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Title:  Collected Short Stories
Author: E. W. Hornung
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Language: English
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Cover

Collected Short Stories

by
E. W. Hornung

Contents

The Stroke of Five
The Cooeying Woman
A Spoilt Negative
Long Jake’s Trip Home
The Bushman’s Hotel
His Last Chance
Miss Teague’s Behavior
Thunderbolt's Mate
The Romance of Sergeant Clancy
The Burrawurra Brand
The Man Who Shot MacTurk
The Stockman's Cheque
Lost in the Bush
The Crimean Shirt
Buried Alive
A Villa in a Vineyard
A Lochinvar of the Old Man Plain
Tuggenboonah Bill
The Best Of The Bushrangers
The Christmas Story
A Fallen Angel
The Flying Dustman
A Model Marauder

The Stroke of Five

Belgravia Magazine Vol 64 page 70 - November 1887

I am a clerk employed in a large mercantile house in Lombard Street, and am in my twenty-third year. I live with my parents and other members of my family in an outlying suburb ten miles from the City, whither I journey by train every morning, returning in the evening. In the office I have gained a character for quiet, plodding industry. At home, I maintain my character for quiet, and am in addition considered a dreamy book-worm, and unsociable into the bargain. I am of medium height, slightly built, and, it must be confessed, the reverse of muscular. I could never discover that I possessed other than commonplace features; and the same verdict, only perhaps less qualified, would probably be given by others. Thus much about myself it is necessary to state before I attempt to relate that which befell me on the morning of March 24, 1886.

On the evening of March 23, I had been for the first time to see the Lyceum ‘Faust.’ If I am a lover of books to unsociability, I also carry love of the drama to extravagance: at least, so I used constantly to be told in the family circle a year ago, for I go to the play less frequently now. I was, in fact, an inveterate ‘pitite,’ and seldom a week went by, especially during the season, without my visiting one of the West-end theatres.

As early as six o’clock on the afternoon of the 23rd, I had taken up my position outside the pit entrance at the Lyceum, with the result of a seat in the front row.

The performance enthralled me. Being no linguist I had read no more than a translation of the work of Goethe, and I was therefore untroubled by doubts as to the textual rendering of the original. For three hours I lived in the land of Romance. I sympathised with the actors in the tragedy. With senses and nerves strung to the highest pitch of sympathy I concentrated my whole attention on what passed before me. And yet I very soon felt that sympathy becoming absorbed in the evil genius of the play! Gradually the influence grew upon me, until Mephistopheles exercised over me a greater, an immeasurably greater charm than any other personage in the play.

My heart warmed to this scarlet prince of darkness! His plausibility played upon my fancy in the beginning, his ingenuity fanned my fancy into admiration, his unfathomable cunning turned admiration to unholy reverence! The supreme badness of the fiend won me over to the wrong side in spite of myself. The influence of the fiend intoxicated me. Each poisoned arrow of subtle sarcasm struck acute enjoyment into my soul. All through the play, when the fiend was on the stage, my eyes saw no other form, my ears heard no other voice. But on the Brocken, I absolutely revelled in the majesty of the fiend!

No thought of the actor influenced me. For the time I thought only of this demon as the demon. The power of imagination was very strong within me.

As I walked from the theatre to the station I could not repress a momentary feeling of shame and wonder that my sympathies had been so completely given to the wrong side. Who but myself had ever witnessed ‘Faust,’ and enjoyed the play from this standpoint? Who but myself had gazed at the picture from the reverse side, and delighted in it?

The thought was fleeting, and the unanswered questions did not vex me. My mind quickly returned to its demon-worship.

As we reached Flower Bank, my suburb, the hands of the station clock pointed to a quarter to one. I walked down the platform, through the little gate at the level crossing, and on the accustomed way home. I had noticed no other passenger quit the train at Flower Bank.

In walking from the station to my father’s house I usually followed a narrow foot-path that runs between the boundary fence of the railway and the boardings at the backs of the gardens of a road of Queen-Anne houses parallel to the line. After a quarter of a mile these houses end, though the path continues, and my way lay diagonally across a field, which brought me opposite to the turning into our own road.

I had proceeded about a hundred yards from the station along this path. My mind still dwelt among the weird scenes of the evening. I was crossing a wooden bridge spanning a ditch that interrupts the footway. All at once I became sensible of a gliding footstep behind me.

The right fore-arm of a stranger was thrust beneath my left arm, and a strong hand grasped the muscle of my arm.

I started terribly, and looked sharply round. The night was very dark, but I could make out that the man was tall and thin, and somewhat inclined to a stoop. A long close-fitting cloak enveloped him from neck to heel. He wore on his head a large sombrero that effectually concealed his features.

The stranger continued to move onward, and in spite of my intense surprise I could not choose but move onward too. For half a minute neither of us uttered a syllable. Then my companion bent his head until it was near mine, and in a deep, solemn, not unmusical voice, spoke.

‘You must allow me to accompany you,’ he said. I stammered, faltering, that his company would afford me pleasure, if our ways were identical. I was filled with fear which I tried hard to suppress, and it was with difficulty I succeeded in keeping my limbs from trembling violently.

He took no notice of my words, but glided forward with silent steps, his hand still grasping my arm. How like was this tall, lithe, bending figure; this deep, penetrating voice, to the form and voice of the weird image present in my mind! My imagination, already stimulated and overwrought, was ripe to surmise the supernatural. Was I dreaming, or had the prince of fiends come himself to seek me out because of my ungodly fascination?

My companion spoke again:

‘You have been present at—“Faust.” ’ The tone had in it no note of interrogative inflection. It seemed to state with authority known, undeniable fact.

‘Yes,’ I managed to murmur, after a short pause of speechless surprise. How could he know where I had been?

‘And did you admire—Mephistopheles?’

I started painfully. Whence came this strange dark being to probe the inmost thoughts of my brain? What was he—man or devil?

The tone was one of grim banter, and reminded me of the caustic utterances of the Evil One, that I had gloried in during the evening.

‘He was grand—magnificent!’ I said with enthusiasm, in spite of my fears—in spite of my wonder.

‘Ha! ha! A clever performance—a fair imitation; but not counterfeit—no, no: not counterfeit! Wait until you see the real Satan! Ha! ha! ha!’ He hissed the last words into my ear, and the laugh that followed them was hoarse and bloodcurdling.

I fairly shook with terror. My knees knocked together as I walked. I felt the perspiration gather on my brow.

Thank God! here was the field. At the other side of this field was the first lamp-post of my own road—the first light I had seen since leaving the station! How the jet flickered its invitation to safety, its welcome that awaited me! Now I would bid good-night to my dark companion, and go home: run home, as fast as my legs could carry me—run! run! run!

I gathered courage from the distant friendly light, and said:

‘My way lies across this field. If you still continue by the path, I am afraid I mnst leave you.’

For the first time my companion arrested his gliding walk, and stood still in the pathway. He regarded me for a moment; then said slowly:

‘Leave me? Leave me! Boy, you little know to whom you speak! No. You cannot leave me. You shall not leave me. Shall not—neither now nor evermore!’ The words were hissed rather than spoken, with hoarse, vibrating distinctness. The strong hand closed round the puny muscle of my arm. Madman? yes, or devil! I felt it worse than useless to resist, and yet—

‘Help!’ It was a short sharp cry that burst involuntarily from my lips; not resolute enough to summon aid.

My companion's left hand was thrust with lightning rapidity into his bosom, and with the same movement the gleaming blade of a knife protruded through the right breast of his cloak, and pressed against my side.

‘One other sound like that, and I leave you with this in your heart! Now let us go on.’

On again together. My heart was as if turned to lead in my body; but the very intensity of my fear gave me coolness and resolution. I would humour him, I would agree with him, I would stay with him;—for this there was no choice, but I would stay with simulated willingness. An attempt to escape, or the faintest cry, would now, I knew, mean death. We skirted the field in silence, and were once more between boarding on our left and the Railway Company’s fence and quickset hedge on our right. This path, as I knew, ended in a frequented road a quarter of a mile ahead.

The knife had disappeared, but the left hand of my companion was still buried in his bosom. There was a silence of some three or four minutes, broken only by the sound of my companion’s measured gliding footsteps and my short nervous tread.

At last he broke the silence with once more solemn, low, precise articulation.

‘You came by the last train?’

‘I did.’

‘At what time does the first morning train pass here?’

‘Five o’clock, I think.’

‘You think! Come, boy, be sure.’

‘Five o’clock.’

‘Good. In that case we shall spend exactly four hours together, for it is now one o’clock.’

Now one o’clock! Only one! That meant that only a quarter of an hour had passed since I left my train. Impossible! It could not be. An hour—two hours—must have gone by since then. And must I spend four hours more with him? Sixteen times as long as I had been in his company already, if this man spoke truth regarding the time? Absurd! But this man did not speak truth; this man—

A distant church-clock chimed the hour, and then struck—one!

Something must be wrong with that church-clock. Three was the hour it meant to strike, not one. But what did this man mean when he said ‘We shall spend exactly four hours together?’ Could he mean that he would leave me then, and escape from the district by the early workmen’s train? If he did, I would have the police on his track before the sun was fairly above the horizon! He should be locked up this very morning—locked up for a dangerous—that was if he were not a— Oh, how the cold bony hand clutched my arm!

We were drawing near the road. Through the darkness of the night I could just distinguish the shadowy forms of houses sparsely built: but no lights in the windows. No lights to encourage me—and warn my companion. I fancied I could hear the measured tread of the policeman on duty.

The railway on our right now ran through a deep cutting. The path we followed led inwards from the edge of the embankment. A hundred paces on, an old disused bridge arched over the line, which from the station to this point was singularly straight. Beyond the disused bridge a curve commenced, and a furlong from the first bridge a second bridge, newly built, spanned the line, the curve still continuing. Where the path turned inwards from the railway a tall untrimmed hedge rose a few paces from the railway fence. The hedge took the place of the fence as right-hand enclosure of the path, and between hedge and fence there was entrance to a wedge-shaped grassy slope, which stretched to the foot of the masonry of the bridge. I had strolled down this slope in daylight, and knew that near the bridge, where the earth had once been dug away, the slope changed into a steep descent to the level of the lines; though immediately next the fence the descent remained gradual.

As we approached the entrance to the slope between hedge and fence, I bore somewhat to the left of the path, hoping my companion would notice no break to the right. In my over-anxiety to keep to the path I must have palpably pushed against my companion, for his right hand clasping still more tightly my arm, and his left diving once more beneath his cloak,—

‘Fool!’ he hoarsely muttered. ‘So you still desire to tread again the paths of man? We shall see to that ere long. Meanwhile come my way.’

Resistance was madness; but, as I yielded, the last ray of hope of deliverance went out in my heart. Abandoning myself to I knew not what, I suffered myself to be led from the path of comparative safety and probable succour. In the power of this monster, bent on Heaven knew what, I might as well be in the heart of an African jungle as in the lonely hollow at the base of this old bridge. A terrible calm came over me, like that which I had read of experienced by men in the clutches of some wild beast. Surely here was no distant analogy!

As we descended the grassy slope, and my companion chose as if by instinct the easy downward path into the hollow, the deep sepulchral voice that had uttered few words during the latter part of our walk spoke in a louder tone than before, but still with the same clear, penetrating emphasis.

‘The pit before us is opportune. Come, get you down, young man. Here we shall have no interruption, and I have much to say to you—before five o’clock!’

We stood in what indeed was little short of a pit. Behind us, and to the right, a grassy wall of earth twenty feet high; to the left the moss-covered masonry of the old bridge; in front the railing that divided us from the line, on the level of which we now stood.

‘Yes, we are safe from interruption here,’ continued my tormentor. ‘Now do as I bid you, and, remember, at the smallest deviation from my command your life is forfeited—before its time! You see that star overhead?’ pointing upwards, ‘it is the North Star. Fix your eyes on the North Star, and do not remove them until I tell you.’

I bowed assent, for fear clogged my tongue; and, raising my head, I made a desperate effort to look steadily at the star.

He continued speaking.

‘You visited the theatre known as the Lyceum last evening. You sat at the left-hand end of the first row in the pit. I sat within a few yards of you, in the last box on the lowest tier.’

I kept my eyes fixed steadily on the star. Some effort was necessary, to enable me to sustain the terrible tension of my nerves; and this effort of gazing fixedly at the North Star, and knowing that on this action of gazing my life for the time depended, was a relief to my whirling senses. But I started as I gazed upwards. I dimly remembered having seen once or twice between the acts a solitary, dark, gloomy face in the box nearest to me; which, whenever I had noticed it, seemed to be regarding me earnestly. So wrapt up had I been in the play, that, though I now remembered the searching scrutiny of my face by the dark eyes to the left, at the time I had been practically unconscious of it.

‘Yes. I watched you from the box farthest from the stage, in the lowest tier of boxes on the left side of the house. I have occupied that box many nights, very many nights,’ he sighed wearily; ‘but,’ he added with deep, tremulous, terrible emphasis, ‘I have sat there, night after night, in disguise: yes, in human, earthly disguise!’

His voice rose, and gathered more awful, vibrating intensity with every word. I gazed upwards still, but the star danced before my vision like phosphorus in a vessel’s wake.

‘In the guise of a man have I sat there! In the garb of a mortal!’ he almost shrieked. Then, his voice lowering to deep, quivering, unearthly tones, ‘Cast down your eyes, O child of man, and know me for what I am!’

I threw up my arms and staggered backward. What was this I saw before me?

A dark haggard face, shining with a pale green light. Arched eyebrows, hooked nose, gleaming teeth. The tall bending body clothed in a black flowing robe. A dark skull-cap on the head. Two long arms stretched towards me, the bony hands and fingers shining with the same green light that illuminated the face. Thin green smoke ascending from face and hands!

What was this—vision or reality? Where was I—in dreamland or in—Hell?

The grinning lips moved:

I am—the Devil!

I neither breathed nor stirred. The grinning lips moved again.

‘Know now with whom you are dealing: with the King of Darkness—the Evil One—Satan—the Devil—call me what you will!’

My breath came in stertorous respirations. I placed my hand on my brow: my brow was cold and clammy. I moved my foot: the damp grass was beneath it. I looked upward: the pale cold stars smiled mockingly upon me.

No.—I was not dreaming.

All at once I heard a hurried footstep on the narrow path above. It must be some belated wayfarer, some mortal who would help me. I opened my mouth, but the tongue clave to the palate. Before I could articulate, a flaming hand and gleaming blade were upon my breast, and a flaming face a foot from mine!

I fainted. . . .

When I recovered my senses, the Satanic form was bending over me.

‘Come, come! I give you no further grace to conquer this folly. If you cannot be calm now, you die without further fuss. If you choose to live a little longer, stand up, attend, and be sensible. Now, which is it to be?’

With a stupendous effort I managed to rise to my feet and stagger to the wall of the bridge, one strong bony hand grasping my limp arm. I leaned against the masonry, and obtained relief from contact with the dank moss-covered stones.

‘You elect to live—a little longer?’

I nodded feebly.

‘I thought so. I studied your face and head pretty closely with eye and glass during the evening. Your face is commonplace enough, but it is a wonderfully clear mirror of your mind. Your mental homage to—my imitator was, for instance, plainly written on your face. Then I studied your head, for, you see, you wear your hair closely cut. You are tenacious of life, and concentrativeness is very strongly developed. Is it not so?’

Damp shining fingers passed carefully over the central surface of the back of my head.

‘Just as I thought. Now in combativeness,’ feeling behind the ear, ‘you are deficient. That, too, I found out through my glass. Ha! ha! an immortal has to keep abreast of the sciences of man, my friend; I studied phrenology once, in the guise of a student.’

If there was comparison in my feelings just then, I was glad when the cold fingers were removed from my head.

‘So you appreciated Mephistopheles—the sham Mephistopheles, eh? Well, I grant you it is a fine performance, a wonderful mimicry—for a man! I have sat, in my guise of mortal, and watched this mimicry of myself many nights, very many nights. It has pleased my fancy, it has flattered me—with the sincerest flattery. I have over and over again watched carefully the players; and over and over again, still more carefully, the spectators. And until this night, young man, no mortal has witnessed those scenes and, in his heart, thrown in his lot with Mephistopheles. You never took your eyes off this mock Satan; and as you gazed, I read in your face admiration, awe, and even reverence; anon exultation and gloating, then again only admiration.’

A reader of thoughts! but could I wonder at that in—

‘And since you fell so deeply in love with the sham demon, I, the real demon, determined—ha, ha!—to reveal myself to you!’

Sorely the night most be waning now! The pale blue stars had changed their positions since my enforced contemplation of the only stationary body amongst them. And if the night was waning, daylight must ensue. And surely daylight would dissipate this fiend—or phantom! Or I should awake—no! I was awake already. Oh God, that I could think all this a dream! But if not a dream, what was it? what—?

‘Mortal, it is time to tell you why I followed you, and sought you out alone. Can you guess?’

I shook my head.

‘I brought you alone to a lonely place for the forming of a contract the like of which you saw made in the early part of that play. You are to sell your will to me!’

His voice, calm and dispassionate for some time past, returned to that hissing horrible emphasis which had characterised his earlier utterances.

‘You are to sell your will to me! But do not think of reward, like the reward of youth that the spurious spirit held out to his victim. I offer no reward—but eternity with me! Give me your hands, and look in my eyes!’

I placed my limp numbed hands within the cold bony hands held out to me. The dark face, less lurid now, but shining still, came close to my face. Dark fiery eyes transfixed my eyes.

We stood thus, motionless, for I know not how many minutes. Then, without movement or flicker of the steady gaze, the hands were withdrawn from mine, and gently waved to and fro before my face. Then back to their grasp of my hands.

‘Do you surrender your will to my will?’

I no more than heard the words. Some mental cord seemed to have snapped. I heard and saw distinctly, but I did not connect what I heard and saw with thought. Instinctively I repeated:

‘I surrender my will to your will!’

A long pause. Then with subdued triumph my companion spoke:

‘You are in my power—mind and soul and body—in the power of him you call the Evil One!’

The deep voice sounded metallic and far away. I felt no longer an actor in this grim scene by the old railway bridge, but a beholder—even as I had been a beholder of the Brocken’s hideous orgy. I could now converse dispassionately and mechanically, for I felt that the power of speech had returned. But the power of intelligent thought had gone, and with it all sensation of fear.

My companion’s eyes never relinquished their steady gaze into mine. He spoke again:

‘How far advanced is the night?’

‘It is almost four o’clock,’ I said, peering closely at my watch.

‘Four. In another hour the first streak of dawn will show in the east. And in another hour—at five, I think you said—the first morning train passes this place.’

‘The train is due at Flower Bank three minutes past five.’

‘Come then; let us move from here, and stand upon the metals.’

No wonder at this proposition, no curiosity concerning motive disturbed the calm of the stupor into which my senses had merged. My hands still in the grasp of the hands of my companion, his eyes still on mine, I was pushed gently to the fence. The fence was low here, and the hedge broken. I stepped over with little difficulty, and he followed.

Once more I leant against cold stone. It was the inner wall of the arch. Our hands and eyes were still joined; the former in firm, clammy grasp; the latter in mutual unflinching stare of horrible intensity on the one side, and apathetic stupor on the other.

We stood in silence. The distant church-clock, the sound of whose chimes had reached us from time to time, chimed the quarter after the hour.

‘What was that?’ The questioning voice sounded far away as the chimes.

‘A quarter-past four.’

‘Then we have three-quarters of an hour more of this.’

‘Is that all?’ I asked languidly.

‘At five this ends.’

‘Do we part then?’

‘For a time.’

‘And where do I go then?’

‘To Hell.’

The words, the hoarse tone, did not disturb me. I felt only dimly puzzled.

‘How do you mean?’

‘At five you die.’

‘At five I die! ’ I repeated dreamily. ‘How?’

‘By suicide.’

Suicide! What was that? I used, to know—but now—no: I could not think.

‘Tell me,’ I said wearily, ‘how? I do not understand.’

‘By laying your body across these metals. The early train will do the rest.’

‘Ah!’

Ding—dong—dell—ding—dong. Half-past four from the distant church spire.

A pause. Eyes and hands unaltered. At last:

‘What of you?’ I asked.

‘I look on.’

‘But you will be seen!’

‘No.’

‘No! How is that?’

‘Because I am invisible.’

A pause of minutes.

‘I am invisible to all mortals on this earth—save you. To you I have revealed myself—before taking you to my realm for ever.’

Ding—dong—dell—ding—dong: ding—dong—dell.

A quarter to five. The figure opposite seemed more distinct in form and outline. Yet sunrise would not be for more than an hour.

‘Yes. Sunrise is not until six o’clock. And you will never see the sunrise.’

That my thought was read occasioned me no surprise. I merely repeated, dreamily:

‘And I shall never see the sunrise!’

‘Never! Ha, ha, ha!’ A fiendish laugh. ‘This morning you breakfast with Pluto! With Pluto? No, no. With me! With Satan in his own realm!’

The deep sepulchral tones once more:

‘Now lay yourself across this line of rails, your shoulders resting on that far band of steel, your feet pointing to me—so. And fold your arms across your breast—so. And keep your eyes steadily fixed upon my eyes. That is well. Now, if you move limb or muscle, this steel blade of mine must do the work instead of the steel wheel of the engine. But the engine will be better and quicker. Hark! I hear it! The train has left the next station.’

Langford Station is one mile and a quarter from Flower Bank Station; therefore three-quarters of a mile from where I lay.

He—in the long cloak and skull-cap, stood by the side of the line, a yard from my feet. His expression was one of fiendish exultation, but the pale green light on hands and face seemed to have vanished in the grey light of earliest dawn. He went on speaking:

‘Hark! the sound grows more distinct. You must not move your eyes from mine, for if you break—hark! the hour is striking! how punctual they are here! ’

Ding—dong—dell—ding—dong:—ding—dong—dell:—ding—ding—ding—dong.— Ding. Ding. Ding. Ding. Ding.

As the last stroke of the distant clock died on the air, and the noise of rushing wheels grew louder and louder, I closed my eyes to shut out the horrible form in front of me. I turned my face to the right, and reopened my eyes. Within thirty yards of me was the hissing, snorting locomotive. I saw the engine, I heard the shriek of the whistle, and—I came to my senses!

I came to my senses, but awoke from no dream. The same second I saw the engine the mesmeric spell that had bound me was broken; that same second I knew my position; and that same second I doubled my legs and body over my head, and executed the one gymnastic feat of my life!

As my body rolled into the six-foot-way a demon yell burst from the other side of the rails. I saw between earth and air a figure in a flowing robe, with outstretched arms and naked knife, in the act of springing upon me! . . .

When I recovered consciousness this time, I found myself in the porters’ room at Flower Bank Station. My head, pillowed upon rough corduroy, was supported between the knees of a porter. Before opening my eyes, my ear caught some of the conversation going on around me.

‘E’s bin and well nigh done for this poor young gen’leman,’ said one voice.

‘But was done for himself, poor lunatic! They’re bringing him this way on a hand-truck,’ said another.

‘Hollo, Bill, what did you find about the pore man? Anything as’ll tell us who he is?’

‘A brass-ticketed hotel-room key, a purse full of sovereigns, a packet of phosphorus, and six programmes of the theaytre! No clue to his name or where he come from.’ . . .

It was some days before I knew that my companion of that terrible night was a gentleman who had been out of his mind for years, his mania being that he was the Devil! He had escaped a week before from the custody of his friends, taken rooms, without causing suspicion, at the Grosvenor Hotel, and spent every evening in witnessing Mr. Irving’s ‘wonderful mimicry’ of himself! On every other point he had been not only sane but intelligent.

The Cooeying Woman
An Australian Legend

Queensland Figaro and Punch (Brisbane, Qld.), Saturday 8 October 1887

Razorback is a wild and rugged mountain on the southern edge of the Farewell Ranges, in Victoria. Its sides are so steep and rough, its surface is so broken, and the growth that covers it so wild and undisturbed, that from the green plains to the south the mountain barrier looks formidable indeed. To the north, behind Razorback, Rose Town settlement nestles among the Ranges. On the south side, at the base, stands the ruins of a hut built in the early days of the colony. A rough track, gradually ascending round the western spurs of the mountain from the hut to Rose Town, may still be traced. But the rugged, upturned face of Razorback shows neither track, nor fence, nor landmark to this day.

It is many years since the rude skeleton at the foot of Razorback was a habitable hut. It was put up by the first owner of the broad acres below the mountain, and was occupied by the shepherd of his outlying flocks. In 1854 the shepherd was William Bell, and with him in the hut lived his wife Maggie.

The Bells had married in Bonnie Yorkshire only to seek their fortunes together in the new land of gold. Labour in those days was very dear throughout the colony, and soon a considerable balance was credited to William Bell in his master’s books. But high wages could not reconcile the Bells to Australia. When summer parched the pastures, and all beneath the dark-blue sky was sere and sombre, they longed for the green lanes of Yorkshire, and the yellow rippling fields of corn, to cool their scorched eyes. What cared they for dark blue skies, and gorgeous birds that knew never a note of song?

And where was the charm of fantastic flowers that gave no scent, compared with their own wild country roses of old?

“O, Will!” Maggie used often to say, “let us go home, lad! We have enough money now—let’s take ship while we have it.”

“Wait a bit, my lass—a little longer,” he would answer, with tenderest love in his voice. So months went by, and Christmas found William Bell still shepherding flocks at the foot of Razorback, and Maggie still working and waiting.

“Come, a pannikin of tea, Mag,” cried William Bell, heartily, as he entered the hut after penning the sheep for the night, “For I’ve a journey to go.”

“A journey, Will? O, where?”

“Where but to the township, this Christmas Eve!—to do a bit of shopping.”

“Will, don’t you go to Rose Town tonight,” implored the wife

“And why not, my lass? Why, I’ll be back before daylight.”

“But it’s five miles by the road, Will.”

“But I don’t go by the road. No, no. It’s over the mountains for Will. And, bless you, I know every inch of old Razorback,” he added, catching a look of fear on his wife’s lace.

“They say it is dangerous” she whispered.

“Dangerous!” said Will, “why, who knows that mountain as well as I, who am hunting strayed sheep on it every week of my life? No, lass, ’tisn’t dangerous—for me. And—you mustn’t be foolish, but just look out for what I’m going to bring you from the township.”

Bell ate his meal with a cheerful air, kissed his wife tenderly, and taking a stout stick, left the hut and started up the mountain side.

She did not gaze after him. She did not watch him out of sight from the hut door. But she sat gazing at the glowing embers in the fireplace—thinking. Her thoughts must have been sad ones, for presently great tears gathered in her eyes and fell heavily in her lap.

Tears from heaven, too! noisy raindrops falling upon the iron roof. She went to the door; all was dark and lowering. Surely the leaden sky is very close to the earth; surely, too, it is touching the top of Razorback. But what is yon blood-red streak in the sheet of lead—seen for a moment, then gone? And what means this horrible cannonade overhead, that makes the ground quiver and the timbers of the hut rattle?

A storm—a summer storm! Short-lived, yet of terrible violence! And her Will out in it, out on the top of Razorback! More lightning more thunder; then a fierce whirlwind from the south, and driving rain. Again thunder, and more blood-red gashes in the leaden darkening sky. She fell hysterically upon the rude bed, and covered her head with the blankets, to shut out sight and sound. There she lay, trembling, sobbing, praying, until a dizziness came over her brain and consciousness left her.

When Maggie Bell awoke there was no sounds of rain on the roof. She rose and looked out of the door. The sky was clear and star-lit.

What time was it? She could not tell, but it must want a long while to dawn; and Will could not be back before dawn. But no more sleep for her tonight. She would set to work and tidy the hut against Will’s return—no more than her share towards making their Christmas day a bright one.

While she was busy, the dawn burst over an eastern range. She went on with her work until it was finished, and then lit a fire and set about preparing their breakfast, for Will was overdue now.

The water in the “billy” upon the fire bubbled over but no tea was added, for Will did not come.

The sun climbed high is his bed of blue, but no cheery “cooey” from the mountain side announced the husband’s return, and when Maggie looked out no human creature met her anxious gaze.

A sickening fear gradually stole over the heart of the girl. Memory of the storm, and the blinding rain, and the lightning and the knowledge of the rough, intricate wilderness that covered the mountain, came together to torture her. When the sun was at its highest, and still no sound nor sign of her husband, Maggie took her straw bonnet and started off at a fast walk along the rough track to Rose Town.

When she reached the township, she went straight to the general store, then to the blacksmith’s forge. These were the principal buildings at the settlement, and at each the answer to her enquiries was the same, shattering her brave hope that her husband had been detained in the township.

William Bell had never reached Rose Town.

She walked back to the store. “You must raise a search party,” she said; “my husband is out on Razorback. He may be hurt, or lost. For God’s sake, help me to find him.” Then she walked quickly and quietly through the township, and struck straight into the thick bush that covered the side of Razorback. She was not seen during the afternoon by the other searchers, and did not return to the township. But most of the party had heard from time to time a strange shrill cry, like the penetrating “cooey” of the blacks, but that the long note was so high and shrill, and the terminal wail so mournful. It must be Maggie, they said, cooeying for her husband.

For days afterwards the search was continued, without success. Nor was anything seen of Maggie Bell. But the sad, sustained cooey was heard from time to time by the searchers.

One dark night, a strange, wild female figure stole into the township. The woman begged some bread at the inn, but on being curiously regarded, fled with a wild cry in the direction of Razorback. The people said it was Maggie Bell, gone mad, and that she would roam Razorback until she died.

A new shepherd was installed in the Bells’ hut, and he alone saw Maggie afterwards—“Cooeying Maggie”, as folks now called her. She would come down the mountain side at intervals of a few days, and put one simple question to the shepherd: “Is he come back yet?” Then, reading in the shepherd’s face her answer, she would turn with a sob back to the mountain; but not before than man had thrust upon her bread and meat, and, perhaps, covering.

Once a strange drover, who was camping at the foot of the mountain, was startled by hearing a shrill, unearthly cooey, close, as it seemed, to his tent. The dogs ran into the camp cowering with terror, and the camp was immediately struck and removed by the terrified drover.

Cooeying Maggie, the fire of madness in her dark eyes, and her dark hair hanging in tangles about her ragged bodice, tramped for many weeks the cruel face of Razorback. Often she would pause, place her hand to her poor lips, and utter the shrill weird cry that was borne so far, yet never brought answer. Never answer, save the chattering of parrots, the chirrup of locusts and cricket, the hoarse mocking laugh of the jackass.

The brain of Maggie Bell had long ago given way, and, little by little, the body followed. The ground she traversed became daily less, and each cooey fainter and shorter than the last. Once the shepherd tried to detain her, seeing her altered looks, but, with a fierce cry, she burst from his kindly touch, and he never saw her more. Soon the cooeying on the mountain ceased.

There are those who still say they hear the wild, weird, despairing cry, mingled with the wind that blows over the mountain; and these believe that Razorback is haunted by the spirit of the cooeying woman.

A Spoilt Negative

Belgravia Magazine Vol 64 page 76 - March 1888

Dick Auburn was an artist: not a painter, nor a sculptor, nor a musician, nor, indeed, a devotee at the shrine of any Fine Art—yet an artist. He could draw no more than a baby; his genius was anything but histrionic; he was not even a man of letters—but he was an artist. On the other hand, he was no house-painter nor designer of ornamental friezes. Indeed, in his own opinion and in that of a few enthusiasts as bigoted as himself, Dick’s Art was a Fine Art, and he wrote his Art with a capital—a length to which your most eminent decorator scarcely goes. Though confessedly an amateur at his craft, Dick was as conscientiously painstaking as the most earnest-minded professional, besides being the technical equal and the artistic superior of most professionals. When at work he was an artist first and a man afterwards: he was only once known to allow human infirmity to interfere with the mechanism of his Art. But since that one recorded slip made an episode in his life, I take it that the events connected therewith are the legitimate and indisputable property of the faithful historian.

Besides being an artist, Dick Auburn was also—in a secondary kind of way—a jolly, genial, good-looking, and perfectly eligible young fellow. He was blessed with a mercurial temperament, a gay humour (when untrammelled by artistic anxieties), and an independent income. Worldly possession, indeed, alone deterred him from enlisting in professional ranks, and led him into a determination to follow Art for its own sake, in sublime confidence that such a course must bring its own reward. When at work Dick wore professorial spectacles: at all other times he sported a smart-looking single eye-glass. The change thus wrought in his appearance was typical of the contrast between the light-hearted young blade and the anxious, care-ridden travailer in Art—a contrast which nobody who spent a day in Dick’s company could fail to remark.

Every art demands an apprenticeship: Dick Auburn’s Art was no exception to this rule. The first stage in Dick’s apprenticeship was embodied in a course of lessons (thrown in with the necessary ‘plant’) at a certain Palace of Art in Kegent Street. The second stage entailed lonely hours spent in a cellar remote from solar beams, whence issued smells and vapours the most vile. Dick himself would follow these nasal invaders from the under-world, looking pale and careworn, and wearing on his hands the stains—not, indeed, of blood, but of some virulent chemical compound far less easy to expunge. The third and last of the elementary stages brought forth slanders in portraiture on all Dick’s relations and many of his friends, not to speak of elliptical libels on such architectural accommodation as the neighbourhood afforded. But Dick rose superior to the very frank discouragement of coldly critical relatives and the sickening chill born of reiterated failure. In six months, thanks to stubborn effort and pliable purse, he became not only an ambitious but a highly accomplished amateur photographer.

But to come to Dick Auburn’s one photographic blunder—for he persists that it is the only mistake of a gross kind he ever made, during the whole of his artistic experience: at any rate it is the only one of which (to speak very literally) positive evidence has been preserved.—There stands on the Middlesex side, somewhere between Richmond and Hampton Court, quite the most charming villa, for its size, that can be found anywhere on either bank of the Thames. It is built of red brick and is a modern version of Gothic architecture, with quaint little points and acute angles: it is surrounded by majestic cedars, which in the sleepy noontide are synonyms for shade and shelter and rest: a lawn of close-cropped, velvety grass slopes gently from the French windows to the river’s brim, picked out with brilliant flower-beds: and the villa and its grounds are the property of Major Irvine, Dick’s uncle, who spends there each summer, surrounded by a small but festive party of young people.

Thither in August came our artist, with camera, lens, tripod, and the hundred and one accessories which make up a photographer’s impedimenta. He had been at ‘his dirty tricks’ (as Jack Irvine delighted in stigmatising the artistic processes) for a year by this time, and could take a more or less instantaneous picture with more than tolerable precision and certainty; and he had determined to immortalise in his album every weir, lock, reach, and island of Father Thames ere September drove him north again. But though the amateur loves best bold landscape effects for his lens, fate and his familiar friends so rule it that groups—portrait groups—almost invariably obtain an undesirable precedence. For in the matter of groups it does seem that the amateur photographer’s lot is—to use the mildest phrase—a thankless one. He either flatters his friends, and achieves thereby a certain ephemeral popularity—which is, at best, cheap; or he does not flatter them, in which case he is covered with unmerited odium—under any circumstances extremely nasty.

Dick hated taking groups. When he had hooded himself in the velvet focussing-cloth, and wore the professorial spectacles and the preoccupied, artistic air—when he stood, watch in hand, waiting to take the cap off the lens—it irked him not a little that Jack Irvine must needs seize the opportunity to play the common buffoon. It is well known that no nerves are so easily excited as the collective risible nerves of a group posed before the camera; under such circumstances any idiot can evoke roars of laughter from a group of usually sane persons, and that with the most contemptible apology for a joke. Poor Dick would join feebly in the laugh that stayed his hand on the very brink of ‘exposure’ but it jarred terribly upon his artistic temper. Though none could be more frivolous than he—when photography was not in question—he felt frivolity on such occasions to be not only out of place but a degradation to both Art and artist. He would have dearly loved to tell Jack, in good nervous English, what he thought of him; but the presence of the girls precluded even that spice of satisfaction, and it seemed too trifling a matter to mention in cold blood afterwards, over their pipes. Dick excused himself from the uncongenial task on every plea: in the first place, his lens was only a landscape-lens, he said, and not well adapted to any other kind of photography; in the second place, groups were the most difficult things out, even with a proper lens. But no: groups only, and plenty of them, were insisted on, and by dint of coercion obtained. Groups at tennis, groups at tea, groups in the boat, fancy-dress groups, groups en tableau, groups at every hour and in every costume. If the party chanced to be dull, or tired, or from other causes unequal to the task of amusing each other, Dick was called upon to administer his infallible panacea—somebody, of course, coming down with a handsome suggestion for a new and original pose.

On the other hand Dick objected less to taking single portraits. To take a single portrait he would ‘lead his victim’ (as that ass Jack said) ‘to a lonely place,’ where, however, after the most elaborate selection and arrangement of light, shade, background, and pose, a successful negative—if not a satisfactory portrait; who is ever satisfied with his portrait?—was generally obtained.

But one there was whom Dick’s artistic soul coveted—as a model; one who turned a deaf ear to the voice of his solicitations, charmed he never so wisely. And that was his cousin May’s schoolfellow, Elsie Keswicke. She was the worst offender in every group: she was an intolerable tease during the progress of the important after-processes of developing, printing, and toning; and it was she alone who dared to clap a tiny pink palm over the aperture of the lens while he was focussing, causing thereby total eclipse of the inverted image on the ground glass. Of course, she systematically ‘came out’ as badly as possible—that was but a part of her policy of exasperation. And yet it is a solemn fact that, from the very first, Dick would have exchanged his complete apparatus for the gratification of obtaining one good negative of Elsie Keswicke. True, the artistic ambition which first led his aspirations in this direction began, after a week or two, to be gradually pushed from its position of chief motor by an even stronger influence. But Dick was unaware of this merely psychological detail: he only knew that he desired above all other things to photograph Elsie Keswicke.

One fine morning—somehow they were all fine mornings that August, when Dick would have liked nothing better than a little wet weather, bringing with it respite from purgatorial hack-photography—a venerable-looking gentleman waited on Dick with an anxious yet insinuating smile, and a request couched in deferential terms. Name was Partridge. Had been an acquaintance and neighbour of the Major’s those nineteen years. Was an old colonist; also a fancier and breeder of cattle—quite a hobby with him, that. Had heard the young gentleman took wonderful photographs. Would he—as a favour, and if it was not asking too much, and taking too great a liberty—would he mind taking just one picture of a remarkably beautiful Alderney cow and calf? If the young gentleman would do an old fellow such a kindness—though, to be sure, it would prove a picture worth having—would he come over then and there, as they (cow and calf) had just been sold and were about to be taken away?

Now Dick had not the smallest inclination to add to his collection a study of an Alderney cow and calf. But there was just this in it; he would rather take a whole herd of cows, and calves, than another group; and whispered suggestions for another group were already afloat in the morning air. So he assented to the cattle-fancier’s request, and went at once to get the apparatus. As he fitted his camera into the leather sling-case, he could not help regarding the inoffensive Honduras and brass and leather with an expression of gloomy mistrust. A morbid feeling came over him that after all it was the destiny of himself and that mahogany thing to rise to nothing better than perpetuators of grotesque buffoonery. To-day, certainly, it was bovine beauty for a change; but what was there in that to satisfy ambition—to even mitigate disgust at the whole thing?

‘So Dick has gone over to old Partridge’s, and left word he won’t be back for some time,’ said Jack. ‘The old sinner! That was such a stunning idea we had for a photo up at Hampton Court—wasn’t it, May?’

‘Rather!’ returned May. ‘I wonder what the maze man would have thought of it—of course we would have had him in it! But we must insist on it another day. However, there is no reason why we shouldn’t row up there as we had planned, even if we don’t have a photograph. Eh, Jack?’

‘None whatever. It will serve old Dick right for leaving us in the lurch. You coming, Nell?’

‘Me!’ cried Nell the youngest; ‘should think I am. Did anyone ever know me refuse a row?’

‘Then there’s Elsie,’ Jack continued. ‘She’s over here in the hammock. Of course you’ll come, Elsie?—River—Hampton Court—now.’

Elsie opened her hazel eyes just wide enough to distinguish Jack’s blazer through the network of her long dark lashes. ‘Of course nothing of the kind! Dear me, how we do take things for granted this morning! You know very well I have a headache, and that the sun makes anyone’s headache worse. I don’t intend to stir from this hammock or leave this dear old cedar for hours.

Jack went over and told May, adding sotto voce that he didn’t believe a word about the headache. May declared she would not dream of going on the river and leaving Elsie all alone behind. Whereupon Miss Keswicke vowed that if she (May) dared to stay at home, she (Miss Keswicke) would go straight to bed, and that was all about it. And as the latter young lady was known to possess a quite alarming ‘will of her own,’ May at last gave in, reluctantly and almost tearfully, and left her friend to the shade of the grand old cedar and the lotos-like luxury of the hammock.

Half an hour later back came Dick from old Partridge’s, and deposited the camera-case and telescopic tripod on the lawn. Then he complacently filled and lit a pipe, and made up his mind to develop the negative he had just taken in a thoroughly scientific manner, now that he was sure of peace for an hour or two. He went into the house, and presently returned with a heavy, unwieldy tripod, which plainly belonged to no camera. This he set up with care before bringing out a curious square box, which he fixed to the triangle at the top of the tripod by means of a screw and nut. Dick next put his hand through a small square opening which had the appearance of a miniature window, undid a couple of bolts within, and lifted off bodily one of the sides of the box. He then took up a roll of dark yellow cloth and shook it out displaying a piece of the size of a large travelling-rug, with a square opening three feet wide in the centre. The edges of the opening in the cloth he fastened with spring clamps to the edges of the open side of the box, from the top of which it hung like a curtain over the open side. Dick now inserted a ruby-coloured glass slide in the small window-like opening; and finally he held up the curtain, thrust head and shoulders into the box, wrapped-the curtain closely round his body, and satisfied himself that not a ray of white light penetrated within. For this was what Dick called his ‘dark-tent’—the product of his own ingenuity of design and skill in carpentry. It fell short in convenience of the dark-room attached to his laboratory at home; it bore no sort of comparison with the very portable tents which the trade advertises; but it answered its purpose in shedding none other than a lurid light upon the occult alchemy of that veritable wizard, the photographer, whose deeds are in truth the deeds of darkness. Moreover, this somewhat clumsy contrivance possessed one advantage which Dick believed to be unique, and which certainly is not possessed by any photographic dark-tent yet placed before the public.

Dick had made all ready for the important process technically known as ‘development’; he had carried scales and weights, graduated measures, and stoppered bottles from the house, and had placed them, together with ebonite trays and a jug of water, in readiness in the tent; he had even set some queer, crystalline stuff to dissolve in a tray half filled with water, and it was just as he was going to take from the camera-case the dark slide containing the embryo negative of Mr. Partridge’s cow and calf, that his eye caught a glimpse of delicate pink on the farther side of the old cedar at the other end of the lawn. He paused for a moment, stooping over the case; then, scarcely raising the upper portion of his body, he crept towards the tree with a feline stealth of which he would have stoutly denied he was capable—unless, indeed some sprite had seethed him in his own craft and presented the photographer with his own instantaneous likeness, literally taken in the act! As he drew near the cedar he described a wide circle and at last drew breath behind a propitious laurel some ten paces from the tree. And then it was that a dream of loveliness broke upon the artist’s eyes!

There, in a light hammock of network—there, all plastic curves and softened outline, lay his coveted model, asleep! She lay robed in palest pink that seemed to his kindled fancy, against the deep shades of the tree, like the first wan streak of dawn over treeless plains. The gold-brown hair that crowned her pale, fair face showed like amber filigree against one white hand beneath her head; the other hand hung lightly over the hammock’s side. Long lashes fringed each cool cheek beneath the closed eyelids; red lips, just parted in a smile that had been checked by slumber in its dawning, displayed one gleaming flake of white between.

Indefinite ideas took still more indefinite shape in Dick’s brain. Swiftly and incoherently he thought of the Dryads in their wooded bowers; of ‘beautiful brow’d Aenone’ amid the vales and vines of Ida; of the Fairy Queen on her bank of wild thyme. Wood-nymph, river-nymph, Fairy Queen—all faded into meagre mediocrity beside the inexpressible loveliness here. This was no exquisite vision, no conjured fancy, but an enchanting reality that a man’s eye—an artist’s eye—ah! the hour he had yearned for had come at last! A moment longer the man knelt chained to the spot; the next, the artist stole back across the lawn as noiselessly as he had approached.

Now I do not say that Elsie had never been asleep at all (to hint half as much would be to destroy Dick’s most cherished illusion), but this much is certain: no sooner had Dick slunk fairly away than the hazel eyes half opened, and the smooth face rippled over with silent mirth. Nevertheless, when, three minutes later, he sneaked back to the shelter of the kindly laurel, there seemed to him no greater change in the pose and expression of his slumbering wood-nymph than takes place in sculptured marble. He little knew that the wood-nymph was now, at any rate, acutely conscious of all that was taking place, and had determined on a subtly sweet revenge.

He placed the tripod just behind the bush, with the camera at such a height that the lens peeped inconspicuously over the dark green leaves. How his heart beat as he plunged his head beneath the velvet cloth! And then—was there ever so divine an image on focussing-glass before? Was there ever before such good reason to sit down and weep because the tints on the ground glass could not, in this era of half-fledged science, be transmitted to the negative? The image was inverted by refraction, of course, but to the practised eye that mattered nothing; besides (as Jack flippantly observed when Dick made a clean breast of the whole affair to him), it couldn’t have mattered in any case, seeing that Dick himself at the time didn’t know whether he was standing on his head or on his heels.

The focussing was over, the cap was in readiness on the lens; Dick drew from beneath his coat, very gingerly, a shallow mahogany arrangement containing one sensitive dry-plate on each side, completely protected from the light by tightly-fitting slides. One plate had already done duty at Mr. Partridge’s; the other was destined—ha! did she move? Dick slid in the mahogany arrangement, quickly but carefully drew out the inner slide, thus exposing the plate to the lens, took off the cap for half a second, and—the photograph was taken!

He crept in stealthy triumph from the scene of the deed, taking everything with him, and feeling like a successful burglar escaping with his swag. At last, at last! The yearned-for photograph had been taken at last! All that remained to be done was to develop the negative (he would do it at once in the tent), and to print the picture that should never, never fade (that must be done secretly).

Dick was on the point of finally thrusting head, shoulders, and arms into the black box, and swathing his body in the hanging cloth and thus effecting an ostrich-like concealment of his upper man, when a light footstep behind him sent his heart into his mouth, and caused him to start and turn like a thief at bay. And as he found himself face to face with Elsie Keswicke, he not only felt but looked like the guiltiest wretch unhanged!

Elsie greeted him with a chill little smile, half severity, half self-restraint, as if she wanted to laugh very badly indeed. A gleam of merriment—though he was not in a condition to perceive it—lurked in her hazel eyes as she said scornfully:

‘Up to your “dirty tricks” again—eh, Mr. Auburn?’

‘Well, I—I—’ stammered Dick—‘I’ve been taking a photo; that’s all. But—but I thought you were on the river, Miss Keswicke?’

Did you!’ replied Miss Keswicke, and there was something in her tone which sent Dick’s heart down from his mouth into his tennis-shoes.

An awkward pause followed, during which Dick played nervously with a corner of the curtain.

‘Tell me what you have been taking,’ said Elsie presently in a friendly, interested tone, which at any other time would have launched Dick into an exultant, enthusiastic exposition.

‘Oh, you know, I’ve been taking a cow—an Alderney cow—oh, and a calf too, by-the-by—for a friend of—’

‘Ah’ interrupted Miss Keswicke chillingly. ‘But you have been taking a photograph just now! The camera didn’t come from Mr. Partridge’s on its legs, you know,’ pointing to the tripod; ‘moreover, I can see the dark slide in it still. What is the photo of—or perhaps I should say whom have you taken?’

What a fool he had been not to put away the camera at once! Here was direct evidence that a photograph was newly taken—she might want to see the negative next! Dick shifted nervously from one foot to the other, and then she understood him to reply, though he mumbled the words rather indistinctly:

‘It’s a view.’

‘Really you are very vague! I can see you don’t want to be bothered with me, so I shall go. And it is the last time ever I shall show curiosity about your odious, contemptible Art, as you call it. Be quite sure of that.’

She managed the tone of pique with such elocutionary perfection, and finished so near to a whimper as she turned away, that it was more than poor Dick could stand. He sprang forward, and, with a sudden access of reckless foolhardiness, took her hand in his.

‘Don’t go,’ he cried excitedly; ‘please don’t go, Miss Keswicke! Stop and see me develop these negatives. I want you to see them particularly—I do indeed.’

Elsie withdrew her hand; but she looked unresentingly and with an assumed frankness straight into Dick’s honest, spectacled eyes—for they did wear an honest expression now that he had determined to have the worst out. A wicked triumph thrilled the girl’s heart. She breathed the first sweet incense of Revenge already!

‘I can’t see you develop through that horrid red glass,’ she answered, pouting.

‘But suppose I fix the thing up so that you can see—will you let me show you how to develop a negative then?’

‘I may,’ dubiously.

‘Then hold on a minute!’ And he dashed eagerly into the house.

When he was out of sight and hearing, Elsie laughed gaily to herself. Here was promise of quite a delightful little game of cross-purposes! Dick had photographed her while (as he thought) she was unconscious; and now he was going to develop the negative before her eyes, doubtless intending it as a huge surprise, if not actually to lead up to—well, never mind to what. For her part, she had resolved to let him know that it was no surprise: to smash his negative—nip in the bud the sequel he had in view—and leave him heaped with contumely and utterly annihilated! So much for her scheme of just vengeance. But Elsie had yet another end in view—an end she would scarcely have owned to herself; and that was, to find out whether Dick really cared for her—whether, after all, it was not simply his so-called Art that he was in love with! In either case he should find himself only very much the worse off for the mean advantage he had dared to take!

Dick came back carrying a dark yellow curtain with a square hole in the middle, exactly like that which already formed a part of the ‘dark-tent.’ Without a word he took off the side of the black box opposite to the already open side, and fastened the second curtain in precisely the same manner as the first: so that there was a clear passage through the box but for the curtains which fell over each open side.

‘There! That’s my own patent,’ said Dick, with jealous pride, ‘my very own! I made it up at home, so that Flo (that’s my sister) could help in the developing when we went trips with the camera, just as she did in the permanent dark-room at home. It’s the only double-dark-tent in the world!—You’ll be Flo, while I develop these two negatives, won’t you? It will only take a minute or two; and, you know, you almost promised just now.’

Elsie looked up at the windows: the Major had gone up to town for the day, and not a soul appeared to be about. The church clock in the village was striking twelve: May and Nell and Jack would not be back from Hampton Court for at least an hour. Where was the harm—when it was all for Revenge?

‘Yes,’ she said, half defiantly, ‘I’ll be Flo for a minute or two.’

Not a ray of white light came in from without. A warm ruby glow suffused everything in the ‘tent,’ bathing faces and hands in deep crimson, as though they had been dipped in liquid sunset. It was well that it was so, for it became of no consequence whether Elsie blushed or paled. And after all, it was rather an embarrassing position—to be alone with Dick Auburn in this little hole, tête-à-tête across three feet of deal! But it was only for a minute—and for Revenge!

‘Be quick,’ she said to Dick; ‘I shall be stifled if I stay many seconds. Then I shall have to wriggle out, and the light will come in and spoil everything.’

‘Now promise me that you will do nothing of the kind, that you will not spoil my negatives—or I shan’t take ’em out of the slide at all,’ said the photographer firmly.

‘Very well—I promise,’ said Elsie. In her heart she was mortified that Dick should contemplate her possible flight only as so much damage to his wretched plates; she set her teeth and inwardly vowed to smash the negative—so soon as it should be nicely finished—into atoms!

Dick looked lingeringly at the bewitching crimson face before him. He would have preferred talking with his wood-nymph to manipulating dry-plates; saying a certain something—which must out at all hazards during the next ten minutes—to plunging his fingers into his beloved chemicals.

‘Go on,’ said Elsie inexorably.

Dick took up a bottle, poured an ounce into a graduated measure, and added an equal quantity from another bottle.

