. The contest had been a fierce and savage one, but it was speedily drawing to a close. As the bull lowered his fatal head, and rushed forward on his last charge, the horse stumbled, and before he could recover his feet, the brute was upon him; and man, horse, and bull fell together in one confused heap.

As the horse went down, Percy was thrown to a short distance, where he lay bruised and partially stunned by a blow he received from the stump of a burnt tree. Before the bull could rise again, the horse was up, and making a feeble attempt to escape; but it had been so shaken by the fall, that it could with difficulty limp along at a trot. In a second or two its relentless foe had scrambled to its feet. Missing sight of its human assailant, the bull gave chase to the retreating horse, which, spurred by terror, strove desperately to avert its doom by escaping to the cover of the brush; but the injuries it had received were too great to allow it any chance against its determined pursuer. It was quickly overtaken, and in a few minutes lay at the feet of its destroyer, a mangled and bleeding corpse.

As Percy and his horse fell together before the terrible onset of the bull, Jerry, in his horror, relaxed his grasp of Bertha's rein; and without a word—without pausing a second, even to weigh the danger of the act—she urged her frightened and restive pony to the rescue. Well for her the gallant old stock-horse had had strength left to stagger away to a little distance, or her fate had been sealed. As she reached Percy's side, the maddened bovine was in the act of goring the horse to death.

'Quick! Jump up behind me!' she exclaimed, as she reined her pony in by Percy's side.

With a great effort he rose to his feet, and gazed slowly around, as though waking from a dream.

'Quick, Mr. Sinclair! For heaven's sake, be quick, and jump up behind me! If that dreadful bull looks this way, we are both lost!' she cried wildly in her terror and excitement.

'Murry make haste, Misser Sinlar! Bale you be big fool! You murry make haste, and jump up along Misser Berta!' cried Jerry, who had run after his young mistress, without waiting to catch his horse.

The familiar voices completely roused Percy from the drowsing influence of the blow he had received from the stump; and glancing from the impatient, imploring eyes of the young girl, to the scene of the stockhorse's death he comprehended their terrible situation in a moment.

'Gallop away to the protection of the brush yonder, Miss Bertha!' he urged. 'Jerry and I can escape on foot, or catch the other horse. Quick, or it will be too late!'

'Spring up behind me!' she exclaimed in an agony of fear—more on her preserver's account than her own—'We will escape together.'

'I cannot!' he replied, firmly. 'To do so would only sacrifice you; for the pony could not carry us both. My life is not worth a thought! Go at once, I implore you! For your parent's sake, escape immediately.'

'Mr. Sinclair, get up behind me at once, and let us escape together, or I will leap from my saddle and let the pony go; and then we will die together!' she said, hurriedly, but in a tone of calm determination that there was no mistaking. 'You saved me twice. It is my turn to rescue you now!' she continued, with a faint blush tinging her pale features. 'Quick, or I jump down at once!'

Seeing it useless to contest the point further, Percy attempted to mount to the back of the saddle, but he was unable to do so, and a groan escaped his lips, as the exertion gave him an acute twinge. He had been severely injured by the force of the fall. He felt a keen pain in his chest and side, which caused him intense agony when he moved. 'It is useless; I cannot mount, even if I would! Fly! In a moment it may be too late! The bull will turn upon us directly!' he exclaimed, earnestly.

Before Bertha could reply, Jerry cried, 'You get along top of dis stump, Misser Sinlar! Murry make haste!'

'At once, or I dismount!' Bertha said determinedly.

By Jerry's assistance Percy contrived to clamber to the top of the burnt stump. The moments were precious; but Snowflake was restive and frightened, and could not be coaxed to sidle up to it, for Percy to mount him. With a muttered 'Dam dat murry big fool Snowflake!' which was, perhaps, excusable under the circumstances, Jerry shoved the pony up to the stump by sheer strength, and held him there till Percy had mounted safely. The exertion nearly caused Percy to faint with pain; and the cold perspiration stood upon his clammy brow in beads. Bertha, fortunately, held the rein short up; and, before Percy was well seated, the pony, terrified at the unusual double burden, broke from Jerry's grasp, and dashed away at a gallop. Bertha was a splendid horse-woman, and kept her saddle well, but the pony was too excited for her to have any control over him. He galloped right past the bull, who was intently engaged upon its sanguinary work of goring its victim, and made for the opposite, or river side of the brush. Every bound of the pony pierced Percy with excruciating twinges; but he tightly set his teeth, and submitted to the agony.

As Snowflake galloped off with its double burden, Jerry turned to his own horse, and found him grazing composedly a few yards away. He caught him and had just mounted, when he observed the bull look up, and, noticing the flying pony, turn and give chase. Snowflake had fully two hundred yards start of the bull, but, being so heavily loaded, it was not possible for him to hold out in a long race. Jerry's first and natural impulse was to increase the distance between himself and the formidable enemy by riding off in an opposite direction; but his fidelity to 'Missie Berta' prevailed over all selfish considerations, and, determined to protect her, he turned his horse towards the unequal race, and drove his spurs into its flanks. The horse, who looked upon cattle as its natural object of pursuit, needed no other inducement, but pressing forward at its utmost speed, strained every nerve to overtake the bull. For a few minutes they were racing along over the plain in line, Snowflake to the front, hotly pursued by the bull, who was decreasing the distance between it them at every bound; and behind, Jerry's horse, that was visibly gaining upon the bull. Bertha glanced over her shoulder every few seconds, and saw, with sinking heart, the bull gaining upon them. As she beheld the chance of escape for both diminishing so rapidly, she determined that, if their pursuer should overtake them before they reached the brush, she would leap from the saddle, so that the pony, with the lessened weight, might be able to carry Percy off in safety. The same self-denying thought was occupying the minds of both. They had still nearly three hundred yards to go to reach the protection of the brush, and the bull had shortened the distance between them to a tenth of that space, when both of Snowflake's riders prepared to fling themselves from his back—each with the noble object of sacrificing their life to save the other—when Jerry's horse overtook the bull and drew up alongside of it; and the daring blackboy performed a feat which, for cool courage and skill, has few equals. Drawing out of a rough 'possum-skin sheath a keen, sailor's knife—one that Percy had given him a few days before—he let go the reins, and freed his feet from the stirrups. Then, seizing the bull firmly by the tail and swinging himself to the ground, he drew the edge of the knife across one of the brute's hamstrings, just above the hocks, and disabled it; and with a bellow of baffled rage, the bull fell to the ground. Before it could rise, the blackboy's knife had pierced its tough hide and entered the heart; and with a groan, the discomfited bull rolled over dead at the feet of its subduer.


CHAPTER XXI.


High heaven, I pray thee this delicious calm
May last till death, and that the healing balm
Of peace so soothing and profound, that now,
Like Zephyr's wing, doth fan my fever'd brow—
A calm of trusting hope, that my wrung heart
Doth sweetly solace, and allay the smart
Of my bruised spirit—may dispelled be never;
But wrap my soul in dreamy Joy for ever!—
Anon.

The room was darkened; and with noiseless tread, and words spoken in subdued whispers, Mrs. Shelley and the doctor moved about. It was two days after the terrible adventure at the Broad Lagoon, and Dr. Simpson, from Newcastle, had just a few minutes before arrived. He was the only medical man available, as the surgeon in Maitland had been called away up the Patterson River, to attend the wife of a squatter there. Dr. Simpson's delay in reaching Field Place was due to an accident in the A. A. Company's coal-mine, which had maimed two men the previous day, and kept him in attendance upon the spot. Mr. Shelley had gone down to the huts to give some orders to the overseer, and Bertha was snatching a few minutes rest from the almost incessant watch she had kept by her preserver's bedside.

'What do you think, Doctor? Is he seriously injured?' Mrs. Shelley enquired in a low voice, as Dr. Simpson turned from the bed.

'When do you say the accident happened?' he asked thoughtfully.

'The morning before last.'

'How long has he been delirious?'

'He got very feverish within a few hours of the accident, and has been getting worse ever since,' she replied, 'and yesterday afternoon he was quite light-headed. Do you think there are any bones broken?'

'Two of his ribs are broken; but I fear the most serious injuries are internal,' Dr. Simpson replied, as he laid his case of surgical instruments upon the table. 'I must bleed him to allay the inflammation. Where is Shelley?'

'Gone down to the huts. He will be back in a few minutes. I sent Jerry to call him just now. Do you think there is any danger of his injuries proving fatal?' she asked anxiously.

'I cannot say with certainty, madam, but I think not. If I am not deceived, careful nursing will bring him round in time. It will be a long time, though, I fear.'

'If he can be saved by care, there is no danger; for he shall have every care taken of him here!' she replied earnestly. 'We owe too much to him to allow him to suffer through neglect.'

'I heard of his reckless daring in leaping down a cataract to rescue Miss Shelley, when the bushrangers were here the other week. He is a brave man certainly, and deserves a better fate, than to be killed by a treacherous bull,' said Dr. Simpson.

'Indeed he does!' exclaimed Mrs. Shelley fervently. 'There are few who would have encountered what appeared to be almost certain death, and for those who have no claim upon him.'

'I often say that masters cannot treat their Government men too well, and here is a proof of my words—if this poor fellow had not been animated by gratitude for past acts of kindness, he would never have risked his life for you or yours; for convicts, as a rule, have no love for their taskmasters. And, you may depend upon it, madam, that gratitude alone was the motive that led him to take that perilous leap,' said the doctor, as confidently as though he had minutely analysed the heart of the subject of their whispered conversation.

'Shall you require warm water or anything else, that I can get for you? I see Mr. Shelley crossing the yard,' said Mrs. Shelley.

'No; I don't think so, madam. Ah, yes! perhaps it would be as well to have a basin of warm water handy,' Dr. Simpson replied; and she hurried off for it.

As Mrs. Shelley and the doctor were canvassing Percy's chance of recovery, he was lying upon his bed totally unconscious of their presence. He was delirious, and kept talking incoherently, in a low and scarcely audible voice, mixing the past and present in a very confused manner. One moment he was rescuing Ada Darrell from the folds of a boa constrictor, the next standing upon the deck of the Southern Cross, as the transport was foundering, and clasping Bertha to his heart, not to be separated, even in death.

Had Mrs. Shelley any suspicion of his sentiments, she could easily have confirmed them by listening to the pathos of tenderness, with which he uttered Bertha's name, and the ardent terms of endearment with which he addressed her in these imaginary scenes. But she had none; and catching only an occasional word of his rambling speeches, she did not learn the important secret they bore.

But Bertha's ready ears had caught every word he had uttered, while she was watching; and, though only attributing them to the unsettled state of his brain, and taking them as no index of his true feelings, she experienced a strange sensation of pleasure at hearing herself addressed in terms of such passionate devotion. His words struck no answering chord of love in her own breast. She was a stranger to that self-sacrificing passion, which draws all thought into its exhausting vortex. Her only sentiments towards Percy were gratitude, for having saved her life at the risk of his own, and admiration of his reckless courage—two sentiments that in the heart of women closely border on love—yet a new sensation of joy stole into her gentle heart, as she noted the reverent tenderness with which he breathed her name, and listened to his vows of undying devotion.

Mrs. Shelley soon returned with the warm water, and then went out to hurry her husband. In a few minutes Mr. Shelley entered the room. As he passed the door, Dr. Simpson motioned him to speak softly. 'I am glad you have come,' he said. 'He needs bleeding as quickly as possible. His principal injuries are internal; and I am afraid inflammation has set in.'

'No bones broke, I hope?' Mr. Shelley enquired.

'I'll tell you better in a few minutes: I think two ribs are broken,' the doctor replied, as he turned to examine the sufferer. 'He has a slight scalp wound, I see,' he continued, noticing an abrasion upon the head, 'but it is nothing.'

The doctor examined him thoroughly, and then took out his lancet.

'Well! what is your opinion?' Mr. Shelley whispered, impatiently.

'His ribs are not broken, but they are fearfully bruised; and, as I said before, his most serious injuries are internal.'

'Is he in danger?'

'It is impossible to say for a few days, till I can learn the actual extent of his injuries; but I think there is hope.'

Percy was bled, and after administering a restorative, and leaving some medicine, Dr. Simpson held out his hand, saying, 'I must away now, Shelley, for I've a couple of awkward cases in town.'

'You are not off directly, doctor! I told Mrs. Shelley to have a room ready for you, so that you could stay a few days,' returned Mr. Shelley, in surprise. 'I shouldn't like you to go before he shows some signs of improvement.'

'I can be of no use to him for a day or two, till I have time to judge the result of this operation; and, I am urgently required in Newcastle. A couple of men were partially crushed by a fall of coal yesterday morning; and the other medical man is away in Sydney. You have nothing to do but dress his side every morning, and give him a tablespoon full of this mixture every six hours.'

'In water?'

'No, just as it is! I will rest my horse by staying to dinner. By-the-by, you may give him a feed of corn!'

'Jerry has already attended to him, doctor. We may as well go into the dining-room and take a glass of spirits. Dinner will not be ready for an hour yet,' said Mr. Shelley, opening the door.

'It you have coffee handy, I'll feel obliged to you for a cup; but I never touch spirits, unless in extreme cases,' said the doctor, as they passed out. 'I am sorry to say there are too many of my profession who trifle with their own health by tampering with and swallowing what they know to be one of the subtlest and most certain poisons,' replied Dr. Simpson, with energy.

'You do not believe in the use of spirits then,' asked Mr. Shelley, with surprise.

'If you mean as a beverage or stimulant, I answer most emphatically "No!"'

'I have seen times when it has saved life,' said Mr. Shelley. 'I believe it was the hot spirit and water, that I gave my wife and child when they were cold and wet on the night of our bushranging adventure, that saved them.'

'Very likely it was, my friend! There is nothing on earth but what has its use, if restricted to the proper time and place. I saved a patient's life the other day by a judicious dose of prussic acid; but you would hardly advance that, as an argument, for the indiscriminate use of that deadly drug!' said the doctor.

'Ah, well, I can't see any harm in a glass occasionally, doctor. But come in, and the coffee shall be served in a trice.'

They entered the dining-room, and had a chat over the prospects of the colony and other topics of common interest while waiting for the coffee. As the doctor was sipping a cup of the fragrant beverage, and expatiating upon his favourite doctrine of total abstinence, Mr. Shelley suddenly recollected old Hal.

'O, I say, doctor, there's another of your patients, whom we had both forgotten!—You haven't been in to see how the hutkeeper is progressing,' exclaimed he, rising.

'I haven't forgotten him though, my dear fellow,' the doctor replied warmly, hurt at being suspected of forgetting a case. 'Mrs. S. told me when I came in, he was doing very well. I intended seeing him before I started back; but if you like we will go to his room at once.'

'Perhaps it may be as well, while we are waiting for dinner,' replied Mr. Shelley, taking up his hat from the table. They repaired to Hal.'s room, and after dressing his wounds, the doctor pronounced the old man out of danger, and promised that he should be able to leave his bed in a fortnight. 'It is a miracle, Hal., that you have survived this thrust in the side, for it was an ugly and dangerous stab,' said the doctor, as he adjusted the bandage over the wound. 'I have never seen a narrower escape.'

'I remember seein' a closer shave, doctor,' Hal. declared with an air of great simplicity. 'There was a sergeant in my company that was always pokin' about where he hadn't no business. He used to usually get me to go with him, when we could get away from the camp without bein' catched, and many's the Spaniard's garden we've robbed together. In one o' our undertaking, Dick introduced himself to a lone widow, whose husband had been shot by the French a few months before. I don't know how they used to do the courtin,' 'cause they couldn't, neither o' them, understand one another. Howsomever, one night, when Dick was goin' to see his hamoratas, he takes me with him, and away we starts just as the old convent clock, over the river, was strikin' twelve. The night was as dark as a nigger, and by some blunder we lost our way. In about half an hour, Dick calls softly to me; 'Hal.,' says he, 'Here's the little darlin's crib; I can see the candle burnin' in her window.' I knowed very well it wasn't the place we was lookin' for, and I told him so; but he was pig-headed, and would know best; so says I, 'All right Dick, old man, go if you've a mind to, only don't blame me if you get your fingers burnt.' Dick only laughed, and scrambled over the garden fence. O' course, I couldn't see Dick rushin' into the lion's jaws without goin' too—specially when he was blinded by fallin' a prey to the tender passion. Dick was over the fence and out o' sight in the dark, before I had made up my mind to follow, and by the time I reached the door o' the cottage, Dick had lifted the latch and walked in. I had just laid my hand on the door to follow Dick, when there was the greatest screechin' and swearin' inside you ever heerd in your life. I couldn't understand a word o' it, as I didn't know Spanish; but fearin' there might be foul play goin' on, I dashed the door open and rushed in. I nearly bust my sides a laughin', as I caught sight o' the fun. There was Dick with his left arm round a lady, who was strugglin' with all her might to get away, and with his right he was fightin' a hungry-lookin' don. Dick had his bagonet; and, if he hadn't been hampered with the lady, would soon have passed the Spaniard's sword, and struck the bagonet between his ribs. I saw Dick's mistake in a minute. He was mad with jealousy, or whatever you call it, and thought the Spaniard had gone courtin' his sweetheart, when all the while it was Dick himself, who was takin' the don's wife by force. I couldn't do anything but hold my sides and laugh, for it looked so comical. But all in a moment I sees the Spaniard's eyes glitter like devils, and springin' forward he lunged his long sword right at Dick's chest, and before Dick could parry it, the blade entered his body with such force, that it passed right through, and the point, striking against the wall doubled round, and entered the back close to where it had come through, and then came out again in front, and cut one of the Spaniard's fingers.'

'Come! Come, Hal. Be a little reasonable!' said his master, laughing. 'You surely don't expect us to swallow this!'

'Its all true, sir, every word o' it! you may pound your life on it!' asseverated Hal., and then continued, 'Dick fell back with the sword bent double, and sticking through him two ways; and the lady ran screaming away to the village close by. You may guess, the Spaniard didn't live to see daylight again. I just drove my bayonet clean through him, and four inches into a oak post behind; and there I left him, howlin' for all the saints in the cullender. I had only just time to snatch up poor Dick, and slip out into the garden, when I heerd a swarm o' jabberin' Spaniards comin' up the road. I got safe back to camp, and carried poor Dick to the hospital. It was a week before the doctors extracted the sword out o' his body. They had meetin's after meetin's to find out how to get the sword out; and I don't believe they'd have done so to this day, only I gave 'em a hint!'

'Indeed!' cried Doctor Simpson, eagerly, his curiosity thoroughly aroused. 'How was it removed? It seems to me impossible!'

'Why, you see, doctor, I carried him down to the forge, and held him over the anvil while the blacksmith cut the sword right in, the double; and then the doctors had no trouble in pullin' the pieces out separate!'

Mr. Shelley could not restrain his merriment, but burst forth in a hearty laugh. Dr. Simpson was forced to join, though he was far from certain that there might not be some truth in Hal.'s improbable tale.

'Come along, doctor, or old Iperbly will let loose another of his adventures. He is the most inveterate hand at a yarn I ever met with. Good bye, Hal., I'll call in and see you again by and bye,' he said, kindly, turning to the old man.

'Astonishing man!' exclaimed Dr. Simpson as they sat down to dinner. 'I can scarcely believe his story, it seems so improbable; and yet there is an unmistakable air of truth about him.'

The idea of there being an unmistakable air of truth about old Iperbly, proved too much for Mr. Shelley's gravity; and he fairly roared again. Mrs. Shelley, too, could not refrain from joining in the laugh. 'My dear doctor,' she pleaded, afraid that their hilarity might have offended him, 'pray, forgive our rudeness in laughing. Old Hal.'s impossible adventures are so notorious, that no one ever thinks of believing a word he says.'

'What, madam, does he stoop to the mean practice of lying?' asked the doctor, incredulously.

'Not in the ordinary affairs of life, doctor! In matters of importance he is truth itself; but when he delivers himself up to the whims of imagination he tells some of the most atrocious lies,' replied Mr. Shelley, in explanation.

'I dare say that, when he is relating his marvellous adventures, he fancies they really did occur!' said Mrs. Shelley in palliation of Hal.'s want of veracity. 'When people indulge in such exaggeration and invention, they, often lose themselves in the maze of their fancy.'

Dinner over, Dr. Simpson started on his return to Newcastle. He was so anxious about the injured miners, that he resisted all attempts of Mr. Shelley to prevail upon him to stay till the morrow. But he promised to visit Field Place in the course of a couple of days to see his patient again.

Bertha slept till late in the afternoon, when she rose, and learning the doctor's opinion of Percy from her mother, she went out for a ramble by the river side. She paused, as she passed the log, where two or three years before Percy had saved her from the fangs of the snake at the expense of his mutilated hand, and seated herself upon it. The event, which memory pictured so vividly, gave birth to a train of thought connected with the last few months of her life; and, as usual, Percy's unaccountable determination to leave her father's service formed the chief part of her reverie. She was puzzling herself with the difficult problem, and repeating the terms of tender endearment, which in his delirious unconsciousness Percy had applied to her, when she observed a sheet of note paper, neatly folded, and lying on the grass at her feet. She mechanically picked it up, and without any definite motive opened it. Seeing that it was in her preserver's handwriting she examined it closer, and discovered that it was some verses written in pencil. Her curiosity being awakened, and feeling that there could be no great breach of honor in perusing poetry, which she supposed he had copied from a book, she read them through. The lines were as follows, and addressed:


To B———.

'Tis not thy lovely azure eyes—
Tho' in those orbs rare beauty lies—
Nor thy red lips, whose hue outvies
That blushing gem—
The jealous ruby—whose rich dyes
Would rival them!—

Nor is't thy wealth of nut-brown hair,
Nor pearly teeth—so-passing fair—
Nor thy dear mouth, that aye doth wear
Bright, sunny smiles!
No! 'Tis a treasure yet more rare
That me beguiles.

A gem more rich than beauteous face,
More priceless than bewitching grace!—
'Tis the rare virtues, that have place
In thy dear breast,
That win my heart, and make me trace
These rhymes love drest!

The virtues of thy heart and mind—
So sweet, endearing, and refin'd—
Have with thy loveliness combined
My heart to move;
And, vanquished by them, I've resign'd
That heart to love!

I love thee, Peerless, ah! as true
As poet can! Then, darling, do
Requite that love by loving too!
I ask but this:—
Thy love to light life's journey through
With changeless bliss!

* * * * * * *

Ah, why, oh memory, taunt me thus
As hopeless, and beneath a curse
More bitter than is death, and worse
Than dull despair?
Oh, that the grim, death-driven hearse
Would end my care!

I love, but dare not woo! And dark
As is a soul without one spark
Of cheering hope to light its bark
On life's rough wave,
I bear my curse—the felon's mark—
Unto the grave!

Bertha read the verses over several times and was much affected by the last two stanzas. The utter hopelessness and despair portrayed in them touched her gentle, sympathising heart, and melted her to tears. Who the lady was he 'loved, but dare not woo,' she did not pause to speculate, but ingenuously concluded she was some fair English maiden, whom he had loved, perhaps, from boyhood. 'Poor Mr. Sinclair! I wish I could efface the 'felon's mark' from his name, and aid him to win the lady he loves!' she soliloquised, as she tenderly folded the paper up, and placed it in her pocket. 'I wish it was in my power to make him happy; I would do so, if I could, at any sacrifice. How proud must the lady be, who could win the heart of such a good and noble man!'


CHAPTER XXII.


I pant for the music which is divine;
My heart in its thirst is a dying flower.
Pour forth the sound like enchanted wine;
Loosen the notes in a silver shower.
Like a herbless plain for the gentle rain,
I gasp, I faint, till they wake again!

Let me drink of the spirit of that sweet sound.
More, oh more!—I am thirsting yet!
It loosens the serpent which care has bound
Upon my heart to stifle it!
The dissolving strain through every vein,
Passes into my heart and brain!

—PERCY SHELLEY.

Four months tale of the sands of time had trickled through the frail measure of their lives, and Percy was reclining upon a couch in the dining-room, listening in rapture to the 'silver shower' of melody proceeding from the parlor, where Bertha was pensively 'thinking in music.' The enchanting strains rose and fell like the swell of a mystic sea, and his soul was bathed in a flood of liquid sound. Percy had often heard her play set pieces, and had admired her brilliant execution, and the ease, with which she rendered the difficult passages of even the most eccentric and dreamy of the great composers; but, restrained by the shy reserve of her sensitive nature, the gifted girl had never before allowed him an opportunity of hearing her rare improvisatory powers. Like the warbling queen of night, the melancholy nightingale, she could only pour forth her soul in music, when communing with herself in solitude; and had she known a listener was drinking with greedy ears her dulcet strains, she would have fled from the piano in dismay. Percy lay for an hour entranced, lost in a maze of delighted surprise. She was evidently in a subdued and pensive mood, and the low, sweet strains, so suggestive of a calm, twilight scene, with the dusk of night thickening around, when


So still is all that you
May hear the evening dew
Fall on the flowers
In pearly showers,

thrilled his soul with every pleasing emotion. A sweet melancholy enwrapt the fair player; and from her inspired fingers flowed a wavy stream of music sorrowful, tender, pensive, as if she were indulging in 'the luxury of woe.'

And her music was a fair reflex of her mood. She had been reading the verses she had picked up by the river, and the mournful lines,


I bear my curse—the felon's mark—
Unto my grave!

had set her musing, and tinged her sombre thought with sympathizing melancholy. She now realised painfully the terrible position of one, an exile for ever from his home and friends; and the confidence that he was unjustly so, made her gentle heart yearn the more tenderly to soothe his sorrow. She pictured to herself the home he had lost, and the maiden he 'loved, but dared not woo.' 'I wish it had been Marion Macaulay!' she thought earnestly, as her fingers drew a low, plaintive strain from the keys; 'he might have been so happy, and the "felon's mark" would have been no obstacle to their union, for she bears it, as well as he!'

Presently she remembered that her doves had not been fed; and rising from the piano, she closed it, and left the parlor. She was passing through the dining-room, on her way to the dove-cot, when Percy startled her by exclaiming, in a tone of unfeigned admiration, 'You have given me a great treat, Miss Bertha! I had no idea you had such wonderful powers!'

'What? Did you hear me?' she asked, with a frightened look, 'I was only amusing myself—in fact, I was thinking, and was hardly aware that I had been playing at all, until I left off!'

'Your thoughts must have been sweet indeed, if your music was an echo of them!' Percy exclaimed warmly.

'They were sorrowful rather than sweet, Mr. Sinclair; I was thinking of you,' she replied, softly.

'Indeed!' he exclaimed, a warm flush mounting to his temples. It was sweet to form the subject of her thoughts, and Hope, never wholly dead in the heart of the most abject, suggested a tender motive for her meditations.

'I was thinking of these mournful lines of yours—


"I love, but dare not woo! And dark
As is a soul without one spark
Of cheering hope to light its bark
O'er life's rough wave,
I bear my curse—the felon's mark—
Unto my grave!'

With a glance of dismay, Percy exclaimed, 'Surely you did not find those rhymes! I lost them months ago; and, as I could not find them again, I hoped they were destroyed or obliterated by the weather.'

'I found them down by the river, a few days after our escape from the Broad Lagoon,' she replied, handing him the paper. 'I think them very pretty, especially the last two verses.'

Percy glanced at his writing, and then folded the paper up and put it into his pocket, saying, 'I ought to have put them into the fire when I wrote them; or, better, never have written them at all.'

'Give them back to me, Mr. Sinclair! I should be sorry to part with them now!' she said, eagerly.

He returned them to her in silence, grieved that she had found them, and fearful that she should divine who was addressed, or ask him to tell her.

As if reading his thoughts, she enquired, abruptly, after a few seconds embarrassing pause, 'I should so much like to know who the lady is your lines are addressed to? B.! One of my initials! Is she a namesake of mine?'

He saw from her artless manner, that she had not guessed his secret; and, smiling faintly, he replied, 'Yes, Miss Bertha, the lady is your namesake.'

'Will you tell, me all about her, Mr. Sinclair?—I would so much like to hear! She must be very good and beautiful too, for you to love her so much!' Bertha said with enthusiasm, as she took a vacant chair near the couch.

'And she is very good and very beautiful too!' he replied; 'but I cannot tell you anything about her now, Miss Bertha. Perhaps I may some day.'

'Well, as I have discovered the secret of your writing poetry, will you show me some?'

'Yes, Miss Bertha; but I would prefer reading to you from the works of some recognized poet.'

'You must read some of your own to me, to atone for my disappointment in your refusal to tell me anything about the lady you addressed those verses to!' she replied smiling.

'I have a piece here, Miss Bertha, that I have just finished; but it lacks the only redeeming quality of the piece you found.'

'What is that?' she enquired, glancing up wonderingly.

'Brevity!' he replied, taking some sheets of paper from his breast pocket. 'These verses form the prelude to a poem, I intend writing some day. The scene lies in the bush near Sydney, and the writer is supposed to be teacher of the village school, who, fagged and weary with the labors of the day, takes a walk into the bush to read and meditate. You must tell me at once when you tire.'

'You may be sure of that, Mr. Sinclair! I am not used to being a martyr to cold politeness,' she replied, laughing. 'Commence at once; or I shall tire before you begin.'

Percy unrolled his M.S. and read in a clear and flexible voice—


FRANCES.

[A pastoral poem—prelude to "Circassia."]

One summer's eve, my daily labor done,
My little flock of laughing pupils all
To their far homes dispersing, and the sun
In the red west suspended like a ball
Of liquid, golden flame—his course high run—
I to the stilly woods, where echoes call
To the shy bellbird's silvery tinkle, went
Musing in gloomy mood of sullen discontent.

And to a sweet, sequester'd vale I came,
Where flows a crystal brook. The wanton flowers
(Those children of the wild, who aye did claim
A place by river's bank and sunny bowers)
Press'd to its very brim, as tho' their aim
Was in its depths to scan their tinted dowers.
To other eyes than mine the lovely scene
Was but the bush—to me a paradise terrene!

Beneath a gumtree's scanty shade I threw
My weary self, and gazed with growing joy
On nature's soften'd charms, that did endue
My soul with peace, which soon without alloy
Into a sweet and pensive sadness grew;
And then the time I idly did employ
In quaffing deep of Wordsworth's soothing balm,
That to my settled peace did add a supercalm.

With strange delights the homely tales I read
(So simply sweet in their pure Saxon dress)
Of gentle Lucy's death, and how she led
Her wand'ring parents forth in sad distress,
And of the hapless maiden, who did wed
One of "impetuous blood"—and wretchedness.
But 'twas his touching story of the "child,
Of beauty rare," that me with pleasure most beguiled

Fast fell the shades of evening round me, still
Unconscious of the thick'ning gloom I lay
Musing upon the pleasing picture, till
Night's pall was thrown upon the form of day.
An ecstacy then seized me, that did fill
My mind with clearer light, yet stole away
All memory of the Past. It was, perchance,
A waking dream I had—a bright and glorious trance.

A light, resplendent as a summer morn,
Yet, as serenest moonbeams' silvery glow,
Subdued and chill, did on the landscape dawn,
Investing all the varied scene below
With mystic beauty, as is never worn
By sober nature, but when faries show
Their midnight pageant, and upon the green
Disport the hours away with Mab, the elfin queen.

In rapture on the dazzling scene I gazed;
Yet did I marvel not!—The lethean spell,
Had from my vacant mind the past erased.
That 'twas a prospect strange I could not tell,
Nor at its awful splendor feel amazed!
But with such joy I view'd each flowery dell
And woody height, as only they may feel
To whom the jealous Nine the Beautiful reveal.

Upon each tiny leaf and grassy blade
The falling dew in glist'ning pearl drops hung,
And flash'd, and sparkled, when the breezes sway'd
Each yielding stalklet, as if there were flung
Earthward a melting rainbow, that was made
Its rarest hues to lend. The while among
Those dewy gems there sprang such gorgeous flowers—
Too purely, fairly bright for this dull earth of ours!

Around I gazed! Around, on every side,
Above, below, turn where my rapt eyes might.
There were warm nature's charms intensified—
The else-time dull now wore a radiant light;
And e'en grey stones and rotting timber vied
With all by nature fair to please the sight.
There was not found in all the scene one spot
(So perfect was the change) where loveliness was not!

That which me most did please of all the scene
(Ah, long I gazed, and drank with greedy joy
Its calm, ethereal beauty, its serene
And silent grandeur), was that wondrous sky.
In far-famed Italy hath never been
At cloudless, summer noon, as tint so high
Of glowing sapphire, as above was shown—
Never till then nor since was sky so beauteous known.

And in that blue expanse, as in a sea,
The starry host like golden islets gleam'd,
Of wondrous size they shone and brilliancy;
And from the river's silvery breast there seemed
A myriad lights to burn in dancing glee.
All earthly sound was hush'd, as if I dream'd.
So mute was nature, that with ravish'd ears
Those heavenly strains I heard—the music of the spheres

Bath'd in a flood of splendor, steept in joy
(A joy of feeling, not of thought) I lay.
The lapse of time did work me no annoy:
Its wing upon the Present seem'd to stay.
No thought of Past nor Future did destroy
The glory of the Now! I could not say
If in that still repose of calm delight
A fleeting hour I lay, or half the ling'ring night!

Adown the vale at length my eyes I turn'd,
And there, approaching with her fleecy charge,
A young and lovely shepherdess discern'd.
She slowly came along the river's marge,
Close followed by her gentle flock, nor spurn'd
Their eager pressing, as they strove, with large
And wistful eyes upturned to her sweet face,
A kindly glance to win, or her soft hand's embrace.

I watched her, as she came, with such delight
As should a form of Beauty all inspire;
Nor marvell'd who she was, nor if she might
Be a stray member of Euterpe's choir.
Flora, Proserpine, or Dian, bright
From the dread world unseen, who wander'd nigher
To view the earth those heavenly beams reveal;
For, as I passive lay, I could not think, but feel.

She nigh had reach'd me, when she, pausing, stood
Some moments still, and gazed upon the stream,
Her woolly people round, "Sweet maidenhood,
The fairest vision of a summer's dream,
Oh, could I paint thee thus in pensive mood
Gazing upon the flood, with eyes that seem
Of angel birth—so fathomless and clear—
A feat I should achieve, that hath no earthly peer!

"But no! 'Tis vain! With my weak pen 'tis vain
Such wondrous loveliness as thine to hope
Upon my poem's fading page to chain!
With task so Titan-great I could not cope!
And yet thy dazzling charms I can again
At will recal!"—A crimson, silken rope
Close binds her filmy robe of silver beams;
And in her starbright hand a crook all golden gleams.

The amorous breezes her fairy locks caress,
And drooping boughs bend low her lips to meet;
The flowers, in haste to touch her trailing dress,
Their mirrow'd charms forget, and sweetly greet
Her with a sign of welcome, as they press,
In love's solicitude, around her feet;
For in that lovely face and pensive smile
No human vice there lurks, nor mortal's venour'd guile.

But for that bright transparency of skin,
Whose warmth betrays the mantling blood beneath,
And heaving breast, which tells of soul within,
And musing eyes, and half-disclosed teeth—
But for those signs unerring, that her kin
Was not with marble, but with forms that breathe,
I might have ta'en her for—so fair, so still—
That Venus statue rare—the sculptor's highest skill.

As he in whose high soul the genius lies
To snatch a fading landscape or a face
From changing nature, and in native guise
On canvas rude its charms secure to place,
So that its painted shadow yet defies
Time's with'ring hand to alter or erase—
As he in transport rapt would fixtly gaze
On Beauty's nonpareil, my eyes I could not raise,

But on her dazzling features bent them still,
Note-taking of their every witching charm
In speechless admiration lost, until
A lamb espied me, and in quick alarm
Its warning bleated loud. She turned. A thrill
Of liquid joy sped thro' me, as her calm,
Heaven-tinted eyes met mine. With joy's excess
trembled as the leaves, when zephyrs soft caress.

A moment's space she paused, then forward sprang
With outstretch'd arms of welcome, and a smile
Of joyous recognition; and her tongue,
In accents silvery sweet as Arion's viol
Cried: "Little thought I, Willie, here among
The moonlit woods, to meet thee, and beguile
An hour in tender converse!" As she spoke,
Came memory slowly back, as to one new awoke.

It was! it was! I knew her by the glances
Of yearning, quenchless love from speaking eyes,
And by that rippling voice, whose music dances
In liquid melody! O, Paradise!
It was! It was my hope, my darling Frances!
Into my arms she sprang in glad surprise;
But, horror!—As I caught her to my breast
In eager joy, 'twas but a shadow that I press'd!

I backward reel'd aghast in shrinking awe!
Her aspect immaterial did perplex
My doubting sense past telling!—There, before
Me stood the best and brightest of her sex
In lifeful semblance; yet I, trembling, saw
As thro' a form of mist, the bright reflex
Of all the scene beyond. My curdling blood
Froze in its icy fount, and stay'd its crimson flood.

At my dismay she smiled, and gently said—
"Nay, fear not, love! A disembodied soul
Hath neither will nor power to work thee dread.
And least of all has hers, whose earthly goal
Is in thy heart to live! Hast thou not read
How fair Ianthe at queen Mab's control
Rose from her slumb'ring body, which she left
Awhile without a soul, tho' not of life bereft?

"And upward borne by Mab's pellucid car
Thro' fields of azure light unto the verge
Of highest heaven, saw from thence afar
The distant earth, and heard the fairy urge
Some strange and startling truths (if truths they are)?
Like her did I at Mab's command emerge
From my still breathing form—tho' not like her
To list the teachings of that august sophister."

"What, what!" I cried, "Art thou then but the ghost
Of her I love far more than words can tell?
And is thy beauteous outline at the most,
To eyes so perfect, but a vision's spell?"
"I am thy Fannie's soul," she said, "and boast
No higher power; so do thy terror quell!
I am in truth no other than you see,—
The deathless part of her, whose love is dear to thee!"

I gazed with wonder on her loveliness,
As there she stood—a disembodied shade
Dress'd in ethereal beauty. You may guess
To see the stars shine thro' her me dismay'd!
But, tho' all unsubstantial, from fair tress
To fairer feet, her charms were all display'd
In richer, rarer, brighter traits of grace,
Than can in normal life be seen in form or face.

And I can now aver (all must admit
Me witness of the mystery) that when
From crumbling clay a spirit rises, it—
(As doth a diamond thro' the crusts, that pen
Its glories in, burst from its grave of grit
Aglare in living splendor) it doth then
In native form from its rent prison spring,
Intensified its charms past all imagining!

"And who are these thy flock? Are they, like thee.
But immaterial essences, or are
They sheep in verity?" My guards they be,
Each one a trusty fairy sent to bar
From me all hurtful things, that wander free
Thro' boundless space from floating star to star.
Bright Mab their queen draped them in this disguise,
And bade them guard me well with jealous, watchful eyes.

"And many a time do they at her behest,
When flings the moon a silvery radiance o'er
The sleeping woods, roam with me far in quest
Of Echo's lonely cell moss-grown and hoar.
O'er hill and dale our chequer'd way we've press'd
In eager, nightly search, yet fruitless; for
Our gaze it still escapes, tho' oft so near,
That her wild, joyous notes, do mock our list'ning ear.

"And when the Fairy Queen can leisure find
From regal cares herself awhile to rest,
In her swift car, whose coursers leave behind
The lagging lightning-flash, she takes me, drest
In garb invisible to mortals, blind
By earthly dross of clay, upon the crest
Of ocean's boundless waves to distant climes,
And to my gaze reveals all places and all times.

"Sometimes the earth she shews me ere the date
Of its ablution, sometimes takes me where
Met Jew and Gentile in unyielding hate.
With her I've hover'd where the angels bear
Their ransom'd charge thro' heaven's effulgent gate;
And where lost spirits sink in mute despair
To endless woe, we've stood—from ere the fall
Unto the consummation Mab has shewn me all!"

To hear her thus discourse—her whom I knew
A peasant girl (tho' in rare beauty deck'd,
A simple rustic still!)—did me indue
With speechless awe. She noted it, and check'd
Her tongue's swift melody, and gently drew
Her shadowy arm thro' mine, as to direct
My tottering steps (I saw, yet felt it not)
And slowly led the way down to a moss-grown plot.

There sate we down, hid by umbrageous gloom,
While bright around the magic splendor shone.
Fierce love and terror did my heart consume
In wild emotion; yet would I not own
My passion's strife, but murmur'd faint, "Resume
Thy tongue's melodious flow, that hath alone
Of earthly things the balmy power to soothe
My mind from troubled thought, or my rough fate to smoothe."

And leaning on my breast, her beauteous face
To mine upturned in love's sweet confidence,
She whispered soft—"What, can my accents chase
Dull care from thy dear brow, as can thy glance
Corroding trouble from my heart erase?
Then will I tell thee, love, where we did chance,
Friend Mab and I, last night to wander forth—
In her bright car of pearl we started for the North.

"Swift as a thought our eager coursers sped.
And, in ten seconds, reached the Caucasus.
The Fairy check'd their flight, where lifts its head
Pale Elburz' haughty mount, that seems to press
The clouds to its cold brow. The way she led
To a Circassian vale—a wilderness
Of lonely beauty—and her magic wand
Made scenes to pass my eyes, all other ken beyond.

"Ah, sad it makes me, love, to trace again
The anguish of the scenes I there beheld!
Oh, that a fading dream was all the pain
Of breaking hearts, and dying hero's quelled.
But by stern Death omnipotent!—the slain,
So numberless and noble, but compell'd
By a distemper'd vision! Vain the thought!
'Twas real as the woes by rash Ambition wrought!

"But lake this pen, and, as I tell thee, write—
A tale I will narrate shall make thee blush
To own thy country England! Her, whose bright
And glorious mission is to save, not crush—
Yea, her, the vaunt of freedom, I indict
That she stood by accessory, when the flush
Of sanguine war thro' fair Circassia spread,
And made its children slaves, or laid them with the dead!"

I took the pen she offer'd. 'Twas of gold
With point of crystal, and within a well
Of crimson ink I shudder'd to behold!—
"It was," she said, "the blood of one who fell
In guarding home and kindred!' Icy cold,
Yet curdled not, it seemed a witch's spell.
With trembling hands I seized it, and, as under,
Wrote from her paly lips this tale of grief and wonder!


'Is that all?' asked Bertha, in a disappointed tone, as Percy folded the papers and put them back into his pocket.

'Yes, Miss Bertha, I have not yet written the story these verses are to form the prelude to,' he replied.

'I hope you will do so soon then, for I am anxious to know what it is about. When will you begin it?'

'I cannot say, Miss Bertha. Perhaps never.'

'Ah, but you must! Did you name the shepherdess after a friend of yours? I wonder you did not call her 'Bertha,' after my namesake.'

'The lady is only an ideal, and named after no one that I know,' he replied shortly.

'What a strange fancy for the soul of the lady to walk about by moonlight, attended by a guard of fairies. Well, it is very pretty, although it is impossible to be true.'

'Divested of the jingle of rhyme, it would appear simply absurd, I expect, Miss Bertha. How long have you been in the habit of composing music as you play?'

'Only a few months. I always felt that I could, but I was afraid to try at first,' she replied. 'Have you been out for a ride this afternoon?' she enquired, noticing his paleness.

'No; I have felt a slight pain in my chest since dinner, and was afraid to go.'

'That terrible ride from the Broad Lagoon! Shall you ever forget it, Mr. Sinclair?' she exclaimed, as the mention of his pain reminded her of its cause. 'Wasn't it a wonder Snowflake brought us home safely, especially as I dropped the rein?'

'It was indeed, a miracle! And I can never forget that I owe my life to you,' he replied fervently.

'And Jerry! Don't forget him, Mr. Sinclair! He saved us both!' she said, as she recollected the blackboy's gallant conquest of the white bull.

'Jerry deserves our warmest gratitude; for he did what few, even good bushmen, could have done. But it was you, Miss Bertha, who saved my life; and I thank you as sincerely as if it was of value to me.'

'Did you not twice save mine, Mr. Sinclair? I would do anything to show you how deeply the recollection of those noble acts of yours have impressed me. Your happiness and comfort are of greater consideration to me than my own!'

'May I beg of you one thing?' he asked, in trembling accents; for her words were stirring hopes he had long endeavoured to crush. 'When I have left Field Place, you will sometimes think of me, not as I am, but as you might, perhaps, have done if the degrading brand of the felon had never been affixed to my name.'

'When you leave Field Place? Surely you do not still intend to go?' she asked eagerly.

'I must, Miss Bertha! There is a stern duty that commands me, and I dare not stay,' he replied bitterly. 'But when I am gone, try to forgive my seeming ingratitude in leaving your papa's service against his wish!'

'Tell me this envious duty, that would rob us of you, Mr. Sinclair! I have often tried to discover what it can be, that makes your absence from here so imperative; but I cannot, and I won't believe it is necessary unless you explain how!' she exclaimed impetuously.

Percy was but human. It was beyond the power of man to pass safely through such an ordeal. Again, as on a former occasion of similar temptation, he seized her hand. 'It is useless! I cannot keep my secret longer! Bertha! Ever since I have known you, I have madly——'

A step in the adjoining room recalled him to his senses; and, maddened by the humiliation of having again so far forgotten himself, he hastily left the room. Bertha stood for a few moments where she was, motionless as if changed to a statue. The warm blood suffused her face, as his meaning flashed suddenly upon her. He loved her! Now the cause of his determination to leave was plain enough! Now she understood the secret he had unconsciously betrayed to her, as he lay lost in the mazes of delirium! And with the knowledge of his love came the consciousness that she had deceived herself in her sentiments towards him. What she had regarded as friendship only, she now discovered to be a deeper and tenderer emotion. Born of gratitude for past services, and admiration for his noble and reckless courage, it had, unknown to herself, ripened into a love. And now that she had learnt the state of her own heart, and had discovered that their love was mutual; now that a vista had opened to a bright and happy future, he was going away! No thought crossed her mind of the inequality of their positions. He loved her, and was going to leave! Cause enough in that for the bitter, scalding tears that fell in a pearly shower upon the paper, which lay upon the table before her. 'He shall not go!' she said passionately, as she turned towards her own room. 'He shall not go! If he is consigned to another master, he may be treated brutally; and be shall not go! My heart would break, if he goes away!'

She passed on to her own room, and sinking upon a low stool by the window, sat for hours musing mournfully upon the discovery Percy's interrupted declaration had forced upon her.

'Just what I have feared for months past!' said Mrs. Shelley, entering from an adjoining room, as Bertha left it. 'Ah, what is this?' She picked up the paper Bertha had dropped upon the table, and forgotten. It was the lines Bertha had found at the river. Mrs. Shelley noticed with agitation that the verses were addressed, "To B—." Pale with annoyance and sorrow, she went out to seek her husband, to impart the unwelcome intelligence, that their child was loved by a convict servant—a noble-hearted gentleman she knew from so long association with him, but a convict servant still. She found Mr. Shelley in the garden superintending the mending of a broken panel of fencing. He saw from the agitated manner of his wife, that something was amiss, and be left his work and hurried to her side. 'What is the matter, Grace?' he asked, anxiously. 'You seem ill!'

They were standing close by the summer house, and hidden by it from the observation of the fencer.

'I am well enough, Walter! But Bertha——'

'What of her?' he exclaimed in terror, fearful from his wife's manner that some terrible calamity had fallen upon his darling.

'Mr. Sinclair loves her! I accidentally overheard him telling her so!' she replied, weeping.

'Has he, a convict, dared to talk of love to her?' Mr. Shelley exclaimed, hoarsely, his eyes glittering with rage.

'He has! or rather, hearing my step, he left his declaration unfinished. But he said enough to reveal his sentiments to her.'

'And Bertha?'

'Returns his affection, or I am strangely mistaken! It is indeed a bitter misfortune,' Mrs. Shelley replied mournfully. 'An end now to the bright future we have pictured for our darling. I know her faithful nature too well to believe, that if she once loves Mr. Sinclair she will ever accept the most brilliant offer that could be made to her. She would refuse to marry him in deference to our feelings, but she would never marry another, while she loved him.'

'The base ingrate! Has he taken advantage of our kindness to betray our confidence, and repay us by treacherously and clandestinely stealing our daughter's affections! Curse him! It was an unlucky day that he first set foot upon this place!' Mr. Shelley exclaimed fiercely.

'Could he not retort, Walter, that if he had not come, we should have no Bertha now to grieve about?' his wife said, gently.

'I would as soon see her in the grave, as the wife of a convict!' he returned, gloomily.

'We did not think so when her life was in danger, a few months ago, Walter! Although the disgrace of such an alliance would break my heart, yet, if she should love him, I would rather sacrifice myself than her. They could wait until he gets his ticket-of-leave, and we could then set him up on a new station, or take him into partnership on this one,' said Mrs. Shelley, who, woman-like, saw that it was useless to contest the inevitable.

'I suppose, you are right, Grace; but it will be hard. There has never been one of my family or yours either, ever marked with the brand of a felon; and it will be hard to bear the introduction of one now. But, of course, our prejudices must not be allowed to stand in the way of our darling's happiness, if she should be unwise enough to love him!' he replied, in a tone of reluctant resignation.

'He wished to leave Field Place some time ago. How unfortunate that we placed any obstacle in his way,' Mrs. Shelley said, regretfully.

'It is indeed! Where is Bertha?'

'Don't speak to her just yet, Walter! It may be better to wait a while. I think it would be best to say nothing about the matter, but just send her to Sydney for a time. Her aunt Alice has wanted her to spend a few months with her for a long time past. It will be hard to spare her, but we must submit to the trial.'

'It will be a bitter trial, certainly, Grace, to miss her for so long; but it will be for the best. It is a most perplexing situation to be placed in! We owe her life to him, for he has twice snatched her from the jaws of the grave; yet, it would almost be as hard to lose her in death, as to have her the outcast from society she must become, if she marries a convict. I wish to heaven we had let him go away, when he first asked permission to! But let us go in, Grace! I feel too much upset by this news to be fit for anything for the rest of the day!' Mr. Shelley said, anxiously, as he drew his wife's arm within his own, and led her back to the house.

'Fool that I am!' exclaimed Percy, bitterly, as he stumbled out of the summer-house. 'Why could I not go without causing this misery to my generous benefactors? But they shall not have to bear separation from their darling on my account. To-night, I will leave Field Place for ever! Would that I had done so before I was mad enough to tell her of my love!'

He bitterly reproached himself for his folly in unveiling his heart to her; and he accepted his master's epithet of a base ingrate as justly earned. He walked hurriedly away from the summer-house, to avoid their discovering that he had overheard them; and reached his room from the side verandah. As he entered the door, he saw Marion Macaulay passing through the yard. He beckoned her to him.

'Why, Mr. Sinclair, what is the matter? You look as pale as death,' Marion exclaimed, in consternation, observing his haggard expression.

'Can I have a few minutes' conversation with you in private, Marion?' he asked, without noticing her words.

'Yes, certainly, Mr. Sinclair. I have something to do in the kitchen now, and we can talk there without interruption,' she replied.

They entered the kitchen in silence, Marion wondering at his strange manner, and he brooding over his folly.

'Marion,' he asked, after a few moments' pause, 'will you promise not to mention to anyone what I am going to tell you?'

'Yes, Mr. Sinclair, I promise!' she replied, her wonder increasing.

'I am going to leave Field Place to-night! and I want you to get a few of my things ready for me.'

'Going to leave Field Place to-night? Surely you cannot be serious?'

'I am!'

'What does Mr. Shelley say? Surely he will not allow it, and you not recovered from your fall yet.'

'He will know nothing of it till I am gone, Marion. You recollect some time back Miss Bertha conjectured that the cause of my wish to leave here was, that I loved some one whom I saw no prospect of winning? She was nearer the truth than she expected. I have loved her from the first moment of seeing her; and I guarded my secret carefully till half an hour ago, when I was mad enough to tell her.'

'Surely not! Oh, Mr. Sinclair, whatever could you have been thinking of? I have known your secret ever since the night you leaped down that terrible precipice to save her and I have often wondered how her parents could have been so blind as not to see it. But, oh, how unfortunate that you have betrayed yourself!'

'I was overheard by her mother; and a few minutes after, when I was in the summer house, I heard Mr. Shelley curse the day I ever set my foot in the place. I deserve whatever he can say or think of me. Marion, I put it to you—can I remain longer?'

'No, Mr. Sinclair! I shall miss you sadly; but I cannot advise you to remain. Where will you go to?'

'I shall start to-night. I don't know where I shall go to yet, but I shall borrow one of the horses to carry me as far as possible in the night, and then let it free, so that it may return. Get me what provisions you can, and an old blanket, and I shall start directly it is dark,' he said, resolutely.

'Can runaway convicts get employment, Mr. Sinclair? You ought to be sure of that before you go,' Marion suggested.

At this moment Jerry entered the kitchen.

'Jerry, what horses are in the stockyard?' Percy asked him, in as careless a voice as he could assume.

'Dat big pumpkin-head Giles leave him slip-rails down, and all him horses get out,' replied Jerry, indignantly.

'Try if you can run old Surrey in for me, Jerry.'

'Allright, Misser Sinlar, me catch him!' replied Jerry, obligingly, and ran off to execute the order.

'Marion, I shall be compelled to take Miss Bertha's pony, for the other horses are all out; and Jerry cannot possibly run one in on foot. Snowflake was bred on this station; so there will be no fear of his not returning. I shall turn him loose as soon as I get a few miles above Maitland. Here comes Mrs. Shelley. You have promised to keep secret what I have told you, and to have the things ready directly it is dark!' saying which Percy slipped out at a side door of the kitchen, as Mrs. Shelley entered at the front. Half an hour after dark, Percy Sinclair saddled Snowflake, and upon him left Field Place—a step that caused him more trouble and misery in the lowering future, than any previous or subsequent act in his eventful life. Could he have foreseen the inevitable consequences of that rash act, he could never have been mad enough to have made the venture.


CHAPTER XXIII.


I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore;
And I hold within my hand
Grains of golden sand:
How few! yet how they creep
Thro' my fingers to the deep,
While I weep—while I weep!
Oh God, can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God, can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?

—EDGAR ALLAN POE.

The night was dark. The late moon did not rise until three o'clock in the morning; and the clouds obscured what little light the stars offered. Percy Sinclair led the pony from the stable to the road. He was on foot, the easier to pacify the dogs, who showed a strong disposition to accompany him.

'Go home, Nell!' he said, softly to the bull-dog, who appeared determined to go with him.

Nell seemed to doubt the propriety of being sent back; but, accustomed to instant obedience, he slunk off to his kennel, and lay down in great ill-humour. Safe from the dogs, whom, he had feared, might frustrate him by barking, Percy walked on to the road, and then mounted. Snowflake was very restive, being unaccustomed to any other rider than his beautiful young mistress; and his excited plunges caused Percy intense pain in the chest; for the internal injuries he had sustained in his fall at the Broad Lagoon were far from cured yet. After a few minutes, Snowflake reconciled himself to his new rider, and went away quietly; and Percy was fairly started upon the momentous and unfortunate ride, that was to cause him such dire trouble in the future. Cold was his heart, and dark his thoughts, as the desolate scene around, as he rode slowly along the dreary way, that, like the course of his unhappy life, showed no guiding ray to lead him onward.

He had not gone half an hour before he was missed.

A furious barking of the dogs aroused Mr. Shelley, as be sat in his armchair, apparently poring over a late number of the Sydney Gazette, but in reality brooding gloomily over the embarrassing position his wife's discovery, and Percy's claims upon him, had placed him in.

'Some one coming, Grace!' he exclaimed, as he rose from his seat. 'The dogs would hardly bark so savagely, unless it was a stranger. I expect it is Meredith; he was to call on his way up.'

Mrs. Shelley glanced up from her work as her husband left the room, but did not reply. Her thoughts, too, were occupied by the trouble her discovery occasioned her. Her great ambition was, that her daughter should make a brilliant match; and that ambition seemed now likely to be disappointed. A few months before, a young, English gentleman had visited the colony, partly from a curiosity to observe the discipline of the penal settlement, and partly to discover and assist a college chum, who had been transported for manslaughter, having, in a moment of passion, shot through the head a heartless libertine, who had offered insult to a lady acquaintance. The homicide, who so much more deserved commendation than punishment for what, in the balances of Justice, could be no crime, was living in Maitland, a ticket-of-leave man. After setting his school-day friend up in the world, Lionel Courtney returned to Newcastle, for the purpose of embarking for Van Dieman's Land; and, on his way down from Maitland, he spent a week at Field Place, by the invitation of Mr. Shelley, who had made his acquaintance. During his brief stay, Mr. Courtney fell in love with Bertha, and formally proposed to her parents for her hand, and applied for permission to declare himself a suitor. They refused to allow him to speak to her upon the subject for a year, by which time he would have returned from his visit to the Van Dieman's Land, and Norfolk Island penal settlements, Soon after Mr. Courtney, who, by-the-way, travelled under the pseudonym of John Broadrick, had gone, they discovered from a paper he had accidentally dropped in his bedroom, that he was the son of an English earl and heir to an immense fortune. They had never mentioned the discovery of the stranger's rank to Bertha, nor his wishes in reference to herself; but believing that it was a splendid chance for their darling, they were waiting anxiously for his return. The declaration Mrs. Shelley had overheard in the dining-room a few hours before, appeared likely to dissipate Bertha's brilliant prospects, and naturally occasioned her parents great uneasiness. Mrs. Shelley's meditations upon this subject were presently interrupted by the entrance of her husband and two strangers. She rose as they entered, and Mr. Shelley introduced them—Mr. James Musgrave, police magistrate, from Newcastle; and Mr. Hubert Clayton, of the Cowpasture River.

'We were en route for Maitland, madam; but were detained a few miles down by our pack-horse breaking away. And the night being dark and stormy, Mr. Musgrave suggested that we should crave hospitality at Field Place,' said Hubert Clayton, bowing.

'You are welcome, Mr. Clayton, to anything our poor house can offer,' replied Mrs. Shelley, kindly. Turning to Mr. Musgrave, she enquired after his wife and family.

'By-the-bye, you did not say whether you caught the horse again, Musgrave?' interrupted Mr. Shelley.

'No! We lost him about four miles back. He got away in the direction of the river. I must try to find him in the morning; for in the saddle-bags there are some documents connected with a robbery case on the Patterson the other day,' replied the police magistrate.

'Grace, tell Mr. Sinclair to send a couple of men to look for Mr. Musgrave's horse, when the moon rises,' said Mr. Shelley, turning to his wife.

Mrs. Shelley left the gentlemen to their cigars, and went out to the kitchen to order supper for the visitors, and to deliver her husband's message.

'Where is Mr. Sinclair, Marion?' she enquired, after having first attended to the arrangements for supper.

Marion turned her face away to conceal her emotion, and steadying her voice replied evasively, 'I cannot say, ma'am! I have not seen him since teatime.'

'Perhaps he has gone to bed. Knock at his door, and tell him to send two men the first thing in the morning to look for a horse that was——O, never mind. Carry supper in; and I will go myself'—saying which Mrs. Shelley left the kitchen in search of Percy.

'How is Miss Shelley? Mrs. M. commissioned me to invite her to spend a few weeks with her in Newcastle!' said Mr. Musgrave, removing his cigar from his mouth for a moment.

'Bertha is unwell this evening, and has gone to bed. I will deliver Mrs. Musgrave's message to her in the morning,' replied Mr. Shelley in a preoccupied air.

'You must endeavour to spare her for a few weeks, Shelley. The change will do her good. As Simpson says, sea air is the best restorative, and is one of nature's own providing.'

'Spare who for a few weeks?' enquired Mrs. Shelley, catching Mr. Musgrave's words, as she entered the room.

'Miss Shelley, madam. She is unwell, your husband says, and my friend is prescribing sea-air,' said Clayton, smiling.

'Mrs. Musgrave wants her in Newcastle for a month,' replied the police magistrate.

'I cannot part with her just now, Mr. Musgrave. Perhaps I may let her go some other time,' replied Mrs. Shelley, and turning to her husband, she continued, 'I cannot find Mr. Sinclair, Walter; but I picked up this note on his bedroom table.'

Mr. Shelley started as his eyes fell upon the address of the letter his wife handed to him. It was directed to himself, and the thought flashed upon him that the writer must have either absconded, or committed suicide; or why the need to write. He recognised the handwriting at a glance. He tore open the envelope, and bit his lip till the blood came, as he ran his eyes over the brief contents of the letter. His face became ashy pale. 'Grace, take a candle and go into our room; I will be with you in a moment,' he said, in a quivering tone, and with a faint apology for a smile. She obeyed in silence, a dread anticipation of coming trouble seizing possession of her heart, as she anxiously noted her husband's emotion.

'Nothing the matter, I hope, Shelley!' exclaimed Mr. Musgrave, in concern, while Hubert Clayton looked on in silence, wondering whether the Mr. Sinclair he had heard named, and his victim of the forged cheque, were one and the same. 'I met him in Newcastle a few weeks ago; most likely it is the same. By Judas, I'll not forget him, should I ever have the opportunity of paying another instalment of an old score!' he muttered savagely, a grim smile flitting over his handsome, but repelling, features.

'No, no! Nothing at all, sir! Nothing at all!' replied Mr. Shelley, nervously. 'Merely a little private business, I want to speak with Mrs. S. upon. I trust you will excuse our absence for a few minutes. Here comes some refreshment. Help yourselves, and make yourselves at home!' saying which, Mr. Shelley hurried after his wife.

'Our host mentioned the name of a Mr. Sinclair. What is he?' Clayton asked, directly Mr. Shelley's back was turned.

'One of his government hands. He is a fine fellow; and Shelley treats him well. He is his overseer or superintendent, or something of the sort!' replied the police magistrate, helping himself to some cold ham.

'I knew him at home. He may appear a very fine fellow, as you say, Musgrave; but I shall be surprised, if he doesn't cause you some trouble yet. To judge from appearance, you would think he couldn't do a wrong action to save his life; but he is the most cunning and unscrupulous villain you ever set eyes on. What would you think of a man, who, while studying for the pulpit, ruined his own father by forging his name to cheques to twice the amount of his fortune?'

'That he was the d——nest villain unhung!' exclaimed the police magistrate with his mouth full, and his eyes glittering in indignation.

'His father never discovered the treachery of his hypocritical son, till the last cheque was dishonoured for want of funds; and his banker wrote to him in consequence,' said Clayton, watching narrowly the effect of his lying insinuations.

'And they never hung the unnatural wretch! By heavens, I'll not forget what you tell me, Clayton, if ever he comes up before me!'

'Pass the cruet, Musgrave! Thank you: and the bread!' said the black-hearted traitor, purposely disregarding the other's exclamation. 'This is really prime ham. The best I've tasted in the settlement!'

Mr. Shelley followed his wife into their room. 'What on earth is the matter, Walter?' she inquired eagerly, noting his emotion.

'Read this letter, Grace. It can explain quicker than I could do,' her husband replied, handing her the note. She took it, and read in silence:—


"My kind but injured Benefactors—

You have just cause for thinking me the basest wretch who ever repaid unmerited kindness by gross ingratitude! but I now make the only reparation in my power, I leave your house—that has been even more than a home to me—for ever. Before this shall be found in the morning, and reach your hands, I shall have quitted Field Place. If my dishonourable action has not cancelled all claims to your consideration, for my having saved her life at the bushranger's camp, I adjure you, by your gratitude to heaven that she still lives, to let me go unmolested to the vast bush I shall escape into! I go, that you may be relieved from the painful separation from your daughter, which you both meditate. In judging of my baseness in repaying your unparallelled kindness by trying to steal away your daughter's heart, I pray you to remember how often I have begged you to send me away! To see her, and not to love was impossible; and I would have fled from the temptation of exposing my passion. Had you let me go, what pain and humiliation had we all been spared! I do not mention this in extenuation of my fault, for it is inexcusable; but that you may not deal too heavily with my memory, when I am gone. I pray that the best blessings of heaven may fall upon you and yours, and that your good and beautiful daughter may soon forget even the existence of,

Your grateful but unfortunate convict,

PERCY SINCLAIR."

'Convict, and all as he is, he is a noble-spirited man!' exclaimed Mrs. Shelley, handing the note back to her husband. 'It was to spare us, then, that he was so anxious to leave!'

'If we could have only known his motive, how readily we would have allowed him to go! I really don't know what to think, Grace! As he has hinted, we owe her life to him; and——'

'He must be brought back at once Walter!' interrupted Mrs. Shelley. 'He must not be allowed to stay out on such a night as this. He has not recovered yet from the injuries he received from his fall; and a night's exposure may cost his life!'

'I'll go at once, and send all the station hands in search of him. Send Jerry to me, while I get my great coat!' replied her husband.

Mrs. Shelley went for the black boy, and returned with him in a few minutes. Jerry had been asleep by the kitchen fire, and followed his mistress into the room, rubbing his eyes and yawning.

'Here he is, Walter!' Mrs. Shelley said, 'You had better speak to him at once, before he drops off to sleep again!'

'Jerry, I want you to go with me to the huts. What horses are in the stockyard?' said Mr. Shelley, as he buttoned up his overcoat.

"Dat little feller Wallerie murry budgery lubra!' replied Jerry, scarcely yet out of the realm of dreamland.

Mr. Shelley gave him an impatient shake that speedily roused him. 'Wake up, Jerry! What horses are in?'

Jerry stared stupidly about him for a moment, and exclaimed in bewilderment, 'Ug? What dat you say?'

'How many horses are there in the stockyard?' reiterated his master.

'Ha! Dat pumpkin-head Giles let him all slip-rail down, and ebery one horses get out!'

'How unfortunate! You must catch Snowflake then,' said Mr. Shelley.

'Bale Jerry can ketch him Snowflake! Dat Misser Sinlar got him,' returned Jerry decisively.

'Did you see Mr. Sinclair take him?'

'Yes! dat take him dis long time, Misser Selley!'

'Hem! Then you may go back to the kitchen, Jerry. It is useless, Grace. We can do nothing for him till to-morrow.'

'Can we not borrow Musgrave's and Mr. Clayton's horses?' Mrs. Shelley enquired eagerly, dreading the effect of the night's exposure.

'By leaving us without permission, and escaping into the bush, he becomes in the eyes of the Jaw a bushranger; and the innocent crime is aggravated by his taking the pony. So you see, Grace, the necessity there is of our keeping the fact of his going a secret from the police magistrate, whose duty would be to have him captured, and sent to Newcastle for trial for bushranging and robbery!' Mr. Shelley replied gravely.

'What! for only going away? Couldn't we shield him by saying we lent him the pony?' asked Mrs. Shelley eagerly.

'Mr. Musgrave would hardly believe that, if we tell him he has bolted, and ask for his horse to follow him upon!'

'Can nothing be done then? Oh, Walter, he must perish with cold, if he stays out such a night as this! Can we leave him to his fate, after his having twice rescued our child from death?' Mrs. Shelley exclaimed in great emotion.

Mr. Shelley stood for a few moments silently revolving in his mind the question, what could be done for the runaway? 'It is useless, Grace, for you to fret over the impossibility of our bringing him back to-night! It is so dark, that the men could not track him; and, being on foot, they could have no chance of overtaking him, as he is mounted, and has had a long start. I cannot borrow our visitors' horses, for we must not let the police magistrate get an inkling of his escape. I will be up, and have the men out directly the moon rises; but that will not be until two or three o'clock in the morning. You get to bed at once, for you are too excited to return to the parlour; and I will go and try to entertain Musgrave and his friend for an hour. Don't say a word to Bertha about Mr. Sinclair's absence!'

'No, Walter! I will not! Marion will get their beds ready. Mr. Musgrave can sleep on the sofa in the dining-room? and his friend can take Mr. Sinclair's room. Tell her to change the sheets upon Mr. Sinclair's bed. I shall not be able to sleep to-night, Walter, thinking of him out in the cold and rain!'

'Poor fellow! Well get to bed at once, Grace! I will attend to your instructions, and follow you, as soon as I can get rid of our visitors. I wish Musgrave was a thousand miles away. The night of all nights he is least wanted!'

Mrs. Shelley retired to bed in the vain hope of bridging the tedious night by sleep; and her husband proceeded on his mission. He excused his wife's absence from the parlor on the plea of a headache, and within the hour had his visitors comfortably abed.

Little thought Percy, as he rode sorrowfully along the dark way, the concern and grief his abrupt departure was causing his friends at Field Place. Marion Macaulay was sitting by the dying embers in the kitchen, sorrowing over the bitter trials of the refugee. The convict's master, who could have had him punished severely for absconding, was as much concerned and grieved, as if he had lost a son; and Mrs. Shelley, though cruelly disappointed and vexed at the discovery of his love for her daughter, was as anxious on Percy's account as her husband. Bertha, too, was tossing about on her sleepless pillow, one moment in ecstacy at the discovery that he loved her, the next weeping over the prospect of his going away. In the words of a modern dramatist, she 'loved, and was a woman;' and there opened before her unaccustomed gaze, the chequered vista of hopes and fears, grief and joy, that distinguishes the troubled course of life, from the unruffled calm of the golden period of childhood.

Percy Sinclair had not ridden more than two or three miles, when the rain, which had been threatening all day, began to fall, and added to the discomfort of his situation. In a few minutes he was thoroughly drenched. The pain that he had felt in his chest all day, had been much aggravated by the restiveness of the pony on his first mounting, and was almost unbearable. This, added to the cold and wet, and the acute mental agony he was enduring, made his position one of the most unenviable and unfortunate that can be well conceived. He passed a dray encamped by the roadside, and was afraid he should be discovered through the barking of the bullock-driver's dogs; but the gusts of wind were too strong, and the blinding rain too cold for them to leave the warm shelter of the tarpaulin, under which they had crawled; and they permitted him to pass without further challenge, than a few warning growls.

His meditations, as he rode wearily and painfully along, were of the darkest and gloomiest character. He knew that by the desertion of his master alone, he was in the eyes of the law, a bushranger, and liable, if taken, to be punished by the lash; and that in borrowing the pony, he could be held guilty of robbery or theft, and sent to Norfolk Island, or, perhaps, hung. But in his desperation he cared nothing for consequences.

He passed through the silent street of Maitland without meeting any obstruction, and travelled slowly onward, till he had left that village ten miles behind, when Snowflake suddenly stumbled over the trunk of a tree, that had fallen across the road, and went lame. The jolt of the pony's stumbling nearly caused the unhappy rider to faint from the excruciating pain it occasioned. He dismounted, and tried to press on by leading the pony, but Snowflake had so severely injured his near forefoot, that he could scarcely put it to the ground. Percy was just on the point of letting the pony go, when he observed a camp fire at a little distance from the road, and instead of doing so, he slowly led him to it. He was rather afraid to risk meeting anyone, but being so far from home, he thought he could hardly be recognised by the bullock drivers, he concluded were encamped by the fire.

As he approached the camp, he was challenged in a gruff voice, with, 'Who comes there?' and at the same moment the rising moon, appearing through a rift in the clouds, revealed to his startled gaze several mounted constables. He would have turned and fled, but they were too near for him to escape on foot, and the pony was too lame to carry him off in safety. Unable to get away, he determined to palm himself off, if possible, as a traveller from Scone. 'Good night, gentlemen,' he said, lifting his dripping hat, as he spoke. 'May I beg the favour of warming myself at your fire?'

'If you call this a good night, you must be an amphibian!' growled an old constable, with whose creaky joints the merry fiend Rheumatics was playing sad havoc.

'You are welcome, sir, to share what little warmth the fire throws out; but the water, is running under it in a stream, and gives it no chance,' replied the constable who had first spoken.

'Which way have you come?' asked the chief constable, eyeing Percy suspiciously. It struck him as strange that anyone should be riding alone at that hour of the morning.

Percy hesitated a moment before answering. It was his first experience in telling a direct falsehood, and he could not do so glibly and off hand; but, overcoming in his desperation his repugnance to the vice of lying, he replied, 'I am going to Newcastle. I was up about Scone looking for land, but I can't see a block to suit, so I think I'll try what I can get on the Hawkesbury.'

'Aren't you the chap I locked up in Newcastle, a few months ago? 'Cause if you're not, you're as much alike as two peas!' said one of the constables, drily.

'Locked me up? What do you mean, sir?' Percy asked, in well-feigned astonishment.

'Now, its no use you trying to come over me that way! Why, that's Shelley's pony you've got now!' returned the constable, triumphantly. 'As sure as a gun, sir,' he continued, turning to his chief, 'this cove's been and bolted from his master; or what'd he want to try to gammon us, as he was a gentleman for?'

'Look here, Mister, it's no use prevaricating. Just answer honestly. Are you a free man, or a convict?'

Percy saw it was useless to attempt further deception, and was silent.

'Have you a pass with you?' the chief constable continued.

'No!'

'Then, in the first place, I must take you back to your master. How did you come by the horse?'

'It is superfluous to catechise me now! You know your duty. Do it!' gloomily replied the unfortunate and baffled escapé.

'And you have been mad enough to bolt from the best master on the river? Well, you have put your head in the halter this time; for horse-stealing is a hanging matter! Why the devil couldn't you run away on foot, if you must bolt? You'd have escaped hanging then, and now I wouldn't give a straw for your chance!'


CHAPTER XXIV.


Hope,—
The icicle that melts e'en in the ray
In which it glitters!

—REV. GEORGE CROLY.

Bertha rose from her sleepless couch soon after daybreak, feverish and unrefreshed, and went out for a walk in the bracing, morning air. The storm had passed off, and the sky wore the deep blue of the Australian summer, varied by the rich crimson tints thrown by the rising sun upon a bank of clouds on the eastern horizon; but the unhappy girl walked on without thought for the beauties of nature. At the stock-yard she found Marion Macaulay, who had also risen from a restless night.

'What, Miss, out so early?' she exclaimed, as Bertha came upon her.

'You here, Marion?' said Bertha in surprise.

'Yes, Miss! I came for a walk, my head was aching so! Jerry said he would call me, when the kettle boiled! But what is the matter miss? you have been crying!' said Marion, noticing the redness of her young mistress's eyes.

'Nothing, Marion! Yes, I must tell you—Mr. Sinclair is going away!' she replied sadly. 'He is determined to go as soon as he is strong enough.'

'Dat feller kettle belonging to boil, now, Mallyun!' shouted Jerry from half-way to the house.

'Call him, Marion! I want him to come to me at once!'

Marion did so and in a few seconds she was before 'Missie Berta.'

'Go and saddle Snowflake, Jerry! I shall go for a ride before breakfast!'

'Bale me can no saddle him, Missie Berta! Dat Misser Sinlar take him last night!' Jerry said.

'Mr. Sinclair took him last night! What, in all that storm? And hasn't he returned yet?' Bertha asked anxiously, an idea of the truth flashing across her mind, and filling her heart with dread.

Marion Macaulay glanced pityingly upon the pale, eager face of her beautiful young mistress. 'She must know before long;' she thought to herself, 'and suspense is worse to bear than certainty. I will tell her now. The sooner the blow falls the sooner she will recover from it.'

Not comprehending the question, Jerry stood with his mouth open, waiting for Missie Bertha to enlighten him.

'Why do you not speak, Jerry, Marion? Where is Mr. Sinclair?'

'Jerry, run back to the kitchen. I will tell Miss Bertha all about it!' Marion said, turning to the blackboy.

Jerry, however, failed to see the necessity of obeying. 'Dat Misser Sinlar all right! Dat come home by-by,' he said, soothingly.

Bertha saw that her maid had something to tell her, which she appeared not to wish Jerry to hear. 'Go along back, Jerry! I will be up directly!' she said, earnestly, and Jerry reluctantly obeyed.

'Now, Marion!' Bertha exclaimed wildly, directly Jerry was out of hearing. 'For heaven's sake, tell me at once!'

Marion broke the tidings of Percy's going away, as gentle as possible. She had long known his secret, and had suspected the attachment to be mutual; and her own unhappy experience in love affairs, gave her a keen sympathy with the sorrows of others. Her gentle heart was torn with the deepest commiseration and grief, when, after listening eagerly to her brief account of Percy's departure, Bertha, pale from suppressed emotion, turned away without a word, and pressing her hand upon her aching heart, staggered back towards the house.

'Poor young lady! Hers is indeed a hard case; and yet was it possible for her to avoid loving her preserver! Ah, me, the world seems full of trouble for those who least deserve it!' mused Marion, as she followed after her mistress.

It was eleven o'clock before Davy Collyer and Giles returned with the police magistrate's missing pack-horse, and Mr. Shelley was constrained, much against his will, to invite Mr. Musgrave and his friend to dinner. Excepting the two whom he was compelled to send for the missing horse, he had sent all his men in search of his runaway convict. Jerry found the tracks leading from the stable to the road, and they were so plainly marked that he was enabled to follow them at a smart pace. They left Field Place about half-an-hour after sunrise; and in three hours met the prisoner, returning in custody of two mounted constables.

Mr. Shelley and his wife were seated at the dinner table endeavouring to entertain their unwelcome guests, when the door was suddenly burst open, and the blackboy Jerry rushed into the room in a state of intense excitement, 'Dat Misser Sinlar comin' along a sogers! Dat got him big feller handcuff!'

At the mention of soldiers and handcuffs, Mrs. Shelley and her husband turned pale, and the police magistrate rose from his seat.

'Go down to the huts, Jerry, and stay there till I send for you!' Mr. Shelley said, sternly; and the astonished black boy slunk off wondering how he had offended his master.

'Grace, see how Bertha is. Her headache may be better, and she may like something to eat! Just see!'

Mrs. Shelley caught a significant glance from her husband, and left the room.

'Gentlemen, pray excuse me for a few minutes; I shall be back directly! Make yourselves at home, and help yourselves to anything before you!' said Mr. Shelley, his hand upon the door.

At this moment, the company escorting Percy Sinclair, came within sight from the window; and seeing the constables the police magistrate replied, 'I will go with you, Shelley. See, yonder comes a prisoner in handcuffs!'

Mr. Shelley saw it was too late to prevent Mr. Musgrave from learning of his servant's absconding, and led the way out without reply. The escort drew up before the door; and seeing his superior officer, the chief constable explained to him the particulars of the capture. 'Shall I take him on to Newcastle, or hand him over to his master, sir?' he asked.

Clayton recognised Percy, and turning to the police magistrate, whispered, 'This is the fellow who ruined his own father by forgery. You remember what I told you last night?'

A dark frown gathered upon the police magistrate's brow, as he answered, curtly, 'I do!' and turning to the chief constable said, 'I shall be in Maitland for a few days, so you had better return there with him. Are your horses fresh enough?'

'Yes, sir, we can return at once, if you wish.'

'Do so, then. The Judge will be up on Thursday; and, if the prisoner is committed, he can be tried at once, and save the trouble of sending him to Sydney.'

'Can we not arrange to prevent that necessity, Mr. Musgrave? I do not prefer any charge against him!' said Mr. Shelley, anxiously.

'Perhaps you prefer to leave the constable to do so,' replied the police magistrate, drily. 'I am sorry to say my duty compels me to have him tried for absconding and horse-stealing.'

A grim smile of triumph flitted across Clayton's features.

'There is no need of your taking him with you as a prisoner, Musgrave. I will go bail that he appears,' said Mr. Shelley.

'Perhaps the trial could come on this afternoon, if we were up in time; in which case letting him go on bail would only cause unnecessary delay. As the judge will be in Maitland in a day or two, it is essential for the Bench to have all cases of committal ready for him,' the Police Magistrate replied.

'Is it in your power to take bail in such an irregular manner?' enquired Hubert Clayton.

The police magistrate received the question with an impatient shrug; and, turning to Mr. Shelley, asked if he would give the constables and their prisoner some refreshment.

'Certainly, sir! Send the constables into the kitchen, where they shall be attended to; and take the handcuffs off Mr. Sinclair, and he will come into the dining-room.'

'Mind be doesn't slip through your fingers and escape,' Clayton suggested.

'You appear to take a great interest in the security of the prisoner, Mr. Clayton!' Mr. Shelley said, sternly, turning abruptly upon his visitor.

'My dear sir, had you even suffered at the hands of convicts, who have escaped into the bush, a tenth of the annoyance and loss that I have done, you would be equally anxious to see incipient bushrangers nipped in the bud!' replied the designing but plausible villain.

The prisoner and one of the constables in charge of him were standing at a short distance, awaiting the orders of the police magistrate. Mr. Musgrave beckoned them to approach, and then ordered Percy's handcuffs to be taken off, and the constable to go to the kitchen for his dinner.

'You, Mr. O'Neil,' he said, addressing the chief constable, 'and the prisoner may go with Mr. Shelley, and get some dinner.' Turning to Mr. Shelley, he continued, 'Believe me, Shelley, no one regrets more than I, the painful duty I have to perform. I would accept bail for the prisoner's appearance, if I could; but, under the circumstances, I am compelled to refuse it.'

Without reply, Mr. Shelley led the way into the house. They sat down in silence, all save the heartless Clayton, depressed by the unfortunate event. Marion Macaulay, while placing a plate before Percy, whispered a few words of comfort; but free conversation was prevented by the presence of strangers. Percy however, learned, and with increased trouble that his departure had caused intense sorrow to her, whom he would have gladly died to shield from a single care.

'Will they take you back to Maitland?' Marion whispered anxiously.

'Yes, Marion I expect so! But whatever may be my fate, I shall at least remove my baleful presence from here. I have caused trouble enough already; and it will be a fortunate day for my kind benefactors, when I turn my back upon Field Place for ever.'

'Would you like to see her again, before you are dragged away?' Marion whispered, while pretending to be busily engaged in piling up some cups and saucers ready for removal.

'No, no Marion, I dare not! Better for her had I never seen her!' he replied bitterly.

Marion could not restrain her tears, as she noticed his distress. Snatching up a handful of knives and forks she hurried from the room.

Mr. Shelley approached his unfortunate servant. 'How could you have been so mad as to leave us in this way, Mr. Sinclair! Your recklessness has got you into a terrible trouble; so terrible indeed, that I dare not look it straight in the face! I had rather have lost all my fortune, than this should have happened!' he said.

'Whatever trouble I have got myself into, I am alone to blame, sir,' Percy replied, 'I deserve it all, for repaying your unceasing kindness by ingratitude! And yet, I solemnly protest to you, sir, I could not help it! I embrace my fate, whatever it may be, with gladness; because it will remove me from all chance of ever again causing you anxiety. Miss Shelley cannot possibly reciprocate my sentiments; and she will soon have forgotten her father's convict, if the friendly gallows should remove him from his cruel fate, or the shores of Norfolk Island receive him!' he continued in a tone of concentrated anguish.

At this moment, a low moaning strain came floating from the parlor. It sounded a very wail despair, a hopeless, heartbroken dirge, as though some lost spirit passing from the upper world were dissolving in music's wild stream, sweet and sorrowful as the swan's death-song. Every tongue paused, and each of the eager listeners held his breath, as the marvellous performance, now slow—as it bore heavily along its burden of woe unspeakable, now sharp and quick like the muffled sobs of a broken heart—enchained their wondering and delighted ears. After a few minutes it melted slowly away, like the murmurs of a dying breeze. As the music ceased, Percy's head sank upon his arm on the table. He understood the meaning of that grief-burdened melody. Her heart was aching in sympathy for his trouble, she was sorrowfully 'thinking in music.' Bitterly he reproached himself for not having left Field Place, when he first awoke to the danger of his further stay—left before her gentle heart had learnt to feel for him.

'By heavens, Shelley, I never heard such music before,' exclaimed Mr. Musgrave, in wonder and delight. 'It was more like an air from dreamland, than anything I ever remember hearing before.'

'Rather a melancholy composition, Musgrave; has a decided air of the churchyard about it,' said Clayton.

'It is only my daughter amusing herself at the piano,' replied Mr. Shelley. 'When she is in a thoughtful mood, she often sits for an hour at a time playing with the keys.'

'Playing with the keys? Has she not the music for it? If she has, I would very much like to borrow it for Pollie.'

'She cannot oblige Miss Musgrave with it, for the simple reason that she has not got it written. When she is in her present humour, she merely plays any musical passages that occur to her.'

'If the music she has just played was impromptu, she has a wonderful genius,' returned the police magistrate, incredulously.

'Mr. Musgrave, is it a fact that you intend to take Mr. Sinclair to Maitland?' asked Mrs. Shelley, who had just returned to the room.

'Duty demands it, Mrs. Shelley! I know that he has given you good cause to take a great interest in him; and I am very sorry indeed that I cannot gratify your natural wish to set him at liberty. I wish I could pass his folly in deserting, as easily as you would do; but the Governor is making strenuous efforts to put down bushranging, and is determined to make an example of the next man caught absconding,' said Mr. Musgrave.

With lips trembling in her emotion, Mrs. Shelley begged the police magistrate to overlook the trifling fault, as she called it, of Percy's riding away. She pleaded eloquently, and urged that it was the first time that he had ever caused any trouble to the authorities. But the vile insinuations of the black-hearted Clayton had worked their effect. Mr. Musgrave was prejudiced against the prisoner, and being a cold and obstinate man, he could neither be moved by arguments nor entreaties. It was in his mind, much against the prisoner, that Clayton's prediction of his causing trouble was so soon verified.

After her unsuccessful attempt to prevail upon the police magistrate to liberate the prisoner, Mrs. Shelley sorrowfully bade him adieu and returned to her room; and Mr. Musgrave, and Hubert Clayton, went out to see to their horses, leaving the chief constable to guard the prisoner.

'Cheer up, Sinclair! Everything looks dark now, but remember that the darkest night passes away at last, leaving the presence of the glorious sunshine! I will do all I can to save you. You may comfort yourself with the assurance that even if you are condemned to be hung, or to be forwarded to Norfolk Island, my friends in Sydney have influence enough to get your sentence cancelled,' said Mr. Shelley encouragingly.

'You are too kind, sir, after my causing you the annoyance I have. I am truly grateful for all the benefits I have received at your hands!' Percy replied.

'Don't mind the annoyance you speak of now, Sinclair; your present difficulty is of far greater consequence. Musgrave seems determined to drag you to Maitland, so you must go. I shall go up with you, and try to bail you out. Nothing can prevent your being committed; and, as the evidence of your absconding, and of your taking the pony, is so clear, I expect you will be convicted. But have no fear for the final result.'

'I thank you, sir, for your kind solicitude on my behalf; but for my own part, I care nothing what becomes of me!' replied the despondent prisoner. 'I have no hope in life, for, if saved from my present danger, I shall remain a convict still!'

Mr. Clayton entered the room and interrupted further conversation. 'Musgrave is ready, O'Neil, so you will remove the prisoner to his horse!' he said, officiously.

Mr. Shelley felt much annoyed at the unwarrantable interference of his new acquaintance, but he said nothing, and Percy rose painfully from his untasted dinner. The exposure and fatigue he had endured during the last eighteen hours, together with the shock he received when the pony stumbled with him, completely overpowered him; and, as he clung to the chair to steady himself, in rising, the perspiration stood in beads upon his pale forehead.

'We had to leave your pony in the bush, about ten miles above Maitland, sir. It was dead lame when we apprehended the prisoner,' said the chief constable to Mr. Shelley, as he stepped up to Percy, handcuffs in hand.

'There is no necessity for that, O'Neil; Mr. Sinclair is not likely to attempt to escape!' exclaimed Mr. Shelley, indignantly.

Clayton seemed about to say something, but thinking better of it remained silent.

'Well, no. I don't see that there is any particular need for them. I don't suppose Mr. Musgrave will object to my leaving them off.'

'Where is he? I must, I will see him!' exclaimed a voice, trembling with suppressed anguish; and steps were heard approaching though the passage.

By a strong effort Percy roused himself, and staggered through the door to the verandah, where a horse was waiting for him. 'No, no! Better that we meet no more!' he murmured. 'My memory can only be a cloud to dim her future; and the sooner she forgets me the better!'

The constable, holding Percy's horse, assisted him into the saddle; and, saying to Mr. Shelley, who had followed, 'Do not let her come; she will the sooner forget me!' He turned his horse's head, and rode away to a little distance, accompanied by the constable. In a few minutes the whole company was mounted, and pursuing its way to the local gaol.

As they were disappearing round the corner of the brush, Bertha, from her window, caught a glimpse of their retreating figures, and with a cry of agony, fell upon the floor insensible.


CHAPTER XXV.


"Darker still the heavens lower,
And yet nearer looms the storm.
Now is there no human power
That may shield his hapless form!"

—ANON.

The unfortunate prisoner and his escort reached Maitland too late for his case to have a hearing that afternoon. The court had been busy all day with several serious cases, and had just adjourned. There was no alternative, therefore, but to be locked up; and Percy was led through the yard of the gaol and locked in a small cell, barely large enough for him to lay down in. There was no bench, nor stool, nor furniture of any kind; and, as the harsh-creaking door swung to and bolted, Percy sat wearily down upon a litter of damp straw that lay piled in one corner. He was so weak with pain and fatigue, that he sank down upon the rude couch, and covering his face with his hands, he lay long into the dark, cold night, racked by the acute, double agony of mind and body. He tried hard to compose himself to bear his miserable condition with resignation, but the terrible pain in his chest was more than enough to distract his thoughts from the only theme that could afford him consolation in his dire need. His heavy trials appeared to have rendered him so utterly hopeless, that his early aspirations were crushed within him; and, instead of submitting to the anguish of his situation in Christian patience, he abandoned himself to despair. Job may have set a fine example of pious fortitude under affliction, but it is almost beyond the possibility of ordinary human nature to act as is recorded of the ancient patriarch. At last, when thoroughly overpowered by fatigue, he dropped off to sleep; and but for the occasional starts, caused by the sudden twinges in his chest, he slept sound and peaceful as an infant. As his victim dozed off on the damp straw in his cell, Hubert Clayton was tossing about on his feather bed in the best chamber of the best hotel in the village, vainly courting the oblivion of sleep. It was not that an outraged conscience was tormenting him with its scorpion stings. His conscience, if he had ever had one, was long dead. Without a shadow of compunction or remorse, he could perform the cruellest and wickedest action. Crushing a fellow man to the earth gave him no second thought, either of pity or exultation. But—a strange contradiction, a remarkable anomaly—this apparent incarnation of all evil, had one good and noble quality of heart. He was not a drunkard or an open breaker of the law, because his game could be played without those cards; his hands were innocent of blood, because he had too much discretion to risk a murderer's doom. But no crime, save one, did he abstain from through the dictates of a worthy motive. He could, without hesitation, commit any deed, no matter how black, if reason showed it to his advantage; yet, in a heart so devoid of good, there lurked one sentiment that would have done honor to any man. Never had he been heard to say one word against a woman, no matter how lowly her position, nor to suffer anyone in his presence to do so. And knowing how vindictive and unscrupulous he was, few dared attempt to speak lightly of a woman's name when he was by. In this, the only redeeming point in his character, Hubert Clayton set an example that better men might follow. There are many who, though they would not do anything to injure the fair fame of one of that sex, that, as gentlemen, it is their privilege and duty to protect, yet, forgetting that a breath may tarnish the spotless reputation, even of a Diana herself, they think it no shame to speak disparagingly of those of whom they can know no wrong.

Hubert Clayton, base, conscienceless, and cruel as he was, loved one with a passionate and changeless devotion, that, united with a better nature, would have been an anchor to hold him from evil; but, strange anomaly, though his love for the gentle Anne would have led him to sacrifice his life in her defence, had danger at any time threatened her, and he was by, it was unable to soften that heart, which, save for her, had no feeling nor pity for any human being. His love, like an oasis in the desert, kept green and fair the one bright spot, but was powerless to reclaim the harsh and barren sands around. Great as was his love, was his hatred for him, through whose instrumentality the gentle object of his love had steadily refused to share his fortunes. 'She would have married me but for his d——d interference, curse him! and I'll never rest till I can stand on his grave,' he muttered between his set teeth, 'It's a hanging matter for a convict to steal a horse, and take to the bush, or its Norfolk Island at the very least. Death for him in either instance, for prisoners do not live long after setting foot upon that useful little island.'

Percy's preliminary hearing came on at ten o'clock next morning. On his way through the jail yard, from his cell to the court-house, something in the peculiar appearance of the warder struck him as familiar. The man was a queer figure, with a shambling walk, and a generally odd aspect, that it was not easy to forget after once having made his acquaintance. It would have puzzled any person to determine within twenty years, the age of this excentric-looking object.

The warder watched the prisoner narrowly while they were passing through the yard. 'Yes, it's you, I'm sartin,' he muttered as they entered the door. 'It's not the fust time I've saw you in a court before.'

The evidence against the prisoner was so clear and simple, that the hearing lasted only a few minutes, and he was committed for trial at the court to be held in Maitland in the course of a few days. Mr. Shelley applied for bail, and his friends Blair and Meredith, offered to join with him as security; but the Bench refused to grant it, on the plea that the Judge was expected daily, and that giving bail would only occasion unnecessary delay. The decision of the Bench was much influenced by the police magistrate from Newcastle, who had been prejudiced against the prisoner. Percy was, therefore, removed back to his cell, and heavily ironed. Mr. Shelley spent an hour with him, striving to comfort him, and then left to carry home the unwelcome intelligence of the committal. 'Dr. Sloan,' he said to that gentleman, as he met him on passing through the gaol gate, 'You are the surgeon of this melancholy establishment, I believe.'

'Yes, Mr. Shelley, I have that honor,' replied the doctor.

'You will confer a lasting obligation upon me, doctor, if you will see to a prisoner here named Sinclair. He is very ill.'

'Sinclair! One of your Government men, isn't he? I heard something about him at the Currency Lass. He's the man who rescued Miss Shelley, from the bushrangers?'

'Yes. He had a severe fall a few months ago, and he hasn't recovered from its effects, yet. He seems to me to be very ill.'

'I will see to him this afternoon,' replied Dr. Sloan, as they separated. Before afternoon, however, he forgot the promise, and rode off to spend the rest of the day with a friend who lived a few miles from the village, leaving the miserable prisoner to pass the night without medical relief.

In the morning, when the gaoler brought Percy his breakfast of hominy, or maize-meal porridge, he endeavoured to enter into conversation with him. 'It's a pity you was copped so smart, sir! There's no stirring a inch for them constables! They're getting as sharp as dingoes.'

Percy did not reply. He was thinking of his boyhood's home, and contrasting his bright prospects, when he entered college, with his present forlorn condition. 'I will beg of Mr. Shelley to write and tell them I am dead!' he thought, gloomily. 'Better that they should think me so, and forget me, as they would do after the first emotion of grief had subsided, than that they should learn the truth.'

'Here's your breakfast, sir!' said the gaoler, respectfully, as he set down the meal. 'If you're offended like at my being so bold as to speak, I begs your pardon, sir!' he continued, taking Percy's absence of mind for silent reproof. 'I wouldn't have spoke, sir, only I knowed you never forged that cheque; and if you hadn't have been sent out for it, you wouldn't have got into this fix. It's them as sweared your liberty away, as is exponsible.' Percy, however, did not look up; his thoughts were too deeply bent upon the consideration of his misery, to hear or heed anything the jailor might say. Afraid that he had offended the prisoner by what he felt to be his impertinence, the jailor left the cell. 'Poor young gentleman,' he soliloquised as he passed through the yard, 'I've never knowed a minute's peace since I swore agin him at York. Our being copped so quick in breaking into Arkright's house was just a judgment on us, and nothing else. I knowed when they brought him in 'Guilty,' we'd never have no luck after, nor more we didn't! And yet here's that sneaking villain Clayton here, as bold as a turkey. Some people can do anything, and be lucky all the same, and others, if they on'y do one thing wrong, they're done for for ever. I can't understand how it is; but it is. One man mustn't look crooked; and another may break all the commandments the chaplain talks about. Well, anyway, I'm glad the villain didn't see me. If ever I meet him alone, I'll stick a knife in him!'

Had the object of the gaoler's threat been near enough to have seen the expression of his face, he would have found good cause for apprehension. An implacable hatred, and an ardent thirst for revenge were unmistakably marked upon his features. If good cause for hatred and revenge were allowed to influence a jury's decision, no twelve men could be found who could bring him in guilty of murder, had he performed that sanguinary threat. In the eyes of impartial justice, the killing of Hubert Clayton by that strange-looking gaoler, could only be 'justifiable retaliation.'