‘This is the developer,’ he began didactically, ‘It contains pyrogallic acid, ammonia, bromide of—’

‘Oh, never mind the names of the chemicals. Let me see the plate.’

The artist opened the dark-slide, and drew out a piece of glass coated on one side with a thin film. In the red glow it looked like a slice of ruby marble.

‘Why, Mr. Auburn,’ cried Elsie, surprised out of herself, ‘where’s the photograph?’

‘It don’t make its appearance until I charm it with this philter,’ said Dick, laying the plate in an ebonite oblong tray, and pouring over it the solution he had just mixed. ‘You will see something on the plate directly,’ he continued, rocking the tray so that the fluid spread in even waves over the sensitive film.

‘Which photograph is this?’

‘The cow, I think. I can’t say for certain. But—but please, don’t speak to me for a minute or two, Elsie,’ said Dick in his artist’s anxious tone, bending the professorial spectacles close to the exciting tray, insensible alike to ammonia fumes and to the fact that he had called Elsie by her Christian name for the first time in his life.

‘Only one more question then—how long will it be before we see anything on the plate?’

‘Half an hour—that is, I mean half a minute,’ Dick replied abstractedly. But even as he spoke he felt a shudder of dread pass down his spinal column like lightning down a conductor!

The cogent solution had immersed the plate already for half a minute, but not the faintest suspicion of outline or detail appeared. A minute—a minute and a half—two minutes passed, in terrible suspense for Dick: still nothing was to be seen on the virgin pink of the film. Dick mixed a fresh developing solution, and applied it after pouring off the old one. Still no sign of incipient development. Something might have gone wrong with either plate or chemicals—but there was a more probable and a much more serious hypothesis. After about five minutes Elsie spoke:

‘I thought you had taken a photograph? If you have, you have utterly failed, for once in a way. I don’t think you can be much of a photographer after all. Now try the other one.’

‘Oh! Elsie, I dare not.’

‘Dare not! Why dare not?’

‘Because—because it is of—’

‘Of what?’

‘Of you!’

Elsie’s eyes flashed indignation at the unhappy photographer.

‘So,’ she began, ‘you dared to tell me it was a view—’

‘A view and of you sound so abominably alike, you see. I answered you honestly enough, only you misunderstood me.’ Dick made an ineffectual attempt to turn it off lightly.

‘Of me! yes, I have known it all along! Then develop it at once, Mr. Auburn—it is the least you can do after such an astounding impertinence!’ Her voice was cold and hard, as if she meant every word she uttered; and her eyes gleamed cruelly, like fiery coals in the crimson glow.

Oh, blessed ruby light, granting colour to Dick’s bloodless cheeks!

‘Dearest—’ he began, in an agony, trying to catch her hand in his.

She snatched her hand away, but looked him full in the face. ‘How dare you? You think you’ll drive me from the tent by insulting me! But I stir not an inch until you have developed the other plate. Begin this instant.’

Dick looked at her helplessly. Ah, if she could only know what she was about to bring down on them both! Dick saw certain shipwreck staring him in the face. Yet she drove him relentlessly onward!

‘Begin at once,’ she repeated mercilessly.

There was no help for it. Dick bent over the slide and took out the other plate with shaking hand; his forehead was bathed in perspiration; his heart rapped loudly, as if seeking exit from his miserable carcase. And as he bent fumbling with the plate, Elsie smiled a wicked little smile of triumph. Yet her smile quickly ended in a puzzled expression; for—it suddenly struck her—why should he be so afraid of letting her see the negative? But the answer came almost as spontaneously: of course, he divined her intention of smashing the plate, and was heart-broken at the prospect of losing his ill-gotten sun-picture! Poor fellow—poor Dick! There was really some little tiny reason to pity him after all—and he had called her ‘dearest,’ too. But he should not have taken a mean advantage!

Dick laid the plate in the solution, and began rocking the tray mechanically. He knew that the worst would come in a few seconds now, and he determined to be cool at the last.

‘So you dared to take me while I was asleep, did you?’ said Miss Keswicke tauntingly. ‘Ah, here I come, face and dress first, black as coals, of course, and the hammock—Great Heavens! what have you dared?’ A natural aposiopesis ended the scream to which her voice had risen, for her breath was fairly taken away!

But Dick went on mechanically rocking the ebonite tray. For it was no worse than he had foreseen, and he might as well go through with it like a Briton. So he allowed every detail to be fully brought out—indeed, he had never exercised greater technical care with a negative in his life. He tried to forget that each detail in this one was a nail in the coffin of his new-born, yet darling, hopes! But he dared not look up, and it was as well that he was not over-bold. Elsie stood speechless, quivering with passion—a veritable Pythoness!

Most conspicuous on the plate, indeed, were Elsie’s form and face—black as ink, of course, with the usual reversal of the lights. But from the shapely head protruded two great horns—from the feet hung an unmistakable tail—she was plainly supported on four cloven hoofs—her hand rested on the back of what appeared to be an ill-shapen black dog! Reader, have you ever witnessed dissolving views? And have you noted their appearance at the moment of dissolution, when the canvas is shared equally by the coming and the parting guest—when you see, maybe, Sir Christopher Wren’s colossal face working its way through the dome of St. Paul’s? The effect of Dick’s unlucky negative was precisely the same as the effect of that view when dome and face were in mid conflict. The result was a literal and compact rendering of Beauty and the Beast. The enthusiast had committed the prime blunder in photography—he had taken two photographs on one plate!

‘Monster!’ Elsie managed to gasp at length. ‘Brute!’

‘I couldn’t help it,’ murmured Dick ruefully, and hardly truthfully, seeing that assuredly nobody else could have helped it.

‘Couldn’t help it!’ repeated Elsie in a low tone of withering scorn. ‘I wouldn’t add falsehood to outrage, if I were you! Why not confess at once that you have played me a low, vulgar trick—a trick that no gentleman could play?’

‘It wasn’t a trick, it was an accident,’ said Dick doggedly.

‘And I suppose it was by accident that you persuaded me to degrade myself by putting my head into this box, just to see myself made a f-fool of! Oh! it is the worst thing I ever heard of in my life!’

‘You insisted I should develop it, when you saw I didn’t want to,’ groaned the unlucky Dick. ‘Next thing,’ he thought, ‘I suppose she’ll cry, and after that—why after that it’s all up.’

‘I meant to break the horrid thing in any case,’ continued Elsie, with a breaking voice; ‘but I shan’t now. Oh dear, no. I shall keep it to show all the world what a—what an apology for a gentleman you are!’ She seized the fatal piece of glass as she finished speaking; but a moment later it slipped from her nerveless fingers back into the ebonite tray, and she burst into a torrent of passionate sobs.

‘Oh! Elsie,’ cried Dick, eagerly seizing both her hands, ‘can’t you see it was all a confounded mistake?’

‘N-n-0-0—it wasn’t—you did it on purpose.’

‘I swear I did not!’

But Elsie struggled to free her hands from his grasp, and it was not in Dick to retain them by force. So he withdrew one of his hands, seized a measure full of filthy-looking yellow solution, raised it to his lips, and said solemnly:

‘Elsie, if you persist in leaving me before I can say what I’ve meant all along to say, I’ll drain every drop of this—this deadly poison!’

Then he put down the measure. Then, somehow, his hands relinquished hers altogether, and rested for a moment like epaulets on her soft red shoulders. Then, somehow, he leant forward and drew her to him over the three feet of glass and chemicals. Then—oh, blessed ruby light! What matters a blushing cheek in your crimson glow?

* * * * * * * * *

‘Yes, darling,’ said Dick, as they packed away the apparatus. ‘We’ll preserve the negative for ever and ever. It shall go down to posterity as an unbroken record!’

‘Oh, Dick, I never heard you make a joke before!’

‘How could I crack jokes when I was in love—’

‘With your Art.!’

‘No, my Elsie, with you! And yet—oh! it was a shocking blunder!’ added the artist with a sigh.

And when Jack asked how the ‘dirty tricks’ had been getting on, Dick replied that ‘he had spoilt a negative.’ And so indeed he had—in more senses than one.

Long Jake’s Trip Home

Chamber’s Journal   June 1889

Long Jake had been indulging in his periodical spree. The fact first dawned upon him with the dawning day, when a heavy driving shower beat into the veranda and soaked him where he lay like a log. As the day advanced, the truth grew gradually sharper and clearer, and piece by piece he began to patch together those fragments of the past few days which still lingered, with blurred outline, in his memory. Yet, though his head ached again—perhaps from the mental effort, perhaps from other exciting causes—of the greater part of the time he was able to recall absolutely nothing. It was on Friday he had ridden into the township from his hut beyond Razorback, and, as a matter of course, parted with that thirty pound cheque to John Byrne, the publican: he was quite sure of that. It was now Tuesday afternoon, and John Byrne, the publican, had plainly intimated that the end of the spirituous tether which that cheque had secured was arrived at: alas! he was equally sure of this. But the interim was a nebulous void. Thus the knowledge that he had been four days drunk stole slowly into the blunted sense of Long Jake, as day steals into some cave deep in the mountains, forcing its laboured way through gap, rift, and crevice. But it was not until it came to catching and saddling his mare, with infinite difficulty and feeble vexation of spirit, that he fully realised and appreciated all that had gone on.

At last, however, he was in the saddle, sitting tight with thigh and knee, the upper part of him huddled into a ball. Not much of a man to look at, at any time; no grace of feature or of form; not even a really good seat in the saddle. Nothing of any account from head to heel. A small fresh-coloured face; crooked beard, turning gray; legs absurdly long in proportion to the rest of him, and that the shape of a bow. They called him Long Jake; for his ill-apportioned length was the man’s sole individuality; and as for surname, it was never dreamed that he had one, either in this little township of King-parrot Flat or in the surrounding ranges.

‘Well?’ shouted John Byrne from the veranda that fronted his grog-shanty, as Jake rode round from the yard. ‘So you’re off, eh? And when shall we see you again? Not for another six months, I s’pose.—So long.’ John Byrne spoke sadly, yet with the consoling certainty with which one augurs the return of summer while watching the falling leaves. For Long Jake was one of his regular sources of income—had been for years. To look at John Byrne as he stood there in his red shirt and cabbage-tree hat, tall and handsome as he was, you would never have taken him for a shark and a robber. On the contrary—though these terms, I assure you, would have been none too hard for him—you would probably have discovered in him a type of rugged, solid, honest manhood. At all events everybody else did—at first sight.

Jake muttered something profane but incoherent in reply, and flung a sulky nod to the knot of loafers in the veranda, who, having been drinking at his expense since Friday, returned it with an interest not dissociated from satire. Then he was off at a brisk canter, sitting, as some one unkindly observed, ‘like a sack of coals;’ and, though sitting close, swaying in the saddle every few strides, in clear indication that his balance was as yet imperfect.

Tenements, whether wood or canvas, were few enough at King-parrot Flat; but what there were lay wide apart on either side the broad bush highway, divided by clumps of gum and belts of wattle and wild fern; so that the township, which could have been set down in three or four acres just as well, extended from end to end nearly a mile. As Jake passed close in front of the opposition grog-shanty at the other side of the road, higher up, he was playfully hooted by a second—naturally hostile—knot of loafers. Outside Harrison’s store, still higher up, the aged Harrison, who was sunning himself in front of the house, laid down his newspaper and broke into a cackle of senile mirth as the odd horseman—whom he took for an Australian John Gilpin—thundered past. And little Martha Byrne, driving back the cows from the creek, made such an impudent, impish grimace in his very path, that Long Jake turned in the saddle with a more savage look upon John Byrne’s child than he had hurled back at the grown men. Even the cows stood still to regard him with blank astonishment, as he clattered through their midst. There was only one house left to pass—a long, low, new building, more pretentious than any other in the township. It was the new store, lately opened by new arrivals in the colony; the bold venture of a young immigrant couple, and so far held in supreme contempt by the broad spirits of King-parrot Flat. Mrs Truscott—the township said unanimously—might be a fine young woman; they weren’t so sure about that, however; but one thing they were sure about—she would have to get rid of those confounded ‘old-country airs’ of hers before they had anything to do either with her or her stuck-up husband. As for the latter, why, he actually thought he knew something about horses; as if a new chum in the colony could know anything about horses! And he had a young colt or two up there in his yards that he was breaking in, English fashion. Just fancy trying on that kind of ‘rot’ with bush-horses! King-parrot Flat thought it all an excellent joke, though one which—as men of ‘savvy’—they could not help feeling strongly about.

Now the road to Razorback twisted abruptly round the corner of this Truscott’s store; and after passing the store, Jake would be alike beyond the township and range of those arrows of ridicule to which an unsteady rider presents a gratuitous target. He therefore made no attempt to check his pace as he swept round close to the picket-fence in front of Truscott’s veranda. Had he done so, he might have heard and understood the bounding thuds of a bucking horse, close at hand, before he doubled the angle of the fence and before it was too late to prevent a collision; for Truscott had mounted a vicious young brute that was at that moment bucking furiously. As it was, before either rider could utter a cry, the horses met.

Jake was thrown clean and far; and as ground and sky whirled before him, the last thing he saw was the young horse reared, as it seemed, into the dark-blue vault overhead—trembling in the balance —falling backward.

Jake was only half-stunned by the fall, but he was more than half-sobered. In an instant he had picked himself up. The colt was just rising to its legs, apparently no worse; his own mare was cantering awkwardly away, with her near foreleg thrust through the reins; and on the ground, close to the stockyard rail, lay a heap of gray flannel and white moleskin and quivering flesh. At sight of this, alcohol seemed to reassert its sway in Jake’s brain; it reeled; and he was hardly more conscious of what followed than of what took place around him while he was lying helpless and insensate at John Byrne’s.

Twenty minutes later, the rushing air on his temples brought him once more to his sober senses. He was on the mare, and was riding swiftly back to the hut. Then, for the second time that day, Long Jake tried to piece together what had happened. But now all came back to him consecutively and with fearful vividness: How he had crept timidly up to the thing that lay so still, touched it, and started back; lifted an arm, and let it drop heavily. How he had taken the warm yet lifeless body in his arms, and, exerting all his strength, staggered with it round to the veranda, where a shrieking, laughing maniac had rushed out upon him. How, in spite of the madwoman, he had borne in his burden and laid it down as gently as might be. How, very soon, a noisy rabble rushed up; how he answered their questions as clearly as he could, and promised to return to the township if wanted; and was then suffered to break away. All as in a dream.

But that night, when safely back at his shepherd’s hut, away on the sloping pasture-land beyond Razorback, when darkness fell over all things, and the white dead gum-trees towered like risen spectres on the side of the range—that night, Long Jake lay tossing on his bunk and making sure that this time, at last, delirium tremens had fairly caught him. For the moon, shooting her cold rays through the open door of the hut, cast a ghostly white shadow on the sandy floor—a gleaming ghostly shadow, sliced as with a knife out of the surrounding blackness, and taking the hideous shape of a coffin; and outside, the young saplings were nodding their heads like funeral plumes; and the crickets croaking a hoarse, monotonous, maddening dirge. Then anon the dead face of the man was thrust before his disordered vision; and anon the frantic face of the woman. So that at last he could bear it no longer, but tore himself from the bunk, and roamed through the night, half-dressed as he was, among the pale corpses of trees, until the morning dew upon his uncovered head, and the morning breeze upon his fevered temples, helped to cool and clear the poor bewildered brain.

Long Jake was in the habit of planning these systematic carousals of his with a deliberation that was little short of horrible. This time he had waited patiently until heavy rain filled the creeks and water-holes, so that his flocks had the best of feed and water close at hand; and he had trimmed and mended the rude fences of the great paddocks, and left everything generally snug. Then he had obtained from his employer a substantial cheque, on the pretext of buying a horse at Wattletown. For the projected ‘bust’ was by no means Jake’s first since his installation in the hut on Razorback, and he was well aware that if he were found out—let alone the harm that might or might not befall the sheep during his absence—it would be at least as much as his place was worth: that was thirty shillings a week, plus rations, and in itself was of small consideration; he could get as much, perhaps more, from any squatter in the colony, as an experienced shepherd and boundary-man. But somehow, Jake had got to like the place for its own sake. He was content in his solitary life among the grim and sombre ranges. Indeed, this queer, reserved, nameless old fellow found the solitude of Razorback the best thing in life. I am not sure that he did not regard those ‘busts’ at King-parrot Flat simply as so many necessary life-tonics which he owed it to himself to administer with unfailing regularity. At anyrate the rude slab hut, the cats, the cockatoo, the very prints pasted on the walls—these simple signs grew by degrees to spell for Long Jake the word—‘Home.’ And until this time he had experienced nothing but thankfulness and relief on returning home, sick and wearied from his excesses.

But this time it was different. Home conveyed no comfort; he could not rest. He felt that which—out of a pretty lengthy experience of similar after-glows—he had never felt before—namely, shame. That was not the worst of it, however. The dead storekeeper was always before his eyes. And when riding through the bush, he found himself unconsciously looking over his shoulder, fearfully expectant of the wild face and uplifted arm of the woman whom he had been instrumental in making a widow. For brooding exaggerated the circumstances of the accident, until the brand of the primal murderer would burn on the brow of Long Jake in the dead of night and send the poor self-accuser wandering pitifully over the ranges.

Rough as the life was in the old days—the other time-honoured epithet is for the optimists —there were still coroners to be had for the sending, even in the ranges. And a couple of days after the accident, a messenger summoned Long Jake to the inquest at the dead man’s store. Well, no blame was laid on poor Jake, except by himself; and he galloped back without speaking to a soul outside the store. The widow could not be brought to attend the inquiry, and she was not seen.

A part of the weight that pressed it down was now lifted from the mind of Long Jake, but only a slight part. In the distorted perspective of his own mind he was still blood-guilty; and could there be degrees in blood-guiltiness? He would have ridden into the home-station and laid bare his naked feelings to the boss, who was a kind and just man, and who, moreover, would certainly hear of the accident from other—possibly unkind—lips. But, unfortunately, the one rigid rule of Long Jake’s life was, never to lay bare a fraction of his feelings to a fellow-man. However, after a few days, a journey to the homestead, for rations, became imperative. It was high noon when, amid a loud barking of dogs, Jake led his mare into the rough stable and walked over to the store. Within, the young gentleman from England—who was obliging enough to acquire ‘colonial experience’ at a nominal salary—was whistling shrilly.

‘Ha! it’s you, Long Jake,’ he cried as Jake entered. ‘Rations'? All right; in a minute; but—hang it!—shake a paw first, do.’ He was evidently in tremendous spirits; and Jake was too perfectly colonised to be in sympathy with any such demonstration. He held out his hand sulkily; he intended to have his rations at once, and go. But the high-spirited young gentleman went on whistling noisily and packing emu eggs in sawdust, as if no one was at the other side of the counter waiting to be served.

‘Tell you what’s up,’ he presently volunteered, pausing in his song; ‘I’m off home! Sick o’ this, don’t you know—rough as blazes, and all that kind of thing. Yes, home to England! Jolly, eh?’ A vivacious continuation of the interrupted tune, in another key, and then: ‘Sail next Tuesday week; Blackwall liner; good business, eh?’ Crescendo: the whole store filled with the volume of this young Briton’s whistle.

‘If it’s a fair question,’ asked Jake, when the tune had come to a blatant end on a wrong note, ‘what might a passage cost?’

‘Just the sort of question it is—ha, ha!—you don’t see it, though!’ laughed the other airily. ‘Why, about seventy pounds, first-class.’

‘Ah, but second?’

‘Oh, about thirty, I should say.—Why? Are you thinking of going home too?’

Jake said curtly that he wasn’t; and asked plainly if he might expect to be served that morning.

While the young man was busy with the scales, William Noble—‘the boss’—came into the store and conversed pleasantly with his boundary-man without one allusion to King-parrot Flat. And before he left the homestead, Long Jake ascertained that he had still five pounds seventeen and eightpence standing to his credit in the station books.

‘Thirty pounds!’ he muttered strangely as he remounted the mare. He had ‘lammed down’ that sum at John Byrne’s the week before! He rode home to the hut in silent thought; but when he dismounted at the well-known spot, he once more whispered, ‘Thirty pounds!’ This time the words fell naturally from his lips; they had formed the keynote of his reflections during the ten-mile ride.

More than three months passed before Long Jake was again seen at King-parrot Flat; and then, one fine afternoon, he dropped in upon the boys in John Byrne’s bar without a word of warning. He was warmly greeted. John Byrne’s handsome face lit up with an evil light as he clapped the newcomer on the back with demonstrative heartiness; Jack Rogers, already three parts tipsy, foresaw earlier consummation than he had dared to hope for; and Surgeon-major Wagstaff—late of H.M. Bombay Staff Corps—deemed it a promising speculation to begin business by pledging Long Jake at his, the surgeon-major’s, expense. To the speechless amazement of all, this delicate overture was politely but promptly declined.

‘No, boys,’ said Long Jake quietly, in answer to the questioning faces that were turned indignantly to his; ‘I ha’n’t come here for a boose—not this time and he calmly seated himself on a flour-bag in the coolest corner of the store.

Jack Rogers feebly appealed to his stars to explain what this might portend; the old Anglo-Indian ripened with more than tropic rapidity from pink to purple, and muttered vaguely about ‘outraged honour’ and ‘instant satisfaction;’ while the proprietor of the bar confined himself to a peremptory inquiry as to why, et cetera, Jake came there if he didn’t mean to take anything for the good of the house—adding that he, for one, as boss of the shanty in question, intended to know the reason why, anyway.

‘Reason why?’ said Long Jake reflectively, without looking up from the fig of tobacco he was daintily paring in his palm. ‘Reason why? Why, to have a bit of a yarn. What else?’ But before the menace that trembled on John Byrne’s tongue could be discharged, he added adroitly, and with a quick upward glance: ‘Hows’ever, though I’m not on for anything myself to-day —feeling just what you call below par, like—I hereby invites all present company to order their usual, if you please.’ With that Long Jake added to the painful interest which his abnormal conduct had already created by shifting the clasp-knife to his left hand, thrusting his right deep into his trousers’ pocket, and, apparently by accident, jingling a fistful of coins. Then he withdrew his hand without raising his eyes, and resumed paring the tobacco with an impassive face.

Coin of the realm being an almost unknown quantity at King-parrot Flat, where paper-money was in common currency, this master-touch of Long Jake’s produced an instantaneous effect. John Byrne turned his back, partly to uncork a fresh demijohn, partly to conceal his emotion. The rest—including even the insulted surgeon-major—maintained a judicious silence. The man, from Razorback reserved his final bomb until the first glass all round had been emptied, and until he had rolled his tobacco caressingly between his palms, and filled and lit his pipe.

‘Fact is, boys,’ he then said, in the same calm deliberate tone, ‘I’m going home!’

The silence that had preceded the announcement outlived it half a minute; then, as one man, the habitues of Byrne’s bar pulled themselves together.

‘What! home to England?’ asked John Byrne incredulously.

‘Home to England,’ said Long Jake.

‘Gad! you don’t mean this?’ exclaimed Surgeon-major Wagstaff.

‘My colonial oath on it,’ said Long Jake.

‘An’ when yer goin’?’ inquired Jack Rogers.

‘Well, not jest yet a while,’ said Long Jake.

This last reply, being distinctly anti-climacteric, disappointed somewhat.

‘Going for good?’ sneered John Byrne, veiling beneath a tone of contempt the reasonable annoyance incident to loss of a sure source of income. Jack Rogers, with a vinous wink, suggested: ‘No; for bad.’ A slight laugh greeted the maudlin sally. But Jake replied gravely: ‘Only for a trip. I mean to have one more look at the old dust; that’s all.—Fill up again, boys.’

The invitation was scarcely needed; and, under the influence of the whisky and Jake’s manoeuvring, the conversation drifted; and he presently turned it into the channel he had all along in view by an innocent inquiry after Widow Truscott. The gratuitous information respecting this lady which he elicited it would be to no purpose to relate at length; moreover, it would be unfair, since the epithets employed could scarcely have been meant for repetition. But it did appear that Mrs Truscott was, to put it mildly, no favourite at King-parrot Flat. Her airs were worse than ever. She thought herself too good for everybody. She was mismanaging the store, making a mess of everything, and doing no business—each substantive being duly qualified. There were plenty of good men ready to enter the business on the square footing, who would guarantee to make a paying concern of it. Yet she wanted to sell the place—sell a place whose good-will wasn’t worth a red cent; she would look at none of them. Here the gallant Surgeon-major waxed peculiarly eloquent and pompous. It seemed that this oriental jewel had indeed gone the length of personally offering himself, body and soul, as a sacrifice at the shrine of this unreasonable woman. Only to be trampled on!

As Long Jake cantered homeward, he could not resist a curious glance at the dwelling of the terrible female. If she treated so maleficently those estimable men, whose worst offence was a too great admiration for herself, how would she behave to him, Long Jake—as he persisted in regarding himself—the author of her widowhood? Might she not send a bullet through him as he passed? Surely she must be capable of that much. She happened to be in front of the house, training lovingly an infant creeper to the base of a veranda-post—honeysuckle, taken from its native northern soil only a few short months ago. She looked up swiftly at the cantering horseman. As it seemed to him, there was nothing forbidding in the glance; nor did she lower her eyes; but, instead, gazed hard at him with something very like interest in her sad face. Long Jake felt the blood mount hotly to his cheeks, and his hand tighten involuntarily on the reins. For an instant he wavered; then, turning away his head, he spurred the mare round the fatal corner. But he had not galloped a furlong before his first impulse of shame gave place to one of indignation, of which he himself was the object; he fell to cursing himself for a fool and a heartless wretch; and by the time he reached the hut, he had resolved that, next time anything took him to the township, he would not leave it before he had told the truth to the poor widow about that terrible day, now nearly four months ago.

It was a little curious that, barely a week later, Long Jake found another trip to King-parrot Flat necessary. He had never before visited the township twice in so short a space of time. It was more curious, however, that he ended by getting no farther than the outermost vedette of the straggling, weather-board houses—by calling, in fine, at Mrs Truscott’s store and nowhere else.

‘I must see the woman; I must make a clean breast to her about that day. I must tell her straight that I was blind drunk and riding madly; that if I had been in my sober senses, the accident would never have happened.’ Such is a paraphrase and a condensation of Long Jake’s conception of his duty, arrived at after hours of slow laborious thought. The logic of the conclusion was more than questionable; and as for the prompting that led to it, Jake was simply self-deceived. Even supposing any good sprang up from the unburdening of spirit, it would be reaped by the wrong person; a load would be lifted from Long Jake’s heart, not a pennyweight from Mrs Truscott’s. Yet, as he reined up at the store, Long Jake honestly believed that he was about to do the next best thing to reparation, which was impossible. Mrs Truscott sat sewing behind the green veranda-blinds —voluptuous extravagances hitherto unknown in the pure air of the Flat. The tall ungainly bush man trembled visibly as he stepped up the little path, crushing his soft wideawake between the twitching fingers of both hands. Instantly, however, the sweet, sad smile with which the young widow looked up at his troubled face disarmed him; that ice-breaking sentence, so carefully prepared, so often rehearsed, went clean out of his head; and Long Jake, for one faint-hearted moment, would have given far more than his credit balance at the station to be safely back in his hut!

Yet a moment later the plunge was made—a veritable flounder of incoherence. Then, coming up—so to speak—for breath, a series of verbal splashes followed, tremulous with rough pent-up emotion; for some seconds the words chased each other tumultuously from his hoarse throat, then ceased. And the widow knew all that had been on the poor fellow’s mind for months past.

How did she hear it? Silently, at first; then with a slight catch of the breath; then with quiet tears. And when all was said, she leant forward on her low chair and pronounced, not forgiveness, but words of thanks. Thanks for his tenderness to him; thanks for his forbearance with her on that awful day. Thanks to him! The man recoiled, and shuddered, and refused to believe his ears. He felt stunned, when no reproach could have stunned him! But a thin white hand was stretched over toward him, and, whether he would or no, it buried itself in his great coarse fist. He dropped it quickly, drew a deep sigh, half of relief, half of bewilderment, wiped his shirt-sleeve across his brow, and without a word, stepped from the veranda.

Mrs Truscott called him back. He must stay a little while, she said kindly, and talk to her: she never talked to any one, you see. Jake sat down humbly; he would have done anything she told him, just then; but what could he talk about? Silence. Jake shifted nervously. Some subtle instinct whispered that he would be evermore disgraced if he left the lady to begin the conversation. So he stumbled into this: ‘I’m goin’ to clear out o’ this soon.’

The widow looked up from her needle-work in surprise, as well she might. ‘How do you mean?’ asked she, not without apprehension.

‘These here ranges: I’m going to leave ’em.’

‘Yes?’—in a tone indicating interest.

‘Yes’—in one betraying exhaustion of topic.

‘And where do you go then?’

‘Ha!’—with unexpected relief, and surprise that he should have forgotten what was indeed his point—‘home to England!’

Mrs Truscott dropped her work on her lap and looked swiftly up at the speaker. And for a single moment—in spite of her thin worn cheeks, in spite of the lines that had come ten years before their time—for that one moment the parted lips, the wide-open blue eyes, the sudden flash of strong interest, lit up the woman’s face into beauty. The next, the blue eyes filled with tears, the chin drooped, the cheeks went paler than before, and a broken voice repeated in a wondering whisper: ‘Home to England!’

‘Yes,’ said Long Jake softly; ‘home! For a trip.’

But he had no sooner uttered the words than he jumped up clumsily without a word of warning and stepped hastily out of the veranda. Almost instantaneously, Mrs Truscott heard a shrill exclamation, followed by a volley of angry words.

‘Why, whatever is it? Ah, dear, dear, dear!’ she cried, rushing out, with something akin to a fresh pang in her heart.

‘It’s only this, ma’am,’ he cried savagely, throwing out a dramatic arm in the direction of a dark little figure that was racing rapidly down the broad bush high-road towards the other houses: ‘that there little snake has been a-hiding behind this here picket-fence and a-listening to every word you and me has been a-saying. Confound her!’

The widow turned; and, though the evening gloom was settling rapidly, it needed but a glance to assure her that yonder skeltering imp was the one human creature in the township in whom she took any sort of interest—little Martha Byrne, whom she had even attempted to teach to read. The hot blood mounted to the woman’s faded face. She faced about. But Long Jake was gone. Growing momently fainter, his mare’s rhythmical canter was borne to Mrs Truscott’s ears as the strokes rang out from the flint-strewn track. The widow sighed deeply. Every breath she drew was a sigh; but this one came with new force from a new pain; or rather, from an ever-present pain re-awakened.

‘Poor thing!’ said Jake aloud, as the mare dropped into a walk at the foot of the steep winding track over Razorback. ‘No signs of business, as I could see. Why, the place was never fairly started. Poor thing!’

Nearly an hour later, he put the mare into a canter at the top of the long gentle slope that stretched, through miles of timber, right down to the hut; and then he was thinking of that look of Mrs Truscott’s when he spoke the word ‘Home!’ ‘Ay, she’d go home too, fast enough, if she had the money,’ thought Long Jake.

With the quickened stride of the mare, the rider’s thoughts, too, came the quicker. At first he made no effort to check them; but presently he found himself spurring on the mare in order to leave them far behind. The grotesquely-twisted gums fled by on either hand, bowing mockingly in the evening breeze as he passed; then the round moon shot up and painted the narrow track an ashy gray, and threw into merciless relief, among a world of phantoms, one solitary mortal flying from a Thought. But the Thought was not to be run away from. It twined its tendrils about the man’s mind, and grew and grew until he became hardly conscious of the trees rushing by; the long gray track reeling out beneath, the scent of the eucalyptus forest tingling in his nostrils. Suddenly a peal of harsh grating laughter broke upon the silence. The rider instinctively pulled up. The hoarse diabolical peal was repeated; but this time it was echoed by a low chuckle from Long Jake. He had lived in the bush more years than he could count; yet here, forsooth, he was startled by the bush man’s familiar, the laughing-jackass! The momentary sensation, however, had an immediate effect: Long Jake shook himself together and rode slowly and soberly onward. Not that the Thought was expelled; it was allowed to remain, but on a different footing; for now it was no longer resisted, but willingly, coolly, discriminately entertained.

Before starting on the rounds of his paddocks next morirng, Long Jake made a calculation with the butt-end of his stock-whip on the sandy soil outside the hut door. When the sum was worked out, he stamped out the figures, as if ashamed. Yet he had merely satisfied himself that in three months’ time his gross savings would amount to pretty nearly fifty pounds. ‘And on that,’ said Long Jake slowly, ‘and what the mare brings, we might manage it.’

The spring months that followed were trying ones to Long Jake. He never went near King-parrot Flat. One or two trips he made over to Wattletown, in order to negotiate for the sale of the mare with a storekeeper there, which ended in a bargain being struck that the mare should be delivered and paid for by Christmas at the latest; but on these occasions Wattletown observed that the man from Razorback conducted himself very meanly, and that the little money he did spend was in hard cash. In point of fact he made it his first business to cash a small cheque at the bank on entering the township. Then, of course, there were the inevitable visits to the home-station. But only two circumstances happened really to break the monotony of life, which, after years and years of it, became actively unpalatable to Long Jake’s temperament for the first time. The first of these was a visit from handsome John Byrne, who slept at the hut on his way to the home-station, where—so he said—he had business with Mr Noble; though, in fact—which he omitted to add—he paid Jake the compliment of travelling many miles out of his way in order to see him, since he came straight from the lair of a lynx-eyed congenial spirit at Wattletown, and not from the grog-shanty on the Flat. The visitor, however, was too welcome for Long Jake to consider the visit mysterious; and as for sinister glances and cunning questions, Jake neither saw the first, nor was he even aware that the second had been put—and answered.

The other circumstance was this: one day he found lying in the station store an envelope addressed to ‘The Boundary-man on Razorback.’ It contained a few lines from Mrs Truscott, begging Jake to call at her store before his departure for England, provided he should consent to be the bearer of a message and a trifle or two besides. He spelt through the note with difficulty, then laboriously indited a reply and dropped it into the mail-bag. In his note a day in December was mentioned on which he would without fail present himself at Mrs Truscott’s service. After that, with a feeling of satisfaction quite new to him, he inquired for the boss. Mr Noble, who had already heard with amusement of Jake’s projected trip home, was not surprised to hear now that he intended coming in for his cheque about the middle of December. Jake, however, promised to stay until a new boundary-rider should be sent out to the hut, which, it was in turn promised, should be done a day or two before that on which he wished expressly to leave.

As December drew gradually nearer, he grew daily wearier of his daily work. He became restlessly impatient; and his nights were broken by vivid, disturbing dreams. As a rule these dreams bore him back across seas of time and the world to a peaceful little hamlet in Somersetshire. But they invariably ended by the distant and indistinct image of the English village fading before the strong, convincing presentment of King-parrot Flat; or the two places would be fused fantastically together, as is the way with dream-locality.

When at length the great day dawned, Jake set out for the station at sunrise, riding the mare, and carrying all his personal belongings in the swag strapped across the saddle. At the station, Jake received his breakfast and his cheque; the latter—the account coming to a few pounds under fifty—being written for that round sum, thanks to a graceful bonus from the boss. Thus emancipated, Jake rode on to Wattletown with a heart of air, leading a station horse which Noble lent him for the completion of his roundabout journey to King-parrot Flat. At Wattletown, the mare was sold, according to previous arrangement, for twenty pounds down in cash. The cheque also was cashed—all gold; so that when Jake rode away from that prosperous settlement at four in the afternoon he had seventy sovereigns in the leather pouch on his belt, which was imprudent, in spite of his modest conviction that not a soul was concerned—and therefore, he argued, not a soul could be acquainted—with the movements of so obscure an individual as Long Jake.

After an hour’s easy riding, Jake was once more on thoroughly familiar ground; for halfway between the Flat and his old hut that track was joined by the one from Wattletown. Never had this man’s spirits been so high before, never had the sombre tints of the bush seemed so warm and gay in the glinting sunlight. The gray rough track had never bounded so lightly from the heels of the good old mare; though surely this heavy bony hack was not a patch upon her for speed and lightness. The excitement that had entered his spirit during the last months had given new life and animation to a narrow, silent, well-nigh animal existence. He was no longer the thing that repeatedly, for days, lay helpless at Byrne’s bar, and returned to the hut he called home without a pang, without a regret, without a hope. And here it was, in these endless cloisters of smooth round trunks, that the Thought had come to him which had worked all this wondrous change—the Thought that was now at last to be put to the test, whether it was wise or unwise, good or evil!

‘Ha, ha! Ha, ha!’

Ah! that could startle him then, but not now! Long Jake turned round in the saddle to look at the queer clumsy bird—surely a bird of good omen. But he did not slacken his steady canter.

‘Ha, ha, ha! ’

This time the laugh did not come from behind. Jake turned sharply. Directly in the track sat a tall, motionless, masked figure on horseback; and a voice that Jake thought he recognised cried: ‘Bale up!’

Bale up!—the seventy sovereigns! Jake’s heart quailed and sickened for a moment. The long barrel of a revolver covered him, and glittered in the sunlight. Must he be robbed in broad daylight? With a wild cry of rage and despair, he buried his spurs in the sides of his heavy mount and dashed straight at the highwayman, leaning forward with his face on the horse’s mane. The robber, being less heavily mounted, backed a pace; and as Long Jake came on unarmed and reckless, took deliberate aim at the chest of the charging horse. A firm quick touch on the reins caused the heavy brute to swerve; and with a loud ring the bullet struck the near stirrup-iron, thence burying itself in the heel of Jake’s boot. The frightened animal thundered on; and in an instant they were past, nearly bringing the smaller horse to earth in their rush. A quick succession of shots and an even louder volley of curses filled the air; Long Jake felt a stinging, burning blow between the shoulder-blades; his brain sickened, and his body reeled in the saddle!

Just as the fiery sun began to dip behind the range, Mrs Truscott heard a furious clatter of hoofs outside. She rose hastily and ran out. So did Martha Byrne, whom the widow had tried in vain to get rid of all the afternoon. Staggering through the little wicket-gate was a strange figure, all dust and sweat and blood, and the ashiest face man ever reeled under. He made his way unsteadily up to the veranda, where he sank down with a deep sobbing sigh; and his head would have fallen back upon the boards had not the widow caught his shoulders and supported him. His breath came thick and short, his eyes seemed closing; yet his fingers fumbled feebly until they had unfastened a leather pouch from his belt. And then his hands were powerless to lift it!

The stricken man looked dumbly upward at the woman; he could just raise a trembling pointing hand to her, then drop it significantly on the pouch. His wan lips moved, and from between them came one faint word: ‘Home!’

Little Martha had for once used her long thin legs to some purpose. After one quick intelligent glance at the pallid face of Long Jake, she had rushed like the wind to her father’s shanty; and now she was returning, almost as swiftly, with a posse of its choice spirits. John Byrne was absent, and mysteriously absent, from the township; but foremost among them was Surgeon-major Wagstaff, carrying his instrument case and a vastly augmented pomposity of bearing; and devoutly hoping that, whoever the fellow was, he would live long enough to give him (Wagstaff) a show of getting his hand in once more. Jack Rogers was there too, and Paddy Welch, and one or two others. As they came up to the end of the store they could see right along the raised veranda. With the carmine glare of the setting sun behind them, the two figures that met their gaze seemed of carved ebony, both were so black and so rigid! As one man, the little party slackened its pace; Paddy Welch doffed his felt wideawake, and the others did the same; then they moved forward very, very slowly. And Jack Rogers said, just above his breath, but, somehow, more gruffly than he intended to say it: ‘He’s gone home square enough now, boys; and for good!

Yet darkness fell over King-parrot Flat, and the boys still lingered outside the widow Truscott’s store. For the Surgeon-major said there was still the ghost of a chance; and the Surgeon-major was sober and on his mettle, and ought to have known, even if he didn’t.

That day week they ran John Byrne to earth in the ranges. They dragged him back to the Flat, and would have lynched him in sight of his own bar, but for one circumstance. The ink was scarcely dry on an official bulletin nailed to the door of the now flourishing opposition shanty which set forth that the patient was at last definitely out of danger. And they found its author, the gallant and skilful Surgeon-major, already gloriously drunk after his week of enforced sobriety by the sick man’s bed.

So Mr John Byrne, amateur bushranger, was taken over to Wattletown and handed over, quite nicely, to the police. Thanks to a woman’s nursing and a Surgeon-major’s experience, Long Jake pulled through. Just when the days began to shorten, and camping on Razorback became mean work, the shutters were put up at the new store. A week later, Long Jake’s trip home began. But Jack Rogers turned out quite right after all: the trip was confessedly ‘for good.’ Nor was it made alone.

The Bushman’s Hotel

Cootamundra Herald (NSW), Saturday 11 April 1891, page 3

The Travellers’ Hut
Snug, Tidy Little Shanty
An Australian ‘Institution’

A furlong or two from the cluster of low wooden buildings which are the component parts of the home-station, you will discover generally—invariably, in the more remote regions of the bush—a snug, tidy little shanty, existing solely for the convenience of tramps and vagabonds. It is known generically as “The Travellers’ Hut,” and it is free to the world and his mate—free as the shelter of the nearest gum-tree. The galvanised-iron roof harbors for the night—and for nothing—any Tom, Dick or Harry of the bush; that is what it is there for. The rough bunks, which are arranged round the walls on the plan of a ship’s forecastle are ready each night for the poor men, beggarmen, knave. Rich gentlemen, it is true, and gentlemen who are not rich find a welcome as ready (but less rough) in the homestead itself; for even in the bush there are classes and masses; and the travellers’ hut is for the masses.

Any cutthroat may make himself comfortable there, even though his pockets be empty (and pockets usually are empty in the bush). For there is not only a travellers’ hut at almost every back-block station, there are “travellers’ rations” too. You look in at the station-store, and ask for them as a matter of course, and receive a handful of tea, another of sugar, and a pannikin of flour. Travellers’ rations used to include a portion of meat as well: but that was found too expensive in the long run and at most stations the meat seems to be permanently “off.” The bill of fare, however, remains sufficiently good, seeing that it is to be had for nothing. Indeed the travellers’ hut is practically the bushman’s hotel, without the damage, not to say the danger, the hotel being strictly a temperance one. And it is certainly a monument, if an obscure one, to that hospitality which is linked so pleasantly and so very generally with the name of Australia.

As sundown rarely fails to bring some “swagman” to the station—some tramp with his cylinder of blankets upon his back, and a comfortable night at the travellers’ hut in his mind’s eye—it will be imagined that the young gentleman in charge of the stores whose business it is to supply the travellers with their rations, has through his hands some queer customers. They are, indeed, a motley procession. The majority, perhaps, are genuine hands enough—men who will jump at work if you have any to offer—men who tramp on from station to station until they get work. But at best it is a bare majority. With a large proportion of “swaggies” work is the last thing wanted. The number of men who spend their days in loafing from travellers’ hut to travellers’ hut, consistently refusing work wherever it offers is indeed extraordinary. It is the habit of these gentry to “camp” in the scrub within a mile of the homestead until sundown—it is not safe to turn up at a station much before sundown, you might get sent on to the next—and then to crawl in with every sign of exhaustion and distress. They are the typical “sundowners,” than which (malgre the rabbit) there is no greater pest in the “back blocks.” And the sundowners are the boys to appetite the cheerful travellers’ rations. Their prevalence makes it a mistake to order your travellers’ hut too cosily. If you do, you will find it is your hut they go choosing to get sore feet in, or sprained ankles, or something—there would be no getting rid of them.

The sundowner is a great judge of travellers’ huts, as well as an assiduous patron; but he is a common place creature at worst. There are more extraordinary visitors than the sundowner. For example one that is only too frequent—there is the tramp who was a gentleman once in the old country, and has not yet quite shed his gentility. He is revealed very often by his reserve, and it is never easy to suit him with a “billet;” he wants solitude and a camp to himself somewhere out on the “run”—boundary riding or whim-driving for choice. He is an interesting young man enough, either his speech or his looks are certain to betray him, and to excite the curiosity of the station ladies. Their eye for the romance of the bush has been sharpened, no doubt, by the rough and tender lines of their own bush poet: —

Out there on the station, among the lads,
    I get on pretty well;
It’s only when I get down into town
    That I feel this life such a hell!
Booted and bearded, and burnt to a brick,
    I loaf along the street;
I watch the ladies tripping by,
    And I watch their dainty feet,
I watch them here and there
    With a bitter feeling of pain,
Ah! what wouldn’t I give to feel
    A lady’s hand again!

Then there is the drinking man. Most bushmen are drinking men when they have a cheque in their pockets; but many a penniless outcast will never think of passing without angling for alcohol. The fly most in favour with this wily fisherman is toothache or neuralgia. He will rush up to the homestead about bedtime in mortal agony, very likely howling with pain. “Brandy” is the only word he seems able to articulate; but if this be denied him he is generally able to groan for painkiller. It is possible to get most successfully intoxicated on painkiller; the means are not ideal, but the end is all that can be desired—at lest, so they say. But the toothache trick, like all other really creditable frauds, has grown stale through vulgar usage. It is now, one regrets to think, almost as obsolete as the snake bite dodge, which, in its time, met with startling success. This was quite the most charming take-in in the world. One burst into the station in a wild frenzy—snakebitten. The sufferer’s one chance for life lying (as is well known) in swift intoxication—“a drunk of really a noble glass” (to quote one of Mr. Hardy’s rustics) would thus be compassed by a self inflicted knife prick and a little clever acting. But, though the acting was often done to the life, the dodge was done to death—so much so, that even genuine cases came to be treated with suspicion and disbelief, in spite of what were often too literally their “dying oaths.” But no doubt there are new, and equally crafty, stratagems known to the thirsty swagmen of to-day.

But the travellers’ hut has been known to shelter far stranger men than these; men with wild, restless eyes, and fearful, hunted expressions. Some night or other some such slinks in, and speaks to no one but the phantoms of his dreams, if he dares sleep —he is more likely to he awake in his bunk all night, listening and quaking at every sound. First thing in morning he is gone, mysteriously, and no one quite knows in what direction. Then a brace of mounted policemen draw rein at the station, put questions, and gallop on. And a few nights later the three come leisurely back together—the wild-looking man “with gyves upon his wrists,” and his bright eyes dulled with the heaviness of despair; and there is nothing to keep him awake and trembling now, when they all pass the night together in the travellers’ hut; for it is no good his lying awake to watch the barrel of the Government revolver that covers him all night long, nor, with the feeling of the rope already round his neck is there anything more for him to start up and shudder about, poor soul. So the storekeeper may serve travellers’ rations to a red-handed murderer any evening almost. There is never any knowing.

Queer things, indeed must be heard by the log walls of the travellers’ hut, if walls have ears. Dark caverns of life have been lit up, no doubt by the tongues of flame leaping up that great square chimney; romance of every hue has slumbered in these rough-hewn, worm-eaten bunks. But the romance of bush life is not quite what it was in the gold digging, bushranging, rosy fifties. Moreover, the travellers’ hut, like most other privileges, has been abused a good deal. If it is beginning to disappear in consequence, the deserving portion of the tramp community have only those vile sundowners to thank whose doing it is. I do not say that it is disappearing; but most squatters would rather burn their travellers’ huts to the ground than have their homesteads infested with noxious loafers; and some, in fact, have done so.

His Last Chance

Clarence and Richmond Examiner (Grafton, NSW), Tuesday 2 February 1892

Weary and wasted, and worn and wan.
Feeble and faint, and languid and low,
He lay on the desert a dying man,
Who has gone, my friends, where we all must go.
           —Adam Lindsay Gordon

Chapter 1

It is  a well-known fact, the papers say, that there are about a dozen broken-down baronets knocking about the colonies and picking up a romantic livelihood in the bush. I cannot answer for a dozen baronets, but I did once know some one of the kind, who lived in a hut on Belville Station, New South Wales. They called him Jones, but his distinguished real name was no secret. He had talked very frankly about himself once, when the township whisky nearly killed him, but he was equally candid with my friend Leeson, the Belville overseer, when the latter stopped for tea at the hut, where for months together Jones touched nothing stronger. Leeson was a good friend to Jones—who must be Jones to us, and nothing more.

Jones drove one of the Belville whims. He spent most of the day under a great wooden drum, round which coiled a mighty rope with its two ends down two deep shafts, and a full bucket always coming up and an empty one going down. The buckets filled a tank, which fed the sheep troughs; and what Jones did was to drive a horse round and round to turn the drum; to crack a whip sometimes, and smoke continually, and talk to the horse—his only companion—in forcible terms. It was not an intellectual employment. In times of plenty in the paddocks, when the rains had filled the tanks and freshened up the salt-bush, the whim was not wanted, and other work was found for Jones. But these were rare periods, for Jones was on Belville during one of the longest and most obstinate droughts of late years. And I remember finding him conscientiously at work on a Sunday after-noon, when most men would have been “camping” in the hut, the first time I set eyes on him.

I was spending the weekend at Belville with my friend, who wanted to see Jones on some matter connected with the whim; and I was very curious to see him myself. I accompanied Leeson in the buggy, and we found our broken-down swell serving his employers very zealously, as I say, and softly swearing at their horse. We drew up in the checkered shade of the beams and uprights supporting the drum, and tied the reins to the brake and when Leeson had said what he had come to say, we all three walked over to the hut, where the whim-driver made tea for us. I watched him in the strong sunlight outside and I watched him in the hut as be bent low to blow the embers of his fire, his own face glowing at every puff. He had an unsteady humorous eye, and he was good-looking, certainly, though the hair on his face was very disorderly. He had a singularly quiet way of speaking, and he made me such civilities as a well-bred Englishman makes on ushering one into his house. There was something very incongruous in his air of gentlemanly hospitality when one considered his position and looked at his Crimean shirt and dirty moleskins; but my friend had begun the incongruity by introducing us. I found it hard not to eye the man with unmannerly curiosity.

We talked on what are called indifferent subjects. I was conscious of putting restraint on the conversation. As we drove away I observed:

“It’s drink that he came to the ground on I see it in his eye.”

“Drink—among other things,” said Leeson, carving arabesques with the whipcord on the horses’ flanks. “He was pretty rapid all round, I fancy; and a terror on the turf.”

“He drinks still, I gather; knocks down a cheque pretty regularly?”

“No, I can’t say he goes to the township so very often; though, when he does, his cheque goes too, as you say. No; racing’s the passion that sticks tightest. He lost every penny at Waverley last Christmas—he’ll lose every cent at our meeting next month.”

“And a great deal better than drinking it all,” I remarked: “Has he entirely broken with his people? Don’t they know where he is?”

“They do know—but have no idea what he is doing, I should say. Very likely they don’t much care, either. He is a younger son; he played the fool awfully in the old country—went bang to the dogs. If he went home a reformed character, well and good; but they won’t fret if he doesn’t; they have washed their hands of him. That’s his opinion. He is a very simple hearted fellow at the bottom; he has told me nearly everything. Yet they write to him now and then, his people. And there’s some one who writes oftener—some one who was very fond of him, I gather, but he hasn’t actually told me this. There is some romance, but I don’t know it. I daresay he treated her pretty badly, and sees no way of putting it right, as things stand. I know he isn’t over fond of himself, poor devil! But it is of no use guessing at the story.”

“Dear me!’ said I, very thoughtfully; for the little I had heard was certainly suggestive, and made one very inquisitive, “He’s the most interesting character I’ve ever come across. I should like to see him again.”

“Oh, you will, next month,” laughed Leeson; “at Belville races!”

And I did.

Chapter 2

Belville township is on Belville “run,” and its inhabitants are not less ardent than other colonists in the matter of horse-racing. They number some two hundred souls—not many more or less. Yet behold the Belville Amateur Turf club, a flourishing and most respectable institution. The Belville Plate, the Belville Handicap—Steeplechase—Ladies’ Bracelet and Member’s Race are events which anyone would be proud to win, and sensibly enriched by that token; and, in point of fact, I rode my own Fidgetty Dick in more than one of these, not wholly without triumph, at that meeting whereat I next encountered the romantic Jones. I was Leeson’s guest, as before—as many times before and since—for my own station was forty miles further back. The course was four miles from the home station and close to the township, through which runs the stock and coach route. We sent on our racers (for Leeson was riding, too) rather early in the morning, and ourselves followed in the buggy a little later. The township was crowded. In the post office verandah we descried Jones, in clean moleskins. He was alone there.