To return to Field Place—As the police magistrate was leaving the station with the prisoner and his escort, Bertha learnt that the prisoner had been brought back by the constables. She hurried through the dining-room to the verandah, but, as she reached the front door, her father locked it from the outside. She tried to wrench it open, and, failing, retraced her steps and reached a door at the side of the house opposite the kitchen. Here she was met by Jerry; who, all excitement, narrated how, where, and when he had found 'Misser Sinlar;' and, with more zeal than discretion, be repeated the opinion the constable had just expressed upon the prisoner's position—'Dat sodgers hunt him Misser Sinlar to Norbok Islan', and den string him up.'

Bertha stood gazing, wildly, upon the eager face of the young savage, as he proceeded with his story. When he finished, she reeled backward, as if struck by a bullet, and staggered back to her room. Catching a glimpse of the retiring figure of her preserver, who was being borne away to gaol; perhaps to death, she fell insensible to the floor. It was long after dusk when she recovered consciousness, and then she was so weak through the great strain the excitement of the last two hours had been upon her nervous system, that she lay upon her bed subdued and powerless as an infant. Lost to all but the presence of her wild grief, she lay heedless of her mother or Marion Macaulay, who strove tenderly to soothe her—her one, all-absorbing thought being, 'He loves me, and they will kill him!'

The judge did not reach Maitland, for several days after the prisoner's committal. He was delayed in leaving Sydney by a heavy, southerly gale, which the captain of the Hunter River steamer wisely declined to encounter. Several barristers accompanied the Judge; and Mr. Shelley retained the cleverest one amongst them, to defend his unfortunate servant. Mr. Mortimer, the barrister in question, shook his head, as Mr. Shelley explained the nature of the case. 'His absconding makes him, in the eyes of the law, a bushranger; and his taking your horse aggravates the charge by adding horse-stealing to it. You admit that nothing can appear in the defence to disprove either act; therefore, all that we can do is to look for extenuating circumstances. Are there any that you are aware of?' the barrister, gravely said.

'Couldn't I declare that I lent him the pony? That would remove the most serious portion of the charge,' Mr. Shelley asked.

'Lent your assigned servant a horse to take to the bush upon? The Court would regard that as hardly probable,' replied Mr. Mortimer, smiling.

'Hem! perhaps you are right!'

'You are spoken of as an exceptionally kind master. It seems to me strange that any of your men should attempt to leave you, unless prompted by some very powerful motive. Recollect, Mr. Shelley, that, to have any chance of winning the case, I must be thoroughly informed of every circumstance in connection with it. Hide nothing from me that can throw any light upon his action. Was he to have been flogged for any offence? If he absconded to escape a severe punishment, that motive might have some weight with the Judge in passing sentence.'

'He has never been punished since he has been with me. Yes, Mr. Mortimer, he had a very powerful motive for leaving Field Place. It is one that I would rather lose five thousand pounds than have to make public; but, as I owe him a debt of gratitude that I shall never be able to pay, I will give it for you to use in his defence. He could give it you himself; but I believe he would rather submit to any sentence than mention it by so much as a word.'

'Whatever it is, Mr. Shelley, you must give me every particular relating to it, if you wish me to have any chance of being of service to him,' replied the barrister, decidedly.

Mr. Shelley briefly narrated the history of his acquaintance with the prisoner from the day he received him from the Government to the present time, concealing nothing that could, in any way, serve to explain his conduct. Mr. Mortimer listened attentively. 'I see! I see!' he said, as Mr. Shelley ceased speaking. 'He loved the young lady, and she, unwisely, and probably led by gratitude, returned his affection. It was only natural. We cannot expect much wisdom to be exercised in affairs of the heart. However, this is enough for my purpose. No Judge can deny that the prisoner acted nobly in risking so much to spare her from the danger of his love. Most convicts, under similar circumstances, would have traded upon your gratitude for past services. I honor the young fellow—upon my word, I do.'

'Do you think the explanation will have much weight with the Judge?' Mr. Shelley enquired eagerly.

'Well, unfortunately, bushranging is greatly on the increase, especially in the northern district, and the Governor's temper is considerably ruffled in consequence. But I think the motive you show, will, at least, have the effect of saving the prisoner's neck.'

'Sinclair will not say a word in extenuation of his actions. Will you think it necessary to call upon me to depose what I have just said?'

'It will be as well,' replied the barrister, rising. 'I will now see the prisoner myself, and learn what he has to say. Do you go with me?'

'No! I have seen him this morning, and I must gallop back home at once, to make arrangements for my absence in Sydney for a few days. If he is condemned to death, or Norfolk Island, I shall go down, immediately. I have some very influential friends in Sydney, who may, perhaps, succeed in persuading, his Excellency to mitigate the sentence. The steamer starts back directly the court closes this evening, and Sinclair's is the last case,' replied Mr. Shelley.

'Well, Mr. Shelley, I will not detain you, as it is nearly nine o'clock. Be back by three o'clock at the latest; for I shall require your evidence. By-the-bye, do you know Fullerton? His influence would be worth having.'

'Fullerton is my father-in-law! I count chiefly upon him in my endeavour to save my servant. And I have several other friends who may have some weight with the Governor.'

'Fullerton your father-in-law? Well, he is my uncle; so we are relatives. This is another reason why I should do my best; though I doubt if any consideration can spur me to action more than the prisoner's own noble act in leaving your house under the circumstances. Well, good-bye! I am only detaining you!'

The gentlemen separated, Mr. Mortimer going to the prison to talk over the detail of defence with the prisoner, and Mr. Shelley hurrying back to Field Place to settle matters for his projected departure for Sydney.

As his master predicted, no argument could prevail upon the prisoner to speak of the motive that urged him to quit Field Place. That was a subject he would discuss with none. On being pressed for his reason for his persistent silence, he replied, gloomily, 'I have no wish to escape the extreme penalty of the law; and, therefore, I decline to say one word in my defence. I am satisfied with the consciousness that I have never committed any act to injure a fellow man. Life has no hope for me; for, were the judge to liberate me now, I should still remain a convict—an outcast from society. I wish to die, and be forgotten. I dare not commit suicide, for it is contrary to the law of heaven; but, if I am fortunate enough to have an opportunity of ending my misery, and hiding my shame in the grave, I shall not hazard that opportunity by the utterance of a syllable!'

Mr. Mortimer's admiration of Percy's courage and fortitude was somewhat modified by his gloomy despondence; but he felt that the young man's regard for the happiness of the lady was one great cause of his silence. Mr. Mortimer did not think it well to mention Mr. Shelley's proposed visit to Sydney, lest he should raise hopes that might be dissipated; and, after half-an-hour's consultation, he left the prisoner, and repaired to the court to attend as counsel for the defence in another case.

Mr. Shelley reached home in a much shorter time than he had ever before travelled the same distance. His wife met him at the door.

'Is the trial over, Walter?' she asked, hurriedly.

'It does not come on till two o'clock!' he exclaimed, as he sprang from his horse, and threw the reins to Jerry, who had run up to learn the news. 'Jerry, saddle Surrey at once; and bring him to me!' he continued, turning to the blackboy; and, without waiting to reply to Jerry's eager enquiry, 'Where dat Misser Sinlar now? Bale dat string him up yet?' he hurried into the house. 'How is Bertha?' he asked, abruptly, as he flung himself into a chair.

'She was asleep a few minutes ago. Poor child! She is very much affected by Mr. Sinclair's misfortune,' replied Mrs. Shelley.

'Get my portmanteau packed, Grace. I shall hold myself in readiness to take the steamer at Morpeth directly the trial is finished, and start for Sydney, if he is found 'guilty.' I am in hope that your father and a few of his intimate friends may interest themselves with the Governor, to obtain a remission of Mr. Sinclair's sentence.'

Woman-like, Mrs. Shelley concluded at once that they would so interest themselves, and that to do so was to succeed. 'Oh, do, Walter! I am sure papa will exert himself to the utmost for Mr. Sinclair. He feels almost as grateful to him for saving Bertha at the bushrangers' camp as we do. But, Walter, be careful to say nothing about this unfortunate attachment between Mr. Sinclair and our darling. It would be sure to prejudice papa against him.'

'I will not mention it; but when we have pulled Mr. Sinclair through this difficulty, I will ask your father to get him employment at Parramatta; and when he gets his ticket-of-leave, we will set him up in a small station on the Cowpasture or Hawkesbury Rivers. Perhaps Bertha may forget him, if he is away for a time, and accept Mr. Broadrick, or Courtney rather—I am always confusing his two names.—It is a chance she may never have again.'

'No, indeed! She is the first girl in the colony, and may be the last, who will have the prospect of becoming a countess. But, Walter, if Mr. Sinclair was a free man, I would rather see her marry him.'

'What! And lose her chance of wearing a coronet?' Mr. Shelley exclaimed, in unfeigned surprise.

'Happiness is better than wealth, Walter! If Bertha loves Mr. Sinclair, as I fear she does, she will never forget him. She is too constant and true-hearted to change. She may, perhaps, marry Mr. Courtney, if we wish it; and should she do so, I am certain she would be a good wife to him; but, where the whole heart is not given with the hand, there cannot be any true happiness!'

'Well, well!' Mr. Shelley said, irritably, 'Get me something to eat, Grace. I have only a few minutes to spare; for the counsel I have engaged wishes me to give evidence, and I shall be called upon about three o'clock. By-the-bye, Grace, I must publish in court this unfortunate attachment. Mortimer says that conviction is inevitable; and that the sentence will be a heavy one, unless something in extenuation can be produced. Of course, much as I dislike the idea of our affairs becoming the common property of the rabble, I could not refuse to explain everything to Mortimer; and, as he believes the explanation of Mr. Sinclair's motive for absconding will influence the judge in passing sentence, I have consented to state it on oath!' said Mr. Shelley, with the air of a man whose inclination and duty were at variance.

'It will not be pleasant to become the general theme of gossip, certainly; but you surely are not sorry to have to make this explanation, Walter. For my own part, I am glad we are called on to make a sacrifice of our feelings for his advantage. It will prove to him that we are really grateful for his past services,' replied Mrs. Shelley, whose gentle heart was pained by the reluctance with which her husband appeared to have consented to speak on their servant's behalf.

'Grace, whatever the sentence may be, I want Bertha kept in ignorance of it,' said Mr. Shelley, after a few moments' pause. 'She is too weak to bear much excitement; so lead her to believe that his sentence can only be a trifling one. I shall take no one with me; so as she cannot learn the result of the trial; but Musgrave will tell you, when he calls on his way back to Newcastle.'

'I would rather wait in suspense, than hear the result from him. If he had not insisted upon taking Mr. Sinclair to Maitland, there need have been no trial at all, Walter; and, if Mr. Musgrave speaks of calling, give him my compliments, and tell him that I have no wish to see him,' returned Mrs. Shelley.

'You are unreasonable, Grace. The constables having arrested Mr. Sinclair, it was beyond Musgrave's power to prevent the trial. Perhaps he might have allowed bail, though I am afraid he could only do so from the bench,' replied Mr. Shelley.

'He might have taken bail if he liked—other police magistrates do so, and no one questions their right. But, whether or no, I don't want to see him again; so don't tell him to call!' exclaimed Mrs. Shelley, warmly. 'Come into the dining-room, and we shall have some lunch ready in a few minutes,' she continued, leading the way.

In a quarter of an hour Mr. Shelley was in the saddle again, and galloping at full speed back to Maitland.

Jerry had overheard Mr. Shelley, as he was mounting, say that the trial would be over by dusk; and not fully comprehending the words, he applied to Marion Macaulay for explanation. Jerry listened attentively while she enlightened him upon the subject; and then said thoughtfully, 'Dat Missie Berta murry sorry belonging to Misser Sinlar. Me tell him all about it!'

'No, no, Jerry!' earnestly exclaimed Marion, who had heard Mr. Shelley forbid the trial being mentioned before Bertha, 'You mustn't tell Miss Bertha! I'll never speak to you again, if you tell her anything about it.'

Jerry gazed cunningly at Marion for a few seconds, and then enquired innocently, 'Spo dat Jerry bale tell him Missie Berta, you give it me dat old frock?' pointing to a bright colored dress Marion had on.

Marion could not help laughing heartily at the oddity of the question; though the cloud of trouble that lay upon the household, made her in no humour for merriment. 'Why, Jerry, what could you do with this gown? Boys don't wear such things. It would be of no use to you,' she said.

'You know him little Wallerie! Dat murry budgery lubra! Bale dat got him no old frock like a dat!' replied Jerry insinuatingly. 'You give it little feller Wallerie dat old frock; den bale Jerry tell him Missie Berta!'

'I can't give you this dress, Jerry; but if you promise not to tell Miss Bertha what I have told you, I will give you another for your little favourite.'

'You give it me now?' asked Jerry, who acted upon the proverb that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

Marion smiled at his eagerness, and handed him an old dress but little the worse for wear. Jerry received his bribe for silence with many protestations of gratitude, and then carried it off to the stable, and concealed it beneath a heap of straw. 'Dare! When dat budgery little Wallerie come, Jerry give him dis! Dat little Wallerie murry glad get him new, old frock like a dis.'

Having secreted to his satisfaction the offering for his dusky inamorata, Jerry left the stable. He watched the kitchen closely for a few minutes, and not seeing Marion he crept, cautiously round to the garden, and up to Bertha's window. He succeeded in reaching it unobserved; and, glancing hurriedly round to see that Marion was not watching, he tapped gently on the pane, muttering to himself as he did so, 'Dat Missie Berta want to know all about Misser Sinlar.' Mallyun say 'Bale, you tell him, Missie Berta. Bale Jerry care; Jerry will tell him.'

Bertha was sitting at the window, vainly trying to divert her thoughts from her trouble by reading the pathetic story of 'Paul and Virginia.' She raised the sash as Jerry knocked. 'Well, Jerry, what is the matter?' she asked, in a languid, absent tone.

'Dat Misser Sinlar be tried belongin' to court, by-by,' he said, with an air of great importance.

'Tried! and—and—perhaps hung!' she said, slowly, as if communing with her own thoughts. She pressed her hand to her burning temples. The terrible thought seemed to set her brain on fire. 'Jerry,' she said, in a quivering voice, 'can you saddle one of the horses for me? Do so as quickly as possible.'

'Bale you can ride him any horse on'y Snowflake and old Surrey, Missie Berta. Dat Snowflake no come home yet; and Misser Selly got him old Surrey.'

'What! is there none that I can ride!' she exclaimed in a tone of bitter disappointment. 'Can't I ride the bay colt? He is quiet.'

'Bale you can ride him, Missie Berta! Dat buck like a bandicoot.'

'Saddle him, Jerry, and let me try,' Bertha asked anxiously.

'You tink him Jerry murry big fool, Missie Berta?' the blackboy asked, bluntly. 'What for me get him you killed like dat?'

'Do saddle him, Jerry, and be quick.'

'Bale me saddle him, Missie Berta,' replied Jerry, with decision. 'Spo you like me go and see them string him up, and come back and tell him you how?'

'Do go, Jerry, and learn what the result of the trial is; and then come back, at once, and tell me. Be quick; for I shall go mad, if you are not back to-night.'

'All right, Missie Berta, me go! Jerry murry good feller.'

'Don't let papa see you Jerry; he mightn't let you come back and tell me!' Bertha said hurriedly. 'I must know to-night.'

Jerry thought for a moment, and then exclaimed, 'Bale you be frighten, Missie Berta: dat nobody can see Jerry. Me go now!' and without waiting for further instructions he ran off to prepare for his journey. While saddling the bay colt an idea suddenly struck him. He took the dress he had so fraudulently obtained, and rolling it into a bundle, strapped it across the pommel of the saddle. Mr. Shelley had half-an-hour's start of him, but, knowing a short cut through the bush, Jerry reached the jail half-an-hour before his master was expected.

The sun had risen upon the day of Percy's trial fair and beautiful, but as the hour for hearing drew on, the sky became obscured by masses of clouds, and when the crier called the case, the heavens looked as dark and lowering as the prisoners own gloomy prospects. Before the trial was half through the rain fell a perfect deluge.

The adventure of the prisoner at the bushrangers' camp, some months before, had caused quite a sensation throughout the district, and had been a standing topic of conversation ever since. Every one held his, or her, own private opinion of the motive of the prisoner's taking that terrible leap; and, as there was an air of romance surrounding the case, public interest was thoroughly aroused. From all the farms or stations within miles of the court-house poured the sensation-loving crowd. There was not standing room in the hall. All kinds of improbable rumours as to the cause of the prisoner's taking to the bush had obtained currency, and added not a little to the public excitement.

The evidence against the prisoner was very brief; and it was so crushing and conclusive that the prosecuting counsel declined to take up the time of the court by addressing the jury. Fortunately for the plan of defence followed by the prisoner's counsel, the court had been occupied a couple of hours longer than was anticipated in dealing with the previous case. Mr. Mortimer kept the witnesses for the crown in the box as long as he possibly could, in hopes of delaying the proceedings, until he should receive the preconcerted message, that his witness had returned. At last the judge felt called upon to rebuke him for trifling with the time of the court, and to tell him to call his witnesses, that the trial might proceed.

The crier called, 'Walter Shelley!' the usual number of times, but to Mr. Mortimer's consternation, and the prisoner's evident satisfaction, no one answered to the name.

'Is Mr. Shelley your only witness, Mr. Mortimer?' the judge enquired of the prisoner's counsel.

'He is, your Honor. He came to Maitland this morning, to give evidence in the defence; but pressing business called him back to his home. He is sure to be here presently.'

'And, in the meanwhile, the court is to be delayed?' the judge said, frowning.

'It was very pressing business that demanded his attention!' the baffled counsel returned.

'Can any business be more pressing than attention to a case in which a man is being tried for his life?' the Judge asked sarcastically. 'Was this witness subpoenaed?'

'No, your Honor; he appears voluntarily.'

'It seems to me,' sneered the crown prosecutor, 'That he doesn't appear at all.'

'With your permission, your Honor, I will address the jury now, and afterwards support my assertions by the testimony of my witness, who, I doubt not will soon appear,' said Mr. Mortimer.

The Judge raised no objection to the proposal, and Mr. Mortimer made a long and powerful appeal to the jury. He admitted the action of the prisoner in the two counts, of absconding from the assigned service of Mr. Shelley and taking the horse; but he urged upon the jury that the motive impelling the action was the proper standard to judge the prisoner by. 'Surely none of you are so dull of apprehension,' he said, 'as to fail to perceive the vast inequality of the guilt of a convict who steals a horse and takes to the bush for the purpose of robbery and murder, and that of one whose intentions are peaceable, and who would rather starve than turn highwayman!' He gave the jury a highly-colored account of the prisoner's attachment to the beautiful daughter of his master; of his saving her life at the bushrangers' camp, at the imminent risk of his own; of his repeated requests to be sent back to the central depot, or that he might be reassigned, with the secret, yet noble, purpose of escaping from the temptation of telling his love; and he drew vividly before the jury the picture of the convict's interrupted declaration, and of his subsequently over-hearing the sorrow his rash act had occasioned his benefactors. He asked the jury could they possibly send to the gallows, or Norfolk Island, a man, who had embraced the danger and hardship of a bushranger's life for the noble purpose of tearing himself away from the presence of the loved one, that she might forget him and marry another? Remember, gentlemen, this he knew—that, for the sake of their daughter's happiness, her parents would have consented to her marrying him if she had wished it!' he exclaimed. 'Most men, under such circumstances, would have traded upon their master's gratitude, and pressed their suit. A man who could act so generously, so nobly, as the prisoner has done, deserves reward rather than punishment.'

Mr. Mortimer spoke for two hours, so eloquently and earnestly that no one noticed the passage of time; but at last the Judge's eyes fell upon the clock; and, taking advantage of a momentary pause in the counsel's speech, he suggested that it would be as well to swear the witness he had spoken of, as it was getting late.

The prisoner's counsel could not well object; for he had worn the defence threadbare, and reiteration of the same arguments could do no good. He had been talking against time, in hope of receiving a message of the return of his witness. He had not received the message, and he felt and looked anxious and careworn on resuming his seat.

Again the crier called the witness; but, as before, to no purpose.

'Mr. Mortimer, we cannot have the time of the court wasted in this way,' said the Judge, gravely, after he had waited several minutes, and no appearance of the witness seemed probable. 'If your witness does not attend within five minutes, I shall be compelled to sum up upon the evidence before the court.'

Mr. Mortimer rose slowly, with a troubled expression upon his features. He glanced anxiously towards the prisoner, and then addressed the Judge: 'I submit, your Honor, that this is a matter of life and death to the prisoner! A delay of a few minutes cannot cause the court much inconvenience, and it may be the means of saving the life of a fellow man. It can never be said that, in a civilized country, the dry rules of court are of more importance than human life!'

'I will give you ten minutes further to produce this witness, Mr. Mortimer. I cannot allow you longer. If cases were permitted to stand still through the absence of witnesses, there would be an end of all judicial proceedings.'

Percy Sinclair had listened with great surprise and annoyance to the speech of his counsel. He had purposely refrained from any mention to Mr. Mortimer of the reason of his absconding from Field Place, and was unaware, until he heard the pleading on his behalf, what line of defence would be set up. His heart swelled with indignation as he heard her name uttered again and again before the excited crowd in the body of the court. As his counsel resumed his seat to wait with what patience he could for his expected witness, Percy turned to address the judge.

'May I beg, your Honor, that the court may not be delayed on account of the absence of the gentleman who promised to appear in my defence, but who has wisely changed his mind. I assure you, your Honor, nothing he can say can disprove, that I took the horse and deserted.'

'Are you mad!' exclaimed the prisoner's counsel, springing to his feet.

'No, Mr. Mortimer! I am truly grateful for the great interest you take in my misfortunes, and the zeal and ability you——'

'I cannot permit this discussion. Prisoner, you will have an opportunity afforded you directly of saying all you wish to. Till then you must remain silent!' said the judge, in a tone of assumed severity.

The ten minutes passed, and no witness appearing, the judge summed up. The evidence was so brief and distinct that it took but a very few minutes to lay it clearly before the jury. The judge bade them carefully to abstain from considering anything but the evidence before them. Upon that, whatever their feelings might urge to the contrary, must be based their verdict. Five minutes' serious consultation resulted in a verdict of "Guilty." To the judge's invitation to plead cause why sentence of death should not be passed upon him, the prisoner gave no answer, further than thanking him for his kindness in delaying the court for the witness, who was to have given evidence in his defence.

The terrible sentence of death had barely been passed upon the prisoner, when there was a commotion among the crowd, and Mr. Shelley rushed into the court, breathless and excited.

'Thank heaven, you are too late!' exclaimed the prisoner, fervently.

'Too late! Surely not!' Mr. Shelley exclaimed in consternation, as soon as he had recovered his breath.

'You promised to return by three o'clock; and it is now five. A queer way of paying the debt of gratitude you spoke of!' said the prisoner's counsel in contempt. 'But of course the life of a convict is as nothing in the balance against the ease and convenience of a master.'

'Too late!' Mr. Shelley repeated to himself, as though unable to comprehend to the full the dread import of the fearfully significant words.

'Do not distress yourself on my account, sir!' said the prisoner. 'I am glad that the trial ends as it does. Your delay was the kindest act you could have done me!'

'Are you the witness who had it in his power to prove extenuating circumstances in the prisoner's favour, and who failed to appear?' enquired the Judge.

'Yes, your Honor!' replied Mr. Shelley in confusion.

'Hem! Well, sir, I can assure you, that I would not occupy your position for the wealth of the universe! If it be his Excellency's pleasure that the extreme penalty of the law be carried out, and you know that the prisoner's life is sacrificed through your absence, the reproaches of your conscience should be a terrible punishment for your criminal neglect!' returned the Judge.

'My horse fell with, and threw me, your Honor, and then broke away; and my unfortunate delay was caused in catching him again. Can I not give my evidence now?'

'The case is settled. I cannot now hear further evidence on either side!'

Mr. Mortimer rose. 'Your Honor, I beg to submit that you can hear my witness privately, and, though it is too late for his deposition to be used as evidence, it may influence you in deciding whether you can justly recommend the prisoner to mercy!'

Hubert Clayton, who occupied a front seat, and had till the present moment been smiling blandly, and chatting with a squatter from the William's River—a man notorious for his coarse brutality and unfeeling cruelty to his assigned servants—here sprang to his feet, and exclaimed, 'Your Honor, I beg to submit that this is a most irregular pro——'

'Silence in the court!' interrupted the Judge sternly; and turning to the prisoner's counsel he continued, 'Attend me at my hotel in an hour with your witness, and I will hear him on oath. If he proves the extenuating circumstances you mentioned in your address to the jury, I may perhaps make them the subject of a recommendation to mercy.'

Mr. Mortimer thanked the Judge; and the court then rose.

As the prisoner was being led to the condemned cell, he encountered Hubert Clayton and his new acquaintance, in the gaol yard.

'Look, Clayton, do you see that chap with the darbies on? He'll swing as sure as he's a d——— convict! Talk about pampering a lag. It only spoils 'em, and makes 'em discontented. Look you. I've never had a lag try to bolt from my place for the ten years I've been on it. Cause why? They're kept under as they should be! Do you want to know the secret that keeps my lambs at fold? Cause if you do, I've no objection to tell you!' said the swaggering bully, whom chance had set as master over a score of better men.

'Tell me, Rugby! We live and learn, you know. I have just lost a couple of the best hands I had; and a hint, that may save me from a like misfortune in the future, is certainly worth having,' replied Clayton, as he watched the prisoner approaching.

'More work and less rations! that's my motto. I remember the last chap that tried to bolt. It was about Christmas time two years ago. He had luckily been on short allowance for a fortnight before, so he could not travel very fast; and I caught him before he had got three miles away. I gave him fifty and a day's hoeing. That cured him of bolting. He never tried it on after.'

'Fifty and a day's hoeing! Mere child's play I could call that.'

'What, twelve hours in the middle of summer, and working between two log fires only twenty yards apart? I tell you there's no cure for bolters like it. They never try it on again!'

'Didn't your man ever try it on again?'

'No! He found it too warm, and took a sunstroke and died! There's nothing like setting convicts to work between fires on a sweltering day. It cows 'em, if nothing else does!'

Percy caught Clayton's eye as he passed; and the expression of vindictive triumph, that the arch villain cast upon him, too plainly showed the depth of his hatred. 'Sinclair,' he hissed, as the prisoner passed. 'I congratulate you upon your promotion! You were always ambitious; but I never thought you would rise so high in the world. Your father and Miss Egerton will be proud of you, when they receive my letters. Have you anything in the "last dying speech and confession" line, you would like me to tell them?'

Percy's eyes flashed scorn and contempt as the heartless villain, gloating over the misery he was the primary cause of, spoke his insulting and unmanly sneers; but at the threat to send the shameful intelligence of his execution to the dear ones at home, his eyes fell, and a cold perspiration stood upon his brow. For a few seconds he could not articulate a syllable, but, recovering himself by a desperate effort, he exclaimed, 'Clayton, when I saw you in court, I felt I had one friend present, who knew that I was incapable of doing any wrong to my fellow man! By your words I can only look upon you as my bitterest foe! What have I done to deserve that you should insult me thus. It is ungenerous, it is cowardly!'

'Fine sentiment that for a fellow who, though he barely escaped the gallows at home, learnt no lessen from experience, but must rob the best master on the river, and turn bushranger!' said Clayton, turning to Rugby, who was standing with his hands upon his hips, regarding the prisoner with a stare of amused curiosity.

'He'll be the prettiest spectacle, dangling from the gallows, that the hawks have had a look at for this many a day!' said Rugby, with the air of a connoisseur.

'Come along, sir; I'm choking! to be at him!' whispered the gaoler. 'There'll be two on us for the gallows, if we stay another minute!'

'I beg of you, for the sake of heaven, do not destroy my parents with the intelligence of my shameful fate. The dishonor would kill them!'

'I shall tell them more,' laughed the cold-blooded wretch, turning upon his heel. 'I shall tell them, that you repaid the unceasing kindness of a too weak and generous master by insult offered to his beautiful daugh——'

The gaoler had taken Percy by the arm, to lead him on; but before Clayton could complete the sentence, he shook off the gaoler's hand, as though it had been but the grasp of an infant, and, manacled and ironed as he was, sprang forward and felled the wretch to the ground. The fallen man's friend, Rugby, not feeling called upon to run any risk upon his behalf, speedily made his exit, and a warder crossing the yard at the time, ran up and dragged the assailant away. The blow was a severe one, and Clayton was carried off insensible.

'I hopes you've killed him, sir!' the gaoler in charge of the prisoner whispered, as he conducted him into the condemned cell. 'They can't touch you for it, that's one consolation; for they can't hang a man twice! The devil never deserved roasting more nor he does!'

The unhappy prisoner did not reply; and the jailor looked him in the cell, and left him to the companionship of his own thoughts.

'It is criminal to wish it; and yet, if he recovers, he will destroy my honored parents by the false and cowardly report he will send of my death!' he thought, bitterly, as he threw himself upon the straw in one corner of his cell. 'Better be a murderer—though, God knows, I meant it not, when I struck him—than that he should live to cast a blight upon my childhood's home.'

The jailor, standing on one leg in the corridor outside the cell in an attitude of deep thought, muttered sadly, 'I've always knowed it—it's a sort of presidement—that I'll be hanged yet! If that vagabond aren't killed by that crack on the head with the prisoner's darbies, I'll stick a knife into him some of these days. To think that him, as gived Darby Gregson and me fifty pounds to swear that Mr. Sinclair forged the cheque, when he didn't, should have the cheek to talk to his victim like that! It licks me holler thinking of it!'


CHAPTER XXVI.


O, how her eyes and tears did lend and borrow!
Her eyes seen in her tears, tears in her eye;
Both crystals, where they view'd each other's sorrow,—
Sorrow, that friendly sighs sought still to dry;
But like a stormy day, now wind, now rain,
Sighs dry her cheeks, tears make them wet again.

Variable passions throng her constant woe,
As striving which should best become her grief;
All entertain'd, each passion labors so,
That every present sorrow seemeth chief.
But none is best; then join they all together
Like many clouds consulting for foul weather.

—SHAKESPEARE.

The Judge received Mr. Mortimer and his witness with great gravity. In entering the parlor they had encountered Rugby, who had just given the Judge a high-colored account of the prisoner's 'unprovoked and murderous attack upon his generous friend Clayton;' and his Honor looked perplexed and annoyed. Motioning his visitors to be seated, he enquired if they had heard of the act of the prisoner in leaving the court.

'I questioned the warder who had charge of the prisoner; and from what he says, it appears that Clayton spoke to the prisoner in a grossly insulting manner, and threatened, not only to write home and tell the prisoners friends, whom, it appears, he knows, of his unfortunate fate, but to aggravate the disgrace by falsely stating that he was hung for offering insult to the daughter of his generous master!'

'More extenuating circumstances, Mr. Mortimer?' said the Judge, with a smile.

'There's no man, your Honor, who could tamely submit to such outrage! If any man spoke to me as this fellow did to the prisoner, I'd strangle him, even if I was to be flogged to death directly after!' exclaimed Mr. Shelley, growing excited in his indignation.

'There is an error somewhere, gentlemen! The public had no right of access to the prisoner,' said the Judge, thoughtfully. 'I must speak to the governor of the gaol.'

'I submit, your Honor, that as these fellows, Clayton and Rugby, were permitted to insult the prisoner, he should be held excused from the consequences of his act!' Mr. Mortimer urged.

'That does not follow, Mr. Mortimer. However, I will learn all in connection with this unfortunate occurrence, and make a note of it. And now for the evidence in support of a recommendation to mercy.'

Mr. Shelley was sworn, and gave the Judge a full account of the prisoner's conduct since he had first known him, and of the heroism and devotion he had on several occasions displayed, and ended by briefly narrating his recent discovery, of the attachment between his daughter and the prisoner.

The Judge listened patiently, and, on Mr. Shelley's concluding, remarked that the matter of the attachment was all that he needed to have spoken upon, as it was the only part of the evidence, that could be considered in mitigation of sentence. 'And now, gentlemen, you may rely upon my giving the subject my most serious attention. I can promise nothing. This assault in the jail must be considered also in dealing with the matter.'

'You will not lose sight of the great provocation, I——'

'You may rest assured, Mr. Mortimer, that I shall act justly,' interrupted the Judge, rising, as a signal that the interview was at an end. 'I must now wish you both good evening, as my time is fully occupied, till I start for the steamer at Morpeth. Are you going back to-night, Mr. Mortimer?'

'Yes, your Honor.'

'Then I shall see you on board—good evening.'

In leaving the hotel, the gentlemen were followed by a black gin, who appeared deeply interested in their conversation. They stood for nearly a quarter, of an hour, in the verandah discussing the all-absorbing theme of the prisoner's attack upon Hubert Clayton, and then they separated, Mr. Mortimer going to a public-house a short distance down the road, and Mr. Shelley returning to the jail to see the prisoner, if possible, before he started for Sydney.

On his turning round, Mr. Shelley stumbled over the black, who had been standing directly behind him, ostensibly engaged in fastening a hook upon a fishing line. 'Get out of my way, you imp of darkness!' Mr. Shelley exclaimed, impatiently, and the gin stepped back, without reply. When Mr. Shelley reached the prison-gate, he was much surprised to find the black standing at a little distance, intently watching the proceedings of a bullock-driver, whose team was stuck fast in the mud. 'Halloa, dusky! what you want?' he called to the black, who, without approaching nearer, replied, in a doleful tone, 'Me lose him my little feller piccaninny! you got him?'

'No, you black idiot! You'd better be off and look for it,' he replied impatiently. The gin took a step closer to the mud-embedded dray, and appearing to forget her domestic bereavement, watched, with increased interest, the troubles of the unfortunate bullocks.

Half an hour later, Mr. Shelley mounted his horse, and galloped away in the direction of Morpeth, and the black ran off into the bush to the place where the bay colt had been 'planted,' and in the excitement, forgetting to take off the disguising dress, leaped into the saddle, and, in his eagerness to 'tell him Missie Berta,' never drew rein until, foamed, splashed and reeking, he sprang to the ground by the back fence of the garden at Field Place. All had retired to bed. Jerry hastily snatched the bridle off the colt, and the beast, hot and fatigued by its quick journey, lay down to roll; and the saddle that Jerry had in his eagerness forgotten, was broken and destroyed.

The blackboy was too intent upon the fulfilment of his mission, to observe the effects of his carelessness, and, nimbly climbing the garden fence, crept cautiously up to Bertha's window. He raised his hand to tap upon the pane, but the silent watcher required no signal that her messenger had returned. 'Oh, I am so glad you are back again, Jerry!' she startled him by exclaiming. 'I have been waiting for you, oh, so long, so very, very long!'

She had been sitting at that window nearly the whole of the time that Jerry had taken to go and return upon his mission. She could draw no consolation from the tender attention and solicitude of her mother or Marion Macaulay, but had mourned for her preserver as dead. To their repeated attempts to comfort her, she had but one reply—'They will kill him, and I can do nothing to help him! Oh, that I could die in his stead!' Hoping that she would lay down and take some rest, they had left her to herself since tea time, and through those long hours till Jerry's return, she had watched at the window in silence and tears, waiting to learn the result of that terrible trial—one moment almost persuading herself that all must see his innocence and nobleness of soul, and set him free—the next a prey to despair and agony.

Poor girl! Her life had hitherto been all sunshine; but now she had entered a season of darkest gloom. Shall she ever pass safely through it to the happy light beyond, or shall its sombre cloud for ever shroud her gentle life? Heaven is good! Let her hope and wait, and remember that 'every cloud has a silver lining.' If she sees not that silver lining from here, she shall from another stand point—from above.

The window was open, and Jerry, leaning upon the window sill, glanced into the darkened room, revolving how lo break the unwelcome news to his unhappy young mistress.

'Tell me at once, Jerry! Tell me at once!' she cried, terror-stricken by his silence, 'Don't keep me in suspense! Is he acquitted or have they?—have they——'

She was unable to conclude the terrible question; and stood leaning against the window in anxious suspense. Jerry fidgetted about, and scratched his head, not knowing what to say. Young and untutored as he was, he keenly felt the pain his words must inflict.

'Tell me at once, Jerry! You will kill me, if you keep me in suspense!' she exclaimed piteously.

'That damn judge only string him Misser Sinlar up!' Jerry blurted out in a tone of deep commiseration. 'Dat Misser Sinlar budgery game feller! Dat smash dat bagabond feller Misser Cayton like a jumbuc!' he continued; but Bertha answered not. She had sunk back insensible upon her couch as the terrible truth flashed upon her. Receiving no response to his words Jerry concluded that 'Missie Berta was murry busy belonging to thinking,' and crept off to his bed—not forgetting, however, to make a raid upon the safe in the kitchen, to make amends for the loss of his supper.

We must now leave the unhappy pair, whose future lay as wrecks upon the troubled course of love—leave them, the one peacefully asleep upon the damp straw in the condemned cell, while the avenging arm of the law holds bare above his devoted head the sword of Justice; the other laying insensible upon her couch, her gentle heart rent by the awful fate threatening him she now loved so well.

Mr. Shelley reached Sydney after some delay in the river, from the steamer grounding upon its flats or mudbanks, and lost no time in setting Mr. Fullerton and his other influencial friends in motion. The day after he reached the capital, he called at Government House. He was accompanied by his friends. The Governor received them graciously, and listened with courtesy and attention to the representations made to him on the prisoner's behalf. 'I have received no communication from the Judge on the subject yet; but I will send my aid-de-camp to fetch him at once, if you can spare time to wait. I can decide better what course to pursue after seeing him,' the Governor said thoughtfully.

The aid-de-camp was sent for the Judge, and meeting him in George street, returned with him in much shorter time than was expected. 'I was coming to Government House, your Excellency, when your aid-de-camp met me,' the judge said in reply to the Governor's expressed hope, that his summons caused him no inconvenience.

Half an hour's consultation resulted in the Judge's strongly recommending the Governor to cancel the sentence.

'There is quite an air of romantic interest surrounding the case,' said the Governor. 'You do not intend the prisoner for a son-in-law, I presume?'

'By no means, your Excellency,' replied Mr. Shelley, while Mr. Fullerton's face darkened. 'I should like to get him a comfortable situation, where he may have no chance of meeting my daughter.'

'Well, I will see your wishes attended to. The sentence shall be cancelled in the meanwhile. Do you return to the Hunter by the first boat?'

'Yes, your Excellency. I am anxious to get back as soon as possible.'

'I will send you the necessary papers in the morning.'

The gentlemen thanked the Governor and withdrew, leaving him to attend to the Judge, who had a report to submit.

On their way to Hyde Park they encountered the Rev. Arthur Rosburg, a friend of Mr. Fullerton's; and, reinforced by the addition to their numbers, they repaired to a neighbouring hotel to dinner.

'Did you hear of the death of Mr. John Beresford?' the Rev. Mr. Rosburg enquired of Mr. Fullerton, as the party sat over their wine after dinner was disposed of.

'Beresford dead? This is the first I've heard of it!' replied Mr. Fullerton in surprise. 'I thought he would live for the next twenty years. He's an old man certainly, but as sound as a bell. What did he die of?'

'Is that the Beresford from Bathurst?' asked Mr. Shelley.

'Yes!' replied the reverend gentleman. 'He was out kangaroo hunting; and his horse fell with him, and broke his neck!'

'Poor fellow! He leaves a young wife too, doesn't he!' said a gentleman present, a friend of Mr. Fullerton.

'Yes, Mr. McDermott, and a couple of children!' replied the clergyman.

'They are well provided for: and I expect he will soon have a successor; for the station will fall to his wife—that is worth the encumbrance of a charming young widow!' said Mr. McDermott, laughing.

'His death places me in rather an awkward position. I sent to England for a governess for him a few months ago. She arrived this morning by the Wild Wave, and he is dead,' said the clergyman.

'Cannot the widow take her? She will require a companion,' suggested Mr. Fullerton.

'No. She is going to Van Dieman's Land, to stay with some friends for a few months.'

'Just the thing for you then, Walter! Bertha needs a companion; and this governess being brought out by Mr. Rosburg is a sufficient guarantee of her respectability. You should secure her at once.'

'If you think it worth your while to engage her, I can arrange this afternoon, Mr. Shelley,' said the clergyman. 'She is a virtuous and educated lady, and as such would suit you well, if you need a companion to your daughter.'

'You may engage her for me at once, Mr. Rosburg. I want to get back by the schooner that sails to-morrow. If she cannot go with me, you can see her on board the steamer on Friday.'

'I have no doubt she will go at once. She was much disappointed at the loss of the situation she came out to, and begged of me to get her another as soon as possible.'

'I think, under the peculiar circumstances of the case, this opportunity is one not to be lost. We will go and see her this afternoon if Mr. Rosburg can spare time to accompany and introduce us!' said Mr. Fullerton.

At three o'clock accordingly, Mr. Shelley, with his father-in-law and the clergyman visited the Wild Wave, and had an interview with the young lady. Mr. Shelley was pleased by her appearance, and gentle, unassuming manners, and offered her a liberal salary to go as companion to his daughter. The clergyman strongly advised her to accept it, and, after a few moments thought, she did so.

At eight o'clock next morning, the Frowning Beauty spread her canvas, and sailed down the harbor. The scene was, as it is, and always shall be, one of the most beautiful the world has to show; and the young lady, as she sat on the deck gazing upon it, soon forgot her troubles in admiration. The extreme beauty of the landscape soothed her into a pensive melancholy; and she mused on uninterrupted until the little schooner reached the Heads, and the fairy scene changed to the vast prospect of the Pacific, when a rough-looking sailor touched his cap, and, offering her the day's paper, said respectfully, 'Would you like to see the news, Miss? Here's this morning's Gazette. It'll be company for you!'

She took the paper, and thanking the man for his thoughtfulness, settled herself to read. The first item of news that met her gaze, was the report of the Criminal Court just concluded in Maitland. Without any other aim than whiling away the time, she waded through the long and uninteresting accounts of the different trials. She read on mechanically to the end of the cases, her thoughts far away from the subjects before her. She was folding the paper to lay it aside, when the name of Sinclair suddenly caught her eye. She had just read the whole of the trial, but was so absent-minded that she did not notice the name of the prisoner before 'Sinclair! Percy Sinclair! It must be he!' she exclaimed excitedly. 'Sentenced to death! Oh, my poor cousin, my poor cousin!'

She read the case through again with intense interest. 'His noble consideration for the lady's happiness will cost him his life!' she exclaimed, in anguish, as she finished reading the account of the trial.

'Looking at the report of the Maitland trials, Miss?' asked Mr. Shelley, who had unobserved, approached her.

'Oh, sir, can it be true that Percy Sinclair is to be hung?'

'He is pardoned, Miss—the Governor has cancelled his sentence! Do you know him?'

'He is my cousin. Thank heaven he has escaped!'

'He was my servant, and the business that brought me to Sydney was to endeavour to obtain his pardon. I have succeeded; and he will be released from prison as soon as we get home.'

'May heaven reward you, sir, for your generous efforts on his behalf!'


CHAPTER XXVII.


I love, and am a woman!

—BULWER LYTTON.

The cold, grey dawn was breaking, when Bertha recovered from the swoon into which Jerry's vivid report of the trial had thrown her. With returning consciousness came the sad memory of her preserver's position. Sentenced to death! With his awful fate impending before her eyes, and filling her heart and brain with agony and grief, she slowly rose, and stood for a few minutes leaning by the still-open window, gazing, hopelessly, out upon the star-spangled sky, half-wondering whether those myriad eyes of heaven ever looked down upon such bitter, bitter sorrow as hers. As the darkness slowly faded before the growing light of day, her musing eyes observed a white object just beyond the garden fence. She saw it indistinctly, and through the opening of the rails. She watched it closely for a brief space, an eager hope kindling in her numbed, chilled heart. 'It is! it must be him! the dear, little fellow to come back now!' she exclaimed; and, throwing a cloak over her shoulder, she hurried out into the dim morning. A low neigh welcomed her, as she passed through the gate, and in another minute Bertha was weeping, with emotion, her face hidden in the mane of her pony. Snowflake seemed almost as much affected by the reunion as his young mistress, and stamped and neighed with evident satisfaction. 'Wherever have you been all this time, you wicked little fellow to keep away so long?' she said, caressingly, as she wiped her eyes, and tried to compose herself. The pony rubbed his neck against her, and neighed softly. She stood in deep thought for a few moments, twining her fair fingers in his silky mane. 'Stay here, Snowflake; I'll be back directly. Don't go away old fellow,' she said suddenly, her expression of hopeless agony giving place to a glance of firm resolution. 'Don't go away; I shall want you directly.'

Bertha turned and hurried off to an out-house, where Jerry slept. Snowflake had not the slightest intention of going away; but seeing his young mistress walking in the direction of the stable, he docilely followed her to the out-house, and waited at the door, while she entered.

The dim light proceeding through an open shutter, revealed the faithful blackboy, asleep upon his bed, his spurs still on his naked feet. The poor fellow was so thoroughly tired, when he lay down a few hours before, that he forgot to undress, and fell off to sleep, munching his damper and beef.

Bertha gently shook him, and called him to get up at once; but Jerry was a heavy sleeper, and hard to wake. After a few minutes' unsuccessful effort, she was so disheartened, that she felt inclined to give up the attempt, when Snowflake, who was expecting his morning's allowance of corn, scented a bag in one corner of the shed, and walked ceremoniously in, and, in reaching over the bed, touched jerry's face with his cold nose, and, not being able to get at the corn, gave a loud and impatient neigh.

Jerry leaped out at the open window, without waiting to rouse himself, he was so startled. 'What de debil belongin' to dat?' he exclaimed, when he found himself safely out of the shed; and half fancying he had been dreaming, he cautiously stole round to the door and peeped in. His amazement, in seeing his young mistress and her pony in his private bedroom, was unbounded.

'Halloa! Missie Berta, dat you! Where you find him Snowflake,' he asked, as soon as he had recovered from his surprise.

'He just came home! Jerry, saddle him at once. I want you to take me to Maitland!' she said, with a tone of quiet determination.

'But bale you got him breakfast yet, Missie Berta!' Jerry answered.

'I will take the pony down to the back of the stable; and you get my saddle out of the kitchen at once. Marion will be up directly and may see you.'

Jerry looked as though he would have preferred to argue the expediency of going before breakfast; but he ran off to the kitchen without reply, and Bertha led the pony under cover of the stable. Jerry had taken the saddle down from the peg, and was balancing it upon his head, when he heard steps approaching. He had no time to leave the kitchen unobserved, so he slipped his burden out of a back window, and then stepped to the door with the greatest unconcern. 'Well, Mallyun,' he said, as Marion Macaulay entered, 'you get up murry early dis morning.'

'Not earlier than usual, Jerry! But where did you get to yesterday? Old Hal wanted you to help him to strip some bark!'

'Dat old Perbly want me? All right, Jerry go now!' said the artful young savage, and slipping out, he snatched up the saddle and was behind the concealment of the stable in a few seconds. Snowflake was quickly saddled, and Bertha mounted. 'You murry make haste, Missie Berta, and gallop along a brush. Mallyun in kitchen now. Bale dat can see him you,' urged Jerry, who had just caught a glimpse of the bay colt, decked out in the wreck of the saddle, and was anxious to hide the result of his carelessness from the eyes of his young mistress.

'But you must come too, Jerry!' said Bertha decisively. 'I may want you.'

'All right, Missie Berta. Me going to come. You murry make haste first. Me catch you murry quick.'

'You might help me to get Mr. Sinclair out of the jail, Jerry!' she said, in animation, her eyes sparkling and her pulse beating high at the exciting thought of saving her preserver's life, 'I will ride slowly on, while you catch a horse; but be as quick as you can.'

'You gallop till you along a back a brush. Den you wait. Jerry catch you by-by!'

Bertha relaxed the reins, and prepared to start, but Jerry, seeing Marion Macaulay passing from the kitchen to the house, dragged the eager pony back, and held him under cover. 'Dare! dat Mallyun go in now,' he whispered, as Marion entered the house. 'You murry make haste now. Me catch him you by-by.'

Snowflake waited for no urging. Directly Jerry released the reins he sprang forward, and guided by Bertha's skilful hand, soon carried her round by the back of the brush, out upon the Maitland Road and out of sight of the house. Bertha then reined him in, and kept him at a walk, while waiting for her guide. Hope, that had for days been as dead within her heart, was again asserting its supremacy; and she smiled as she pictured to herself her preserver, rescued by her forethought from the deadly power of the law, living in peace and security in some lovely forest glade, his every want supplied by her faithful attendant Jerry. The only bitterness in this delicious cup was the thought that she could never see him then. But all selfish considerations gave way before the supreme joy of the anticipation of saving him; and her pale features wore something of her old smile, as she rode slowly forward weaving bright airy castles. 'Not so fast, Snowflake! We must wait for Jerry!' she said, patting her pony's neck. 'You must not be so eager. There's plenty of time!'

Snowflake's patience was not long tried. Jerry soon caught the bay colt, and fixing the broken saddle as well as he could, galloped away, and speedily overtook his young mistress.

'Is the sun up yet, Jerry?' Bertha enquired as he drew rein at her side.

'Yes, Missie Berta! Only you can't see him cause a dis brush!' he replied.

'Lead the way, Jerry, and lose no time. I will follow you!' she said; and Jerry stuck spurs into the bay colt, and went off at a gallop. They kept up the severe pace the whole of the way, except in places where the road was very rough, and in a couple of hours reached the village of Maitland. Jerry cast longing eyes in the direction of the inn, where he usually put up, when in town with his master. 'Dat murry budgery beefsteak belonging to old Mother Kenny's, Missie Berta!' he said insinuatingly. 'Spo we get him breakfast; what you say? Jerry murry hungry.'

'No, no, Jerry! We must see him first!' Bertha replied impetuously. 'If you won't go with me, I must go by myself! We can get break——'

Bertha's words were interrupted by her pony shying at a man passing on the opposite side of the road. She was a good rider and was able to keep her seat; but she had a narrow escape. She dropped her quince switch as the pony sprang aside; and the man politely shuffled across and picked it up for her. 'I aren't much to look at, as your pony seems to think, Miss; but you've no cause to be afeared of me! It's generally your smart-looking fellows, as thinks it only fun to break a girl's heart, or neck either, for the matter of that, that you'd best give a wide berth! Them's the chaps that 'ud just play with a girl till they're tired of her, and then fling her away, and never care a d—— whether she goes to heaven or hell!' said the man, handing her the switch.

Bertha looked timidly at the strange object before her, half afraid that he was mad, he spoke with such earnestness. He had the oddest appearance of any man, she had ever seen; and, but for his government uniform, she would have taken him for a bushranger. 'Thank you, sir, for picking up my switch; I am much obliged to you,' she said, taking it from his hands.

During the brief colloquy, Jerry had sat upon the wreck of his saddle, regarding the stranger with a gaze of intense amusement, and stuffing his knuckles into his mouth to smother his laughter. But here he burst out into a roar of merriment. In a few moments he subsided sufficiently to exclaim—

'Oh, my jingo! Dat murry queer belonging to legs! Dat like it two feller boomarang!' and then laughed again, till he set in roars all the 'laughing jackasses' within hearing.

'Jerry!' Bertha exclaimed in reproof, 'How dare you!'

'O, never mind him, miss,' said the man. 'I'm just as God made me; and if people laugh at the work, they laugh at the Maker. I dare say, if he was in old England, some of the young 'uns 'u'd laugh at him, and call him 'sooty,' and 'blacking brush,' and all sorts of such names. But never mind him, Miss; let the nigger, laugh. Do you see that chap riding along there on the black horse?' he asked, pointing down the road. 'Look! he's just passing that leaning gumtree.'

Bertha glanced in the direction indicated. 'Yes, sir! I see him,' she replied.

'That's the sort of fellow you girls ought'er be wary on. Coves as looks as handsome as gentlemen, and aren't got no more heart than a wolf! That same feller—I'll never be content till I sticks a knife into him—is just stopping in Maitland for no other cause only to see a man hung next week, as he was the cause of lagging.'

At the mention of hanging, Bertha drew up the rein she had just loosened. 'To be hung next week! Who is he? What is his name?' she exclaimed, eagerly.

'What? That fellow riding there, Miss? His name is Hubert Clayton! And may he be——'

'No, no!' she interrupted. 'He who is to——to——'

She could not articulate the awful word; but the stranger understood her.

'He's a gentleman, Miss, although he's a lag; and he's name is Sinclair.'

By a strong effort she crushed down her emotion, and, though all colour fled from her face, she spoke calmly. 'What day is——'

'We don't know when, until the Governor sends word, Miss; but it'll be next week, I expect.'

Bertha paused a moment in thought, and then asked, abruptly, 'Who are you, sir? Did you know Mr. Sinclair in England?'

'Me, Miss? My name's Bow. I never seed Mr. Sinclair, till I went as a witness agin him, and swore the lie that got him lagged!'

'Oh, how could you be so wicked!' Bertha exclaimed, her eyes, flashing in indignation. 'Think of all the shame and misery you have caused.'

'Tain't no use to think now, Miss; though I do think on it a deal more than I like! But may I ask you one question, Miss?'

'Yes.'

'Are you the young lady as Mr. Sinclair saved from the bushrangers? Don't think me impertinent like; but I thought you was when you first spoke.'

'Yes, yes, I am! And if you were so unjust to him in England, as you say, you ought to be willing to make some amends here. You look honest; and I think I can trust you.'

Bow muttered under his breath, 'I'd a never bin nothing rise, only I'd a starved many a time, if I hadn't.'

'I want to save him, from being hung. Can you help me?' Bertha continued.

Bow stared at her for a minute in silence. 'Well, now, that's what I call presiderment! You had a presiderment to let him slip out of jail; and so had I!' he exclaimed in triumph. 'Some people's too ignerent to believe in presiderments, but I do!'

'I want to see him if I can, and then we could change clothes; and he could escape and gallop away to a place of safety, before the jailor found out his mistake.'

'You see, Miss, I'm a jailor! But you've no cause to be frightened,' he hurried on to say, seeing her glance of dismay. 'I shan't split on you! But I'll help you if I can. Let me see,' he continued, reflectively, 'Mr. Sinclair's a good trifle taller than you. No! 'twouldn't be no use. The constables 'u'd bowl him out for sartin, if he tried to pass the gate in your clothes. If you was of a hight you might, but it aren't no use a trying it.'

'Oh, dear! what can we do, then? I was so certain I could save him, that I never thought of the difference in our height! We must do something at once, or the dreadful warrant may come first. Can't you think of anything! Oh, do try!'

Bow stood leaning upon a stump, racking his brains for an idea.

'If you brought this trouble upon him by falsely swearing against him, you ought to try to save his life!'

'That's the very idea that's brought me out for a tramp in the bush this morning. You see, Miss, I'm one of the warders of the gaol, though I'm a lag; and I'm just a thinkin' whether I oughtn't to help him to bolt, as a recompensation like for swearing agin him at York,' replied Bow, meditatively.

'Oh, do, sir! It would be terrible to die so young!' replied Bertha, with deep emotion; bitter tears of sorrow chasing each other down her cheeks.

'You see, Miss,' said Bow, who seemed bent upon giving her a full and complete explanation of his position and history, 'I was assigned to the police magistrate, and I earned a pretty good character with him; so when Dick Brown, one of the warders, died with the fever, a month ago, I was made temporally warder—that means, till they send another un. My time 'll be up on Tuesday; for there's one coming from the Sydney gaol to take Dick Brown's place and then I'll have to go back to Mr. Bartell's agin. Now, this is what I've bin thinking—if I can let him out one night, and have a horse ready, he could escape into the bush!'

'The very thing! Let him out to-night!'

'I can't to-night! I'm not on the lock to-night! To-morrow night I'm on!'

Jerry, whose merriment had evaporated, as his quick apprehension caught the significance of the conversation, here came a step forward. 'Look here, Missie Berta, your murry sorry belonging to dat sodgers string him up Misser Sinlar! Jerry get him horse tomoller night; and dis feller with him boomarang legs can let him out of dat jail, and me take Misser Sinlar plenty miles long way.'

'You're the smartest darkie I've seen!' said Bow, admiringly. 'He can bring a horse, Miss,' he continued to Bertha; 'and we will let Mr. Sinclair clear to-morrow night!'

'Thank you! Oh, thank you! Do you think I could see him before he goes? Could I see him this morning? I must get home as soon as I can; or papa and mamma will be uneasy!'

'Yes, Miss; I think so! You go to the jail at ten o'clock, and I'll tell the governor before. He'll be sure to let you see him. The governor of the jail isn't half a bad sort, he isn't!'

'Dat Misser Selley bale go home last night, Missie Berta! Dat go to Sydney along a Morpeth; dat go last night!' said Jerry.

'To Sydney! Why?'

'Bale dat me know!' said Jerry slowly, ashamed at having to confess ignorance, and more than half inclined to invent a cause to rest his credit on.

'Then I must go back as soon as I can; mamma will be so uneasy! I will be at the gaol at' ten o'clock. What time is it now, sir?'

'Not much over eight, Miss,' returned Bow, first taking the measure of his shadow, and then noting the height of the sun.

'Two long hours! How slow time passes!'

'Look here, Miss! You'd best go over to the pub. across there. You must a started early, and oughter be a bit peckish by this!'

Jerry seconded and supported the resolution with great energy; and thanking her new friend Bertha reluctantly turned Snowflake's head in the direction of the hotel at the corner of the street. As she loosened rein, Hubert Clayton cantered past, and recognizing Jerry, guessed who Bertha was, and gallantly raised his hat.

Bow sprang forward, and caught Snowflake's bridle. 'Do you see that fine feathered chap, that looks as if he was a gentleman? That's the man as got Mr. Sinclair lagged!' he whispered hoarsely.

Bertha glanced at the retiring figure, that she had not before observed.

'Who is he, sir? Do tell me how he did so! Tell me all you know!' she said eagerly.

Bow narrated the story as briefly as was possible in his roundabout style, and concluded by a solemn exhortation, almost ludicrous in its earnestness, not to trust 'any of them sleek, smiling chaps,' that's as handsome as diamond snakes and as dangerous!'

Bertha did not reply to the well-meant warning—probably she did not hear it—but, giving her pony the rein, rode slowly on to the hotel; the burden of her reverie being—'He is innocent; and Mr. Clayton knows it! I will ask him, I will beg of him on my knees to prove it! He cannot refuse me, when he knows how unhappy I am!'

Dream on, weak girl! Take what fleeting comfort thou canst from thy bright vision of innocence vindicated, of the bond made free! Knewest thou the hard, cold world, as experience shall yet teach it thee, Hope in thy sweet breast would not rise again so lightly! 'Twere as well to ask the tiger for his prey, or the grave for the mourned-for dead, as him for one pitying thought. And if thou couldst achieve the impossible, and melt him to tears of remorse, still it were vain to hope, that—he would change places with the criminal! No! Sorrows, yet keener than all thou hast yet known, are before thee; and black is the horizon of thy future, as is the heavens when the Storm-fiend brings the hurricane from the south! Heavy, crushing is thy Cross! Pray for strength to bear it! Pray—and then a glimmer of the Hope, now warm within thy breast, may light thee through the storm to the still heaven beyond!

The garrulous landlady of the 'Black Swan' received Bertha with noisy protestations of welcome, and poured out her questions and opinions in one gushing torrent, and, fortunately for Bertha, neither expecting nor waiting for a reply—'Must have started early this morning, Miss Shelley! I'm glad to see you looking so well! Yet not so well as when I seen you last! A shade paler, I think! That's a long time since you were in Maitland last! Leastway a long time since I seen you. Ah well, I know you wouldn't come to town without coming to see me! But I'm forgetting! Haven't had breakfast yet? What a silly question, to be sure! Well come into the dining-room; breakfast's on the table now. There's nobody partic'lar there, only Mr. Blair and Mr. Clayton. You don't know them, I expect! O, yes, let me see, Edith Blair is a great friend of yours; and Mr. Clayton has just finished his breakfast, so there is only one.'

The landlady paused for a moment to take breath, and Bertha took the opportunity to ask her for a feed of corn for her pony.

'Certainly, Miss Shelley, and the blackboy too.'

Here Jerry, who was holding the horses at the door, gave a grunt of decided disapproval.

'No, I don't, mean the black boy, I mean his horse. And that's the dear little pony the convict stole! Well, he'll get hung for it, that's a comfort! Come down to see the execution I expect? It aren't a very nice sight for a young lady certainly, but young people is apt to be curious. It's only nat'ral, aren't it? Many's the neck I've seen twisted in my time! And he's the man that pulled you out of the water at the Bushrangers' Gully? Well, if convicts will turn cut-throats, nip 'em in the bud, I say; nip 'em in the bud! I'd hang—— What, miss! Are you ill?'

Bertha was holding to the verandah post for support, her face the colour of ashes.

'La! the child's fainting!' the old woman exclaimed in consternation. 'Take her other arm you black devil, and don't stand grinning there; and help me to lead her into the parlor.'

'Never mind; it's nothing! Jerry, get me a drink of water,' Bertha said, recoiling with a shudder from the old woman's touch. 'I shall be better directly.'

Mr. Blair, who, from the dining-room, had overheard the landlady's unfortunate remarks, here stepped out upon the verandah, and saying, 'I will attend to Miss Shelley, Mrs. Kenny; you are wanted in the bar, I think!' led Bertha into the hotel; and the landlady muttering something about some people always pushing themselves where they wasn't wanted, retired sulkily to the bar.

'Do not pay any attention to Mrs. Kenny, Bertha; her tongue always runs too fast,' Mr. Blair said soothingly.

Bertha did not reply, but sank down upon a sofa, and burst into tears.

'A few minutes silent weeping will relieve her!' thought Mr. Blair, as he poured her out a cup of tea. 'The old fool's tongue has harrowed her feelings cruelly!'

Bertha sobbed as if her heart was broken, and pushed the proffered cup from her in all the wilfulness of grief; but Mr. Blair insisted in a kind, fatherly way upon her taking it. The exhilarating beverage soon worked a soothing effect upon her nerves; and when she became a little composed, Mr. Blair gently led her to speak of the object of her visit to Maitland. At the time the prisoner so gallantly rescued her at the Bushrangers' Camp Mr. Blair formed a shrewd conclusion of the cause of his reckless daring; and he now guessed her motive in coming to town. Bertha was at first unwilling to speak upon the subject, so fearful was she that anyone should learn of the projected scheme for Percy's escape; but on Mr. Blair telling her that he guessed her mission, and offering to use his influence with the governor of the gaol to obtain an interview for her with the prisoner, she related her troubles. 'Do not be afraid to trust me, Bertha,' he said, kindly, 'I may guess wrongly, but I believe you came to Maitland this morning to see Mr. Sinclair. It is but natural you should feel anxious on behalf of one to whom you owe your life. I will do what I can to procure you an interview.'

Bertha thanked him warmly, and tears of gratitude fell upon Mr. Blair's hand as she pressed it. She admitted her wish to see the prisoner, but carefully avoided any allusion to her hope of his escape; and by a strange fatality, Mr. Blair failed to speak of her father's business in Sydney. Neither Jerry nor Bow, either, had been fortunate enough to recollect the matter, though both knew that he had gone expressly to obtain mitigation of the prisoner's sentence. Had Bertha learned the exertion her father was making on Percy's behalf, it is possible she might have hesitated before persuading the prisoner to forfeit all claim to the Governor's clemency by attempting escape from jail. But whether she would have thought the chance of his obtaining remission of the capital sentence too small for him to hazard his life by awaiting it, and still urged him to immediate escape, or not, certain it is that she knew nothing but that her preserver was condemned to death, and that she would save him at any, at every cost. Percy, too, by a strange coincidence, had not been told of his master's visit to Sydney. The gaol chaplain, who was endeavouring to prepare the prisoner for his probably speedy end, purposely withheld the intelligence, lest he should raise hopes he was not very sanguine would be realized; and Percy, feeling death inevitable, believing himself standing upon the dim brink of eternity, strove hard to turn his time to good account. From boyhood he had been religious, but his religion had been of the head rather than the heart, a religion of conviction rather than feeling; and now, when he stood, as he thought, face to face with the dread mysteries of death, he found little of the comfort and consolation that he had been accustomed to expect from the sublime truths of Christianity. He needed yet greater trials to break through the barrier of cold intellectuality, and warm his heart with the heavenly fire of regeneration.

Mr. Blair paced the room a turn or two, deliberating whether he was justified in aiding Bertha to see the prisoner. 'I'm not certain that I am acting judiciously!' he said mentally. 'I'm afraid I——— Well, right or wrong, I'll risk it! It would be hard, if she could not see her preserver to bid him farewell, before he is launched into eternity; for there is not much chance of his sentence being cancelled!'

He pressed her to take some breakfast, and directly she had finished, he went out to arrange for her visit to the jail; and Bertha turned to the window to wait with feverish impatience for the sober-going old clock over the mantelpiece to reach the hour of ten.

She sat by the open window gazing vacantly out upon the road, and thinking of the sad changes that had happened within the last few days—changes that had thrown a dark shadow over her young life, and banished, perhaps for ever, her peace and happiness. Her gloomy reverie was abruptly interrupted by the entrance of Jerry, who, in an aggrieved tone, exclaimed, 'Bale you think it, Jerry murry hungry, Missie Berta? Dat me too much murry hungry altogeder!'

Bertha started, and turned her large, enquiring eyes upon the disturber of her sombre dreams.

'Dat me been holding him horses all dis time, Missie Berta. Bale dat Mother Kenny no give me any breakfast!'

Bertha felt sorry for the troubles of her faithful attendant, and gave him permission to sit down and get his breakfast at the table, upon which his eyes rested longingly; and the blackboy's doleful voice soon gave place to the clatter of plates and dishes, as he most expeditiously made up for lost time. And as Jerry sat revelling in the delights of the 'murry beef steak belonging to Mother Kenny,' Bertha relapsed into her reverie.


CHAPTER XXVIII.


But now shine on, and what care I,
Who in this stormy gulf have found a pearl
The countercharm of space and hollow sky
And do accept my madness, and would die
To save from some slight shame one simple girl;
Would die; for sullen-seeming Death may give
More life to Love than is or ever was
In our low world, where yet 'tis sweet to live.

—TENNYSON.

'Time flies fast' is a saying, the truth of which is never so well understood as when time has flown; and eternity steps forward in its stead. When the days are numbered, and man, counting his few remaining hours, stands watching the last grains swiftly falling to the lower globe of his time-measure, then the full significance of the aphorism, that should be charactered in letters of flame upon the minds of all—'time flies fast!'—flashes upon his awakened gaze, and fills him with wonder that he did not till now feel its immortal truth!

Percy was standing by the grated window of his cell on the morning after the trial, reviewing his short life. Very brief seemed the few years he had passed. He had scarcely passed through the golden age of boyhood, and entered the arena of real life, when the black cloud of disgrace and shame fell upon him. And now how brief seemed the three years he had spent since that first trial, when he was torn from home, and sent, a branded outcast, from his country! His time had come! In a few days, a week at the latest, the cold grave would close over him; he felt, and he waited with no dread for the fatal hour. He prayed for grace to touch his cold heart, to feel the exceeding preciousness of the great atonement, but no grace came; he read the Holy Word in the hope of profiting somewhat by the soul-penetrating truths of salvation; but, strive as he would, he could only know, he could not feel the great riches of religion; and he now waited in almost sullen anticipation for the hour to arrive that should, however hopeless it might leave his dim future, free her from the baleful shadow of his existence.

The door behind him grated heavily upon its hinges, as it was slowly swung open; but he heard it not, and a slight figure glided noiselessly into the damp, dark cell. The harsh grating of the hinges passed unheeded by his inattentive ears; but that subdued sob, scarcely audible in its depth of concentrated sorrow, which shook the delicate frame of the gentle being who had come, daring all for his dear sake, to risk even reputation to save him, instantly roused him from thought. He turned—

'Oh, Percy!' exclaimed, a low, sweet voice, and in a moment she was in his arms.

Percy Sinclair almost doubted the evidence of his senses. She, whom to save from the baleful influence of his love, he had sacrificed liberty, perhaps life; she, who, for her own dear sake, he had hoped, would learn to forget his very existence, was here clinging to him, and weeping tears of bitter grief for his trouble, her gentle heart torn by dread anticipation of his impending fate. For one brief moment his passionate, yearning love triumphed, and he pressed her to his heart; the next, the warning voice of honour recalled discretion; and, gently disengaging her hands, he said calmly, almost coldly,'I sincerely thank you, Miss Bertha, for your kind interest in the convict's fate! But I doubt the wisdom of your visiting him in his cell. The world is censorious; and it is better to give it no shadow of cause for conjecture!'

It cost him a great effort to speak so unfeelingly to her, for whose happiness he would have pawned his soul. He turned his too-fond gaze from her tearful, imploring eyes; he could not bear to look down into their blue depths of sorrow-fraught love. He knew now a truth, that, under other considerations, would have thrilled his heart with joy, but which now added only wormwood to his bitter cup of fate—he knew that she loved him, that in her pure heart his image reigned supreme. And he knew that he could never win her, that her love for him could only blight her otherwise happy future. They who love in vain have probable cause for sorrow; but they who win the heart of the adored one only to cast a shade of trouble over her future life, who but they may tell with what a concentrated anguish such a terrible calamity fills the soul! His heart suspended its movement, and grew icy cold as he spoke! Alive to nothing but his danger, and her scheme for his escape, Bertha did not observe his chilling manner, but exclaimed in a low whisper, casting at the same moment a frightened glance around, lest she should be overheard, 'Oh, Percy, they will kill you! Fly from this dreadful place, while there is yet time! Escape before it is too late!'

Regaining his composure, he begged her to return home, and not to distress herself on account of his fate. 'It is best as it is, Miss Bertha!' he said, quietly. 'I can not expect happiness in this world; in the next, perhaps, I may find it. Can you really be grieved at my chance of exchanging positive misery for possible felicity?' He spoke to her, as he would to any person, who expressed sorrow at his position. Not a sign did he show by look or tone, that her solicitude, was any more to him than the commonplace regret of strangers; but her love was too intense, too deep for any thought but of his safety to cross her mind. 'Positive misery for possible felicity!' she repeated, catching his glance at the moment with her sorrowful, enquiring eyes, 'Are you sure you would gain that possible happiness? When death is so near, it compels one to ask whether it would bring certain happiness. If there can be any doubt, how terrible to think of! Percy, I have arranged with the jailor for your escape to-morrow night. He will let you out at midnight; and Jerry will take you right away into the bush, where they can never find you again.'

'Escape! That is impossible, Miss Bertha. No jailor would be so mad as to risk the gallows by saving me. The jailor who has charge of me, is a convict too! Those who belong to our miserable class, must be doubly careful; they are hung for what a free man would scarcely be reprimanded. It is useless to raise hopes in your gentle breast, of my escape. A few days more, and my time will have passed, and I shall be at rest. It is but natural that one so kind and good, as you have ever been, should feel sorrow at my misfortunes; but remember, Miss Bertha, my seeming affliction is but an ill-disguised blessing. When there is no hope in this world, it is a great consolation to feel that there is hope in the next.'

'Hope? Percy, unless there is certainty, there can be no hope! Are you sure of exchanging by death the woes of earth for joys of heaven? Forgive my speaking so boldly upon a subject that I am ashamed to admit I have thought so little about, till the last few days! The troubles we have had lately, seems to have changed me strangely, and I think of it now. But, Percy, there is no time to talk. You must escape to-morrow night! The jailor has promised to let you out.'

'And to suffer my sentence in my stead? No; Miss Bertha, it is impossible! No jailor could be found so unwisely generous as to act so.'

'But you must! The jailor will help you to escape, for he has promised me to. He knew you in England, and was one of the false witnesses whose evidence caused you to be transported. Do promise me you will avail yourself of his assistance, and escape!'

'Knew me in England, Miss Bertha? I fancied that I had met him before somewhere!'

'His name is Mr. Bow; he told me everything about you! It would have made me so happy a few days ago to have learnt you were innocent, though, that I never for a moment doubted, but this terrible calamity has so numbed my heart, that I feel I can never be happy again!' She broke down in saying this, and, leaning against the wall of the dark cell, sobbed piteously. His escape, her one thought, she had striven to speak and think calmly, and repressing the tears that had burst forth on her entering the cell, she had for a few minutes succeeded; but the struggle was too great, the excitement too severe, and she was completely overpowered. Percy had been able to conceal his emotion, while she controlled hers; but to see her weeping for his sorrow, and remain firm, was beyond his power. The considerate Bow had left his hands free. Tenderly supporting her fragile form in his strong arms, he begged in heart-wrung tones, that she would not distress herself for his misfortunes; 'It will soon be over, and——'

'You must, not; you shall not die!' she exclaimed passionately, interrupting him. 'It would kill me to lose you! Oh, that I could die to save you! You must escape!'

'It is impossible! I sincerely hope, Miss Bertha, that you may forget me, and remember only this, 'God knows best!''

'Forget you? Impossible! I would be unworthy of the life you twice offered yours to save; if I ever——'

She could not complete the sentence, and reclined upon his arms, overpowered by her emotion. Percy did not immediately reply, his heart was too full for words. He longed to tell her that her sympathy was dearer to him than all the world beside, but he felt it wisest, kindest, to hide his love. 'She loves me, and will find it a hard and long struggle to forget me, when I lay low, with the damp sod above my head; but if she knows how dear she is to me, she will linger over my memory, and waste the best days of her life in mourning,' he said mentally. 'No, she must not know how I adore her!'

After a few seconds she became sufficiently composed to renew the subject of his escape. Looking up imploringly, she exclaimed, 'But you will let the jailor assist you to get out of prison? Jerry will be waiting outside with horses, and then you can all escape.'

'By doing so, I would be compromising the jailor. He would be most certainly hung, if he aided my escape. I could not purchase safety at the expense of another man's life, even if mine was worth the sacrifice.' Percy replied, firmly and gently.

'And you will be hung, if you don't!' she sobbed.

'Miss Bertha—it would be dishonorable of me to accept life on such terms. For my own sake I would prefer to die; but as my fate causes you some uneasiness, I would escape, if I could do so without hazard to another. I should lose all self-respect were I to accept the warder's proposal! No, I must meet my doom!'

'What! You will not escape?' she exclaimed in consternation. 'You must! It would kill me, if you were to die! You must for my sake!'

Gently and tenderly he endeavoured to soothe her, and spoke eloquently of the mercy of the Lord chastening whom he loves. But the burden of her cry was still, 'You must escape! It would kill me, if you were to die!'

Her tears and entreaties only made him the firmer in his resolution. 'No, no!' he thought, 'Her love is the one great reason against my escaping! For her sake I will remain and die! Time will soon assuage the intensity of her grief; and, forgetting me, as she must soon learn to do, a happy future may yet be before her!'

'Tell me! Promise me that you will escape!' she pleaded.

'No, I cannot!' he replied, firmly.

She threw herself upon her knees before him and, clasping his hands in the agony of her grief, implored him piteously to avail himself of the jailor's offer; but he remained constant to his resolve.

'Oh, Percy, it would be but hypocricy, now in this terrible time to pretend not to understand each other! I know you love me! The danger you encountered in saving me at the Bushrangers' camp proved it; and the noble sacrifice you would now make—I understand, your motive proves you worthy of the love I must confess for you. But for the awful position you are in, I would rather break my heart than tell you this secret. But, O, Percy, for my sake escape! I could never be happy again if you die! never, never!'

In his emotion Percy paced his cell for a few minutes, his brain on fire, his heart full to bursting. She watched him closely, an eager, yearning expression upon her features. Suddenly he paused and stood before her, all traces of emotion gone. Taking her hands in his he said, gently, 'Were I in a different position nothing could give me greater happiness than to know that I had won the heart of the only girl I ever loved; but, as I am, to learn this gives me the greatest pain, for I know that for you to love me, a convict, is to be unhappy till you can forget me. No, Miss Bertha, I cannot! Let me beg of you to return home, and allow my fate to slip from your mind.'

She begged him passionately to yield, and take advantage of the opportunity of escape that was offered him; but he remained firm. Better cause her the present and transient grief, poignant as it was, than cloud her whole future life by his unfortunate existence! She stood apart for a moment, as if stupified by his refusal then, turning her tear-dimmed eyes upon him, she exclaimed, 'You will not escape! Then hear, me—I will not survive you. If you refuse to leave this prison to-morrow night, I will learn when the fatal day comes, and then, at the very hour that you are to die, I will die too! I know it is wicked, that perhaps my act may cost me the future; but I cannot, I will not survive you! Promise, me now! Promise me at once, that you will save your life, or I swear by my Maker to die by my own hand!' She stood erect, her dark blue eyes dilated and sparkling in her excitement, and her right arm held aloft, as if invoking heaven. 'At once, or I swear; and then no earthly power shall make me break my vow!'

Percy hesitated. To escape was to live, and to live was to blight her whole future; but a glance into those resolute eyes showed him the depth of her will, and determined him. She would take the vow if he did not comply at once. 'I promise!' he said reluctantly. 'I would rather die, for your sake as well as mine, but I promise!'

The terrible excitement that had sustained her through the long and painful interview suddenly failed her, and with the cry, 'Thank Heaven, he is saved!' she fell forward, fainting. He caught her in his arms, and, as she lay, her beautiful head resting upon his shoulder, hope feebly strove to reassert itself. How cruel did fate torture him! It was almost beyond human power to be patient and contented under such a trial. With what a bitter hatred might he not have justly regarded the monster in human guise, who had caused all his misery, and who was now lingering in Maitland for the fiendish purpose of witnessing the climax of his victim's disgrace—to see him hung—had he known his true character!

Bertha's features were ashy pale, and she looked so death-like in her swoon, that Percy became fearful that the strain had been too great, and had snapped her fragile thread of life. His cup of misery had long seemed full to the brim, yet was it ever being added to drop by drop. With a foreboding of evil, he gazed upon the dear face, so lovely in its still repose. There was no place in that damp cell, where he could lay her, while he called the jailor, and he carried her across to the door, and then knocked at it loudly. There was no need for much noise to attract Bow's attention. He was sitting on the opposite side of the passage, quietly waiting for the termination of the interview, and whiling away the time in speculating, whether his action in aiding the prisoner to escape and thereby forfeiting his own life, if he should be caught, would make him quits with the prisoner, for the deadly wrong he had done him at home. He had, after long and patient consideration, just arrived at the wise conclusion, that it was a problem he could not positively solve, when Percy's knocks dissipated his brown-study, and acting with the force and expedition of gunpowder, raised him to his feet, and hurled him against the door. He shoved it open and rushed in, almost overturning Percy in his haste. 'Ah! the young lady! What's up with her?' he exclaimed.

'Some water, quick!' said Percy; and without waiting to close the cell door after him, the excited jailor dashed out. In a couple of minutes he returned with a jug of water, icy-cold, as if just taken from a well. Bertha was beginning to revive, when Bow returned. Percy sprinkled the water gently upon her face, and soon brought her to. Opening her large, blue eyes she looked wonderingly round, and, comprehending her position at a glance, she hastily drew herself from Percy's arms, and blushing painfully, said, glancing from one to the other, and wiping the water from her face, 'Water! What is the matter? Surely I was not so weak as to faint!'

'Yes, Miss Bertha, you fainted; but the swoon only lasted a few minutes. You recovered directly the jailor brought some water,' replied Percy, gently.

'You looked as white as a new-sheared lamb a minute ago, miss; but the color's all come back now, and you looks as beautiful agin as a garden full of red roses!' said Bow, admiringly; and, then fancying that he had been too bold, the honest fellow stammered his apologies, and begged the young lady to forgive his rudeness.

Without replying to his words Bertha said joyfully, 'Oh, Mr. Bow, he will go with you to-morrow night! I had such trouble to persuade him; but he will go now.'

'You had trouble to persuade him?' said Bow, incredulously. 'Why if he don't escape to-morrow night, he'll never get another chance; for I shan't be on the lock again at night till after he's hung.'

'Miss Shelley tells me you are willing to let me escape. Have you taken into consideration the risk you would run by doing so?' Percy asked turning to Bow.

'They'd only hang me for it, sir; I've thought of that; but I'll save you, if they hang me a score of times. I've done you more hurt than I can ever undo; for if I hadn't been the wickedest wretch alive, and swore agin you at York, you wouldn't be here a prisoner now! But there's no more time for talking; so I'll just go into the passage agin, while you bid the young lady good-bye!' Saying which, and without waiting for reply, he stepped out, and drew the door to behind him.

'Miss Bertha, I have promised to escape, as you so much desire it; and I want you now to make me a promise also!' Percy said slowly.

'Oh, I will promise you anything!'

'Try to forget me!'

'Forget you, Percy? Never!' she exclaimed. 'I love you, and you alone! And if we never meet again on earth, I shall wait impatiently for the time when we may meet above! You will escape? Jerry shall be waiting for you with a horse. I would give you Snowflake; but Mr. Bow is afraid the pony is too well known, so Jerry shall bring one of the young horses.'

Bow here opened the door a few inches and whispered through the aperture, 'Excuse me, sir! It'll be time for the chaplain to be round directly!' and then drew back.

'I will escape as I promised, Miss Bertha; and my hourly prayer shall be that you may forget me, and learn to love some one who may be better able to make you happy!'

'Forget you! Never! But farewell, I shall know no moment's peace until I learn you are safe!'

Percy pressed her hands—he would have folded her to his breast had he dared—and in a moment she was gone. He staggered back to the grated window, and stood for hours leaning against the wall, gazing vacantly through the dingy panes, in bitter thought.


CHAPTER XXIX.


Thine eyes' blue tenderness, thy long fair hair,
And the wan lustre of thy features—caught
From contemplation—were serenely wrought,
Seems Sorrow's softness charm'd from its despair—
Have thrown such speaking sadness in thine air,
That—but I know thy blessed bosom fraught
With mines of unalloyed and stainless thought—
I should have deemed thee doom'd to earthly care!

—LORD BYRON.

As Bertha, leaning for support upon the strong arm of the warder, tottered out of the gaol yard, Snowflake, who with Jerry by his side, was awaiting her, neighed impatiently; and the black boy called to her, 'Come along, Missie Bertha! Dat Misser Bair go along to Field Place by-by! Dat waiting at Mother Kenny's. Bale, you go before dinner time! Eh!'

'Don't be afraid, Miss, about Mr. Sinclair,' said Bow, trying to re-assure her, 'Jerry and me'll get him off to-morrow night, as right as ninepence. He's—that Jerry, I mean—'s to have horses at the cross roads, about a mile on the Newcastle road, at twelve o'clock; and Mr. Sinclair and me'll walk there and meet him. Once in the saddle, there's no constables in Maitland 'll catch us!'

'Thank you! oh, thank you! I can never forget your goodness! Jerry will be there with the two fastest horses I can get!'

'Don't bother about a horse for me, miss, I know a good un here that I can borrow!' said Bow, narrowly risking his new title to honesty, by explaining too minutely how he intended procuring it.

Bertha again thanked him; and then mounting her pony rode rapidly back to the hotel for Mr. Blair, who Jerry had said was going back with her. Mr. Blair was not at the 'Black Swan,' but had left a message that he would be ready to start soon.

'Jerry, you stay for Mr. Blair for a few minutes. Tell him that my head ached, and I rode on!' Bertha said to the blackboy.

'You got it murry bad headache?' Jerry asked anxiously.

'Yes, Jerry, very bad!'

'What for you no stop, and have him dinner? Dat murry good, stop it headache,' advised Jerry, to whom a good dinner was a panacea for all complaints.

'No, no, Jerry, I must go!'

'Dat me stop him few minutes, for Misser Bair? How many dat few minutes? Dat five?'

'Yes, Jerry, yes! Good-bye Mrs. Kenny,' this to the landlady, who just appeared at the bar door; and Bertha turned her pony's head homeward, and gave him the rein.

'Queer girl that!' mumbled the old landlady, who was disappointed of a long 'yarn,' by Bertha's abrupt departure. 'Thinks a deal too much of herself! I've seen 'em as proud, come low enough in my time, and may again!' with which brief and unintelligible soliloquy, she turned upon her heel, and re-entered the bar, to finish to an eager crowd of listeners; a lively account of some of her early adventures in the black slums of London. She had been interrupted by Bertha's coming, in a narrative of a body-snatching case, in which she had figured as chief actor, and in which by the treachery of a jealous rival in the trade, her bright career had been cut short.

Jerry had learned how to read the clock, and hitching his horse to a verandah post, he peeped through the window to watch the passage of the five minutes, to which number he had limited the time he had received orders to wait for Mr. Blair. The fifth was three-fifths past, when the landlady suddenly appeared again upon the scene.

Noticing the black boy standing before the window, with his nose flattened against the pane, peering closely into the room, and concluding that he was prying into her private business, she stepped softly up to the unwary young savage, who received the first intimation of her presence in the form of a sounding box upon each ear, that made a dozen young comets dance before his eyes,' You black d———!' but perhaps it will be as well to suppress the forcible, though hardly lady-like epithets she treated him with. There was in her, at the best of times, little of the 'angelic simplicity and sweetness,' the halo poets delight to cast about their beautiful ideals; and now that her ire was thoroughly roused, by what she termed, 'the niggers impudent cur'osity, drat him! she appeared to the disgusted Jerry a very termagant. Jerry did not wait for a second attack, but recovering his surprise and his feet (she had knocked him considerably out of the perpendicular), at the same time, he slipped through her fingers, as she made a clutch at his woolly hair, with the unmistakeable intention of 'taking it out of him,' and darted to his horse. In a second he was in the saddle, from which eminence he gave 'Dat murry big fool old Mother Kenny!' a piece of his mind, and then turning his horse's head towards home, he raced off to overtake his young mistress, leaving the infuriated landlady shaking her red fists at him, in impotent rage.

Bertha had started at a gallop, and, giving her pony his head she had gained so great a distance that Jerry did not overtake her for a couple of miles. When he reached her side he commenced an excited recital of the unprovoked assault that he had been subjected to.

'Not now, Jerry, not now! Tell me another time. I can't listen to you now! Gallop on. I want to get home soon!'

Jerry used the spurs, and led the way; and after a long and hard ride they reached home. At the verandah Bertha sprang from the saddle and hurried into the house. She knew she must have been missed; and she was afraid her mother would be very anxious about her. Marion Macaulay met her at the door. 'Oh, wherever have you been, Miss? We all thought you were lost!' she exclaimed. 'The men have been searching for you everywhere. Come along, your mamma is in a terrible state about you!'

Bertha followed Marion into her mother's room, and gently opening the door, passed in. Marion guessed where Bertha had been, now that she had returned mounted; and feeling that she might have explanations to make to her mother which she would not wish her to hear, returned to the kitchen.

When Bertha entered the room, Mrs. Shelley was sitting in a low chair, overpowered by grief and anxiety. Bertha had not been missed until breakfast time; and as Jerry was away too, it was supposed she had gone for a walk by the river, and taken him with her for company. But when an hour after breakfast, and then two passed without her returning, Mrs. Shelley began to feel so uneasy, that she sent Marion to the huts for the men to search for her. The men were all at home except the shepherd; and they turned out and searched diligently and eagerly, but to no purpose; and just before Bertha returned they gave up, under the impression that she must have drowned herself. The trial had made Bertha's love for Mr. Sinclair so public that they knew of it, and all believed that she committed suicide in consequent of the sentence passed upon him.

'Mamma!' Bertha cried springing forward, and falling on her knees by her mother's chair.

'My darling!' was all Mrs. Shelley could say, and mother and daughter were locked in each other's arms.

'I went to see him, mamma! Don't be angry with me, I couldn't help it! He was sentenced to death you know?'

'My darling child, I have been in great sorrow about you! I thought you had wandered away, and were lost, or that, you had thrown yourself into the river. Thank heaven you are safe!' exclaimed Mrs. Shelley, too overjoyed at finding her daughter safe, to think of the cause that had led her away. 'You must never leave me again Bertha, I could not live without my child!'

They sat together for hours, till the warm sunshine melted into twilight, and that in its turn gave placed to the softened rays of the moon, talking of Percy, and what the jailor had told of him, of the bright home he had lost in dear old England, and of the terrible calamity that had now befallen him. And they spoke of the future, that to the young promises, such wonderful and inexhaustible stores of pleasure, but to Bertha, as she now looked upon it, offered nothing but a cold dark blank. 'Don't speak so hopelessly, my darling; you will soon get over this trouble. Time soothes care much better than you think now. A few years past, and you will be able to look back upon these dark days with composure!' said Mrs. Shelley, though she felt afraid that upon Bertha's gentle and sensitive nature, her present sorrows would work too lasting an effect.

'Never can I be happy again, mamma, until I know he is; then, perhaps, I may!' replied Bertha, whose thoughts were running upon Percy's projected escape, which she did not dare to breathe even to her mother.

'If it is God's will that he should die my child, think how little he has to lose, and how much to gain! A honorable gentleman, convicted and punished for a great crime, he could never be really happy, till his innocence is proved; and that is not likely ever to be. His death would be a blessing to him; for it would end his troubles. Could you then be so cruel, as to wish him to live when life to him must always mean unhappiness.'

'Ah, mamma, it is easy to think like that, when those in trouble are strangers to us, but it is very, very hard to feel so, when it is those we love!' said Bertha with a sigh.

Marion Macaulay here interrupted their conversation by rapping at the door; and enquiring if they would like a cup of tea. The usual teatime had long passed, but Marion had not called them before, feeling it better not to disturb them. 'Take us each a cup into the parlour, Marion!' said Mrs. Shelley, and, rising led the way there.

The tea was brought, and seemed much to revive them. They sat talking for a while, and presently Bertha stole to her piano. The wild passionate outburst of grief, and the low wailings of despair that, responsive to her own feelings, welled from the sympathetic keys were occasionally varied by the cheering voice of hope, as her thoughts wandered forth with him on his flight from prison; and she pictured him, baffling all pursuit, standing safe upon the deck of some proud ship, bound for the exile's refuge—America.

An hour or two and in Field Place all was still, and dark as the grave. All were in peaceful sleep, but one, who lay upon her restless bed, making and rejecting plan after plan for her preserver's future guidance. At last her busy brain too was overpowered by the blessed influence of sleep; and for a few fleeting hours she was free from her waking care.

Three days had elapsed, and Bertha was walking alone by the river in the afternoon, dreaming of the first time she had seen him, who now seemed a part of her very existence. Passing by the log, where she had picked up the poetry a few weeks before, she sat down, and her thoughts wandered back to the day when they first met. 'Ah, better for us both had he not been quick enough to save me from the snake! He would not be now in his awful position, and I should be at rest in the grave!'

Old Hal. Brown, the hut-keeper, or old Iperbly, as he was usually called on the station, had been out stripping bark; and it not being one of his industrious days—he had occasional attacks of industry, but at very unfrequent and irregular intervals—he had rolled himself up in his coat, and laid down in the shade, under a wattle tree, 'to think a bit,' as he called it. Bertha's exclamation—for she had been thinking aloud—roused him from a reverie, and looking up, he found her sitting close by! 'Hallo, Miss!' he exclaimed with delight, 'It does a old fellow's heart good to see you! Why, I haven't set eyes on you afore this week!'

'What, Hal., is it you; I am very glad to see you! I have been too busy to think of you lately; but do not believe I can forget you, Hal. I must forget that dreadful fight with the bushrangers first,' she replied, kindly.

'And so you went to see Mr. Sinclair, Miss! Well, I hope the Governor will give him a free pardon. He has pardoned many a wus un.'

'Do you think he will be pardoned, Hal.?' Bertha asked, turning her beautiful eyes enquiringly upon the old man.

Hal. hesitated; He did not wish to destroy the hopes his kind young mistress appeared to entertain, but he had serious doubts of Mr. Shelley's mission proving of any avail. Bertha's quick glance noticed his indecision; and she said anxiously, 'Hal., I will trust you not to deceive me; tell me, honestly, what your opinion is.'

Thus appealed to, Hal. felt compelled to speak truthfully; and he reluctantly admitted that he was not sanguine of any good resulting from his master's intercession, 'You see, Miss,' he said, in explanation, 'The Governor aren't a bad sort o' a chap, takin' him altogether; and he wouldn't hang a dingo only for the moral effect, as he calls it. But it's necessary to hang now and agin to strike terror into the rebels. Unfortinately for Mr. Sinclair, there's bin a good many prisoners took to the bush on the other side lately, about Richmond, and they've committed some acts so very bad—murderin' and house-burnin' and the like—that the Governor swore he'd hang the very fust bushranger as was caught, in spite of the devil.'

'Have they all been caught yet?' she asked, shuddering at the possibility of Percy's encountering the blood-thirsty wretches.

'All of 'em caught? No, worse luck, that's were the rub is! Not one of 'em's bin nabbed since he swore he'd hang the fust, except Mr. Sinclair. No, he'll hang Mr. Sinclair, sure as its daylight now! He wouldn't break his word to save his mother-in-law! So Mr. Sinclair'd better read his Bible while he can; for he'll not have much time to do so in!' said Hall, rubbing his eyes with the end of his axe-handle.

Bertha smiled in triumph, as she thought how she had baffled the Governor by providing for Percy's escape. 'He'll be safe away before the message can reach Maitland for his execution!' she thought, proudly; then turning to the old man, she asked, unguardedly, 'How far is it to Sydney across the bush, Hal. Would it be possible for an escaped prisoner to reach Sydney without being recognized, and to leave the colony by any means?'

Hal. looked at her attentively for a moment before replying, and she, fearing that she had betrayed her secret, turned pale, and waited in great uneasiness for him to speak. If Hal. had guessed the drift of her question, he did not show it, but after a short pause, answered that it was 'rather a ticklish job, but he had known a couple of smart fellows to get away.' His words set her at ease again. 'If anyone can manage to escape, he can, he's so clever,' she thought, smiling again.

'I never saw a young fellow I liked better, miss. He's a real gentleman, all one for he's a lag; for he's always ready to do a good turn, or say a kind word to any one,' said Hal., unconsciously winning golden opinions for himself by his heartfelt praise of the unhappy Percy.

'And Hal., he really is innocent. I saw a man in Maitland, a warder at the gaol, who knows all about him. He was accused of forgery, and two men were hired to swear he was guilty. The warder I met was one of them. You saw that man, Mr. Clayton, who was here with Mr. Meredith the other day? he's the wicked man who paid the wretches to perjure themselves, and transport Mr. Sinclair.'

Hal., who had been reclining upon the green sward at full length, his head resting upon his arm, here raised himself to a sitting posture, and gazed at Bertha with eyes wide-stretched in astonishment. 'Well, if that isn't better 'an a play!' he ejaculated, after he had revolved the startling information in his brain for about twenty seconds. 'The very man as swore agin, and the d—— d—— the infernal scoundrel—I beg your pardon miss, I must say somethin',—that paid him to, to meet here together. It's really somethin' marbelous!'

'It is very strange, Hal., isn't it; but do you think we ought to tell the police magistrate? Mr. Sinclair would be pardoned if the Governor knew.'

Hal. took double the former time to decide this knotty point, and assisted the operation by thoughtfully scratching his head. Having at length arrived at a conclusion, he said with an impressive solemnity, that, but for the gravity of the subject, would have been ludicrous. 'No, no, Miss Bertha! you haven't no witness to prove it, on'y the one that told you, and one isn't enough; for one man's word is as good as another; and it aren't likely, but the villain 'ud swear it weren't true. No, miss, don't say a word till your father comes home. He'll know best what to do!'

This advice exactly coinciding with what she had already decided to do, she considered it excellent, and promised to act upon it. 'Is it not strange, Hal.,' she said, thoughtfully, after a moment's reflection, 'how the innocent are allowed to suffer such terrible wrong, while the wicked seem to be blest, and prosper in everything they do! I often wonder how it is! It seems hard to reconcile the justice and mercy of heaven with such strange contradictions!'

'We don't know nothin' about them things Miss; so the on'y way's jest to believe it's all right! Talkin' about the good bein' punished when they didn't ought to, reminds me o' a little adventure that once happened to me, and will serve as a illustration like. If you're not above listenin' to a old man's yarn, I'll jest tell it you.'