“He’s drawn a cheque for the last farthing” Leeson told me, when we saw him, “We’ll stop at the post office, too; the mail came in this morning. I hope our friend is sober still!”

Jones was indeed very sober. He was also pale. As we drove up, he came round to the off side and handed Leeson a letter; and Leeson exclaimed, “Good God!”

I stared at the men, who were staring at one another and beginning to smile. Then Leeson turned to me and said, tapping Jones’ letter:

“This is from a Sydney lawyer; this fellow’s father and brother have died within a few weeks of each other, and he’s—”

Leeson said what; and I confess I regarded ragged bearded Mr. Jones with new-born awe. Perhaps it was vulgar in me, but one doesn’t meet a titled, landed, Crimean-shirted gentleman every day in the bush. There may be a dozen bankrupt baronets there; but a dozen would scarcely leaven five colonies of ordinary bushmen.

“We ought to have a drink on it!” observed the landed, titled gentleman, taking back his legal communication. I noticed—we noticed, as I discovered later—that he had another letter between his fingers, a letter directed—we are both positive—by a woman’s hand.

“Yes, yes,” said my friend; “we will, of course. But—but the down coach passes through at 2 o’clock. You’ll go by her, won’t you? I don’t suppose you have left any valuables in the hut; but I’ll send them on if you have; or may I keep them in memory of——?”

He did not say Jones; and I shall never forget the rakish, reckless toss of the head he incurred from the man whose name was no more Jones than mine was.

“Go!” he cried, with noble scorn. “To-day, my good sir, I’m going to the races.”

In vain we tried to dissuade him. We told him to take that day’s coach—they ran but twice weekly—and shake the sand of Riverina off his boots for ever; or, better still, leave that decayed pair behind and return to civilisation decently shod by our Belville storekeeper. But we spoke to deaf ears—we spoke to an old sportsman. Leave then in the very middle of the races? Not he. He had backed Fidgetty Dick already (on its merits), and Leeson’s horse too (for Leeson’s sake, I suppose); besides, he was going for ever, of course, and he was not going without saying good-bye to the hut and to his friends. But we were not to think of that yet; we were only to drink to it; and he was Jones to us still, if we pleased. He thrust the lawyer’s documents carelessly into his pocket, and we saw him fold the other letter small, and stow it in a loather pouch at the back of his belt. We accompanied him to the Royal hotel, the least disreputable shanty in Belville.

“It’s my last chance for a bit of real sport,” he said gaily, grinning at us with his restless eyes. “I’m going to make the most of it. Ascot’ll be dull fun, sir, after this! To-day I’m Jones the whim-driver, out on the bust; to-morrow—”

We drowned to-morrow. And we were not the last people who drank at the whim-driver’s expense that day; nor the only ones who heard of that startling news from Sydney and the old country. Jones “shouted” for the whole township, I should say, on the course; and the township very soon knew who Jones had become, for he never could keep any secrets—save one.

We had our own interests to absorb us. We hadn’t been looking forward for months to making the most of an aristocrat in very plain clothes; that was sprung upon us, rather; but we had been looking forward to riding our own home-bred horses in the various events ordained by the Belville Amateur Turf Club, and riding to win. We were keen sportsmen. We rode and lost and won, and backed ourselves, and paid up or received, as the case was. We were not continually mindful of our friend the whim-driver. He was making his presence felt, but not disgracefully at all. When I won the Ladies Bracelet on Fidgetty Dick he fell upon my neck nearly, as he had a right to do altogether, for we had started at considerable odds. He was excited, certainly, but nothing more. After the last race, however, we could see him nowhere; and my friend and I, as we drove home, made sadly sure that the excited stage was passed, and our noble whim-driver on the broad of his back under some blue-bush or verandah.

We were wrong. We had to travel some distance along the stock route after leaving the township before hitting the track which led to the home station. And long before we reached that turning, we espied a man among the low trees, sitting on a stump with his head between his hands. It was the whiteness of his moleskins that attracted our notice, and we felt sure that it was the whim-driver. We bumped over the salt bush, and our wheels left eccentric curves among the trees; but we were quite right, it was Jones. Moreover, when he spoke to us, he was entirely sober.

“What the devil are you doing here, man?” cried Leeson, as we pulled up.

“Thinking!” said Jones, very quietly and distinctly.

“What’s the matter?” my friend asked.

“Nothing; I’ve been winning money—like a man’s luck when he don’t require it!”

“Then what is there to think about here?” Leeson persisted, greatly puzzled; and I was puzzled, too, by the wildness of the man’s eye, and the complete sobriety of his tones.

“What?” repeated Jones, with quiet emphasis. “Have you forgotten the news I told you this morning—this change in my affairs? I’m thinking about that! I’m trying to realise it; I’m trying to believe it; I’m trying to get a sight of all it means; and I can’t. To go back to my old world. I can’t for the life of me realize what it will mean, or make up my mind that I shall be better off there than here, buried in the bush. Yet I wish I’d made a start this afternoon, as you advised me to. I’ve had other chances to go; this is the last one, and I wish. I’d seized it straight away. It’s three days till the next coach passes, I was a fool not to clear to-day.”

“Jump up,” exclaimed Leeson promptly. “It can’t be helped now, and I’m glad myself not to have seen the last of you yet. Jump up, and I’ll give you a lift to the station and a bed there.”

“No; I’m going to the hut.”

“You’re not—you’re coming with us.”

“No” said the whim-driver, firmly. “I’m going back to my hut. I’ll have two more nights there, and two more day’s I’ll drive the whim for you. I never expected this, as you know; and I have a sort of affection for the whole concern. I find, now I’m going to leave it. Two more days there will do me good. They’ll help me to realise things a little, and to pull myself together. No, I’m not going to the station; I’m going straight to my hut. But of course I’ll come that way round on Saturday, and say good-bye; and you’ll look me up when you take a trip home. We’ll fraternise then.”

He was a difficult man to dissuade, as I had seen. Leeson gave it up. We drove back to the road, leaving a fresh set of curves among the trees, and bumping horribly over the salt bush.

“Is it far to his hut from here?” I asked.

“Eight miles across country.”

“Is he safe not to go and get bushed? The sun’ll be down in two twos.”

“My good fellow,” said Leeson, “he’s travelled it blind drunk before this.”

“On foot?”

“He never brings my horses to the town-ship. He goes on the spree more conscientiously than any man we ever had. But I’m glad he hasn’t gone on the spree to-night.”

And when we reached the road we saw the last of the white moleskins, in the same spot, but now at the end of a long red lane painted by the setting sun in its last moments. The fading sky was without a flaw; there was no wind; the locusts were already chirping their lilliputian chorus; it was a very still, a very innocent evening.

Chapter 3

I remember the dust-storm only too well, the morning following that demure, sweet evening. I had gone just too far on my homeward journey to make it worth while turning back—I mean when the infernal thing began. Before long, I might have been going forward or back, I should not have known which it was—you couldn’t see three yards ahead—you could only stand still to be choked by the stupendous whirl-wind of dark yellow sand.

I stood very still indeed (having dismounted), with my face to the faces of my two horses! I was leading Fidgetty Dick, you understand, who had no fidgets now, but only trembled. The vision was as completely hindered as in a very bad November fog in London, and the prevailing tint was similar; but these dust storms are a far more palpable horror. They assault the throat, they batter the skin, they blind the eyes, they fill the ears. Fortunately, when they are so very violent they seldom last long. This one lifted, as a fog, while I could still see and hear and draw a laboured breath through the sand that had accumulated in my throat and lungs. And it lifted all at once; in half an hour I saw a vague yellow sun; before noon the sky was blue.

I noticed an odd thing as I remounted. I had halted out of reach of shelter, in the middle of a sandy plain. Yet there was no track, not the mark of a single hoof, to show how I had come there, It was as though the storm had been a snow storm, and the snow yellow.

I did not get home that day; I spent the night at an intervening station. I did not get home at all just then, for a horseman arrived at this station, before daybreak next morning, with a line for me from Leeson. I read it by candle-light; and I have it before me as I am writing now:—

         “Dear C.—,
“Jones has not been heard of since we saw him last night. He never reached the hut. We are organising a search party. Can you join? I thought you would like to know, anyhow. It is too awful—especially now!
         “J.L.”

I was at Belville again that forenoon. No one was at the homestead. I found my way to the hut by the whim, and fell in with some of the party; but nothing had been heard of the whim-driver. He had not returned to the township. He had never reached his hut. Only too clearly, he was lost in the bush.

He was not found on the first day of the search, though all hands were seeking him and there were many volunteers from the township. We were able to take a fairly straight line from the spot where we had left him to the whim, and work from this line on the zig-zag principle. But the line was eight miles long, and we never came upon a single track, save our own; for the same dust-storm that had obliterated my horses’ tracks on that plain miles away had wiped out Jones’ footmarks here. Even the deep cuts our buggy wheels had made off the track, were faintly visible in one or two places only, under the trees.

“He is dead,” said Leeson, in the evening. “He had not a water-bag: he was nowhere near any water, except he got back to the township, or on to his hut, or struck across to the station. He never got any share that we know of; he is lying dead at this moment, under these very stars—dead from thirst! We shall find him to-morrow.’

My friend shuddered. I did not remind him of the question I had put him when we were leaving Jones sitting on the stump—whether he was quite certain not to got “bushed,” or lost. But I was thinking of it; and Leeson divined my thought.

“How was I to dream of such a thing,” he asked, almost fiercely, “when he has been over the ground time after time, and sometimes, as I told you, blind drunk? Besides, he wouldn’t come with us, you know he wouldn’t. God forgive me for not forcing him; but how could I? If I had dreamt of such a thing I would have done so. We shall find him to-morrow, dead under some blue-bush. He is dead now! Now! my God!’

But we did not find him on the second day. Towards evening, on the third day, Leeson, within sight of whom I was riding, uttered a “cooee” which made my heart thump. I saw him half tumble from his horse as I dug spurs into mine and galloped towards him; and I found him trembling all over and very sick, for at his feet lay our whim-driver, under a blue-bush, just as he had figured him—and stone dead!

The letter from the Sydney lawyers was at his side, pinned to the ground by his knife; and we found, when we took it up, that he had pricked through the paper, in large capitals, the words:

“MY LAST CHANCE.”

The charred ashes of another letter were also there, with several burnt vestas. But at that story, as my friend had said, it was no use guessing.

Miss Teague's Behavior

The Osage City Free Press, Osage City, Kansas - Thursday, September 27, 1894

When the eldest Miss Teague got engaged to be married, she startled the parish and delighted a greater number of persons than are usually affected by the happiness of one. Also it looked as if she had broken a certain undesirable spell; at any rate the second Miss Teague was wooed and married within that year.

Now the Misses Teagues’ father—the respected rector of Rix—might or might not have been able to tell you, offhand, how many Miss Teagues there were. All he cared to remember was that he had one son, to succeed to the living. His future was assured, and indeed he was already a rector in his own right, elsewhere, for the time being. But what future had the girls if they did not marry? They had no money of their own; neither they nor their father had any notion of their making any; such notions do not travel to places like Rix. They had no mother. They saw very few young men. It was really wonderful how one of them had become engaged and another actually married. But the younger ones did not follow suit; and the younger ones were not so very young; yet all they did was to play tennis very hard, dance whenever they could, have the greatest fun among themselves in the school-room and take life at all points less seriously than their eldest sister, who was in for a long engagement.

Miss Teague, whose name was Caroline, was perhaps a thought too serious; but then she had serious responsibilities to fulfill—it had been so from her earliest girlhood. She kept house at the rectory, played the organ in church and did more in the parish than the rector himself.

It would be a difficult task to describe Miss Teague, for the reason that her beauty was largely spiritual. It lay in her large, clear gray eyes, so kind, trustful and sympathetic. You could look through and through her, at least a keen judge of human nature could. Thinking well of everybody, she had no reason for concealing her thoughts. She didn’t know that she was so honest. The harmony of her nature was like the song-bird’s melody—poured out rather machine like. She was one of those women who find it easier to trust people than doubt them. And yet Caroline was not devoid of physical grace and beauty. Tall, slender and with an exquisite complexion, a trifle pale, perhaps, but strangely white and perfect, a great wealth of dark chestnut hair and teeth unusually free of blemish or defect—all these added to that charm which lay in the trustful gaze of those large, gray eyes.

It need hardly be said that she was very much liked in Rix, and that she was devoted to the people. In the school-room at home she was looked up to rather, and admired, of course, but she sometimes felt she spoilt the fun there. She was less noisy than the rest, and sensibly older; she was older than their brother even, who made a gap between her and the younger ones which Fanny’s marriage had sensibly widened. The girls hardly looked on Caroline as one of themselves; she had such unattractive interests, and her tennis was not up to their level. There was no part for her, really, in their amusements—though they appreciated her presence and applause “in front”. And if they were more bent upon enjoyment than she was, and if they did let her stay at home nearly always, when only so many could go to this or that, were they not much younger than Caroline, and was not Caroline engaged? Her engagement was never lost sight of in the schoolroom, though one might have known Miss Teague rather well without suspecting that the brisk, unselfish creature was in love.

It was a long engagement, certainly. Caroline had become used to her engagement ring before Fanny met her fete at the county tournament; and Caroline caressed Fanny’s baby, as Miss Teague still, with shapeless feelings which she herself but imperfectly understood. She had been engaged for three years, and for eighteen months she had not seen him. He was a clergyman, too, the Rev. Noel Pennyman. He had a pedigree, I believe, but it would have been better if he had possessed some private means; as it was, he had taken a curacy at the other end of England, where he was working very zealously in a busy, grimy city. His letters came regularly twice a week to the lazy, rustic rectory at Rix—letters from another world. They were always interesting and amusing and written with care in Pennyman’s pretty, scholarly hand, and Caroline, though so alert and practical, had her own spot in the old garden where she used to read them three seasons out of four, while even happier hours were spent in her own room late at night in answering these letters.

“No, we are going to wait till Noel has a living,” she used firmly to reply to inquisitive friends. “We’re perfectly resigned, thank you. It would be intolerable to marry now, on the little he has—I mean it would make Noel miserable. He is working tremendously in his parish, and I am in mine, you know, and we’re both content to wait. He is certain to get something some day if he sticks to that diocese. Do I wish he were nearer? Well, I should like to know the people he is among, certainly; he tells me all about them. I know their names, but I should like to know them. It will all come right in the end. Noel is very sensible about it—you don’t know how sensible he is—so surely I can be too. You see, we are neither of us chickens!”

Her face shone when she spoke of him. It was true that they were not boy and girl; but Caroline, as a matter of fact, was the elder of the two. As for Pennyman, he was an Oxford friend of young Teague and had stayed many times at the rectory before he proposed to Caroline, or paid her particular attention even. The affair seemed rather sudden at the time; but everybody was glad about it, and we know that it broke a most evil spell. It was a pity, of course, that Pennyman’s distinguished family were neither wealthy nor connected to the church by any more influential link than Pennyman. But Pennyman was clever and hard-working as well as handsome, tall and dashing, and preferment was certain to come in time. Meanwhile he was particularly sensible. He was engaged to a young woman who would make an ideal clergyman’s wife—who would assist him immensely in his parish—who had his views—who was as well up in the whole thing as he was himself—who was entirely in love with him. He could well afford to wait. He was too sensible even to quarrel with the irritating set of circumstances that kept them apart for eighteen months. He wrote his neat, entertaining, sensible letters the whole time—and one, at the end, that brought tears of joy to Caroline’s wide, gray eyes.

She took it to the rector in his study and told him, very simply, that at last Noel could come, if they could do with him. Of course they could do with him; and the proud old parson, leaning back from his desk, kissed his daughter in kind congratulations.

“But, dear me,” said he, “how long it is since he was last here—what a time he has been up yonder! Really, he ought to be getting something better; he deserves it, I am sure. Do you think he looks out enough?”

“Dear father,” said Caroline, in her gentle way, “he is very fond of his work up there; he loves it and the people, and of course they are devoted to him. You know, we look at it very sensibly. You shall marry us some day!”

“I am ready when you are, my dear,” said the rector, dryly. His spectacles were levelled at the buttercups and daisies through the open window. He was rather serious. “And I must say I shall be glad when you are ready. You have been engaged three years—it is a long business. I shall miss you dreadfully, Caroline, and there is no one to fill your place—I realize that. But I want to see you happy, my child—I do want to see you happy!”

“Father! I can never be happier than I am now,” cried Caroline, with her whole heart. But she left the rector still thoughtfully regarding the unshorn lawn. He was looking back at his own case, perhaps! He had married on a curacy, and a poor one, long before his succession to the family living. In his day, in fact, as he remembered it, young people who wanted one another had not been so sensible.

Miss Teague carried her good news to the school-room, for she had not opened the letter until after breakfast in the usual place. The room was the school-room in name only now, and the laughter and high spirits within made Caroline pause in self-conscious trepidation before opening the door. When she did go in, however, the girls were perfectly sweet about it. They threw down their work—they did a little work in the mornings sometimes, it is fair to say—and were honestly and noisily delighted. And Miss Teague, smiling and blushing in their midst, looked almost as pretty, just then, as her pretty sisters. In reality she was no such thing: she had beautiful hair, and good, gray eyes, and there was character in her mouth. But her sisters were pretty, and much younger.

Caroline had told her father she could never be happier than she was then: and perhaps the fortnight that intervened between the receipt of Noel Pennyman’s delightful news and that young clergyman’s actual arrival was the happiest time she had ever known. She spent it in the cloudless nook of anticipation. He was coming again, the man it was her pride to love, and she had not even seen him for a year and a half. She wondered how the time had passed, now she looked back upon it. She shuddered at the thought of another such a term of separation and divided labor and patiently waiting and faith and hope. Yet her home life was particularly full, interesting and responsible. She had believed formerly that nothing under heaven could induce her to leave home and Rix; but that was before she knew Noel Pennyman well. Now it was her proud desire to give up all she loved as dearly for him she loved more dearly still. Her love was of a sacrificial sort. What it cost her, it was her pride to suffer; infinite delay, long separations, the unsettling intermediate state of the betrothed, and all attendant pangs she suffered eagerly for his sake—as eagerly as she worked stoles and vestments for his person. She considered it her blessed privilege to wait and suffer and work (when she could) for Noel, but she did not go about saying so. You could see it in her face but her happiness was too genuine to need, or even to allow, ingenious explanation. Her best friends never heard her say that she had realized her ideal in this and that respect. Probably she had done so in all respects. But this never occurred to her in so many thoughts. She loved.

Her love added luster to a life already shining with a kindly light. It beamed upon those privileged souls who peopled her little, happy world. It made the large soft heart of Caroline Teague softer and larger yet. It widened her sympathies. It broadened her mind. It gave to her fingers, even, on the organ keys a tender, soulful touch which some loving listeners discovered that they had missed in her playing hitherto.

Now that he was coming again, after so long an absence, these kind signs increased and were intensified. But Miss Teague did some quite weak things in private. She surveyed herself in the glass, repeatedly, one might say exhaustively.

She gave more thought to her dress than she had ever given before.

Hitherto the idea had scarcely ever suggested itself to Miss Teague that a woman could by a careful and intelligent study of her complexion and figure, of her peculiar style, as it is tritely termed, increase the charm of her personality. She would have been loath to admit that a young woman had any right to attract a man’s attention by leading him to think she was possessed of either a moral or a physical beauty when in reality she was not. To Caroline deception in any form or to any degree, no matter how slight, was abhorrent. Even to gain a fortune or a man’s love she could not have brought herself to lend her skin an additional softness and whiteness by dusting it with powder.

But when her thoughts reverted to her betrothed, it suddenly floated upon her mind that possibly he had changed, possibly during these many months he had been thrown among so called fashionable young women who study modes with a real intensity of application, who follow the styles, who are thoroughly informed as to every new discovery in the art of decorating and beautifying the person, and for the first time it occurred to her that she was what is commonly denominated a plain girl, while he was a tall, handsome, dashing man very little like what his calling would lead one to suppose him to be, and no doubt, too, he was popular with women. How could it be otherwise? Handsome men were sure to be flattered and feted and made much of. It often spoiled them, too, for they were, in spite of their pretension to being the stronger vessel, quite as puffed up with social success, quite as prone to be undone by excessive commendation as the weaker vessel. In fact, even more so, for the reason that their famed security afforded them by their stronger minds really made them rush more quickly into danger. And yet they were but mortal, born of woman, with not even woman’s lofty sense of duty to restrain them.

Caroline’s thoughts absolutely startled her. She had never before fallen into such a train. The blood rushed to her pale cheeks, for to her it was a species of disloyally to Noel to have had these thoughts. She had such confidence in him, born of her deep and unselfish love for the man.

But there was no need for her to beautify herself. He had never noticed her gowns, never spoken of their becomingness or their lack of it. She knew how absolutely and completely her heart belonged to him. He must have been blind, indeed, not to be able to read those great, clear, calm grey eyes—so full of tenderness, so very beautiful and soulful when their long dark lashes shut out the greener light of day and gave the glow of her soul a chance to be seen and felt!

No, she would not beautify her person any more than had been her wont. It would be to admit a lack of confidence in herself—more than that, a lack of confidence in Noel! But she would leave nothing undone to please him: nothing which a thoughtful and considerate fiancée should do. Hence she began to devote herself most assiduously to her music. She practiced the songs he admired, learned new ones, and was specially careful to provide herself with a number of duets, so that they might sing together. To Caroline song was far more than it was to the ordinary worldly woman, and when Noel’s full, deep, resonant voice chorded with hers it seemed to her a proof that their lives would melt into a harmony as their voices did.

But she thought of other things, too; things not quite so poetic and ethereal. Her tennis, for instance, and set to improve her game; for he played, and—in private, again—in that favorite corridor retreat of hers, in fact—she read through the whole accumulation of his letters, from the very beginning of the engagement. This romantic task occupied her from morning till night—the night of his arrival. It was long since she had looked at the earlier letters; and they pleased her. They were not so sensible as late ones, by any means, but they were rather more flattering, and indeed they had come oftener than twice a week in those days. Caroline lingered over these old letters, and though those of the last years were wise and witty and kind, the former appealed most strongly to her present mood. The leaves whispered to her as she read and dreamed; the birds sang all around her; for this haunt of hers was merely a little clearing among the trees, where rotted a worm-eaten table and garden seat. And on the latter next morning Noel and she sat together—at opposite ends of it—in the most sensible manner imaginable.

Their conversation also showed their sense.

“It is a charming spot,” said Rev. Noel Pennyman (certainly they had been sitting there some time); “it really is.”

“I am glad you like it. I love it!” Caroline added a little shyly—“And you know why?”

“Why?” asked Mr. Pennyman, innocently.

“Because—because it was here that you—”

”Ah! I remember! May one smoke in it, Car? That I forgot.”

“Of course you may,” said Caroline, hurt at his asking.

It took him some moments to fill his pipe and some more artfully to light it. The performance claimed his undivided attention. And Caroline watched him, from under her expansive sun-hat. He was a handsome, soldierly fellow, with fine features, dark eyes, and a moustache. Sitting here in flannels, lighting his pipe, he suggested any type rather than that of the British curate, which he represented. Yet he was decently grave, and in point of fact a sufficiently zealous and earnest young priest. He was as ardent and idealistic as ever about his work; as Caroline had found out from the most fluent talk they had yet had, which had been on this subject. In other directions he was less eloquent, less enthusiastic, than of old, and Caroline was hurt at more than his asking leave to smoke and pretending to forget that it was here he had proposed to her.

“I remember,” added Caroline, after a pause that broke the point of the remark, “that you used not to ask permission to smoke, last time you were here.”

“Ah, last time I was here.”

“It’s ages ago, isn’t it?” She produced a smile.

He mentioned the number of months, which we know. His pipe was behaving beautifully.

“I hope it will never be so long again!” exclaimed Caroline, impulsively.

He regarded her reflectively from the other end of the seat. There was a look of pain in his eyes which she saw and remembered. Then they grew kind.

‘My dear girl,” said Pennyman, half in rebuke, half in regret, “you know exactly how it has been. The length of England is between us, and last year when I took my holiday I was obliged to go to my mother—we nearly lost her. As long as I am up there I don’t see how we can meet oftener than once a year, but then very likely I shan’t be there another year; surely I may begin now to hope for a living! And I shall get one, you’ll see; and it shall come right in the end!”

He said it kindly, though not, perhaps, in the voice of conviction. But Caroline was very much moved.

“Will it?” she cried, peering pensively into his eyes. “Will it?”

His face filled with pity and compassion. “God grant it may!” he hoarsely whispered, and he kissed her forehead once. “I will give my life to you, Caroline!” She never forgot how he said this.

And the days of Pennyman’s visit passed on very pleasantly, on the whole, and on the surface. The interesting pair were a good deal together—entirely together—yet not so much as had been anticipated; indeed, they proved a singularly unobjectionable pair in this and similar respects; they were sensible to a degree. Noel moreover made himself extremely agreeable to the younger girls—escorted them round the countryside, played hard sets with them and sang charmingly in the school-room. If they caught him sometimes looking worried and perplexed—as more than once one or other of them did—they put it down to the shortness of his holiday and the uncertainty of his and Caroline’s future. The same applied to Caroline, who was perceived (in the school-room) to be getting rather glum. This was odd, certainly, with Noel in the house; but naturally she wished to be married, and now that he was here today, and practically gone tomorrow, most likely for another year, the engagement might well seem interminable. That there could be any other ground for unhappiness never entered those pretty, frivolous heads in the school-room; that there was something wrong somewhere—something delicate and deep and vital—they were incapable of suspecting. The two were continually together; that was enough for the girls. If they were not happy it was their own fault, they ought to be; the younger Miss Teagues had no sympathy with people who made themselves unhappy. But the younger Miss Teagues were not keen observers, either, or toward the end of the week they must have noticed in Caroline signs of too little sleep, which even the rector observed, though he held his tongue.

On the Sunday evening Pennyman had promised to preach. He was shut up for hours on Saturday writing his sermon and secretly glad to be able to seclude himself. While he was busy Miss Teague took the opportunity of visiting some of her people, who, of course, knew perfectly well who was staying at the rectory. She does not seem to have struck her folk as being particularly jubilant, “considering”. And to those who asked her, as no doubt they all did, when it was to be, she appears to have answered, in a manner variously described:

“I may never be married at all!”

Certainly the engagement had dragged on for a very long time.

On her return to the rectory, however, Caroline Teague sought Noel Pennyman, her betrothed, and was with him when he finished his sermon. She rose and bent over his shoulder as he flung down his pen and asked, wistfully enough, if she might look, but Pennyman pushed his manuscript aside.

“No, Car,” said he, without turning his head; “I’d rather you didn’t look, if you don’t mind!”

“Then won’t you read it to me?” she could not help pleading; though she had colored up behind his back.

“You will hear it all tomorrow, my dear girl.”

“Ah, I am looking forward to that; only—only I should have liked to hear a little of it now!”

“Don’t ask me, Car,” he answered, never looking at her. “What’s the good of your hearing it twice? Besides, you wouldn’t like it, really you wouldn’t.”

“You might leave me to be the judge of that,” said Caroline, gently. “As to the good of it, I don’t say there would be any. Yet you used to say I should have a little voice in all your sermons one day!”

“Do let us be sensible!” exclaimed Pennyman, and that frayed and chafed her.

His elbows were on the writing table, his hands supported his head. She was still standing behind his chair; so he never knew of her tears. There was merely a pause. She was calm—she might have been smiling—when she enquired if it was a very deep theological discourse.

“There is very little theology in it, I am afraid,” said he; “it is about—”

“Well?”

“About doing one’s duty,” said Pennyman, with a kind of groan.

“Well, that covers everything, and applies to us all!”

“To us all!” he repeated bitterly.

A light hand had lain for a moment on his shoulder; it lay there another moment rather heavily. “Noel!” she murmured. He felt her breath upon his cheek; but nothing more; she left him abruptly, without finishing her sentence—without beginning it, indeed.

On the Monday Pennyman was going to Oxford—a Sabbath day’s journey from Rix—to look up some old friends there. He was to stay half the week, returning to the rectory to finish his holiday and to preach another sermon for Mr. Teague. He preached the first with such effect that the congregation kept awake to listen—a compliment they paid old Mr. Teague only on the coldest Sundays in winter. The personality of the young clergyman was striking and his method anti-narcotic and new to Rix, I am afraid; but he had a special interest in the eyes of the parishioners as the betrothed of their beloved young lady. The church was quite exceptionally crowded; and after the sermon it was admitted—on the strict hypothesis that any mere man could be in the least worthy of that angel—that this handsome young divine, with the pale face and earnest voice, would be hard to beat for the place.

He was certainly very pale tonight; and his voice was peculiarly earnest. The lights were lowered in the old church when the young man knelt in the pulpit, and the hymn was over, and Miss Teague, in the organ loft, had driven home the stops. The four evangelists on the chancel window were half faded against the summer evening sky; the church was filled with a bluish dusk—stabbed at the pulpit by the flames of four candles, which shone downward on the preacher’s papers and upward into his face. He was, indeed, very pale; and Caroline, intently watching him from the loft, heard every word of that sermon which was the turning point of her life and his. It was about doing one’s duty, as he had said; and the well-worn theme was not treated with any striking degree of originality. But the preacher was in striking earnest, though he did read his lines. He seemed to feel personally and acutely every sentence he uttered; and when he introduced as only curates can the inevitable quotation from the modern poet (parishioners thought it was Pennyman’s own), he seemed to feel that, too—this!

His honor rooted in dishonor stood,
And faith unfaithful kept him falsely true.

He was speaking, you understand, of the difficulties of duty, the two-edged difficulties, and so on; and he was speaking just then in ringing, tremulous tones. He worked in the Tennyson quite naturally, though God knows why he worked it in at all, unless he thought of this way. But he had never spoken so sincerely, so strenuously, in his life; and parishioners envied his congregation in the north of England, where they actually supposed he spoke like this every Sunday of his life!

Miss Teague played the people out of the church, walked home with Pennyman and her father (who would talk of nothing but the sermon and congratulated them both on it), sat through the usual Sunday supper—an elaborate and animated meal at the rectory—was entirely her amiable, unselfish self until she went to bed, which happened early. She did not kiss Noel when she said good night to him; but the others were there, and it was notorious how sensible Noel and she were on such points. She did, however, give him a kind smile and a generous hand, though now she knew that he loved her no longer and had not the moral courage to tell her so plainly.

She fought it all out in her room that night. On the very evening of his arrival, in their first talk together—nay, in the first glance he had given her—she had missed something; and now she knew what. He had been kind and good, even gentle, with all his coolness, but he loved her then no longer, had he ever really loved her at all? She looked once more at his earliest letters. And, well, if he had not loved her then, he had cheated and worked himself into a counterfeit passion, which at least had all the warmth of the sacred flame. This is what I say; but Caroline kissed those early letters and blotted them with her tears. The later ones dried her eyes, though they powerfully supported her present conviction; they were too clever and logical and far too sensible for love letters; as his conduct had been far too sensible for that of a lover all this week, their first together for eighteen months. And tonight he had exposed his whole weak soul to her in a sermon! But did he guess that she had translated him? Would he do his duty yet? Did he know his duty? She remembered—she would never forget—how he had said, under the trees, the other morning, “I will give my life to you, Caroline.” She did not want his life. She wanted his love. Next to the knowledge that he loved her she would have had his own brave, voluntary confession that he did not love her. She would have given everything that night—everything still—to have admired, as she had admired him, the man she had loved—the soul she must love for forever.

In the dead of night and in the silver of the sunny morning—motionless on her knees and rocking to and fro in her chair Caroline Teague wrestled with her grief as best she might, placing her humble spirit in the hands of him to whom she walked so near. And the following forenoon she accompanied Noel Pennyman through the sunny fields to the station and came back in haste.

She found the rector in his study at his desk.

“Father,” she murmured, “I have seen him off!”

The rector did not raise his eyes. “Well, my dear, he’ll be back in a couple of days,” he remarked cheerfully, his nose in his papers.

“No; he is never coming at all!”

The rector raised his head, pushed up his spectacles and gazed at his daughter in dire amazement.

“What!” he gasped, “has there been a quarrel?

“No—no quarrel.”

“What then, Caroline, in heaven’s name?”

“I have given him up,” said Caroline, firmly.

Mr. Teague sprang up.

“You have jilted him—Noel Pennyman—the man you have been engaged to all these years?”

“I have jilted him.”

The rector made her repeat it more than once. “May I ask why?” he enquired at length.

“Because—”Caroline hesitated—“because—you can’t marry without love on both sides. This has been a cruel, a wicked mistake from the very beginning. Thank God I have discovered it in time!”

“You mean for your discovery that you do not care for him?” cried the rector sharply—more sharply than he had spoken to her in all his life.

Caroline bowed her head. “Yes, I meant that!”

Mr. Teague sat down at his desk and leaned heavily on his hand. “I am ashamed of you, Caroline,” he said in a broken voice. “I am ashamed of my daughter.”

But now Miss Teague could bear no more; she fell upon her knees at his feet and burst into passionate tears. All that she now said was reiterated many times; and much of it was incoherent.

“Oh, do not be hard on me. I have no one left, but you. I will help you as it has been my delight and pride always to help you; so will I help you to the end. My happiness made no difference to my work, did it? My unhappiness shall make no difference, either. Rather, it is better than if he had given me up, isn’t it? The world is more lenient, I am sure—in this one thing—to the woman than to the man. And you will be less hard on me, won’t you, than you would have been on him? Forgive me, father! I have only you.”

The rector laid his trembling hand upon her hair.

“Get up, my darling! I am not your judge. May he forgive you—and may God! Yet Caroline, Caroline! I had rather it were the young man who had done this thing—not my daughter!”

Miss Teague arose and went away drooping; for now, indeed, her heart seemed broken. She went to that little place, her favorite place, where Noel had proposed to her—where Noel had seemed vexed at being reminded of that proposal—where she had opened her letters. Here, also, she buried all that; and set her spirit toward what was to be.

Now the Rev. Noel Pennyman, saved by this strong soul from a humiliating duty—which it is still but fair to believe he might have performed in the end—has never appreciated Miss Teague’s magnanimity. For she vowed she did not love him, and though, in doing so, she snatched similar words from his mouth, and relieved his soul, his vanity carries the scar to this day. She loved him, in fine, so well that she managed in that walk to the station to convince him that she did not love him at all. So his friends in the North, and even Miss Teague’s friends, consider that poor Mr. Pennyman was treated abominably. And who are we to disagree with their verdict?

Thunderbolt’s Mate

Chamber’s Journal - March 5, 1892

1

Penelope Lees, cantering from the wool-shed to the home-station in the red light of a Riverina sunset, was, beyond a doubt, the pick of all the merry-looking, black-haired, blue-eyed little minxes in the colony. It is true that there was not another minx of any description within fifty miles of the Bilbil boundary-fence; but there was not a second Penelope in New South Wales; at all events, not one to compare with the Penelope that cantered home so briskly this evening, after a long day out at the shed. Her spirits were not always so high, nor her looks so jaunty and engaging. It was a special occasion: the day now dying had been the happiest day of Penelope’s life: it was the first day of the shearing at Bilbil Station.

All day long little Miss Pen, on her piebald pony, had been helping with the sheep—really helping, not hindering. It was not the first time she had helped with the sheep; she could ‘muster’ with the best, and the mysteries of ‘yarding-up’ were not mysteries to Pen; but it was the first time she had been allowed out at the shed during shearing. Last year she was too young: the privilege had been promised her when she should have entered ‘double figures.’ And now that Rubicon was passed; the child was ten; and three times a week, while shearing lasted, Pen was to be one of the regular hands for mustering the woolly sheep and driving the shorn ones back to their paddocks. The first day of this stirring work was at an end, and it had not disappointed her. This was why her blue eyes were so full of light, and her brown little face of animation. This was why she was pleased to imagine herself a real, big, bearded bushman; and why she must needs ride in the thick scrub, a mile wide of the track—the very thing a real bushman would not have done.

Not that there was the least fear of Penelope; She was the very last person to lose her way on Bilbil run. She knew every mile of it—particularly those few between the homestead and the wool-shed—too well for that. But it was good practice to strike a straight line through the scrub when opportunity offered; and Pen was now in one of the thickest belts of scrub on the run, which was famous for its small share of useless timbered country, and for the extent of its fertile salt-bush plains. Here and there, where the short trees grew sparsely, pools of lingering sunlight lay across the pony’s path; once a great carpet-snake —thick as a strong man’s arm, and exquisitely marked—glided into its hole almost under his cantering hoofs; and more than once huge red kangaroos bounded noiselessly past, in front of his nose. The pony did not mind, being bush bred, and used to the swift, silent movements of its denizens. The silence, indeed, was extraordinary; it always is in a belt of scrub. Even the pony’s canter was muffled in the soft sandy soil. Penelope apparently grew tired of the silence all at once; for she uncoiled the long lash of her stock-whip—her real bushman’s stock-whip—and cracked it smartly. With the long lash swinging in the air for a second shot, she suddenly pulled up the pony. She fancied she had heard a human cry. She cracked the whip again: this time it was no fancy; a man’s voice was calling faintly for help.

Penelope was startled, and for an instant greatly frightened. Then, as she could see nothing, she took about the wisest course open to her: she marked the spot where she had first heard the cry—which was being repeated at short intervals—and took it for the centre of a circle which she now proceeded to describe at a slow trot. The immediate result of this manoeuvre was that she almost rode over a man who was sitting on the ground in the shadow of a hop-bush with his two hands planted firmly behind him, and half his weight upon his straightened arms.

The pony shied: kangaroos it knew, and snakes it knew; but a solitary man squatting behind a hop-bush in the heart of the scrub was a distinct irregularity. The next moment Pen leapt lightly from the saddle—and the man uttered one word, and that indistinctly:

‘Water!’

Pen tore from her saddle the canvas water-bag which was another of her ‘real bush man’s’ equipments. ‘There’s precious little in it, but there’s a drop or two, I know,’ she exclaimed nervously; and she was down at his side, wrenching the cork from the glass mouthpiece.

‘Take care of that leg, for God’s sake!’ ejaculated the man.

‘Why? Whatever’s the matter?’ She had noticed that his left leg was lying in an odd position.

‘Broken,’ answered the man; and his lips closed over the mouth-piece.

It was no misfortune that there was not more water in the bag. There was enough to moisten lips and tongue and throat, and a mouthful or two besides. Had there been more, the man might have done himself harm, as men have done before on obtaining water after enduring the pangs of prolonged thirst. Though far from satisfied, however, the man was relieved. Moreover, he knew now that he was saved. He sank back and closed his eyes with a look of weary thankfulness.

Penelope gazed down upon him, not liking to say anything, and uncertain for the moment what to do. He was a man, she guessed, of about her father’s age—between forty and fifty; but his long black hair was not yet grizzled, nor was there a single gray strand in the bushy black beard and whiskers. Below the line of black hair, the forehead was ghastly in its pallor; and the deep bronze of the lower part of the face had paled into a sickly, yellow hue as of jaundice. The features were pinched and drawn; the closed eyes like deep-set caverns. The limbs were large and powerful, and had all the grace and suppleness of vigorous life—all but the left leg. That limb had the hard and motionless outline of death, and lay, besides, in an unnatural position. The man had neither coat nor ‘swag,’ but he wore long riding-boots and spurs; and this led Penelope to the conclusion—which turned out to be correct—that he had been thrown from horseback. She also noticed that his right hand rested upon his wideawake, which was on the ground at his side, as though he feared its being blown away; and this struck her as odd, seeing that the day was closing without a breath of wind.

At length he opened his eyes. ‘How far is it to the homestead, missy?’

‘From here? About two miles,’ replied Pen.

‘Do you think,’ asked the fallen man, half shyly, ‘they would send—if they knew?’

‘Think? I know they would; why, of course. Only, the worst of it is, there’s hardly any one at the homestead. There’s only mother, and Sid the butcher, and Sammy the Chinee cook. I don’t suppose the groom’s got in yet; he was mustering —and so was I. The rest are out at the shed. The shearing began to-day, you know.’

‘How far from this is the shed, then?’

‘Well, it’s six miles from the homestead,’ said Pen thoughtfully; ‘so it must be about four from here. I’m certain it isn’t a yard less than four miles from here: I‘ve just come from there.’

‘Do you think they would send? My leg’s broken. I’ve been lying here twenty-four hours. But for you, little missy, to-night would have finished me, straight; though, for that matter— Bless me, missy, you’re smart at mounting that little pony of yours!’

Penelope had vaulted back into the saddle. Her red little lips were tightly pressed, her teeth clenched. And there were no more sun-rays anywhere to be seen, but only a pale, pink reflection in the western sky.

‘Are you going to ride back to the shed, little miss—alone—so late?’

‘Yes; I’m off. They’ll be here with the buggy in another hour.’

The man muttered a blessing: it was no good blessing her aloud, for Pen and her pony were a good twenty yards away: the trees and their shadows closed over them.

Before the sound of the galloping hoofs died away, the broken-legged bushman lifted his wideawake from the ground; and under it all the while had lain a brace of revolvers.

Before the sound of hoofs returned, and with it that of wheels, the revolvers had disappeared. No one would have guessed that they were ten inches under ground. But the man’s finger-nails were torn and bent, and the sand had penetrated to the quick.

2

The boss of Bilbil admitted that evening that there was something after all in the Ambulance Movement. The admission was remarkable, because for years he had vowed that there was nothing in that movement. During his last long holiday in Melbourne he had attended a course of ambulance classes, to pacify his wife, who worried him into it, and to convince her out of his own experience that there was nothing in those classes; and he accepted the certificate which was duly awarded him as a conclusive proof that that certificate was within any fool’s reach; thus disparaging himself to disparage the movement of which he had heard too much. The Philistine was converted now. A simple fracture had come in his way, a few simple directions had come back to his mind: to his great surprise, he knew all about it when the moment came: to his greater delight, the broken leg seemed to set itself. Late into that night—as late hours go, in the bush— William Lees stumped up and down his wife’s sitting-room in ecstasies; delighted with himself, delighted with the ambulance classes; delighted with his wife, who had goaded him into attending them. His delight might have been less had she taken her triumph less gently; but as a matter of fact, she was doing her very best to read a book, and could not for his chatter.

‘I never saw a neater break in my life,’ William Lees reported for the twentieth time— ‘plain as a pike-staff and clean as a whistle. And I do believe I’ve set it safe and sound. He’s sleeping now like a top.’

Mr Lees was hard-working, open-handed, and kindly, and as popular among the station hands as any squatter need wish to be. He was a man of prepossessing looks, with eyes as merry and good-natured and almost as blue as those of his small daughter; and he joined a schoolboy’s enthusiasm with a love of personal exertion which no schoolboy was ever yet known to exhibit.

‘I am glad you have been able to make the poor man so comfortable,’ remarked Mrs Lees— not for the first time, either—without looking up from her book.

‘Comfortable? I‘ve fixed him up A1; you should just see. He’s in young Miller’s room. I’ll tell you what I’ve done: first of all, I’ve shifted’—

‘I don’t at all know how I shall get on with him upon my hands while I am all alone, as I am to be this shearing.’

There was some slight petulance in her tone; she had been obliged at last to shut up her book in despair. It was not that she was an atom less kind and good than her husband, in her own way. But it was a very different way. Mrs Lees was robust neither in health nor in spirits; in appearance she was delicate and pale, in her manner gentle; but there were signs of determination in her thin sweet face—particularly about the mouth—which were not difficult to read, and which, by the way, were reproduced pretty plainly in Penelope. She lay in one of those long, wicker-work arrangements which are more like sofas than chairs, as her husband paced the room and puffed his pipe; she disliked the smoke no less than the incessant tramping to and fro; but she complained of neither.

‘Why bother your head about him, my dear?’ said the boss, still marching up and down. ‘If you just look him up now and then, and see that Sammy feeds him properly—he must live like a fighting-cock, you know—that’ll be all that’s necessary. I don’t fancy, from what I see of him, that he’s the one to talk much to anybody; but if, for instance, he cared to be read to, why, you—or even Pen—could do that for him; though not, of course, to any wearisome extent.’

For a while Mrs Lees remained silent and thoughtful. ‘Has he told you all about the accident, Will?’ she asked at length.

‘He fell off his horse.’

‘But the circumstances—was he alone?’

‘I should think so; I didn’t ask;’ and Will Lees shrugged his shoulders, as much as to say that that was no business of his.

‘Then what happened to his horse? And where was he bound for?’

‘I really didn’t ask,’ answered the boss.

‘Well, I think you ought to know something of the man, Will, dear.’

Lees stopped in his walk, and pointed at his wife the pipe-stem of masculine scorn. ‘You ladies are so horribly suspicious!’ he said. ‘What business of mine is it who he is? What business of mine—or yours—whether the man is a humbug or not, since that’s what you’re driving at? There was no humbug about the broken leg; that’s enough for me. It ought to be enough for you too; for he can’t get at your silver spoons, my lady, and good old family plate, and priceless old ancestral jewels, and closets full of golden guineas—he can’t get at any of them just yet a bit.’

The boss laughed loud at his pleasantry, being pleased with himself in every way to-night.

‘No, but’— Mrs Lees.began earnestly; then she broke off: ‘Dear me, how late it is! I am going to bed.’

She went. It had been on the tip of her tongue to express the objection she felt to being left alone, or practically alone, from Monday till Saturday, for six long weeks, with this stranger within the gates. But she remembered how heavily her husband had paid, the previous year, through not giving to the shearing that personal supervision which was of little use unless it began with the first shift in the early morning. She knew that the overseer was too young a man to manage thirty-six shearers, and half that number of ‘rousabouts,’ single-handed. She also knew that at a word from her, her husband would give up sleeping out at the shed; and this was the reason of all others why she held her tongue.

Nevertheless, William Lees did receive a hint as to the doubtful wisdom of leaving his wife and child alone at the homestead without protection during the inside of every week. It came from an outsider; in fact, from no other than the object of Mrs Lees’s feminine suspicions. It was Saturday evening, the man having been brought in on the Thursday; the squatter had returned from the wool-shed for the week-end; and his very first care was to see how the broken leg was mending.

The man lay in a room in the ‘barracks’—a superior sort of hut, with four rooms, sacred to the bachelors of the station. ‘Now, Brown,’ said the squatter, bustling in—Brown was the name the man had given—‘let’s have a look at the leg.’

The brief examination that followed was entirely satisfactory to the amateur bone-setter— there was no professional one within seventy miles of Bilbil. The starched bandages were hard as flint; the form of the leg was perfect; that the snap had been really as simple as it seemed, there could be no longer any doubt. What was far less satisfactory was the patient’s face.

‘I like the leg; it’s doing very nicely,’ said Lees, sitting down on the edge of the bed. ‘But I don’t like your looks: you look like death, man! Are you eating anything, Brown?’

‘Plenty, sir, thank you. Sammy’s a first-rate attendant’

‘But not first-rate company, eh? Come, my good fellow, I’m afraid you‘re moping. Mrs Lees tells me you seem to prefer being alone from morning till night; indeed, you’ve as good as told her so.’

The patient smiled faintly, and gazed at Lees with a strange expression in his cavernous eyes. ‘Shall I tell you, sir, who mopes more at this station than I do?’

‘By all means—if there is such a person.’

‘But I don’t want to give offence’—   

‘Then none shall be taken. Who is it?’

‘The missis.’

‘The mistress! What on earth do you mean, man?’

‘There! I knew you wouldn’t like it. But it’s a fact The missis mopes more’n I do. It’s nervous work for lonely women at a station at night-time. Mrs Lees, begging your pardon, sir, is nervous, and well she may be.’

‘Well she may be! My good fellow, what are you driving at?’

Brown closed his eyes. ‘You’ve heard of Thunderbolt, sir?’

‘I’ve heard of a villain known by that name. What about him? He’s in Queensland, isn’t he?’

‘He’s a good deal nearer home, sir,’ replied Brown earnestly. ‘If I’m not mistaken, I saw him a very little while ago. I don’t think I am mistaken: I know him: I have very good reason to know him well—by sight.’ A dark look came over the white face. Brown ground his teeth savagely. ‘I was once stuck up by him,’ he continued in a low voice. ‘I shall never forget him. And I saw him as plain as I see you, Mr Lees,’ said Brown impressively, opening his eyes again—‘the day I broke my leg—in the paddock I broke it in!’

‘In my paddock?’ cried William Lees.

Brown raised his head an inch from the pillow and nodded. ‘As sure as I lie here, sir. You heard of Moolah Station, twenty miles south o’ this, being stuck up last Wednesday?’

‘Just heard of it to-day; but that was never Thunderbolt?’

‘It was never any one else, sir!’

‘Then why should he leave us alone?—Are you quite certain you aren’t mistaken, Brown? And—what the deuce is there to grin at, my man?’

‘Nothing, sir. I beg pardon. Only Thunderbolt and Co. never did do two jobs running, with only twenty miles between them. Strike, and show clean heels; that’s their line. I know them—I tell you I’ve been stuck up by them. Now, if you was to hear of them twenty miles north’—

‘Has he a mate, then?’

‘He had. But he was alone on Thursday— curse him! As for being mistaken, I know I’m not. I was in the scrub; he was in the open. It was just before my horse fell and smashed me —the horse that’s never been seen since. You can guess now who got it. Thunderbolt has a sharp eye for horse-flesh.’

The boss jumped up from the bed. ‘I wish to Heaven you’d told me this before, Brown!’

‘My leg was that bad; I couldn’t think of things.’

At this moment a hum of voices came through the open window from the long veranda opposite. The squatter looked out hastily. ‘The Belton buggy!’ he exclaimed. ‘Young Rooper and Michie!’ He hurried out. Brown closed his eyes wearily. But the buzz of voices outside grew louder and louder; and presently, back rushed Lees to the sick-room, his face flaming with excitement ‘You were right, Brown! I couldn’t have believed it! It was that villain you saw!’

Brown raised himself upon one elbow. ‘You don’t mean that—that—they’ve caught him?’

‘I do! He was taken at Belton this afternoon; old Rooper has got him there now; and young Rooper and Michie are on their way to the township for the police.’

A grin of exultation spread over Brown’s wan features—to fade rapidly into a peevish smile of unbelief. His shoulders sank back feebly upon the pillows; he shook his head slowly from side to side.

‘They’ll never keep him—never, never, though they’d caught him twenty times over! A slippery gentleman is Thunderbolt; I know him well; he stuck me up, I tell you—he stuck me up!’

3

The Belton buggy had come twenty-five miles at express speed; the horses were steaming; and it was three miles farther to the township. Nevertheless, young Rooper was flicking his whip to push on, when Lees ran back, breathless, and got to the horses’ heads. ‘Hold on!’

‘Can’t, Mr Lees.’

‘You can—you must. I’ll send a man on horseback to the township in half the time it’ll take you to drive. He’ll be back with the police long under the hour. Meanwhile, you will have had something to eat with us, and I shall have run up a fresh pair for your buggy. These are dead-beat. It will save you time in the end.’

Rooper and Michie put their heads together, but only for an instant. The good sense of the squatters proposal was as obvious as its good nature; besides, it was the Bilbil dinner hour, and the young men were hungry. As they alighted from the buggy, Lees ordered the Belton horses to be watered and turned loose, and Bushman and Bluebeard, his own favourite pair, to be run up from the horse-paddock. Then, Mr Lees having promptly despatched a messenger, they all adjourned to the dining-room, where they found Mrs Lees awaiting them. She was slightly pale, and scared by the sensational news, but eager to hear everything; and she was soon in possession not only of the facts of the present case, but of many other facts in connection with the notorious Thunderbolt, to say nothing of hearsay.