Bertha was in no humour to listen to his improbable stories, but she kindly consented to become what Hal. dearly loved, passive audience, and replied, 'Very well, Hal. I shall be very much interested in it, I dare say!'

'It'll keep you from thinkin' o' the troubles that's worryin' you, Miss! Well, to begin, when I was about twenty years old, I was in the seventy-fourth regiment o' foot, and one day me and one o' the other privates—he was a quick-tempered quarrelsome chap, when he'd got a glass in him—got leave o' absence for a week; and so we took a walkin' tour through the counties. We got along famously for a couple o' days, when Mick Finnigan and me had a bit o' a row about a pretty lass, that we met in a meadow down in Sussex, early one bright mornin', when we was fishin'. We'd been anglin' away as patient as a brace o' Jobs for nearly an hour, without hookin' nothin' when Mick gets tired o' the monotony, and flings down his tackle. 'Bedad, Hal,' says he, 'it's a livelier game nor this I'll be after afore long, or be the powers o' whisky, I'll jest get as mouldy sittin' here as a live skeleton!' and up he jumps, and throws his line, rod, and all, splash into the river. Well, as bad luck would have it, just then up comes a pretty little milk-maid, with cheeks as rosy and eyes as bright, as the clouds in the risin' sun. Mick was jest in humor for a spree, as he called a bit o' audacious foolery; so he says, as bold as a Frenchman, and they're about the most impident out, 'Well, me purty colleen' (or some other outlandish name), 'the top o' the mornin' to yer; an' may the blessed Virgin smile down on yer, as long as she lives!' There was'nt nothin' pertic'lar in that, on'y I thought it'ud bin quite enough for him to ha' lifted his hat to her, like I done—I never sees no good come o' them smirkin' chaps, as jest speaks to a girl right off, without knowin' em,—but as the lass was passin' by, and lookin' at us from under her hat, like a dove peepin' at you through the leaves round its nest, Mick whispered to me, he'd bet me drinks he'd kiss her. I thought he on'y meant to ask her for one, and bein' pretty sure she was too timid and shy to kiss anybody but a doll or her mother, I made the bet. Well the long and the short of it was, that Mick ups and seizes the girl round the waist. O' course, she struggled and screamed, as brave as a little heroine, and called on me to help her. She wasn't a bad judge o' character, and she knowd I'd help any woman in distress. Well, I sprang to my feet, and before you could say 'knife,' I jest knocked him down. O' course, I didn't kill him, and he ats me agin, as savage as a buffalo. He couldn't use his fists, so he jest runs in and gripps me round the body, and then we pulled and tugged like a pair o' alligators, till, like those ramping, asquiverous animals, into the river we goes, head fust and away runs our little 'causus bellows,' as Mr. Sinclair would call it, and startles the village hard by, by tellin' 'em we was murderin' each other in the river. In five minutes every man, woman, child, and dog within ten miles o' the spot was on the bank, layin' their heads together, and axin' one another 'What's up?' Well, I can tell you, Miss, I thought my last hour had come, for Mick Finnigan 'd got me by the throat, and hung on like a leach. There was no shakin' him off, and he kept my head so far under water that I must a' swallowed pretty nigh on three quarts, when I found I'd have to do somethin' desperate, or jest go to the bottom like a dead mullet. You know, Miss, self-preserwation is the fust law o' nature; so I jest drew back and let him have it, one, two, three, right atween the eyes; and you'd better believe it, he jest let go my throat like a hot potatoe. 'Halloa, Hal.,' says I, 'You've cooked his goose this time, old man! You'd better slip off afore them howlin' villagers up there on the bank gets a hold o' you!' And without sayin' another word, I jest dived down another twenty yards and crawled along the bottom, till I got around a corner o' the river, where I was hid by the banks, and then I comes up and looks cautiously round. 'Ha, I've given 'em the slip! Now's for off!' says I, and takin' off my heavy coat and boots, I swam to the next town, about fifteen miles up the river. It was near dinner time when I reached it, and I was a bit peckish, so up I goes to the nearest pub., and gets my dinner.' 'Hollo, master,' says the barmaid, 'Why you look about as damp and uncomfortable as a drowned kitten. Did you tumble out o' the Ark, or have you been takin' a lesson in fell-in-de-sea?' 'Jest get me somethin' to eat, lass,' says I; 'and I'll tell you one o' the most marbelous adwentures you ever clapped eyes on—Sinbad the sailor was a chicken to it!' Smilin' all over like a field o' buttercups, she led the way into the kitchen, and gave me a good hot dinner, and a bottle of the best Jamaica to wash it down with. I recovered from the effects o' the accident mortal quick after I'd had the Jamacia; and off I starts to tramp back to the barracks. I didn't half like the idea o' facing the red-nosed old Colonel without Mick Finnigan with me; I was afeared o' bein' shot for desertion, or I'd jest a' started for America. Howsomever, I got back to head-quarters afore my furlough was up, and reported myself. 'Well, Hal.,' says the captain o' my company, 'back agin, I see! You're a marbel o' punctuality, Hal! I wish the rest o' the brigade 'ud on'y take after you, in that partic'lar! But where's your comrade, Mick Finnigan?' You may guess, I was as shaky as a cat with the palsy, when he axed after Mick; but jest hitchin' myself together, I says as bold as a parson—I don't believe in tellin' a unnecessary lie, Miss, 'taren't in me! but it wasn't no use to get hung, when a word or two, that couldn't hurt nobody 'ud save my neck—I says, 'I blush to own it, captain, that a man in the British army, and specially in the old Seventy-fourth, should 'a' done it; but he has!'—'Done what, you——' but I won't tell you what he said, 'taren't fit for ladies' ears!—'Gone and deserted, captain, and turned Methodist's preacher!' The captain stormed and swore, and went on, as if he'd like a straight jacket, and wouldn't believe a word o' it. 'Look here, Hal.' says he, as soon as he got quiet enough to hear himself speak, 'Mick's a Roman Catholic, and would as soon a turn Quaker; and as you've told me a lie, you must'nt be surprised at my thinkin' there's somethin' wrong somewhere. I must keep you in close arrest until Mick turns up.' Well, Miss, to show you how easy it is for the innercent to be punished for what they never done, I was kept under arrest for near a month; when one fine' mornin' jest when I was beginnin' to think I'd a'done better to 'a made a clean breast o' it at fust.—But I'm afore my story, Miss, I'll jest have to take you to the village again.—Mick swam ashore when I got loose from him, and when he found I didn't show up, he jest give himself up to the constable for drownin' me. He was a proud fellow, Mick was, and though he did'nt mind bein' hung, he didn't want to get the old regiment into disgrace, so he refused to give his name, or tell who I was; and the night after he was locked up he managed to escape, and bein' afraid to go back to the barracks, on account o' drownin' me; he speculated in a donkey and cart, and turned pedlar. Well you may guess the stir there was in the village when the prisoner escaped. Everybody swore a murder had been committed, and as neither o' us could be found, you may be sure there was tremendous excitement. But I must tell you Miss, that Mick and me was as much alike as a couple o' twins. In fact, we was so exactly alike, that we've often taken each other's clothes by mistake, and never found it out till the bills came in. Well, a description o' Mick was sent round among the police, and they was on the alert to capture him, so that the poor fellow had to keep close. The description just tallied with my appearance, and one day I was called before the Colonel, and there before me stood the constable who had locked up Mick for drownin' me. 'That's the chap, your honor, as committed a breach o' the peace, by wilfully, and o' malice aforethought, killin' and murderin' one o' his Majesty's subjects, name unknown!' said the lying knave. I swore on my honor I hadn't, but it was no use, and off I was took to stand my trial for my own murder. Well, I was tried and sentenced to death. I felt rather uncommonly flurried when the rope was put round ray neck, and I shut my eyes just as——'

'Oh look; Hal! here comes a schooner. Perhaps papa's on board!' cried Bertha, noticing the 'Frowning Beauty' turning an angle of the river.

'Yes, very likely, Miss! Well, I'll finish my yarn another time, when you've more leisure like.'

'Oh, look, Hal.! Look! The schooner is ashore!' exclaimed Bertha, excitedly, as the little vessel nearly lost the wind in turning a sharp bend in the river, and narrowly escaped fouling the bank.

'She's right again, Miss! Captain Sutherton's a good sailor, and can handle his little craft either in fresh water or salt, with any man on the coast; but he's a fool to bring her up the river, for it's not once in a twelve month the wind can be depended on; and the turnin's are a deal too sharp to be safe!'

Bertha and her excentric old attendant, walked leisurely down to the wharf; she restraining her impatience lest she should tire old Perbly's wooden leg. A few minutes walk brought them to the river; and in a short time the Frowning Beauty was alongside. Mr. Shelley and a young lady were upon the diminutive deck, and Mr. Shelley waved his hand to Bertha, as he led the stranger to the impromtu bridge the sailor's laid from the bulwarks to the rude wharf. Bertha opened her eyes in astonishment as she noticed the lady, 'Whoever can it be? Aunt Alice I expect!' she said to herself, as the passengers waited by the planks, while they were being properly secured. 'Her veil is down. I shall be so glad if it is dear Aunt Alice!' She had not observed either her father or his companion until the schooner came in close to the wharf, they having been concealed from her view by some deck cargo; and she had felt disappointed, as the vessel sailed up, thinking her father had stayed for the ordinary steamer. While the plank was being fixed, she stood waiting, with her pale features lit up with one of her sweet, bright smiles, and her large blue eyes glancing at her father in fond recognition.

'What a singularly beautiful girl, Mr. Shelley!' exclaimed the lady by his side, in unfeigned admiration, 'but how very pale!' 'She is my daughter—Bertha. She is indeed pale! I never saw her looking so before!' replied Mr. Shelley, in consternation at the great change he observed in her. He was too excited over the trial on the day of leaving for Sydney, to perceive the visible effect of the grief, that he felt was consuming her; and the few days since then had worked a sad alteration in the hitherto buoyant and healthful girl.

'Home again at last!' exclaimed Bertha, with somewhat of her old impetuosity, throwing her arms about her father's neck.

'Yes, darling, home again at last, and earlier by a day or two, than I expected to be,' replied the father, noting painfully, the unwelcome hectic flush upon her transparent cheeks. Then noticing her enquiring glance towards the lady by his side, he turned, and formally introduced them.

Bertha glanced curiously at the face of her new acquaintance for a moment, as she threw back her black veil, and, taking her hand confidently, she said, 'I always know whom I shall like, when I first see them. I'm certain I shall like you!'

Anne replied to the warm-hearted welcome with a few scarcely audible words of response, and said to herself, gazing in dreamy admiration (as true artists ever regard the beautiful) upon that fair, young face. 'What ethereal, what angelic loveliness! And this is the girl Percy loves! Poor Percy, you truly say, 'To see her and not to love, is impossible.' Yet to love in your terrible position must mean the bitterness of disappointment, of despair.'

'And Mr. Sinclair, papa? Did the Governor forgive him?' Bertha turned and asked eagerly.

'Yes, my child. I shall go to Maitland this evening, and bring him home. I have his Excellency's order for his instant release.'

Bertha staggered to a log close by, and leaned upon it for support, her lips as pale as her snowy handkerchief. Her father and Anne both hurried to her side. 'Nothing is the matter, papa, Miss Egerton! Nothing only a spasm. I will go home; I shall be better directly!' she said, as they wiped the perspiration from her cold brow, and hung in anxious solicitude over her trembling form.

'Overjoyed at learning of Mr. Sinclair's escape. She has a tender heart, and has fretted much since his condemnation!' whispered Mr Shelley.

Anne also guessed that to be the cause of Bertha's emotion, and replied in an undertone, 'Had we not better take her up to the house at once?'

'Perhaps, sir, I could run up and jest bring down the dog-cart,' suggested Hal., forgetting for the moment his inability for expeditious movement.

'No, no, Hal. thank you! I am better now,' said Bertha, slowly rising from the log and turning towards home. 'I can walk. Come, papa!'

Mr. Shelley took her arm and led her gently up to the house, she refusing Anne's proffered assistance, protesting that it was only a spasm and that she was better again. She was pale when she met her father a few moments before—she was white now; and, though she maintained that she was better, her strength had left her weak as a child, and she leaned heavily on her father's arm for support. She walked on in silence, unmindful of Mr. Shelley's words as he, thinking to rouse her by the narrative of his voyage, told her sundry items of news about some of her young friends in Sydney. She passed on, too deeply buried in her own thoughts to hear or heed aught around her.

'Strange way of showing her gladness at Percy's escape from death!' thought Anne Egerton, wonderingly. 'One would almost think from her manner that the intelligence caused her pain, not pleasure.'

The same thought struck her father; and, finding her paying no attention to his words, he pursued the rest of the way in silence.

'Home again, Grace, you see!' he said to his wife, who met them on the verandah. 'This young lady is Miss Egerton, whom I have engaged as companion for Bertha,' he continued, introducing Anne; 'and now get get me a little sal volatile, Bertha is slightly indisposed, as the doctors say when a fair patient is a little out of sorts.'

Although her husband tried to make light of Bertha's indisposition, Mrs. Shelley saw at a glance that something serious was the matter, and without waiting to speak hurried to her room for the stimulant (a far safer one than brandy for very obvious reasons, and one that should always be within reach, in every household) while her husband led Bertha to the sofa. Bertha sat silently for a few seconds, gazing, with a hard stony stare out of the window; and then burst into a flood of passionate tears. Mrs. Shelley returned at the moment with the sal volatile; and all gathered round the weeping girl. For a time they vainly strove to soothe her, and prevail upon her to speak of the cause of her emotion. Presently she pressed back the luxuriant brown tresses, that had fallen about her face, and rising from the sofa, she asked in a voice thrilled with anxiety and terror. 'Papa, what would happen to a prisoner who escaped from gaol? What would the law do with him, if he was caught?'

'Hang him!' replied Mr. Shelley, puzzled at the odd question. 'Why do you ask?'

Bertha was several seconds before she replied, and stood as if unable to realize, the awful significance of the words. Then, falling back upon the sofa, she frantically exclaimed 'Oh, then I have murdered him! I thought the Governor would hang him, and I persuaded him to escape. And now he has forfeited his pardon.'

'My God, surely not!' said Mr. Shelley, anxiously. 'Grace, tell someone to saddle a horse for me at once! When did he escape, Bertha? Quick, for the horse, Grace!'

Mrs. Shelley hurried to the kitchen to see to the order; and, kneeling by his daughter's side, her husband said to the half-frenzied girl, 'There is no time to lose, Bertha; perhaps, we may do something for him yet. Tell me when did he escape, and where was he to go to?'

'Last night! Jerry and the warder were to take him away in the night!' she almost shrieked, in her intense excitement.

'Pray God he has been foiled in the attempt! I will go at once, and do what I can!' Mr. Shelley said fervently, and stooping down and kissing her cold brow, and leaving her reclining upon the breast of Anne, he rushed from the room. Snowflake was at the door. He hastily threw a saddle upon him, and in five minutes was galloping toward Maitland at top speed.


CHAPTER XXX.


Ah, cruel fate! Ah, cruel, cruel fate!
Why on her hapless head dost wreak thy hate?
Why all the terrors of thy wrath dost hurl,
On her an innocent and gentle girl?
Hast thou no heart nor eyes to feel nor see?
Is her celestial beauty naught to thee?
May not her sorrows wild thy pity more?
Cans't thou thus crush and bruise, whom all do love,
Hence fate, avaunt! Upon the chastning rod,
I read in words of fire, "The love of God?"

—Author's M.S.

'Might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb.' I've often heard 'em down in York say that, and I suppose it's about true. Howsomever, I'll be hung for a sheep, if I'm hung at all; for if ever I said a thing and stuck to it, I'll stick to this—I'll have Clayton's life before I'm a year older!—It'ud be no use to die before I'd killed him; I could'nt rest in my grave unless I knowd he was in his'n; so I'll just settle matters before I'm hung, and send him to hell first, to show me the way! He's lived long enough to do more mischief than a thousand better men could do in twice the time; but he'll do no more after I get my hands on him!' So muttered poor, misshapen, honest hearted, but light-fingered, Bow, as he stood, lamp in hand, before the cell door, at twelve o'clock sharp on the night arranged for Percy Sinclair's escape, his rough hand on the key, and the key inserted in the door. 'If it hadn't been for his fifty pounds—curse him!—I'd very likely a' got square, and set up dealing or peddling, and Mr. Sinclair'd be in old England among his friends, instead of here with a rope round his neck; and the beautiful young lady from Field Place 'ud been saved all the trouble she's been put to! Ah, well, I'll be hung for this night's work, if ever I'm catched; but they'll not hang me for nothing, that's some comfort.' Bow pushed the heavy, creaking, door gently back, and entered the cell. He glanced rapidly round 'Sound asleep as a baby!' he said in surprise, as the rays of the lamp fell upon the sleeping form of the prisoner upon a litter of straw. He carefully shaded the light from the sleeper's face with one hand—a rather unnecessary precaution under the circumstances—and called softly, 'Mr. Sinclair, it's time to be off! We must be away before they change the lock!'

Percy was a light sleeper, and was awake in a moment. 'Ha! twelve o'clock already? I wish I was not engaged upon the, at the very least, dishonorable expedient of flight!' he said, rising.

'You promised the young lady sir! You can't break your word to a woman!' suggested Bow.

'Your appearance seems familiar to me; and Miss Shelley told me you were one of the witnesses against me at York. Will you be kind enough to explain why you you are willing to make this immense sacrifice on my behalf? Remember your life will be forfeited, if you adhere to your determination to aid my escape!' said Percy, regarding his gaoler with a glance, half of inquiry, half admiration for his disinterested generosity.

'Look at me, sir, and see if you can't recollect me now!' said Bow, removing his rough cap from his head, and gazing straight into his prisoner's eyes. 'I'm not one, as is easily, forgotten, if I'm seen once. Don't you mind, the couple of villains that you bought that bay cob off?'

Percy hesitated a moment, and then held out his hand, 'Yes, I remember now! You did me a great wrong—ruined me for life—but I forgive you!'

'No, no! Not yet!' replied Bow in a husky voice, his lips quivering with emotion, 'you mustn't forgive me yet, nor shake hands with a wretch, that could sell a fellow man for fifty pounds—though that's a big lot of money—till he's earnt your forgiveness. If I can get you out of the country, and then come back, and get hung for saving you—that's the time to forgive me. Not before!'

Percy's admiration for this noble 'child of misfortune'—more noble, justly condemned convict, and all as he was, than nine out of ten of our ordinary humanity—was increased tenfold by this heroic determination, and he replied kindly, 'I freely forgive you now, for all the misery you helped to bring upon me; and, but for the promise Miss Shelley wrung from me, I would most certainly refuse to allow you to endanger your life for mine. If I escape, you must escape with me!'

'Bad as me and Darby Gregson was, sir, we wasn't the worst in that wicked plot. You know, Mr. Clayton.'

'Yes! Why?'

'It was him that gived Darby and me the fifty pound to swear again you; and it was him that really forged that cheque,' replied Bow.

For some moments Percy was unable to speak, so unexpected had this information fallen upon him. At last, somewhat recovering himself he said incredulously, 'He bribed you to swear falsely against me? Impossible; what motive could he have had for such atrocious treachery?'

'He told Darby and me it was 'cause of your interfering between him and some young lady—Annie Eggleton, I think her name was,' replied Bow.

Now the riddle that had puzzled him for so long, was solved. Now he understood the motive of the arch-traitor's threat, to cast infamy even upon his memory. Without reply to a question, Bow asked, he motioned him to lead on, and he followed his conductor silently through the corridor, out into the open air, and across the jail yard. They had some little difficulty in passing through the gate; but it being quite dark, and a cold, mistling rain falling, the sentinel was not keeping a very vigilant watch, and they escaped without challenge. Bow spoke to Percy again as soon as they were beyond earshot of the guard, but he did not reply, and Bow led the way to the cross roads in silence. The topic that kept Bow's busy brain at work, was the probable route, which Jerry would take them, and the safest way for Percy to reach Port Phillip. Percy, deeply wounded by the late discovery, was brooding upon his position, and the irreparable wrong Clayton had done him, 'A part of the cross I must bear,' said he, striving, but not very successfully, to feel resigned.

'I'll never rest till I'm revenged on him!' muttered Bow, whose thoughts had veered round to his own injuries. He had learned the hand Clayton had had in the failure of his attempt to rob Mr. Arkright's house, in York, and in his own arrest, and he clenched his teeth and gripped with a nervous clutch the dagger he held in his hand, 'I'll pay him for all, before I crawl into a coffin.'

'Holloa, Misser Sinlar, me tink it you neber goin' to come!' cried Jerry from the summit of the bay colt's back where he had sat perched for the last half hour, waiting for the appearance of the fugitives. 'You bin murray long time comin', and dat too much murray cold altogether, sit down in the rain like a dis.'

Jerry spoke in a tone of mild reproach; and really the poor fellow had much to complain of. He had been punctual—a most rare proceeding for one of his nationality—and had sat shivering in the rain more than long enough to try his patience severely. Jerry's familiar voice roused Percy from his reverie, and, looking up, he dimly discerned the form of the faithful blackboy. 'Ah Jerry! waiting?' he said, taking the rein of the led horse, 'Old Surrey? Poor fellow, I little thought ever to ride you again!' and, turning to Jerry again, he continued, 'How is Missie Berta, Jerry?'

'Dat tell me say Missie Berta, murray glad you bolt. No, bale dat; dat say——dat say——bodder it! Me forget what dat say!' Jerry was so crest-fallen at having forgotten the message, that be fairly cried with vexation.

'Never mind, Jerry; it can't be helped now; perhaps you may recollect presently,' said Percy, in a tone of great disappointment.

'Dat Jerry murray big fool; dat want it kickin'!' the blackboy replied savagely, 'Dat murray much perticklear, Missie Berta say, What Jerry want to be dat murry big feller fool for and forget him like a dat?'

Jerry had asked a question beyond Percy's power to solve; so he did not attempt it, but turned to speak to Bow.

'Dat feller, with him crooked legs gone away!' explained the quick-sighted Jerry, as Percy missed the jailor.

'Gone away?' said Percy, in consternation, the idea flashing through his mind, that the jailor had planned his escape, for the purpose of betraying him back into the hands of the law.

'I'm all right, sir! You needn't be afraid of me!' said a voice at his elbow; and turning about, Bow was standing by, holding a tall grey horse by the bridle rein. 'I planted this feller jest inside of the brush, and slipped off to get him while you was talkin'. When the police magistrate hears we're off, he'll be as savage as a Rooshun at missing his horse. There isn't a horse on the river can come within a cooee of him, when he's let out.'

'You are risking too much for me!' said Percy, who felt more than half inclined to return to the jail to screen the noble fellow.

'I'm risking nothing, sir! I'm as certain to be hung as the sun'll rise to-morrow; for I'll be revenged on Clayton, come what will, and that'll mean hangin'. But let us mount and off. We must be far away before daylight.'

They sprang into their saddles, and Jerry leading the way, struck off the road to the right, and into the brush. For the first half hour they beguiled the time with conversation, Percy joining mechanically in the different subjects Bow or Jerry introduced, but as the brush grew denser, and the slopes steeper and more difficult, the conversation began to flag, each having quite enough to do to feel his way, and keep up with the others, and soon the silence was broken only by the snapping of dry sticks under the horse's feet, and the mournful dirge of the curlew or the distant howl of the native dog. A long and tedious ride brought them to the bed of a deep gully, whose abrupt banks prevented further progress in the direction Jerry wished to lead them.

'Look here, Misser Sinlar, bale we can climb dis hill? Me miss him track jest now, and get him too much down de creek. We must camp till daylight. You got it match?'

'I've got a flint and steel; but it'll be no use in the rain!' replied Bow.

'I have none, Jerry. We shall be compelled to do without,' said Percy. 'What clock do you think it is, Bow.'

Bow didn't know, and while Jerry was calculating the time by a process entirely his own, some birds in a nest close by, began to twitter.

'Holloa, dat birds get up by-by! Dat nearly mornin'!' said Jerry.

'We'd better rest the horses a bit, I think, sir; they've a long run before 'em before we're safe; and we'll push 'em quicker when it gets lighter,' said Bow, thoughtfully.

'Let us dismount then, and let them feed a little if they will,' replied Percy, springing from his saddle.

Bow and Jerry followed his example. The ground was too wet for them to sit upon, and they had nothing to light a fire with; and so, tired as they were with their long ride, they were obliged to stand up in the rain holding their horses' bridles.

'Not a very comfortable situation this, sir,' said Bow, his teeth chattering with cold; 'but it'll be daylight presently, and we'll be all right then. How far are you going with us, Jerry?'

'D'other side Wollombi creek, along dat back track to de big river. You know him dat back track?'

'Yes,' answered Bow, shuddering at the recollection; 'I got speared by the Mangrove blacks, along the top of the range between the head of the Wollombi and Brisbane Water.'

'Dat Mangrove blackfeller too much wild altogether! Bale dat Coonanbara [Hunter River] blackfeller wild, like him Mangrove blackfeller,' insinuated Jerry, who, being himself a Coonanbara blackfellow, felt called upon to uphold the character and dignity of his race.

Percy's thoughts were wandering back to the earthly object of his devotion, and he heard little of what his companions were talking about; but it was too dark for Bow to observe his inattention, and, believing that Percy was listening to his tale, he endeavoured to while away the tedious minutes by narrating an adventure with the Mangrove blacks a few months before.

'The police magistrate was out along them ridges with a company of mounted police, looking for three men who'd murdered their master up near the Chain Ponds, and then took to the bush, and came over on this side the river. It was jest before Christmas. One of the troopers got a sunstroke in Maitland the day before the police magistrate started; and knowing the bushrangers were desperate fellows, and that he couldn't well spare a man, he took me with him. I was riding this same grey horse at the time, to quieten him a bit; for he was rather skittish. We'd been riding from the head of the Wollombi, along the ridges down towards the river; for the police magistrate got wind that the bushrangers were hiding out there somewhere, when by some unlucky mistake I lost the rest of the party. I wandered about, till the grey knocked up, and I had to let him go. I got off the mountains down into a little flat, where I saw fires, and seeing a lot of blacks' camps, and never before having seen any blacks, only the tame ones about Maitland, I wasn't afraid, but jest walked right down among 'em. They were regular Myalls! hadn't seen a live white man before, most of 'em; and the whole boxendice of 'em came swarming round me like locasts, and jabbering like mad. I spoke quite friendly to 'em: but they only jabbered the louder; and on looking close I saw 'em making ready their spears. I had hardly time to think what to do, when I saw a tall wiery nigger taking aim at me. I had only jest time to duck, when the spear came wizzing past, and stuck into the tree behind me. I seen it was getting rather too warm, so I made a dash for it, and off I went like a hunted kangaroo with the whole tribe of niggers howling at my heels. I had no show against 'em, for they ran like racehorses, and caught up with me in a few hundred yards. A knock on the head with a waddy soon laid me on the grass, and the savages was jest holding a palaver over me whether they'd roast me alive, or flay me, when fortinately up gallops the troopers, and saved my life!'

'Bale dat Coonanbara blackfellow do him like a dat!' protested Jerry.

The dawn slowly broke, and with daylight came a change of weather. The clouds clear away, and the sun rose warm and bright.

'We'd best press on, I think, sir!' suggested Bow. 'We're not a safe distance yet.'

'As you will,' replied Percy, who cared very little for his own safety.

'Look here, dat me got it plenty beef and damper,' said Jerry opposing the idea, 'Dat Missie Berta put it plenty tea, sugar, and everything in saddle bags?'

Bow received the intelligence with great pleasure, and set to work immediately to assist the black boy to remove the provisions from the saddle bags to the top of a large flat stone that would serve as a table for them. Percy watched them dreamily, thinking of the gentle girl to whose thoughtful solicitude they were now indebted for the much needed meal before them.

'Bale dat tea no good without him fire? You take him things out Bow and I rub him stick, and make a light fire murry quick.'

Jerry's suggestion being followed, a fire was soon made, and the quarts which Bertha had been careful to strap to the saddles herself, boiling merrily.

'Here's a letter for you, sir!' said Bow, handing Percy a note he had found in one of the saddle-bags.

'If we are to rest awhile, we may as well hobble the horses and let them feed,' Percy said, taking the note.

The horses were set at liberty and the fugitives sat down with keen appetites to their breakfasts. Percy opened his letter with trembling fingers; it was, as he expected, from Bertha. She wrote a short note to say that she had something of very great importance to tell him, but that she had spent so much time in packing up the things she was sending him that if she delayed to write it Jerry could not reach the rendezvous punctually, and so she had given him the message.

'Jerry.'

Jerry stepped across, leaving his beef and damper with evident reluctance.

'What did Missie Berta tell you to tell me!'

'Jerry stood for fully five minutes, striving to recall the message that he had forgotten, but to no purpose. 'Bale me can forget!' he exclaimed, hopelessly. 'Bale me know anything at all!'

Percy bit his lip with vexation. She had sent him a message—perhaps an important one—and through the carelessness of the conscience-stricken blackboy before him, he could not learn it. A severe reprimand rose to his lips; but, remembering the past services of his idol's faithful attendant, he repressed his anger, and said mildly, 'It is a bitter disappointment to me, Jerry, your having forgotten Missie Berta's message, you must try to recollect it. It may be something very important.'

Jerry readily promised to recollect everything as soon as he could, and returned to the fire to chew the cud of reflection and finish his beef and damper at one and the same time. He accomplished the latter portion of his task with success and evident satisfaction; but he could not recollect a word of the message, though he brown-studied over it vigorously.

'Thought of it yet, Jerry?' Percy inquired anxiously, rising at the moment from the boulder, upon which he had been seated.

'Bale dat me can think at all, Misser Sinlar!' replied Jerry, hopelessly.

'I think we'd better be making a start, sir. We may lose some time in the blackboy's finding the track again,' suggested Bow.

Percy acquiesced in the wisdom of making an early start, and in a quarter of an hour they had passed out of sight of the gully where they had spent a few very uncomfortable hours. The morning was fine, and a crisp, bracing wind was blowing. Everything around seemed to vie in leading their thoughts from their forlorn condition; but the wet clothes, that felt icy cold in the fresh breeze, were more than a match for the beauty of nature—and the swaying of the tall trees, or the chatter of the magpies and 'laughing jackasses' could not draw the attention of the drenched and shivering fugitives from the extreme discomfort of their situation. No incident of importance occurred during the day's ride through the dreary forest of gum and ironbark. Their route lay through tangles of brushes and gullies, over gentle hills, and up almost inaccessible mountains, their view now bounded at half a dozen yards by dense barriers, of underwood, and anon from the towering ridge of a steep hill, extending over miles of swelling undulations, clothed with the dull green of the Australian forest trees. There was no road, path, nor mark of any sort perceptible to civilized eyes, although Jerry assured them they were on the 'back track;' yet the black boy led them on with the unerring precision of an Indian, with the faultless instinct of savage life. At noon they found themselves upon the summit of a large hill, but sparsely clothed with timber, and having an area of several acres as level as the 'flat' they had crossed at its base.

'Here's a stunning camping ground, sir!' observed Bow, reining in and glancing round, approvingly. 'We're far enough off now to sleep safe for one night anyhow!'

Bow's proposition being approved of, they dismounted, unsaddled and hobbled their horses, and then set about preparation for dinner. Jerry's plan of igniting wood by rubbing two sticks together again proving successful, and a plentiful supply of water being found in a hole in some rocks close by, the tea was soon boiling and, the hungry travellers seated round at their mid-day meal.

'This is about the best place for a camp that I've seen,' said Bow, noting the peculiar advantages of the situation for that purpose, and startling Percy from a reverie. 'The soldiers couldn't sneak upon us unawares here. We can see down the clear slopes on both sides for half a mile, and there's scarcely a tree along the ridge either way.'

Percy not replying to the observation, and Jerry having been asleep for at least five minutes, Bow did not care to keep up the conversation alone, and emptying his quart at half a dozen gulps, he rolled himself up in his 'possum cloak, and was soon snoring in chorus with the tinkle of the horse-bells, leaving Percy to the company of his ever present and crushing grief. An hour passed, and all subduing fatigue had overpowered even the wakeful sorrows of the miserable Percy. His head drooped upon his breast, and he sank back upon the cold earth, freed for a few hours from the agony of existence.

Three hours more had passed, and the three were still asleep by the dying embers of their fire. The sun was sinking behind the dense brushes by the distant river, and shedding in its departing glory a peachblossom mantle over the opposite hills. The calmness of the still evening scene was suddenly disturbed by the dull thud of horses' hoofs galloping along the ridge, from the direction of the Hawkesbury. At a few hundred yards from the camp they abruptly pulled up and rode along at a walking pace. 'Fifty miles since six o'clock last night! Not a bad run, that, Darby,' said a tall, wiry fellow, with long, shaggy, black hair and beardless face. 'If the horses hold out we'll reach the Hunter to-morrow night. I wouldn't mind standing a quart they're poking about looking for us yet among the settlers, within five miles of Windsor! If we could only get away out of the settlement with what we've picked up one way and another in the last three months, we'd have enough to set us up for life!'

'Ah! get away? That's the difficulty!' said a little, bushy bearded, round shouldered, red faced, old man, whose general awkward aspect on horseback pointed him out as an ex-sailor. 'If we could only slip our cables and leave this sun-blasted, God-forgotten, and generally smashed-up colony in our wake! But how! That's where we're grounded!'

'One thing at a time, gentlemen!' said Darby, who, since his election to the captaincy of his band, had grown wonderfully courteous in his manner. 'Let's settle one thing at a time! Shall we make our debut [great stress on the "t"] at the top and work down the river, or bag our game at the Newcastle end?'

All replied to the question at once, each of the band of worthies feeling himself specially called upon to support his own private judgement upon the subject with as much energy as possible.

'One at a time! One at a time!' exclaimed Darby, angrily. 'What do you say, Davis?'

The tall man—he of the lantern jaws—who had first spoken, advocated beginning their depredations at the more distant stations, and the others all falling to with his view of the case, it was settled to rob the 'place' of a Mr. Edward Fairing several miles above Maitland.

'By George, Gregson, look there!' exclaimed Jennings, reining his horse in, and pointing in the direction of the camp. 'Three men lying upon the ground!' All eyes were anxiously turned towards the spot in anticipation of seeing a band of the dreaded mounted patrols. 'Halt! Just wait here and I'll ride nearer and see!' said Darby in a whisper. He cautiously approached the sleeping fugitives, and in a few minutes returned. Touching his lips to motion for silence he slowly dismounted. The others quietly followed his example. When all were upon their feet, he said in an undertone, 'There's two men and a blackboy, they're all asleep; and, as I didn't see no arms of any sort upon them, I think they must be runaways.'

'One of 'em a black boy! Then he's a tracker. I think we'd better turn tail while we're safe. They're police in disguise as sure as fate. There's more of 'em about too, or they wouldn't sleep there so securely,' said Jennings.

'You be blowed!' exclaimed the ex-sailor, his valour getting the better of his discretion, and making his face glow with excitement. 'You be blowed! Talk about turning tail! If we had you aboard the old Invincible we'd tie a fifty-six pounder to your heels and heave you overboard. Look here, Captain, if it's the devil himself, we'll fight it out. I wouldn't turn tail for any man afloat!'

'Constables or runaways, they're asleep; so we'll take them as they are,' replied Darby, resolutely. 'Slip off your boots, and spread out, so as we can come at 'em from every side. Take out your knives; I don't want pistols to be used if we can avoid it; and if we can't secure 'em alive, without noise, we'll just stick a few inches of cold steel between their ribs. But we'll take 'em alive if we can.'

Wholly unconscious of the proximity of danger, the tired fugitives slept on, while the bloodthirsty wretches who formed the band of outlaws, approached noiselessly from every side, their savage faces gleaming with cruelty and hate, and their ruthless hands, so deeply stained with blood, clutching the rugged hafts of their daggers. A few moments later, and a keen blade was being held above the throat of each of the sleepers, while they were being manacled securely with thongs of greenhide. So thoroughly worn out were the sleepers, by the fatigue of their long and rough ride, that they were not aroused by being pinioned. As soon as they were firmly secured, Darby Gregson woke his prisoners up by roughly shaking them. 'Halloa, what dat matter?' asked Jerry, attempting to rub his eyes, and finding his hands fast.

'Jest shut up, nigger, or you'll walk the plank in a crack!' said the ex-sailor, with a malevolent grin.

Jerry shut up immediately, as advised; but he fully made up for it by opening his eyes to their fullest extent and staring at the speaker in astonishment.

Percy's first thought on finding himself a prisoner was, that he had been pursued by the constables and recaptured; and recollecting the sacrifice the jailor had made on his behalf, he was filled with remorse at having permitted the noble fellow to encounter so great a danger; and without looking up he sullenly resigned himself to his fate.

'Well, hang me, if I haven't seen this cove before!' exclaimed the captain of the gang, recognizing Bow, as their eyes met.

'You needn't be troubled about that Darby! You'll be hanged right enough yet, see if you don't,' returned Bow, gazing unflinchingly into the eyes of his captor.

'Bow! Hem! Well, I'm glad to meet an old pal, anyhow!' exclaimed Darby, giving Bow an unpleasant poke in the ribs by way of emphasis.

Bow did not answer for a few minutes. He felt inclined to say something that would be sure to displease Darby, but feeling how completely they were in the power of that cruel and unscrupulous villain, he repressed the words of defiance that rose to his lips. 'Yes, Darby, it's me,' he said at last. 'We haven't met before, me and you, for rather a longish stretch of time. I suppose we're friends, though, for the sake of old times.'

Bow shuddered at the recollection of those terrible 'old times' of crime and dissipation; but he prudently concealed his abhorrence of past associations, and tried to conciliate the desperadoes into whose hands they had fallen, as the only prospect of saving the lives of himself and companions.

'Yes, Bow; we meets as old friends as you say—at least we do if you aren't above joining us—but this nigger here we'll hang up as a warning to other blackskins not to go in for 'tracking.' And this other cove——' He paused, and looked at Percy attentively for a second or so. 'Yes!' he continued, 'It's him! It's the chap that fired a bullet into me a few months ago at the camp over the mountain by the Hunter River. Well, I'll have it out of his hide now, or my name isn't Darby Gregson. There's plenty of dry wood hereabouts.'


CHAPTER XXXI.


There was a Being whom my spirit oft
Met on its visioned wanderings, far aloft
In the clear golden prime of my youth's dawn
Upon the fairy isles of sunny lawn,
Amid the enchanted mountains, and the caves
Of divine sleep, and on the air-like waves
Of wonder-level dream whose tremulous floor
Paved her light steps. On an imagined shore,
Under the grey beak of some promontory,
She met me, robed in such exceeding glory,
That I beheld her not. In solitudes
Her voice came to me through the whisp'ring woods,
And from the fountains, and the odours deep
Of flowers, which, like lips murmuring in their sleep,
Of the sweet kisses, which had lulled them there,
Breathed but of her to the enamoured air;
And from the breezes, whether low or loud,
And from the rain of every passing cloud,
And from the singing of the summer birds,
And from all sounds, all silence. In the words
Of antique verse and high romance—in form,
Sound, color—in whatever checks that storm
Which with the shattered present chokes the past
And in that best philosophy, whose taste
Makes this cold, common hell, our life, a doom
As glorious as a fiery martyrdom;
Her spirit was the harmony of truth!

—PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY.

Snowflake was trembling in every limb, as he gallopped up the street of Maitland towards the jail. He was a powerful little fellow, and, when not overweighted, able to endure great exertion and fatigue; but he was not able to carry so heavy a burden as Mr. Shelley so far, at such a headlong pace.

'Halloa Shelley! Whither away?' shouted a familiar voice, as Mr. Shelley was passing the 'Black Swan,' and on looking round, he saw his friend Blair upon the verandah. He hastily turned Snowflake's head towards the hotel, and galloped to the door. On reaching it, and stopping, the poor little pony shook himself feebly, and staggering on a few paces, fell to the ground, his rider narrowly escaping a broken neck.

'Are you hurt, Shelley!' inquired Mr. Blair anxiously, as his friend scrambled to his feet.

'No, no; I'm all right, thanks. Try and help me to put the pony on his legs again,' replied Mr. Shelley.

'And help you hold him there, eh? He'll never stand alone again.'

'Poor little fellow! Bertha will be in a great way about this,' said Mr. Shelley gazing sorrowfully upon the dead pony. 'It will break her heart, poor child; and she has trouble enough just now, without this.'

'I thought, when I saw you turn the corner, and cross the bridge down yonder, that he'd scarcely carry you this far. If you rode all the way as you came down the road from the corner, the only wonder is that he didn't drop dead before. Why, he isn't half up to your weight, even if you walked him all the way.'

'Poor little fellow! It is a matter of life and death I am upon, or I should never have ridden him as I did; and he has acquitted himself nobly. Did you hear anything of Sinclair's breaking jail?'

'Yes! I'm glad to be able to say that he has cheated the hangman. He got away last night sometime. My horse is in the stable here, getting a feed, ready for a run down to Field Place! I was going down this evening to let you know.'

Mr. Shelley, standing leaning against a verandah post, did not immediately reply. He was considering carefully what to do next.

'I would have gone down and told you directly I heard of it; but I thought good news would keep,' said Mr. Blair.

'I would to heaven you had! Yet it could have made no difference. I am only just back from Sydney.'

'Ah, I forgot for the moment. You went down to see if Gipps would mitigate the sentence! I hadn't much faith in the attempt; though there could be no harm in trying.'

'The Governor has pardoned the unfortunate fellow; and he has forfeited the pardon by escaping from jail. There can be no mercy for him when they capture him again; it would be useless to ask for it,' said Mr. Shelley, dejectedly.

'They haven't caught them yet, and are not likely to, I hope,' said Mr. Blair.

'Bertha is nearly mad with grief; for it appears she visited the jail while I was away, and persuaded him to escape. Now that she finds by following her advice he has lost his pardon, she is fretting herself to death about him!'

Mr. Blair's brow darkened. He remembered the scene in the parlor, of the 'Black Swan' a few mornings before, and he could not but reproach himself as being in a great measure the cause of the present trouble, 'If I had not aided her to see him,' he thought, 'she could not have persuaded him to escape, and all this trouble would have been spared.' He did not, however, speak of the part he had taken in bringing about the unfortunate train of circumstances.

'Poor girl! Ah, here comes the police magistrate now—just returned from an unsuccessful search, I should say, from his generally dilapidated appearance,' he said pointing to a number of horsemen riding leisurely up the road.

In a few minutes they reached the hotel, and the police magistrate, dismounting, threw his bridle-rein to a constable, and stepped upon the verandah, followed by Mr. Hubert Clayton. The magistrate waved his hand to his men, and they rode on to the barracks.

'Good morning, Mr. Bartell. You have not caught him, I see,' said Mr. Blair, shaking hands with the police magistrate.

'Ah, the old pony down? What is the matter with him?' Mr. Bartell said, observing the departed Snowflake.

'Yes, Mr. Bartell! I rode him up from Field Place rather too fast, and it has knocked him over, poor little fellow! You've not taken Sinclair then?'

'No. We've been out since daylight, but have not been able to find his track even. We followed the footprints for a few hundred yards along the Newcastle road, but a heavy shower coming on, they were soon obliterated. We are completely at fault, and have no clue even to the direction they have taken.'

'They? What, is there more than one away?' asked Mr. Shelley in surprise.

'Yes. One of the warders has gone too, and, what's worse, taken my grey with him,' replied Mr. Bartell.

'You do not know which way they have gone?' enquired Mr. Shelley, taking at the same moment some papers from his breast pocket.

'Not the slightest my dear sir! We are completely at fault!' replied the police magistrate.

'He escaped last night. Well, you will see by this document that he had received his Excellency's pardon the day before; and that, consequently, you have only to enter him as released, by the Governor's command,' said Mr. Shelley, handing the papers to the police magistrate.

Mr. Bartell read the instrument slowly through, and replied, 'If the fact of his escape before we received this could only be kept dark, we might contrive to screen him; but the whole town is aware of it by this time, and should the governor of the jail and myself act upon this, as you wish, we would only be compromising ourselves.'

'And besides,' said Clayton, stepping forward, 'there being two convicts at large, the danger of condoning with one of them is increased. It would be decidedly unwise to make any exception in favor of either.'

'I think so too,' replied the police magistrate, and turning to Mrs. Kenny, who here appeared upon the scene, he ordered refreshment.

'What will you take sir?' the obliging hostess enquired, smiling.

'I don't want anything to drink, Mrs. Kenny. It is dinner I mean, if we're not too late.'

Mrs. Kenny assured Mr. Bartell that he was not too late, and led him and Mr. Clayton into the dining-room, where the inevitable damper, beef, and tea, were soon placed before them.

'I must get home now. Do you know where I can borrow a horse?' asked Mr. Shelley, looking ruefully at the prostrate pony.

'I'll lend you mine. You must keep a tight rein, though, for he shies viciously,' replied Mr. Blair, leading the way to the stable. 'You need not bother about Snowflake; I will have him disposed of, and when I ride your way again we can exchange the saddles and bridles back. I hope Bertha will soon get over the shock this unfortunate affair has given her. I should be sorry, indeed, to hear of the young fellow being taken.'

A few words of parting courtesy, and Mr. Shelley was on his way home. He rode slowly, his thoughts troubled with the question how would Bertha receive the confirmation of her fears that her unhappy act had caused such irreparable injury to her preserver.

A week passed slowly away. It was evening, and the family at Field Place were seated in the parlor, Bertha communing with her piano (she cared little who heard her now), and her parents entertaining Mr. Blair and Mr. Clayton, who had called in on their way to Newcastle. Anne Egerton was sitting talking to Marion Macaulay in a distant corner of the room.

'Marion, where are my scissors? Have you seen them?' Mrs. Shelley asked suddenly, laying down her work, and looking hurriedly among the things upon the table.

Hubert Clayton looked up, and glanced across to the corner where the young girls were sitting. Marion rose, and taking a candle, went into the dining-room to search for the article.

'Who is the young lady in the corner opposite, Mrs. Shelley?' Clayton enquired.

'Miss Egerton, a young English lady, whom we have lately engaged as companion to Bertha,' Mrs. Shelley replied.

'I thought it was she. I knew her in England. By you leave, madam, I will step across and speak to her.'

Mrs. Shelley had no objection, and he crossed the room to Anne's side. 'I thought I could not be mistaken,' he said with his old, fascinating smile. 'There could not be another upon earth who I could mistake for you.'

Her cheeks burned, and her heart almost ceased to beat, so great was her agitation. She had hoped he would not have recognised her, and had kept in the back ground to avoid him; but he was now before her, and there was no escape. She tried to calm herself, and speak with indifference, but she could not steady her voice, and remained silent. He, whom she had loved so well, through good report and evil report, was gazing reproachfully upon her with his soft brown eyes, and she fairly lost her self-possession.

'What? Refuse to speak to me now! Must my evil deeds follow me here to the land of my exile, where the remembrance of your loved name is spurring me to endeavour to atone for my wasted past, by a reformed life in the future. Do not drive me back to reckless desperation by your scorn. May I see you to-morrow for a few moments, where we may speak without interruption. Do not refuse me this little request! May, I see you?'

He pleaded so earnestly, and looked so truly repentant, that her gentle heart was touched with the deepest pity, 'Yes, yes, I will see you to-morrow! I am both glad and sorry I have met you. Oh, I am!'

She could say no more, but bursting into tears, hurried from the room.

Clayton returned to his seat in a thoughtful mood. His love for the gentle girl, who had just left the apartment, was deep and sincere; and conscience strove feebly to convict him of being his own enemy, and having no one but himself to blame for her refusal to marry him. For a moment he felt touched with a sting of remorse, and wished that he had led a different life; but the next he impatiently silenced that 'still small voice'—the wisest and most faithful adviser a man can have—and muttered, with concentrated hate, that he who, by his interference, had caused the estrangement between the beautiful Anne and himself, should have bitter cause to rue his folly. 'She loves me still!' he soliloquised; 'I could see it by her agitation. I will marry her yet, and live happily here with my darling; while he—a curse upon his memory!—shall eke out a miserable existence skulking about the bush, half his time without food and water; or, coming back to the settlement, be retaken and hung!'

It would have been difficult to decide from his features which prospect—his own happiness or his victim's misery—occasioned him the greater amount of pleasure, so intimately for a few seconds were the expressions of gentleness and ferocity mingled upon his face.

Mr. Clayton's meditations were soon interrupted by Mrs. Shelley looking up from her work and saying 'What! where's Miss Egerton? I thought you were talking to her.'

'So I was for a few minutes, Mrs. Shelley. But she has a severe headache, and has left the room. I can have a chat with her to-morrow about old times,' he replied, absently.

Mrs. Shelley smiled. 'A love affair, I see! It is strange how people meet together again after being at opposite ends of the world, perhaps, for years!' she said to herself. Her thoughts upon the subject were soon terminated by a burst of melody that awoke Mr. Shelley from a doze, and caused Mr. Blair to drop the Gazette and glance toward the instrument at which the gifted, unhappy Bertha was sitting. Her theme was a wild and stormy one. A succession of startling crashes, intervalled by low wailings like the murmuring sighs of a dying breeze, held all enchained by the weird solemnity of the wondrous performance. It was as the agony of a mighty heart pouring forth its woe in a wild cataract of melody—a grief, too great to be human, too intense in its awful sublimity to have place in a mortal's breast. All held their breath as the broken, passionate stream rolled on.

Oh, music, flowing through the fingers of heaven's favoured few, how far above the petty things of earth thou soarest; how seldom art thou heard by mortal ears!

Presently the painful suspense (painful, for the deepest emotions of her eager listeners, were enlisted, and held as by a magic spell), was broken, by the ceasing of the uneven tide, and in a few fitful murmurs it died away. All breathed more freely, as the music paused, and looked at each other in mute astonishment. Before they had sufficiently recovered from their astonishment to speak, Bertha, pale and trembling, and with eyes gazing vacantly before her, as if peering into futurity, glided from the room.

'Wonderful!' ejaculated Mr. Blair, rising from his chair, and pacing the room.

The word dissolved the spell, and the stream of conversation, held back by the weird and grief-laden melody, rolled on again increased animation.

'She plays like that without learning the music, you say?' Clayton asked, incredulously.

'Yes!' Mrs. Shelley laconically replied, as she rose to follow Bertha.

'It seems incredible,' Mr. Blair exclaimed; 'and yet there must be such genius upon earth, or whence the grand music we have? The magnificent creations of the great masters must each in turn have had birth in a moment of inspiration.'

'She never played like that before,' said Mr Shelley; 'she must have been brooding over her grief intensely to have called forth such a wonderful outburst of-of-of what we might call the music of despair.'

'Grief?' said Hubert Clayton, glancing enquiringly at Mr. Shelley. 'I was not aware that Miss Shelley had any special cause for grief.'

Mr. Shelley felt a strong aversion to Mr. Clayton, and not choosing to discuss with him the subject of Bertha's attachment to the unfortunate escapè did not reply.

'The young lady is unhappily attached to the poor fellow Sinclair, who has just escaped into the bush; and she feels his misfortune acutely,' whispered Mr. Blair. 'I think we had better ride on,' he continued, in the same tone; 'the moon is up, and the family are so deeply afflicted by the indisposition of Bertha that our presence must be an intrusion. We will call on our way back, and enquire if she is better.'

Hubert Clayton's plan for meeting Miss Egerton on the morrow would have been upset by riding on to Newcastle then, as Mr. Blair advised, but he was saved the trouble of opposing the idea by a dazzling flash of lightning, immediately followed, by a deafening crash. 'Ah! a thunderstorm?' he said, as he held aside the blinds and looked out. 'That prevents our riding on. The moon must be down, too, for it is quite dark!'

Mr. Blair admitting the impossibility of proceeding further until next day, conversation flagged, he and Mr. Shelley sitting reading, or affecting to do so, and Hubert Clayton standing by the window-pane, thinking of the beautiful mourner whose melodious anguish had touched even his adamant heart. 'And she loves him!' he soliloquised thoughtfully. 'If I had thought crushing him could have caused such misery to a young and beautiful girl I would have deferred my revenge. It is too late, though, now! The arrow has left the bow, and is beyond the archer's control! Fate is irrevokable; it must be as it is!'

Leaving the three gentlemen to their thoughts, we follow Mrs. Shelley to Bertha's room. When she entered it Bertha was kneeling by the window, weeping bitterly, her head buried in her arms, and her fair tresses floating like a silken mantle over her neck and shoulders.

'Come, come, my darling, you must not give way in this silly manner!' Mrs. Shelley said soothingly. 'He is safe now, or he would have been taken before. Trust to God my child. He orders all for the best.'

'Orders it for the best that I, who would freely give my life to save him the merest trouble, should destroy him, as I have done by persuading him to escape from jail?' she said, raising her head. 'It may be so, mamma; I try hard to think so, but I cannot. If it had not been for me, Percy would now be free and happy, and now, through my mad interference, he must starve in the dismal bush, or, escaping from it, be captured and hung!'

She could say no more. The fearful picture, her excited imagination drew of the loved one's forlorn situation, overpowered her completely, and sinking back, she gave vent to her emotion in a torrent of bitter tears.

Her mother knelt beside her, and gently taking her head upon her lap, tenderly supported it, while she gave way to the paroxysm of grief.


CHAPTER XXXII.


And, ah, for a man to arise in me,
That the man I am, may cease to be!

—TENNYSON.

In the little summer-house Hubert Clayton stood next morning waiting for Anne Egerton, who had promised, as she passed him at the breakfast table, to meet him there. Half sighing, he muttered to himself, 'For her dear sake I wish I had led a different life! If she will overlook my past, and marry me, I will most certainly turn over a new leaf. If there is under heaven a being who can reform me—as the canting parsons call it—it is the gentle Anne! And by the heavens above me, I swear that for her dear sake I will be a better man for the future! Ah, here comes my bright, particular star—God bless her!'

Anne approached the arbour with a firm step, and without a trace of the agitation she had exhibited in his presence on the previous evening. Her face was pale, and the brightness of her eyes betrayed her excitement, but she retained her self-possession, and met him with a smile of recognition. From his appearance, and the company he was with, she was led to believe that he had for ever forsaken his evil ways, and become a respectable member of society; and the delusion made her feel for the time a calm happiness she had long been stranger to.

'I was afraid your better judgment had induced you to change your mind, and avoid meeting so incorrigible a sinner as me!' he said, softly, a touch of sadness in his voice.

'Not incorrigible, Hubert! You are trying to live differently now. You cannot recall the past; but a bright future is before us, if you continue your effort for good. It makes me so happy to find you are striving to make atonement for the past by living a better life now!' she said, tenderly, the great love of her pure, young heart beaming from her lustrous eyes.

'You can forget the past in the future? Love me as you used to, before the black cloud of disgrace came between us?' he asked in a low tone, gazing dreamily into the azure depths of her speaking eyes, and thinking how mad he must have been to let any temptation draw him from the only being for whom he had ever felt either sympathy or love.

'I forget everything, but that you will redeem the past! The years, since we were all in all to each other, have passed. We will remember them only as a painful dream that we have awakened from, never to relapse into again?'

'And you will keep your promise now, my darling? I have a good home down on the Nepean River, and we can forget the dreary past in our happy future,' he said, taking her hands in his.

'Not yet, Hubert!' she replied blushing. 'If you will wait for a year, and still remain firm in your resolution, to live a changed life, I will fulfil the promise I have never forgotten. Besides, my cousin Percy is in such dreadful trouble, I could not possibly think of marrying until he is saved.'

'Wait a year? Do you then doubt my sincerity, Anne? My punishment for my early errors is bitter indeed, when even you cannot believe me!'

The tone of real pain in which Hubert Clayton spoke, touched her heart; and Anne burst into tears. 'Forgive me, Hubert! I did not mean to doubt you, or hurt your feelings,' she sobbed. 'I know you are earnest in your determination to redeem the past; but I cannot marry you till poor Percy is out of trouble. A year is not so very long to wait!'

'You do not doubt me, then? I will wait one, ten, twenty years to please you. You are the only one whom I have ever loved, and to feel that you do love me as faithfully as of yore, is happiness enough for me—more, in deed, than I deserve. It puzzles me now how I could be so blind as to———'

'Let the dead past bury its dead!' she said, interrupting him. 'I never loved you less than I do now, Hubert. I have always loved you, perhaps, more than I ought to have done; but sit down, and let us talk about my cousin, his danger is so pressing, and we shall have plenty of time to talk of our future. I wish his was as bright!'

They sat down upon the rustic seat—a huge root of a tree coiled and twisted into the grotesquest of forms—and reviewed Percy Sinclair's situation from every aspect, Clayton almost wishing, as he listened to Anne's heartfelt lamentings on Percy's troubles, that he had forbore his ruthless vengeance. Half-an-hour's unrestricted conversation in the summer-house and they returned to the parlor, the dark gulf that had so long separated them, bridged, and their ties of devotion but the closer woven by their so long estrangement.

Bertha was sitting apart, as was her wont now, and leaning upon the window-sill, gazing with a purposeless eye upon the mountains across the river. Mr. and Mrs. Shelley were engaged in a discussion with Mr. Blair, upon the possibility of the Governor's still pardoning Percy Sinclair, after his breaking jail. Anne stepped across to Bertha's side, and Clayton joined the group at the further end of the room.

'I can hardly believe it possible that he can have been guilty of any criminal act at home,' said Mr. Blair; 'he has always seemed to me the very soul of honor.'

'Another of those cases of erroneous conviction, I believe,' replied Mr. Shelley. 'He would never speak of the past, however; so that we know next to nothing of his antecedents.'

'I believe he is as innocent as the babe unborn of any thing deserving such a heavy sentence!' Mrs. Shelley said, with energy. 'If all the juries in the universe convicted him, I should still believe him innocent!'

'I wish I could believe him so, Mrs. Shelley,' said Clayton. 'I was intimately acquainted with him at home, and consequently know everything connected with the unfortunate case. He was found guilty upon a charge of forgery!'

'Forgery! If so, I expect he was in some strait for the want of a little ready money, and used the name of a friend to raise it, honestly intending to repay the forced loan! A very injudicious proceeding, but certainly not deserving so heavy a punishment as our too severe laws meted out to him,' said Mr. Blair.

A strange smile flitted across Clayton's handsome features, as he turned to reply to Mr. Blair. 'Such was not the case, I am sorry to add!' he said. 'Percy Sinclair forged the name of a friend for a large amount; and he had no excuse, for his father is a wealthy man!'

Bertha slowly rose and approached Clayton, her face almost ghastly in its awful paleness, and her eyes sparkling in her intense excitement. He did not observe her, but continued, 'At the trial it was proved that he not only forged the cheque, but ruined a needy horse-dealer by passing it off upon him in payment for a horse, he——'

''Tis a falsehood!—a cruel, vindictive falsehood, Mr. Clayton!' exclaimed Bertha, confronting him, and casting upon him a withering glance of scorn and loathing. 'It was you who forged that cheque! It was you, who in your paltry, cowardly hate, bribed that needy horse-dealer to perjure himself to bring ruin and disgrace upon one, who is immeasureably your superior in everything. I charge you, Hubert Clayton, you, the meanest reptile that encumbers the earth by its baleful presence, with planning and executing the cruelest and most despicable revenge that was ever bred of malice and cowardice! Because Percy Sinclair in his earnest desire for the happiness of his cousin Miss Egerton, warned her of the danger of trusting her future with you, you worked his ruin in England; and even here, while the weight of his troubles is crushing him to the earth, you follow him with your relentless——'

She could say no more, but, overcome by the intensity of her excitement, sank back into the arms of her father, who sprang forward and caught her.

''Tis false! 'Tis a lie!' exclaimed Clayton hoarsely, his face dark with suppressed passion. ''Tis a base and treacherous invention!'

'Then why lose your temper about it?' sneered Mr. Blair.

The random shaft shot home, and for a moment Clayton was dumbfounded.

'Can this be true, Hubert? Is it possible, that, while professing to love me, you were plotting to bring ruin and disgrace upon my cousin?' Anne asked eagerly. 'Oh, say that it is some terrible mistake! That you could not be guilty of anything so cruel and wicked!'

'It is a mistake, Anne, an unaccountable mistake!' Clayton replied, recollecting himself. 'Forgive my abruptness, sir,' he continued, addressing Mr. Shelley. 'The charge came so sudden, and is so totally without foundation, that I may be pardoned for losing my temper. And I most humbly crave Miss Shelley's forgiveness also, for I spoke both rudely and rashly.'

'Oh, I'm so very glad it is a mistake!' said Anne, fervently. 'Such an act would be almost too wicked for the vilest upon earth to commit!'

'As you are aware, Anne, Mr. Sinclair and I seldom met, for our habits and tastes were so different; but we were never enemies. At that melancholy trial I did my utmost to save him; but the evidence was too clear, and he was convicted. If Mr. Sinclair tells Miss Shelley anything different, he is guilty of untruth!'

'Mr. Clayton,' returned Bertha, from the sofa, in a low, weak voice, and fixing her searching eyes upon him, as if she would read his very soul, 'The wretched dupes, whom you first bribed to swear falsely, and afterwards betrayed, are both here in the colony. It was not Percy Sinclair; it was one of your false witnesses, that told me. It is impossible that there can be any mistake. The man has proved the truth of the charge by risking his life in helping Mr. Sinclair to escape!'

'The warder? I thought I had seen him before!' Clayton said unguardedly; and then noting the significant glances interchanged between Mr. Shelley and Mr. Blair, he continued, correcting himself, 'This is a singular conspiracy! I fancy I have seen the jailor before, who has escaped with Mr. Sinclair; but I can see no motive for his strange charge. It must be a case of mistaken identity; it is quite possible some one may have acted as he says, for Mr. Sinclair is the last man on earth I would have suspected of such a crime!'

'When did you hear this, Bertha?' Mrs. Shelley enquired.

'When I went to see Mr. Sinclair, the warder, Mr. Bow, told me; and I am certain he told the truth!' she replied resolutely.

'And I, who ought to know best, am certain that he is untruthful in what he says that relates to me!' replied Clayton, smiling. He had now thoroughly regained his self-possession; and turning to Anne, he continued, 'I can hardly stay here longer, being charged as I am, with a base crime, which, though I am innocent of, I can have no direct and immediate means of disproving. You, at least, will believe me innocent!'

'It is, it must be a mistake! Though the whole world turn from you, Hubert, I will never believe you capable of such atrocity!' said the faithful Anne. Ah, trusting, innocent heart! draw what brief happiness thou canst from thy sweet trust in thy lover's tardy reformation. Too soon shall the mask be torn away, and his true nature be revealed in all its naked deformity!

Clayton pressed Anne's cold hands; and whispering, 'Darling, we shall soon meet again! Remain faithful till then!' bowed himself from the room. 'They must die, both Sinclair and the fool who hasn't learnt to keep a still tongue in his head,' he muttered, as he strode towards the stable for his horse. 'I'm not safe while they are in the land of the living. How can I clip their silver threads?—a subject for consideration that; but clip it I will or an exposure must follow, now that they have met!' He mounted his horse, and turning his head towards Newcastle, rode slowly forward; conceiving and rejecting plan after plan for the extirpation of 'the nest of vipers,' as he termed the victims of his hate and treachery. 'Ha! I have it!' he exclaimed, after half an hour's deep cogitation. 'An excellent idea! I'll find them that way; and if they live twenty-four hours after, they shall have my full permission to proclaim to the world my action in the matter of the trial!'

'This is a serious charge you bring against Mr. Clayton, Bertha,' said Mr. Shelley, as the gentleman alluded to left the room. 'A very serious charge; and I am sorry you did so. The person who told you this story is a convict, and therefore not to have very much reliance placed in him. You should have told me privately, and not have spoken so indiscreetly.'

'It is true, papa! It made my blood boil to hear him standing there insinuating that Mr. Sinclair was all that was wicked, when he knew that he was the unhappy victim of his own cowardly and treacherous plot!' Bertha answered, excitedly.

Anne, who had till now stood by without entering into the conversation, exclaimed—a vibration of deep pain in her sweet voice—'Do not say so, Miss Shelley! It may have been some one else who treated my poor cousin so cruelly. Do not condemn Mr. Clayton upon the word of one, who may be mistaken! Think how dreadful it must be to be accused wrongfully, and do not believe him guilty till you learn more about it!'

Bertha observed the expression of pain upon Anne's features, and restraining her impulse to repeat the proofs she had, said gently, 'You love Mr. Clayton? Then, for your sake, dear Anne, I will hope that it is some one else, and not he, who so treacherously destroyed Percy's prospects in life! Yes, it is dreadful to be accused and condemned wrongfully; and such is Percy's miserable fate, whether his destroyer be Mr. Clayton or another! But I can't talk any more now; my head is throbbing and aching terribly!'

Anne Egerton pressed her hand lightly upon Bertha's hot temples, and whispering softly, 'You must try and sleep for an tour or two; you are feverish and excited!' left the room, Mr. Blair taking the hint, followed her on to the verandah, leaving Bertha alone with her parents.

'Leave us for a while, Walter! I will remain with her!' whispered Mrs. Shelley to her husband, as she placed upon Bertha's feverish forehead a handkerchief damped with scent. Mr. Shelley, hoping his daughter would doze off, and be refreshed by sleep, stole noiselessly from the room. Bertha lay with her eyes closed, her thoughts far away in the dreary bush, with the unhappy fugitive; and thinking she was asleep, her mother sat by silently, waving away the busy little flies, and dreaming of the bright future before her darling, if she would consent to marry Lionel Courtney, the future Earl of Upmore.

'What do you think, Mr. Shelley, of Bertha's accusation? The way Clayton took it, made me feel it was true, and yet it seems impossible!' said Mr. Blair, as Mr. Shelley joined him on the verandah.

'I really don't know what to think!' he replied, 'There's truth in the fact that some one did as she says; but I cannot believe it was Mr. Clayton. Although, to tell you the truth, I don't altogether like the fellow.'

'The same here. I always feel chilled whenever he is by; but we mustn't condemn him on that account,' returned Mr. Blair, as he and Mr. Shelley walked on to the stables.

Anne Egerton overheard the brief dialogue, and retiring to her room, sat down, and resolved the matter in her fair head, till it grew dizzy and ached. 'Ah, I fear it is true,' she said, as she rose after an hour's close meditation, to go and inquire if Bertha was better; 'I fear it is true? Poor Percy, it was in striving to protect my future, that you drew down upon your innocent head his revenge! And I had loved him all these long years, in despite of his wickedness! Never will I see or speak to him again, until it is proved, that he did not treacherously destroy you by this wicked plot. And yet he may be innocent! It may be a mistake! No, I will trust him still until he is proved to be guilty!'


CHAPTER XXXIII.


Another day is added to the count
Of buried ages. Lo! the beauteous moon,
Like a fair shepherdess now comes abroad
With her full flock of stars, that roam around
The azuré mead of heaven.

—REV. R. MONTGOMERY.

Percy Sinclair's wish to live was not strong enough to induce him to beg for his life; and he heard with gloomy satisfaction Darby Gregson's dark hints about burning him to death. Jerry, however, looked unfavourably upon the prospect before himself and Percy, and remonstrated vigorously against the proposal being carried into effect. The poor fellow had no ambition to be held up as a public warning to his race, and he could not appreciate the warmth of his savage captor's intentions towards 'Misser Sinlar'—'What for you burn him like dat, dat no good burn him anybody!' he argued, after having made a powerful, and, he thought, successful protest against his own sentence, 'You let him Misser Sinlar go, den we get him you plenty beef, plenty eberyting.'

Jerry's undisguised offer of bribery rather amused Darby and his brutal associates; and the ex-sailor advised their letting the nigger go. 'He's only a boy, Darby,' he suggested, 'and it would be a pity to snuff him out so early. Let the little devil go.'

'To bring the constables down upon our tracks? Not if I know it, Sam! He'll be of no use, and once out of our sight y'ud be off like a shot, and split to the police magistrate where we are, and where we're off to. No, no, my boy, I know a game worth two of it!'

The other ruffians saw the point of Darby's argument, and offered no further opposition to the poor blackboy's elevation on the cord of fate. Percy had silently attended to the discussion, upon his own fate, too careless or too proud to speak a word to save himself from the agonizing and lingering death the bushrangers proposed for him; but when he saw that they had determined upon murdering his darling's faithful attendant, he pleaded anxiously for his life. 'You are men and Englishmen,' he said, thinking to rouse their better nature. 'Surely you will never stoop to murder an inoffensive boy! You may in your wanderings sometimes have occasion to shed blood in defence of your lives and liberties; but none of you can be so base as to wantonly, and without cause, take the life of a defenceless lad. It would be more than cruel—it would be cowardly!'

Darby saw that his prisoner's words were likely to work upon the blunted feelings of the other freebooters, and so, to remove the danger of any further appeal, he stooped down, and forced a roll of his woollen comforter into Percy's mouth, and thus effectually gagged him, saying as he did so, 'You see, mates, we must hang the poor, little nigger on the score of self-preservation. If we let him go free, he'd run a line straight back to Maitland, and turn out all the constables on the river after us. So you see, there's no help for it! We must hang him!'

No further resistance was offered to the proposal, and the grim preparations were made in silence—Percy, laying bound and gagged upon the ground, being unable to interfere, and Bow being apparently too busy with his thoughts to notice what was going on around.

'Poor Jerry,' Bow muttered to himself, when he had worked out his mental problem to his satisfaction, and could conscientiously spare the time to take note of the events transpiring around. 'Poor Jerry! I wish I could save you; but I'll find it hard enough to rescue your master; and I'd only risk my chance of saving him if I interfere.'

The prisoners watched the savage Darby with intense interest, as he flung a rope over the projecting arm of a gum tree, and made it fast. The other outlaws stood passively by, leaving to their cold-blooded captain, who was well able to perform it, the work of execution. The rope secured. Darby stepped back to the wretched Jerry, who fully understood his terrible position, and was blubbering like a baby.

'Come, dusky, stop that now! What the deuce have you got to whimper about?' he said, giving Jerry a rough kick in the ribs. 'Jump up! We can't be kept here all day waiting for your convenience.'

Jerry begged so hard for his life, that even the stony-hearted sailor had some trouble in repressing his tears; and Bow required all his firmness to remain silent.

'Now, Jennings, bear a hand!' he said, dragging Jerry beneath the projecting arm of the tree, and fixing the rope round his neck, 'bear a hand, and let's get this job over. You pull in the slack while I hold the nigger up, and then tie the end of the rope to that dead limb behind you.'

Jennings did as he was ordered, and quickly drew the line taut, while Darby Gregson lifted the young savage a couple of feet from the ground. 'Got the end fastened?' Darby enquired, as he was about to let the blackboy swing.

'All's secure! Hadn't you better tie his hands first? He'll die easier!' said Jennings.

'He'll be as dead as a red herring in ten minutes!' replied Darby, letting his victim go, and stepping backward a pace or two to watch his death struggles with better advantage. Darby had acted with less than his usual forethought in neglecting to pinion Jerry's hands; and the shrewd blackboy, though trembling with fright, was alert enough to perceive his opportunity. Watching Darby closely, he waited for the moment of being cast off, and, catching the rope with both hands, a little above his head, just as the bushranger was about to launch him off the stage of life, and swinging himself free, he kicked Darby full in the stomach, knocking him down by the blow, and then, before the discomfited villain could regain his legs, he climbed the rope hand over hand till he reached the branch over which it was flung. The unexpected and daring feat drew an instantaneous and hearty burst of applause from Bow and the bushrangers; and Percy smiled, as he saw the gallant blackboy seated in triumph across the limb, and nimbly unfastening the rope from his neck: but the uncomfortable gag in his mouth held him silent. Darby rose to his feet with an oath—'You black spawn of h——,' he exclaimed, savagely, 'I'll make this the worst day's work for you you ever did.'

'No, I'm blowed if you do, Capt'n,' said the ex-sailor coming forward, and holding his sides. 'That darkie's about the sharpest young 'un I've seen this cruise; and I'm blowed if you shall have another chance at him! What do you say, mates?' he continued, turning to the remainder of the gang. All deciding that Jerry had fairly earned his reprieve, his protector shouted to him to come down from aloft; but Jerry had no confidence in the benevolent old salt's assurance that 'he wouldn't eat him,' and flinging the rope aside he scrambled up the tree, not pausing for a second until he reached its topmost branch, from which eminence he gazed down upon the scene in triumph.

'And now about this other chap,' said Jennings, after all eyes had been directed upon Jerry for about ten minutes. 'Our gang is none too strong; and if these fellows are runaway convicts, I propose they shall join us. Let's put it to the vote!' Darby knew it was useless to oppose the idea, if put to the vote, and knowing that to lead any body of men it is necessary to give way occasionally, consented with as good grace as be could, to forgive the 'shot in the neck' that Percy had given him in the camp by the Hunter some months before.

'I think you're right, Darby, in taking my mate in,' said Bow, giving Percy at the moment a significant glance, which the latter, however, did not understand. 'You'll find him quite an haxquisition; but I wouldn't take the gag out of his mouth for an hour. It's best to let him feel what you could do with him, before you let him loose!'

Darby thought so too; and so Bow was liberated, and Percy Sinclair kept still in his painful position, the rough and irritating woollen coil in his mouth.

'More wood for the fire, lads,' said Darby, throwing himself upon the grass, 'some of you gather some—look, there's the head of a dead tree down the ridge there—and you take the billies, Jennings, and fill them at the water-holes we passed a couple of hundred yards back.'

The men hurried off on their commissions, leaving Bow and Darby together by the embers of the dying fire. 'Queer things have happened since me and you met last, Bow!' observed Darby Gregson, settling himself down for a yarn about old times.

'Do you know that slashing grey colt belonging to Mr. Bartell, the police magistrate!' Bow enquired, disregarding Darby's observation.

'Bartell's grey? I should rather think so! There's not a bushranger this side Parramatta, who hasn't had a narrow shave with the colt. Only he fell into a hole, when he was after me once, I'd have been nabbed as neat as you could wish,' replied Darby, rising, his large, red nose glowing with excitement at the recollection of the never-to-be-forgotten race. 'I'd give a trifle to shake that horse!'

'That's him down the ridge yonder, Darby,' said Bow, pointing down the slope to where the three horses were grazing. 'I'll swop him, if you like.'

'Done! Come along down, and let's have a look at him!' cried Darby, delighted at the prospect of obtaining the coveted horse.

'You can catch him alone, Darby. He's as quiet as a sheep. I'm too tired to care about stirring, if I can help it.'

'All right, Bow, I'll catch him myself. He's a beauty; I wouldn't give him for the pick of the Governor's stables,' returned Darby, starting down the ridge.

'Good! Now we can have a few minutes' consideration,' Bow muttered, as Darby hurried down the hill, and then turning to Percy Sinclair, who lay close by, bound hand and foot, he stooped down and removed the gag from his mouth. 'I expect, sir, you thought it strange of me my asking them to leave you gagged; but I knew you would be sure to refuse to join the bushrangers, and perhaps offend them by speaking too openly; so I thought it best to keep you silent till after I could get a chance of speaking to you,' said Bow.

'I turn bushranger? No! They may burn me a thousand times first!' Percy replied, angrily.

'I knew that's what you'd say; but just listen before you make up your mind. These wretches are going now to the river. If we are with them, and they attack the place where that young lady lives, we can protect her. Stop! don't speak! Here's one of the villains coming back! Keep the comforter in your mouth, as if it hadn't been moved.'

Percy Sinclair's drooping spirits rose at Bow's words, and his eyes flashed at the prospect of another attack upon Field Place. 'Welcome even life itself, if it remain with a chance of serving her!' he mentally exclaimed. 'Better, far better to lose it in her defence, than to die here for no greater purpose than the sport of a herd of brutal men!' He was now thoroughly reconciled to the idea of turning bushranger, or anything else that would preserve his life until he could rescue her from the anticipated danger.

Leaving Percy to his thoughts, Bow returned to the fire, and applied himself vigorously to fanning the dying embers with his hat, as Jennings returned with the water for the tea. In a few minutes Darby came back leading the grey colt. 'He's mine then, Bow?' he said, patting the horse's arched and glossy neck. 'You take my roan filly, and I take this cove. It's a fair swop. You're witness, Jennings. Come, shake hands, Bow!'

Hands were duly shaken in presence of the witness, Jennings; and the bargain concluded. 'I say, Darby, on second thought I fancy you might free that poor beggar there now!' said Bow, pointing over his shoulder to where Percy lay bound. 'By-the-by, Darby, I never thought to tell you before. He's the young feller, that devil Clayton run me and you to swear against at York. You recollect the young Mr. Sinclair that got lagged for forging a cheque?'

'Young Sinclair of Elmsdale? Yes, I recollect him right enough! That's him, is it?'

'Yes, Darby, that's him! And as it was owing to me and you, that he got lagged, we oughter to be easy with him.'

'I haven't no faith in them white-livered coves, Bow, as is afraid to wink for fear of the ten commandments. Howsomever, we'll try him for a while. Slip his cords off now, and let's see about supper.'

Bow obeyed the order with alacity, and whispered, as he was untying the green hide thongs, from Percy's wrists. 'Don't say anything to offend that vagabond, Darby, sir. For the sake of the young lady it'll be best to keep sweet with him. Here's a slip of paper and a pencil, I picked up in the gaol yesterday. If you've any message for her, watch your chance and write it, and then give it to me. I'll manage to give it to the blackboy up the gum tree, and he'll get away back when it is dark.'

Percy was liberated, and admitted into the honorable brotherhood of foresters. The scene around the fire as the deepening dusk gave place to the silver radiance of moonlight, was singularly wild and grotesque. The bright flames of the huge pile of blazing logs shed a ruddy light upon the ferocious and bronzed features of the outlaws, presenting a picture that a slight stretch of imagination might easily have transformed into a scene among the farfamed, banditte-infested Appennines.

The bushrangers sat by their fire long after they had taken supper, 'yarning' of their various adventures in the past, or laying plans for the future, and occasionally diversifying their 'yarns' by anecdotes of different 'gangs,' who had long kept the country in terror till shot, or captured and hung. With their natural inquisitiveness, the outlaws demanded to hear Percy's and Bow's history. Percy was about to peremptorily refuse, when Bow interrupted by volunteering to relate what he knew of both; and in his quaint and amusing way he detailed the part of his own and Percy's lives, which were so inseparably associated, not omitting to explain Darby Gregson's share of the villainous plot, by means of which Percy had been transported. During Bow's story, Darby watched Percy closely, and when Bow was relating what he had heard of the attack of the bushrangers upon Field Place, Darby interrupted him by exclaiming, with a coarse laugh, 'You must have been awful sweet on that little beauty, Bertha Sinclair! She was to have fallen to Nat Bryant's share, if that she-devil of a mother of hers hadn't stuck a knife into him, and carried her off. But when we get hands on her again, and we shall before the turn of the moon, I'll make her my wife without waiting for priest or parson. There no man, woman, nor devil shall take her away from me, when once I get my hands on her.'

Percy had to exercise great self-control to keep from striking the outlaw dead at his feet. In all probability he would have done so, and provoked the vengeance of the remaining bushrangers, had not Bow forcibly held him down, and whispered, 'If you'd save the young lady, you must be there, when they attack the homestead; and you can't you know, if you offend these devils!'

Percy saw the necessity of forbearance, and biting his lips remained silent.

'Well, let's turn in mates!' proposed Darby. 'We've had a long run to-day; and we've a long journey before us in the morning.'

'One of us'll have to watch the horses capt'n, or they'll slip their cables,' suggested the ex-sailor.

'You're right mate,' replied Jennings, 'and it's your turn now. You haven't had a watch for a week.'

'I'll take the first watch, Darby!' said Bow, stooping down to light his pipe at a smouldering branch. 'I've had a long sleep this evening, so a watch or two won't hurt me.'

Darby and his gang readily consented to Bow being sentinel; and rolling themselves in their blankets were soon snoring in concert. Percy and Bow lay apart, each occupied with his own thoughts; and poor Jerry from the elevation of the topmost branch of the gum tree, watched the camp scene with mingled feelings of exultation and regret—the former sentiment occasioned by the kick he had administered upon Darby in escaping, the latter by his inability to join in the attack upon good things he had seen spread so temptingly before him. A couple of tedious hours rolled by; and all being silent and still, Jerry thought that the decisive moment for escape had arrived. 'Now me get along back murray make haste,' he said to himself as he stretched out his cramped limbs, 'Dat grey colt can gallop like it lightning! Bale dat bushranger horse can catch him!' Full of the project for escape, he had narrowly watched the movements of the famous grey, and knew just where he was grazing; and slowly descending the tree he reached its base without accident; and laying himself prone upon the damp grass he crawled along noiselessly till he reached the cover of a large tree, and then, rising to his feet and keeping the tree between himself and the camp, walked briskly to the waterhole by the side of which the horses were grazing. Being all well used to 'camp,' the horses permitted Jerry to approach without their moving, and he was about to place his hand upon the silvery mane of the grey, when he received a fright great enough to excuse him for the incautious exclamation of terror he gave utterance to.

'Hold your tongue, you little fool, or I'll pull it out of you!' growled Bow impatiently from the other side of the horse.

Jerry breathed more freely when he found who his mysterious neighbour was. 'My word, you make it me too much murry frighten, altogether Misser Bow! What for you do like a dat?' muttered Jerry, his knees knocking together in his fright.

'You take this note and give it to Miss, what's-her-name and tell her that Bow'll stick to Mr. Sinclair, through thick and thin; so she needn't have no fears about him,' said Bow. Jerry took the note; and, before he could reply, Bow had vanished into the shadow of a thicket, and was cautiously hurrying back to his post at the fire.

'Hollo, Bow!' said Darby, as he took his place by the fire, 'What's up?'

'Didn't you hear the horses just now?' asked Bow evasively.

'No; I've only just woke. Was anything wrong with them?'

'No, I don't think so, Darby. They were frightened at a curlew, that was screeching down the ridge.'

'Well, good night! I'm too jolly tired to stop yarning now,' saying which, Darby turned over, and relapsed again into the sleep of excessive fatigue.

Jerry found that the grey was bridled. He was just about to mount, when an idea suddenly struck him, and hurriedly hitching the bridle to the branch of a tree, he caught the remaining horses in succession, and unhobbled them. 'Ha, ha!' he chuckled, 'Dat bushranger won't catch him horse, too much murry quick now! Dat gallop away by and by!' The horses, however, grazed quietly around, not seeming at all to appreciate the blessings of liberty, just conferred upon them; and Jerry, disgusted and disappointed, mounted the grey, declaring, as he did so, that he would never unhobble them again. Astride the grey, he drummed its sides with his heels, and in a few minutes' the hollow thud of its retreating hoofs upon the greensward was heard far down the slope. Bow anxiously watched the outlaws around, fearful lest their accustomed ears should catch the tell tale sound. They were too sound asleep, however, to be aroused; and after waiting until the last echo had died away, Bow noiselessly approached Percy's side, 'I gave the black boy the note,' he whispered, 'I saw him slipping down the gum, and guessing what he was up to, I took a bridle and met him at the horses. He'll be back to the station by to-morrow night.'

'The poor boy had a narrow escape. You told him to give the note to Miss Shelley?' said Percy in the same tone.

'I forgot the name, sir, but he'll give it to the young lady, never fear. He knows as well as I do, who it's for. It won't do for that suspicious vagabond Darby to wake up and find us talking so I'll just tell you one thing, sir, before I go, one thing you must remember—whatever they may say about robbing any of the stations, don't say a word agin it. You must pretend you're on for anything. Look, there is the chap they call Sam, moving, so we'd better separate! Good night, sir!'

'Good night Bow, and may heaven bless your disinterested faithfulness!' returned Percy, gratefully pressing his hand. Bow crept back to the fire, and prepared to while away the rest of the night by carving the handle of a tomahawk, he picked up by Darby's side. He had recently examined with interest a stockwhip handle, which one of his acquaintances had carved with great skill; and although he had never learned the names of the letters he observed upon the handle, he felt ambitious of reproducing them from memory, and set to work with great diligence to do so. He had promised to call Percy at midnight to take his place; but he was determined to watch the whole night himself, that Darby could on the morrow have no opportunity of blaming Percy for Jerry's escape with the grey colt; and so he sat hour after hour patiently cutting away at his task. Percy lay for hours in a bitter reverie, thinking of his wretched past, and future; too utterly hopeless for him to have heart to plan for its amelioration—his prospect in life was indeed gloomy: To remain free was to starve, or join in robbery: To be captured, death. In each instance he was separated for ever from those he loved. Food enough in that for his aching brain to ruminate upon till it was fed with misery almost to bursting. A little before daylight he dozed off for a few minutes leaving the indefagitable Bow still bent over the tomahawk handle, carving away with all his might.

Three weeks passed away as swiftly as though 'Old Time' was too busily occupied with his own affairs, to pause to take heed of human misery. The gang were still hovering about the settlements upon the Hunter River, the captain undecided in his movements in consequence of the vigilant attitude of the police. With the exception of the robbery of a dray loaded with provisions, the gang had done nothing, Darby waiting for the watchfulness of the police to abate through the sense of security, that would be sure to succeed, if the gang kept out of sight for a time. Jerry's escape with the Police Magistrate's horse had given the clue to the movements of the fugitives; and the blackboy's report of the presence of the notorious Darby gave the local authorities increased motive for putting forth extraordinary exertion to take the whole gang. A large body of mounted police was collected at a camp between the villages or 'townships' of Newcastle and Maitland, ready to move in any direction danger might threaten. Bertha watched with dismay the preparations proceeding for the capture of the bushrangers. Percy's brief note had filled her gentle heart with a new dread. He wrote that as the bushrangers meditated attacking the stations upon the river, he would remain with them, that he might be by to save her if Field Place was molested. 'And they will find him with the bushrangers, and punish him—hang him!' was the burden of her thoughts day and night. She had consoled herself for the misfortune of his escape from jail at such an unfortunate juncture, by the hope that he would escape from the colony, and thus get free altogether. But this vain hope was now completely dissipated. By his determination to protect her he was rushing into the arms of capture and death, she thus again being the direct cause of his ruin. Hubert Clayton viewed the preparations with a very different eye. As they grew more and more complete his spirits rose in proportion; and he took no pains to conceal his satisfactson. He did not go near Field Place, but he heard from others the fact of Percy Sinclair having joined the bushrangers; and on meeting Mr. Shelley one morning in Maitland, he asked, triumphantly.

'Can you believe in Sinclair's innocence after this new move of his, or give credence to the wild stories Miss Shelley has been imposed upon with? A man who can turn bushranger, and join such notorious ruffians as Darby Gregson, is quite capable of even blacker crimes than forgery. No, sir, take my word for it, you may consider yourself fortunate in so easily getting rid of a cut-throat in disguise!'

'I have yet to learn, Mr. Clayton, that Mr. Sinclair is a cut-throat!' Mr. Shelley replied, haughtily. He felt a strong inclination to knock the scoundrel down, who had not decency enough to conceal his exultation at the fugitive's misfortunes; but restraining himself, he continued, sarcastically, 'I judge every one as I find him, and contrasting you with Mr. Sinclair I can assure you the comparison is very much to your disadvantage,' saying which Mr. Shelley passed on, leaving Mr. Clayton standing, white with passion at the unmistakeable scorn with which he had been treated. At the moment two rough-looking men approached. They were ticket-of-leave men, who had volunteered to assist in rooting out the nest of outlaws, that the public mind felt was forming among the mountains.

'You both understand the compact? If you shoot him dead when we come upon the gang, I shall advise the Governor to grant you both a free pardon. No winging mind! It must be a dead shot, or you don't earn the recommendation.'

'All right, captain, we're on! He's as dead as his grandfather's ghost, if we only set eyes on him,' replied one of Clayton's accomplices.

'When d'we start, yer honor? Be the piper that played the Rogue's march, when St. Patrick was kicking the varmant outer old Ireland, I'll knock him into a coffin as nate as you plase, if I can only get inside o' a wink o' him!'

'The day after to-morrow, Tony. You'll get your orders from Bartell. There's to be a desperate effort to take the whole gang; but you know your especial mark. Good-bye, now. I'll see you to-morrow night,' replied Clayton, as he mounted his horse.

The atrocities, that had recently been committed by the notorious Darby Gregson on the other side of the range, roused the whole population of the Hunter to exert themselves to take him, dead or alive; and taking advantage of the general excitement Clayton was planning to have his new associate, Percy Sinclair, murdered under the cover of 'justifiable homicide.' The plot was deep, and well laid. In the struggle, when the bushrangers were attacked, what was easier than to shoot him down?


CHAPTER XXXIV.


Love is supreme,
And, master of the heart, an alchemist
Turns all to gold—sheds o'er the darkest crime
The rosy colours of self-sacrifice.

—ANON.

It was midnight, and the outlaws lay around their camp-fire discussing their plans. Acting upon Bow's judicious advice, Percy Sinclair had pretended to enter, with zeal, into all the vile schemes proposed, and was regarded by the captain of the gang as a very promising pupil.

'It's 'stonishing, Bow,' Darby Gregson observed one day, as the two worthies were riding together, 'How quick them Methodist chaps is at larning! I've often noticed that when a chap, as couldn't eat his dinner without prayer-sauce, turns out, he licks them holler, as has been at it all their lives!' to which shrewd observation Bow assented with a grin, which spoke volumes.

The particular plan that was under consideration of the bushrangers was one for the sacking of Glen Blair, the estate or farm of Mr. Blair, in a brush contiguous to which the outlaws were concealed. The attack had been decided upon, and the matter at debate was merely the how and the when.

'I think we'd better board 'em at the middle watch,' Sam Ford, the ex-sailor suggested. 'We'll catch them in their hammocks, then, an'll have less trouble about it.'

'Yes, Sam,' said Darby, 'That's a matter o' course. It's all settled but one thing, and that is, what we are going to do with old Blair. We'll not touch any of them but the old fox himself; but he shall die. Now what I propose is that Sinclair should try his hand at——'

'Oh, never mind that now Darby!' interrupted Bow, anxiously. 'You'll find him staunch as a bloodhound when the time comes. Wait till we've got old Blair in our hands. We'll soon contrive how to knock him on the head! I think we'd better arrange now about the next move. What do you say to taking a run first right down to Field Place, where that young lady is you're wanting to capture. Now's the time you see while the police is above Singleton. We can easily slip up here, and settle old Blair any time.'

Percy looked at Bow in mute surprise. He, who had all along appeared so anxious to shield her from harm, to be advising a raid upon the station, because it was left unprotected! He could scarcely believe his ears. Bow noticed his expression of astonishment, and gave him a significant glance, which, though Percy was sorely puzzled to account for Bow's apparent inconsistence, in a measure reassured him. After an animated and noisy discussion, Bow's proposal was rejected, the majority deciding upon an immediate attack on Glen Blair, or Euawinga as the blacks called the farm.

'I'll keep watch for an hour my lads, and then rouse you; so you'd best take a sleep till then!' said the captain, laying his pistols upon the grass preparatory to reloading them.

The outlaws, well used to snatching a few minutes repose at such odds and ends of time, as they could with safety do, obeyed the order at once, and were soon asleep. Bow contrived to throw himself upon the grass beside Percy Sinclair, without Darby's noticing the movement; and keeping an eye upon the ferocious captain of the gang, who was at the moment busily employed in drawing the charges from his pistols, whispered hurriedly 'Don't refuse to do anything the wretches want you to. Remember, if they knock you on the head, sir, before they attack Field Place, the young lady's lost, as sure as fate!'

'And yet you were advising them to go down and attack the station, now that the constables are away! I am half inclined to think you are a traitor; and yet——'

'Don't think that, sir!' Bow interrupted, with emotion. 'I'd lay down my life for you, or the young lady either; but I'm bound to scheme a bit to save you. If these d——d wretches attack Blair's place and catch the old man, I expect, from what I heard 'em saying, that they'll want you to murder him, just to convince 'em you're true! Now, think, sir, whose life's the most precious—his'n, or the young lady's? You'll have either to kill poor Blair, or they'll hang you for a traitor, and then whose to save the young lady? So you see, sir, it's a choice between killing Mr. Blair or Miss What's-her-name being run away with by that cussed Darby. I know which 'ud suffer if I'd the choosing!'

Percy was several seconds before he could fully realize the horror of his position. 'And I must be Blair's murderer; or she, the purest angel on earth, the outlaw's victim!' he said, slowly, after he had fully grasped his terrible situation.

'There's no help for it sir!' replied Bow, with philosophical resignation. 'But I'll just go to sleep for an hour while you thinks over it,' saying which he cautiously crawled to a little distance and lay down. He had barely done so, when Darby Gregson, having attended to his pistols, rose, and began pacing about.

For nearly an hour Percy lay, brooding over the sickening alternative before him. There seemed no escape. To shed the blood of an old man, who had always treated him—convict though he was—with kindness and courtesy! The idea was too horrible to admit of consideration. Yet refusal to obey the brutal mandate would expose her, he loved as no mortal was meant to be, to a fate to which the cruelest death were a mercy. With clenched teeth, and brow damp with the perspiration of mental agony, he lay, vainly endeavouring to decide how to act. Presently, as the restless Darby was passing in his untiring watch, his eyes tell upon the ghastly features of his new comrade, as he reclined, with the flickering glare of the fire upon his face.

'Don't like the idea of cutting old Blair's wizzen, eh?' he muttered, as he approached Percy, and threw himself down by his side. 'Well, the lesson'll do him the world of good! We'll take a run down to your old place, Sinclair, after we've settled accounts with Blair.' He continued, addressing Percy, 'That's a charming little piece that you're sweet on. Upon my word I must compliment you upon showing excellent taste. But there's two lessons you've to learn before you can fairly call yourself a bushranger; and that's first, obedience to orders, and second, to forget all feelings of pity for the masters and all belonging to 'em. Now you've got two good chances to practice both. Knock old Blair on the head, and hand the wench over to me. If you can swaller both of these bitter pills, without grinning, I'll call you a brick.'

With clenched fist, and eyes flashing with passion, Percy sprang to his feet; but the watchful Bow was too quick for him, and, in a moment was between him and the brutal captain.

'What the devil's the matter with you, Bow?' roared Darby, who had not observed Percy's menacing movements through Bow's agility.

'Look here, Darby, you're the biggest fool I ever set eyes on!' Bow answered, looking steadily at the captain. 'A black snake almost touching your ear, and you lying there, as quiet as if you'd a return ticket to heaven in your pocket!'

Darby glanced uneasily around.

'O, it's gone into that holler log now! It's no use looking for it,' said Bow carelessly.

'A return ticket to heaven! Why wouldn't a single one do?' Darby enquired, after he satisfied himself there were no more black snakes about.

'Cause you'd not care to stop there long; you wouldn't feel at home like!'

Darby laughed heartily at what he thought a very good joke, and then walked back to the fire, and made it up.

'Look here sir, you're brave enough for anything; but it's scheming and contriving, not pluck, as'll help you out of this trouble, if anything will. Don't say or do anything to offend the captain, whatever he says—words are as light as feathers. It's the young lady you've got to think about.'

'You are right, Bow; and I understand you at last!' exclaimed Percy, seizing the faithful fellow's hand, and pressing it gratefully. 'I will follow your sensible advice, and not doubt you again.'

'Cut old Blair's throat, if they tell you to.'

'Yes, yes! For her sake, I'll risk assurred damnation!' Percy replied excitedly.

'Well, lay down and try to sleep. And if you can't, pretend to; so that you'll not get talking again with that devil yonder.'

Percy lay down, as advised, but no sleep came to his eyes; and, in half-an-hour more, Darby Gregson roused the whole band for their raid upon Euawinga. The moon was just disappearing below the western horizon as the bushrangers left their camp, and turned their steps towards the scene of their meditated robbery. The path through the brush was too narrow for two to pass abreast; and so they moved along in single file, the captain leading the way, and keeping a sharp lookout to avoid surprise from any of the several parties of constables who, he knew, were actively engaged in searching in the neighbourhood for him and his gang. Bow kept close to Percy's side, but the presence of the outlaws prevented conversation. A quarter of an hour's walk brought them to the skirt of the brush; and, shrouded by the thick veil of darkness, Euawinga, or Glen Blair, lay before them. 'Halt!' commanded Darby, in a hoarse whisper, not unlike the hiss of a serpent. The outlaws instantly paused, and clustered around their chief, waiting for further orders.