Thunderbolt, then, was rumoured to be a man of far greater refinement than most practitioners in his line—Burke, Morgan, or Ben Hall, for instance; he had also in some quarters a reputation for an alleged gallantry of bearing towards all women who came in his way professionally; but in violence, in daring, and in insolence, he was not second to the worst of them. The Roopers had yarns about him from a station of theirs in Queensland, which was Thunderbolt’s own colony and his commonest hunting-ground; but Michie, the Belton overseer, had actually exchanged shots with the desperado on a former occasion. You might have known Bob Michie a lifetime without knowing a word about that incident, or indeed about any other incident in which he had himself played a prominent part; but the old story was wrung from him to-night He had been on the lower Queensland roads, in charge of sheep, and had happened to camp outside a township on the very night that the bank there was visited by Thunderbolt and his mate. Well, when the family at the bank were discovered sitting round the supper table like corpses—gagged every one of them and tied to their chairs—a hue and cry was started. It chanced that the discovery was made much sooner than the bushrangers had bargained for. The latter were surprised in camp, a few miles from the township; they had just time to mount their horses, which they had not unsaddled, and a hot chase followed. Michie outstripped competitors in pursuit, had a bullet through his hat, and in return shot off the little finger of either Thunderbolt or his mate; in the darkness it was impossible to tell which, only the finger was found.

‘So I suppose the first thing you did to-day, when you’d got your man safe, was to make him show his hand, eh?’ asked Lees, laughing; but neither Michie nor young Rooper had thought of it; and at this moment voices were heard outside. The messenger had returned with the buggy and with a policeman. The sergeant and another trooper were following on horseback, and would overtake the buggy. With hasty apologies and good-byes, the young men left the table and drove off. The meal would have gone on rather silently after that, for the men were all yearning to be at Belton and see the fun; but Penelope kept them busy answering her questions. She had drunk in every word that had fallen from the lips of the redoubtable Michie, and the item of the little finger in particular had entertained her greatly.

All this was on the Saturday evening. Sunday brought startling news. The buggy and the police had arrived at Belton only to find the bird flown—none knew how—none knew whither. Thunderbolt was at large again, and in Riverina.

It went against the grain with William Lees to return to the wool-shed that night; but his wife assured him that she had no fear so long as Penelope and she were not left entirely alone; and indeed the chances were that the bushranger, if not speedily recaptured, would press northward to the Queensland frontier. So Lees went, but left both the overseer and the storekeeper behind him at the homestead. It was arranged that these two should drive out to the shed the first thing each morning, returning at sundown; and the plan answered admirably. Never had the Bilbil flocks been better shorn; never had there been more perfect discipline at the Bilbil shed, never less grumbling. Moreover, the ‘clip’ throughout Riverina was likely to prove a better one than had been obtained for years.

Meanwhile, the broken leg went on mending in the most satisfactory fashion, and its owner seemed quite to have ingratiated himself with Mrs Lees and her little madcap daughter, Penelope. From the very first he had been patient, and grateful for the smallest thing done for him; but a certain moroseness, that had disfigured his manner in the earliest days, disfigured it no longer. Now he seemed glad enough of company; and Mrs Lees often sat with him. Once or twice he even asked to be read to; and Mrs Lees was not only good enough to read to him by the hour, but sensible enough to make the literature the lightest she could lay hands upon. Yet the man was far from desiring perpetual entertainment. Mrs Lees presently discovered that silent companionship had an attraction of its own for Brown. She found that she could sit beside him for hours, the silence of which he made no attempt to break so long as she showed no sign of going. She had only to gather up her work, however, for Brown to run up a barrier of questions to keep her where she was. It was as though silence lost its charm for him the moment it was enforced by solitude—as though a sympathetic presence was essential to the enjoyment of his reveries—queer traits, both of them, in a rough common bushman. But Brown was scarcely a common bushman, there was so much that was uncommon in him. Mrs Lees furtively watching the dark, brooding face, would have given worlds to share just one of poor Brown’s waking dreams. Daily she burned for one little glimpse of the scenes that were passing before those wide-open, sunken eyes, staring at nothing in particular, but staring at it so long. Being a woman, and one without much to occupy her in the long, hot, sleepy days, this curiosity was very natural; but it was very well for her peace of mind that Mrs Lees had no way of gratifying her curiosity.

Once a day, sometimes twice, the dark inscrutable face underwent sudden transfiguration, and became ten years younger in expression; the eyes shone with delight and interest and admiration. It was when little Penelope appeared on the scene.

The homestead at Bilbil consisted of so many little trifling buildings, that to enumerate them would be insufferable; but there was one big building, with a little pocket edition of itself tacked on to one end of it, that was the centre of the system. The component parts of the big building were two long, bare, parallel verandas, with the station store, the dining-room, and some spare bedrooms enclosed between them. The pocket edition was called the Cottage, and as it only contained Mrs Lees’s quarters, it was also something of an édition de luxe. Here the veranda was anything but bare; it was closed in by a screen of trellis-work and creepers, which turned it into a long room with open ends. In this cool retreat Mrs Lees’s work-table and Mrs Lees’s long wicker-work chair were generally pitched; in fact, Mrs Lees spent most of her time between this veranda and the sitting-room which opened upon it.

From the latter half of August, the long wicker-work chair—which was really more of a sofa—began to be occupied all day and every day by one person—the man Brown; and by the first of September Brown was able to get backwards and forwards, between this and his room in the barracks, on a pair of makeshift crutches. It was here, then, that he saw so much of Mrs Lees—and spoke to her so little; and it was here that his face changed so when little Miss Pen flitted through the veranda and popped into the sitting-room, to take leave of her mother before her day’s work out at the shed began, and when she came in—with her sprightly steps, and with sand and dust clinging to her little blue riding-habit—to report herself at the day’s close. It is true that Pen seldom forgot to fling a word to poor Brown, lying quietly there in the long chair; but she was too completely self-engrossed, it is to be feared, to stop and talk to him for many seconds together; and he saw the last of her always too soon, with wistful eyes.

‘Morning, Brown—how’s the poor leg?’ she would jerk out; or: ‘Better, Brown? That’s all right; lucky thing I found you though, eh?’

Brown was always ready with a cheerful answer; but she seldom waited to hear it; and as for firing questions back at her, with a view to detaining the sunbeam, that was a foregone failure.

One evening, however, she came in with a splendid emu’s egg, which she had found for herself on the run; and this she could not resist stopping to show to Brown. He took it in his left hand—his right lay thrust in his breast-pocket—and admired it deliberately, so deliberately, that Pen could hardly restrain herself from snatching it away from him, in her eagerness to dart off and show it to some one else. But Brown had the egg in his hand, and his opportunity too. ‘Have you ever seen one of these carved, missie?’ he asked her shyly.

‘Only once—over at Belton,’ replied Pen. ‘We have two carved ones here.’

‘Would you like to have a carved one? Would you like to have this egg carved?’

Giddy little Pen was arrested at last: she forgot her anxiety to show the egg to the others: and her eyes glistened. ‘Would I not!’ she cried, with great emphasis. ‘You don’t mean to say you can carve emu eggs?’

‘Well, I used to be able to do it; I used to turn an honest penny at the game—once.’ Brown sighed. ‘I suppose I haven’t forgot how.’

Pen began clapping her hands—but quickly stopped. ‘I say,’ she said gravely, ‘I haven’t got any money, you know! I’ve only got what’s in my money-box—and I don’t think I may touch that,’ she added doubtfully.

Brown stared at her out of his deep-set eyes; there was something reproachful in his look. ‘It isn’t likely I’m going to charge you anything Miss Pen—now, is it? I’ll carve this egg for love—as the saying is; and I’ll carve it better than ever I carved an emu egg in my life before. Consider what you done for me, little miss!’

Pen considered. It yielded nothing. She was not accustomed to consider. ‘What have I done?’ she asked at last with eyes wide open.

Brown gazed at her some moments without replying; then he said: ‘You saved my life, little miss—that’s what you did!’

His tone struck the child as odd, somehow. ‘Aren’t you glad?’ she asked, laughing. ‘You don’t say it as though you were. And you ought to be jolly glad, you know.’

‘I ought to be grateful—and grateful I am. But glad? Pretty well, Miss Pen—pretty well.’

Pen opened her eyes very wide indeed, and suddenly they filled with tears. She had never dreamt of any one being anything but glad not to die. The very idea of indifference in the matter was frightful to her, and frightening too. This poor man’s pain, then, must be terrible; his unhappiness—very likely about something else—must be unbearable. Would it cheer him up at all if she, Pen, were to stop at home tomorrow and chatter to him all day, instead of going out as usual to her beloved shed? At all events, Pen resolved to try it; and as it was not quite the easiest thing in the world for such an extremely keen little stock-rider to do, she bound herself down then and there by a promise, and consigned the precious egg to Brown’s safe keeping.

‘To-morrow morning you shall carve it. Brown, do you see? And I’ll sit here and see it done; and I shan’t show it to any of the others till it is done—so just now you may keep it.’

Brown smiled upon her as she went. He was not smiling when she rushed and found him in the same place immediately after breakfast next morning. He was looking decidedly crestfallen. The emu egg was stuck in the wicker ring with which these long chairs are provided, and intended, if required, to hold a tumbler. Penelope snatched up the egg; but there was not a scratch upon its dark-green surface.

‘Why,’ cried Pen, visibly disappointed, ‘you haven’t even begun yet, you lazy man! Aren’t you going to?’

‘No, miss,’ said Brown ruefully.

‘Then why did you promise, I should like to know?’ Pen had coloured up.

‘Because I had forgotten something, Miss Pen.’

‘Pray, what had you forgotten?’ Pen demanded scornfully.

‘Why, that an accident, which happened since I last touched an emu egg, has crippled me so that I can’t carve any more.’

‘Your right hand?’

‘Yes.’

His right hand was out of sight, as usual, in the breast of his coat. Nor did he withdraw it; but quick as thought, Penelope did so for him. The next moment she started back. The little finger was gone!

Brown saw her start, and he changed colour. A struggle was going on in the child’s mind; he read it in her frightened, plucky little face; but he did not read the end of it; he expected her to run away and bring the place about his ears: instead of which, she looked him boldly in the face and exclaimed solemnly: ‘You’re Thunderbolt!’

Brown answered coolly: ‘I’m not, miss. Whatever makes you think so? When have you heard of him?’

‘The other night; Mr Michie was telling us—it was he that shot off your little finger for you! Stop a moment: of course you can’t be Thunderbolt, because they’d taken him just then: so, then, you’re his mate!’

Brown did not answer. His face was pale, his deep eyes were full of distress.

Are you?’ asked the child, in a wild whisper.

Their eyes were fastened together in a long mutual gaze. Even at that moment Pen realised, with a thrill of wonder, that she was neither trembling nor quailing under his glance, which indeed was gentle enough and reassuring; but she felt no surprise when he gravely bowed his head towards her, nor did her fears increase. She was certainly an odd child brought up in an odd way; but even so, she may not have realised quite what a bushranger was, for she stared this one out of countenance, and then said severely: ‘Did you ever shoot any one?’ (She may not have realised the full force of ‘shooting any one,’ either.)

‘Never,’ said Brown firmly.

‘Never, on your word of honour?’

‘I’m not supposed to have a word of honour,’ said Brown, smiling faintly; ‘but I only know I never did shoot a fellow-creature—as sure as I’m lying here! There was only one man I ever felt like shooting—Thunderbolt himself! When I was thrown, crossing the run here, he took my horse and left me to die.—Curse him; I could shoot him as I’d shoot an ox!—But forgive me, missy: it was you that saved me: it was you that saved me!’

For one moment Pen did feel frightened—the moment in which he had spoken of Thunderbolt. Then Brown’s face had flared up with sudden passion; but now it was calm again; now it was calmer than before. And there was truth in the deep, dark, wistful eyes; and his eyes seemed to Pen more sad and more sunken than they had ever been before; and the whole appearance of the man was more pitiable to look upon—from grief and shame—not from fear and trembling. Child as she was—possibly, because she was a child—Pen read his look aright. It touched her to the heart. She took between her own brown fingers the maimed, coarse hand that she had dropped with such sudden terror. ‘Look here,’ she whispered distinctly, while a strangely wilful expression came over her determined little face. ‘If I really did do what you say I did—if I really saved you that day—I’m not going to undo it by letting on. So I shan’t tell a soul. I’ll die first!’

4

On the evening of Tuesday, September 8, at a quarter past six, Penelope Lees opened the double gates of the Bilbil home-paddock, squeezed through on her pony, shut and fastened the gates behind her, and rode up very slowly to the homestead. There was a good sunset that evening—a sunset on a grand scale, for quite half the sky was tinted pink and amber; but Pen only noticed it when she stopped to give her pony its evening drink at the horse-tank, which mirrored the whole thing. Eastward, however, at the horizon, the sky was gray-edged, and the edge was growing broader; but this Pen never noticed at all. The fact is she had ridden home from the shed this evening with downcast eyes, for the shearing was all but over. It had been such splendid fun all through that it seemed to have flown over in one week, instead of in six. But what was a thousand times worse than the close of shearing was the approach of schooling; for it was settled that when William Lees went down to Melbourne at the beginning of November he was to take his little girl with him and leave her at a school there—hundreds and hundreds of miles away. This had only just been arranged; but the arrangement was final; and it must be confessed that ‘downcast’ does not tell the whole truth with regard to poor little Pen’s eyes on her ride from the shed this evening.

She dismounted at the stables, took the saddle and bridle from her pony, and sent him off towards the horse-paddock at a gentle trot. Then she walked slowly to the house, which, with the flaming west behind it, looked like an unambitious carving in ebony. The long bare veranda in front of the store and the dining-room telescoped, as it were, with the Cottage veranda; and before she set foot in the former, Pen could see the square screen of sunset at the far end of the latter, and, blotted like ink upon this screen, motionless figures sitting in silence.

As the child’s step rang through the long, empty veranda, some heads turned in the other one, but no one spoke. A vague fear seized Pen, their motionless attitudes seemed so strange. She hesitated; but the reactionary impulse followed speedily, and hurried her forward, with faltering steps, into as queer a Quakers’ meeting as could well be imagined.

In the sitting-room doorway stood Mrs Lees, drawn up to her full height, her pale face cold and proud, and bitterly indignant—but quite calm, with the composure that sometimes, at a crisis, seems to come natural to the last woman you would have expected it of. Robert Ayrton, the overseer, was spread out on the floor, his back against the weather-board wall of the Cottage, his arms folded, and his head thrown forward on his chest. The man who called himself Brown lay in his usual posture in the long chair, and his dark deep eyes were turned upwards with their usual inscrutable stare.

Seated on a chair at some little distance from them was a man whom Pen had never seen before. He wore riding-boots, spurs and breeches, a short neat jacket, and a ‘cabbage-tree’ wideawake. His face was half turned to the glowing light, which shone upon a clear gray eye, the half of a ruddy moustache, and a sunburnt cheek and chin; the other side of his face was necessarily in deep shadow. The man was smoking a pipe—the smoke hung in silvery puffs upon the screen of rosy sky at the end of the veranda. Penelope advanced shyly, with her eyes fixed, as was only natural, upon the stranger. Suddenly she stood still and shivered. The red light glittered upon something bright and steely that lay in the stranger’s lap—a revolver.

‘Come to me, Pen,’ said Mrs Lees, in a cold mechanical voice.

Pen obeyed promptly enough, and slipped an arm round her mothers waist and nestled close beside her. And Mrs Lees answered aloud—in a curiously scornful tone—the child’s upward look of terrified inquiry: ‘These men are bushrangers. We are all in their power!’

Pen clung closer to her mother. ‘Which men?’ she whispered. ‘There’s only that man over there with the pistol—is he Thunderbolt?’

‘Yes,’ said Mrs Lees, in the same dauntless, disdainful tone; ‘and the one with the broken leg (if it ever was broken)—the man that we have nursed and attended to all these weeks—is his accomplice!’

A guilty blush suffused Pen’s face to the roots of her hair. She had known this for days, yet kept it to herself! But then she had never suspected treachery of this kind. Was it treachery? She glanced to where Brown lay, hoping to find a reassuring expression on his face. But there was nothing reassuring there. His eyes were still gazing vacantly upward; but the ghost of a smile played over the pale haggard features. This faint smile seemed to Pen a confession of treachery, and she burst into tears.

At this moment, a pleasant voice, singing carelessly, broke upon their ears. The voice came nearer and nearer; then a swinging footstep and the jingling of spurs were heard m the long veranda. The bushranger handled his revolver. A moment later, the store-keeper—a young fellow fresh from England—stood aghast in their midst

Ayrton, the overseer, raised his head.

‘Throw up your hands, Miller,’ said he coolly, with the true colonial drawl; ‘up with them, old man, or you’re a stiff ‘un! We‘re stuck up. Let me introduce you to the celebrated Thunderbolt’—pointing to the man with the revolver— ‘and his mate’—pointing to Brown.

Young Miller turned pale; then he stuck his hands deep in his trousers’ pockets. He was a very young man—a Rugby boy but a year ago.

‘It’s a bit of colonial experience for you—a bit worth having,’ went on Ayrton calmly, slicing a cake of tobacco as he spoke; ‘something for you to write and tell the old folks at home: Look out—you’d best stand still, I say!’

Young Miller had taken a quick step forward; but he stopped as quickly; for Ayrton’s warning was driven home by the cocking of Thunderbolt’s revolver.

The bushranger now rose to his feet and stretched himself coolly. ‘Is this the last of them?’ he asked of Ayrton.

‘There’s the butcher’      

‘We can do without him.—Call the cook.’

‘And there’s the groom.’

‘We won’t wait for him.—Call the cook, d’ye hear?’

Ayrton obeyed. The Chinaman came.

‘Tell him to dish up dinner in here—and sharp,’ said the bushranger, pointing to the sitting-room.

Ayrton repeated this order as though it had been an order from William Lees.

‘Now, my friends,’ said Thunderbolt, addressing the whole company, ‘some find me a man of few words—some t’other thing; but anyway it’s precious little I’ve got to say now. You’ll have heard of me before, mayhap; and you ‘ll have heard of some o’ the things I’ve done when pressed. I’ve done enough, I daresay, to set a pretty high figure upon myself, alive or dead. Whatever you may force me into doing to-night it can’t make it any hotter for me, when my time comes, than it would be as things stand already.’ He tapped the butt-end of his revolver significantly. ‘But really, ladies and gentlemen,’ he went on in a more insinuating manner, ‘there need be no unpleasantness at all: all I ask is a square meal: then we’ll adjourn, the lot of us, and any more as may happen to drop in and join us—to the store: and after that—I don’t promise, mind—but it’s very likely I’ll be saying good-bye to you.—As for you, ma’rm,’ continued Thunderbolt, bowing suavely to Mrs Lees, ‘if you’ve heard anything about me at all, you’ll know that you’re safe —whatever happens—and the little lady too!’

Mrs Lees treated this assurance with silent contempt; and the outlaw now ordered them all into the sitting-room, which, as he had been careful to find out first, had no second door, and no windows beyond the two that looked out upon the veranda. The young store-keeper was the last to enter, and he turned on the threshold to shake his fist at Thunderbolt’s mate.

‘You villain!’ he muttered savagely—‘you double-dyed, immeasurable’—   

Some swift momentary change in Brown’s face —to which Thunderbolt for the moment had turned his back—made the young man stop short in the thick of his epithets. It set him thinking, too. And a little conversation between Thunderbolt and his mate, which now took place, made his thinking run in unexpected grooves.

‘Can you walk yet?’ asked Thunderbolt.

‘No.’

‘Where do you sleep, then: and how do they shift you?’

‘I sleep in the barracks; the gentlemen carry me to and fro morning and evening.’

As young Miller, and indeed every one, knew, Brown was not carried to and from the barracks; he hobbled on crutches. Miller, moreover, had a shrewd idea as to where those crutches were at that moment; the creepers grew so thickly at the base of the trellis, and the long chair covered so much ground just there, that they could not quite be seen; but that they were within Brown’s reach, Miller could not doubt. His ideas became almost too much for him; for none but himself had heard the small conversation between the bushranger and his quondam mate, and Miller yearned to whisper the gist of it to Ayrton, though, happily, he had too much sense to attempt this.

An hour passed. Supper was over: the bushranger had eaten heartily enough, if no one else did—and had not touched a drop of anything stronger than tea; and all the while with half an eye upon the veranda and Brown, and an eye and a half upon the room and its occupants. The number of the latter was now materially increased. After dinner had been served, Sammy, the Chinese cook, was not allowed to return to the kitchen. Then the groom had come in to say that a strange black horse was tethered in the pines, and the groom had been detained. Then the butcher had come to see what had happened to his friend the groom, and the butcher had been detained. The maidservant, also, had surrendered of her own accord, being tired of the dust and discomfort and solitude under her mistress’s bed; so she was in the room too, in a state of intermittent hysterics. But Mrs Lees sat through it all in naughty silence; and little Pen, clasping her mothers hand tightly, did her best to follow her mother’s example.

‘I was once in pretty much the same fix before,’ Thunderbolt told them good-humouredly, though really the ‘fix’ did not seem to be on his side. ‘It was at a Queensland station, Clermont way; and I’d bailed up all hands in the store quite comfortably; but they were fools enough to attempt a rush, and—how many was it I shot, mate?’ asked Thunderbolt, glancing through the door.

‘Three,’ replied Brown shortly. ‘So you said —I was not there.’

‘Ah, three: so it was: three. Now, they could only hang me once for them three. What‘s more, if I was to shoot three dozen more tonight—supposing there was three dozen here to shoot—still, they could only hang me once. That’s where I’ve got the bulge, you see!’

Thunderbolt puffed his pipe complacently. He seemed enamoured of the situation, and glad to prolong it. Suddenly, however—quite suddenly—he turned to the young storekeeper.

‘You sing, mister—eh? I heard you as you came alone the veranda. Give us a song now.’

Young Miller, though his eyes met the bushranger’s, saw a white face nodding to him through the open door; and the reluctance with which he went to the piano was only feigned. Then and there he sang, to his own accompaniment, a song that fell agreeably upon Thunderbolt’s ears, but sank like lead into all other hearts, save that of Thunderbolt’s mate. The song ended, the bushranger said authoritatively: ‘Give us another.’

Young Miller glanced inquiringly at Mrs Lees. The circumstances had not quite robbed him of his English manners. Before the first song, he had asked permission in the same mute way, and received a nod. It was almost a pity she did not confine herself to a nod this time, for it only amused the bushranger when she said sarcastically: ‘Certainly, Mr Miller. Pray, do not be murdered for the sake of a song!’

Miller struck up a lively jingle, reminiscent of burnt cork and the banjo, and straightway plunged into a song that purported to be comic. It was highly appreciated. Thunderbolt beat time with his spurred heels, joined in the chorus, and, at the end, rapped out his applause upon the door-panels with the butt-end of his pistol. He had laughed uproariously at least once in every verse, and faint echoes from the veranda had further encouraged the singer.

In high good-humour, the bushranger now asked Miller to play one of the old English ballads. Miller got out the book; and a strange scene followed. Thunderbolt—this bloodthirsty desperado—stood up, revolver in hand, and sang ‘ The Lass of Richmond Hill;’ moreover, he sang it with excellent expression, and in a full manly voice that only just missed being sweet into the bargain. None of the party ever heard the song again without recalling his singing of it. It was greeted with loud applause from the veranda, to which Thunderbolt had turned his back while singing. The merry ruffian’s spirits rose still higher, and he undertook to give ‘Tom Bowling ‘ as a wind-up.

He looked really very handsome, and taking, and good-natured, as he stood up there framed in the doorway. The light of the lamp on the table and of the candles in the piano sconces fell upon his tall athletic frame and strong regular features: his teeth, as his mouth opened—like a true singer’s—in a perfect circle, were white and even; and he sang that tender old song of Dibdin’s with a rough, effective tenderness of his own; though the revolver was in his hand and his finger on the trigger!

Never before or since, one ventures to assert, has ‘Tom Bowling’ been rendered under such very exceptional circumstances. It occupied some minutes. Your rough-and-ready singer’s tendency is ever to overdo the andante, and this one had a particular weakness for rallentando. So the song, which was sung much better than the previous song, took up some little time; and when it was over, there was no applause. The leader of the applause was silent. There was not a sound from the veranda. Thunderbolt turned round quickly, almost before the last note had died away, and uttered a sound that seemed to come from another throat, and a wild beast’s, for it was a roar of rage. His former mate—the helpless man with the broken leg—was gone!

Thunderbolt strode out, but only a yard from the door, and stood listening and peering through the darkness. He could see nothing; he could hear nothing. Wheeling round, he stalked back into the room, livid and furious, and clapped his revolver to young Miller’s ear.

‘You young hound!’ he yelled, ‘I’ve a mind to blow your brains out where you sit! You’ve had a hand in this!’

And Tom Bowling had not been thirty seconds ‘gone aloft!’

5

Thunderbolt’s mate heard plainly enough the yell of rage that announced the discovery of his escape. At that moment his crutches had carried him considerably less than two hundred yards from the homestead; but he smiled complacently as he hobbled on; he felt tolerably secure. The night was as black as pitch; the clouds had banked up for rain; so that when Brown looked over his shoulder, the outline of the station was invisible.

‘Even if it was bright moonlight’ muttered Brown, as he neared the home-paddock gate, ‘even if he could see me, he daren’t give chase! He knows that if he left that veranda for half a minute, they’d be into the store and armed to the teeth before he could get back. But I know what he’ll do now: he’ll do like he done up in Queensland, when he stuck up Evelyn Downs single-handed. He’ll make Sammy fetch a rope; then he’ll set on one or two to bind all the rest; and then one of those two’ll have to bind the other; and then Thunderbolt’ll bind him. Then he’ll ransack the place, and away with an hour’s start before the first man frees himself. That’s what he’d have done at Evelyn Downs, if those poor coves hadn’t had too much pluck and too little sense. That’s what he’s doing now, for that Ayrton‘s too cool to lose his head or to let the others try anything on either, unless they were cocksure.’

In point of fact Brown was right At that very moment Sammy, the Chinaman, was cutting down the clothes lines from the pine-trees behind his kitchen!

It is difficult best to make respectable speed upon crutches—impossible, when the only leg that may touch the ground has been out of use for weeks, and when the whole frame is weakened and reduced by a prolonged period of inactivity. Brown got over the first mile at a good rate, considering everything; but he paid for it before he was half-way through the second. Quite suddenly, his brain reeled, the crutches slipped from under his arm-pits, he fell forward upon his hands. Instead of stunning him, the slight shock galvanised his swimming senses and cleared his brain; but he was wise enough to slip right down for a minute’s rest in which to gather strength and review the situation. He had not come more than a mile and a half, or a quarter of the way to the wool-shed—of this he was certain. A quarter of the way, and he had already collapsed once! The prospect of his reaching the shed at all seemed by no means certain. Even if he did succeed in getting there, could he be in time to be of any use? He would, indeed, be able to despatch prompt assistance to the prisoners at the homestead—but only to find, no doubt that they were prisoners no longer, and that the bushranger had got a long safe start. On the other hand, there were two possibilities to consider. There was the chance of the prisoners being so securely bound that it might take them hours to release themselves; and the thought of Mrs Lees and little Pen—above all, of little Pen—being lacerated for hours by the binding ropes was intolerable to Brown. Then there was the chance of Thunderbolt’s capture, if a hue and cry were started by the shearers, most of whom had horses in the horse-paddock out at the shed; and the thought of that made Brown tremble with excitement. Without knowing which incentive was the stronger, he set his teeth, dragged himself from the ground, and once more swung forward on his crutches.

It was a terrible task that he had set himself —indeed, an impossible one; but Brown had not time to find this out. For he had not proceeded a hundred yards from the spot where he had fallen, when a galloping horseman overtook him. At first he thought it was Thunderbolt, crouched behind a big blue-bush at one side of the track, set his teeth, clubbed a crutch, and thought bitterly of his buried pistols. But when the horse came up, there was just light enough to see that it was a gray; and Thunderbolt’s mount was black as ink. Besides, the rider was sitting all of a heap, and an unsteady heap too, which put it beyond doubt that it was not even Thunderbolt on one of the station horses. So then Brown started up as smartly as he was able and let out a loud shout; whereupon the rider —a harmless shearer, on his way home from a convivial evening in the township—nearly fell from his saddle, but reined up awkwardly, and showed his presence of mind by an eloquent but indistinct set of curses.

‘Don’t stop, man!’ cried Brown. ‘Ride on to the wool-shed for your life! The homestead’s stuck up, and every soul’s in Thunderbolt’s hands!’

‘Thunderbolt?’

‘Thunderbolt!’

In an instant, the festive shearer became quite painfully sober, by comparison. He rode up close to Brown. ‘Why—great Scot! you’re the cove with the broken leg!’

‘Get on, man; there‘s not a moment to lose!’

‘But how the mischief did you get here? Crutches and all, so help me!’

‘Oh, ride on, can’t you? cried Brown angrily. ‘Think of the women and the child!’

The shearer sat for some seconds longer like a statue in the saddle; then, with a forcible imprecation—but a most complimentary one to ‘the cove with the broken leg’—he dug spurs into the gray and thundered on. And Brown sank down again behind his blue-bush, and realised, now that it was off his shoulders, the complete impossibility of the task he had set himself—to hobble six miles on his crutches. He lay upon the ground, utterly feeble, and feeling as though a forceps had been at work drawing every nerve and sinew out of his body. Consciousness almost forsook him; he fell into a state of partial stupor.

He was roused—it must have been an hour later—by a stampede of horses sweeping down the track at a gallop. It was the shearers, with William Lees at their head. When they had passed, Brown struggled up and propped himself once more upon his crutches, and began retracing his steps to the homestead. But his pace was considerably slower than it had been before. He thought he was never going to reach the home-paddock gate. At last he knew that he was near it, by hearing the double gates clatter back upon the posts and a horse’s hoofs thunder through.

What followed occupied a few moments only. A black horse was reined up within a yard of Brown; and when Brown addressed the rider, taking him for one of the pursuers, a low, cruel laugh was the answer; and then—a flash, a report, a horse’s gallop dying away in the distance; and Thunderbolt’s mate left lying in his blood, shot by Thunderbolt!

On tragic nights, such as this one, people are slow to go to bed, even when the danger is over. At midnight, William Lees, his wife and child, and the trembling maid-servant, sat in silence in the sitting-room, awaiting the return of the hue and cry, which seemed certain at last to capture the notorious Thunderbolt, but which in point of fact did no such thing. Lees at the moment was an embittered man: he, and he alone, was out of the chase: duty had tied him to the domestic apron strings, and the action of his young men—who had joined the pursuers without so much as asking leave—had tightened the knots.

All at once, but so silently that her parents hardly noticed it, little Pen stole out into the veranda. She fancied she had heard a faint cry: in the veranda, fancy became certainty, for the cry was repeated: ‘Miss Pen!’

The voice was sadly feeble, but it was Brown’s voice. Pen knew it instantly, and went swiftly but softly to the end of the veranda. The faint summons came yet again: ‘Miss Pen!’

The child rushed out, groped for and found the picket-fence, followed it down to the wicket, went through, and almost fell over a man’s prostrate form.

‘Miss Pen! Is it really you?’

‘Is that really you, Brown?’ It was very, very dark, and fine rain was falling.

‘Yes, miss, it’s me—come back,’ said Brown, very faintly. ‘I’m glad you heard me, and came—in time. Water! My throat is on fire.’

She turned like lightning. He called her back.

‘Miss Pen!’ His voice terrified her; it was fainter than ever; and he was gasping. ‘You didn’t believe—Miss Pen—I was siding with him —to-night—did you?’

‘No, Brown; really and truly, I didn’t believe that!’

She gave him her little hand, and he pressed it to his cold, damp lips. ‘Water!’ he gasped again.

Pen ran away, a great lump in her throat, a vague terror in her heart. As she neared the veranda she thought she heard a long-drawn choking sigh. She burst into the room, and told her parents Brown was outside, just beyond the fence, lying down exhausted and begging for water. But before she had told them all, the child stopped, and uttered a shrill scream: the light of the lamp had revealed blood upon her hand! William Lees said nothing, but seized the water-bottle and rushed out. He was too late. Thunderbolt’s mate was dead.

The reader may like to know that Thunderbolt himself never left that district alive; the police sergeant from the township near Bilbil shot him dead within forty-eight hours from that midnight. But it is needless to add that there was neither comfort nor consolation in this for little Penelope Lees.

The Romance of Sergeant Clancy

The Idler Magazine, London - April, 1892
Illustrated by H. C. Seppings Wright

Miss Slagg was asleep. Her toes pointed placidly to the cloudless blue, a pine-trunk propped her shoulders; the intervening frock was of obsolete fashion and extreme shabbiness, and was crowned by a very old, very big wideawake, below which were visible the point of Miss Slagg’s chin, an ear reddened through by the sun, and some strands of dark hair similarly tinged. No more than a mile westward, the same rays heated to crackling point the galvanized roofings of Cockatoo Corner, and within half that distance lay the river timber. Miss Slagg, however, finding herself nearing home earlier than usual, was not keen to arrive, nor yet to tempt the river timber, an occasional haunt of her father’s at this hour. Here where she was she had decided to “camp”; and here she slept, while the shadows lengthened and the crows drew round to cock their heads and watch. Two dead rabbits, at the sleeper’s side, allured the crows: no other creature saw her until the new police-sergeant came driving by, in plain clothes, and descried her from the road.

Now Sergeant Clancy, the new man at Cockatoo Corner, was, in his way, a special person; he was quite different from the ordinary mounted constable of the Colonies, His speciality was an imagination of his own. This imagination was of the restless kind which would have proved a distinct advantage in the detective department down in Sydney; but in the back-blocks it was no advantage at all. The Sergeant’s own imagination he fed in his leisure on that of other imaginative men, the novelists; and as his leisure had been large, so was the flavour of romance about him strong and stale. He was new to the Corner, so new as now to be returning from the station with his very first supply of mutton; he was still examining the township through romantic glasses, as the potential scene of the kind of things he read of but never had a chance of doing. And the sight of Miss Slagg asleep among the pines more nearly hinted at such a thing than anything he had seen or heard of yet. For instance, she might not be asleep at all, but dead. This obviously was not the case, but the Sergeant pulled up, jumped down, and drew near to inspect.

He saw before him a spectacle in which there was little to attract; for the clothes were ragged, the boots in holes, the hands large, and the face invisible. He did not know it was Miss Slagg; indeed, he knew the Slaggs by reputation only, and this since his visit to the station this afternoon. But it was a woman: the gallant Sergeant looked instinctively for the attendant peril for which fiction had taught him to yearn. There was none. There was no snake in the sand crawling on to attack, no savage waving his boomerang behind the tree. There was no first class danger to rescue her from. But the woman’s wideawake was tilted so far forward that part of her head was exposed to the sun; and this seemed to constitute a danger of the second class. The Sergeant tugged up half a blue-bush, and stole forward to adjust it behind the unconscious head, remembering as he did so that he had read something of the kind once in a story.

“Be off to blazes!”

The words cracked out distinct, harsh, and separate, as a revolver spits, and they shot Clancy two yards backward, shrub in hand. They came from under the wideawake, which was raised a little by one of the large, sunburnt hands, so that the Sergeant now beheld the full lips and even teeth from which the words had been fired.

“Excuse me,” he stammered, “but sunstroke—”

“You an’ your sunstroke!”

The wideawake was pushed higher still. Clancy saw half the face now, and was attracted.

“I wished to protect you from the sun,” he protested, with perhaps conscious gallantry—“that was all; I never meant to disturb you.”

She eyed him from the ground. He was not a very fine fellow to look at. He was thin and tall, and he stooped; his face was sallow, he wore a short black beard, and his mahogany hands had a fleshless look, the muscles knotting over them like the roots of a tree from which the soil has drifted.

“Well,” said Miss Slagg, “who are you, anyway?”

“My name’s Clancy.”

“The new Sergeant?”

“Yes.”

“Well, I’ll be bothered!” exclaimed Miss Slagg, sitting bolt upright, and opening her dark eyes wide. “I’ve seen you across the road, in uniform, but I’m blessed if I’d ha’ tumbled to you as you are! The barracks is right opposite our shanty—me and father’s; I’m Nancy Slagg, d’ye see? Nancy and Sergeant Clancy—that’s a rhyme! Likely you’ve heard on us?”

“Yes, I’ve heard of you,” said Clancy, pleasantly; he had never taken his eyes from hers since those striking orbs had become visible.

“Very bad?” inquired the girl,

“Never mind; I don’t believe all I hear; I take people as I find ’em. And I don’t go poking my nose into what’s no concern o’ mine; you can ask ’em where I come from; and I don’t mind who you tell that I said so, Miss Nancy Slagg. You can tell them that may like to know, that the new bobby minds his own business, as a rule. And now, if you’re going that way, I’ll give you a lift back to the township—most happy!” added the Sergeant rather grandly, suddenly remembering his favourite literature, which he had temporarily forgotten.

“No, thanks,” replied Nancy, decidedly.

“Why not?”

“Because I’ll walk.”

She sprang up as she spoke, but immediately reeled back to the tree: one foot she could not put to the ground.

“You’ve sprained your ankle!” cried the Sergeant, finding himself, to his delight, in one of the familiar heroic situations after all. “You must let me give you a lift now. I insist on helping you into my trap—stop, I’ll bring it up to you!” And the gallant fellow was running to do so when her laugh arrested him.

“Not sprained,” said she, kicking out her right foot. “Asleep!”

The Sergeant was disappointed.

“I don’t know whether to believe you or not. Why shouldn’t I drive you, though? Your place and mine too are right at this end of the township.”

“Shall I tell you?”

“Yes.”

“Get aboard then—’cause I’m not coming.”

He did so reluctantly. “Now, then,” said he, “tell me what makes you so stubborn!”

Nancy Slagg had whipped off her wideawake, and was swinging it in one hand, while the other knuckled her side, showing to shapely advantage the strong arm and elbow in the shabby old sleeve. Her dark hair, half up, half down, glowed in the sun as before a fire: so did her eyes: so did her whole face, from the forehead, where the sunburn began, to the throat, where it ended in a collar of white skin conspicuous whenever she raised her head. She raised it now, in her uncouth coquetry, and gave the Sergeant a broad grin, and a thrill to treasure in his sentimental soul.

“First of all I don't want: second of all, if I did, the old man he’d—”

“What? He ill treats you, I’ve heard so to-day,” cried Clancy, in some excitement; “but you don’t mean to say that just for—”

“I don’t mean to say not another word. Whoever’s been telling you is a bloomin’ liar, and you can say so from me—and tell him to mind his own bloomin’ business! I’d say the same thing to you, Sergeant, if you hadn’t told me you minded yours of your own accord. And I believe you. See?” Her eyes had flashed; but now she was grinning again.

“I see,” said the Sergeant, discreetly.

“So long, then.”

“So long.” And with yet greater discretion, foreign to his habit, the inspired Sergeant drove off at once, without another word, though not without another look. He glanced back presently along the wide, sandy track; and Miss Slagg was trudging after him with long, unfeminine steps, swinging a dead rabbit in either hand.

From that day forward, Sergeant Clancy inhaled the atmosphere of personal romance for which he had long pined. Here was a wild but glorious girl living at the mercy of a wretch of a father. They inhabited a hovel; no one trusted them; the father was an inveterate villain; the girl a lovely, unfriended savage—until the Sergeant’s advent. He befriended her, and more. He loved her from the first. It was the romance of his life, for which he had waited patiently.

The villainous Slagg was one of those picturesque persons who decorate the outer rings of civilisation more often than the populous bull’s-eye. He was of the medium height and build, had really handsome features (when newly shaved), and he had given Nancy her eyes. But he was the acknowledged rogue of the district, and the Sergeant smoked an occasional evening pipe with him at the peril of his own position. He ran the risk sometimes, however, and when he did Nancy would be there. More often he would manage to encounter her when going the round of her rabbit-traps, and the girl would laugh and fling slang at him across a gulf of her own fixing, captivating him in her own way. It was a way that strengthened without tightening existing bonds. She encouraged him in her rough fashion, yet kept him at a disheartening distance, and this with a facility really astonishing in one so purely a child of nature. It never occurred, to him that the encouragement was not genuine, but enforced by old Slagg, who would score considerably by an attachment between his daughter and the Sergeant, through the latter’s consequent attitude towards himself.

Slagg had a reputation for sheep-stealing: he had been caught at it, and convicted, before this; and it was Clancy’s dread that it might fall to him to catch and convict the old sinner again. I am afraid the gallant Sergeant neglected his severest duty for the sake of Slagg’s daughter and her brilliant eyes; either there were some things he would not see, or he was blind and unfit for the force. What he saw with all his soul, and naturally to the eclipse of duty, was the uncouth beauty of this strapping girl; and later, her good heart. For she had merits other than her eyes and hair, the ripe tint of her skin, or the graceful curves which old clothes, never made for Nancy, could not hide. Of the two inhabitants of the hovel opposite the police-barracks, it was the girl who supplied the necessaries of their lives—always barring the mutton, which was a luxury, and never paid for. Nancy was the rabbiter, who went the round of her traps every day, and carried the skins to the station once a week, where they fetched sixpence each. Nancy had paid for the piebald pony which her father rode, and from which he had fallen more than once when in drink. Nancy carved the emu-eggs, and carved them better than anyone else in those parts, so that her work would have paid her really well had she known its actual value. And it was Nancy who took care of her disreputable old father, drunk or sober, and bore his violence in either state, brooking no word against him from sympathising neighbours.

Past Cockatoo Corner, and immediately behind the tenement of old Slagg, flowed one of the rivers which give to this part of New South Wales the name of the Riverina; that is to say, it so flowed three seasons out of four: in summer it became a mere chain of waterholes. Though the surrounding country was free from forest, the river banks were well timbered, and behind the hovel the savage Nancy could boast of that luxury of civilised girlhood—a favourite tree. The tree was a willow with a fork jutting over the river. In this fork Nancy Slagg would sit carving, occasionally, in the afternoon; or dreaming, more often, of an evening. Of those dreams she could have told you little: only that it was strange to sit perched between two starry skies, midway, in a single belt of whispering timber: always strange, sometimes sickly; for she could have told you what it was to sit there too long, until the stars spun round overhead and underneath, and what an age it took to creep back along the trunk with tight-shut eyes and chattering teeth.

But once, when it was merely strange, a black figure punted a primitive raft round the bend nearer the township—seeming to shoot right out of the trees—and passed clean under the forked willow.

“Who is it?” cried Nancy, startled out of her shapeless dreams.

“Hyslop,” responded a young man, who, indeed, was equally startled.

“Never heard of him! Who are you?”

“The new hand at Gulland’s store.”

The young man grasped the branches, and lifted his face; and Nancy, peering through them, found it to her liking. He had made his raft in an hour of empty solitude; he improved, strengthened, and elaborated it later with pains and ecstasy. And under the forked willow, behind Slagg’s hut, the raft lay hidden most evenings when the moon was not perilously bright.

It did not last long. One dark night, well within the month, the punter suddenly discovered that he had overshot the place; then a block of wood whizzed past his head and splashed into the water near the further bank; and, looking round, our young man saw that the willow of delight had been hewn down, and made out the form of old Slagg seated on the stump. A volley of oaths, thickly uttered, followed the missile; but Hyslop, a good specimen of the cool Australian youth, had the presence of mind to punt on; and old Slagg, being drunk, got another lump of wood from the ground, and waited patiently for the enemy’s return passage. And while he waited, young Hyslop, who had landed higher up, was quietly interviewing Miss Slagg in the hovel itself, and undertaking to avenge at convenience a certain ugly blue mark upon her wrist.

Luckily for everybody (excepting, perhaps, the common hangman), they were not caught.

Slagg sought the Sergeant next day, and bluntly asked him if he meant to let this whipper-snapper of a counter-jumper snatch the girl from under his very nose. The Sergeant had made few friends in the township; he had not so much as heard of young Hyslop, and he was fairly astounded to hear of his audacity and of Nancy’s crimes. Slagg left him in the state of mind he had desired to induce. He did not mean to lose his girl to Clancy either; but that was for future prevention. Clancy would be useful meanwhile. Slagg crossed the road, chuckling, and gave his daughter a delicate reminder of his authority and power by taking from her the emu-egg which she was busily carving, and stamping it into little pieces with his heel.

Meanwhile the Sergeant endured all the torments of the losing lover. He had not yet literally lost; but, as he reflected, there was little to choose between the girl who had not said “No”—because she had not been asked—and the girl who held clandestine meetings with some other man. He was as miserable as he could have been if she had refused him for the hundredth time. And in his misery he went to Gulland’s store to purchase an article he did not want, and to take stock of the man who had undermined him. The latter betrayed no embarrassment; he was a cool hand, as we have seen, even for a young Colonial; he talked of the rains and the state of the roads with perfect ease, and some little civility. He turned out to be a young fellow of medium build and height, with decided features, and a great air of independence, which Nancy was the very girl—reflected the Sergeant, sadly—to admire in a man. Clancy, indeed, was much more dispirited than incensed by the sight of his rival. For the sterner feeling he had no time, this was filled with involuntary reflection upon his own inferiority, from a young woman’s point of view. On leaving the store he made a casual inquiry or two respecting the new assistant there; and these served only to deepen his dejection; for already the young man seemed to bear an excellent character in the township.

Before the day was over Clancy encountered the young man again, this time unintentionally. It was late in the evening, near the pine-ridge where he had first set eyes on Nancy Slagg, and whither he now wandered—egregiously enough—to calm his soul. And the young man was not alone; Nancy Slagg was with him.

The Sergeant strode back to the township, breathing hard, and met old Slagg on his way out.

“Have you seen my girl Nancy?” asked Slagg, excitedly.

The Sergeant had no time to consider; he let his instinct answer, and astonished himself by saying steadily: “No—I haven’t.”

“They’re together somewhere—damn them!”

“Are you sure?”

“Pretty positive; and I thought it was somewhere in this direction, but—you’ve not seen a trace of ’em, eh?”

“Not a trace,” answered the Sergeant, already half regretting his instinctive lie, and wholly marvelling at it, but sticking to it as one does to a lie once told.

So Slagg was thrown off that particular scent. And whatever happened later in the hovel, there was no collision between Hyslop and the old man that night, nor the next, nor the night after that. Then came a darker one than usual, and what was rarer, a gentle rain.

The Sergeant sat in his verandah, thinking, to the rather agreeable accompaniment of rain drops on a corrugated iron roof. He was also smoking, and his spirit was comparatively calm. Affairs, too, had calmed somewhat during the last three days. The youth Hyslop was conducting himself as admirably as ever behind his counter, and was but seldom seen outside the premises; in fact, he was running no more risks. Moreover, some sort of reconciliation seemed to have taken place between the two Slaggs. And above all, Nancy had been civil—more than civil for Nancy Slagg—to Sergeant Clancy. So the good Sergeant was once more smoking the pipe of peace not in name only. His imagination was itself again, and the picture of Nancy, becomingly dressed, and enthroned in this very verandah as his wife—this picture, which had got out of focus, was now as clearly defined as it had ever been.

He was considering ways of strengthening his hand. One way he had thought of in the beginning of things, when all his ideas had come from books, and this among them. It was to detect and incarcerate the old sheep-stealer—that were not hard—and to convert him, in durance vile, into the ace of trumps. The girl, in her way, was devoted to her father. The ingenuous Sergeant did not indeed propose to hold pistol to this devotion. But if he allowed himself to be prevailed upon, and, at the last and most dramatic moment, set the father free, the effect on the girl might be as that of the pistol, with a less disagreeable after effect. His sense of official duty had become regrettably demoralised, partly owing (no doubt) to an unhealthy appetite for fiction.

But Sergeant Clancy read books as he would have eaten fancy puddings: without inquiring, even in his own mind, how they were made. So he did not see very clearly his way through the situation suggested. It kept him up very late indeed, and then something happened to keep him up all night. Something real: a horseman rode out from behind the shanty of old Slagg, and passed close to the barracks, heading in the direction of Cockatoo Station. It was still raining, it was darker than ever, but the piebald pony was unmistakable as it passed the angle of the barracks; and if that were not old Slagg astride of her, Sergeant Clancy, as he buckled on the belt that supported his revolver, desired himself to be shot. The old man was after no good; he would follow, and discover what bad; and as to the end—it depended.

Two hours later he was back in the verandah—at one end of it—wet through with rain and sweat; crouching, with his revolver in one hand and the other hollowed at his ear. Hoof-sounds met it: the thief was returning with his plunder: and it was not sheep, but horses!

At this end of the township the sand was heavy; none should know it better than old Slagg; and Clancy was not surprised when the two driven horses trotted close by the barracks—close to where he knelt—their hoofs effectually muffled in the deep sand. But as the piebald passed, the Sergeant leapt out, and pulled the rider to the ground. The man seemed dazed. The revolver, too, cowed him. He pulled the wideawake further down over his eyes—as if Clancy did not know him! He submitted to be pushed along the verandah, and into the strong room, without a word, and without a single motion of resistance, though the muscles of his arms, as Clancy gripped them, were firm and hard as those of a young man. Neither did Clancy speak; the thing was done in tragic silence, and in a matter of seconds; the cell door banged, the key grated in the lock, and after that Sergeant Clancy leant against a verandah post, and heard nothing but his own heart beating.

Half that he had plotted then was even now a living fact; but he did not think of that, he was far enough from plots and stories, in the midst of the most striking reality of his life. His brain was bewildered by the events embedding it; he pressed his head to the post, leaned hard on it, and closed his eyes.

When he opened them another face was close to his in the darkness, the face of Nancy Slagg.

“What’ll he get?” she whispered, hoarsely.

“Get?” said Clancy; for it did not clarify his understanding to see her there, and face her now. “What will who get?”

Nancy pointed to where the small barred window was; the window itself was invisible in the dense darkness of the verandah.

“Him!”

“Oh, him!—Nancy, I’m so sorry!”

“What’ll he get?”

“God knows!”

He was looking down upon her very sorrowfully, very tenderly. The girl met his look, and read it.

“I say, Sergeant! S’pose you aint to be got at—eh?”

“No! How can you ask?”

“Cause there's nothin’ I wouldn’t do for you, Sergeant, to let him go—nothin’! You’ve been good to me all along.”

The Sergeant trembled. “Do you mean it, Nancy?” he whispered, brokenly. “Do you mean it?”

“What’ll he get?” asked the girl once more, dropping back into her first words and tone.

“A long time—a long time!”

“Long or short, it’d ruin him for life,” said Nancy, bitterly; and her head drooped, her fingers wrenched one another, as she made up her mind. “Yes, I do mean it!” she cried, looking him squarely in the face. “I mean it—do you? Will you let him go? It’s no good makin’ any bloomin’ bones about it. I mean— if you wanted me to—I’d marry you!”

“He’s free!” said the Sergeant, very distinctly. Then, with a single sob, he caught her in his arms and to his breast, and she did not immediately resist; it was a part of the bargain. Long moments to each of them—of hell to her, of heaven to him—moments that both might carry to their death—he held her tight. At last she released herself, quietly, and looked up at him with so white a face that he heard again the rattle of the rain that had never ceased. Then Nancy spoke, and her words were the words of mystery.

“There was no other way, and he’s been a great brute to me always, has the old man, but never such a brute as over this. He’d have killed my Jack—an’ he tried! So we said next time he got tight we’d do a bolt—and he’s been paralytic tight since sundown. But we couldn’t bolt on our legs, ’cause he’d have had me back in the morning. The other evening—time you saw us—I’d been with my Jack to the horse-paddock, and I shown him them two horses you’ve got there, ’cause they wouldn’t miss ’em first thing in the mornin’ like they’d miss station horses. What’s up? Didn’t you know they was yours? Why, they loafed straight into your yard by theirselves; but you was here.”

From a state of entire mystification, Clancy had passed, during this explanation, to one of incredulity.

“Nancy,” he cried, weakly smiling, as at chaff, “your father’s sober enough to-night; it’s your father I’ve run in.”

“I wish it was my father; it’s my Jack!”

The Sergeant remembered the dense darkness (it grew lighter as they talked), the wideawake pulled forward, and the firm muscles for old arms.

“Hyslop!” he said, with a gasp. “Hyslop, I suppose!”

“Yes, Jack Hyslop—my Jack. That’s why I'm going to do what I’ve promised you I’ll do—to set my Jack scot free!”

She seemed to speak of what she could not realise, for her fine eyes were dry, and dull; but she spoke on one hard despairing note that struck straighter to the heart than tears.

“Your Jack! Then you love him—all this much?”

“You may have me if you let him go. My poor old Jack! You’d be done for, like father, when you came out!”

In the lessening darkness the Sergeant looked long into her dull, sad eyes; and life rolled out before him, with those splendid eyes always meeting his, dull and sad to the end. And that was enough. He stepped inside, and came back with a key, which he put in Nancy’s hands. “Let him out yourself,” he said. “God knows what I have been thinking of doing!”

He went round to the yard, and bridled the two horses he found there; for they were his own. He led them out in the rain, and in the darkness, which was not the darkness that had been.

He regretted the growing light, for in it Nancy Slagg and Jack Hyslop took well-nigh a furlong to vanish, the two together, riding away for ever from Cockatoo Corner. And it had been bad enough to be left standing in eternal darkness, with Nancy’s wild, impetuous kiss red-hot on his cheek, and her tears of gratitude still wet upon his face.

But daylight found Sergeant Clancy kneeling at the tree where he had seen her first, and stripping off the bark, just where her head had rested. He had become alive to the fact that his personal love-story had reared suddenly, and toppled over without his knowing it. He was now performing the kind of final act his reading taught him to expect of himself, as the hero of his own romance.

The Burrawurra Brand

The Idler Magazine - November 1893
Illustrations by George Hutchinson

The Burrawurra run had many merits, but those of the homestead in the midst of it were few and adventitious.

The site was central, certainly, for you might strike the boundary by riding out ten miles in any direction; and it was conspicuous, because, no matter what direction you chose, you had to cover at least three miles of open plain before finding shelter from the Riverina sun. Nor was there any shade at the homestead itself, save the clean-cut shadows of the various buildings. A crooked pine tree wasted in the station-yard, but only one; itself, and the whitewashed walls and beams and verandah posts surrounding it, were all that remained of the original clump. Above the whitewashed walls was an acre or two of galvanised iron in small allotments. So from a distance, the homestead greatly resembled a group of packing cases with tin lids, and in itself it did not attract. But old George Wade, who both owned and managed Burrawurra, made you glow before you got there, from the warmth of remembered welcomes and the certainty of a warm one in store; and Mrs. Wade was wonderfully glad to see you, for an invalid lady who had no business in the bush; and young George was a genial villain, but it was his sister that you went to see. For a white frock fluttering in the verandah at Burrawurra homestead was as a lighthouse light flashing over the sea. Good eyes could discern it across miles of sand and saltbush, and those that did so without delight were looking for the first time upon Pinkie Wade.

Not that Pinkie was a beauty; she was less than that, and also more. She was wiry and thin and rather tall, with the hand and stride of a man, and a smile more audacious than winning, though one was glad enough to have it just as it was. And her smile was all her own. It began in her eyes, cleverness was needed to know when, for these were so dark that there was no defining the pupils, which made their expression often inscrutable; and it ended in a gleaming show of teeth, just as it became very hard to stand away from her lips any longer. But the best has been said. Her colour was distinctly sallow. Her face was leaner than is looked for in a girl. She disfigured her forehead with a coal-black fringe, and her speech with a twang that nobody could admire. Sometimes she disfigured it much more dreadfully: once, at all events, she had been heard to use certain crisp expressions to some killing-sheep she had undertaken to pen, which being reported to her mother, Pinkie shed tears of penitence, but pleaded provocation. The tears were a rarity, and let us hope the cause was, too. Pinkie, however, showed tenderness at all times to her poor mother; but she had no tenderness for her admirers, of which she might have thought herself lucky to own one in the bush, instead of the four or five who would ride from ten to forty miles for the pleasure of being snubbed by her.

Yet she liked them much, and she liked them all, and when they came to her one at a time, she very nearly loved them each in turn, for each was good of his kind. There was Shaw, the Government Surveyor, who was very honest and pleasant and good-humoured, besides being as thoroughly colonial as Pinkie herself. There was young Hutton, the new chum at Yellow Plains, who was amusing because he was so very much in earnest. There was a Rabbit Inspector, with a good English name and a beautiful moustache, and a fallen angel’s air of melancholy badness which Pinkie found more irresistible every time he came, and he was beginning to come very often. Then there was John Hartley, of Gunbar, and Gunbar is a finer station than Burrawurra, besides being John Hartley’s own. He, too, was delightful, as a devotee twice her age generally is to a girl of twenty. The younger the man the less his chance, so in this case young Hutton had the least chance of them all, in spite of his pathetic mentionings of the money he had for investment, and of his preference for a station life beyond all others. Even young Hutton, however, was good to see when none of the others came, for he was proud in his boyish way, and he had more imagination than the rest of them put together, and would talk better when alone with her. Any one of the four, in fact, was delightful by himself. But at last a malignant fate brought all four to Burrawurra on the same Saturday, and the result was extraordinary.

It was the beginning of December and hot enough to grill chops in ten minutes on the verandah roof. This is on the authority of Pinkie Wade, who said it to her mother while placing an eau-de-Cologne pad on the poor lady’s forehead, and fanning her afresh. Mrs. Wade always did fall ill at the commencement of the very hot weather, and she had fallen ill now while her husband was away buying horses. Pinkie was looking after her, and it was from her mother’s window that she beheld John Hartley’s buggy drive up, to her dismay. The interesting Inspector followed at three in the afternoon, and Shaw, the Surveyor, before five, when, as it grew cooler, Mrs. Wade actually came out to see her guests. She would not have them know how ill she was, nor did they guess. Such is the hospitality of the squatter and his wife.

But Pinkie was extremely angry, and when young Hutton arrived, after a ride of five-and-twenty miles, in time for supper, she happened to be the first person he saw, and her anger broke loose. She told him what was the matter, and asked him, ridiculously, why on earth he had chosen this day of all days.

His answer was to wheel round his horse as if to remount, whereupon Pinkie Wade seized the reins with one hand and snatched the spectacles from his nose with the other. He was a near-sighted new chum.

“What are you up to?” she cried, really angrily now.

“Let me go back,” he answered doggedly, giving her a curious stare without his glasses, and holding out his hand for them. But Pinkie Wade fixed them on her own nose, and pretended that she could see him through them, with her head on one side.

“I’ll let you walk back if you lose your temper!” she said, most unjustifiably. “You’ve to stay and amuse the others. I shan’t see anything of you, so I hope you’ll all keep out of mischief and not quarrel. You shall play tennis all day long to-morrow; you’ve to stay just to make up a four—otherwise you shouldn’t. Here, take back the things, I can’t see through ’em.”

And the smile ended as it always did, Hutton whipping on his glasses in time to see the last of it, and each dazzling tooth was as a new nail in the coffin of his peace of mind. But he might have rested in thankfulness and good hope. For not so familiarly would she have treated any of the others, and whatever familiarity may breed, it is itself bred by the kind of feelings that would have encouraged young Hutton had he divined them in Pinkie Wade.

It was in his favour, however, that there were four of them to play lawn-tennis next day, without young Wade, who had things to see to; for in spite of his eyesight, Hutton was the best of the four; and in spite of Mrs. Wade’s indisposition, which continued, Pinkie came out to watch the games. The play was not of a high order, certainly, but neither was she to know that. She did not pretend to know much about it. She merely saw the new chum from Yellow Plains repeatedly put the ball past the handsome Rabbit Inspector, who had gone to the devil before lawn-tennis was invented, and picked up his play in the infernal regions that had harboured him now for some years. His play was bad, and his temper turned out to be rather bad also; and when Pinkie discovered this, the fascination of a vaguer and more attractive kind of badness became cancelled for the time. She followed Hutton’s good strokes with the most provoking applause, which had the double effect of improving his play and demoralising that of the Inspector. But the Inspector was by no means a bad fellow in one sense of the term. The other Englishman’s better play, and Pinkie Wade’s vexatious plaudits, combined to irritate him at the moment, but he was perfectly good-natured in the evening. Good-natured also was the chaff that then went on, whereof fragments floated to Pinkie’s ears. But she chose to think otherwise, because she could hear just enough to know that the new chum was the person who was being chaffed. The new chum always is that person. In most cases he merits all the chaff he gets. In most cases, also, he stands it charmingly, though chaff in the bush is a rusty rapier with a jagged blade. Hutton stood his as he was likely to stand it, coming as he did (and not so long since) from a public school. But Pinkie heard what she did hear with an absurd sense of indignation. She was just feminine enough to be hopelessly unfair in her judgment of others, and from that night her fallen angel was also her fallen idol. Nor was he ever picked up or put together again, though somebody did his best, for there are some things that women would never believe, though the Recording Angel signed an affidavit to their truth.

Nevertheless, the visitation of the four would at least have ended peacefully, and been given a decent burial in the mind of Pinkie Wade, but for a circumstance of pure chance, the like of which would not happen twice. On a station only one horse is stabled over-night—the night-horse—which is used for running up the others from the horse-paddock at break of day. When the four said good-night to Pinkie Wade, three of them made it good-bye, fully intending to be away before breakfast next morning; and the fourth, John Hartley, who was himself in no hurry, followed their example after a moment’s hesitation, and in obedience to a sportsman-like instinct which did him credit. But two horses were somehow missed by the man who ran up the rest; it turned out later that a fence was broken, and they had got adrift in another and a larger paddock; but the odd thing was that the missing two were the nags of young Hutton and the Inspector of rabbit-skins. The sun grew fierce, and these horses had not been found. Young George Wade persuaded the pair to stay, in any case, till the cool of the evening. John Hartley, who had never wanted to make an early start, elected to wait also, and Shaw, the Surveyor, who also was his own boss, naturally followed suit. Genial young Wade, who had work to do in a distant corner of the Burrawurra run, postponed that also until the blessed evening. So five healthy men were left with the thermometer already rising 110° in the shade and a long morning on their idle hands. And Satan was their man.

From whom the suggestion came, there is no saying at this distance of time. They were squatting in the store verandah, vagariously yarning, and it probably arose from talk concerning the late shearing. The suggestion was that they should all turn into the store and cut each other’s hair, and it was carried by acclamation.

Now the store was a building by itself, and knew neither partitions nor subdivisions of any kind. It was a large, low, dingy-looking place, but roomy enough, in spite of its multifarious contents. These included all reasonable wants of the wilderness, stowed away on shelves, depending from the beams, or preserved in cases and barrels. Hutton noticed the stencil of the Burrawurra brand hanging from a nail, the Burrawurra brand being W over 60 —W for Wade, and 60 for the sixty thousand sheep the station would carry in good seasons. He noticed it professionally, because he personally had wielded such another brand during the recent shearing at Yellow Plains. Later, the Burrawurra brand became horribly familiar to him. For it was painted in white on two casks that stood side by side in one corner of the store. One of these casks contained limejuice, the other whisky. A single glass was found, and as each man rose with a cropped head from the victim’s chair, the whole party adjourned, with the glass, to that corner, where whisky and limejuice was swiftly swallowed, with no allaying rain. This refreshment between the acts was really the inspiration of a naturally thirsty soul, the Inspector, but the new chum thought it was a custom of the bush. They told him that, and he believed it; there are stranger customs, if you come to think of it. Now the new chum disliked limejuice, and he was only beginning not to dislike whisky. Nor did he love the expedition with which he was made to toss off the fluid (because of the one glass only), although, indeed, he had no desire to let it trickle over his palate in a succession of drops. But he did love, more than most things, a custom of the bush; the phrase alone charmed him; and he drank more than once to the honour of the public schools, coupled with the names of Eton and Rugby, the Rabbit Inspector’s school and his own.

So it came to pass that when Pinkie came into the store at about half-past eleven, to say a word to her brother, she saw the hair of Hutton’s head (which had not yet been cut) peeping over some sacks of flour. An instinct had made young Hutton hide. Another instinct, when the girl was gone—as he fancied, without seeing that he was there—made him desire to break away from the hair-cutting altogether. He said that he was going to see whether his horse had been run up yet, and if so he was off to Yellow Plains, as after all he had better get back there as soon as possible. The proposal was resisted, but young Hutton stood to his guns. It was a last stand; his horse was not yet in the yard. He returned to the store, for where else could he go? Pinkie’s frock fluttered in the verandah of the main building, but yet another instinct told him that she would not receive him kindly at that moment. He concentrated his mind on walking back to the store as an arrow flies, and flattered himself that he entirely succeeded.

The third victim was shaking the hair from his winding sheet as young Hutton entered. He was in time for his ration of whisky and limejuice, which he stoutly refused. He said that the limejuice was getting into his boots. Whereupon pressure was brought to bear on the public schools, which appealed to his pride. Once more the unholy blend made Hutton wince, as he tossed it off in the dark corner where the great twin barrels stood. That corner was so dark that each man mixed his own by guess-work, but the Burrawurra brand grinned from each barrel in white paint that defied the darkness; and the grin broadened as Hutton put down his empty glass.

The order of the hair-cutting was seniores priores, as Hutton remarked with an unction which was accepted as a proof that he had really been at Rugby. Young Wade, from the chair, entreated a translation, which the new chum gave him with an adjectival freedom which was a proof, on the other hand, that he had also been some time in the bush. His turn came next (he was denied his turn as operator), and, as he began to feel, the sooner the  better. But before it came, his spectacles fell from his nose, and he himself stamped upon them with ferocious mirth until the lenses were ground to powder. That obviously was the limejuice that was in his boots. At his next interview with the Burrawurra brand he was panting with excitement, but without his glasses he could not see what he was doing, and the taps were stiff to turn. He is afraid he must have abused the Burrawurra brand, and the man who cut his hair is careful to make a point of it that he did.

He knows that he fell asleep while his hair was being cut. The last thing he remembers hearing distinctly was the voice of John Hartley (who was preparing to go, and who was old enough not to have been there at all) saying that something was a shame. Also he felt something cold upon his neck besides the scissors. But he slept until they made him get up, having finished with him. They then asked him (as it seemed to him through telephones) how he felt as to the back of his head; and he replied as to his feelings generally, with a candour that was admirable, though needless.

“Rugby,” said the Rabbit Inspector, “you want another drink!”

“Eton,” began Hutton— And his language to the Etonian was thick in more senses than one.

Remember that this orgy was a morning performance. That is its sole claim to distinction. It was half-past twelve, with a shade temperature of 112° Fahrenheit, when the performers vacated the store in a body, leaving (like the sheep of Little Bo-peep, herself a squatter’s daughter) their hair behind them. Nothing further occurred, save instances of how badly and well men may treat a man during one and the same hour. Hutton did nothing for some time to assist the story. But the story went forward at luncheon, and on his account.

Pinkie Wade asked where he was, and fixed her black eyes upon the handsome Rabbit Inspector. Now the Inspector had a head on him like a lump of quartz, but this did not prevent him being in the best of humours, thanks to everything, and he answered airily that the new chum had been in the sun, which had proved too much for him.

As the girl continued to stare at him very hard, he added that the thermometer stood at some hundreds in the shade.

Then the Rabbit Inspector, who had been educated at Eton, received from Miss Wade of Burrawurra a reprimand which he cannot have forgotten to this day, though he was the man to forgive it. She divined what had really happened, and spoke out with a moral fearlessness which the Inspector himself could not help admiring. John Hartley had gone, and she blamed the Inspector, and the Inspector only, with a fine injustice which had yet enough justice in it to make her charges impossible to answer. Her worst charge she kept to herself; it was so monstrously unfair that, had she uttered it, out of her own mouth would she have armed the Inspector for his self-defence. As it was he merely returned her stare—and his own was not free from dignity— while young Wade sat in stupid silence, and the Government Surveyor hung his head. The girl’s words cut their dulled ears like knives, but the ears of the Inspector were not so dull, belonging, as they did, to a head of quartz. When she paused he bowed slightly; then he rose from his chair so abruptly that he knocked it over, but Pinkie Wade was nimbler, and she was out of the room before him.

“Old man,” gasped the girl’s brother, finding his voice at last, “I’m—I’m damnably ashamed of her!”

“My good fellow,” replied the Inspector, who had at least gone to the devil a gentleman, “you ought to be proud of her. She was a bit rough, but between us we deserved every word, and, by God, she can hit out straight!”

But he rode away, and Shaw followed him in his buggy, steering an unsteady course that Pinkie watched with a curled lip from her mother’s bedside, where she sat plying a fan with so gentle a hand that Mrs. Wade slept beneath the soft current of cool air.

Young Wade saw his friends off with a long face, and further apologies, which the Inspector again tossed back in his face. “She’s a stunner,” he said, as he rode away. But George could not see his sister in that light just then. He would have to face her later. It occurred to him to turn out Hutton’s horse, which had been run up at last, so that at least he would have one man to stand by him that night. But before night he had to perform the duty neglected in the morning; that duty called him to a distant quarter of the run; and before he could obey this call he felt it necessary, for many reasons, to lie down and sleep. So he went to his room, which Hutton was sharing with him because of the visitation of the four together, and lay down there.

When Hutton awoke, which was barely before sundown, he discovered somebody sitting on the edge of the other bed and putting on his spurs. He guessed that it was George Wade, but he could see nothing distinctly without his glasses; and when he felt for them he began to remember things. He lay still for some moments. The universe was inside his head, George Wade stood up, and his spurs tinkled on the floor.

“Where are you going?” said Hutton.

“Hallo!” cried George. “How are you?”

“As fit as I deserve to be. It’s not saying much. Where are you off to?”

George’s answer brought Hutton into a bolt upright position on the bed. “Surely you aren’t going to leave a fellow?” he said nervously. “Wait for me, and we’ll start together.”

“My dear boy, you’re not going to-night,” said young Wade, comfortably; “don’t you believe it.”

“I must!” cried Hutton, springing to his feet.

“Why must you? Anyway, you can’t, because your horse isn’t in yet,” affirmed George Wade, unblushingly; “he’s got through into a big paddock, and it’ll take me to find him. I’ll have a look for him this evening; I shan’t be out so long.”

“Shall you be back to supper?” asked Hutton wistfully.

“Well, no; I’m going to get a snack with a boundary-rider, who was expecting me this morning. I must go and see him to-night.”

“Then I must go, too. Lend me a horse, George, for God’s sake!”

“Why, man?”

“Because.—I can’t face—your sister. She’ll know all about it!”

“She knows nothing,” vowed the immoral George. “Even if she did, do you suppose it would matter?”

“Well, I shouldn’t like to look her in the face again,” said Hutton, and the touch of pride in his tone passed the other’s comprehension. George, indeed, burst out laughing.

“My good chap, it’s nothing new to her!” he cried, little knowing how it horrified Hutton to hear this. “She’s seen it before. She’s used to it. She wouldn’t think any the worse of you. After all, you were only the worst of a bad lot; and she’ll think you were the best, because she saw us others. We told her you’d been in the sun, and she believed it. Honour bright, she did! So cheer up, and don’t be off your smoke when I get back; I promise I won’t be late.”

Hutton looked into young Wade’s eyes to see whether he was telling the truth, but his own were half blind for the want of glasses, and it was more natural to him at his age to believe than to disbelieve. He believed and gave in.

Hutton walked over to the stockyard with Wade, and saw the last of him, as George had seen the last of the others, but with an even longer face. George’s last words were an inquiry after the back of Hutton’s head. Hutton said it felt as though it had been very badly cropped, and George was laughing as he rode away in the gloaming. This young man had certainly no morals.

Poor Hutton went back to his room and dipped his head in cold water a great many times; between the times he made as elaborate a toilet as the contents of his valise would permit. The loss of his glasses was another handicap. But when he emerged into the open air he was looking really very sleek; his hair in front seemed nicely cut, though it was rather too wet; his coat was scrupulously brushed. No sooner, however, was he in the station-yard, than his heart began knocking, for on the verandah outside the dining-room door he could see something white, and even without his spectacles he knew that it was Pinkie Wade. He stepped boldly forward, taking heart of what George had told him. But the moment he set foot in the verandah where she was, he knew that George had lied to him. He knew it from the way in which she rose from her chair as he drew near. He knew it from the tone of her voice, though she only said “Good evening” to him.

He leant against a verandah post, and tried to say more to her, and not to think of George. But it was very hard to find anything to say, and perhaps she purposely made it harder. Also, he had his thoughts, and his mind was steeped in remorse. Pinkie was in one of her snow-white frocks, whose purity made his own evil performance the more black and awful in his eyes. You see, he had imagination. It was one of the things she liked in him. But it was a thing that added much to his misery at this moment, for his thoughts flew to his own women-kind in England, while his eyes rested on Pinkie Wade, and he was young enough to wonder what they would have thought. . . . But supper put an end to these speculations; only to give him a new lease of discomfiture on still more embarrassing terms.

For he and Pinky had to face one another across the length of the cloth, so that he could hardly see her at all, and no other face was at the table. He had to carve for her, and this he managed to do in spite of his blindness; but having carved for himself also, he found himself quite unable to eat. His inability was conspicuous. Pinkie expressed a fear that the mutton was underdone, and proposed the cold joint. He said he did not think he could eat anything. He was foolish enough to add that he didn’t know why, for Pinkie said promptly—

“I do!”

“I hope you don’t,” he cried, losing his head.

“Why, surely there is no disgrace in being overcome by the sun? That, they tell me, happened to you this morning. I was very sorry to hear it,” Pinkie Wade said, sadly.

“You were sorry?” asked Hutton, wildly.

“I was grieved,” she whispered.

He sprang to his feet, and history repeated itself, for he knocked over his chair in his nervous haste. He blundered to the door, and there turned round.

“You know what happened!” he blurted out. “I can’t see your face, but I can tell that you know, from your voice. I am more ashamed of myself than I have ever been in my life before. But I won’t ask you to forgive me, because I don’t deserve to be forgiven!”

He looked towards her for a moment with shame and penitence, and the wistful yearning that comes into eyes that would but cannot see distinctly. In his, the girl thought there were tears as well. But she liked him for being too proud to ask her forgiveness, and he was gone before she could be sure of the tears. Ere she had time to follow him to the door a mist had come before her own eyes, and for some moments she, too, could not see. She listened behind the door, and heard him go into his room at the other side of the station-yard. When he came out she wiped her eyes, and watched through the crack of the open door. He had his valise under his arm, and he disappeared in the direction of the stockyard. Then Pinkie Wade began to wring her hands, and to vilify the poor Inspector whom lately she had inclined to worship.

“It was all your doing,” she muttered viciously, “you brute! But I’ll never look at you again—never! You thought I’d never look at him again, did you? Pooh, I have always liked him twice as well as you, though you are so fine and large, and now I know it. He’s got to be forgiven, but you . . .”

The Rabbit Inspector troubled her thoughts no more just then; but her mind was made up about him for good and all. It was one of those cases in which a woman condemns a man on strong circumstantial evidence; she always hangs him. Pinkie stepped forth into the station-yard, and smiled at the moon, which was rising over the roof that had just covered her. I don’t say it was the case, but possibly her smile had to do with her own appearance in the white moonlight and that white dress. Conceivably, too, the frown that followed her smile was caused by the recollection that the new chum from Yellow Plains had either lost or broken his glasses. But these are deep waters. It is certain, on the other hand, that light steps now crossed the sandy tract dividing the cluster of tin-lidded buildings from the stock-yard; that they hesitated half-way, when a figure became visible leaning dejectedly through the stock-yard rails, with its back to the homestead; and that a few moments later this figure started and shivered as if an arrow had lodged between its shoulder-blades, instead of the finger of a girl.

“What are you doing here?” the girl said.

“I’m waiting for my horse,” replied the figure.

“Why, your horse won’t be run up till morning!”

“I am waiting here till morning.”

“But why?” she asked him, with genuine concern; and then he turned upon her with his hungry eyes, and she recoiled from him.

“Because I have made a disgrace and a fool of myself,” he cried bitterly; “because I have made a beast of myself in your house, and abused your hospitality, so that I will never set foot here again! This is the brutal English of it; I’ll ask your pardon for the English, if you like; but never for what is unpardonable. Here I stick till I get my horse. Then I am off, and you will never see me any more!”

To her his pride seemed splendid; it did not occur to her that a proper pride would have been proud before the event. She was a little unsophisticated with all her arts.

“I think it very unkind of you to say that,” she said, dolefully. “I—we all—like you very much.”

“Then you will have the goodness to hate me this instant,!”’ cried Hutton, vigorously. “If you knew how I hate myself!” he added, in his misery.

“That’s absurd. . . After all—perhaps we’re savages—but it isn’t such a very out-of-the-way thing up in these parts. . . And then, you know, it wasn’t your fault!”

Until she said this, he was softening. He was closer to her than he realised, because his only desire was to see her plainly once more, and his sight was very short without his glasses. He was feasting his eyes on hers until she told him it was not his fault. At that he flung himself upright with a gesture of indignation.

“Don’t say that,” he said sharply. “It was my fault. Nobody else was in the least to blame. Such things are only one man’s fault, or else he is not a man at all!”

She did not agree with him. But she did like his pride more and more until she was beginning to love it, and to lose her own. For now her hand lay lightly on his arm—it was a firm arm, though lean—and she was telling him, in a voice that trembled, not to be an old stupid, but to come back to the house instead of offending them all.

“I care nothing about the others,” he said brusquely. “I have offended myself—and you!”

“You care nothing about me,” she whispered, with her eyes once more close to his, and burning into them. “You care only about yourself. I am nobody.”

“You are everybody.”

“How can I believe you?”

His eyes melted into hers, and at last his arms showed her how she might believe him. . . And that is the end of this discreditable episode, save that one of Pinkie’s hands, not knowing what to do with itself, caressed the back of his head. Whereupon she broke away from him crying—

“Turn round, and let me look at you.”

He turned round.

“Take off your hat and throw back your head.”

He did both. She had made him turn his back to the moon as well as to her. Suddenly he saw her shadow bobbing up and down on the sand in front of him. She was laughing alarmingly.

“What on earth’s the matter with you?” cried Hutton, facing about: and it is lamentable to note the difference in his tone to her at this early stage of their engagement, which was just three minutes old.

“Who cut your hair?” demanded Pinkie Wade.

“That’s mentioning what we were never to mention again, and—and I really couldn’t tell you.”

“You poor boy! It doesn’t much matter who he was, or whether he used the stencil or not. But the Burrawurra brand is W over 60, and he’s cut it in your back-hair as plain as ever I saw it on a bale o’ wool!”

 

The Man That Shot Macturk

The Pall Mall Magazine - September 1895

The morning after my arrival at Gong-gong, in the colony of Victoria, an odd thing happened as I was dressing. My bedroom opened on one end of the verandah, which a man was sweeping when I rose. No other soul was in sight from the window; so I flung wide the door, meaning to air myself for a moment in my pyjamahs, for the night had been hot; and as a matter of course I said good morning to the man. He stared at me for perhaps three seconds. Then his broom clattered in the verandah, and he had taken to his heels without a word or a cry.

“Well!” said I at last. I had been trying, unsuccessfully (for I had barely glanced at the fellow), to recall his features: now I went to the glass and examined my own.

I looked no worse than what I was—a man warm from his bed. The red rust was out upon my cheeks and chin; it is there every morning of my life; and I could swear that my appearance was no more repulsive than that of the average man whose entire toilet is in front of him. I shrugged hopelessly as I shut the door. There was no trace of my man, save his broom lying where he had let it drop. It was still there when I came forth clothed and clean, half an hour later, and proceeded to the breakfast-room, armed to the teeth with my topic.

Mrs. Spurling was pouring out the tea when I spoke of it. She looked so hard at me that the cup she was filling overflowed. Her husband stared, too, and I began to feel thankful that the three of us were alone. For now I made certain that something had gone radically wrong with me in the night—something that a man would be the last to discern in himself. In the height of my embarrassment the lady said to her husband:

“Did you notice it last night, John?”

“Never till this moment, my dear.”

“Yet the likeness is the strongest—”

Here I broke in with a laugh of pure relief.

“For pity’s sake, Mrs. Spurling,” I cried, “tell me whom it is that I am like, for I was beginning to fancy it must be the—well, let us say the fiend himself.”

“A fiend you are certainly like,” said Mrs. Spurling, smiling. “But I am bound to say he was the best-mannered and nicest-looking fiend I ever heard of,” she added, in a manner that might have renewed my embarrassment, had it not caught my interest on the rebound.

I looked from the lady to her husband and back again at the wife with an intentionally wry face. They were an elderly couple, who had had no children, but a number of adventures instead, in the earlier days of the Colony. This had made their conversation unusually interesting overnight. Was I starting the morning within reach of a further adventure, worth all the rest put together? At any rate my own apparent likeness to some more or less diabolical person unknown was in itself a highly exhilarating circumstance, and one on which a little curiosity seemed justifiable on my part. Presently I said as much, in as many words; and Mrs. Spurling answered me, after a moment’s hesitation.

“The fact is,” she said, “you are startlingly like a notorious gentleman who once, many years ago, spent a night with us in this very room.”

“A bushranger?” I asked quickly.

“A bushranger and a murderer. He made me play to him on that piano. And he slept on that sofa—with one eye open!”

My eyes, however, were not yet for the sofa or the piano, but for John Spurling, squatter, whose own were on his plate. He was a steady-going, slightly sombre man, with a brilliant diamond ring that looked strangely out of keeping on his gnarled finger; and now for the first time I noticed him touch and look at it, as if suddenly reminded it was there. He had also struck me as silent, save when wound for yarning, for which he had a turn. But he had solemnly assured me that he could boast of no personal experiences of bushrangers, and he evidently remembered having said so, for he looked up at me at last with a little laugh.

“My wife has given me away; but the fact is, we have almost made it a rule, for reasons of our own, not to talk—”

Here I interposed with a sincere apology. But now they would not listen to me.

“Not at all, not at all,” said the squatter, with a smile. “We have saddled you with a most unflattering likeness, and you are entitled to know something about your double.”

“And why poor Pat turned tail at the sight of you,” added Mrs. Spurling, as she handed me the sugar and the milk.

“Ah! we must hunt him up after breakfast,” said her husband. “And after breakfast I’ll spin you the yarn; only—not that we mind, but for poor Pat’s sake— you mustn’t repeat it in this district, for it’s just beginning to be forgotten about here.”

I gave the necessary promise; but this is not that district.

Gong-gong Station is somewhere or other among the northern spurs of the Plenty Ranges. My stay there was but for two nights, many years ago now, and I have never been able to discover the spot on any map. On the other hand, I can still see the morning view from the front verandah, whence one’s eyes went helter-skelter down a grassy slope till they were stopped by posts and rails; whereupon they took a forest at one bound, and landed on the highest peak of the smoke-blue range opposite. I see the clouds our pipes put into the cloudless sky, and Mrs. Spurling knitting on one side of me while her husband held forth on the other. At this moment his voice rings in my memory—so sharply that I feel as though I had taken up my pen to write at his dictation—and with the yarn comes the click of my lady’s needles in accompaniment. Nor have I since laid eyes on two better comrades than this sere and yellow couple whose stoutest bond was the memory of the hardships and the adventures through which they had seen one another in the rough old days.

Mr. Spurling began with a little hit at me, after certain questions on his side and certain admissions on mine.

“Here’s a man who is inquisitive about bushrangers,” said he, looking at his wife and pointing at me; “yet he means to tell me he never heard of Burke, or Ben Hall, or Captain Melville—let alone Macturk! My boy, you’ve never heard of the pick of the whole bushranging basket! The Kellys were no fools at it, I grant you, but they came later, and they came by themselves. Thunderbolt, too, was a bit behind the times, and neither he nor Captain Moonlight could compare with the boys of the fifties and sixties. Those were the palmy days of bushranging, the days of the men I’ve mentioned—and you never heard of. Burke and Macturk were done for in succeeding years; and I saw the last of poor Macturk. Burke was a brute: he robbed the New South Wales mail three times in twelve weeks, which was fine enough in the way of business; but the Diamond Creek murder, which hanged him in the end, was not. I’ll tell you about that afterwards. It was a cold-blooded, beastly crime. Macturk couldn’t have committed it, and Ben Hall wouldn’t. He never touched your money unless you had plenty, didn’t Ben Hall. And all that lot, including Burke himself, were the devil’s own gentlemen where ladies were concerned—took off their hats and played the gallant highwayman of the olden time. But for all that sort of thing—for dash that wasn’t all bullying bounce, and devilry with a divine moment here and there—Macturk was the boy, and none other within a cooee of him! He was a gentleman! But he had also been a murderer—though strictly in the way of business, mind—not like Burke—and there was a price upon his head. Dead or alive, he was worth a couple of hundred pounds to the man that nabbed him. And with those two hundred on his head, and placarded in every township throughout the Colony, he turns up here one fine evening, to spend the night, just as you did yesterday!”

“Didn’t you know who he was? ” I asked.

“He made no secret of that.”

“Pray go on!”

“He turned up about sundown, as my wife and I were sitting where we are now; and he hung up his horse to that post, and cocked up one foot on the edge of the verandah here (he wore jack-boots and thundering long spurs that set me thinking), and told us who he was as cool as rain, and that what he wanted most was a night’s entertainment and a fresh horse to go on with next day. Now listen to me. The fellow’s name was a by-word in the country; His character was as well known as any other public man’s, and a vast deal more popular. I am ashamed to say that he was absurdly idolised after death by a considerable section of the community; yet I’m bound to add that my wife and I, for one—which is not the bull it sounds, young man—were not altogether surprised at the fact. You’ll hear our why and wherefore in a moment; meanwhile, I was telling you about his character. Report had it he was as mild as milk where there was no resistance, and as sweet as honey into the bargain where a lady was concerned; but where fight was shown, not fifty petticoats would have stopped the bloodshed. That was the beggar’s reputation. Then imagine yourself a married man, and tell me what you would have done in my place?”

I made the only answer. “Nothing, I suppose: what did you do?”

The reply came from Mrs. Spurling, along with a rosy glow which made me see her as a girl, and a fine one too.

 “He just took me on his knee,” said she, “and asked the bushranger to step up and sit down in the empty chair!”

“Which he did,” said Mr. Spurling hastily. “And here sat the three of us, and started chatting like the best friends in the world.”

“ ‘I don’t see any men about, saving your presence,’ says he, looking right and left, very sudden. ‘What’s got the crew?’

“ ‘My men’s hut is a quarter of a mile off—the way you didn’t come,’ I told him; ‘besides, they’ve been mustering, and aren’t all in yet.’

“ ‘And when’ll they all be in, think you?’ says he.

“ ‘Oh, give ’em till half-past seven.’

“ ‘Sure?’ he cries, like cocking a revolver.

“ ‘Quite,’ says I. ‘Can’t you see that I’m a married man?’

“ ‘I can,’ he says, ‘and not a hair of your beard shall be touched, old man, if you’ll do me reasonably for this one night and mount me decently in the morning. No spavins, mind!’ says he. Then he pulls out his watch, and says ‘It isn’t seven yet,’ and asks Mrs. Spurling if he may smoke a cigar, and offers me one first, as polite as a new-chum governor. A cigar in the bush! You bet it was a prime one too; and as for his watch, it was a gold repeater, and where it and the cigars came from I felt mighty inquisitive to know, but didn’t just like to ask. There were so many things you wanted to ask him about! Such a chap he was from head to toe! Confound his impudence!—how I wish that I could make you see the fellow as we see him in our minds, don’t you, my dear?” This to his wife.

“It must be so difficult for you to realise,” said Mrs. Spurling, looking up at me without holding her busy hands. “I myself could never believe there had been such a man, if we hadn’t had him here. There was never another quite like him. That we do know. Yet you remind me of him in everything but your expression.”

“And his dress!” chimed in Mr. Spurling. “He wore a diamond ring,” proceeded the squatter (whose own was at the moment thrust inside his coat with his right hand), “and had no end of finery concealed about his person. His cigar case was solid silver, and he had two Albert chains to his repeater. But he wasn’t a fool, like Thunderbolt, or one of them, who had pierced ears, and would always wear the earrings he had stolen—a fresh pair for each day of the week. Macturk had taste. His breeches fitted him like a glove, his linen was cleaner than mine, and he’d picked up a cabbage-tree hat that would have gone into your waistcoat-pocket—never saw such a cabbage-tree before or since! Then he must have carried a razor in his swag, for his chin was as smooth as yours. His shirt was the least bit open at the neck, whether for coolness or vanity I can’t say, but it was the best bit of connection between a fine head and splendid shoulders that ever I saw in my life. He had an Adam’s apple like a billiard-ball, I recollect—don’t you, my dear?—and ears like a woman’s. And you could have stuck a shilling in the cleft of his chin, and—and—”

“Oh, John!” said Mrs. Spurling. “But it was a very strong face, and not a bad one, by any means. We were the whole night studying it, you must remember.”

“We were so! I was coming to that. Half-way through his cigar, he asks to see the store. Now, we’ve no use for a great big store on a little place like this, and you might stay here for a week without guessing where our store is. It’s in the very centre of the house, with no outer wall, but a bit of a skylight instead of windows, and only one door, which opens off the room where we’ve just had breakfast. Mind, the place is a store in the pure and simple sense of the word—it isn’t an office, like most station stores. I don’t have my desk in there, or the station books, or anything of that sort. But I do think it the safest place for firearms; and there they all were—a rifle, a shot-gun, and a brace of revolvers, all in one rack, the first thing you saw when you opened the door. Yet Macturk didn’t appear to notice them: he seemed struck of a heap with the extraordinary suitability of my store for his purpose.

“ ‘There’s no other door for them to get out by,’ says he, rubbing his hands, ‘and no windows of any sort. But,’ he says, catching hold of my arm in the doorway, ‘haven’t you a ladder for getting up to those beams and that skylight?’

“ ‘I should have,’ said I, ‘but it came down with a run under me only last week, and the carpenter’s got it to mend.’

“ ‘Capital!’ he cried. ‘The place might have been made for me.’

“Then he turned to the two of us and explained his game as bold as brass. He was for sticking up this station, as, indeed, we knew already, and he said he’d show us how a station might be stuck up without the least inconvenience to the inhabitants. All the men on the place, except myself, he intended yarding up in the store for the night, which my wife and I were to spend with him in all possible merriment on the right side of the store door. He told us he was fond of music, and that we should find him a man of very simple tastes at the table. At that my wife laughed, as I feared, a little too scornfully. I had visions of a scene, for if Macturk had insulted her—”

“You would have got us all murdered, John, I have no doubt,” said Mrs. Spurling, filling the pause from behind her knitting. “But you were wise enough to give your wife’s hand a squeeze; and after all she had the sense not to make a fool of herself when it could do no good.”

“She had more pluck than the lot of us put together!” exclaimed the squatter, looking from his wife to me with shining eyes. “As I am telling you, there were all those weapons in the rack inside the store, and I felt sure Macturk hadn’t spotted them, though they were right in front of our eyes. It gave me palpitations to think of them, for I knew the revolvers were loaded, and I fancied I knew the natures of my men who were to be clapped in there beside them.

I didn’t think they were the men to be locked up with loaded pistols and not use them the first chance they got; but I’m not so sure about it now. One of them in particular, however—young Pat O’Mara—was a wild Irishman, who could be trusted to do the mad thing in such a case; and I had reasons outside my own skin for wanting no mad doings that night. So I fairly shuddered as I looked out of the tail of my eye at those shooting-irons; and yet it never occurred to me to point them out to Macturk, for it didn’t come natural to be tamer with him than was actually necessary. Bless your life, he’d seen them for himself all the time, and I needn’t have bothered my head about that; for as we were about to leave the store he turned to my wife and pointed to the opposite wall.

“ ‘I must ask you, madam, to be so very kind as to hand me those pretty things from the rack over yonder—for it might prove too strong a temptation to throw in your husband’s way,’ says he, with a tighter grasp on my arm; ‘and even you, my dear madam, I must request to handle them by the barrels only.’

“And that was where Mrs. Spurling came out so strong, though she sits there and doesn’t half like hearing me say so. She took the rifle by the muzzle, in both hands, and passed it over; then the fowling piece; then the revolvers, one in each hand, and I’m hanged if they trembled any more that they do now with those knitting needles! That’s my wife, sir! And she and I marched out, arm in arm, with Macturk and all those weapons on our heels; and he made us show him the well next, and in he dropped them, one after the other, and the water splashed above ground after the gun and the rifle, the well was so full. Then he stood a bit away from us, and showed us his own revolvers—quite an ordinary brace they were, the most ordinary things about him. It was the first sight we’d had of them, and he only kept them out an instant.

“ ‘They’re as much as ever I want,’ he said, nodding in the direction of the well; ‘but to-night I shan’t want any at all. It is quite half-past seven, and it’s nearly dark. About time that most of your hands were back at the hut, isn’t it?’

“ ‘About,’ said I. ‘And here comes one of them,’ I added, suddenly descrying a pair of white moleskins through the dark. ‘Shall I ask him about the rest?’

“ ‘Certainly.’

But I saw him feeling for his pistols as the man came up, and he stood just far enough away to watch us as he spoke.

“ ‘Are all you fellows back in the hut yet?’

“ ‘Yes, sir, all but Pat,’ said the man, with his eye on Macturk.

“ ‘And where is Pat?’

“ ‘Can’t say; may have gone to the township: you never know where you have Pat.’

“ ‘Well, I want to speak to the lot of you. Will you go back and fetch the others?’

“ ‘Stop!’ cries Macturk, coming a stride nearer. ‘It seems I’m not so ill known in these parts, but one of your hands knows me. Tell me, my fine fellow, who you think I am? ‘

“My man stood and grinned. ‘I don’t think at all about it, mister,’ says he. ‘You’re our friend Macturk. And I’m proud to set eyes on you at last!’

“ ‘You can’t send this man back,’ said Macturk. ‘You must get the rest some other way.’

“ ‘Not you!’ cries my man (who was no favourite with me). ‘They’d roll up like lambs to see you, Macturk! We’re proud of you in this colony, my sort are, and we wouldn’t touch you if we could, for we know you wouldn’t hurt us!’

“I felt inclined to break that man in two, for being so ready to side with the bushranger, so to speak; and to my wife’s face too, for she had never left me all this time. But if it came to that, I was siding with the bushranger myself, for I was game to give in to any extent rather than spill blood. After all, too, the man had but spoken a truth which held good pretty well all over the colony in the days of the bushrangers. The best of them never touched a poor man’s pocket. They had little to gain by robbing him, but much by making him their friend. They even pandered to him, here and there, by acts of meretricious generosity, that got exaggerated as they spread, and won hearts in a good deal more than half the huts in the Colony. On the other hand, let a man be suspected of betraying their whereabouts, or even of harbouring the police, and they would think nothing of shooting him in cold blood. Thus the greatest difficulty our troopers had to contend with, in running these ruffians to earth, was the word of the inhabitants, who either did not choose or did not dare to speak the truth. They regarded a popular bushranger with a mixture of terror and hero-worship which held their tongues pretty tight until the man was dead, when they would sing his praises in a way that made you sick. Why, even you may remember how they went on about the Kellys. But Macturk was a greater favourite than ever Ned Kelly was, for he had a far finer manner with him, and a personal magnetism that fascinated you against all your better sense. So I felt tolerably certain that if this man of mine went back to the hut and told his mates who it was that had taken possession of the homestead, they’d roll up, as he said, like lambs. But Macturk himself was less trustful.

“ ‘You may mean that, my lad,’ said he, ‘but I’m worth two hundred pounds to the man that pots me, and I should be sorry to tempt ye.’

“My man was beautifully indignant.

“ ‘And do you think there’s a man of us would touch you for that?’ he sang out. ‘If one of us did, he’d be lynched before ever he saw a note of it, I’ll swear to that!’ And indeed that was pretty much the feeling.

“ ‘You may swear till you’re blue in the face—there’s not the man alive that I’d trust out of my sight,’ says Macturk, with one for me in the corner of his eye; and without more ado he took the enthusiast by the arm, and clapped him into my store.

“He had left us standing in the yard, but we felt his eye was on us all the time, and that his revolver would be too, if we stirred; and for may part I never in my life felt less anxious to show a high spirit. So there we stood, and watched Macturk peep into the kitchen on his way back to us, and purchase our Chinese cook, body and soul, by threatening him with a revolver in each hand. We saw it in the red light of the kitchen, and we laughed, though it was Macturk’s one wanton trick that night. In a little he came back to us, and consulted me about getting the other men down from the hut. It ended in our going up there together, and he marched them down in front of him like a mob of sheep, with me at his side feeling a bit of a cur at last; but I had my wife to consider, and it panned out badly enough for us as it was.

“However, the thing was done, and the men weren’t hard on me, for they understood well enough. What’s more, I’m inclined to think they enjoyed being in the hands of the great Macturk, even to feeling it an honour. In any case they went into that store like children—all except Pat O’Mara, who had never come back. And they behaved like children, and good ones, while there; but I never thought that Pat would have been just the same if he’d been in it too, for he didn’t know what fear was, and he had an extraordinary affection for my wife. He is devoted to her to this day. I am anxious about him, by the way, but not half so anxious as I was that night, when I had visions of him turning up at any minute, and showing fight without consulting anybody. Moreover, it was evident that Macturk had him on his mind as well. I heard him questioning the men about him before he locked them up, and afterwards he came to me.

“ ‘See here, Boss,’ says he, ‘what sort of a cove’s your young friend Pat O’ What’s-his-name, when he’s at home? Which ‘twould be a dam’ sight better for him if he was now!’ he muttered to himself.

“ ‘Pat?’ said I, stopping to think; and I decided to tell him like a book. ‘He’s a young scatter-brain who doesn’t know what fear is, and for some reasons I wish he was safe in there with the rest; but for some I don’t. He’d be sure to show fight before the night was over, if he was there. But the Lord knows what he’ll do when he turns up and finds out how matters stand!’

“ ‘His blood be on his own head,’ said Macturk. ‘They tell me they think he must have gone to the township. Let’s hope, for his skin’s sake, that he stays there till morning.’

“I did hope so—with all my heart.

“I must just give you some impression of the night we three had together; then you shall hear what happened after all. It was not quite what I expected of that particular young fellow; but you must hear everything and then judge for yourself.

“We had supper immediately. Our Chinaman cook dished it, and waited on us with his legs shaking under him like drumsticks. He could see, and so could I, from the head of the table, that our guest was eating with a revolver lying in his lap, on his napkin; but, from motives of delicacy for which I still like Macturk, the weapon was studiously concealed from my wife, who sat facing the bushranger. Indeed, they talked to one another across the table in a way that made me marvel. My wife shakes her head; but don’t you pay any attention to her. I tell you she was as cool as Macturk himself, and a long chalk cooler than I was, from start to finish.

“After supper was cleared away, the Chinkee was shoved into the store among the others, who were sitting about like stuck pigs, listening hard-all to anything they could hear through the door, and never dreaming of rebellion. I reckoned we should have found Pat half-way through the skylight, had he been one of them. But Macturk seemed to have forgotten Pat’s existence, and now the three of us came out here, and he and I smoked cigars and yarned away like long-lost brothers. That is to say, Macturk did the yarning while we listened; and there’s no doubt but what ‘twas the most interesting conversation that ever was heard in this verandah. He told us all about the way he’d stuck up a bank here and a mail-coach there, with once or twice an entire township, to say nothing of stations three times the size of ours; and what had been his best hauls and his narrowest squeaks. There wasn’t a clean crime he’d committed but what he told us something about it, as he sat down there on the edge of the verandah and smoked cigars, with one eye on me and the other on the store door. He’d left the dining-room one wide open, with a lamp burning inside, and he was boss of the situation where he sat. Trust him for that: if the store door had been burst open while we were out here he could have sat tight where he was and potted the first man that came through. It was a lovely night, I recollect, with the Southern Cross just over the highest point of the range, and every star like a stab in the crust of hell; but there was no moon. The locusts were chirruping all round the house; they seemed to burst out whenever Macturk made a pause, just as if they were cheering him. Of course they were at it all the time, only we could listen to nothing but his nibs and his yarns. I remember him telling us that he only came to stations when he wanted a new horse or saddle, and that his fancy was to combine pleasure with business on those occasions. And we laughed, because somehow we seemed to have grown quite friendly with the chap, in spite of ourselves: but that was his way. He had the most taking way with him that ever I met with in mortal man: so amusing and so pathetic turn about, with the air of an outcast who should by rights have been a king, and yet so considerate in little things all the time, more particularly in the smallest dealings with Mrs. Spurling. It was his way of asking her to play, when we went inside again, that saved him asking twice; and he sat and listened like a mouse, with his eyes half closed, like the gentleman he was, who’d missed fire the deuce knows how!

“And yet the wary professional side of him was wide awake the whole time. I’ll tell you how we knew. My wife had played him two or three soft little things—I could whistle them now, though I forget their names—when Macturk ups and asks for a galop, and she was to play it as loud as ever she knew how. So she gave her piano a proper warming, and at the top of the row Macturk crept up to the store door, made me follow with the lamp—got the wife to bang away louder than ever—flung open the door, and had his revolvers at the men’s heads before I had time to guess what it was he was up to. It seemed he had heard a noise and suspected mischief. But the men were only ragging the unfortunate Chinkee; escape and resistance were as far from their minds as ever. He threatened them for that, however, telling the Chinkee to sing out the next time he was touched, and he’d shoot the man that dared molest his prisoner, so help him Almighty God. It was a brave bit of swagger, but nothing else; yet it went down even with my wife and me, such was the glamour of the fellow, and there’s no denying we thought the more of him when the door was slammed and locked, and all three of us were together once more.

“Well, we had no more music, for by this time it was after midnight (when we looked at the clock), and Macturk himself shut up the piano and thanked Mrs. Spurling for the treat she had given him. It was he, too, who wanted her to go off to bed and leave the two of us sitting up; but my wife wouldn’t hear of it, for she has always had a notion that when trouble’s going her place is by my side, and I’ve never been able to get this idea out of her head. So there the three of us were stuck, and for a time things hung fire. The yarns had run dry, and Macturk seemed to consider it as much as his life was worth to moisten them with whiskey. So I wouldn’t touch any either; but after a bit we brewed some tea, and that cheered us up. Mrs. Spurling had forty winks over the fire, and as for me and Macturk, you may think it odd, but we started to play poker. It was his suggestion. So were the points, which were higher than I could afford; but I thought I might as well be robbed this way as another, for of course I never thought of winning and being paid. Yet win I did, and Macturk paid up like a man. He had more ready money on him than I’ve ever seen in the bush, where you may say that cheques are the only currency of any account; and he lost it all but what he’d stowed away in another pocket and sworn not to touch. So then he offs with his diamond ring, and says how he took it from a coffee-coloured Jew in the Sydney coach, and he spits on it for luck, and rattles it down on the table to plank against all my winnings. I may be a receiver of stolen property, but I’ve worn that ring ever since.”

And the squatter held out his hand, so that the sun hit the ring on his weather-beaten finger and rebounded in spikes of fire. But his eyes were far away in his story.

“How I managed to win, dear knows. It must have been the merest luck, for as I took my last hand, what should I see at the window but Pat’s face leering in at us! He looked as white as paper, but there was a murderous light in his eyes that set me on gunpowder for what might happen next moment. I looked at Macturk: he was screwing up his face over his cards; and I was able to give Pat a single shake, that sent his head from the window without being seen. But when the ring was on my finger, and we had shaken hands, I said to Macturk,—

“ ‘Get out your shooter: I’m going to the door.’

“I was there before he could answer, but I felt that he was covering me as I stood and called on Pat by his name, imploring him to come in if he was anywhere about. But devil an answer gave Pat, nor could I lay eyes on him in the dark, half blind as I was from the lights of the room. Of course Macturk wanted to know what I’d heard or seen; otherwise he didn’t seem in the least disturbed.

“When I’d fairly given it up, I turned round and told him it was a step I’d heard on the verandah.

“ ‘Can you swear to it?’ said he.

“ ‘N—no, I can’t,’ said I, not wanting poor Pat to be unearthed and shot if he raised a finger, as he was pretty safe to do.

“ ‘There was no step,’ said Macturk. ‘I’ve got the longest ears in the Colony, and I heard nothing at all.’