'Now, my lads,' said Darby, after a few seconds cogitation. 'Keep close together. The house is just over the fence yonder, not two hundred yards off. We will divide into two bands, when we reach the back verandah, and so cut off the old fox's retreat. I don't care who else escapes, so long as I can nab Blair himself! Sinclair, you keep near me. You all know your work, so there's no need of a confab, lads. Come along!' saying which, he led the way on through the darkness. Cautiously they approached the house, and had completely cut off every avenue of escape when the dogs, who had been away 'possum hunting on their own account, returned, and gave an alarm. Their furious barking soon roused the inmates; and Darby, seeing no possibility of silencing them, it being too dark to see, kicked rudely at the door, and demanded admittance.

Mr. Blair leaped out of bed and threw open a shutter and looked out. He glanced uneasily about, and in a few seconds discerned the dim forms of several of the bushrangers in the starlight. He needed no second glance to assure him who his nocturnal visitors were. He drew back, and noiselessly closed and bolted the shutter. 'Bushrangers, and the men all away!' he exclaimed in dismay, as he turned to his wife, who was sitting up trembling in the bed.

'Jump up and dress yourself at once, Clara! It is the bushrangers; and I shall have to defend the place as well as I can,' he said, at the same time feeling under the pillow for his pistols. Mrs. Blair needed no second bidding, but sprang out of her bed and into her dress in a very few seconds, saying, as she did so, 'Oh, what shall we do! It is impossible for one to defend this place long, and they will murder us!'

Her words were drowned in the noise Darby's heavy boots made against the door; and, not hearing them, her husband thought rapidly over his plans of defence. He knew it was useless attempting to escape, as he was certain the bushrangers would keep too good a watch to allow an opportunity of getting away into the bush, and he felt their only chance was to hold the place till daylight, when they might, perchance, be rescued.

'This way, Clara!' he whispered to his wife, as he dragged her from the bedroom to the outer, or dining-room, 'You will be safe in the cellar; they'll never dream of looking there for you; what a blessing Edith and the boys are away!'

'Hide with me, Robert, or I will not stay in the cellar! It is useless for you to expose yourself to danger; and I will not escape alone!'

Darby's kicks at the doors, and orders to open it, were becoming louder and more determined; and, fearful that the frail woodwork would give away, and admit the bushrangers, Mr. Blair shoved his wife forcibly down the ladder into the cellar, and, closing the trap-door, bolted it. Then, turning to the front door, he called to the men outside to be warned, as he would shoot down anyone attempting to enter. A laugh of derision followed his caution; and Darby's efforts to force entrance were redoubled. After a few moments the door burst open, and Darby sprang in, closely followed by Percy and Bow, and several of the outlaws. At the same moment the bushrangers, who had been told off, to prevent escape from the rear, smashed the back door open, with an axe they had found close by.

'Strike a light, Sam!' Darby cried to the ex-sailor, who was never without his flint and tinder. 'And let's have a glimmer upon the subject!'

The brimstone match was soon applied to the spark in the tinder, and a candle was lighted that happened to stand upon the table.

'What! only one of you!' exclaimed Darby, seeing no one in the room but Mr. Blair. 'Where's the rest of the birds flown to?'

'Down the river, visiting, I expect!' said Bow, in order to give the captive a hint.

'Yes! down in Maitland staying a few days with some friends,' replied Mr. Blair, who was sharp enough to catch the cue.

Bow was standing upon the trap-door, and in stepping forward struck his foot against the bolt. His quick apprehension caught in a moment the meaning of Mr. Blair's appealing glance. 'Look here, Captain, I'm not going to be smothered in this hot room. Bring the prisoner out into the open air, and let's see what's to be done with him there!' he said, wiping his face and neck as industriously as if he were in the temperature of the Torrid Zone.

'Well, yes, Bow, it's develish hot in here. Tie his hands, Jennings, and fetch him out onto the grass in front,' said Darby, falling unsuspiciously into the scheme Bow was setting, to allow whoever the cellar concealed to escape. The whole band repaired to the front, and sat down upon the damp sod to consider what was to be done with the prisoner.

'I'm not at all particular about your people being away at Maitland,' said Darby. 'Cause it's you, and not them I want. I've got you now; and cuss me, if ever you get away again, while you've a head on your shoulders.'

'What, you here, and a bushranger, Sinclair?' exclaimed Mr. Blair, as the flickering beam of the candle (they had brought from the house) fell upon Percy.

Bow gave Percy a warning nudge; and, acting upon the mute advice thereby conveyed, Percy replied bluntly, 'Yes, I'm a bushranger now, as you see!'

'Sinclair, here's a knife! Now try your hand. I don't suppose you'll make a very neat job of it; but I won't mind a little bungling at first. We've all on us got to learn! Sam and Saunders just you tie our friend Mr. Blair neck and crop ready for Sinclair's first lesson in practical bushranging!'

Percy turned sick at the thought of obeying; but something Bow whispered gave him resolution; and he silently took the knife offered. The captive looked from the ferocious and threatening features of the bloodthirsty ruffians, to the pale but resolute face of their recruit, in silent dismay.

'Hadn't we as well leave this for daylight, Darby? Sinclair 'll need more light than a candle can give, to see what he's doing.'

Darby smiled grimly. 'Oh, never mind, Bow! I shan't expect him to do it as cleverly as you or I would.'

'My God, you cannot mean to murder me in cold blood!' exclaimed Mr. Blair in consternation.

'If he don't like it in cold blood, let's warm him a bit over a fire!' said Bow, with the double purpose of causing delay, and of still further throwing the outlaws off their guard by impressing them with a yet stronger belief in his own villainy.

'It's hot enough to suit anybody but a Hottentot, Bow; and we aren't going to waste time to please Blair's whims. What the deuce can it matter to him whether he dies in hot blood or cold, so long as he does die.'

'There's no help for it, sir!' Bow whispered to Percy, 'it's just a choice between killing the poor gentleman, and letting the young lady fall into the hands of these wretches.'

Without answering, Percy stood for a full minute gazing into the dark forest in front of the house, then whispering to Bow, 'Be silent, and watch! A thought strikes me!' he stepped forward, and stooped over the unhappy prisoner, who, though trembling with dread, was too proud to beg further for life. The outlaws clustered round, and looked on with the curiosity of connoisseurs criticising an interesting surgical operation. Bow stood aloof, closely watching Percy's movements, and wondering what his strange words had meant. Percy drew the keen edge of the weapon across his sleeve, to test its edge, and then, with one, quick movement of the glittering blade he severed the thongs that bound the prisoner's legs, and dragging him to his feet, sprang away into the brush before the bushrangers could realize what he had done. Bow and Mr. Blair instantly followed, and before Darby and his infamous comrades could draw their weapons, the three were lost in the darkness, and out of all danger of immediate pursuit. A volley of pistol shots awoke the mountain echoes, but, for the present at least, Percy was free.


CHAPTER XXXV.


Ye stars, which are the poetry of heaven!
If in your bright leaves we could read the fate
Of men and empires,—'tis to be forgiven
That in our aspirations to be great
Our destinies o'er leap their mortal state
And claim a kindred with you; for ye are
A beauty and a mystery, and create
In us such love and reverence from afar,
That fortune, fame, power, life have named themselves a star.

—BYRON.

The midnight hour was swiftly winging its way on towards the haven of eternity; and from her chamber window a fair maiden, with aching heart, was gazing, and thinking bitterly, ay, how bitterly, of the too heavy trials it was her lot to bear. The heavens were arrayed in their diamond-spangled robe, and appeared as calm and beautiful in their silent grandeur, as if they never looked down upon aught but happiness and contentment. 'Ah, unsympathetic skies, ye live on in your eternal beauty, regardless of human weal or woe!'

Bertha's heart was heavy. She had, during the afternoon caught sight of the Gazette, which her father had lately kept out of her way, and in it she had read an account of the strenuous efforts the Government was making to capture, or exterminate the band of bushrangers, who had recently crossed the mountains from the Hawkesbury River; and the knowledge that; for her sake, Percy had joined that gang, and ran all the danger of capture, made her gentle heart sad. She was sitting picturing to herself every possible peril that would threaten him, and making her head ache in unison with her heart, by the excitement she was working herself into. Presently a hand was placed lightly upon her shoulder; and, turning round, she found Anne standing by her side. 'What, Miss Bertha, not undressed at this hour! Why, it must be midnight!' exclaimed a sweet voice in unfeigned astonishment at finding the sorrowful girl up so late. The clock at this moment striking one, testified to the lateness of the hour, but, taking no heed of its hint, Bertha replied, sadly, 'Sit down, Anne, and let us talk a while, if you are not sleepy. I cannot go to bed yet, I feel too unhappy.'

Taking a seat by the mourner, Anne drew her to her side; and they sat for a full hour talking of the fate of him, so dear to them both. Anne tried hard to lead the unhappy girl to look hopefully upon the future, dark as it might then lower; but all her efforts were unavailing. The future, to Bertha's sorrow-laden heart, felt hopelessly dark and drear. 'But, Bertha, if in this world we are not as happy as we would wish, we can, at least, find comfort in the reflection that God knows best,' said Anne, after an unsuccessful attempt to comfort her young mistress, 'We have all trials, each thinking his own the heaviest; but it is the hand of mercy that deals out our bitterest grief.'

'Ah, if you had so much cause to love him as I have, and to feel grateful, you could not speak so calmly, Anne. It is my fault, too, that he is in danger. But for my rash interference, he would have been back again amongst us now, and safe. When I remember how often he imperilled his life for me, and that through my act he is likely to be destroyed, I feel that I must go mad! That terrible fall down the precipice! I can see it, oh so vividly, every time I close my eyes. If I could save him by dying for him, I could die happily,' wailed the broken-hearted girl.

Anne appreciated but too fully Bertha's feelings, and not knowing what to say to assuage her grief, remained silent for a few minutes, gazing out upon the calm depths of night, and thinking sadly of the dark and eventful fortune of her cousin. Her brief reverie was soon broken by a dim form passing the window, and both girls drew back in terror.

'It's only me, old Iperbly, as the master calls me, so you needn't be afraid, ladies,' said a deep, gruff voice, and the dark figure turned back and approached the sash, 'I couldn't sleep, Miss Bertha, so I took a stroll round, and seeing your window open, I thought something might be the matter, and so I came across the fence to shut it.'

'Could you see the window open in the dark, Mr. Brown?' Anne enquired incredulously. She did not know the faithful old man very well, and was suspicious that his words were only an excuse for his presence at such an hour.

'I could see by the reflection of the candle through the window that the shutter was open, and so I just came over to see if anything was the matter,' replied old Hal respectfully.

'What makes you stay up so late, Hal?' Bertha asked him kindly, the presence of the old man bringing back to mind the terrible struggle in the dairy, 'It must be nearly morning.'

'I couldn't sleep, Miss Bertha, and so I took a walk round to get rid of the uncomfortable thoughts that kept coming into my head. I've got it into my head, and can't get it out, that I'm going to die. It's a sort o' presediment, you know,' said Hal sadly.

In spite of her own grief, Bertha felt interested in the old man's trouble, and encouraged him to talk of it by begging him to tell her what it was he had a presentiment of.

'I feels, you see, Miss, that I am going to die. I can't tell how or why. I'm as sound as a bell, and I'm not going to commit suicide. What gives me the notion, I can't tell, but I'm certain as I'm standing here, I'm going to die.'

'Nonsense, Mr. Brown. It is only some whimsical fancy you have got in your head. The Almighty does not tell people in such an obscure and unintelligible way what His divine will is. Presentiments and dreams, and all such superstitions are wrong I am sure!' said Anne decidedly.

'Perhaps it is with some people. Miss Egerton; but we old soldiers always have presediments, when anything is going to happen,' contested Hal. 'I could tell you of a hundred cases where a poor fellow has said, when he buckled on his accoutrements in the morning? that he'd never take them off; and sure enough before sunset an ounce o' lead or half a dozen inches of cold steel has knocked him over. No; believe me, both of you young ladies, there is such a thing as real presediment!'

'Do you think then Hal.,' Bertha asked thoughtfully, 'that people always have a presediment of impending trouble?'

'As sure, Miss, as there's always a warning given when there's a storm coming on! When a heavy storm is coming everything gets dark and lowering, and you can see with half an eye what's going to follow.'

'And yet I was as happy as could be right up to the day my bitter troubles began! No shadow of the dark cloud of misery, that was coming upon me so fast, was thrown over me; till the grief itself came!' Bertha said in a low tone, as if talking to herself.

'You don't believe in presediment, Miss Bertha? Well, I can tell you what happened to me once, after I had a presediment, and that ought to convince you. I was taken up and tried on suspicion of being the murdered man, and was nearly hanged through it, too! I had a very strong presediment that time!' said Hal., looking round as if fearful of seeing a real live 'presediment' at his elbow.

'Taken up for being a murdered man, Hal.? I don't understand you!'

'Well, Miss Bertha, if you don't mind my telling you the adventure, I'll do so; that's if you're not going to bed just yet.'

'On, do tell me by all means!'

Hal. stood for a moment in deep reflection then leaning upon the window sill to rest himself, he began the recital of his 'yarn.'

'Well, you see, ladies, I was always a wild young fellow, and ready for any adventure that 'ud turn up; and one day me and a mate of mine named Barney Callaghan got into a bit of a scrape, through my unfortunate turn for fun. There had been a murder in a city in the north of England, and as there was a great deal of mystery about the affair, and nearly all the country round was going to the inquest, of course me and Barney got leave from the sergeant, and went too. The poor fellow, that had been killed, was a stranger to the parts, and after the jury sitting on him for two days and three nights, they came to the 'nanimus conclusion they didn't know anything at all about the matter, and couldn't find a verdict until they found out who the unfortunate victim was. So after a long consideration they made up their minds to advertise a reward for the apprehension of anyone that could give any information about who the dead man was, or who knocked him on the head. 'Fifty pounds reward for any information that will lead to the discovery of the person found murdered upon Ross Common, on the 27th December last!' said Barney to me, the morning after the inquest, as he staggered into the barracks, holding a paper in his hands. 'Bedad, then, Hal., it's me an' you'll 'just go shares over that same fifty pounds!' I couldn't well understand what he was aiming at; but as Barney was a rough customer, when he'd had a glass or two of whiskey, I just asked no questions, but waited to hear what he was going to say. 'Look here Hal.' says he, 'its fifty pounds the Government's after givin for the discovery; and it's just me and you'll discover him!' 'But they've' got him; Barney. Didn't we see the jurymen sitting on him!' I said. 'Now look here Hal., you've got no more brains than my sister Bridget's roan milker! Just do what I tell you, and we'll share that fifty pounds as nate as smuggling,' said Barney, rubbing his hands at the thought. I told him I was on for anything for a spree. 'Then don't ax no questions, Hal! but leave me to do it. There's more brains in my head for schaming, than you know nothing about,' says he. 'Wait till the middle of the night, and then I'll tell you my idea; and in the mane time read this discription of the dead man's appearance.' I read the paper through two or three times, but couldn't think what game he could be up to. 'Never you mind, Hal, you'll see by-and-bye!' says he, as he tumbled into bed without undressing. Well about twelve o'clock he wakes me, and up we both gets, and starts off for the public-house where the dead body was lying. I didn't like the idea of getting through the window of the dark room the dead body was in, but I wasn't going to show the white feather so I followed him. When we were safe inside Barney turns the bull's eye lamp round the room, and there was the body lying in the clothes that was on it, when it was first found. My hair stood bolt upright, and my teeth rattled like dice; but I never said a word, but just watched Barney's preceedings. First he took everything off the body, that was mentioned in the advertisement, and tied them up in a bundle, and then put on it some other things he'd got with him; and then he began to enlighten me about his schame, as he called it, 'I'm jest going to play a joke upon a boy I've a down on, Hal.; and I think we can get the fifty, too. You know some of my countrymen are as soft as buttermilk, and the spalpeen I'm going to sell is the softest I've seen. I want you to dress up in these things I've taken off this poor fellow, and then we'll go to the next township, where he's a constable, and give you in charge,' he said, almost bursting at the idea, 'Give me in charge, Barney; What for?' I asked, 'Never you mind, now, Hal.;' he says, 'I'll tell you when we get there.' Well, we started for Redbank—that's the name of the next town—and when we got to a meadow about a quarter of a mile from it, Barney told me to peal off, and put on the things he had in the bundle—the clothe's he'd taken off the dead man. I swore I wouldn't; for I'd had a presediment for two or three day's before something wrong was going to happen; but he persuaded me, and I changed my clothes for the dead man's. 'They're rather damp, Barney, and I don't like the smell of 'em,' I said; but he only laughed, and said nothing. 'What're you going to do now, Barney?' I asked. 'Why Hal, my boy, all I want you to do is to stop here till I come back, I shan't be ten minutes.' Barney left me in the meadow, and jumping over the hedge, ran off to the town. He soon came back, and brought the constable with him. Winking to me to hold my tongue, Barney says to the constable, 'Look here, Miles, You've seen the description of the man found murdered on Ross Common last week. Well there's a reward of £50 for his discovery. What do you say to my putting you on the scent?' 'Bedad Barney, I'd say a dozen masses for the pace of your soul I would!' answers Miles, his eyes glittering like as if he was just clutching the money. 'All right, Miles, it's a bargin! Do you see that individual there shivering like a dog in a bog? Look at him! Height, size, colour of hair, clothes and all tallies. Look! here's the place they stuck the knife, through the back of his jacket.' and Barney just caught hold of me, and turned me round for the constable's inspection, the while whispering for me to be mum as a mouse-trap. 'Bedad, then, Barney, the identity is established,' said Miles, who'd got hold o' a bit of legal lingo, 'and I'll just apprehend him. I may as well have the reward as any one else!'

Bertha here whispered to Anne that she was in no humor for listening to Hal., and wished that he would go back to the huts, and get to bed again. The words were not intended for the old man's ears; but he caught them, and replied apologetically, 'I beg your pardon, Miss Bertha. I oughter a' known better than to a' bothered you with my yarns at this time o' night.'

'It is not that, Hal. Your stories are very interesting, I have no doubt; but my head aches, and I feel so miserable, I hardly know what to do with myself. Had you not better get to bed again?'

'I've a presediment, I'll never go to bed again in this world, Miss Bertha!' answered the old man despondingly. 'I don't know why, but I feel sure I'll never see the sun rise again!'

'Oh, nonsense, Mr. Brown! You are nervous, and unwell. You should try to shake off these silly fancies,' said Anne soothingly.

At this moment a young dog, that had been tied up near the dairy, and felt lonely through the absence of its companions, who were away in the brush 'possum hunting, set up a most dismal and discordant howl.

'There!' exclaimed poor Hal. triumphantly, 'listen to that! Dogs never howl in that tune, unless they have a presediment! That dog knows as well as I do, I'll never see daylight again; and that's why he's howling. It's wonderful how they know these things; but they do! I never heard a dog howl like that but the undertaker wasn't far off.'

Hal was here interrupted by the tramping of horse's hoofs, and the loud and boisterous merriment of their riders.

'The bushrangers by George!' exclaimed Hal. as the girls cowered back into the room.


CHAPTER XXXVI.


I dare do all that may become a man!
He, that dares, more is none!

—SHAKESPEARE.

'It's no use follering them, lads!' said Darby, as Percy, Mr. Blair, and Bow disappeared in the direction of the brush. 'We could'nt track them in the dark; and they know the country about here too well for us to have a ghost of a chance of finding them, even if it was daylight.'

The other outlaws saw the force of their captain's words, and admitted the folly of attempting to pursue the fugitives.

'What's the next step, Darby?' asked Jennings. 'It's no use standing here with our fingers in our mouths, looking at each other! I vote for a search in Blair's kitchen, to see if there's any grub knocking about.'

'We must get back to the horses, and gallop off to Field Place at once, before old Blair and the others reach it and give the alarm,' said Darby decidedly.

'We've grub enough at the camp to last us another feed,' put in one of the bushrangers. 'We'll boil the quarts while the horses are getting ready, and have a go in before starting.'

'Now then, lads, waste no time yarning! Follow me; and we'll reach Shelley's station before Blair can get there to give the alarm. Come along!'

Darby started off at a smart walk to retrace his steps to the camp; and the others closely followed. As they were entering the brush they were startled by a shrill sound as of someone calling; but the wind, which had risen, and was beginning to blow strong, prevented them from hearing it distinctly.

'It's only a curlew, Darby!' said Jennings to the captain, who had paused to listen.

'Not it! That's a woman's voice; or I never heard one!' Darby replied.

'Woman, or no woman, I'm off!' said the ex-sailor, increasing his speed. 'I'm not going to wait to be boarded by a lubberly lot of constables.'

The scream or whatever it was, was repeated, and thinking that it might indicate the approach of assistance, Darby decided to hurry on, and gave orders accordingly. When the outlaws reached their camp they found the fire still in; and they soon had their quarts of tea boiling.

'Now then my lads, into your saddles!' said Darby, as they finished their hasty meal. 'If we ride hard, we'll reach Shelley's now before sunrise. Recollect, you share all you find. All I want is the girl Sinclair's so sweet on.' Darby leaped into the saddle, and dashed off at full speed through the bush; and in a few seconds his men were in full career after him towards the scene of their meditated violence.

The last echo of the sound of the hoofs of their galloping horses had hardly died away, when a dozen horsemen galloped up from the opposite direction.

'Holloa, a fire!' exclaimed Mr. Bartell, the police-magistrate, as he sprang from the saddle. 'Then we've come across the camp. They cannot be far off. See, Musgrave, there is some tea still warm.'

The riders all dismounted, and examined the spot.

'Pistol wads! and here's a tomahawk!' said a trooper, picking up a hatchet one of the bushrangers had dropped. 'I'll be bound they're at Blair's place.'

'Let's push on, Bartell,' said Mr. Musgrave, remounting.

'I think it likely?' replied Mr. Bartell, leaping into his saddle. 'Follow me!' He drove spurs into his horse's flanks, and, regardless of the danger of riding at full speed through a brush in the dark, hastened on towards Euawinga, closely followed by his men. All was as still and peaceful as the grave, as they emerged from the brush and entered the clearing.

'Look, sir, the door's open!' whispered a constable, as they turned the corner of the house.

'Halt! Two of you hold the horses,' ordered Mr. Bartell in an undertone. 'Musgrave take Stenhouse, Grey and Maloney round to the back to cut off retreat that way, while we operate in front!'

'What! no one about!' one of the men exclaimed, when, after entering unchallenged; he struck a light and found the place deserted.

'Here's a trap-door. Perhaps the rats are in the cellar!' suggested another. 'At any rate here goes for an investigation,' saying which he disappeared down the ladder. In a few seconds he reappeared, 'There's nobody down that well; they're somewhere else I spect, if they're anywhere,' he said as he scrambled to his feet.

'Perhaps they may be hiding behind something or other, Sandy,' said Mr. Bartell, looking down the dark opening in the floor.

'There's >no room to hide in, sir, the place is so small, that if you were to swing a middling-sized cat by the tail, it wouldn't be well for its ears, I guess.'

'Hand me a light, Dawson, I will see for myself,' said Mr. Bartell, thoughtfully. 'If the bushrangers have been here, it's most likely we'll find some trace of them in the cellar! Ah! I thought so! Look, Sandy! A woman lying upon the damp floor behind that cask!' he said, as the flickering glare of the bush lamp revealed the form of Mrs. Blair, crouching behind a large barrel.

Mr. Musgrave gently raised the cold form of the lady; and, motioning the trooper to light the way, carried it up the ladder, and laid it tenderly upon a rough settee or couch under the window.

'The lady is asleep!' exclaimed a constable in surprise. 'A strange place for a nap, I should say!'

Mr. Bartell looked grave, and shook his head. He felt her face and hands, and then hurriedly tearing open the gown she had thrown over her night-dress, he placed his hand over the region of the heart. 'Yes!—a sleep she will never wake from in this world, Henderson! She is cold and dead!' he said solemnly.

'Surely not!' said Mr. Musgrave anxiously. 'It's Mrs. Blair. She has been ailing for some time past; but I never thought she would have died so suddenly.'

'Them cursed bushrangers has had a hand in this!' said Sandy emphatically, 'They've murdered the lady, and, most like, Master Blair too, and then robbed the place and decamped. It's not likely Mrs. Blair would lay down and die like this without any visible cause.'

'It is all a mystery, Musgrave! No one about but Mrs. Blair, and she dead!' said Mr. Bartell, stroking his beard thoughtfully. 'If the bushrangers have been here, there ought to be some trace of them; and, if not, it is unaccountable how the lady can have been left here to die! I am completely in a fog. It is the strangest episode in bush life I have ever seen!'

'I've searched the out-houses thoroughly, sir; and there's no one about,' said a trooper, entering from the back premises.

'I believe we're on the trail of Darby Gregson and his desperate gang, Bartell. What do you say to our pushing on towards Maitland. I expect they're ahead of us,' Mr. Musgrave suggested.

'I do not like the idea of leaving this place till daylight, Musgrave; for I feel convinced the bushrangers are lurking about somewhere near,' replied Mr. Bartell reflectively. 'And besides we must do something with this poor lady.'

'You stay here then, and I will take a couple of men and hurry on. I fear mischief is brewing somewhere, and I am anxious least Gregson should attack any of the stations lower down, while we are dallying here. My impression is that they've robbed this place and murdered this unhappy lady, every one else being away; and hearing our approach have galloped off towards Maitland. Anyway our best plan is to separate; and while you watch here in case of their return, I will follow up the way, I expect they have gone!' urged Mr. Musgrave.

'Do so! I will remain until daylight; for I believe the gang is concealed in the vicinity. But I may be mistaken; so it may be wiser for you to push on,' replied the other Police Magistrate.

Acting upon this arrangement Mr. Musgrave and his troopers were soon in their saddles again, and dashing at top speed through the bush towards the township of Maitland; while Mr. Bartell with the rest of the party remained behind to attend to the deceased lady, and ravel the mystery of her death.

Half an hour's ride, and Mr. Musgrave came upon Percy and his companion, who were hurrying on towards Maitland to give the alarm and send succour to Field Place. Hearing the approaching horsemen, and fearing that the bushrangers were after them, the fugitives concealed themselves to avoid being seen; as the three horsemen dashed by, they recognised the police uniforms in the dim starlight, and by cooeeing soon arrested their course and brought them back.

'Where are you going?' Percy asked abruptly, as they returned to his side.

'To Maitland. We are on the track of the bushrangers. You are one of them, I believe. Jump down Smith, and handcuff him.' Musgrave said in rapid accents, at the same moment covering Percy with a pistol.

'The bushrangers have gone to attack Field Place,' exclaimed Mr. Blair.

'Lend me a horse; and let me ride with you!' said Percy eagerly. 'When we have saved the ladies at Field Place, I will give myself up to you. Lend me a horse, and let us hurry at once, or they will fall victims to Gregson and his gang.'

'Mr. Blair, take one of these horses and ride back to your house. You will find Bartell there. Jump down, Smith, and give Mr. Blair your horse, and then look after these prisoners, there's two of them I see,' said Musgrave, hastily drawing up his reins.

'Field Place, you say! Is Gregson among them?' asked one of the troopers.

'Yes, Yes! In heaven's sake let me go with you!' Percy pleaded eagerly.

Without waiting to reply, Mr. Musgrave cast a rapid glance at Mr. Blair, who was in the act of mounting the constable's horse, and then spurred his own to a gallop, leaving Percy standing in an attitude of despair. 'Jest you slip off into the bush, and then tramp to Brown's place. It isn't more than a mile,' whispered Bow, who had kept in the background, while the Police Magistrate was about. 'You can shake a horse there, and reach Mr. Shelley's almost as quick as Darby can. I'll try if I cannot persuade this constable to get a couple of horses, and then we will gallop down too.'

Percy took the hint; and by the time Smith in his methodical way had got his brace of handcuffs ready, one of the anticipated wearers had disappeared.


CHAPTER XXXVII.


With jealous wings
The fearful mother bird doth hide her brood,
And, roused by danger from her timid mood,
Quick glances flings
Upon the eagle, and with bated breath,
Prepares herself to fight e'en to the death.

—ANON.

Hal. rolled in through the bedroom window—how he did not know—and hurriedly closed and fastened the shutter. He had hardly done so, when the marauders reached the front of the house, and loudly demanded admittance. Hal. knew the position of Mr. Shelley's bedroom, and leaving the girls to take care of themselves, limped off thither. When he reached the room, however, he found his master already out of bed, and slipping on his clothes.

'Them d——d bushrangers again, sir. Where are the arms and ammunition?' asked the old man excitedly.

'Open that chest, Hal.!' replied Mr. Shelley, pointing to a box in a corner with one hand, while he buttoned his braces with the other. Flinging some of Mrs. Shelley's clothes upon the floor, Hal. wrenched up the lid, and discovered an array of pistols and swords, which Mr. Shelley, prompted by the experience gained by the bushrangers last attack, had purchased.

'Don't be alarmed, Grace!' said Mr. Shelley quietly, as his wife, aroused by the noise of opening the chest, sat up in bed in great terror.

'What is the matter Walter, Hal.?' she asked uneasily. 'Pistols? Are the bushrangers here again?'

Without waiting to reply to his mistress's question, Hal. began loading the pistols; saying as he drew out the ramrod of the first, 'Quick, sir, and see if the doors and windows is all fastened!'

'Very well!' replied Mr. Shelley, snatching up a sword. 'Now Grace, dress yourself quickly, and look after Bertha, while I see to bolts and bars. Keep a brave heart, my darling! Fainting and hysterics are of little use in this extremity!'

Mrs. Shelley roused herself by an effort from the terror that had seized her; and was soon ready, as on a memorable previous occasion, to confront peril with fortitude.

'Don't fear for me, Walter,' she said firmly through her white, compressed lips, 'If we must die, we will sell our lives dearly. See to the pantry shutters. They are unbolted for one of the hinges is broken!'

Mr. Shelley left the room, and soon had all the back doors and windows secure; and his wife, throwing a loose wrapper around her night-dress, hurried to Bertha's room. There she found the timid girl bravely assisting the thoughtful Anne to shove the heavy bedstead against the shutters.

'Oh, mamma, the bushrangers are here again; and all the men away, too!' she exclaimed excitedly, as her mother entered.

'We have papa and Hal. to protect us, love,' replied Mrs. Shelley, folding her daughter to her breast.

'And God, mamma!' suggested Bertha, reverently. 'He saved us last time, remember.'

'I am glad you recollect that, my child. Nothing can harm us without His——'

The conclusion of Mrs. Shelley's words were drowned in the din made by the bushrangers, who redoubled their exertions to burst the front door in. The door, fortunately, was very strongly fixed, or it could not have long withstood their determined attack. But the weight of half-a-dozen strong men operating against it was beginning to tell, and its tough hinges creaked ominously.

'Now, my lads, a shove altogether, and we'll be in the dove-cot in a twinkling!' said Darby, placing his shoulder against the door ready for the final effort.

'No, I'm d——d if you will!' muttered old Hal, who, having loaded all the firearms available, had limped up to the front door, and was peeping through the keyhole, a brace of pistols in each hand. 'Take this; and to h—l with you!'

A loud report—a scream from the girls within, and a shriek from one of the bushrangers without—and for a moment all was silent again as the grave!

'Curse it—the devil knows how to protect his own!' exclaimed Hal., in disgust, as, putting his eye to the keyhole again, through which he had just fired, he discerned in the starlight Darby Gregson, standing upright and unhurt, while the ex-sailor lay upon the hard verandah boards, writhing in his death struggles.

'Has that shot taken effect, Hal.?' enquired Mr. Shelley from behind the old man. 'Stand aside a moment and let me see.'

Hal. stepped back to reload the discharged pistol; and Mr. Shelley took his place, and applied his eye to the keyhole. The bushrangers had cautiously drawn back out of range of fire; and were consulting about the speediest method of securing their prey without exposing themselves to danger.

While they were so engaged; and Hal. and his master were discussing in undertone the best plan of defence, Mrs. Shelley was arming herself and the girls with the spare pistols. 'Here Marion, you take one too!' she said, as the maid-servant slid into the room. 'We must all fight for our lives!'

At this moment a scream from Anne startled the trembling group; and the blackboy, Jerry, scrambled down the chimney, and landed himself head first among them, 'Bale dat no matter! Me all right!' he exclaimed, as he regained his feet. 'Blackfellow head plenty murry thick!'

'Oh, it's only Jerry!' exclaimed Bertha, recognising her faithful attendant.

'Dat dam feller bushranger wake him me up!' explained Jerry slowly. 'Dat murry bad feller Darby there too!' he continued, pointing in the direction of the gang outside.

'Open the door or we'll set fire to the the place,' shouted the captain of the gang. 'We can't be kept here in the cold all night.'

Mrs. Shelley and the three girls stood in the centre of the room, pistol in hand, with cheeks blanched and eyes sparkling in their terror and excitement. Mr. Shelley was kneeling before the door and peering through the keyhole, while old Iperbly was thoughtfully polishing the pistols upon his sleeve, and the blackboy was standing on one leg glancing enquiringly from one to the other. The group, as it stood revealed by the fitful glimmer of the thick-wickt, tallow candle, would have formed an interesting subject for a picture. 'Suspense; or, Awaiting the Banditti! A study among the Appenines'—a scene of modern life. Such a production painted to the life would at once stamp the artist as one of the gifted few.

'Open the door at once, or we'll smoke you out like dingoes!' demanded Darby again.

'Here, Jerry, stand on the table, and keep a sharp look out through that wide crack,' said Hal., pointing to a crevice between the slabs. 'I'd get up myself, only one of my legs isn't steady!'

Jerry obeyed with alacity; and from the eminence of the table was able to watch the movements of the bushrangers. Dawn was breaking, and in the increasing light Jerry saw with consternation several of the bushrangers busily engaged in carrying a quantity of dead boughs from a felled tree at a little distance, and piling them up against the end of the house. Before he could communicate the unwelcome intelligence, however, to the anxious inmates, Darby Gregson issued his ultimatum. 'Third and last time of asking! Will you open the door? If you don't we'll fire the house in five minutes!' he shouted, savagely.

The only response was a pistol shot from Jerry; who, to his mortification, saw the arch villain turn round and step back, as erect and nonchalant as if the blackboy had only fired a dried pea at him out of a penny popgun.

'Struck my belt buckle and glanced off,' Darby muttered, as he retreated out of range again. 'Lucky I kept that belt on. I was going to leave it off!'

'We are to be driven out by fire, or burnt alive, if we do not come to terms,' said Mr. Shelley, turning to his wife. 'Perhaps if we yield they may spare our lives. It is impossible to hold out long against fire. I wouldn't care for myself, but we must save you and Bertha at any cost.'

'But would they spare us? Would they not be likely to carry her off to their mountain den!' objected Mrs. Shelley doubtfully.

'Don't open the door, papa! They will be sure to kill us!' pleaded Bertha; and Anne and Marion joined in the protest against coming to terms.

'But dat dam bushranger burn us everybody like it wild cat in holler log!' suggested Jerry, ruefully.

'You may take my advice, or not, as you like, sir; but I'd rather see the ladies roasted to a heap of cinders, than the bushrangers to take 'em alive!' said Hal., decisively.

'Dat bushes along side here,' said Jerry, pointing to the end of the house. 'Look out hole and shoot him through!'

Hal. understood Jerry's meaning at once, and limped to the corner to examine if there was any crevice through which he might resist the diabolical attempt of the bushrangers to fire the house. The match had been applied to the heap of dried twigs and bushes, and the whole mass was in one raging flame by the time Hal. had come to the unhappy conclusion that there was no possible means of cutting a loophole through the hard ironwood slabs.

'No,' he muttered, 'We must be roasted alive or try to cut our way through the enemy. Nothing but a sally can save us now; and that's cussed risky!'

Mr. Shelley saw with painful anxiety, the smoke and flames issuing through under the eaves between the rafters; and the same thought of escaping occurred to him by cutting their way through the bushrangers; or, better still, getting into the bush unobserved, by slipping out of the house on the side opposite to where their beleaguers were then collected. 'Hal. can you hold this place long enough to enable Jerry and I to take the women into cover of the brush by the back way?' he asked the old man, who, he knew, would encounter any peril in their defence. 'As soon as we get them safe, we will return to your assistance.'

'If you can get away, sir, I'll keep the bushrangers employed the while. You'd best slip round behind the garden fence, and get into the gully that runs up through the Apple-tree brush. Be quick in starting, or they'll be sending some of their men to the back to prevent escape,' replied the faithful Hal.

But fate was adverse; and, as if divining the intentions of the beseiged, Darby, who was standing watching the progress of the flames, as they leaped upward in the morning breeze, and caught firmly hold of the roof of the doomed house, turned suddenly round, and ordered a couple of the men to cut off escape by the back of the premises. 'It's no use smoking a nest of wild cats out of one end of a holler log, if you leave the other end open!' he concluded philosophically.

Unaware of Darby Gregson's precaution, Mr. Shelley prepared to let his wife and daughter, with Anne Egerton and Marion Macaulay out at the back door. 'Don't speak, any of you, but grasp your pistols tight, and follow me!' he whispered, as he cautiously removed some heavy furniture, that had been piled against the back door. With the assistance of Jerry, who had dismounted from his post of observation, upon the bushrangers lighting the fire, he noiselessly lifted the furniture back. 'Now!' he ejaculated under his breath; and softly opened the door. A derisive laugh, and a shout of 'No you don't my schemer!' met him; and he found two or three bushrangers on the lookout. Hastily shutting and securing the door, Mr. Shelley turned to his wife. 'I fear the worst has come, Grace! There is no escape. We are watched on every side!' His words were calmly spoken; but his heart was heavy. For himself he feared nothing. He had faced death too often to dread it now. But those, so near and dear to him! His heart sank within him, as the awful fate in store for them rose vividly before his imagination. His wife's voice trembled a little, as she replied eagerly, 'Is it not possible, Walter, to suddenly open the door, and rush through them? Some of us might escape, and if we were all to fall, it would be better than dying by fire or our own hands. Before Bertha shall fall into their power, I will stab her to the heart and kill myself afterwards. Let us try to rush through them!' With suspended breath the three girls watched the progress of the flames, and waited for Mr. Shelley's reply. After a few seconds pause, he turned to Hal., and said shortly, 'Well Hal., what is your opinion?'

'To stay where we are, sir, now! If you could have got a start of them, you might have been lucky enough to escape. But now they're on the lookout, it would be just madness to try it!' answered Hal. decidedly.

'You think we could not possibly escape?'

'No ma'am, that's out of the question now. The d——d skulks outside 've got horses, and 'ud run you down in ten minutes. No; we must fight it out!'

'Papa, if we can't escape, you must kill us! Mamma is right; and I would rather die a thousand times than be taken by the bushrangers!' said Bertha, with heroic resolution, her voice, however, faltering in her emotion.

At this moment several rafters, which were burnt through by the fire the outlaws had lit, broke down, and let fall a quantity of the battens and shingles. Through the openings thus made, the smoke rolled in columns; and nearly stifled the inmates.

'We can't hold this sir! We must retreat to the skillion!' said Hal. despondingly. The hint was taken in silence; and the ladies followed Mr. Shelley to the back room, Hal. and Jerry bringing up the rear.

'Jerry and me can hold this door against 'em, sir, if they come through the hole they're burning in the wall; You can talk to the ladies, and comfort them the while,' Hal. suggested.

'There's no possibility of holding out long, Hal.; unless we can prevent them firing the house in other places, or if we are not rescued within ten minutes! In a fight with men, we might have a chance, but no human effort can withstand the power of fire. Let us spend our few last moments in prayer, Walter! If any hope exists, it can only be through Him; He may save us, and if it is His will, we must, we shall be the better prepared!'

'You and the young ladies can do the praying, ma'am, while we are fighting for you?' interposed Hal., and turning to Mr. Shelley, he continued, 'We are old soldiers, and must leave the praying to women and children, sir. God 'ud be more likely to hear them too, they're not likely got so much to answer for, as me and you may have, sir?'

Reverently and humbly the terrified females knelt, and earnestly supplicated the God of mercy to save them. For a few seconds their guardians watched them, and silently joined in their prayers: but soon the bushrangers diverted their attention by knocking out a burned slab, and entering through the opened space. A double volley, at close range, from the little garrison's pistols wounded two of them severely, and compelled the gang to retreat precipitately. 'Smash in the back door!' ordered Darby, savagely, 'and we'll take them at once.'

With sinking hearts the party within heard the order. Three of the bushrangers proceeded to execute the command of their leader. A few heavy blows from a short log smashed the door from its hinges, and dashed it in upon the blackboy, who precipitately clambered up to the rafters. Another volley met the outlaws; as they attempted to rush through, which caused them to retreat as before. As he sprang back again, Darby fired a pistol among the group within, muttering as he did so:—

'By Judas, I'll roast 'em alive, every one of 'em!'

'Barring the women, Darby!' exclaimed a bushranger at his side. 'Barring the women. We've to share them, you know!'

'D—— it, my lads, we're not going to be baulked like this! Let's dash in through the breach, neck or nothing! They can't knock us all on the head; and the survivors 'll have the more to share. Come along!' saying which, the excited Darby turned to repeat the attack. 'Altogether, my lads. Now!' he shouted, and, followed by half-a-dozen desperate wretches, sprang in again through the shattered door. Again they were met by a volley, and one of the bushrangers fell back, mortally wounded, the others escaping almost miraculously. The onset of the bushrangers was too impetuous to be effectually held in check; and, despite the determined resistance of the little garrison, in a few seconds the fierce, but unequal, struggle was over, and the outlaws masters of the situation. But, though victorious, the outlaws had paid dearly for their triumph. As they rushed through the opening Jerry, from the elevation of a tie beam, upon which he was perched, aimed a blow with his tomahawk at Darby Gregson's head; and, though he missed his mark, Darby did not escape unscathed. The keen edge of the weapon struck Darby's right shoulder with great force, and almost severed his arm from his body. 'You cursed old cripple,' shouted Darby in fury, his disabled limb falling helpless by his side, as his eyes met old Hal., standing pistol in hand before Bertha. 'By hell you shall die for that!' and before the old man could pull the trigger, Darby fired right into the brave old veteran's face. The ball entered between the old man's eyes, and passed through the brain, and old Perbly fell back into the arms of his young mistress, dead.

'Take dat too, you dam white feller,' cried Jerry excitedly, maddened by the fate of his friend, Hal.; 'Take dat nother chop!' and again the terrible weapon fell. There was no missing the mark this time, and the daring outlaw fell, mortally wounded, across the corpse of his victim. Mr. Shelley, too, was not idle, while Jerry's hatchet was doing such good service. His pistol had been knocked from his hand by Hal. in his fall, but grasping his sword firmly, he lunged right and left, and drew blood from more than one of their ruthless assailants. Numbers, however, and the rapidity of the onset carried the day, and in less time than it has taken to narrate the fact, the gallant captain lay upon the slippery floor, bound hand and foot, deep stained in a pool of his own blood. Poor Jerry, too, received a severe, though not fatal wound from a pistol shot; and seeing the day lost, he clambered along the tiebeams, and dropping down upon the floor of the burning room, sprang boldly through the opening made by the falling of burning slabs, and escaped.

'Now, Jennings, my idea is to secure the lassies, and cut sticks'! said one of the outlaws. 'I wouldn't waste time in roasting these devils, as Darby talked about. The police'll be here directly, I shouldn't wonder. There's four of us left, and here's four women. What say to drawing lots for first pick?'

'Anything, Dick, so that we make haste! What about our wounded! We can't carry them off, that's flat.'

'They'd have left us to swing, if it'd been our luck instead of theirs to get nipped. I say do unto them, as they'd have done unto us—that's religion, isn't it?'

'Let's settle the matter then this way! Anything to be quick! The constables 'll take care of our mates, if they don't die before they're hung!' said another of the desperate gang.

'Take me with you,' begged one of the wounded men in a husky voice. 'Don't let us stop to be taken and hanged!'

Without deigning reply, the callous wretches proceeded to draw lots; and the allotment being concluded, turned to take each his prize. The scene that met their glances as they turned to their victims, might have melted the hearts even of wolves. It had no effect upon them, men though they were. His wife and Bertha were kneeling by Mr. Shelley's side, bathed in tears, and vainly striving to loosen the thongs, that almost cut into his flesh by their extreme tightness. While Anne Egerton and Marion Macaulay stood aloof, trembling in terror and dismay.

'Now then, my pretty one, you're mine for better or worse!' said Jennings triumphantly, as he turned to Bertha, 'Come with me, my sweet; we must not hang about till the constables come, or one of us at least 'll about hang somewhere else!'

'Oh, spare us, spare us! You could not be so wicked as to kill us!' exclaimed Marion pitifully.

'Nothing is farther from my thoughts, my lambkin! You wouldn't be much use to us then, you know!' returned one of the outlaws at the same time, taking the trembling girl in his arms; 'Now don't struggle, or you'll ruffle your pretty feathers, birdie!' he continued in a soothing tone, as he stroked her curly tresses.

Laughing at his comrades gallantry, Jennings turned to Bertha, and placed his arm around her waist, with the purpose of leading her away. Bertha and her mother had been too occupied by their terror, and their efforts to relieve Mr. Shelley from his painful position, to notice the movements during the last few seconds, but they were roused at once by Jennings' action. The outlaw had hardly taken hold of the weeping girl, before he had to release her, and spring back, to avoid the lunge Mrs. Shelley made at him, with a sword she snatched up.

'Well upon my life, if this doesn't beat cock-fighting!' he exclaimed, laughing; 'Why, old girl, I shan't eat her! Come, put that plaything down, or I'll just put a bullet through the prisoner's head! I've no time for fooling; put it down at once, or I fire!' and the cold-blooded wretch, finger on trigger, covered Mr. Shelley with a pistol. There was no mistaking the determination of the outlaw to carry his diabolical threat into execution; and reluctantly the resolute woman had to surrender the weapon.

'Now ladies, we must be off at once, before the constables return. Not a word must be said, as we tramp along, for we must get over the mountains as quiet as possible, and——'

'Over the mountain, Jennings?' interrupted one of the outlaws.

'Yes; the only retreat open for us now is through the brushes on the other side of the range. We shall have a look at the spot, where Bryant, our last captain was killed. Ah! that reminds me, it was you that stuck the knife into him, wasn't it,' he continued, turning to Mrs. Shelley, who shuddered perceptible at the recollection of that terrible time, and remained silent.

'Now then, each man escort his fair one, and follow me!' ordered Jennings, cutting short further conversation by dragging Bertha by force from the room. The three other survivors of the fray each took one of the trembling females, and between dragging and carrying removed them from the room to the open air.

'Let me go back to Papa!' Bertha cried wildly; but the ominous clicking of her captor's pistol, and the threat, hissed between his set teeth, that if she spoke again he would send a bullet through her mother's skull, quietened her.

Without a word spoken by any, the bushrangers commenced their march up the ridge, Jennings, who had, unopposed, assumed command of the gang, determining to retreat to a well stored mountain cave that lay between the head of the Wollombi and Brisbane Water, and which, when belonging to a gang, since disbanded by the gallows, he had assisted to stock with provisions.

From the summit of an out-house Jerry watched their departure, a satisfied grin upon his dark features, 'Holloa! You go along dother side range?' he exclaimed triumphantly. 'Me find you murry make haste by-bye!' but in a moment his eyes fell upon the figure of his young mistress, who was being led away; and, conscience-stricken, he slid down a pole leaning against the wall. 'Jerry dam coward!' he exclaimed savagely, giving himself at the moment a vindictive knock upon the head. 'What for dat me run away like a dat, and let him dam bushranger take him Missie Berta? Me will bring him back!' Animated by the heroic determination to retrieve his cowardice in escaping, the blackboy ran into the room where the last struggle had taken place, to find his tomahawk, which he had dropped in escaping. 'Hollo, Misser Selley, bale you not go too!' he cried as he stumbled over his prostrate master.