“So there was an end of the matter; but after that Macturk locked the door and put the key in his pocket, and I pulled down the blind, which had somehow been forgotten, and the clock on the chimneypiece struck three.

“The night was dragging through. Between three and four Macturk lay down on the sofa; it was then he told us he slept with one eye open. I’m glad he didn’t sleep with it on the door he had just locked. For I saw the handle turning as he lay and dozed, and I knew that it was that young fool Pat trying the door.

“Pat was the trouble! But for him I should have been as easy as my wife, who had no idea he was about. Her only anxiety was Macturk, and he had ceased to be one, he was behaving so prettily. Then, I had won his ring, and evidently I was to stick to it, which would pay for any horse he liked to take in the morning. It was amazing treatment at the hands of a bushranger—hands that had blood on them too, as I have said. But poor Pat! Well, now I’ll tell you.”

He leant forward in his chair. Mrs. Spurling had put down her knitting, and was looking now at her husband, now at me. I scented the end.

“Macturk cut the night shorter than I had dared to hope. At 4.30 he hauled out the Chinkee to cook him his breakfast. Poor devil, he might have known his last hour was come, he ate it so heartily! Then we left the house—the wife still with us—Macturk in the middle. We were going straight to the horse paddock. Macturk was in great form after his breakfast, apologising to my wife with the grandest air, digging me in the ribs and telling me I hadn’t come so badly out of it after all (meaning with his ring), and saying again and again that it was the best night ever he’d put in on a matter of business. Then he gave a sigh at his way of life, and my wife seized the opportunity to put in an earnest word that had been troubling her all the night; and in his gay familiar way—it never struck me to resent it—he ran his arm round her waist, and bent down to thank her. I’ll swear it was only to thank her; but next moment he was spread out in the grass, with a bullet in his middle. I gave a look round, and there was the smoke hanging about a little low bush that I’ll show you presently, and Pat O’Mara running up to us, trailing an old musket he’d found in the men’s hut. He’d a gaping face on him that showed the nerves all newly snapped inside. It seemed he was in doubt after all as to whether he’d done right or wrong. He had been lying in wait half the night.

“My wife was kneeling over Macturk, and I knelt too. But he pushed us aside to get a fair view of the man who had shot him. And never shall I forget the burning scorn in his eyes, nor the withering curl of his lips and nostrils, as he fixed on Pat the look that probably gave the last push to the poor young fellow’s reason.

“ ‘You—, you!’ he said, a mouthful of blood coming up with the words. ‘You might have given me a show!’

“He was dead, but I was listening at his heart, when there was a click behind me; and there was Pat cocking his musket and pointing it at his own head. I struck at the barrel, and the bullet he had just slipped in passed through the brim of his wideawake.”

Mr. Spurling stood up and stretched himself.

“Faith,” said he, “it’s almost a pity I struck so soon! The man has never been like other people from that day to this. The country-side would give him no peace about it. Mcturk haunted him too; so the thing hit from within and from without. We had to get him police protection for a time; but, poor chap, all the police in Christendom couldn’t protect him from himself. He went off his head by fits and starts; he isn’t wholly off it now. He isn’t much good to me, but I couldn’t turn him away. After all, he only did what was right and proper; but he was made to think otherwise, and heaven knows what effect your likeness to Macturk has had upon him. Shall we go and look for him now? And I’ll show you the place where it all happened; it’s behind the house.”

We found the poor wretch cowering in the scrub. He fell on his knees to me, and, with the tears running down his cheeks, asked me to forgive him. It was at last brought home to him that I was not Macturk. And we left him tootling on a penny whistle, which, it appeared, was his safety-valve whenever his emotions proved too much for him.

“For doing his duty!” I said, as we walked back to the homestead. “Surely, in the long run, you saw that it was the proper thing to do, and were grateful to this poor fellow, rather than otherwise?”

“I can never be that,” said my host sadly. “His shot killed two lives: our only child was born—and died—that day. As for Macturk, there is no doubt that Pat performed a public service in shooting him like a dog. He only got his deserts, after all. And, mind you, though the glamour of the fellow was a kind of spell over my wife and me the night we had him here, there was a great lot of humbug about him when all is told. See this ring? I wear it in memory of a celebrated scoundrel. But it is no more a diamond than I am.”

The Stockman’s Cheque

The Speaker -  27 July 1895

There’s a hut in Riverina where a solitary hand
    May weaken on himself and all that’s his;
There’s a pub in Riverina where they keep a smashing brand
    Of every sort o’ liquor short o’ fizz.
And I’ve been and blued another fifty-pounder at the pub—
    You’re very sorry for me, I’ll be bound!
But when a man is fit up free with hut an’ horse an’ grub,
    What the blazes does he want with fifty pound?

Why the devil should he hoard his fifty quid?
Who would be a bit the better if he did?
    Though they slithered in a week,
    When I couldn’t see or speak,
    Do you think I’m here to squeak?
                                  Lord forbid.

The boss was in the homestead: when he give me good advice
    I took my oath, but took his cheque as well.
And to me the moonlit shanty looked a pocket paradise,
    Though the boss had just been calling it a hell.
Then the shanty-keeper’s daughter, she’s an educated lass,
    And she bangs the new pianner all for me;
And the shanty-keeper’s wife she sticks me up as bold as brass,
    An’ the shanty-keeper’s wife was good to see.

Two petticoats between ’em whisk you far!
But the shanty-keeper smoked behind the bar.
    Oh, his words were grave and few,
    And he never looked at you,
    But he just uncorked a new
                                 Gallon jar.

We fed, and then we started in the bar at nine o’clock;
    At twelve we made a move into the cool;
The shanty-keeper he was just as steady as a rock,
    And me as paralytic as a fool.
I remember the verandah like a sinkin’ vessel’s deck,
    And a brace of moons suspended in the sky . . .
And nothing more till waking and inquiring for my cheque,
    And the oath of all them three I’d drunk it dry!

So that was all I got for fifty notes!
The three of ’em stood lying in their throats:
    There was one that must have seen
    I’d have beat him blue an’ green
    If I hadn’t gone an’ been
                                Off my oats.

Thank the Lord I’m back at last—though back a wreck and whiskey-logged!
    Yet the gates have not come open that I shut,
I have seen no broken fences, and I’ve found no weak sheep bogged,
    An’ my little cat is purring in the hut.
There’s tea, too, for the billy-can, there’s water in the tanks,
    The ration bags hang heavy all around;
An’ my good old bunk an’ blanket beat the bare verandah planks
    Of the shanty where I blued my fifty pound!

Here I stick until I’m worth fifty more,
When I’ll take another cheque from the store;
    And with Riverina men
    All the betting is that then
    I shall knock it down again
                               As before.

Lost in the Bush

Menzies Miner (WA), Saturday 19 June 1897

I admit it happens pretty often in bush stories, but I have known it oftener in bush life. I was on my first station rather less than two months. We had two bad cases in the time.

One red-hot day we were “mustering” the stock in a “paddock’’ some eight miles long by seven broad, which we were scouring between us, each man taking his own line of country, when I met the manager leading his grey mare by the reins. In the saddle sat a little wild man, whose feet didn’t reach the stirrup irons. His eyes were blazing, his beard and mouth caked with blood, and his speech absolutely unintelligible.

“Give him your water-bag,” said the manager, “he’s finished mine, and he can’t articulate yet. Been bushed in this paddock. Look at that!”

The little man was leaning back in the saddle, with a vertical sun raining fire on his eyelids, and the neck of my water-bag between his blood-stained lips—I can see him now—and the wet canvas bag shrinking in his hands. The manager gripped me by the arm.

“I found him with his dog’s liver in a quart pot,” he whispered. “He’d got into the middle of the paddock, and couldn’t get out again; kept going round and round in circles, as they always do.”

And the man himself told me afterwards. “I shared every bit and sup with the poor little tyke while I had it, sir, but one of us had to go at last. It kept, me alive, but it was nigh the death of me to have to do it. I’ve been shipwrecked, sir, but it was nothing to this!”

Alas! the saying that Jack ashore is more than ever at sea is tragically true in the bush. It was another old seaman who was lost only a fortnight later. We sent for the police and a black tracker. All hands joined in the search. But a dust-storm obliterated the trail, and the poor fellow was never found

The Crimean Shirt

The Leader (Melbourne, Vic) Saturday 18 June 1898

It is now rather more than twelve years since the disappearance and the finding of Henry Powell, on Mooroolooloo Station, New South Wales, and rather less than the subsequent case in which I myself was perhaps the principal witness. And I think that the time has arrived for confessing that the evidence which I gave on that occasion, though, indeed, “nothing but the truth,” was nevertheless not “the whole truth” at all.

I did not and I do not believe there was a single being in that colonial Court who would have credited the whole truth had I told it there and then upon my oath. Nor was it essential to the case. Nor did I care to return to the station, new chum as I still was, with yet another handle for native-born buffoonery. But I am no longer the store-keeper of Mooroolooloo; and I believe the public mind to be broader than it was in the matter of so-called ghosts. At all events, I am going to tell you for the first time what my own eyes saw, on a day and night in January, in the year 1884.

I had been some-six weeks in the Riverina, and I was alone at our home-station for the night. The owner was paying us a visit. He and the manager were camping at an outstation nineteen miles away. The overseer was absent on his holiday. I had the homestead to myself, for there was neither woman nor child, upon the place. Suddenly, between nine and ten o’clock, as I sat smoking and thinking on the back verandah, a spur jingled, and I made out the crinkled moleskins and the felt wide-awake of one of the men.

“Powell, the rabbiter, is lost in the bush, mister,” said he.

I sprang to my feet, for the news was like that of a man overboard at sea.

“How long has he been out?”

“Since yesterday morning.”

“But I thought he camped with old Wylie at the Five-mile whim?”

“So he does.”

“Then why didn’t Wylie come in sooner?”

“Ah! there you hit it,” said my man. “That’s what we’ve all been asking him; but Wylie says his mate was given to stopping odd nights at other chaps’ camp, and he never thought anything of it till he didn’t turn up this evening. Even if he had, he couldn’t have left the whim, Wylie couldn’t with no other water anywhere near, and the sheep drawing to the troughs from four paddocks. But he’s come in now, and he’s up at the hut if you like to see him.”

And at the men’s hut I found the whim driver, the centre still of an attentive group, but no longer, I thought, the target of questions and cross-questions implying criticism and blame. On the contrary, there was now every token of sympathy with the anxiety and distress of mind from which Wylie was obviously suffering, and at the sight of which I also could spare him some of the pity which I felt for the missing rabbiter.

The whim driver was an elderly man, with brown wrinkles all over his face, and grey whiskers parting at a baggy throat; but he was still powerfully built, and a typical bushman with his eagle eye and his strong bare arms. His eye, however, was hot with horror and, remorse as it met mine, and the whole man twitched as he told me his tale.

“If only I had guessed anything was wrong, Mr. Forrester,” he cried, “I would have left the sheep in a minute, though my billet depended upon it. But he’s so often stopped away one night that it never bothered me till the day wore on and he didn’t come back. God forgive me, I never even thought of telling the bosses when they passed this morning on their way to the out-station. Yet I might ha’ known— I might ha’ known! He was a sailor, poor Powell was, and sailors are always the worst bushmen. I’ve known him get bushed before, but only for an hour or two. And to think of him being out all this time—in this heat, with not a drop of water in the crab-holes! He may—he may be dead already—my poor mate, my poor mate!”

With that he turned his back upon us, in the most evident agitation, so that we thought it kindest not to refer to him in the brief council of war which the men and I now held together. It was promptly decided that all hands should form a search party to start at daybreak, with the exception of Wylie and myself. Wylie must return to his troughs.

My knowledge of the country was as yet very limited, and therefore I was the one who could best be spared to ride at once to the out-station, and inform the “bosses” of what had occurred. The night-horse was the only animal in the yard, but I took it to save time, and shortly after ten o’clock rode off with Wylie, our way coinciding as far as the whim.

There was no moon, and the night was anything but clear for that land of bright stars and cloudless skies. A hot north wind of several days’ duration had flown suddenly into the south, whence it was now blowing hard and chill, so that I buttoned my coat up as we cantered side by side, and took off my eye-glasses lest the rushing wind should lift them from my nose. We spoke very little as we rode, though once more, when we drew rein and ambled for a little, my companion reproached himself for not having given an earlier alarm.

It was impossible not to feel sorry for him, but equally impossible to acquit him of blame, so I said very little in reply. When we came to the hut a dull red glow burnt steadily within, and Wylie sighed bitterly as he explained that he had built up the fire before leaving, that his poor mate might find all comfortable if some happy chance should bring him back. He added that he supposed I would push straight on without dismounting; but I was cold and the glow looked grateful and I had slipped from the saddle before the words were out of his mouth. Next moment I uttered a loud cry.

The door of the hut was at one end, to the left of the dying fire, and at the opposite end were two low, rude bunks, one in each corner. On the foot of the right hand bunk, sat a figure I could have sworn to even without my glasses. It was the missing rabbiter, in a red-checked shirt which I had often seen him wear, and his face was buried in his hands.

“Wylie,” cried I, wheeling round on the threshold, “he has come back, and here he is—sitting on his bunk!”

It was too dark for me to see Wylie’s face, but he tumbled rather than dismounted from his horse, and I felt him trembling as he brushed past me into the hut. I followed him, but during the single instant my back had been turned the rabbiter had moved. He was not on the bunk. Wylie kicked the logs into a blaze and then turned upon me fiercely. For the rabbiter was not in the hut at all.

“What d’ye mean,” he roared, “by playing tricks on a chap who’s lost his mate ? Out of my hut, you young devil—out of my hut!”

Never have I seen man more completely beside himself; he was shaking from head to foot in a perfect palsy, and his clenched fists were shaking in my face. I assured him I had played no conscious trick—it was my defective eyesight that must have played one on me. Now that I put on my glasses I could see that the hut was empty but for our two selves; that it must have been absolutely empty till we entered. And yet; I could have sworn that I had seen the lost rabbiter nursing his face at the foot of the right-hand bunk.

My companion cooled down, however, on becoming convinced of my good faith, and instead of turning me out, seemed to set his heart upon explaining my fancied vision before he would let me go. Pictures from the illustrated papers had been tacked up over the rabbiter’s bunk. One was the old coloured print of Red Riding Hood, with the four trees like an elephant’s legs; and Wylie would have it that the firelight glowing on the child’s hood had made the splotch of red which my nerves had exaggerated into a Crimean shirt.

To me this explanation seemed more ridiculous than the thing it sought to explain, but I had to admit that I could see but poorly without my glasses, and indeed I was very ready to confess to some inexplicable delusion on my part. So at that we left it, and I was glad enough to turn my back on the Five-mile hut, and to push on to the out-station at a hand-gallop.

Mr. Annit, the owner, and Mr. Mackeson, his manager, were still sitting up, discussing ways and means of coping with the long-continued drought; and the owner was good enough to praise my promptitude in coming to them at once. It was now midnight, and after a little consideration it was decided that we should all lie down for a bit preparatory to starting back a couple of hours before daybreak in order to take part in the search. For my part, I made myself very comfortable before the fire, with my saddle for a pillow, and fell asleep in a moment. And in another, as it seemed to me there was Mackeson laying hold of my shoulder and shouting in my ear that we were an hour late in starting as it was.

Our owner, however, had long been unaccustomed to the hardships of the bush, and when the time came he could not face the keen edge of the day without his pannikin of tea and his bite of “browny.” So the sun was on us before we were halfway back—not the red ball of 19 out of 20 Riverina dawnings, but a copper disc like a new penny. Clouds of sand were whirling in the wind, which had risen greatly in the night, and was rising still; puffs of sand kept breaking from the plain to join the clouds; and we coughed, all three of us, as we cantered neck and neck.

“Do you think you could drive a whim, Forrester?” said Mr. Armit, drawing rein as we sighted the Five-mile, and suddenly turning to me.

“I believe I could, sir. I have seen one working, and it looks simple enough.”

“It’s as easy as it looks if you keep your tank nice and full and feed your troughs regularly. Wylie will show you all that’s necessary in five minutes; the fact is, I think of leaving you in charge of this whim here, since you can hardly know the paddocks well enough to be of much use in the search, whereas Wylie knows every inch of the run. What do you say, Mr. Mackeson? It is for you to decide.”

“I agree with you, sir. But where’s the whim got to?”

“Bless my soul!” gasped the other. I was afraid we were in for a dust storm, but I didn’t think it would come so quick!”

Indeed, we were in the thick of the storm already. It was but a moment since hut and whim had disappeared in a whirl of deep yellow sand, and now we could see nothing at all beyond our horses ears. Luckily we were not many hundred yards from the hut.

“Give them their heads!” shrieked Mackeson, and, following his advice, we gained the hut before the sea of dust had choked us utterly. It literally tinkled on the corrugated roof, and we led in the horses after us, so terrible was the storm. The whim driver lighted a slush lamp and put the billy on the fire to give us some tea. Everything in the hut wore a glistening yellow coat; there were layers of sand on our very eyelids, and what the owner squeezed from his beard alone made a little sandhill on the floor.

“Poor Powell!” he suddenly exclaimed. This is the hardest luck of all upon him. It will blot out his tracks. It will double the agonies of thirst he must already have endured. I am very much afraid that it will destroy our last chance of finding him alive.”

And Mr. Armit looked reproachfully at the whim-driver, who was making the tea with his back turned to us, crouching over the fire in an attitude so humble and so disconsolate that it would have been inhuman as well as useless to find open fault with him now. For a few seconds there was silence in the hut, silence broken only by the continual tinkle on the roof, which, however, was louder than it had been. Then of a sudden the man at whom we were all looking, wheeled round, sprang up, and pointed dramatically to the rattling roof.

“You are wrong—wrong— wrong!” cried he hoarsely. “Listen to that! That’s not sand—that’s rain! All the worst dust-storms end so; it’ll rain the best part of an inch before it stops; instead of doing for him this’ll—save—his—life!”

He looked from one to the other of us—half in triumph, half in terror still, I thought — then down on his knees and back to the boiling billy and the sugar and the tea. I saw him throw a handful of each among the bubbles—saw his fingers twitching as they spread—and I knew then that the whim driver’s confidence was only lip-deep.

But a part of his prophecy came true enough. It rained until the crab-holes were full of water—until there was drink enough abroad upon the plains to give the whim a good week’s holiday. Long before it stopped, however, I had the Five-mile hut to myself, with that dismal rattle on the roof, and a dull fire of damp logs spitting distressfully beneath the great square chimney. The troughs were not needed, and that was well, they were buried and hidden beneath a ridge of drifted sand, and I was to clear them with the long-handled shovel, instead of driving the whim.

I can still see those three horsemen bobbing into infinity behind the lances of the rain, and I see myself a lonesome, spindle-shanked figure, in leggings and breeches and the grey felt wideawake which still hangs on my wall; and I do not look very happy as I stand at the door of that hut, beneath the dripping corrugated eaves; but I do look a little elated and proud. I am going to spend days and nights in a hut five miles from any mortal soul, and I am young enough to appreciate playing Robinson Crusoe in earnest. It will be a good experience to put in the next letter home. A good experience!

The rain ceased before noon, when I had some lunch (for there was plenty to eat in Wylie’s ration-bag), and then turned out with the long-handled shovel. My spirits rose in the open air. My own actions were less noisy and nerve disturbing than I had found them in the lonely hut, and I could look all around me as I worked, without constantly foreseeing the hut door darkened by some apparition that might be welcome enough, but which must certainly startle me when it came. The events which I have already chronicled lay heavy on my nerves. I was only nineteen years of age, and I was cursed with an imagination.

Nothing, therefore, could have been better for me than the play I made during the next few hours with the long-handled shovel. Now and then I knocked off to rest my back and smoke a pipe; but once started, I stuck to my work pretty closely up to five o’clock by the old Waltham watch in the leather pouch on my belt. And it punished every muscle in my body; the shoulders felt it as I plunged the shovel into the heavy wet sand, the arms and shoulders as I swung it out loaded, while the strain upon back and legs was continuous. My task was the harder owing to the shovel having been bent and blunted by some misuse; yet, so far from loathing it, I was never prouder of anything than of the five-and-twenty yards of submerged trough which I uncovered and cleared that January afternoon.

To tire the body is the surest way of cleansing and purifying the mind, and I can honestly say that I returned to the hut without any morbid fancy in my head, indeed with no anxiety about anything but the fire, which I had foolishly forgotten. Judge, then, of the sensations with which I stood still on the threshold. The hut had no windows, but the afternoon had turned out very fine, the sun shone merrily through a hundred crevices, and there, on the foot of the same bunk, sat the lost rabbiter, precisely as I had seen him sitting the night before.

How long I stood, how long he remained, I do not know. I remember a hollow voice calling his name. I remember the pattering of my own tottering feet, my nerveless fingers clutching the empty air, my trembling body flung headlong on the other bunk, and the sobs that shook it as it lay. For then I knew that Henry Powell was already dead, and for the second time I had seen his ghost.

Not a particle of doubt remained in my mind. I could not be mistaken twice—I was perfectly certain that I had never been mistaken at all. This time, however, there was no dull red glow to play conceivable tricks in the darkness, for the fire was out, and it was almost as light in the hut as it was outside. Yet there I had seen him, in the self-same attitude, on the self-same spot, his hands covering his face, his beard showing between his wrists, his elbows planted on his thighs. I could have counted the checks in his Crimean shirt, and this time the glasses were still upon my nose.

Yes, I was absolutely certain of what I had seen, and that very certainly was now my consolation. The worst is worst of all before it happens; and the knowledge that I had seen a ghost was much more supportable than the doubt as to whether I had seen one or not. The ghost could not harm me, after all; instead of sympathising with myself I should grieve for the poor fellow who was already beyond the reach of succour.

Had they found. him yet? Had they found the body? And, if so, would the whim-driver return to his post at once and set me free? My heart beat fast with the hope, in defiance of my head. I might reason with myself that a poor ghost was no fit companion, but how I longed to get away! Even then, however, my courage failed me in another place. Who would believe my yarn? So I stayed where I was—and have held my tongue till now.

Sundown roused me, for I must have my tea, ghost or no ghost, and to make tea I must relight the fire: Here an obstacle confronted  and ultimately vanquished me. There was a wood heap outside, but, of course, the wood was damp, and though I looked for the axe to chop to the dry heart of the wet logs, I had not found it when night fell hastily, forcing me to abandon the search.

So I went without my tea, but ate with what appetite I had, and washed down the mutton and damper with pannikins of water from the 900-gallon tank outside. I had lighted the “slush-lamp” (moleskin wick in tin of mutton fat), and I sat watching the foot of the dead man’s bunk as I ate, but no further vision interrupted my meal. And afterwards, when I was smoking my pipe in the open air, I would look in every few minutes, and past where the light was burning, for I had an odd idea that I must see the apparition thrice. And I wish I had. Yet of what I saw twice I am as positive now as I was then.

It was a magnificent night: the rain had drawn the fever from the sun-baked plains, and left even that clear air clearer than I had known it yet. Every star was a diamond in the dark-blue vault, and my little pipe made the only clouds between earth and heaven. Often as I filled it, I had to light it still oftener at the flame which I had left burning in the hut, for I was rapt in thought. You are nowhere nearer to God than when alone in the bush beneath the undimmed tropic stars. I cannot say what brought it home to me, or by what chain of thought I chanced on the conclusion, but all at once I stood still and knew that the hand of God was in the apparition which I had seen. It meant something.

What did it mean? There must be some reason why I alone and not Wylie, for example, had been made to see the lost man sitting on his bunk. Then what could that reason be?

I thought, and thought, and thought, sauntering round and round the hut the while. At last, I entered, but not to light my pipe. I do not know what I meant to do; I only know what I did. I walked to the foot of Powell’s bunk, and sat down where I had seen Powell sitting, with a vague feeling, I believe, that in that spot and in his own attitude my spirit might receive some subtle communication from that of the rabbiter. What I did receive was a tumble; for the foot of the bunk gave way beneath me. and I found myself deposited on the ground instead. Yet he, whom I had seen sitting there, had been in life a much heavier man than myself!

These bunks, or bush bedsteads, rather, are constructed upon universal and very simple lines. Four uprights are driven into the earth floor of the hut or tent, and then connected by horizontal poles with sack-cloth slung across. The result combines the merits of both bed and hammock; but the uprights must be firmly rooted in the ground, and I soon saw the explanation of the present downfall; the ground was all loose at the foot of the lost man’s bed, and the outer upright had gone down like a ninepin beneath my weight.

For the moment I was merely puzzled. The ground had worn so hard elsewhere in the hut that I could not imagine why it should begin to crumble in this particular corner. I reached the slush-lamp and peered under the middle of the bed. There it was the same—as soft as a sandhill—but recently flattened with a shovel. I saw the concave marks. And suddenly I leant back, and got up quickly, but with the perspiration running cold from every pore, for now I knew why the visible form of Henry Powell had appeared to me twice upon the foot of his bed. It was to tell me that his murdered remains lay buried beneath.

Now I knew why Wylie had pretended to be behindhand in bringing in his news; it was that we might think his mate really lost, and be ourselves so full of blame for an error of judgment that there should be no room in our minds for deadlier suspicions. Now I understood his rage and horror when I cried out that there was Powell come back—his subsequent anxiety to explain away my vision. And the missing axe—what had it done that he should hide it? And the long-handled shovel—I knew what had blunted and bent it now!

I remember mechanically looking at my watch, and yet not seeing the time. I remember looking again, and it was not quite half-past nine. Tne time goes so slowly when one is alone, and midnight begins so soon; but I was thankful it was earlier than I had thought. Now I could make sure—it would all be less ghastly than in the veritable dead of night—and then to the station with my news before anybody was in bed.

The miscreant Wylie! How well he had acted his diabolical part—in there at the men’s hut—out here before the owner and the manager! Indignation at his bloody villainy became my first emotion, and it nerved me mightily. I tore away the poles and the sacking, and the soft earth rose in a mound — it had all been put back! I ran for the long-handled shovel, and, urged on by my boiling blood, I began to dig.

God knows how I went on! A boot stuck out first, and when I felt it there was a foot inside. It was scarce eighteen inches below the ground. Next I uncovered the Crimean shirt. That was enough for me. As I bent over it with the light, and blew away the sand, I saw here and there the red checks (no plainer than in my vision, however), but the most of them were blotted out by a dark, stiff stain. I delved no deeper; this was indeed enough. I turned away, deadly sick, without rising from my knees, and there was Wylie himself watching me from the door!

I set the light down on the table—that, at any rate, was between us—and I looked up at him from my knees. He was glaring down on me with the most ferocious expression, every wrinkle writhing, and that loose pouch at his throat swelling as if with venom for spitting in my face. But, so far as I could see, he was unarmed; his bony right hand rested on what I took to be the handle of a stick, and, luckily, the long-handled shovel lay within reach of mine. I was the first to speak.

“I have found him,” said I.

“More fool you.”

“Why so? I am not frightened of you.”

“Not frightened to die?”

“Not particularly; you’ll follow me soon enough. One murder you could only conceal one day, and how long are you going to conceal two? Besides, you’ve got to kill me first.”

And I was on my legs with the long shovel in both hands. “That’s soon done,” he answered with a laugh, and then I saw my mistake. What I had taken for a mere stick was the missing axe; he must have hidden it somewhere outside, and, after first catching me at work, stolen away and come back with it on tiptoe. Now he took two strides into the hut, and, as the axe came up over his shoulder and hung there, I saw bloodstains on the blade. The sight of them delayed me at the critical instant; yet I lunged as he struck, then started back, and the axe-head split through the table as though it had been a cigar-box. With a curse he wrenched it free, but I was on him first, and round and round we went, and over and over, until I had the wretch at my mercy in the very grave which has own hands had dug.

At my mercy because he lay as one paralysed when he found his body stretched out on that of his victim; but how long; that would have lasted I do not care to conjecture. He was stronger than I, though less active, and I think that his strength must soon have come back tenfold. It had not done so when I caught the beat of the sweetest music I have ever heard—the music of eight cantering hoofs drawing nearer and nearer to the hut. The slush-lamp had fallen and gone out when the axe fell, but my eyes were searching for that villain’s eyes in the darkness, and I would have given something to see them as the music fell on his ears too— as the horsemen’s spurs jingled on the ground outside and then in the hut.

“Is Wylie here, Forrester?” cried the manager’s voice.

“He is.”

“We suspect him of having murdered Powell himself!”

“He has done so. Strike a light and you shall see them both.”

* * * * * * * *

But at the trial I said nothing of my two visions, for, as I have stated, I had not then the moral courage, and the case was complete without that. My story began when the bed collapsed beneath me—that was all—so terrified was I of making myself a discredited laughing stock. Now I do not care, nor do I think there will be so many disbelievers. At all events I have relieved my mind by telling the whole truth at last—so help me God.

This I think irrelevant, but those who are interested, and who do not know it, may be glad to learn that Wylie the whim driver lived to die as he deserved.

Buried Alive

Ainslee’s Magazine Oct 1899

His Excellency the governor had done a very foolish thing. Charmed with his colony, he had ventured up country incognito, to see a certain small station there for sale, and said to be the very thing for an English nobleman desiring a safe investment and occasional sanctuary in the Australian bush. Considering the matter for a single instant, to say nothing of going into it to this extent, was not, however, the height of the governor’s folly. This was reached when his Excellency bought one of the station horses instead of the station itself (which duly disappointed him), and insisted on riding unattended back to town.

To be sure, the distance was not much more than one hundred miles, and the governor was an old cavalry officer, who, even in Australia, had nothing to learn about horses. But he had everything to learn about the bush, and an innate spirit of adventure scarcely stood him in stead of the specific knowledge only to be bought by specific experience.

For the greater part of the first day, however, things went wonderfully well with the distinguished horseman. He flatly refused to be escorted beyond the station boundary, where he shook hands with his late host, who alone knew the secret of his identity, and who had provided him with letters of introduction in which that secret was not betrayed.

It was then ten o’clock, and a glaring morning in early February; but there was little glare among the pungent, dark-hued gum trees that overgrew the ranges, as the boulders that strewed them were overgrown with moss; and my Lord Hartley grinned a guilty grin of boyish satisfaction as he puffed his short pipe in his second-hand colonial saddle, and let his unclipped, long-tailed nag pick its own way down the primitive mountain path.

Two hours later Lord Hartley met with his first adventure. He had come without mishap to the so-called township where he had to have his lunch, and had taken with the landlord the tone which he was accustomed to employ toward people of that kind. It was not a bullying tone, but it was curt and decisive, it brooked not argument or delay, and in this case it caused the governor of a colony to take off his coat and fight one of its meanest publicans before he could obtain a bite for man or beast. In due course both proceeded on their way, the rider with a cut lip and broken knuckles, watched out of sight by a landlord who had received a sovereign for a half-crown’s fare, and a sound thrashing for his independence.

This spoilt his Excellency’s day. His triumph afforded him no sort of satisfaction; on the contrary, it left him with an uncomfortable feeling that he was not playing the game. If he traveled incognito he had obviously no right to expect special consideration by the way; nor had he consciously expected anything of the kind. He had merely spoken as he was in the habit of speaking—that was his first and last mistake. To “hide” the person who instantly offered to “hide” him was a necessary consequence of that initial blunder.

Lord Hartley blamed himself, however, and conned his lesson as he rode on. No need to explain that this was a pretty new governor; an older hand had not embarked on such an escapade. Lord Hartley began to feel that he had learnt more of the colonial character already that day than in all the months he had been installed at Government House.

And now he was beginning to learn something of the bush. A bush “road,” he discovered, was seldom more than a mere track, and often as not the track was invisible to untrained eyes. At first he left it to his new bush horse, but as the animal got beyond his bearings, and itself diverged more than once, his Excellency was reduced to dismounting and examining the ground with his eye-glass. And he asked his way of all and sundry, thus accumulating a variety of directions to choose from at every turn. Worst of all, his horse disappointed him; he had bought it fat off the grass; it proved too soft for the distance and his weight, and weakened perceptibly as the afternoon advanced.

The entire day’s journey had been estimated at something over thirty miles, and for some time Lord Hartley had felt convinced that he must have covered the distance and more. It was true that the pace had seldom exceeded an amble, yet the rider received a shock when he calculated that he had been eight good hours in the saddle; according to his last informant, he was still half a dozen miles from his destination for the night. Of course he had been grossly misled first or last; either the thirty miles was nearer fifty, or he had long since been thrown off his course. It was too late, however, for harking back; already the sun was down behind the trees; the only plan was to push on and ask more questions than ever, in the hope of getting an honest answer in the end.

The last question which Lord Hartley asked brought the goal three miles nearer at a bound, and so delighted his lordship that he presented his informant with five shillings. The end of his troubles seemed at hand. He had simply to turn up a lane and go through the slip rails at the end, where he would find a track leading straight to the station at which he was to spend the night.

His Excellency looked at the sun, and used his spurs for the first time for some hours; there was no sun to look at when he reached the lane at a labored canter; and it proved impossible to canter in the lane itself, which was heavy with rank grass, and very long indeed. When at last it terminated in the promised slip rails it was too dark to see much track beyond; unfortunately Lord Hartley imagined he could see one far ahead, and, remounting after he had replaced the rails, urged his tired beast to a last effort which placed him finally out of sight of all human landmarks. What he had taken for a track proved to be a narrow water hole; track there was none, thence or thither, though his lordship dismounted again and wasted all his matches in the search. He could not even tell which way he had come, so dark was the night, so unimpressionable the tough grass, so like one another the everlasting gums.

It must have been a couple of hours later when Lord Hartley saw the light. It took him the best part of another hour to reach it in a bee-line. And this was the most interesting period of all the vice-regal misadventures. His lordship had been leading his horse, but now he remounted, set his teeth on an oath and his eyeglass on the light, and thence forward veered not to the right nor to the left. He rode through a lagoon of unknown depth. He dragged his horse over a wire fence. He opened a gate and pulled up in a pack of barking dogs. The light still shone in the window of a low building; now it glimmered also in an open door-way, and a man advanced, quelling the dogs.

“Is this the station?” inquired Lord Hartley.

“What station?”

“Kilmarnock.”

“Not it!”

Lord Hartley sat motionless in his saddle.

“I suppose there is such a place as Kilmarnock Station?”

“There is.”

 “You really know of its existence, eh?”

“I do.”

“That’s something! Is it far away?”

“Thirteen or fourteen miles.”

Lord Hartley gave it up; three or four miles would have been beyond his horse; besides, he was himself tired out.

“And what’s the name of this station?” he asked.

“It isn’t a station; it’s a selection.”

“My luck is out,” sighed Lord Hartley. “I have a letter of introduction to the people at Kilmarnock, and I was going to propose that I should deliver it to you instead.”

“Keep it in your pocket,” said the selector. “You talk like a blessed new chum! I suppose you’re too fine for mutton and damper and a blanket on the floor? If not, jump down and hang the introduction!”

So the governor of that colony added a little more to his new knowledge of the colonial character, and with the knowledge came its complement of wisdom, which permitted his Excellency to accept this uncouth invitation in the tone and spirit in which it had been given. Lord Hartley could be hail-fellow himself when he forgot his dignity, and he made a successful effort to forget it now. Before his steed was in the stable, he and the selector were good friends; an hour later they lit their pipes with the same faggot, while the selector’s wife removed the remnants of a satisfying supper, and forthwith dutifully disappeared.

Lord Hartley pulled off his long boots, stretched his silk socks to the fire, and lay back in the worn arm-chair with feelings in which he had scarcely hoped to indulge that day. He could congratulate himself on his enterprise, after all. It was proving richer in valuable experience than he had dared to hope. The very vicissitudes were so much practical experience in a school through which all colonial governors ought to go; moreover, they would tell very well at Government House, when it was all over; and the fight at the wayside inn—even it might leak out and be handed down, when it could scarcely redound to the discredit of the victor.

This selector, too, with his fine upstanding figure, his rough-and-ready tongue, and his few hundred acres under strenuous cultivation, was a distinct type, and one to be himself strenuously cultivated by any governor desirous of attaining direct insight into the real life of his colony. So for the last hour Lord Hartley had asked a question whenever his mouth was empty, and carefully attended to the answer during the process of mastication. Now he was less acquisitive but more observant. Reveling in his ease and his fatigue, he began to take note of an interior as obviously typical as the selector himself, and was most struck by a log chimney, the hammerless gun over the rude chimney piece, the plated spurs hanging from a rusty nail. What he could not note, since it hung behind him, was his own portrait in the centre of a calendar of vast proportions. He was, therefore, much startled when his attention was called to it, not indeed without preamble, but with a preamble that was worse than none.

“Are you often mistaken for the governor?”

The selector spoke out of a brown study, and in a quieter voice than seemed to be his wont; but the guilty guest started as though he had been stung.

“What governor?” he queried, to gain time.

“The new governor of this colony—the Earl of Hartley.”

“Lord Hartley,” said that nobleman, involuntarily (the selector blew at his pipe to hide a smile); “he’s not an earl. Yes—aw—to be sure—now you speak of it! We are said to be something like each other. Why do you ask?”

“Turn round and you’ll see.”

Lord Hartley was only too thankful to do so, and to study his own countenance at some length, while he recovered his composure (and the selector indulged in an open grin). The portrait made him younger than he was, and it omitted the gray stubble which he had purposely grown on this surreptitious jaunt. On the whole, he was surprised that the selector had seen a likeness which he felt sure was not strong enough to convict him unless he chose to confess. And he did not see why he should confess. It was not a very large matter, but he felt inclined to preserve his incognito as long as possible, and the selector’s next words both reassured him and decided him on the point.

“He ought to make a good governor,” said he. “I was glad when I heard a Hartley had got the billet.”

“Indeed?” said his Excellency, pricking up his ears as he resumed his seat. It was the only word he permitted himself, and he was afraid to throw too much curiosity into his tone, nor was it necessary.

“You see, I know something about the family,” the selector went on, of his own accord. “That’s why I’ve got him stuck up there.”

“You know something about the family?” Lord Hartley at length ventured to repeat.

“Yes. I come from the old country myself. I was born and bred on the Hartley estate.”

“May I—” and his Excellency just prevented himself from inquiring the selector’s name. “So you think well of the family?” he queried instead.

“I do; there’s only been one black sheep in it in my time, if not in all time.”

A shade fell across the governor’s face, a shade which he was quick (but not quick enough) to quench.

“So there has been a black sheep, has there?” he forced himself to remark.

“One of the worst.”

“Not the governor, I hope?” said his crafty Excellency, wincing none the less. The other watched him out of narrow eyes.

“No, not his lordship,” he said, “or I shouldn’t have been glad he’d got the billet, should I?”

Lord Hartley scarcely heeded his slip; curiosity had taken the lead in his emotions. He was running over the tenantry at home—the list was not very long—and trying to recall those who had emigrated in his time. This man must be about his own age, yet he had no recollection of him, though he was a more striking figure than Lord Hartley had realized while his interest in the selector was still impersonal. He had the beak of an eagle and eagle eye, eyebrows like mustaches, and a magnificent beard; twenty years hence he would be the ideal patriarch; twenty years since he must have been a singularly handsome young fellow; and yet Lord Hartley was quite unable to recall him. Not that he was given much time to try, for the selector resumed not only the conversation, but the topic which was painful to his guest.

“No, not his lordship,” he repeated; “but his elder brother; the one that would have been his lordship if he’d lived. A jolly good job he didn’t! He disgraced the name enough as it was. He’d have been in prison if he hadn’t fled the country and cut his throat. Cutting his throat was the one good thing Dishonorable Robert ever did!”

Lord Hartley picked nervously at his nails; his feet shifted; it was all that he could do to sit still. He veiled his emotion by frowning at his fingers. And he little dreamt how the eagle eyes opposite seized every symptom of his suffering.

“I remember hearing that it happened in America,” remarked his lordship, with all the indifference it was in his power to assume.

“It did,” said the selector. “I was in the states at the time.”

“See anything of him over there?” And, despite every effort, there was an eager catch in the callous voice.

The eagle eyes lit up.

“See anything of him? Only too much, there and in the old country, too. Nobody knows how much I was mixed up with Mr. Robert all his life, and nobody but myself knows what an unmitigated blackguard he was!”

Lord Hartley could bear it no more; white and trembling, he sprang to his feet.

“You are wrong!” he cried, hoarsely. “Blackguard he may have been, unmitigated blackguard he was not. I know—better than you. He was my brother!”

The selector started forward in his chair, his fingers twitching on the arms.

“And you own him?” he whispered. “You stick up for him?”

“Didn’t I tell you he was my brother? No man ever had a better; he had more temptations than I had, that was all. So now the cat’s out of the bag,” added Lord Hartley, with a grim chuckle, and he had another look at the portrait on the calendar.

“And you let it out to stick up for your brother!” the selector whispered. His voice might have made the other turn, but it did not until it was followed by unsteady steps and the sudden opening of the door. Then Lord Hartley looked round—and found himself alone. And the voice came back to him—and the truth came home.

He rushed out; and in the light from the window, the light that had led Lord Hartley across cruel country from afar, the selector leaned against an unbarked veranda post, with the tears rolling down his cheeks and glistening even in his beard.

“Bob!”

“Hush! I’m not Bob now.”

“You never did it after all!”

“I thought I’d done as good. I never dreamt of your coming out. Even then—you’d have said there was room for us both?”

“It was not to be, Bob; it was not to be. ”

“But it is to be. I’m dead and buried in the bush. And you stuck up for me—after all these years!”

Tear after tear sprang to his eyes and rolled down unchecked, for both his hands were grasped beyond release, and so for a long time stood the brothers, in the faint light of the single little flame that had brought them together. But the older head drooped and drooped, and the younger face grew hard and twisted with perplexity. And the younger eyes remained dry.

* * * * * * * *

About midnight the wife awoke and missed not only her mate but the hum of conversation which had lulled her to sleep. She sat up. The homestead was like a grave. She slipped out of bed, but hesitated at the door. She had a good husband, and yet she stood terribly in awe of him. His essential superiority, combined with the mystery of that past of which he would tell her nothing, created in the poor woman a humility of which all his kindness could not cure her. She was ever fearful of offending him, though nobody was slower to take offense. So she stood some minutes at the door before venturing to open it half an inch. The outer room was empty. The lamp was still burning on the table. The outer door stood wide open to the night.

She was a nervous woman, an easy victim to all kinds of fears, and the first sound of the voices outside came to her as a relief; but as she stood and listened, her alarm returned twofold. The voices were raised, and raised in anger—the voices of her husband and the stranger whom he had taken in.

She flew across the room to the open door; they were pacing side by side under the stars, at some little distance from the house, and she could only catch a word here and there. “Obstinate,” and “idiotic” were two that fell from her husband. “My mind is made up” and “it’s my duty,” were the only whole sentences that she could swear to. Both fell from the stranger, and he repeated both many times. But in the end her husband spoke loud enough.

“Very well!” he said; “have your way. I’ll be ready to start in ten minutes!”

“What, in the dead of night?”

“Yes, now—or not at all.”

“But this is flying to the other extreme!

“It’s you who go to extremes. Since your mind is made up, you shall lose no time through me.”

In less than the ten minutes the selector came in for his spurs. He could not find them; yet he was almost certain he had hung them on their nail in the evening. He pulled off his boots to have a look in the bed-room. And there was his wife sitting up in bed, with the missing spurs before her on the quilt.

“Where are you going at this hour of the night?”

“How did you know I was going anywhere?”

“I heard you say so.”

“You’ve been listening to us!”

Never had he spoken to her in such a voice. His left hand gripped her shoulder, his right thrust the candle close to her face. It was his first rough act toward her in their married life; the timid woman bore it with a gentle dignity that made him lift his hand that instant, though he still searched her face with the candle.

“Tell me what else you’ve heard,” he said, “and I’ll answer your question.”

She told him all without flinching; her good faith was transparent, and he breathed again. He took her hand kindly in his own, and its coarse, hard-working fibre touched him to the quick, so that once more his voice was as she had never heard it before. It was as soft as it had just been hard.

“You would forgive my hastiness,” he said, “if you knew how that man has been annoying me. I won't have him sleep under my roof, so I’m going to set him on his right road.”

“Why should you?” cried the wife. “I’d let him find it for himself.”

“He couldn’t. He’s an awful towny. We should have him back in another hour.”

But the woman was wondering whether she would ever have her husband; for suspicion had entered her soul, and she knew that she was being deceived. Yet she could not bring herself to speak her heart; all she could do was to throw her free hand about his neck and to beg and beseech him not to go. And that availed her less than nothing—it precipitated a leave-taking whose very tenderness confirmed her every fear.

So they rode away in the starlight, and the woman heard the last of their horses’ hoofs, lying solitary in her bed.

For an hour they rode through bush as dense as any his Excellency had traversed earlier in the night; indeed, the country grew worse instead of better, so that very rarely could they ride abreast; and still more rarely did they speak. The selector led the way on a gaunt old stager, that twisted and squeezed between trunks and boulders, and slithered into gullies, and scrambled out of them, with equal readiness and precision; the governor followed as best he could, his face as often as not in his horse’s mane, knees hugging the saddle flaps, toes turned in, and imagination see-sawing between the respective sensations of being maimed by the trunk or brained by the branch. It would simplify matters if he were brained.

So the first hour passed, without the hint of a path that the governor could see; as a matter of fact, they crossed several. Nor had he any idea in which direction they were going; he was much too occupied to pay attention to the stars, even if he could have sworn to the Southern Cross without prolonged scrutiny. So he never suspected that their course was not a straight one, nor dreamt that at the end of a second hour they were no further from the selection than at the end of the first. It was then, however, and not before then, that the selector allowed himself to strike a palpable road; a coach-route, broad, open, and light as day after the rank wilderness through which it had been hewn; and yet it was the darkest hour of all when the governor reached it with a cry of relief and found his brother waiting for him under the stars.

“A nice way to bring you, eh?” said the selector. “Well, I apologize; but behold your reward. A good road all the way back to town, and a township before you get very many miles from this. I should advise you to take a good long spell there. I don’t think that horse of yours will carry you much farther without one.”

The governor had dismounted to stretch his legs, the other remained in his saddle and now he leaned over with outstretched hand.

“But you’re coming with me?” cried the younger man.

“I have come as far as I must.”

“You said you were coming!”

“I only meant so far; you forget my poor wife.”

This was true; and it annoyed his Excellency to be reminded of her.

“But there are a hundred things to talk about,” he said, irritably. “You have told me so little; we were arguing all the time. Why, I neither know the name you’ve been going by nor the name of your place.”

From his saddle the elder brother smiled down upon the younger.

“And you will never know, either” said he.

On every hand the locusts were chirruping; the selector’s horse champed its bit; a breath of wind stirred the leaves; but for several minutes there was a dead silence between the mounted man and the man on foot.

“Very well,” at length said the latter. “I go down and make my own arrangements. Then I come back for you.”

“You will never find me. If you were to wait where you are till daylight, I would still defy you to ride back the way you’ve come—or any other way!”

“Then I’ll follow you now!”

“You will find it difficult with that horse.”

“Then you shan’t go yourself!” And the selector’s reins were caught and held.

This was suffered without complaint; then said the selector in his softest voice, “You can’t have considered what you will drive me to do. I am dead and buried to all but you. To all but you I committed suicide years ago. You find me by a fluke—or by fate. It will be your fault if I still do what I'm supposed to have done long ago. I shall not hesitate if you drive me to it.”

“But nothing’s mine, and I’ve got everything. I should feel an imposter for the rest of my life!”

“Think it over when you get back to Government House; think it calmly and quietly over, and you’ll agree with me; at least you’ll give in—for my sake. I want to live—I always wanted to. At my worst I liked my life too well to take it; but it won’t be worth having if you go and give me away. It’s worth having as it is. I’m not disgraced before the world, but I was before, and would be again; that’s where you make your mistake. Some things are forgotten—others never. What you’ve got to forget is to-night, what I shall never forget is the way you spoke of a fellow before you knew! You are leaving me happier than you found me, and you found me far happier than you suppose. As long as I’ve an acre to clear and a crop to raise from it, you may take it from me, I shan’t be unhappy; and where I’ve made something of what I’ve got I’ll turn up more. It’s a good life—too good for the man you spoke up for. And I’ve a good wife—too good again! Consider her; consider everything, my dear fellow, when you get back; and—good-by!”

“We must see each other again!”

“If you think it well when you think of everything, and if you can find me! Good-by.”

“Good-by, Bob.”

“God bless you, Harry!”

“And you—and yours!”

* * * * * * * *

It was the last prayer and the least sincere that was soonest answered, for in the little log-house among the gum trees sorrow had endured for a night; but joy came in the morning.

A Villa In A Vineyard

The Cornhill Magazine - May 1899

This early morning (last August) I could sleep no more: a mosquito had won through the curtains and either it or I must go. The ignominious remedy was much the simpler, and I came through my bedroom window, out upon the drawing-room roof. It was just after five; the sun sat flaring on the spurs of Vesuvius, turning the mountain from grey to angry purple, even as I watched; in the still air his crest of smoke stood straight on end. Every night a crimson gash glows and grows in the mountain side, to heal at dawn. And every night (while we have no moon) the bay is a blackness spangled with the lights of fishing-boats; but this morning it was the boats that lay black upon a golden sheen.

Some one asked me exactly where we are, but the man was a cricketer. I said that Naples was long-leg, Vesuvius long-on (well-round), Nisida point, Procida cover-point, Ischia extra cover, and Capri ‘in the deep’ with a vengeance, some twenty miles over the bowler’s head. Capo Posillipo is our square-leg umpire, but the bowler is a mere buoy.

In point of fact, the place is a vineyard, and the homestead in the midst of it we have taken for six months. It hangs on an angle of the cliffs, at their very edge, and from below looks a dizzier height than we find it. It is a house with a history. Lucullus built it, no less. It was his very own villa. And yet we are densely ignorant about Lucullus! He was, ‘of course,’ a Roman general of the Empire, but I cannot conquer the impression that he fought his battles with the dactyl and the spondee, and scanned his own lines oftener than those of the enemy. Catullus and Tibullus are my snare. A patron of the arts we know Lucullus to have been, and here are evidences. I look out of my study window into the green basin that was the general’s private theatre. My landlord has unearthed a marble plinth, with Leda and the swan in still bold relief, clearly the property of his more illustrious predecessor. We have two ways down to the sea; and by one we pass the still standing walls of a villa of Virgil himself. There are other ruins, relics, associations, if one was learned enough to write about them. Perhaps the learning will come. Meanwhile I have a vague recollection of Lucullus at school, as a man of war. But I am beginning to know him by a repute which I may say that I can check.

We have two ways down to the sea: the Virgilian way is for the most part a gradual descent by a dusty pathway through the vines; the other is precipitous and even more romantic. It is a secret stair to the water’s edge, three-parts subterranean, two hundred and fifteen steps in all. It has not yet been used in a novel, to my knowledge, but its time may come. Ending, as it begins, in honest daylight, these steps land you at the mouth of a cavern containing every facility for a bloody denouement; meanwhile you can undress there in luxury, and but for the rocks there would be no better bathing-place in the bay. This morning the water was as warm as milk, as invigorating as dry champagne. But the sunk rocks barked my nakedness, and either the weed that grows upon the rocks, or the marine mosquito which infests the weed, stung considerably. What matter? The faithful Fiorentina was astir when I clomb the two hundred and fifteenth step, and even her coffee was good to drink this morning.

Fiorentina is a poor cook, yet the best that we can get to come so far out of Naples, the only one who would tackle our lane and the daily journey to Posillipo for the spesa; and Fiorentina, we discover, had her reasons. She turns out to be a fortuneteller as well as a cook—it is to be hoped a better one. We understand that she practises her secondary (or primary) profession in the intervals of the spesa, or marketing. We know that she robs us in her good-natured, light-hearted way; but we are beginning to like Fiorentina in spite of her idiosyncrasies, which include a rooted objection to stays and shoes, and an open fondness for the wine of the vineyard. What we dislike, our one and only grievance, is the system of spesa which Fiorentina illustrates, and which is forced upon us by our distance from the shops. Not one of them will send. We might stew in the juice of our own grapes, but every crumb of our daily bread has to be fetched from afar.