Seeing at a glance Mr. Shelley's situation, Jerry severed the thongs with his tomahawk, and the prisoner sprang to his feet free to rush to the rescue. They both armed themselves in silence, Jerry taking half-a-dozen pistols under his arm, and grasping his inevitable tomahawk with characteristic energy.

The experience of his old, campaigning days restrained Mr. Shelley's natural impetuosity, and he did not leave the room till he had loaded the pistols that had been fired off in the struggle.

'Now, Jerry, for Missie Berta's sake prove yourself a man!' he said, turning to go, as he drove home the last charge, 'and follow me.'

The fire had completely mastered one end of the house, and the smoke was beginning to pour into the room in dense volumes, as they stepped over Darby Gregson in reaching the door. Mr. Shelley's natural impulse was to leave the villain to his fate; but his better nature revolted at the idea; and he hastily dragged the wounded outlaw from the burning room and left him upon the grass outside.

'This way Misser Selley!' shouted Jerry, as his master started off in a wrong direction, and the two turned up the range in pursuit. They had not gone a hundred yards when a pistol volley, a short distance in advance, caused them to double their exertions to overtake the outlaws.


CHAPTER XXXVIII.


With brow deep knit,
In vengeance dire,
And red lips bit
In fierce desire
Revenge to wreak.
The coward stands,
With ready hands,
His blood to spill.
Who, innocent
Of all intent
To do him ill,
Doth of him speak;
As friend full dear,
And count him as
His actions glass.
In love sincere.

—ANON.

Mr. Musgrave and his troopers urged their horses forward at top speed, and never drew rein until they entered the boundary of Field Place, a distance of at least fifteen miles from where they had passed Percy Sinclair.

'Pull up, my lads! We must give the horses blowing time!' ordered Mr. Musgrave, reining in. 'The bushrangers must have travelled fast, or we are on the wrong scent.'

'It's not likely, sir, they'd have taken this road. They know too many short cuts through the bush. They'd save five miles by going at the back of Paddy Murphy's place!'

'You got it plenty bacca?'

The question, spoken in a shrill, squeaky voice, arrested the attention of the horsemen and, glancing in the direction from which the sound proceeded, they discerned an old black woman sitting under a bark gunyah. Her fire was nearly out, but the faint light from its dying embers revealed her shrunken features and dingy covering.

'Holloa, Dolly! What have you done with your fire?' asked Mr. Musgrave, surprised at seeing it so low—the aborigines being so particular about keeping their night fires aglow to scare away evil spirits.

'Dat go nearly out when me fast asleep. You got it bacca?'

'Here you are, Dolly! Where all other blackfeller go to?' said one of the troopers, throwing the gin a fig of tobacco.

'Dat go over range to-morrow day: dat come back by-by! Dat nother blackfeller along that camp!' she replied, eagerly snatching up the coveted prize, as it fell at her feet, and then pointing to a smouldering heap of embers near.

'You see anyone ride by here since supper time, Dolly?' enquired Mr. Musgrave thoughtfully.

'No, Misser Musgy! Bale dat nobody pass!' mumbled Dolly with her pipe stem in her mouth. 'My word dis murry good bacca!'

'Cut it up, Dolly! You can't smoke it that way!' said one of the troopers, laughing as the gin untwisted the tobacco with her fingers and filled the pipe with it.

'No one passed here! Well, my lads, we are on the wrong track for a certainty. If they did come along the back way, they were bound to take the road here, if they have gone on to Shelley's.'

'I expect they've attacked Paddy Murphy's place instead!' suggested one of the troopers. 'That's about three miles back on the river!'

'Well, then, right about face! We'll gallop across and see!' said Mr. Musgrave turning his horse's head, and urging him into a trot.

'Good night, Dolly! Pleasant dreams to you!' shouted one of the men, as he turned to follow his officer.

In a few minutes they had to leave the road, and press their way through a dense brush. There was only a narrow path winding among the trees, and the men had to drop into line in Indian fashion, and ride in single file. The way, too, was encumbered with twisted roots and vines, that, like writhing serpents, lay tangled upon the crumbly soil; and the party could not proceed faster than a foot pace. An hour was spent in reaching Paddy Murphy's dwelling of sapplings and bark, so slowly they had to travel.

'Here we are at length!' said a trooper, rousing the Police Magistrate from a reverie. 'Paddy's up early! See, he has a light!'

If Paddy was not up early his dogs were, and made so much noise that the worthy himself soon slipped into his clothes, and went out to discover the cause of their disquietude.

'Lay down Tiger, and bad scran to yer!' he shouted to his vigilant cattle-dog, who was surveying the early visitors with distrustful eyes, and barking furiously. 'Where did yer larn yer manners from, yer spalpeen!' Tiger slunk off to the hut, and took his place by the fire, much abashed by the rebuke; but the two younger dogs, not being so susceptible of reproof, stood at a safe distance, and barked and yelped till their sides ached.

'Never mind them unmannerly cubs, yer honor! They're not civilized yet!' said Paddy apologetically, as soon as he could be heard.

'I thought the bushrangers were here Paddy! That's what brought me over so early!' replied Mr. Musgrave in a disappointed tone, 'but you seem all right!'

'Bedad, thin, you're all mighty hard on thim bushrangers,' said Paddy, who had long been suspected of being in communication with that interesting fraternity. 'There's Mr. Clayton and a couple of strapping boys down here now on the same errant.'

'Mr. Clayton?'

'Yes, yer honor! Jest step inside my cabin, if you aren't above going into a poor man's places, and you'll find him there.'

'You need not trouble yourself on my account Musgrave, for here I am. What's the news? Heard anything?' said Hubert Clayton, stepping forward from the shade of a dense tangle of bushes, from the cover of which he had been observing the horsemen.

'We went to Euawinga, Blair's place, last night, and found that the bushrangers had been there and murdered Mrs. Blair. We are now——'

'Was Sinclair with them?' interrupted Clayton, eagerly.

'We came upon him and the man called Bow, and apprehended them.'

A bitter curse escaped through Clayton's compressed lips, at the idea that his victim had escaped him.

'The other bushrangers have ridden this way. I thought they might be here, but I am afraid they have gone on to Field Place, and I must hasten there at once.'

'I will go too! Are these two all the constables you have with you?' asked Clayton.

'Yes.'

'I've a couple of volunteers with me, who, with me, will make up half-a-dozen. That ought to be enough to meet all that we are likely to find.'

'Get them into the saddle then, Clayton, and follow. We must lose no time in reaching Field Place!' Mr. Musgrave said hurriedly; and, turning his horse around, and ordering his men to follow, struck again into the brush.

The ride back through the brush was tedious, and Mr. Musgrave could scarcely control his impatience as his horse kept stumbling over the entangled roots and concealed stumps in the path, At last, however, the open road was reached. It was now nearly daylight. Driving his spurs deep into the quivering flanks of his horse, the police magistrate struck off through the bush in a direct line for Field Place. His men were close behind him, and in a few minutes Clayton emerged from the brush, and the whole party galloped through the bush at a racing pace. Fifteen minutes hard ride brought them in view of the house.

'Smoke, by heavens! See Clayton, the house is on fire! Drive your spurs up to their necks, my lads! We may yet be in time to save the Shelley's!'

'Let's take a short cut this way, sir,' shouted one of Clayton's confederates, rushing his horse to a fallen tree that lay in the path and clearing it. 'We'll save time this way.'

The whole party followed, and in a few seconds came upon the bushrangers and their prisoners.

'Surround them, and cut off escape!' shouted Musgrave, as he rode down right upon the gang.

His followers spread out, and almost before the bushrangers were aware of their danger had surrounded them.

'We must fight for it, lads. Curse our folly for leaving our horses!' said Jennings, with an oath.

'Thank heaven, we are saved!' exclaimed Mrs. Shelley, fervently, while the girls watched the approach of their rescuers with wistful eyes.

'Reserve your pistols till they're well in range!' ordered Jennings; and the desperate outlaws, seeing escape impossible, stood grimly prepared to sell their lives dearly. The cause of their having been taken by surprise, was that a gentle undulation of the ground to their left, had hidden the approach of the constables until they were close upon them. For a few seconds previous to their appearing in sight, the bushrangers had heard the sound of their horses' hoofs, but were unable to decide in which direction the sound proceeded from, until they appeared over the rise, and almost upon them. Directly the police came in sight, the outlaws relinquished hold of their prey; and, finding themselves released, Mrs. Shelley and the girls ran to meet their preservers. 'Keep out of the range of fire!' shouted Mr. Musgrave, as he gallopped past them; and the trembling females stood in a group, watching the issue of the fight, as their friends bore down upon their captors. A volley from each side broke the calm stillness of the morning, and one trooper's horse gallopped down the ridge with an empty saddle.

'Every man to a tree!' shouted the captain of the gang; and, acting upon his own words, he slid behind a huge ironbark to reload his pistol. The other outlaws quickly followed his example, and each sought the cover of a separate tree. This manoeuvre at first seemed to baffle the police magistrate and his men. By being undercover, and at short distances from each other, the bushrangers were enabled mutually to assist each other, as whoever attempted to attack one of them placed himself immediately within range of the others. After several unsuccessful attempts had been made to dislodge them, and several very narrow escapes experienced by the men, Mr. Musgrave thought of a plan that would rob the outlaws of the advantage of their position. 'Mr. Clayton we must take the ruffians seriatum. You lead a couple of your men round at a safe distance till you get opposite to the bushranger behind that stringy bark, and then bear down on him. He'll then be between two fires, and must surrender at discretion. Holloa! whose this? reinforcements for one side or the other, from the rate they're coming at!'

Clayton's eyes glittered with savage exultation as he recognised Percy Sinclair followed by Bow, coming over the ridge at racing pace. 'Two more of the scum, Musgrave! You and your man hold these in check while I intercept that pair of cut-throats!'

Without waiting for the police magistrate's reply, Hubert Clayton beckoned to his confederates, and galloped to meet his victim. 'What so sweet as revenge!' he exclaimed triumphantly, as he hurried on closely followed by his men, and sanctioned by law, to the murder of the unfortunate Percy.

'Aim low, my lads! Don't let the bullets fly over his head!' said Clayton quietly, as his men, at a signal from himself, had stopped and drawn up their horses a little to the left of the path Sinclair was taking. 'Never mind the last one. Fire low and at the man in front!'

The report of the three pistols, as they were fired simultaneously, rung among the hills, awaking loud and prolonged echoes, and Percy and his horse fell together. 'Good Lord, he's killed!' cried Bow, pulling his own horse back upon its haunches, to avoid riding over his prostrate companion in misfortune.

'Thank heaven he's done for!' exclaimed Clayton, excitedly.

'Thank heaven for killing a man!' said one of his confederates in surprise. 'For my part, I think the less heaven has to do with one in these matters the better. I don't believe heaven interferes!'

Heaven had, however, interfered. A small blind stump being in the path had thrown Percy's horse over, and thus saved its master's life; and, probably, its own too. To Clayton's consternation, and Bow's delight, the horse recovered itself by a prodigious effort, and regained its feet, Percy still in the saddle.

'What, Clayton, you try to murder me?' Percy said, in surprise and horror at the dastardly act.

'Yes, why not? We shoot dingoes and bushrangers wherever we find 'em! Come, lads, at him again!' the cowardly arch-villain said in reply, suddenly raising his undischarged pistol, and covering Percy with it.

'No! I'm d——d if I will!' returned one of the two ticket-of-leave men. 'Talk about heaven helping one man to kill another; I'm not so black-hearted as to talk like that though I have cut more throats in my time than I like to think on at night!' and he turned his horse round to ride back to where Mr. Musgrave and his solitary constable were holding unequal contest with the four bushrangers, who, thinking Percy and Bow were coming to their assistance, had grown bold enough to take the aggressive. A fiendish smile passed over Clayton's features. 'So you're fool enough to think I'll let you live to tattle!' he hissed; and turning in his saddle he fired right at the back of the retreating man, who fell from his horse without a groan. This piece of cold-blooded atrocity cost the cowardly wretch dearly. Before he could turn again to the attack, Bow had recognised him. 'I knew I'd be hung for him,' he said through his clenched teeth, as he sprang from his horse; and, dropping his pistol and clutching his knife, he seized Clayton by the throat; and by almost super-human exertion dragged him from his horse.

The unexpectedness and impetuosity of Bow's attack took Clayton by surprise, and before he could recover himself, he was dragged from his horse, and lay upon the ground at the mercy of his assailant.

'Get up, Clayton!' said Bow, in a terribly calm and deliberate tone. 'I will have your life, or you mine; but I'm not mean enough to take an unfair advantage. You bribed me to swear falsely against Mr. Sinclair, in York, when I was trying to break from my wicked ways; and I'll have my revenge now, or die for it!'

Clayton saw the danger of his position at a glance, and in scrambling to his feet, contrived to fire at his generous antagonist. The bullet passed through the fleshy part of Bow's arm, but, fortunately, missed the bone.

'You d——d viper!' shouted Bow, his blood fairly boiling at the dastardly act, 'I'll give you no chance again!' and the exasperated fellow sprang at Clayton's throat like a bull-dog. With great difficulty Clayton managed to get at his dirk (a beautiful little weapon given him some years before by an old Scotch laird) and in the furious tussle Bow received several severe wounds from it. The men were of nearly equal strength, Clayton being rather taller and more wiery in form, while what advantage Bow lost in statue, he gained in compactness of build. Both knew it was a struggle for life, and no word was spoken, as each, with brows knit, lips compressed, and a look of quiet resolve and quenchless hate tugged and grappled with the other. Now prone upon the ground, fast held in an iron embrace, now standing erect face to face, the inexorable grip never relaxed, the desperate combatants strove for several minutes, neither appearing to gain any advantage.

'Good heavens, he's down!' cried Percy Sinclair, as Bow, stumbling over a large stone, was pressed down upon his knees. Bow, by a grand effort, regained his feet; but, in doing so, freed the hand in which Clayton held the dagger, and, in springing aside to avoid a stab, lost his balance, and fell forward. Clayton seeing the advantage pressed it, and, in less than half a minute, had his intrepid assailant at his feet.

'Hold! You shall not murder him! Coward that you are!' cried Percy, springing forward to the rescue of his faithful companion.

'Fair play's bonny play. Jest let 'em alone! They can settle it between 'em!' said Clayton's confederate, stepping between Percy and the struggling, panting men upon the ground. 'It's a bargain, mate. I won't help my man, and you won't help yours!'

'Stand aside!' shouted Percy in excitement, trying to thrust the fellow, who intercepted him, away.

'It's no use, mate! I'll see fair play!' said the ruffian, forcibly holding Percy back. 'And look, let this prove that I will see it. You dropped your pistols, when your horse fell; I've mine here. If you move a finger to help your man, I'll put a bullet through your head. Let 'em have fair play; and the best man win. That's my sentiment!'

The death-bearing little weapon, was pointed directly at Percy's head, and he was compelled to stand passively by, and see 'fair play.'

Bow down, it was easy for Clayton to spring upon him and hold him there; and if he could have got his dagger free, would have made short work of him. But he could not get command of his weapon; and, in struggling to do so, was thrown back upon his side by Bow, who knew his danger and struggled hard. In the terrible contest of strength, they together regained their feet; and, as they strove, Clayton gradually got his sword arm higher and higher, until he held it ready to plunge his dagger into his adversary's throat the moment his grip relaxed, even in the least degree.

The struggle was something fearful to witness, each man's countenance exhibiting the unrelenting resolve to take the life of the other—Bow animated by a revenge that was justified, if ever revenge can be, and Clayton by the determination to remove a dangerous man from his path; for he had recognised Bow.

The keen glittering blade of Clayton's dirk was within an inch of Bow's throat, and it appeared to the horrified Percy impossible for the brave fellow to escape its threatening point; but by a movement rapid as the spring of a panther he let go Clayton's arm and seized the weapon by the haft. Each saw that death was between them, and ready for the first that relaxed his strength even for a moment, and each strained every nerve to turn the fatal point against the other. From side to side they swayed, like trees bending beneath the varying force of a hurricane, in their efforts to overpower each other. They appeared so evenly matched in strength and endurance that it seemed to Percy that nothing but an accident could decide the struggle.

'Let go, and I'll give in,' said Clayton, in a hoarse whisper; but Bow, who knew that the other would drive the dirk into his heart the moment he loosened his hold, smiled grimly at the transparent manoeuvre, and redoubled his efforts. For full five minutes the terrible, unrelenting struggle lasted, before either could claim the least advantage, and the while Percy Sinclair was compelled to stand by and see 'fair play,' as the ominous click of the trigger every time he showed any disposition to interfere warned him of his powerlessness to help his faithful friend.

At last by a feint, Bow was put off his guard for a moment; and before he could recover himself, Clayton pressed him back to a log behind him, and he fell over, dragging Clayton with him. The struggle was prolonged for several minutes upon the ground, both of the combatants receiving some severe wounds the while, and then Bow, by an almost super-human exertion succeeded in getting uppermost. Seizing his enemy by the throat, Bow, a smile of triumph passing over his blood-smeared features, raised aloft the dripping blade, and with the velocity of a serpent darting at its prey, the terrible steel descended. Percy shuddered as he saw the blade fall, and the blood spurt over the sleeve of the avenging arm.

'That'll learn you never to tempt a poor fellow again to sell a fellow man for fifty pounds! And may you be well roasted where such devils as you go to!' said Bow, as he deliberately wiped the blade upon his sleeve, and rose.

The words were barely out of his mouth, however, when Clayton, who had not been killed by the hideous wound Bow had inflicted upon him, sprang up, and, snatching the dagger drove it to the hilt in Bow's breast; and with a laugh of fiendish exultation, fell backwards to the ground.

Percy forgot the menacing pistol of the sentinel so determined to see fair play, and sprang to Bow's side, 'I'm done for, sir, sure as a gun; and I'm glad on it, too; for I shouldn't like to be hanged. But there's some comfort, sir, that d——d cold-blooded wretch, who's caused all the trouble you and I've had, 'll die too!' said true-hearted, misguided Bow, as Percy leaned over him, his heart too full for words.


CHAPTER XXXIX.


Virtue triumphs ever! Dark the cloud,
Her fair and radient features dimly shroud,
O'er all exalted she shall soon appear
A conquerer hereafter, if not here!

—ANON.

The bushrangers, who were held in check by Mr. Musgrave and his solitary comrade, kept their position bravely (seeing that they were two to one) till the police magistrate's attention was drawn by the trooper to the desperate nature of the struggle further up the slope; but the moment he turned his horse to gallop to the spot, they seized the opportunity to slink away; Jennings, as he gave the order, observing 'that they had best slope while they had the chance.' The outlaws had reached the summit of the ridge, and were about to dive into the all but impenetrable brush on its further declivity before they were observed by the police magistrate, who had reached the scene of the death-struggle.

'Clayton murdered!' he exclaimed, springing to the ground at the wounded man's side.

'No, sir, only killed for all the mischief he's done in his day!' replied Bow, feebly but resolutely.

Mr. Musgrave gazed upon the prostrate men in silence for a few seconds; and then, turning to his trooper, ordered him to handcuff Percy.

'You stay with these wounded men, Archer; and you, Saunders, see to poor Gregory. He lies under those wattles yonder, with a bullet in his throat. I must away to the house to see after the ladies. They are our first thought!'

'Where are they? Have you saved them?' asked Percy, eagerly, as the handcuffs were being locked.

'Yes. They escaped back to the house just before you appeared over the ridge. I will be back directly, Archer; but I must see after them before even these wounded men can be attended to!' and with the true chivalry of mediaeval times, Mr. Musgrave made the safety of the ladies his first consideration, and rode off to look after them.

Percy sat by Bow's side, and spoke in soft and anxious tones the great truths of salvation—truths that he had known for years; but which he had never felt till recently, till the bitter cup of adversity had been filled to the very brim. He saw only too unmistakeably that the poor fellow's wounds were fatal; that he could not last many hours; and he strove hard to lead him to look to the cross for protection, and succour in passing through the dim valley of the shadow of death.

'But do you really believe that He could pardon me? me that sold a fellow-man for money to buy a peddler's cart with?' enquired Bow, eagerly, gazing upon Percy with a glance of implicit trust.

'You were wicked, very wicked in doing so; but He forgave even those who nailed Him to the cross; and no one can doubt that their sin was greater than yours.'

'What? Forgive them that murdered him?' the simple fellow asked, in astonishment.

'Yes, Bow; and He has said, "Though your sins be red like crimson, they shall become white as snow,"' Percy replied, quoting the spirit, if not the letter, of the divine and glorious promise that has been balm and comfort to so many a turbulent death-bed.

'But do you really believe, sir, that a poor wretch like me 'ud be fit for heaven even if I was forgiven, being always about as wicked as I well could be?' Bow asked, dubiously.

'We must not doubt it, Bow; for He has said, who cannot lie, "He that cometh unto me, I will in no wise cast out!"'

'But I have been such a awful sinner!' Bow contended.

'More sinned against than sinning!' Percy said mentally, and replied aloud, 'Would you have nailed the meek and gentle Saviour to the cross as His murderer's did?'

'No, no! I would have believed Him, and followed Him to the end of the earth, if He'd let me!'

'If He forgave those who put him to a shameful death, you or I have no cause for doubt, Bow. If you would have believed Him then, why not now? Do you believe Jesus ever did come upon earth, and die for sinners?'

'Yes. My mother told me so! I don't remember her, but I've never forgotten what she taught me in my prayers,' replied Bow earnestly; and added regretfully, 'It's many a day since I prayed though, I'm sorry to say!'

'If you believe that, you must believe that you will be saved, Bow; for it was to save such as you and me He came upon earth to die!'

'Can you get me a drop of water, sir, I'm a'most parched to death!' Bow said eagerly, after a few minutes' silence.

'I'll try,' replied the sentinel; and, regardless of breaking his orders by leaving his prisoners, he ran down to the creek at the bottom of the ridge and filled his canteen.

'I do believe, sir! I do believe that Jesus died for me!' Bow said, feebly, after laying for a few minutes apparently asleep. 'I do believe it, else what 'ud He want to die for at all?'

The poor fellow's face beamed joyfully as the blessed truth broke in upon his understandings and he lay thinking over the comforting discovery until the constable returned with the water.

'Here, take a drink, my poor fellow,' the constable said, putting the water to Bow's lips.

He drank eagerly of the cool, pure beverage.

'Give him a drink too!' Bow whispered, pointing to Clayton, who lay a few feet off. The constable went to Clayton's side, and found him in a swoon from loss of blood. 'He's dead, or fainting!' he replied, returning to Bow. 'There's a man under the tree down there. I'll go and see if he's dry too, poor fellow. Ah, here comes Mr. Musgrave!'

In a few seconds the police magistrate was among them.

'I'll send the man who's down with poor Gregory, to help you to carry the wounded men to the house, Archer. He'll be here directly. Take them as gently as you can; and take the most desperately wounded first,' he said, hurriedly springing from his horse to examine them.

'Is Bertha. Is Miss Shelley, safe?' Percy asked eagerly.

'Yes, yes; Here my man, take this poor fellow first; for he may recover, though he has but a slender chance. Mr. Clayton appears dead now.'

In an out-house—for the house itself, excepting the room where Darby and Hal. had fallen, was nothing but a heap of burning wreck—sat Mrs. Shelley, Bertha, and Jerry by the side of a rough, wooden bench, upon which Mr. Shelley lay.

'Are you much hurt, Walter?' the anxious wife asked, in a faltering voice.

'No, Grace; it's a mere nothing. I shall be all right in the morning. Don't distress yourself on my account, my darling.'

'But are you really so little hurt as you say, papa? You could scarcely walk into the shed.'

'At the worst, Bertha, it is only a sprain.'

'But, papa, how did you escape from the house? Did good, brave Jerry help you?' Bertha asked, glancing enquiringly at the black boy, who grinned with pride and pleasure till every gleaming tooth appeared in full view.

'Yes, darling! Jerry cut the thongs that bound me; and we were going to your rescue; when I sprained my ankle in jumping over a log, and lay there till Mr. Musgrave found me. I could hear the shots exchange between your captors and the police; and it was hard to lay there inactive while the struggle was going on; and your rescuers perhaps in need of help. I was angry with Jerry for not going on; but he would'nt leave me.'

'What for dat me go along dare; and 'nother bushranger come and kill him, Misser Selley? Dat can't fight on him ground!' exclaimed Jerry, exculpating himself, excitedly.

'Faithful fellow! He was afraid you would be exposed to danger, if you were left alone, when helpless through the accident!' said Mrs. Shelley, looking with tears in her eyes upon the glossy black face of the boy.

'Where's Anne and Marion? inquired Mr. Shelley, abruptly.

'They are seeing if they can do anything for the wounded bushrangers, papa. Isn't Anne brave? Marion was frightened; but Anne coaxed her; and they have gone round at the back of the house where Darby lies, the man Jerry cut down!' said Bertha.

'Here day come now, Missie Berta!' broke in Jerry, putting his head out of the window to reconnoitre.

'Well, Anne, any of the rascals alive?'

'Yes, sir! The one that Jerry chopped with his tomahawk. The others, poor fellows, are dead!' Anne Egerton replied in a tone of sympathy. 'The wounded man is conscious, and asks for a clergyman.'

'Here comes Mr. Musgrave. A magistrate will suit him better than a priest!' replied Mr. Shelley, vindictively.

'They are carrying some one, papa! Some one else has been killed in this terrible fray!'

'Nonsense, my child! It's only one of the rascally bushrangers; and shooting them is conferring a benefit upon society!' said Mr. Shelley with energy, forgetting for the moment his pain in exulting over the probable death of another of the wretches, whose depredations had cost him so dear; and, but for the timely appearance of the police, had cost him and his all they had in the world. 'Any more of the knaves knocked on the head, Musgrave?' he asked eagerly, as the police magistrate entered the shed.

'Yes; and what's worse, Mr. Clayton is desperately, perhaps fatally wounded,' he replied moodily. He had no great friendship for the handsome, sneering and talkative 'volunteer,' who had been so eager to take part in the struggle with the bushrangers; on the contrary he cordially detested him; but he felt jealous of the outlaws having the satisfaction of wounding any of his party.

'Mr. Clayton wounded?' Anne asked anxiously, her large sympathetic eyes swimming in tears, 'Where is he? let me go to him.'

'He's up the mountain yet.'

'Up the mountain, sir? Who are they carrying this way, then?' Anne asked eagerly.

'A bushranger named Bow. He is the man who was temporary jailor in Maitland, and escaped with Sinclair to the bush.'

'Is Percy with him? Oh, tell me, is he safe, or have you killed him too?' cried Bertha, in an agony of dread anticipation.

'Percy? That's the man Sinclair, isn't it?'

'Yes, yes! is he safe?'

'He is up the ridge in custody. I believe he is unhurt. It was the man Bow who wounded Clayton,' replied Mr. Musgrave.

'Oh, papa, may I go to him?' Bertha begged earnestly.

'Certainly not, my child! His presence here proves—— Yet no, I can't believe——. Did he go with you to the rescue, Musgrave, or how came he here? He was not with the gang when they were attacking us!'

'No! He came galloping over the ridge after we had engaged with the other bushrangers.'

'Then,' said Anne and Mrs. Shelley in a breath. 'He and Bow were coming to our help!' and Mrs. Shelley continued, 'Bring him down here, Mr. Musgrave. We owe too heavy a debt of gratitude to him for us to allow him to be kept out in the bush cold and hungry, especially when he is certain to have risked capture himself is coming to protect us against the bushrangers!'

'Where is Anne?'

'There she is running up the hill as swift as a kangaroo!' said the police magistrate pointing to the retreating figure of the brave girl, who was hastening to the side of him, whom she had loved so long and so well, and who so little deserved even her respect. Bow's bearers brought him to the door of the shed, and Mr. Musgrave beckoned to them to bring him in. As they entered, the group in the shed stood around the rough makeshift stretcher in deep sympathy. 'Is your name Bow?' thundered Mr. Shelley from the bench on which he was reclining.

'I don't know, Sir, whether it's my name. Anyhow, that's what everybody calls me!' replied Bow sturdily, not in the least disconcerted by Mr. Shelley's abruptness.

'And you're one of the wretches who came here to rob and pillage.'

'It's a lie!'

'What is a lie, my poor fellow?' said the police magistrate, smiling at Bow's blunt repudiation of the charge.

'That we came here to rob Mr. Shelley. Me and Mr. Sinclair's been riding all night to get here in time to——.' But the poor fellow's strength failed him, and his concluding words were too low to be heard. He was very weak from loss of blood; and the energy which Mr. Shelley's imputation evoked, caused the blood to gush with fresh violence from his wounds.

'Poor Bow! You have met this terrible fate through being so faithful to Percy; and I can never forget you!' said Bertha, soothingly, wiping the cold perspiration from his forehead. He seized her hand, and kissed it fervently, saying in a low but distinct tone 'I knowed it must be you—the young lady, Mr. Sinclair was so fond of. No one else could be so sweet and beautiful.'

Bertha's tears, that had been gathering slowly, began to flow freely; and she turned away with a heavy heart—Percy a prisoner again, and Bow, his humble and faithful companion, dying before her.

'Brandy!' Bow whispered.

The Police Magistrate put his own pocket flask to the dying convict's lips, and the poor fellow eagerly swallowed a few mouthfuls. Much revived, he looked anxiously at Mr. Musgrave. 'You're a magistrate, Sir. Will anything I tell you now I'm dying be believed?' he asked eagerly.

'Your dying declaration will hold good in a court of law, if that is what you mean, Bow,' replied Mr. Musgrave, kindly.

'Papa, I'm going to see Mr. Sinclair. Jerry will go with me,' interrupted Bertha.

'No, my child, you must not go!' returned her father, firmly.

'But, papa, I will go! Shall I be ashamed to speak to my preserver, because he is in irons, especially when I remember the double cause of his being where he is!' she exclaimed, her beautiful eyes flashing with scorn and recklessness.

'God forbid that we should forget what he has done and suffered for you! It's not that that I mean. But——'

'But I will see him, papa! He is more than all the world to me; for is he not now a prisoner solely through me? No, I will go to him!'

'One moment, Miss Shelley,' interrupted the Police Magistrate, who, pencil and pocket-book in hand, was preparing to take down Bow's dying declaration. 'I will send for the prisoner, and you may see him here.'


CHAPTER XL.


"All the world's stage!" In life or fiction,
Reality or fancy on they come
Those puppet actors—flagrant contradiction
'Tis to the worn fable, "man's freewill." There's some
Would punish as a serious dereliction
The seeming errors of each puppet dumb—
The creature of the heated-brains affliction—
Or of the boasting mortals, who at best
Are but the passive tools of fate, and rest
Their mighty deeds and small on it: and so
As actors only, do they come and go.

—ANON.

The day, that had been ushered in by deeds of blood and violence, had passed away, and the principal actors in the terrible tragedy were seated in the only room the fire had left in the late goodly house of Field Place.

The Police Magistrate sat moodily writing at the table a long report to the Governor, of the proceedings of the last eight and forty hours; and on a rough, bush sofa Hubert Clayton was lying, the cold dews of death on his clammy brow; the last moments of his misspent life passing swiftly through the frail measure of his days. Bow and Darby, the weak tools of his vile and cowardly revenge, were both dead, each having, by his dying declaration, established Percy's innocence, and the double-dyed guilt of the miserable wretch now dying so hard—breathing his last with all his sins upon his dishonored head, ready to sink him beyond all hope of succour in the "slough of despond," to cast him into the pitfall of eternal destruction, that lies in the dim valley of the shadow of death. Anne sat by the traitor's side, gently wiping the chill beads from his aching brow, and tenderly striving to soothe his pain. The Police Magistrate had tried hard to persuade him either to deny the charges the dead bushrangers had preferred against him in their dying declarations, or to confess everything; but he had sullenly refused to do either, and to Anne's urgent appeal to tell her all, he had obstinately refused. He would not by so much as one word, so deep even in death, was his unreasoning hate, say aught to hasten the period of Percy Sinclair's misery. His vengeance should follow his victim, even beyond the grave. Anne sat beside him, her gentle heart sorely pained. But for the unfathomable devotion of a woman's love, she must have recoiled from him with horror; for now his fiendish and unnatural treatment of her cousin was revealed in all its revolting reality. But love and womanly tenderness and pity prevailed over her natural horror at his crimes, and she tended him as anxiously as if he deserved her care.

Bertha was sitting in the further corner of the room, her head nestled in her mother's breast, and her thoughts away in the dark, cold cell, where he, she now loved so dearly, lay a prisoner, awaiting trial for breaking gaol, and turning bushranger. Bitterly she reproached blind fate in her impatient wilfulness, for the hard and protracted trials heaped upon her young life. Around her all, all but she and these she loved, seemed to live beneath the smile of heaven; and hard and rebellious thoughts thronged her aching brain. 'Mr. Musgrave,' she asked suddenly, after a long pause, during which nothing broke the painful silence but the scratch of the police magistrate's pen, 'What good can come of the dying words of poor Bow and the other bushranger? Will the Governor be sure, positively sure, to pardon Mr. Sinclair?'

'I cannot say, Miss Shelley! His innocence of the crime for which he was transported has been proved, but, guilty or not guilty, in the first place, he had no right to break from jail and harbour with bushrangers!'

A bitter smile flitted across Clayton's palid features.

'No! he ought to have stopped in jail and got hung first; and trusted to his generous country to do him justice afterwards,' said Mr. Shelley, contemptuously.

'Nevertheless I think the Governor will, all things considered, grant him free pardon immediately on everything being explained,' continued Mr. Musgrave, not noticing Mr. Shelley's bitter sneer.

'Bale dat any more string him up!' exclaimed Jerry, from the hearth-rug, which he was sharing with one of the cattle-dogs.

Mr. Shelley was in no mood to look favorably upon anything or anybody, so severe was the pain in his sprained ankle, and consequently he differed from Mr. Musgrave in sheer ill humour; and an animated discussion upon Percy's prospects, and the probable action of the Governor followed, during which Bertha stole off to bed to dream of the bright future before her, if the Governor would only pardon him. 'I will go to Sydney and ask him?' she thought naively, as she passed from the room to the out-house that had been prepared as a bedroom for her. Half an hour later, a terrible scene ensued in the room she had left. Terrible at all times is a death bed scene, but how much more so, when there is remorse without repentance, terror deep, and hopeless.

Strong is the instinct of life, and strongest in those least prepared to die. Clayton's last hour had come; and strong was the struggle before the dark spirit left its writhing frame. Suddenly raising himself upon his elbow, a look of wild terror in his eye, he begged that a doctor might be sent for at once. 'Quick, quick, or you will be too late!' he almost shrieked, as the dread reality of his position flashed vividly upon his imagination. Till the cold hand of death was laid unmistakably upon him he had refused to believe his end so near.

Mr. Musgrave hurried to his side; and Anne Egerton, her tears falling thickly upon the dying wretch's face, as she leaned in love's solicitude over him, strove to soothe him, by the divine truths, that had been powerful to smoothe the rough path of death for poor, faithful, trusting, misguided Bow. 'Stop, stop, Anne! There's no time to talk of heaven to me now! Get a doctor, or I shall die at once! Oh my God, I cannot, will not die!'

'Hush, Clayton!' said Mr. Musgrave reverently, shocked at the helpless horror of the terrified man. 'Don't talk so! If it is God's will, that you die, it is madness to oppose it. Try and listen to Miss Egerton. As she tells you, it is never too late to repent. Strive hard to make your peace with your Maker; for your time is short!'

'Make my peace with the God I have insulted, ridiculed, and outraged? No, no! Now it is His turn for revenge; and He'll not let it slip. No, no! Get a doctor, can't you! It's my only chance! I cannot! I dare not die!'

But we will throw a veil over the last, terrible scene in Hubert Clayton's dark career. Half an hour's frantic raving, and the excited frame was still, the burning, throbbing brain, cooled by the damp hand of death.

A week after the burial of Hubert Clayton, and Bow and Darby—the two weak tools of his malice—the Police Magistrate returned from Sydney with a free pardon for Percy Sinclair; and by the same vessel in which Mr. Musgrave returned came a visitor for Field Place, who was little expected.

'Can you oblige me by telling me where I can hire a horse?' asked a voice at Mr. Musgrave's side, as he was stepping off the landing-stage at Newcastle.

He turned round, and found a singularly prepossessing young man at his elbow. 'That depends upon how long you will require it. You may get a horse at any of the public-houses for a ride about the settlement; but for a ride up the country is another thing.'

'I'm going to Field Place!' returned the young man, smiling, 'And, if my memory serves me faithfully, I believe I have met you there before.'

'Indeed, Sir! You have a decided advantage over me then; for I cannot recollect your features!' replied Mr. Musgrave, doubtfully.

'Perhaps not, for I have allowed my beard to grow; and that alone is sometimes sufficient disguise to baffle a detective. You do not remember Mr. Broadrick, then, who stayed on a short visit with Mr. Shelley some time ago?'

'Yes, yes! I recollect now! I am going up there directly. I can get you one of the police horses, if you like to ride with me!'

'I have business with a friend whom I hear is somewhere about the Lake. Do you know where a squatter named Keough lives—"Hungry Jack," they call him.'

'Away near Brisbane Water, I think.'

'One of his men—a college friend of mine, poor fellow—is dying; and I must see him first; so that I shall not be able to visit Field Place for a couple of days. Can you get me a horse to ride south upon?'

'Serjeant Maloney starts this evening overland, for Broken Bay. Your best plain is to ride with him. Come along, and I'll get you a horse.'

An hour later the stranger was travelling with the constable across country towards the broken and mountainous land between the Hunter and Hawkesbury rivers, and Mr. Musgrave was hurrying to Field Place with the welcome and expected documents. He reached the farm, his horse specked with foam, and panting with exertion; and he decided to stay until the morning before proceeding to the jail to give the unhappy prisoner the joyful news that he was free. Bertha urged him to lose no time, but to press on at once; but Mr. Musgrave being a very poor sailor, had had a severe attack of sea-sickness, and felt too ill to ride further.

'How exceeding vexatious!' the fair girl exclaimed pettishly, 'and papa's ankle too, too bad for him to ride. Ha!—yes, I will, papa!'

'Well, love?' Mr. Shelley replied, wondering what her quick, disjointed sentences could mean.

'Jerry and I will go to Maitland at once, and take these papers.—Go and saddle the horses, Jerry.—The warder always lets us see Percy now without question.'

Jerry, who had just appeared on the threshold with a broad grin, tomahawk in hand, disappeared in a second, before Mr. Shelley could countermand the order.

'But, my dear child, it is so late now; it will be dark before you could reach the jail.'

'Never mind, mamma! We can ride home by moonlight! Oh, that will be glorious! Many a sad, weary day has passed since we last had a moonlight ride together!' she replied, laughing and clapping her hands hysterically.

'But——'

'I can manage it, Shelley! Give these papers to Mr. Bartell first, Bertha, before you go to the jail; and all will go right!' said the police magistrate, writing a pencil note at the bottom of one, and handing them to her.

Full of delightful anticipations Bertha started on her mission. Through the black cloud of trouble, that had so long shrouded her a rift had burst, and the bright sunshine of hope fell in golden showers upon her gentle heart; and a contentment and joy, she had not known for many sad, eventful days, took possession of her soul.

'You murry much glad, Missie Berta?' asked Jerry, struck by the unusual sparkle of her eyes, and the sweet expression of happiness upon her features.

'Glad Jerry! Why, are we not going to set him free! Is that not happiness enough to last a life time?'

They reached Maitland without mishap, and found Mr. Bartell at home.

'All correct, my dear!' he said after looking carefully through the papers. 'We will go at once. I see you are anxious.'

'Oh, I am so anxious to see him free again. He has saved my life so often, that I am so grateful!'

Mr. Bartell smiled. 'Something more than simple gratitude, I should say!' he thought, as he watched the bright, eager features of his visitor.

'Dare dat Misser Bair, Missie Berta!' said Jerry, pointing to a horseman crossing the road.

'Poor fellow! The loss of his wife was a terrible bereavement! Dr. Sloan believed it was an attack of heart disease brought on by fright that killed her!' said Mr. Bartell thoughtfully.

Bertha shuddered. The allusion to the death of Mrs. Blair revived the horror of that terrible day, and she felt sick and faint.

Mr. Bartell noticed the effect of his words, and hastened to change the subject. 'Come along: I will go with you: Jerry can mind the horses.'

Passing the trembling girl's arm through his own, Mr. Bartell lead the way to the jail, which stood a short distance down the road. He tried to lead her to enter into conversation, but the sight of the dark building in which Percy lay a prisoner, and the blissful thought that she herself was conveying to him the joyful intelligence of his pardon, made her oblivious of all other considerations.

'Dat Misser Bartle tink it me stop along horses! Dat murry big fool altogether! Jerry stop belongin to Missie Berta!' and following at a safe distance, the faithful black boy was not far off when his young mistress entered the prison yard.

At the door of the cell, Mr. Bartell drew back, 'You need no assistance, I presume, Miss Shelley, in telling young Sinclair of his good fortune in being a free man once more,' he said, gently throwing back the door, and motioning her in.

The excitement, that had buoyed her up during the ride to Maitland now failed her, as she was about to enter the cold, dismal place of his confinement; and she felt sick and dizzy. Strong emotion whether of grief or joy, has a strangely paralysing effect. She felt that she was fainting; but by a strong effort overcame the sensation of weakness, and stepped into the dark room. Percy was sitting with his back to the iron-ribbed door, busy writing letters (his last, he bitterly thought), to the dear ones at home. For a few seconds Bertha stood motionless, gazing wistfully upon the loved form of her preserver.

Hearing the door open, and believing it to be the jailor approaching, he did not look round, but continued his melancholy task.

'Percy!'

He was on his feet in a moment. 'My darling! I knew you would come and see me again, before I go!' he exclaimed, folding her to his breast; 'I could not have died without seeing you again!'

She burst into a flood of happy tears. 'Percy, Oh, I have such good news for you! You have been forgiven by the Governor; and are free again.'

'Forgiven, Bertha?' he said incredulously. 'I broke from jail, when he pardoned me before. He would hardly be likely to do so again.'

'I have kept the secret from you, Percy, because I was afraid to raise hopes, that might be dashed to the ground!'

'What secret, darling?' he asked anxiously, wondering what her strange words might mean.

'It was hard to keep the secret, Percy, when you seemed so low-spirited; but I did; and I made Mr. Bartell guard it from you, too! But there's no need to keep it longer. The Governor says you are really free now. His pardon removes the stain of having been a convict!' she said, with the air of one who was disclosing an important state secret. (What affair of state could equal in her eyes the grand secret she had the happiness to break to him.)

'The governor's pardon remove the stain of my having been a convict? It is impossible! He may free me from this prison; but not from penal servitude! No, it is madness to expect that, Miss Bertha!' he said coldly, his old reserve coming back as the recollection of their relative positions forced itself upon his memory, 'I am a convict; and, hard as it is to realize it, I must remain so!'

'Ah, but you are not a convict now! See! a full pardon and permission to go to England, or anywhere else you like! You are really free, for Bow and Darby Gregson confessed that you were innocent of what you was transported for!'

He took the documents, she handed to him, in silence, and glanced rapidly through them. 'Thank God!' he ejaculated when their joyful significance struck him.

'And that cruel, wicked, Mr. Clayton was the cause of all your trouble! Can you ever forgive him?'

'Yes, and bless him for his villainy; for but for him should I ever have known you, my darling! Free, I am your equal, and may say now what I have had a hard struggle to keep from saying before. Bertha, I love you better than my own life! May I hope to win the brightest treasure this earth has to give—your gentle heart!'

Her answer was in too low a tone for us to hear, but that it was satisfactory to the gentleman it was intended for, the long and ardent embrace it occasioned was ample proof.

'And you will marry me, and go with me back to merry England? Ah, darling, little did I dream when I was torn from my home, an exile for life, that I should return again so soon, and be so well compensated by heaven for all my misery.'

The course of true love does not always run smooth, and troubled indeed had been its stream in the instance of the pair, swearing their troth in the dark prison cell; but a change had now come over the spirit of their dream (what is life at the best but a fitful, excited dream), and calmly now it promises to glide on, till the happy pilgrims hand in hand reach the blessed portals of heaven.

CONCLUSION.

A week later and Mr. Broadrick was standing on the makeshift wharf, in conversation with a friend. He had just returned from his visit to his college-chum, whose last moments he had been in time to soothe; and he was now making arrangements with his friend, Captain Roche, in whose brig he intended to sail for Europe shortly, to attend to some business of his, while he took a run up to Field Place.

'By the way, Roche, keep me two state rooms! It is just possible I may not return alone!'

'Ha, ha! Going to find an Australian lily and transplant it to the old country, eh,' asked the sailor, noticing the abruptness of his friend's manner, and guessing its cause. 'Holloa, we must step back and make room. Here comes quite a procession!'

The young man cast a rapid glance in the direction indicated.

'The Shelleys!' he said, in surprise. 'And who is that gentleman upon whose arm Miss Shelley is leaning?'

'Mr. Sinclair! Haven't you heard the news, Broadrick? It's quite a chapter of romance in real life. After saving the young lady's life half a dozen times, and winning her heart to boot, he turns out by the confession of a couple of dying scoundrels, to be an innocent man in disguise; and that fact being known gets a free pardon, and the heroine of half-a-dozen adventures at the same time. They are off to be married in Sydney, and will go back to England in my trim little brig. Why, man, what the devil is the matter with you?'

'Nothing, nothing! only that I shan't go home with you this trip!' and he added under his breath, 'And I would have made her a countess!'

'Hem! a love affair!' said the sailor to himself, regarding his friend with an amused smile. 'Well, I'd better leave the coast clear, and walk off.'

Mr. Broadrick did not hear the remark, nor observe the retreat of his friend, so intently was he engaged in watching the approaching party.

'You are late, sir, but we've a boat here to put you off to the ship in!' said the first mate of the little steamer lying in the stream, to Mr. Shelley, as the party stepped upon the wharf. Not one of them recognised Mr. Broadrick, as he stood back keenly watching them; and his features grew pale as he observed the maiden, whose image had never left his heart, leaning upon a rival's arm, and gazing with looks of trusting love into his face.

'And, oh Percy, to think that Anne should have had a letter from Mr. Darrell almost directly that wicked Mr. Clayton died. Do you think she will marry him now, after his waiting for so long?' Bertha said in her musical voice, while the lovers stood for a few seconds leaning against a pile of timber waiting for the boat. Little dreampt the fair girl how the strange man who stood a few paces off, his hat shoved down over his eyes to hide his face from her view, drunk in her rippling accents with greedy ears, and gazed wistfully upon the beautiful form that could never now be his.

'Let us hope so, Berdie! The base object of her unreasoning love is dead; and now her strange infatuation should be broken. I fancy she will grow to love George! He is the dearest fellow, and the truest friend I ever had!'

'And Marion too! Just fancy, her innocence being proved the very day after yours! Well, I hope she will find her true-love as faithful as Mr. Darrell has been!'

'Now gentlemen, this way please!'

The party entered the boat and were soon comfortably settled aboard the little steamer, which no sooner received her late passengers than she steamed out to sea. Long and wistfully did the young nobleman watch the lessening form of the vessel, and not before the dull outline of Nobby's intercepted the view did he turn sorrowfully away from the spot.

There remains little more to narrate. A week later the late convict and bushranger led to the altar the beautiful 'lily of the Hunter,' and after the ceremony, which was performed in the old Church of Saint James, embarked with her, and the gentle Anne, in Captain Roche's little brig the Dancing Wave. After a splendid run of one hundred days they reached the white cliffs of Old England, and a few hours after, Percy presented to his surprised and delighted parents their new daughter, whom he had gone so far, and suffered so much to win. The news of Percy's pardon only reached England by the same vessel as himself, and consequently the surprise was as great as it was joyful.

After a few months Mr. Darrell's patient devotion was rewarded by the hand of the kindest, gentlest, fairest girl in all England; and Anne became the happy wife of one fitted in every way to make her so.


THE END

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