One must not scamp Fiorentina. She is a woman of more than character; the charm of mystery is instinct in her untidy person and wild eyes. She has weekly interviews with her solicitor, on the head of some legacy, as far as we can make out. I have heard the jingle of money in her room. Yet the most valuable current coin of Italy is worth less than twopence. Has she a deep distrust of the paper currency? Is she such a wise virgin as all that? Coin in Italy! She is not free from education, Fiorentina. Only last night I found her writing with my pen and ink, at this very desk. On the other hand, there is no quicker worker than Fiorentina; she polishes everything off in the morning, and retires to bed for the afternoon. She can boil an egg in ten seconds. You say ten minutes if you want her to give it three.

To me the crowning merit of our villa is its villino, three little rooms by themselves, the best of the three my den. It is remote from the house, and Fiorentina; never had man a fairer chance in fairer workshop. Vines look in at one window, and through the other smokes old Vesuvius, as though butter wouldn’t melt in his crater. Both windows have the light-tight shutters of the country, and face east and west respectively, so that in summer I can have as little sun as I like, in winter as much. The mere morning is worth a long day in London; there are no interruptions; you can work in flannels, or your pyjamas, without fear of friend or enemy; and not before luncheon can you get your letters.

I said the spesa was our only grievance, but, with one of us at any rate, the letters are a worse. They may arrive any time between the middle of the day and the middle of next week. The postman is as bad as the shopkeepers, without their right; nothing will entice him to our door. Sometimes he leaves the letters with friends of ours on the shore, and we get them when we call, or our friends bring them when they call on us. Sometimes he has consigned them to a decrepit crone at the top of our lane, but never when we send up to see. Last Saturday he seems to have dealt our letters round like a pack of cards, and to-day (Monday) they are still creeping in, like stricken soldiers. Heaven knows how many have fallen by the way! Yet I am blamed for not correcting proofs. I have tried correcting the postman, but it is little use, and rather disagreeable. He is a splendid fellow, handsome, stalwart, but he weeps outright if you bully him, and his one excuse is subtle if not complete:

‘Excellency! I have eight daughters . . .’

There is no more to be said.

These hot afternoons one may do worse than follow the example of the seasoned Fiorentina, and the couch in my study (when she does not borrow the cushions) affords a fairly satisfying siesta; but one fly in the room on such occasions is worse than any number in the ointment, to say nothing of my enemies the mosquitoes. There is no remedy against the latter.

Tea between three and four is indispensable in Italy, even more so than elsewhere, as it seems to us. And after tea, if there is still no sign of your letters and the three-days-old paper with the latest cricket, you can always scribble for another hour or two, as I am doing now. But the serious delight of the day is close at hand, and from five to six o’clock you go down to the sea once more for the incomparable swim before dinner. Not this time by the subterranean stair, but through the vineyard and past Virgil’s villa, without a thought of the poet or of his pious hero, though I fancy there is a passage of which one ought to think. I wish I could think of it at this moment, or knew where to borrow an Æneid. . . .

It is over, the great bagno, the exquisite evening bathe. We were in three quarters of an hour; we swam a quarter of a mile at least. Can nobody invent a cyclometer for the swimmer, a natatometer, or patent log? It is our only exercise out here in August. I am curious to know how much we ‘do.’ This bathing place is to the other what Lord’s cricket-ground is to a pitch in Regent’s Park: you are not for ever in danger of an unmerited bruise. Instead of the ubiquitous rock, you have the well-marked foundations of a Roman house, as easy to avoid as they are grateful to rest upon. It was glorious to-night! The sun was setting redder than he rose this morning, setting through rich grey clouds the colour of Ischia, but much farther north, even north of Nisida. Not since I came have I known it calmer; and the ripples ran rosy to your chin, as you swam against them, into that gorgeous west. So buoyant the wave! So soft the skies! So tender the dying light upon shore and sea! And there is neither cold nor heaviness in these summer waters; the body seems as light as the heart, gliding through them. Ah! hard to feel the burden of the flesh once more, even as you drag it, dripping silver, back to dull dry land!

But how good to climb home through the dusty vineyard, clean of body and soul, with such an appetite, and a mind at peace! Giuseppe is finishing among the vines; he has deep-set, twinkling eyes, and, since he missed his last month’s shave, a chin that would scrub a floor. A Neapolitan of the Neapolitans, than whom no citizens have a less enviable name. In Naples, one gathers that you never know when a man ‘has his knife in you,’ until you see its point sticking out of your waistcoat. I don’t believe it of Giuseppe, for one. With nothing to gain, he treats the humble tenant as though he were full lord of the vineyard, and off comes his hat as usual:

‘Buona sera, eccellenza!’

‘Buona sera, Giuseppe!’

A Lochinvar of the Old Man Plain

Drawn By Max F. Klepper

Collier’s Weekly - December 2, 1899

Joe Callaghan was “knocking down his check.”

There are two ways of performing this feat. You may strut into the shanty and toss it across the bar, with appropriate bravado, and the request that they will tell you when you have got to the bottom of that. This is the traditional and picturesque method. The other way is to be decoyed into that shanty against a whole year’s resolutions; to let them have your check “to take care of,” when you are no longer capable of doing so yourself, or of appreciating the transaction at all; and remain in this condition until they choose to turn you out penniless, too ill to argue, too weak to resist, despoiled of a twelvemonth’s earnings in the inside of a week. The latter, unhappily, is the commoner, more inglorious and most iniquitous way of it. And it was the way of Joe Callaghan, among a hundred thousand others.

Joseph had no intention of drawing rein at Scarlett’s Hotel on the Old Man Plain; the lonely hostlery was too like others which had more than once been the ruin of him a couple of hundred miles further back. But then there had been the excuse of sore feet, a heavy swag, and the comparatively small check of the pound-a-week stockman; whereas now he was a prosperous young shearer, with a good mare under him, which had carried him unscathed through Ivanhoe, Mossgiel, Boohgal, and Hay itself. To play the fool within fifty miles of Deniliquin and the rail and a day’s journey of the old folks “down in Vic.,” was the last thing that Joseph dreamed of doing. But he was ahead of his time; there was no train till eight o’clock in the morning; he would “strike” Deniliquin in the middle of the night. And Scarlett’s Hotel lay in the palm of the great round plain, so cool and cleanly in the moonshine, with laughter and lamps, and even music across the rubicon of the wide veranda.

Even dance-music, which a man must hum as he rode; it was struck up as Joseph ambled into earshot, and he walked his horse to keep the time.

“Here comes a shearer,” Dan Scarlett had cried. “Look alive, Diner! Down you sit! Bang away! If you let him pass, my word, you’ll be sorry for it! Keep it up—faster—louder—that’s the style!”

And the old reprobate performed a pas seul behind the door, with his cabbage-tree hat on the back of his head and his noble beard waggling upon his red shirt, until every glass and bottle in the adjoining bar rang its own chime, and the jingle of a spur outside announced that the fly was in the outer meshes of the web.

The subsequent stages would make ugly reading. This particular spider had reduced the whole proceeding to a science, but it was only in his opening move that he was original. He never asked any man in, so he never frightened any man away; he trusted to music and sounds of merriment, and was shrewd enough to see that such attractions are the stronger to the uninvited. Once he had his man, Scarlett relied upon his daughter to keep him; he had had her educated for the infamous part—with what success you may gather from the fate of Joseph Callaghan.

It was about nine in the evening when curiosity compelled this unhappy young man to see what was going on inside. By ten he was dancing with Dan himself in the veranda, a grotesque performance, to which his daughter thumped within, while the shearer’s mare eyed him sadly from the outer darkness, her reins still on the hook where they had been flung for five minutes. Midnight saw the animal comfortably at large in the horse-paddock, and her master sleeping in his spurs on a bench outside the bar.

He had not moved at dawn, when the place was once more in a bustle. The Deniliquin coach was in sight, the five fresh horses had just been run up, and Dinah was yawning in her glass, and extracting the curling-pins from her fuzzy hair, because Dan Scarlett would have her preside at the half-crown breakfast which yielded two shillings clear profit per head.

“Diner,” cried the publican, who was beaming upon the prostrate shearer when the girl emerged blinking; “Diner, you take one end and we’ll have him out o’ this for the meantime. We don’t want the poor devil woke up just yet a bit. Catch a hold of that end. Steady does it. So!”

And the bench was dragged and jolted to the far end of a side veranda without disturbing a feature of the sleeper’s face. His head went from side to side, an arm fell, the knuckles trailed; but not an eyelid moved, and Dan’s smile broadened as be loosed his hold and stood upright.

“Wait a bit, Diner!” said he, as the girl was going with the same evil grace with which she had lent her aid, “I’ve got a word to say to you, my lass. You see our friend here? You see how it is with him? Well, you’ve got to keep him like that all day.”

“Me?” cried Dinah, her eyes dilating. “Shan’t you be here, then?”

“No. I’m going up as far as Schneider’s with the coach, and I’ll be back by the down coach this evening. Schneider’s got a buggy and pair he wants to sell, and I might do a deal after this.” He jerked his head toward the bench and winked. “A three-figure check!” he whispered. “Three blooming figures! I have it safe in the cash-box; but don’t you let him ever get within a cooee of asking for it; pour the stuff down his throat as soon as he offers to open his mouth.”

“And am I to sit and watch him all day?” asked Dinah in disgust

“You’ve got to do as I tell yer,” snarled Dan. “You can do it the way you think best; but let me find that josser on his legs when I come back and I’ll knock you off of yours so sure as God made sour apples!”

His white beard splayed as he wagged his head; his red nose shone in the first flush of the rising sun; and at breakfast that morning Dinah Scarlett was not herself.

Booligal Bob, the smartest coachman on the route, whose driving-coat was never without a flower, which of late he had invariably presented to Dinah, was quite concerned about her as he flicked his three leaders and drove away.

“Kinder lonely life for a gal,” said he to Dan; and he readjusted the wideawake with which he had waved farewell to the solitary little figure in the wide veranda.

“She ain’t lonely,” was Dan’s reply. “She don’t have time. An astonishing comfort to me, that lassie,” he added fondly; and Booligal Bob sighed in sympathy.

Nevertheless, though Dinah Scarlett was probably the loneliest mortal on the Old Man Plain, she would have given a good deal that morning to have felt lonelier still; the occupant of the side veranda was on her nerves as well as on her hands for the day. Not that she had conceived the smallest sentimental interest in his case. It is true that to Dinah such exhibitions were too common a spectacle to be very shocking in themselves; similarly, the girl was too used to her father’s and her own hand in them to have a proper shame for either. To be brought up in an atmosphere of debauchery on the proceeds of extortion is to regard such matters in a light of one’s own. Yet Dinah Scarlett was not without refinement of a kind, nor the complementary quantum of self-respcct. She wore vivid frocks, which, nevertheless, suited her sunburned complexion and her very black hair; and she could play dance music with considerable spirit and velocity. Dan had sent her to the school in Deniliquin for the sole purpose of acquiring this accomplishment; if she had come back slightly superior to her lot, the superiority did not include a sudden horror for scenes to which she had been accustomed from the cradle. But what she remembered of Joseph overnight, and what she had seen of him that morning, were equally unattractive and undesirable in eyes which Deniliquin had perhaps endowed with a certain rudimentary fastidiousness. Dinah started the day, in short, with no personal pity or consideration for the sleeping hog on the side veranda. But she resented the sordid duty which had been thrust upon her; and, above all, she dreaded the consequences if she failed in its fulfilment.

Yet what if the brute jumped up and demanded his check? Her instructions were to keep him unfit to do anything of the sort; but what if she failed? She would find herself between two brutes, a helpless girl; for Ada, the strapping barmaid, was no friend of Dinah’s, and Billy Hall, the potman and general roustabout, had gone already to turn out the coach horses, and was going on to the station for killing sheep, an all-day job; nor was there another soul on the premises but Sammy, the Chinese cook.

So Dinah reflected as she remade the toilet which had been scamped perforce in the smaller hours. And she looked dainty and pretty enough when she reappeared in the hot veranda, and not really vulgar after all; for her pert face lacked its usual assurance, and a general air of trouble and anxiety made for modesty and repose.

It was within a week of Christmas, and the fever of the earth was at its height. Brown and bare it lay from lip to lip of the great inverted bowl of blue—blue with a single break through which intolerable light and heat poured without ceasing all day long. Every now and then the iron roof crackled like distant musketry. Shadows were short and sharp, and beyond them the baked earth swam and trembled in the heat. No other habitation was visible from this one; no traveller loomed on the horizon. The barmaid was invisible and probably asleep. Sammy’s slippers trailed and flopped lazily in the kitchen across the yard; and in the side veranda the besotted shearer still slumbered on his back. Dinah stole a look at him on the points of her high-heeled shoes. His position was the same; but he had kicked off one of his spurs, his wideawake had also fallen, and Dinah noted the length of the one and the blue silk fly-veil that was wrapped about the other. Now a fly-veil is one of the three or four unmistakable signs of a bush dandy; long spurs are another; and both appealed to Dinah as she crept away in her own exceedingly smart bronze shoes.

What a mercy there were no mosquitoes and next to no flies! It was too hot for either, wherefore, as it was evidently not too hot for him, there was no reason why the man on the veranda should not sleep all day. Yet it could hardly be the quantity he had drunk; and Dinah was reminded of a violent scene caused by a squatter who had once driven up and accused her father of drugging the drinks and poisoning his men. She wondered if the drinks had been drugged last night; if so she was sorry for that poor shearer. And she hated her father for meddling with his check. But for that there would have been nothing to dread in the return to his senses of a young man who wore a blue fly-veil and long spurs.

The coolest room was the one adjoining the bar, where there was little furniture but the piano that had been part of the investment which had included Dinah’s sojourn at Deniliquin. Hither came Dinah in the end to while away the time at her piano; but first she shut all the doors behind her, and one bronze shoe was firmly planted on the soft pedal as a further precaution. Then Dinah looked through her music, and none of it pleased her at all. She was sick of waltzes, they required an audience and she knew them by heart, and at the school she had been made to fly so much higher: here was one of the pieces at the bottom of the stack, a piece by a man of the name of Chopin, which had no tune at all so far as Dinah could make out, but at any rate it was something to do, and at it she went accordingly. In the same spirit and with equal tenacity she would have welcomed and wrestled with any other purely manual task; for Dinah had plenty of determination, as any listener that morning might have learned for his sins. Practically speaking, there was none. And on floundered Dinah for nearly twenty minutes—killing time and slowly torturing a classic—until the warm keys were as damp as her face and fingers, and the deed was done.

Yet no groans came through the weatherboard walls; no thanks went up to heaven that all was over. The place was as still as ever, the veranda as empty, the horizon as barren, when Dinah emerged and drank deep from the hanging water-bag.

There were still no signs of the independent Ada or of the meal which would turn the endless morning into finite afternoon. Dinah still had everything all to herself—Dinah and her bugbear in the side veranda. Would he never wake up? Much as she feared him she began to wish he would; anything would be better than this intolerable loneliness and nervous apprehension; but she would take one more peep.

She took it on tiptoe as before.

The man was gone!

Gone also were the long spur and the wideawake with the silk fly-veil; gone all three from the flimsy weatherboard premises notorious as Scarlett’s Hotel!

No doubt Callaghan had been duly drugged. It is incredible that a sound young fellow would have gone into a twelve-hours’ torpor as the net result of two or three of careless indiscretion rather than of wilful excess. And Scarlett’s reputation is still remembered in the matter of drugs. But in this instance he would have done better to devote more time and less labelled poison to his atrocious task. As the sequel may show.

Joseph began life again by wondering why his bed was so hard; he turned over and met the floor simultaneously with shoulder, ribs and thigh. He sat up and clapped both hands to his head to hold it on. It contained an aching chaos in place of yesterday’s brains. Joseph would have paid anybody handsomely to tell him who and where he was. These whitewashed veranda posts were insolently new to him. He had never seen that horse-yard or those outbuildings before. And the place was painfully—abnormally—insufferably still.

He got to his feet and was glad to sit down again where he had lain so long. He reached his hat and examined it thoughtfully before putting it on; he retrieved his spur, and examined that. Neither suggested any clew, and again he listened. Slippers dothered in the distance; the roof crackled overhead; and the listener’s ears sang their own song—a song he knew only too well—that told him he had been making a fool of himself again. Instinctively his hand slid into one of the cross pockets of his moleskins. It encountered coins, and Joseph smirked as he nodded to himself. Things might be worse. Moreover, he began to remember; and now a faint wild war with a distant pianoforte added itself gradually to the other sounds; and next instant he had remembered nearly all.

Again he found his feet, and this time plunged into an adventurous circuit of the veranda, in which the whitewashed posts proved good friends to him and the hanging water-bag a better still. How grateful was the wholesome flavor of canvas in the pure cold fluid! It became easier and easier to stand upright: and now Joseph realized that the music was very near to him, and he wondered whether it would sound such a jumble to sober ears. With a face full of cunning he crept to a door of which the upper panels were glass. And through this he stood and gazed.

The piano cut off a corner of the room, and Dinah presented more back than profile to the glass door as she sat on the music-stool and made the noonday hideous. But the bushman’s ear was not sensitive, and for what it suffered his eyes repaid him. Dinah was in her usual cool attire splashed with vivid hues. She put Joseph in mind of a sheaf of pale corn bound with scarlet, and in the cool dusk of the sheltered room the effect quite transported the unsteady young man.

It was his turn to stand on tiptoe as he felt for the handle, and his heavy eyes were awake and alight with mischief when all at once they saw themselves and more in the bad glass of the door.

It may have been the inferior quality of the mirror, or of Joseph’s vision that morning, or both; but a more distorted, bloated, unshaven and unlovely countenance he had never encountered, and he was really rather a good-looking young man.

He fell back in time, shocked, humiliated and abashed. And so it was that the murderous music proceeded without interruption to its abominable end.

Meanwhile Joseph had sought his mare and found only his saddle, bridle and valise; but with these he was scouring the horse-paddock, with the fixed intention of riding straight away, when the money in his pocket and the mud in his brain reminded him of preliminary obligations; and having caught the mare he sat down to think. He liked the look of that girl. And he owed her something for tempting him in last night. But he did not like the look of himself as he remembered it in that glass door. He must pull himself together if he was to take much change out of a smart little devil like that; and, as he sat and looked about him, he saw the way.

A table of sand rose between him and the horse-paddock fence and the hotel beyond; that table was the lip of a tank; and in that tank Mr. Callaghan was floundering what time poor Dinah searched the house for him in vain.

* * * * * * * *

“Do I know where he is?” echoed Ada, disturbed in her siesta, and by consequence ruder than usual to her particular foe. “Not likely! What do you take me for? Do your own dirty work. Keep an eye on your own fancy; that’s my advice.”

“He’s not my fancy!” exclaimed Dinah, heaving with indignation and distress.

“No? Well, he’s your lookout, whether or no. It’s you that’s got to keep him paralytic—not me. It’s you that’ll hear about it if he’s given us the slip!”

Dinah understood the special venom of the other’s triumph. She said no more, but went to Sammy in his kitchen.

“Me know!” cried the Chinaman instantly. “Wellee dlunk last night—all lite now. Gone catchee horsee longa horse-pallock.”

“Gone to catch his horse, has he?” said Dinah, with momentary relief. Then she raised her hand and peered under it toward the horse-paddock fence. There was no sign of horse or horseman; for the banked-up sides of the tank looked low enough at half a mile, but at that moment they hid both man and beast.

Without further question, Dinah ran into the harness room, and, of course, the shearer’s trappings had vanished like himself. He could not have been asleep at all when she peeped at him that last time. He must have caught his mount with the least possible loss of time and ridden off like the wind. A slight sandy acclivity brought the southern horizon comparatively close, and Dinah pictured him already on its further slope.

“Did he come back to saddle up?” she returned to inquire in the kitchen, when she had scanned the blinding plain once more.

Sammy grinned.

“No, missee. Him plenty stlong debble. Takee saddlee—blidelee—whole bag o’ tlicks!”

Dinah went back to the house, and a grim interest in the upshot supplanted her first despair. The shearer’s check had been taken from him, and, having discovered his loss, he had galloped off without a word. That looked ominous. Dinah foresaw his return in stern company, and she tried to foresee her life if her father were put in prison and this sequestered sink of dishonesty and intemperance should cease to be her home. The prospect might have filled her with a livelier filial anxiety but for its alternative if the publican were the first to reappear. As it was, Dinah could contemplate the worst with an equanimity which became positive satisfaction when Ada flounced into the room to fling the cloth on the table and the knives and forks upon the cloth.

“No signs of him yet,” said she. “I’m sorry for you, Miss Dinah, my word!”

“You may be sorry yourself before you’ve done,” was Dinah’s mysterious retort.

“May I then? I should like to know what it’s got to do with me? The job wasn’t given to me. I ain’t the landlady.”

“And I don’t think you ever will be,” said Dinah, quietly; after which she was allowed to sit down in peace, so far as her enemy was concerned. But, as she was still wrestling with the cold mutton and the baking-powder bread, though spending more time over the Australasian, and still more upon her own reflections, the knife and fork dropped suddenly in her plate. A pair of spurs were trailing along the veranda.

“Am I too late for a feed?” inquired a jovial voice; and a blue fly-veil fluttered in the doorway, as the shearer’s hat was taken off with just such a flourish as Dinah would have expected of him. Yet she could hardly recognize the ignoble tenant of the side veranda. His shirt and moleskins were of dazzling cleanliness. He had knotted a gay silk handkerchief about his sun-burned throat. He had even contrived to shave without wounding himself severely. In short, under cover of the horse-paddock tank, Joseph Callaghan had improved himself by various little alterations which he had intended making at Deniliquin; and a smart, upstanding and decidedly good-looking young bushman was the product.

“No, you’re just in time,” was what Dinah said, as she pushed back her chair. What she felt was consternation aggravated by suspense. Had he come back for his check? No, he looked much too amiable; but he was also palpably and incredibly sober; and the other thing of which Dinah felt certain was that she herself was in for a bad time first or last.

“Don’t get up,” said Joseph, as she rose.

“But I’m finished.”

“I thought you said I was in time,” he grumbled gallantly.

“So you are; I will go and order it when you let me pass.”

“I won’t look at it unless you come back and see me through!”

“Very well.”

He stood aside, but now she hesitated.

“What—what will you take to drink?” she faltered. .

“What do you recommend?” said he slyly.

What could she recommend? Dinah despised herself much, but she feared her father more, and, “the whiskey’s very good, they say,” she answered in such a transparent little tone that it was all the gay Joseph could do to keep from snatching her off her feet and kissing her then and there. Instead, he shook his head in humorous reproof, and Dinah smirked and blushed, but could have cried for shame.

“It isn’t nice of you to mention whiskey,” said Joe. “I don’t call it altogether kind. Accidents will happen when a cove’s been up the bush twelve months on end, but I’m sure you ain’t the one to want to make ’em worse: you wouldn’t have me stop and knock down my check, would you? No, miss, no more of your whiskey for me; it didn’t taste quite the clean potato, not to me it didn’t; but we’ll say no more about that. Give me a good hot pannikin of tea—and come back and help me drink it before I clear.”

The tea was made and presently consumed, together with a healthy portion of the cold mutton and the baking-powder bread; the table cleared with silent scorn by Dinah’s enemy; but her friend from the back-blocks betrayed no immediate anxiety to “clear” in his turn. In fact, he had engaged that young woman in a flirtation, of which it is happily unnecessary to give a realistic report. Refinement is not the note of up-country inns or of back-block woolsheds; and where the orgy of the night before was a fruitful topic of recriminatory badinage, the mere delicacy of the conversation was necessarily not its strong point. It was nonetheless above the average of its kind, thanks to Deniliquin in the one case, and certain racial characteristics in the other. Mr. Callaghan had been born in the bush without a brogue; but he had inherited full measure of the sunny temperament and the light touch of his forefathers, and both made their mark on Dinah’s susceptibilities. She forgot her father and the wrath to come; she forgot Ada in the bar next door; and her eyes grew so bright as she sat on the music-stool, now whirling her back on Joseph and playing a half-hearted bar, now turning to shake her head at him on that convenient swivel, and her cheek grew such a charming reddish brown at his bolder sallies, that the insinuating Joseph began to forget things too. It was quite a shock to him to remember that he was only there to “take some change” out of the siren who had played him into that den the night before; he was reminded of it in the midst of a glowing description of the “old folks’ selection down in Vic.,” whither he was bound.

“Ah!” said Dinah over her shoulder, “there’ll be a girl down in Vic., I know!”

As it happened there was not; but Joseph, reminded of his revenge, made the requisite admissions with a reluctance which carried conviction in every hesitating syllable; whereupon Dinah, revolving on her stool in a glow of jealousy, insisted on knowing what the other girl was like, and so fired a mine of falsehood for her own mystification. “The girl in Vic.” seemed to be everything that Dinah was not but would have been if she could; there was downright cruelty in Joseph’s description of her stately height and golden hair, and his convincing “my word!” after each new invention put a barb on every point.

Dinah, however, feigned the most unselfish interest, and wanted to know when they were going to be married. Joseph said he thought next week, or perhaps the week after; it was what he was going “down to Vic. for,” at any rate; and it was the reason why he mustn’t knock his check down this time, for it represented his capital for married life. At this Dinah whisked round on her stool, and played more bars than she had done yet during the afternoon, and showed a redder ear and cheek. And in a sudden flash Joe Callaghan remembered.

Till this moment the safety of the small money in his pocket had seemed a vague guarantee for that of the big check in his pouch. At all events, with the former to pay his way, Joseph had not troubled about the latter; but now he remembered something that sent both hands to his pouch. It was but a word or two, a wheedling voice, a white beard, an outstretched palm, rescued from the oblivion of his drunkenness; but it was enough.

“Where’s the boss?”

His voice was rough and loud. Dinah turned round and then rose, because he had risen first. His face filled her with fear and shame.

“He went up to Schneider’s by the coach.”

“When will he be back?”

“By the coach this evening.”

“Thank you; that’ll do,” said Joseph, sternly. He swung on his heel, but was overtaken at the door, and compelled to shake a small hand from his arm.

“Whatever’s the matter?” Dinah could not help crying, though she knew so well. “Is it your check?”

“Yes, where is it? It’s been taken from me. I’ve been robbed of my money. By God, I’ll have it back, or there’ll be trouble in the camp!” ’

“You haven’t been robbed of it,” said Dinah, doggedly. “You gave it to my father to take care of for you. I saw you do it.”

“It was the same thing,” returned the young man furiously. “I didn’t know what I was doing. I’ve seen that old game played before: drug him first and rob him after! But it’s not going to come off this time. If he’s only taking care of it, he can give it me back; and if you know where it is, you can save him the trouble and prevent a barney you won’t forget.”

“But I don’t,” cried Dinah, losing her head and trying to establish her innocence. “I had nothing to do with it. I know nothing about it. You shouldn’t be angry with me when it wasn’t my fault!”

“Oh, no,” he sneered. “We’re very innocent, ain’t we? We weren’t chartered to keep a chap tight all day? We didn’t do our part last night, I suppose from the very start? Bah! I know all about you; like father, like daughter; but it won’t come off this time—not much!”

And he strode into the veranda, slamming the glass door behind him, so that every pane rattled and rang again.

* * * * * * * *

The hot sun set quickly in a clean-edged crimson ball that seemed to rest a few minutes on the edge of the world before rolling over into space. For those few minutes the glass doors of Scarlett’s Hotel were panelled with flaming gold, and there was a vivid glint to every bottle in the bar; a few more, and the bowl of blue was a bowl of purple, pricked with a new star every instant, and filled already with the balmy cool sub-tropical night. But a horse that had been tethered to the veranda-post in broad daylight stood there still; and in the road an upright figure paced as steadily under the stars as in the light of the sun; and from her window Dinah watched him put a fresh match to his pipe from time to time, and wrung her hands as the flame lighted his handsome, angry, determined face.

Whatever came of his anger and his determination, her guerdon would be the same; but it was not this sure prospect which gave Dinah her most poignant emotions. It would be time enough to cry when she was hurt; what troubled her most meanwhile was that the aggrieved young man in the road would think her as bad as her father. She wished him to think better of her before he went. She had an altogether unreasonable longing for his good opinion, for which she refused to account even to herself, and which she made no real effort to conquer. He would go “down to Vic.” thinking everything that was mean of her; he would tell the lanky horror with the dyed hair. So ran her thoughts, in circles of mortification and regret until her head swam. She could tell Dyed Hair something too. She could tell her of the long afternoon she had spent with Mr. Callaghan before he missed his check. Oh, if he had not missed it so soon! If she could only show him still that she, at any rate, was not so low and mean as he thought her! If she could but think of some way!

And think of one she did—at the eleventh hour. But—dare she do it? Had she the courage? Would it not double every evil consequence to herself? And as she asked herself these questions, Mr. Callaghan stood still: two red eyes had appeared on the northern horizon: the coach was in sight.

Joseph had resumed his walk when the bronze shoes pattered in the road, and a timid little nasal voice spoke the monosyllable by which he had invited her to call him before the discovery of his loss.

“Well?” he said grimly, and he turned round to see Dinah standing in the starlight, with a slip of paper fluttering from an outstretched trembling hand.

“Here it is, Joe!”

He took it and held it to his eyes.

“So you knew where it was, eh?”

“Yes, in the cash-box; but I didn’t put it there—I didn’t, indeed!”

He looked at her as closely as was possible by the light of mere stars. It necessitated a reduction of the feet between them into inches. And then she seemed so frightened, so troubled, so bent on flight, that Joseph’s arm shot suddenly into a position that would have been more becoming in a ballroom than under the windows of Scarlett’s Hotel.

“And why couldn’t you give it me at once?” said he. “Why were you such a little goose? ”

“I hadn’t the key.”

“Then how could you get it now?”

“I broke open the box.”

Joseph followed her eyes. Those of the coach were growing brighter and larger and wider apart with every moment. The girl was watching them with a fixed expression.

“What made you go and do that?” asked the shearer.

“Because it wasn’t my fault—and you thought it was —and I didn’t want you to go away thinking so—because it wasn’t!” cried Dinah again, turning her head to hide her tears.

Joseph drew her nearer.

“But won’t you get into trouble for breaking open the cash-box?” said he.

“Trouble!” cried the girl. “There’ll be trouble enough in any case; that won’t make much difference. I was left to look after you—to keep you on the broad of your back all day! There—it’s out. I haven’t done it. I didn’t want—and you wouldn’t. But I shall hear about it, my word! The cash-box won’t make it much worse; but never you mind me; it’ll be all the same in a hundred years. Give me a sovereign for what you’ve had, and away you go; only—don’t you go and tell the girl in Vic. I tried to rob you of your check!”

Joseph drew her nearer still.

“There’s no girl in Vic.,” he whispered; “no, I take my Colonial oath there isn’t—and if there was, I’d see her to blazes! Listen to me. There’s the coach, and you’ve got to make up your mind quick. I’m not going to leave you here to pay the shot. So which is it to be: shall I stay, or will you come with me straight away?”

“Come with you?” gasped Dinah. “How? Where to?”

“On my horse —down to Deniliquin—down to Vic. There’s no girl there, but there’s got to be; the old folks—they want it. Will you take the billet?”

Dinah’s answer was inaudible in the veranda, where an unseen listener crouched in the least light. It didn’t prevent Joseph from drawing her gently to where the mare stood tethered, nor yet from swinging her into his saddle and galloping south with Dinah just as the cracking of the coachman’s whip came into earshot of Scarlett’s Hotel.

Passengers for Deniliquin had to fend for themselves that night at Scarlett’s on the Old Man Plain. They had brought their host home the worse for his friend Schneider s hospitality, and they heard him seeking his daughter with threats and imprecations while they made their hurried meal. They left him uncorking a new demijohn, closely attended by a strapping young woman, who smiled to herself when he shouted out that he would overtake them inside of five miles. They had seen nothing of him when daylight found them breakfasting at the Pretty Pine; and those who took train at Deniliquin were struck by the figure of a fine young bushman with long spurs and a blue fly-veil, who stood to the last on guard over a first-class compartment with an ominous legend stuck across the window.

A Prisoner Of Power

Collier’s Weekly-March 3, 1900

There were only six passengers by that coach, and they had seen more than enough of each other after a night and a day of it. The squatter nodded by the driver’s seat, an apparent hunchback, his long hard beard stretching to his stomach’s pit. Almost every minute some inequality of the road would interrupt his slumbers, lift the beard a little, and momentarily lessen the curve of the rounded back; then the body of the vehicle would swing back upon its leathern springs, and the jerk would end in diminishing vibrations which left the old gentleman dozing in a bunch as before. On his left a young lady, his daughter, bore up as best she could under the intolerable attentions of a travelling insurance agent equipped by use and nature with all the pachydermatous impertinence of his trade. Such were the outside passengers. The other three preferred to travel under cover. And now they were travelling without a word—the seafaring youth, with his back to the horses, looking doggedly out of window from a face that might have been carved out of old mahogany. On the roomier seat opposite sat a little man behind a newspaper, and a long man with an immense mustache. The little man seemed intent upon his reading. The man with the mustache appeared to be asleep. Nevertheless, both were watching the weather-beaten lad with the heavy scowl and the glittering eye.

It was the middle of a blazing afternoon. The rough-hewn road, scored with deep ruts, made in the rainy season, and since hard baked, wound in and out among the gum-trees, but always downhill, and sometimes at such a gradient that the driver got both feet upon the brake and leaned back red in the face, with taut reins and bulging muscles. It was after such a descent, in the course of which the agent had held his tongue and the squatter opened his eyes, that the coach came to a sudden standstill instead of making up for lost time.

A felled tree blocked the path; a man with a short snuff-colored beard, and very fierce eyes, sat on horseback behind the tree; in his hands a rifle, not actually presented, but held in rest a few inches below the shoulder.

“Be easy, friends,” said he, “I shan’t shoot unless you force me to.”

The driver's eyes stood out like beads. The agent's tongue was still for once. The sleepy squatter was the first to find his voice; his back was no longer bowed, and his beard shot out from his chin at the angle of all defiance.

“And who the devil are you?” he cried. “And why the devil should you shoot?”

“My name is Power,” returned the bushranger. “I trust the lady feels reassured? At least I know better than to swear before a lady.” And the rascal removed his wide awake with a sweeping bow, while the squatter used worse language than before, but in his beard, and at the driver.

“Whip up, man!” he whispered. “Drive over him! He can’t hit us all; lash him across the face before he can fire, you—”

The driver swore back, pointing to the felled tree.

“Then give me your whip, coward!”

And the old gentleman was stretching across the apron when the rifle clicked.

“I don’t want to drop you, sir.”

“Father! Father!”

“But I will if you make me.”

“Father, do you hear him?”

“Yes, I hear the blackguard. And I suppose there is no help for it. But if there was another man worthy of the name—if there was one of you with the pluck of a louse—” and he swept driver and agent with the withering fire of his eyes. “What about the inside passengers?” he called. “Isn’t there a man among you in there? It’s Power, the bushranger. Haven’t we a kick between us? Where’s that young fellow from the diggings?”

The young fellow in question was the first to get out, sullenly enough, his hands in his pockets, yet with a certain devil-may-care satisfaction upon his bronzed face.

“The diggings, eh?” said Power, from his saddle. “That's good enough. Come forward, my young friend, and take a seat on this log. How many more inside?”

“Two,” said the youth, obeying indifferently.

“Come out of it, you two!” roared Power at once, winking at those upon the box, from whom he had never lowered his eyes; “and come out with your hands up, or, by Crimes, you’ll be turning up your toes instead. That’s it. Out you come. Sit you down. But lower them hands at your peril. Now then, ladies and gentlemen up above, down you come, there’s plenty of room for all.”

And in another minute all were seated on the log, the men with their hands up, the lady with hers clasped in her lap. Power surveyed them with his quiet smile, then with a prick of the spur, but without touching the reins, he leaped his horse over the near end of the felled tree, trotted round the coach, and returned in the same way on the off-side while his victims still sat open-mouthed beneath their lifted hands.

“So that’s the lot,” said Power with satisfaction. “We are seven, eh? Well, I’m sorry to keep you gentlemen in such an uncomfortable attitude a moment longer than is necessary, but when there’s a lady in the case, why it’s ladies first and the rest nowhere. So may I trouble you, miss, to step just a yard or two this way?”

With that the bushranger slid from his horse, slipped his left arm through the reins, and stood within five yards of his row of victims, his rifle held short in his right hand. It was, however, a revolving rifle, fitted with a revolver’s butt above the other, and adapted for use either way.

Without consulting her father, without any hesitation whatever, the girl stopped forward with her closed hands, stopped, and held them open within Power’s reach. And in them already lay all her trinkets, her watch, her chain, her earrings, her locket, the very rings she had been wearing, drawn from her fingers and jingling in her palms. She proffered the lot with a delicious disdain by no means lost on Harry Power. The bushranger had one eye on the row beyond, but he had always another for a fine young woman, and it twinkled now with no unkind or disrespectful light.

“I’m not going to take all those, young lady.”

“And I’m not going to stand here while you pick and choose.”

Power smiled in her indignant face.

“A chip of the old block,” said he admiringly.

“Will you take them,” cried the girl, “or leave them? I don’t much mind being robbed by you, but I do mind talking to you. So we’ll get it over, if you please, as quickly as possible.”

Power looked upon his fair adversary. The smile had gone out of his glittering eyes, and for the moment his swarthy skin wore a warmer tint. Then the smile returned, the cloud passed, and the best of the bushrangers was himself again.

“It's over,” said he, “I won’t touch any of ’em. You've got a sharp tongue, young lady, but I admire you for it. Keep your fal-lals, they’re no use to me: but I wouldn't take ’em if they were. No, you needn’t thank me. Wait till I’ve finished with the old gentleman. It's his turn next.”

The squatter parted cheerfully with a roll of one pound notes. He was proud of his daughter, and too pleased with the treatment she had received to rebel any further against the inevitable.

“I’m sorry to take so much,” said Power, “from you, sir, for I know a man and a gentleman when I see him in the same skin. But I’m as lean as a crow for want of rations, and that’s the fact. You don’t want to drop me now, do you?”

“Not so much,” said the old gentleman frankly, “but I’ve nothing to do it with, even if I did.”

“What! not armed?”

“I wish I had been.”

The bushranger looked him through and through “All right, sir; you needn’t hold up your hands any more. Next man.”

This was the insurance agent. He was trembling pitiably. Power began by robbing him without scruple or restraint, but ultimately returned five pounds.

“You may want that when you get down to Melbourne. I don’t like to be too hard on any man. Next passenger!”

It was the little man who had been buried in the newspaper.

He was an ill-favored, red haired, small-eyed rat of a man, and he wasted time by lying valiantly under the very muzzle of the revolving rifle. In the end Power seized him by the neck, rammed the barrel into his mouth, and thereafter relieved him of his last possession.

“So you’ve been to the diggings, too?” said the bushranger, feeling the little wash-leather wallet which the taste of the pistol had extracted quickly enough. “Well, better go back to them, and here’s something to give you a fresh start, though you don’t deserve it. Now, then, lamppost!”

The long man rose slowly, a hangdog figure, with the brim of his wideawake pulled over his nose, and little but his enormous mustache showing below. And the sunburned youth, who had discovered a saturnine satisfaction at the discomfiture of the last victim, leaned forward where he sat with a grim mouth and smouldering eyes.

The bushranger smiled upon the bent head with its visor of gray felt, and his smile was bland.

“Hold your head up, Gip,” said he. “Think I wouldn’t know you in a crowd? Why, I spotted you right off. I’m not the best man in the world to forget Gipsy—”

The long man said something under his mustache. His head was lifted; his hands were spread.

Power considered, a contemptuous smile upon his bearded lips, his black eyes hard as flints.

“All right,” said he. “I won’t split on an old pal by giving them your name; but I’ll take your last stiver, Gipsy, just in memory of the little trick you once served me.”

A tremendous thwack resounded through the bush. It came from the hand and thigh of the seafaring youth. Power scowled at him across his half-raised piece.

“I’ll remember that.” said he quietly. “It’ll be your turn in a minute, and I’ll serve you the same.”

“You can do your worst,” replied the lad scornfully.

“All right, I will,” said Power sternly; and with that he compelled the long man to empty his pockets at the pistol’s point—for this victim was as shiftily reluctant as the last.

Those on the tree could not see the various articles, for the long man’s back was between them and his treasures. They received, however, some idea of the latter from the caustic commentary supplied by Harry Power.

“Lord, yes, you can keep your pipe! I’d rather die by the rope, thank’ee. And your baccy. And your beast of a knife —no, on second thoughts, I’ll take that away from you; it’s cut enough—but we’ll say no more about that. What have we here? The old game, Gipsy? The ruling passion, eh? Well, you’ll have to rule it till you get down to Melbourne, for I’m going to keep these; you wouldn’t grudge them to a solitary man? Besides, I must look and see if it’s the old marks still. And now for the dibs—ah! you would, would you? I know what’s in that hand; drop it, or I’ll drop you! Now, out with your hand. Out with it; up with ’em both!” And Power transferred a loaded revolver from the long man’s breast pocket to his own; then he felt further in the same pocket, and a further transference, less easy to follow from the fallen tree, was the immediate result.

“Another lucky digger!” cried the delighted bushranger; “you chaps should have chartered a gold escort, that’s what you should have done. No, Gipsy, I don’t return one penny weight to you. I want to know who you murdered for it first. So sling your hook, old man, and keep them hands up, and think yourself lucky it’s not your toes. Now, young fellow!” The stripling came forward with a nonchalant lurch. Power looked him up and down.

“So this amuses you, does it?”

“It does.”

“Well, you’re going to supply some of the fun for a change?”

“I guess I am.”

Power paused; there was a singular ring in the young man’s voice, a singular look upon his face.

“From the diggings, too, I believe?”

“Yes.”

“Lucky as the others?”

“No.”

“Well, let’s see what you’ve got?”

“Oh, you can see it.”

And the young man emptied his pockets as none had done before him—with apparent pleasure, with alacrity at least— tossing article after article contemptuously at the bushranger’s feet. Again there were pipe, tobacco, matches, and a knife; also a silver watch, handed over, but declined; also a small unserviceable pin-fire revolver, handed over by the barrel with a brazen face that drew a roar of contempt from the squatter on the tree; and that was all.

“Well,” said Power, “where’s your money?”

“I haven’t got any money.”

“Your gold, then?”

“I haven’t got any gold.”

“Yet you came from the diggings!”

“I can't help that.”

Power stood staring into the reckless weather-beaten face, which never flinched, which showed no sign of yielding, but rather set firmer and firmer upon a dogged defiance, queerly lighted by the grim humor of the eyes. It was this last admixture winch occupied Power’s attention, and finally threw him into a towering rage.

“You young fool,” he shouted, “what good do you think you’ll get by this. You come from the diggings, and you pretend you haven’t a cent! I suppose it’s in your boots, or sewn up in your clothes. All right, I’ll take every stitch you’ve got on.”

A voice came from the tree.

“Own up,” said the driver; “it’s the same for all, and we want to be getting on, you know.”

“So do I,” cried Power; “so do I want to be getting on Are you going to own up and fork out, or have I got to keep you back and strip you stark, and leave you tied to a tree?”

“I don’t care what you do.”

“Right you are,” said Power fiercely. “You’ll care before I’ve done with you. Go ahead, driver, I shan’t trouble you, get your passengers to lend you a hand with that old tree, the sooner you get a start the better. As for this blithering young idiot, he’s got to learn a lesson, and he’s got to come with me to learn it.”

Something gleamed in the bushranger’s left hand. It was a pair of handcuffs stolen from the police “Your right hand,” said Power laconically.

It was held out without a word. The gyve closed with a click.

“Now come this way ”

Another click, and the bushranger had handcuffed his prisoner to the near stirrup of his horse.

“Mind your fingers!”

And Power had mounted without touching them, and with out removing his own from the trigger of the revolving rifle, which was in rest as before, as ready for use from the shoulder or the hand.

It was not wanted. There was another weapon in the armory of Harry Power as in that of all the bushrangers and highwaymen who ever cut a creditable figure at their discreditable trade; a weapon worth all the firearms a man could carry. It is not the pistol that strikes terror to the heart. It is the unwavering hand that holds the pistol, the iron finger on the trigger, the relentless eye gleaming with resolution, and fixed as fate. Such was especially the equipment of a desperado who is known to have robbed upward of a hundred persons without firing upon one. Indeed, though his open profession was that of “robbing under arms,” he would often conduct the operations with an empty piece, trusting entirely to a strength of character in itself supreme, though so deplorably misapplied. So entirely did Harry Power deserve his surname that half the world fancied it a somewhat vainglorious, but incontestably appropriate, sobriquet.

These people knuckled under to him in their turn. That was all. The driver, knowing his reputation best, had been the first to accept the inevitable; the squatter, who was the last, was now as docile as the rest. Together they rolled the felled gum-tree to one side. One after another they climbed into their places, inside or out; there also, however, the squatter was the last to follow the general example.

“You’re not going to do this youngster any harm, Power?”

“That depends upon himself,” returned the bushranger.

The prisoner smiled.

“Don’t mind me, sir,” said he to the squatter. “He’s making a big mistake, and he’ll find it out in time. I haven’t got the value of a red cent upon me.”

Power was watching the driver on the box, lighting his pipe and composing his reins as though nothing untoward had happened. The squatter edged a trifle nearer to the youth.

“I'll see to your swag,” he contrived to whisper.

“I haven’t got a swag,” replied the prisoner aloud. “Thanks, all the same.”

The other knew better, and glanced aghast at Power, upon whom, however, this gratuitous hint was evidently lost. Vigilant to the last, the bushranger sat motionless in his saddle, with ready rifle and readier hand, an equestrian statue of coolness and resolution. The sun gleamed upon barrel, and stirrup, and spur; gleamed without twinkling, as on the stillest waters under heaven; for the bushranger never moved until the squatter had mounted to his place, and the driver had cracked his whip, and the gray gum-trees had closed at last upon the latest coachload of his victims.

Then Power spoke, and his voice was different. Grim enough still, and masterful as ever, it was none the less distinguished by a crude considerateness and a bluff good nature hitherto lacking in his tone toward the youth whom he had taken prisoner.

“We must get out of this,” said he; “there’s no saying when the traps may be on my track now. But I don’t want to gall your wrist with my spur. You’re a plucky young devil enough; are you a man of your word as well?”

“I should hope so.”

“Even when you give it to a bushranger?’

“When I give it to anybody on God’s earth.”

“Well, will you give me your word to follow close upon my horse’s hoofs?”

“Yes.”

“If you don’t—”

And Power stopped in leaning down to reach the handcuffs, an ugly glitter in his jet black eyes.

“If I don’t,” said the lad contemptuously, “you’ll know it soon enough, and I give you leave to drill a hole in me.”

“A bargain,” said Power.

And the other was free.

A hard hour awaited him. The sun fell fiercely where it fell at all; where it could not penetrate the everlasting gum leaves, the closeness was worse than honest heat, the confined odor of eucalyptus almost overpowering; and the bushranger headed constantly uphill, while, though he intersected several rough bush tracks, he never followed one. In a very little time the follower on foot was bathed in perspiration, bruised, breathless, and torn to the skin by thicket and scrub His plight became piteous. And the outlaw, glancing round from time to time, at last took pity.

“This isn’t fair,” said he, dismounting. I’ve been going too fast. We’ll swop for a bit.”

And for the better part of another hour he led his horse, while his prisoner, resting gratefully in the saddle, gradually grew cool enough to review the situation with the wonder it was beginning to deserve, but he could make nothing of it, and at last this strange journey was at an end.

They seemed to have been ascending all the time, yet now they were in a deep though narrow gorge, thickly timbered at the end by which they had entered, closed by huge bowlders at the other. An invisible cleft in some lofty saddle of the ranges, it was an ideal hiding place, and as such the bush ranger had evidently used it before. Between them the bowlders formed a natural cave, and where they did not meet a natural chimney whose blackened sides betrayed abundant use. When they entered this aperture was filled with so much fading sky; an hour later it should have held a handful of glittering stars; but there was no seeing them for the smoke from the fire, over which sat Power and his prisoner side by side.

“So this is the famous lair!” the latter had exclaimed on entering.

“One of them,” Power had replied, with his grim chuckle “A man who doesn’t pay rates or taxes can have as many homes as he likes, and, by Crimes, he needs them!”

Thereupon the young man had offered to strip as arranged, and to pass every separate article of his attire through Power’s hands. But the bushranger had replied with sudden asperity that he would mind his own business in his own time. And that time was still to come: for they had eaten, they had supped—corned meat and fresh damper and hot tea had made new men of them, but not talkative men, for one of them was tongue tied now with sheer wonder and amazement, and the other watched him over his glowing pipe bowl with tireless but inscrutable eyes.

“I am going to ask you some questions,” said Power at length “You’ve got to tell the truth right through; then it may not go so hard with you.”

The lad nodded. It had not gone very hard with him as yet. Not that it would have made much difference if it had, the spell of Power’s personality was very heavy on him now: there was an end of the dauntless independence which had characterized the earlier attitude of this young man.

“You’re a sailor,” began the bushranger, merely asserting the pretty patent fact.

“I was,” was the reply to that.

“What ship?”

“A Glasgow clipper; but it’s the north of England where I belong.”

“So I hear. What rating?”

“Apprentice.”

“Deserted for the diggings, of course?”

“Like a fool!”

“How long ago?”

“Seven months.”'

“You made your pile quickly!”

“It wasn’t that much of a pile,” sighed the apprentice, thinking only of that to which he referred, and all unconscious of the significance of such reference.

Power made no remark. Nor did his black eyes glitter as they would in anger. They twitched instead.

“And yet more than enough,” said he, “to go and lose at a sitting to a cursed old sharper like Gipsy Prince. Sit still! You’ll cave your head in if you don’t take care.”

The apprentice had banged his head against the overhanging bowlder in the involuntary impulse which brings men to their feet in moments of acute surprise.

“But how on earth did you know?” he cried. “Who told you? Did he?”

Power smiled as he wagged his beard.

“He didn’t need. I knew him of old! We were in Pentridge together and he once had me with loaded dice which I do believe he brought in with him in each cheek! That’s what I meant when I reminded him of his little tricks; he used to throw us for our rations till we found him out and half killed the swine: he’s shark and sharper through and through, and well known for it all over the colony. That’s why he wanted his name kept dark. Gipsy Prince! A nice name for a thing like that. And so he rooked you, too; it wouldn’t have been G. P. if he hadn’t! Was it the three-card trick, or which?”

“No trick at all,” said the apprentice gloomily. “It was fair and square play; only they could play and I couldn’t.” The bushranger checked a smile.

“Oh! So they both played, did they?”

“Yea, together—as soon as they got to know each other.”

“They were strangers to begin with, then?”

“Yes, and inclined to be quarrelsome until the brute you know pulled out a pack of cards to settle some point; then he told us he was a gambler, though a very unlucky one; and he and the little chap played euchre from that moment until your Gipsy Prince refused to play with the little chap any longer, he was losing so heavily. So then I had a turn to give him a chance, and, though they had to teach me the game, it was the same thing over again. The luck was all one way, and I all but cleared that tall chap out. Then we all three played together.”

“Same game?” inquired Power.

“No—loo.”

“Any limit?”

“None.”

“And didn’t you win?”

“At first. I nearly doubled my pile, to start with.

“You would. And then?”

“First I lost my head, and then every farthing. It was my own cursed fault. I’d tasted blood, and I was just drunk with the excitement. But the luck had turned, and I never had another show. They won my very swag, and all there was in it. So, you see, I told you the honest truth.”

Power made no remark. His manner was a tacit acceptance of the fact just stated, and yet that fact seemed to be immaterial to him. The apprentice could not understand it.

Meanwhile the last flame flickered, and the stars showed at last through the aperture above, while only the red embers of the fire remained below. Power smoked steadily; he had been smoking all this time. When his pipe was out he would cut a fresh filling, stuff it home, and light up with a smouldering brand that leaped to transient flame in the process. The short lived light would show his strong face scored across and across with conflicting lines, suggesting a mind divided against itself. When at last he spoke it was in the crisp, sharp tones of ultimate decision.

“And how much was this little pile of yours?

“There were four bags with fifty ounces of golddust in each—about twenty pounds—and a draft on some Melbourne shipping agents.”

“Going home again, were you?

“I was,” said the boy, with a bitter emphasis.

“Going to retire in your teens—you can hardly be out of them—on something under a thousand pounds, eh.

“No fear,” replied the apprentice, stung by the contemptuous tone of all these questions. “If you want to know, my people have a farm, and this was going into it. They’re old —they’re not doing well—they thought I’d never do well—”

And out came all the details in a burst; trivial, immaterial, terribly commonplace details that yet made up a convincing whole and were somehow the more pathetic for their very triviality and homeliness. This had been a wandering sheep. Evil had been predicted of him. And he had fulfilled the worst prophecies: first, by insisting upon following the sea; afterward by deserting his ship and so forfeiting the apprentice’s premium which the poor old people had pinched themselves to pay. But his little pile would have made all good; his little pile was to have done so much. And now and now—

“And what now?” asked Power unsympathetically, as the unhappy youth stuck fast.

“I’ll stick to you!”

This wild announcement surprised the bushranger hardly more than it surprised the apprentice himself. It was the inspiration of the moment, neither more nor less. Yet the words were no sooner uttered than the speaker realized that he meant every one of them. He had lost everything. He had nothing more to lose. And he had been wild always, wild as the words which had sprung to his lips even as the thought was springing to his brain.

“The devil you will,” said Power at length, but more kindly than he had spoken for some time.

“But I mean it!” the apprentice cried. “You brought me here. Shake me off if you can! You’ll have to put a bullet in me first; and you’re not the man to do that to one who’ll stick to you through thick and thin. Give me a trial, and you won’t want to shake me off at all!”

His eyes were alight as the stars above. His breath came fast. The boy was in earnest; there could be no doubt of it. And Power pondered on his side of the dying fire.

“I’ve often wished for a mate—”

“I’m the very man for you! Say you’ll take me!”

“I must think about it.”

“No, say the word. Say it once for all, and I’m—I’m yours body and soul!”

“To swing in the end?”

“What does it matter?”

“A boy like you—”

“A short life and a merry one!”

“Well, let’s take the night to think it over.”

“But my mind’s made up.”

“It’ll do no harm to sleep upon it. Do you think you can sleep?”

“I’ll do my best.”

“Then here’s a blanket. Turn in now, and give me till the morning. No—we won’t shake hands on it till then. You remind me of another young chap I once had camping with me. But somehow I don’t think I’ll have to treat you as I treated him!”

Power spoke the truth.

When the excited apprentice finally fell asleep it was to sleep but the hour or two then remaining before sun rise.

Yet he awoke alone. There was no sign of the bushranger in the cave, and none of his horse outside. The apprentice shouted; for answer his own voice came echoing back. It was only then that he noticed the piece of paper fluttering about the natural floor of the cave.

It was a one-pound note. But that was not all. There was writing in pencil on the back of the note, illiterate writing, ill-spelled, unpunctuated, yet with a separate line for each sentence, so that the first effect was that of some uncouth fragment of very blank verse.

The manuscript read thus:

“I don’t want no mate.

“Nor did and never will.

“But Ime not going to rob the only Mate Ide have If I wanted one at all.

“So your offers saved your bacon.

“I ment to give you Sum all allong, but now Ime dammed if I keep anny.

“Go outside and you will see.

“Then go straight for sunrise till you strike the Creak; then upstreem, and all should be well by this forenoon.

“N.B.—The cars were mark, so you need not mind.

“But I wooden tell Gipsy Prince if I was you and not your Freind.

                    “H. POWER.”

The apprentice ran outside, but could see nothing. Then suddenly he felt one of his pockets dragging. It was the jacket pocket on the opposite side to that on which he had been sleeping. Every pennyweight and every penny of his little “pile” had been put back there while the apprentice slept.

Tuggenboonah Bill

Collier’s Weekly - September 8 and 15, 1900

Illustrations By Max F. Kleppeb

He was entered on the station books as William Coke. The name became memorable as the only one in be transferred to the new set of books when Tuggenboonah changed hands, with eighty thousand sheep and close upon three hundred miles of wire fencing. Thereafter it was all but dropped for Tuggenboonah Bill, and it is by the uncouth sobriquet that he who earned it is best remembered in that district to this day.

The purchaser of Tuggenboonah was a Victorian squatter, hitherto in a small way, but with lifelong hankerings after the vast paddocks and stupendous flocks of the far-famed Riverina. A timely windfall had enabled John Crowther to gratify this ambition at a moment when he was in peculiar need of a new object in life; the Victorian station was intrusted to a manager; and Crowther himself proceeded personally to mismanage his new possessions, assisted by the pick of his former staff, who, like their chief, had learned their business in another school. This is no place for a disquisition upon the manifold difference between a Victorian station and one in the Riverina district of New South Wales; suffice it that these men were as the officers of a sailing ship, transported from their accustomed poop to a steamer’s bridge. They knew a good deal about it, but not enough, and experience alone would make good the deficiency. It was in these circumstances that William Coke became Tuggenboonah Bill, their right-hand man, the man who knew exactly how many sheep each paddock would carry, exactly how long this tank would hold out, and exactly when to start that “whim,” to say nothing of the precise way to set about it. So invaluable were his services in these tentative tunes that Tuggenboonah Bill soon had the refusal of quite another style and title.

“Seems to me a superior sort of chap, “ said Crowther to his Victorian overseer; “talks as well as you or I do, if it comes to that. Do you know what I’ve half a mind to do? I’ve half a mind to take him on as second overseer, double his screw, and have him to live with us here in the house.”

The first overseer encouraged the idea. Overworked himself, he could view the proposed reform, drastic as it was, with complete approval. Unfortunately it was met with a different reception from a person yet more intimately concerned.

“It’s very kind of you, sir,” said Bill himself (who said “sir” more often than the ordinary bushman); “but I’m too comfortable out at the hut to care to move. You see I’ve been there some years. On the whole, I’d rather stop at the Six-Mile, if you will let me, and will believe that I’m tremendously grateful all the same.”

“Comfortable!” the squatter was exclaiming. “Let you! Oh, yes, of course I’ll let you—rather than lose you altogether. But do you quite understand? I invite you to be one of us—in the house—your room to yourself and your place at my table. I offer you a hundred a year instead of the beggarly pound a week you’re getting.”

The stockman suppressed a smile.

“It may seem beggarly to you, sir, but for me it’s more than enough. I mean it—more! You get such a thundering big check, when you’ve put in a few months’ work, that there’s only one way of getting rid of it. And the man that knocks down his check like the rest, every few months, isn’t fit to sit at your table, Mr. Crowther. All the same, sir, I shan’t forget your kindness in suggesting it.”

John Crowther drove back to his overseer with a cleft between his eyes.

“There’s some mystery about that fellow. It isn’t only the way he speaks. He’d be a good-looking devil if he shaved, and had a decent coat to his back. But he doesn’t want one; won’t have our society at a gift; prefers to be alone out there at a pound a week! There’s a mystery there, and a history too, you mark my words.”

A few weeks later the mystery promised to deepen or else disperse, but in neither fashion was the promise fulfilled. There had tumbled from the Tuggenboonah mail-bag a letter at which even an honest man, like John Crowther, could look twice and thrice, though the letter was not for him or his. It came in an extravagantly thick envelope, surmounted by a veritable frieze of penny stamps; sealed, crested, and directed in a hand full of character and distinction. The superscription ran:

“To
      William Arundell Bateman-Coke. Esq.,
                            Tuggenboonah Station,
                                                     near Wilcannia,
                                                         New South Wales.”

“I rather think I’ve got something for you,” said the squatter, meeting Tuggenboonah Bill next morning in the saddle. “It’s a letter that came by yesterday’s mail. I won’t swear that it is for you, mind, but I slipped it in my pocket in case we met.”

Of course, the meeting was by flagrant design on the part of this otherwise worthy gentleman, who furthermore failed to suppress a too visible interest in letter and recipient alike. Perhaps he did not try to suppress it. He was a well-meaning man, something lacking in tact, but in discernment not so much. He had already discovered the gentleman in the boundary rider, and done his best to eliminate the latter. He was now prepared to go further still. He was prepared to be an elder brother to this young scamp, and to pack him home to his friends. Unfortunately, his face showed something of the sort, and the other was on his guard before the letter came to light. He scarcely gave it a glance. A grim smile accompanied its immediate return.

“What! Not for you? But it’s your name!” cried Crowther.

Bill’s smile broadened without softening in the least. The teeth merely showed between bristly beard and unkempt mustache. The effect was rather sinister. “I wish it was my name!” he exclaimed ironically. “You don’t suppose I’d drop the best part of it? No, Mr. Crowther, only the beginning and the end are mine, and they’re as common as Jack Robinson.”

“Then what am I to do with this?”

And Crowther looked again from the missive to the man, as if by no means thoroughly convinced.

“Put it in the rack in the store. It’ll be claimed sooner or later, but if not, no harm done. It’s probably one of the hands that went when you came. There was one flash young chap that had the looks of a swell. But here are my sheep camping all over the place. If I don’t round ’em up and push on we may lose one or two, for this here mob hasn’t had a drink all day.”

And now the voice was the voice of the ordinary stockman, the phraseology that of his class. Moreover, Crowther left his man so completely absorbed in his own business, and prosecuting the same with volleys of such exceedingly strong language, hurled at sheep and sheep-dog indifferently, that this time the squatter returned with modified views. He was not so sure of the gentleman after all. It was not only the vocabulary of the fellow: why should he repudiate a thing so irresistible as a letter if it really had been for him? The more he thought of it, the more contrary it seemed to human nature, of which every man of forty is some judge. Crowther was forty-five, and a better judge than most; for he had the human sympathy begotten by a great sorrow; and he simply did not believe in letters from the old country being rejected or left unread by their rightful recipients at the opposite ends of the earth. They might come from a hostile or a hated hand. They might contain certain offence, inevitable heartburning, unavailing recrimination and reproach. They might open every wound in a man’s soul. But the man would prefer to know the worst.

So this letter was duly mounted in the rack within the station store; and that very night the squatter’s principle was proven to the hilt. He little knew it. The outrage was neither detected at the time nor ever afterward confessed. The station was none the less the scene of a very impudent burglary in the small hours of the following morning.

Tuggenboonah Bill committed it without a qualm. His criminal equipment was entirely nugatory, but his determination was only equalled by his luck. He had but his knife and some wire with which to pick a lock for the first time in his life. Yet he succeeded. The spring yielded with a clash that sounded deafening in the dead of night. Yet no one heard it. The burglar flew to where his horse stood tethered among some trees. But no door opened, no foot fell. He returned with more caution, stole into the store and softly bolted the door behind him.

He had an inch of candle. It occurred to Tuggenboonah Bill to burn it in his inverted wideawake, and this was the one touch which showed the least aptitude for a criminal career. It was an inspiration. The light was thrown entirely upward, in a wide circle that moved across the iron roof as Coke felt his way to the letter-rack. No ray could have escaped under the door, nor yet through the empty keyhole. At the rack, however, it was necessary to lower the wideawake, and the light spread down that wall. The letter was quickly found. Coke took it to the tall desk at one end of the counter. He perched himself on the tall stool, and adjusted the wideawake on the slope in front of him. The circle of light was now fixed and smaller. A number of implements, suspended from the roof, hung salient in the circle, like an enormous bunch of keys.

Coke worked patiently at the thick flap of the envelope, holding the latter high up in the light, until his arms ached, and he was forced to rest them. The richness of the stationery was a great point in his favor. The flap yielded by slow but sure degrees to an ivory paper-knife found upon the desk. Thereupon Coke heaved a deep sigh, and immediately broke the seal, merely gathering the atoms of brittle wax with great care, sweeping them from the slope into the palm of one hand which he stood up to unclose in his trousers pocket. Then Tuggenboonah Bill read the letter from England, addressed to William Arundell Bateman-Coke, Esquire.

It had little effect upon him. It did not soften the grim outlines of the bearded face. It did not leave them harder than before. It merely filled the man with thought, so that he sat abstracted on the tall stool, in perilous oblivion to his situation. The bit of candle burned lower in the wideawake. The silence was emphasized by a peculiar and monotonous little noise. It was the intruder drumming with the paper-knife on the leathern slope. Suddenly he came to himself, but without a spasm, with a mere lift of the eyebrows and a passing smile. He put down the paper-knife and had another look at the letter. And this time something made its mark; his eye gleamed.

“So much for old pals,” he muttered. “To go and give me away! To go and give me away!”

There was sealing-wax on the desk, and just enough candle left for sealing purposes. Coke had a signet-ring in his pocket. The letter looked untouched when it was back in the rack; an examination would have proved nothing; it was sealed once more, with similar wax, and the self-same seal.

And Tuggenboonah Bill rode back to the Six-Mile with candle-grease and sealing-wax in the crown of his wideawake, and the same one grievance upon his bearded lips.

“You couldn’t keep it to yourself. You must go and give me away. So much for old pals!”

By the next mail came a letter and a packet of newspapers addressed to William Coke. Tuggenboonah Bill could not repudiate these, but felt inclined to burn the letter unread. It was written from a Piccadilly Club, probably in five minutes, and contained little but some excellent advice wrapped up in slang. Coke was annoyed; he had not asked for advice, and he could not understand all the slang. The letter went on the fire after all. It had irritated Coke.

“Call yourself a pal still, do you?” he muttered. “After going and giving me away!”

But the papers were another matter. They were the very papers the exile would have chosen for him self. He lived on them for many a day. They were his nightly solace, and his torment too; they brought too many things home to him. There was not a horse left on the turf that he had ever heard of before. The theatrical advertisements were full of fresh names; in particular, new stars had arisen in the firmament of burlesque. The “Sporting Times” was the greatest irritant; its allusions were Greek to a once constant reader; it was worse than the slang in the letter. There had been changes, too, in the very staff. The graver papers gave less offence. Tuggenboonah Bill had never before been their serious student. He fancied some of them had changed their politics. But his chief amazement was at the solemn references to lady cyclists; in his own day, it wasn’t a thing that anybody did; but then, his own day was over and done with once and for all.

Yet he was little more than thirty years of age. It was singular, indeed, how he clung to his decision.

His work was of the hardest in cumulative effect, if it seldom reached the pitch of violent exertion. And sometimes it did. But the majority of his working hours were spent in the saddle; he put in a longer day on horseback than that of any salesman behind a counter; never so long as in the fiery heat of the Australian summer, when the tanks were drying, and the sheep either bogging in the mud or dying like flies all over the run. That was the time when a good boundary rider was worth his weight in gold; and, luckily for the new owner, in all Riverina there was none better than Tuggenboonah Bill.

It was after shearing that the station had changed hands; it is then the station year begins—with its five worst months. These were the months in which the man at the Six-Mile refused to move into the house, but broke in one night to read a letter. He came no more to the homestead for weeks and months. He was too busy in the enormous paddocks under his charge. His arms were burned redder than any Indian’s. His sleeves were never down. He never wore his coat from November till the end of March.

This month was hot enough. The thermometer still ran into three figures in the middle of the day. But the days were shorter, and the long nights deliciously cool. Then in April there was a fine rainfall, and grass grew in a night, very sparse, but green as emeralds, a sheer miracle to the Victorians. As for Tuggenboonah Bill, he had nothing to do but to mend his fences for a whole month. The sheep with fatness and with growing wool. Then all at once the plains became dotted with tiny, staggering flakes of white; and now the boundary-rider kept a keen eye once more; and his ear was seldom empty of the thin, high bleat or the newly-born.

It is confidently asserted that absolute solitude makes a man either one thing or the other—a very villain or a better man than most. The exile from Piccadilly, past offences and present obduracy apart, was undoubtedly better than most on Tuggenboonah. He was kind to animals, the watchful shepherd the considerate horseman. His master’s interests were his own. He was a man to be trusted out of sight and reach alike; he took so strange a pride in his work, the only kind that he had ever done. Thus he was insensibly retrieving the character he considered lost, or he was building up a new character in its place. But in either case he was unconscious of the fact; and occasional backslidings assisted his humility. Then, indeed, he was no better than the rest. Nor did he ever appear their superior to the casual eye, nor was this for an instant his desire. Now at the lamb-marking, for example, when all hands met, encamped upon one sanguinary field, the keenest observer might have failed to pick him out. Yet at night, in the men’s camp, he smoked his twist and sang his song with the rest, and the song was just what you would have expected of a thorough-paced pound-a-week back-blocker.

The lamb-marking is next in importance to the great affair of shearing, but in point of time it comes first by several weeks. Mere preparations apart, the ensuing interval may stand for the slack time of the station year; but it is not necessarily slack at all. Usually, however, there has been some rain, and this year was no exception to the rule. It was, in fact, a very good season, and duties at the Six-Mile were proportionately light. There was a momentary abundance of ephemeral grass. Not only the excavated tanks, but the very crab-holes were full to the brim, and caught the sun whichever way one looked, so that the countryside stood winking at its old enemy, as Argus with all his eyes. And the boundary-rider could afford to nod and wink in his turn over the budget of print which he already knew by heart. So now it drove him back upon himself; and all of a sudden his life was unendurable.

He was unable to eat or sleep to any approximately adequate extent. He could only fume and fret and tear his own vitals. It was “the horrors” of solitary men. They say it is the worst kind of the two. And Tuggenboonah Bill had had them before.

Worse or better, this kind drives seven men out of ten to the other. Coke had been one of the seven sometimes, but as often one of the three. He remembered the former occasions. He fought furiously against the whip and spur of those memories; but they came on the head of others and worse; the combination was more than this man could bear. He gave in, and resigned his manhood for the nonce.

The next stage was horrible. It was shamelessly deliberate. It involved walking in for one’s check, and then a very much longer walk to the nearest township. The boundary-rider set about it in cynical mood. Already he was another being.

It was a bright winter’s day, just cool enough to wear one’s jacket afoot, to mend the fire if one sat indoors. The station wore a deserted appearance. There were no loiterers to be seen in passing the men’s hut. But Coke did not stop to look in; he had no need of a companion. All he wanted was a couple of minutes with the boss; but there was no sign of overseer or owner about the homestead. There were the sounds of unseen children playing in the pine plantation. A widower with a young family was John Crowthur, but Coke scarcely expected to find him surrounded by his children in the middle of the afternoon. So he stepped up to the station store, which adjoined the main building, and he knocked where he had broken in five months before. Then he stood and waited.

There was no answering sound within. But the boundary-rider was waiting in a little lobby into which the dining-room also opened; that door had been standing ajar; now it opened, with a whine from the hinges, and such a rustle as Tuggenboonah Bill had not heard since he came by that name.

A lady stood on the threshold; he had not seen a lady for years and years. The station was very far back. The late staff had been entirely male. Coke understood that the new squatter had young children, but that was all. He was horribly embarrassed; the old life suddenly seemed to have run right down to the last minute; if he had met this lady yesterday, in the Park, he could not have felt the present meeting more.

She looked very young, and yet no mere girl. The distinction flashed across him, subtle as it was. His perceptions were painful in their sudden rapidity and sledge-hammer force; they stung him like a frost-bitten limb beginning to thaw. He was aware of crisp black hair, a decided nose, a deep chin, all redeemed and softened by a peculiarly kind brown eye. He also saw that the young woman was tall and straight, and neatly, but plainly, dressed, though her sleeves seemed of a singular size, and her skirt an error on the side of simplicity. Yet it was a mere matter of seconds before the young woman spoke.

“Are you looking for Mr. Crowther?” she inquired. Her voice was pleasant. Nay, more, it was an English voice! The boundary-rider felt certain of it from the first syllable.

“I was,” said he.

“I’m afraid they’re all away. I expect them back to-night.”

“That’s all right,” said Tuggenboonah Bill. “I mean to say, thanks awfully, then I must wait.”

There spoke his former self.

Tuggenboonah Bill had been staring until the lady blushed; his old self had better manners, and now he found himself looking down into the crown of his wideawake. So he had taken off his hat, had he? Well, that was something.

“Is it anything I can do for you?”

And now the voice was a little shy, but its kindly intonation even more marked than before.

The stockman turned and looked at his questioner again, but this time without offence. His smile was deferential to a nice degree. It was unpresuming without servility, which, indeed, is neither met with nor looked for in the bush. There was, nevertheless, a flicker of allowable humor in his eyes.

“That depends,” said he. “I—I didn’t know there were any ladies in the family. It depends whether you ever wrote the checks.”

The girl smiled.

“No, I don’t do that,” she said with an emphasis which implied that it was one of the few things she did not do. “Neither,” she added, “am I one of the family.” And a singularly pure complexion was enhanced by the very slightest and most transient access of color.

“I see,” said Coke discreetly.

“I’ve come to look after the children and to keep house,” the girl explained—as though it were necessary to enter into explanations with him—as though he were not merely one of the men.

Indeed, that circumstance had not occurred to her, and, for the moment, he had forgotten it himself. Then he pulled himself together and resumed:

“You haven’t been here very long, have you?”

There were lost opportunities in his tone.

“Only two or three weeks.”

“And you come from Home!”

She started.

“How did you know?”

“Oh, I knew,” he chuckled. “I happen to come from Home myself.”

Never had simple statement a more extraordinary effect. The brown eyes sparkled with excitement. The decided little lips flew asunder.

The staid housekeeper stood transfigured with the delight of a child.

“Oh, do you?” she cried. “How delightful! You’re the first I’ve met since I came up country!”

It was only a casual chat between two persons of opposite sexes who had drifted from Middlesex to the back-blocks of New South Wales. It was only an impulsive exchange of superficial impressions, a brief comparison of notes. It lasted but ten or fifteen minutes at the outside, the pair standing all the time, she at the dining-room door, he at that between lobby and veranda, his back kept carefully to the light, and one boot behind the other to minimize visible dilapidations. Then the lady had to run. There was noisy trouble in the pine plantation.

A clock ticked aggressively in the dining-room; the boundary-rider peered in and marked the time. It was five-and-twenty minutes to four; beside the clock, a calendar displayed the date. It was a day and an hour for Tuggenboonah Bill to remember.

After all these years he had spoken to a lady, and the years were as a week. She had treated him as a gentleman; he must have behaved like something of the sort; but it was her behavior that mattered. Here was a girl after all these years, a girl who was a lady. And she did not see that he was one of the men.

Yet his clothes proclaimed it. He turned to the light and had a look at them. His moleskins had come from this very store; they cost half-a-sovereign, and he needed a new pair. There was no collar round his neck. The Crimean shirt was open at the throat. Now it was too late, he caught himself turning up the collar of his coat. He smiled at the instinctive folly; it was the smile of a boy.

Then he changed his mind. He looked at the clock with the idea of awaiting the young housekeeper’s return. In those rags? Not he!

In the first paddock he met the buggy, with Crowther and the overseer side by side. He was walking fast, but they pulled up and stopped him.

“Been looking for me, Bill?” cried the squatter cheerily.

“Well, sir, I was.”

“Nothing wrong at the Six-Mile, I hope?”

“Oh, no, we’re in apple-pie order out there.”

“Then it was something you wanted. What was it? You’d better jump up and come back for it.”

“It was nothing of the slightest importance,” said Coke, embarrassed for the first time by his employer. But the widower was all curiosity and good-nature; he seemed, indeed, a much brighter man.

“Come, out with it, Bill,” said he. “Tobacco? Tea? Matches? It was worth walking six miles for, you know. Why did you walk? And why didn’t you wait?”

Coke saw a sudden opportunity.

“I saw a lady,” he said, “a Miss—Miss—”

“Oh, you mean Miss Evered? My new housekeeper,” said the squatter gayly.

“Yes, Miss Evered.” Coke was pleased with the name and with himself. “You weren’t expected back till evening, so I came away.”

“I know what you came for!” cried Crowther, suddenly inspired. “You came for a check. That’s why you walked. Everybody’s been knocking down their cheek since the rain; of course you want to do the same. Well, come back and you shall have your wicked way!”

Coke looked very stiff. The sneer was on his lips; he kept it there by main strength. When he spoke, it was quietly enough, and even in the other’s spirit. Mr. Crowther had misjudged him. What he really wanted was some new moleskins and kindred necessaries from the store. But they would keep till another day; he would prefer to push on back; and ultimately he was allowed. A mile nearer the hut he spoke to himself.

“It might have been better to own up about the check. She’s pretty certain to give that away.”

He did not allow for the impression he happened to have made himself. Miss Evered did not mention his name. On the other hand, she listened to some talk of him at dinner that evening, and was duly amazed to hear that he was only one of the men. Mr. Crowther, however, added a charitable rider, upon which the tactful housekeeper made no comment. Nor had she a word to say when he proceeded to explain the base uses to which most bushmen put their checks; she merely wondered whether this one had harbored such a vile design, and, if so, why he had discarded it.

She was a modern type, this young woman who had come to keep house for a widower of middle age; none the less had she been deceived, and wilfully deceived, as to the ages of his children. The trickster was a married sister of John Crowther, and a person of influence in Melbourne. This lady had met Miss Evered, and been instantly attracted by the plucky and capable young English woman, who had actually worked her passage out as travelling companion, with a view to better things at the other end. She thus obtained an infinitely better thing without the least delay. It was too good a thing to quarrel with on sentimental grounds. Though the young girls turned out to be little children, what did it matter? Ellice Evered was perfectly well able to take care of herself. She was a girl of thirty. That was the type it is said to be as modern as electric light. It is seen to be attractive to the other sex. And so it proved in the present instance.

That shrewd lady was so very shrewd. She knew, her brother, and she saw the fresh, bright, self-reliant English girl with his lonely eyes. Of the first step she made quite certain; her only fear was that the independent baggage would refuse him. The independent baggage had done so within six weeks.

It was a trying scene. But the widower had been very cunning. He had first extracted a promise that Miss Evered (whom they loved already) would not desert his children if he told her something she would probably dislike to hear; he had then—proposed. Now Ellice Evered did not dislike John Crowther at all. He was a man of peculiarly kindly disposition, patient, simple, sincere, and Ellice was quick to value such qualities. She had given him her sympathy as freely as her service. Perhaps she had been to blame. The thought distressed her; she would not give herself the benefit of the doubt. Her nature was too generous; her generosity led her into three mistakes. She could not consent; she did not love him; but she did half wonder if she ever could. And meanwhile her refusal was less emphatic than it might have been. And she stayed on.

The trouble was at its height with her when shearing time arrived; the reverse was the case with John Crowther. It was a tremendous affair for him, this first Riverina shearing. They estimated a clip of nearly ninety thousand fleeces. The wool was in grand condition. There had been no such season for years. If John Crowther chose to sell out after shearing he would have made his fortune in eleven months, for he had purchased in the last of several lean seasons. He became another man when this was brought home to him by the wool-sorter from Melbourne, who worked out the figures in black and white. This was about the middle of shearing, a daily triumph sufficiently exciting in itself, but almost intoxicating in the dazzling light of such future possibilities. The widower was like the youngest of his own children. At the shed itself he was bound to exercise self-control during the greater portion of each day; at all other times and places he was in such spirits that Ellice Evered breathed again, and allowed herself to forget what he had so obviously forgotten.

One day near the beginning she took the children to the shed. Unlike the wool-shed at some other stations, this one was in the home paddock, not half a mile from the house. It staged a stirring scene. Outside a thin yellow cloud overhung the sheep-yards, where Crowther himself was at the drafting-gate half his time; within, the overseer was in command of forty shearers, six pickers, two wool-pressers, and sundry supernumeraries, all as busy as bees and as silent as mice. One heard the swish of the shears through the wool, the click of the blades as they met, the light step of lads running with fleeces warm from the sheep, the thud of a finished bale behind the press. But there was no talking at all.

“They take quarter-of-an-hour’s spell in every two,” explained the overseer, who had come forward to meet the little party; “then they have tea and buns, hot from the oven, and a smoke and a pitch. They’re too keen on their checks to yarn while they’re at work, and we fine ’em if they swear. A pound a hundred fleeces, you know; it isn’t bad pay. If you want to see it jolly well earned, come this way.”

A well-groomed shearer was bending over his work, his moleskin was white as snow, his shirt as spotless as his moleskins. The sheep lay on its back, propped and pillowed against his shins. The shears flashed down the brisket, and it was like unbuttoning a waistcoat, the skin beneath showed like the whitest shirt.

“Look at that!” whispered the overseer; “there’s kindness there as well as skill. Not a drop of blood; he never hurts them; and he shears his hundred fleeces a day. That’s the best man on the board, Miss Evered. That’s the best man in the back blocks!’’

Just then the man looked up for an instant in the direction of the whispering voice, and it was Tuggenboonah Bill. But he had removed his beard; a very good chin and jaw were shaven as clean as he was shearing his sheep; and his crisp, dark hair was scrupulously brushed and parted.

‘Do you recognize him?” asked the overseer as they filed away. “I thought you wouldn’t, he’s come out such a dandy for the shearing. That’s the chap you saw the day the boss and I were away with the buggy.”

“Indeed,” said Miss Evered, with great indifference. He had not recognized her; at all events he had betrayed no such recognition. “She was vexed with herself for minding in the least. But the young man had interested her on the former occasion; she had often thought of him since. He appealed to her imagination. He piqued her curiosity. She wondered if they all smartened themselves up for the shearing. She forgot to look at the others until it was too late.

That evening the squatter was as full as ever of his schemes, and discussed them as freely with his overseer and the wool-sorter. He no longer spoke of selling the station, a project which had fascinated without being seriously entertained, but of doubling the stock during the ensuing year, and furthermore improving the breed of his sheep. A stud flock was the latest idea. The wool-sorter was consulted as an expert on the subject, which so excited the enthusiastic squatter that he quite forgot Ellice Evered’s presence and did not even notice her withdrawal. It was a moonlight night, and Ellice enjoyed few things better than an after-dinner stroll among the moonlit pines. She was generally accompanied by Mr. Crowther. To-night she went alone, and in her wake a figure detached itself from the trunk of one of the larger pines. A quick step fell behind her, a shadow overlapped her shadow, and she turned to encounter Tuggenboonah Bill with bent head bared to the moon.

“Forgive me,” he exclaimed. “This is an unwarrantable liberty—I know it—I know it.”

Ellice declined to contradict him by word or look.

“I have followed you,” he went on. “I make no bones about it!”

Ellice made them instead, with wide eyes, tight mouth and lifted chin.

“I’ve been watching my chance,” cried the young man; “all these evenings I’ve been watching it! That’s all—that’s the worst,” he added grimly. “I wanted to talk to you again. But I don’t suppose you’ll let me. Why should you, after all?”

Ellice could not help being struck by his mingled audacity and humility, his candor, his desire to have speech with her, his evident determination not to force further speech upon her. She was more than struck; she was partially disarmed. The firm little mouth maintained its forbidding contour. But the brown eyes narrowed, softened, almost smiled by themselves. And then it occurred to Ellice that he had finished with a civil question, to which a civil answer might be returned without indignity.

“That depends,” said she. “What was it you wanted to talk about?”

“Home!” he said. “I’ve been utterly and wretchedly homesick ever since—that afternoon!”

So had Ellice; they had reminded each other of so much. But she was not in the mood for any admissions, and her silence was a little chilling.

“Of course,” he added, with a bitterness half-real and half-assumed, “I’m only a shearer. But I was only boundary-rider then!”

“Talk away,” replied Ellice brusquely. “Only don’t say that sort of thing again.”

On the veranda it was still sheep, sheep, sheep when she returned. It was sheep, sheep, sheep every night of the shearing. Small wonder then that Ellice Evered deserted that veranda on more than one of those evenings. But at length there was an end of it all.

The last shearer had ridden away with his check; the last roustabout had tramped off with his; the last dray had de­murred with the last bale of Tuggenboonah wool. The shorn sheep showed for miles across the plain, very white and stark, and easy to muster. The wool-sorter had gone back to Mel­bourne in the coach, and John Crowther seemed lost without him in the evening. It was, however, the whole absorbing interest of the last few weeks that he really missed. The reaction depressed him, and in his depression he turned once more to Ellice Evered. Within a week he had proposed again, this time imploring her to be his wife in a scene more distress­ing than the last. For now Ellice gave him no hope at all, but insisted upon going away for good, and bitterly reproached her­self for not having done so before.

Crowther said that she must do as she liked, feeling for the moment that they had better part; and went straight from her schoolroom to find his overseer. A light in the store indicated the overseer’s whereabout, but the squatter met him coming out, lamp in hand.

“It’s the mail,” he explainod. “It’s just come. I’ve put the bag on your desk.”

“Go in again,” said Crowther. “I want to speak to you.”

There was an air of mystery about the squatter. He had not come to confide in his subordinate. He had come to discover something without telling anything at all.

“Miss Evered’s in love,” he began abruptly, assuming a sly tone for the nonce.

The overseer said nothing. But his down­cast eyes made it obvious that the news was no news to him.

“Is it you?” cried Crowther, in a voice that went near to betraying him.

“Me, sir? Good heavens, no!”

“But you know who it is?”

“I assure you, sir, that I know nothing at all.”

“Well, then, you suspect; it’s all the same thing. Come. Jameson, who is it? I won’t say a word I won’t do a thing. I shall be sorry to lose her; that’s all. But I want to know who you’ve spotted as the happy man, for I’m hanged if I can spot him, though I’m convinced she’s in love.”

‘“It’ll make you pretty sick, sir.”

“Sick? Why should it? I tell you I shall be sorry to lose her, but that’s all.”

The overseer was right, however, and that was by no means all. The name was scarcely past his lips before John Crowther turned livid with rage.

“That boundary-rider? That shearer? That pound-a-week hand? I tell you, Jameson, I don’t believe it! You’re mis­taken. I simply don’t and won’t believe it of her.”

Jameson reminded him that he, Crowther, had been the first to take that same boun­dary-rider, shearer and pound-a-week hand for a gentleman in evil case. It might be that he was one. That would account for it. But theory and reminder were alike unfortunate.

“And I was the first to find out my mis­take,” rejoined Crowther; “and this proves it! I mean, it would prove it, if there was any proof in what you say. A fellow like that to make up to a lady under my roof; but I don’t believe a word of it, Jameson; you must be laboring under some delusion, my good fellow.”

“He was waiting for her in the pines ten minutes ago,” said the overseer dryly. “I know the place and I’ve had a look. You’d better come with me and look for yourself.”

“No, no, I beg your pardon. Your word should be good enough for me, after all these years! Seen them together half these evenings, have you? Very well; that’s good enough, and bad enough, too, by George! You send that fellow to me, and he shall have his check to-night.”

The overseer stood aghast.

“You surely aren’t going to mention—”

“Of course not, my good fellow! I shall mention no names at all. Enough that I know about it, no matter how, and that he’s got to roll up his swag to-night.”

Alone in the store the squatter spent the interval in making up Tuggenboonah Bill’s account. He kept the books himself; he had formed the habit in Victoria, had his own ways and methods, and a natural apti­tude for the work. Coke was the only shearer who had not received his check, for he had expressed his intention of re­turning to the Six-Mile without drawing a penny. So his substantial earnings in the shed had been added to the amount already standing to his credit in the books, and the two together came to no less than seventy-seven pounds, eighteen shillings and twopence. It took not a minute to look up the figures, and but little longer to make out the check.

Crowthers eye then fell upon the unopened mail-bag, and to pass more minutes, impatient as he was, he broke the seals, cut the string and emptied out the letters upon the sloping desk before him. They were fewer than usual. But one that caught his eye was of uncommon and immediate interest. It was addressed to “The Manager of Tuggenboonah Station, near Wileannia, New South Wales,” but the hand seemed strangely familiar to John Crowther. He glanced behind him at the rack. The hand was identical with that upon the en­velope which had remained so many months unclaimed in that rack.

Crowther opened the letter. His hand shook. Instinctively he knew that the large square envelope was big with his fate. A smaller envelope fell out first; this one was addressed, word for word, like the unclaimed letter in the rack behind. Crowther read the letter to the manager—to himself—and a cold dew gathered on his forehead. He had not wiped it away when there was a knock at the door.

Crowther raised the sloping lid before him and swept both letters into the receptacle beneath before replying, “Come in.”

His rival, his boundary-rider, his pound-a-week hand entered accordingly, and took his stand on the other side of the desk, but  awkwardly, shamefacedly, like a small boy brought to judgment in the headmasters study. And John Crowther looked as stern as any pedagogue—as old as most. But an unshaded lamp glared between the pair, partially blinding each to the other’s expression.

The squatter came straight to the point.

“I sent for you.” he began, “to give you the sack—good man, tried man and valuable man as you are! There’s a lady under my roof—no need to mention her name. For weeks past, under my very nose, you, my boundary-rider, have been making love to this lady, and taking it for granted that I was too blind or too busy to see what was going on!”

Crowther did not get this length without interruption; his last words were in one breath with the first outburst of a young man stung of a sudden to indignant denial.

“Not all that, Mr. Crowther!—not making love to her, if you please! You do the lady injustice, and me another. I wasn’t such a blackguard as to make downright love, what­ever else I may have done!”

 “But you’ve been meeting her at nights? You’ve been walking about these pines with her?”

“That may be. I won’t deny it. But it was all my fault—listen! I threw myself upon her sympathy. I told her my—my history. I—I wasn’t always as you found me, Mr. Crowther! I once thought you saw it, too. Well, I asked her to help me to reform. I was mean enough for that!”

“And why, pray?”

“Because her society was all the world to me—after all these years.”

“And yet you—neither of you—fell in love!”

Coke held his tongue.

“Of course you did,” averred the squatter. “Don’t tell me!

“I have not told you that,” declared Coke, too earnest for a sneer. “I only told you I never made love to her. I never did. The two things are rather different. Mr. Crowther.”

“And you give me your word you never—never asked her to marry you, for example?”

The younger man grinned; but it was the grin of a soul in pain.

“Me? Marry me? No, I never did that. Thank God, I never had the cheek to do that! Why, do you know what I am? Do you know who I am? I don’t mind telling you, because I’m going to night. I’m glad to go. I meant to go. I was screwing up my courage to it even when you sent for me just now. I never meant to go back to the Six-Mile. But I said I’d tell you who I was—don’t expect too much! I’m no great gun; only the younger son of a younger son; only a silly young fool who went a-mucker in his teens, and was sent over here to come a worse, and never forgiven from that day to this! You see that letter behind you in the rack? You remember thinking it was for me? You were right—it was!”

The squatter did not look surprised. He did not even glance behind him at the rack. He sat looking fixedly and unswerv­ingly at the younger man, listening hard and yet hearing noth­ing. His two hands clinched the edge of the leathern lid of the desk before him.

The younger man was speaking quickly, eloquently; he was wound up. He was telling now of his midnight burglary, tell­ing it with spirit and involuntary zest. The squatter, sitting where the other had sat six months before, might have been interested, thrilled, amused, indignant—anything but indiffer­ent! Yet his attitude and his face were those of blank indifference, of crass density; all the sentient man was in those two hands of his, trying to lift the lid of that sloping desk, and trying in vain—in vain.

“And what was there in it after all?” cried the other, in indignant conclusion. “Nothing at all but the old cold shoulder! Glad to hear of me again—I never meant they should. Glad I was earning a living, and always glad to see me back; but things were so crowded, and a bird in the hand, et cetera. In other words, ‘for God’s sake stop where you are!’ So I stopped. So I will stop; there are stations enough, and I know the work. So that’s what it is to be the younger son of a younger son! That’s what it is to go a bit to the devil before you’re old enough to know better. Your own people are the first to shove you the rest of the way.”

The check lay on the top of the desk under the lamp. He stepped forward and took it himself. Then he held out his hand; but it seemed to him to be refused, and he went out with an oath after all, out into the night, to collect his few belongings in the shearers’ hut, and to kick the copious dust of Tuggen­boonah from his feet forever.

Not till he was gone did John Crowther bring himself to raise the leathern lid of’ his desk, and to look once more upon the letters which he had slipped beneath before the boundary-rider’s entry. Then he read the one to himself again, and yet again. Then he, too, went out into the night;

It was late now. The overseer had re­tired.

Only one light showed besides the lamp which the squatter carried.

He went toward that light. It fell in a broad bar across the veranda through the open door of the schoolroom in which he had left Ellice Evered, weeping, an hour that seemed twelve hours ago.

As he came up to the door a slight sound greeted him. It was the soft and sibilant sound of a woman’s anguish.

And John Crowther stood in his tracks.

* * * * * * * * *

The very last of the Tuggenboonah shearers was rolling up his blanket in the shearers’ hut, a shore-going forecastle of a place, which he had to himself, when a voice hailed him from the door, and there stood the boss. Next moment an unstamped letter flew and fluttered into the half-rolled blanket.

“Glad I’m in time,” said Crowther. “The mail came in just before you did, but I hadn’t finished sorting it then. You see, there’s another for you. It came inclosed in one for me.”

Coke tossed it aside.

“Thanks.” said he. “I’m not going to read it, though.”

“You must!”

“I know exactly what will be in it.”

“I don’t think you do.”

“Do you?” cried Coke, reaching for the letter.

“I told you it came under cover of a let­ter to me. That was to make sure of it’s reaching you—either it or the news.”

Coke was on his feet.

“What news do you mean?”

“Read it and see,” was the reply. “There is such a thing as death; there are such things as changes in a man’s life. I’ve had them myself; so read your letter, and, when you’ve read it, I think you’ll see that you may—make love—to anybody you please—and as soon as you like.”

But John Crowther did not wait while the letter was read.

He passed once more into the night—to wander in his paddocks until the white moon set, and the gray dawn grew, and the new day followed in a flash.

* * * * * * * * *

And he sold Tuggenboonah within the twelvemonth after all—at a nice little profit of ninety thousand pounds—only to sink the money in a Queensland station twice its size.

Many advised him to let well enough alone, and to “take a trip Home” for a change; but John Crowther did not realize the size of London, and had morbid visions of a painful contretemps the moment he set foot there.

It is true that the whilom stockman, with Ellice his wife, was much about town at this time, and that his new style and title offered a striking contrast to “Tuggenboonah Bill.”

The Best Of The Bushrangers

Express and Telegraph (Adelaide, SA), Saturday 26 January 1901

Admittedly they were a very bad lot indeed, to be the best of whom was to remain a double-dyed villain after all. There is, however, abundant evidence that Henry Power, alias Henry Johnston, the really gallant ruffian who, under arms, robbed one hundred and fourteen persons (but never a woman) without killing one, was something more than the boldest and yet least bloodthirsty of Australian bushrangers. There was more transparent good in him than the world has usually discovered in its great criminals, and a vast deal more than will transpire in the following anecdote, which is no pretty fable of sinner turned saint. It is, on the other hand, one of the many yarns current in the colony of Victoria, and more or less illustrative of the fine audacity, rough-and-ready chivalry and grim humor of Power. Nor can I recall having ever seen it in print; nor yet vouch for its historical truth. I can but tell the tale as it was told to me, over a blazing camp-fire, within a few furlongs of its alleged scene.

The affair began as a professional incident of the almost every-day routine. It appears that Power was short of money and of other sinews of the guerilla warfare which it was his pleasure to wage against mankind. He had therefore descended from his fastness among the ranges (that despair of the police), and put himself in ambush at a point commanding a fairly straight stretch of the nearest coaching road, at a point where it descended through thick timber to a creek, to rise very abruptly on the opposite side. It was in the bed of this creek, which was all but dry, that Power hid, watching for the coach, but wistfully desiring the earlier apparition of easier prey.

There were two sides to sticking up a coach. You got more out of it, but you ran very much greater risks. Among half-a-dozen male passengers there was too strong a chance of at least one set of nerves and one stock of courage to equal those of the bushranger. Once, to be sure, he had held up a coach containing no fewer than sixteen passengers, many of them men, who had nevertheless offered him no sort of resistance. But that was an experience which Power hardly expected to repeat.

Judge therefore of his joy when a single horseman appeared a good hour before any coach was due. The outlaw’s first act was to spring upon his horse, by whose side its considerate master had been standing in the dry bed of the creek; he badly needed a better mount, and at a chance he made sure of that at least. The approaching rider came thundering down the gentler slope at a headlong pace, which argueed the sure foot and the sound knees which were Power’s primary requirement, and he had to put spurs to his own worn steed in order to intercept his victim. This he did with his rifle in rest, and the confident air and jovial voice of the determined ruffian who has seldom met with opposition.

But for once Power had trouble with his man, whose behaviour was aggravated by his youth. In an instant this intrepid young man had dragged his horse almost upon its haunches, so that sparks flew front its slithering hind hoofs, while a revolver spat quickly but wildly, as it were, between the animal’s ears. The bushranger, sitting uninjured, seemed too amazed to return the fire, and is said to have owned that he was only aroused when the empty pistol was hurled after the last shot, with no better aim, and the infuriated rider dashed at a tangent into the thick timber on the right-hand side of the track.

The chase that followed was short and sharp enough, yet it carried the couple well back from the raid, and it finished in a glade green with ferns and open to the downpour of a vertical sun. The young man’s horse had stumbled, emptying the young man over its head; but he was up again in an instant, his white face working in the strong light. And it would seem to have been the more desperate face of the two; though covered now by a long barrel, held with muscles of iron against a shoulder like solid rock.

“Throw up those hands, sonny, or you’re a dead boy.”

“I don’t care.”

And the fool made a suicidal effort to fling himself into his saddle; whereupon Power, spurring closer with an oath, rapped him smartly across the head with his rifle barrel.

“There. I’ve let you off for the last time. Up with those hands like winky, or I’ll drill a hole through you without more barney.”

There was no help for it, and this time the youth obeyed, though with bitter grace and eyes wild with hatred for his panting horse. It was the better one or the two; the chase had proved it; but for that stumble he would have got away. His heart seemed broken by his failure to do so; his jaw fell, his lips trembled. It was as though he stood confronted with instant death. Power had seen the look before and he hastened to give explicit reassurance on the point.

“I’m not a-going to shoot now, my boy,” said he, “not unless you try them games again. Do you know who I am? I’m Harry Power. Did you never hear of me before?”

“Oh, I’ve heard of you,” said the young man gloomily, “and I knew who you were from the first. I’ve seen you in the wax works.”

There was, indeed, no mistaking the firm, square shoulders, the snuff-colored beard, and the piercing black eyes of Henry Power. He was not only the typical bushranger of his generation, he was the very prince of his type. And yet the mere mention of the waxworks set him grinning through his virile beard.

“Then why did you want to make me go and plug you my lad? You know, or ought to know, that I never did such a thing in the whole course of my career.”

The youth was not listening; he was peering down towards the road (which lay deep in a timbered basin of the ranges), though with little of the eagerness that might have been looked for in a captive. The outlaw’s grin turned none the less quickly to a frown; his vanity was piqued, his suspicions aroused, and he continued frowning through some minutes of heavy thought.

“I’ve told you my name,” he at last exclaimed sternly. “Suppose you take the trouble to look this way and tell me yours?

“John Smith,” was the prompt reply made, however, with an insolent disregard of the preliminary command.

“Your real name!” cried the bushranger, turning brown in the face. “And you look at me, you jackanapes, or, by Heaven, I’ll make you!”

Whereupon the young man complied, but as one who heard the summons for the first time and did not hear the threats at all. On the contrary, he took the formidable Power at rather better than his word, and not only looked at him, but through and through him in his turn.

“All right,” he said at length; “after all, it can’t do any real harm. My name is John, but I don’t mind admitting it isn’t Smith. It’s Jack Falcon, since you so particularly want to know.”

“And not a bad name for you, either,” said Power, regaining his good nature with the point; “for there’s more than a bit of the hawk about you, if you ask me. But see here, sonny, if you’re a hawk I’m a darned great eagle; and you stuff that into your pipe. You’re too cool and stiff with me, my lad; look out I don’t leave you a bit cooler and stiffer still.”

And the outlaw tapped his piece with grim humour; but the other twitched his shoulders with a wry smile and an involuntary glance towards the road.

“I’m less cool than you think,” said he.

“What’s the good of looking down there?”

“It’s the road, you know,” said Falcon suggestively. But he had the sense to turn his back upon it.

“Well? What then? Do you think I’m going to let you hail the coach, or anybody else that comes along?”

“I don’t suppose you are.”

“I don’t suppose I am,” echoed the bushranger dryly; “so you may as well make the best of it and turn those pockets of yours inside out. Quick’s the word, and don’t you miss any. I’ve got to see the linin’ of all the lot.”

Pale as he had been before, young Falcon  turned paler yet at this explicit command. His fingers fumbled at his pockets, as if to gain time; they did no more, for the other’s great eye was upon him all the time.

“Stop a bit,” said Power, displaying unexpected patience. “Where do you come from, eh? No lies this time; you may us well spit it out first as last.”

“Euroa, then,” said Falcon sullenly.

Power’s face lighted up.

“Aha!” said he. “And you’re on your way down to Melbourne, are you?”

“I was, but I’ve given that up.”

“Then you’re a young fool,” said Power testily. “Don’t you know me by hearsay better than that? Are you such a blessed new chum that you’ve never heard tell o’ me before? I may be a bad lot, but I’m not one of the worst. I may take the lion’s share, but darn my skin if I ever took all. No, no; you’ll have to part with that horse and saddle of yours, but you’ll find mine’ll take you down to Melbourne all right, though you won’t have to go quite so fast as you were going just now. And I’m not going to take your last stiver; you shall keep enough for drinks along the road. So you look alive and let me see the color of your coin.”

Falcon, however, must renew his fumbling; and Power had to cock his rifle with a horrid click and still worse oaths before the young fool would obey. By this time the latter had shown his hand; and it was a very fine hand of bank-notes, extracted at last, and with piteous reluctance, from an inner pocket. But it was not fine enough for the wily Power, who shook his head over the counted notes.

“No, no, my son, you don’t ride like that for fifty pounds, nor yet look a rifle in the muzzle as you’ve been looking into mine; not to speak of the way you let loose with your own little iron to start with. You don’t do all that for fifty pounds. So where’s the rest of it? That’s what I want to get at.”

“The rest? Isn’t fifty pounds enough for you?”

“It might be if it was the lot.”

“I tell you it is.”

“Your tongue may,” said Power, “but your face and your voice are singing another tune. You’ve acted your part very pretty, makin’ all them bones about fifty pounds, but you’ve got to act better than that to do old Power in the weather eye. I want the rest—that’s what I want, and if there’s enough of it I don’t say but what you mayn’t get your fifty quid back again. I never clean a man right out if I can help it. But I’ve got to see what there is, so now you know it. Either you fork out straight or I strip you inch by inch to the skin.”

Falcon held his tongue; his face was half-sulks and half-defiance. He was still not acting badly.

“Right you are,” said Power. “It’s all one to me. Suppose you begin by pulling off them precious fine riding-boots?”

And the acting ceased upon the word.

The noonday sun, pouring yet more vertically into that oasis of green ferns amid a forest of tall and sombre trees, threw a striking tableau into strong relief. Falcon was seated among the ferns, his long boots off, his head between his hands; in one or the boots the bushranger’s arm was plunged to the elbow, presently to be withdrawn with a pad of crackling paper, folded like a cork sole. In his other hand was a similar packet, and he sat for a little with the two between his fingers.

“I’m going to stick to these two lots,” said Power at length, “so you may as well tell me what they come to between them. Of course, I shall check your figures; but there’s no hurry, we’ve not got to catch a train.”

“Nor is it such a very large amount.”

“How much?”

“Thirteen hundred altogether.”

Falcon had not looked up; the outlaw’s eyes were fixed upon him, and in their dark depths there danced a new light, a new humor, and an altogether new interest in the man with the head between his hands.

“And how came you to be riding like greased lightning with thirteen hundred pounds in your boots?”

“It wasn’t my money,” groaned the young man through his hands.

“Glad to hear it,” chuckled Power. “I’ve no wish to ruin you, my son.”

“But that’s just what you are doing!” cried Falcon, looking up wildly, “It’s not my money, but I’m responsible for it. It belongs to the National Bank of Australasia. I’m a clerk in the Euroa. branch.”

Power’s eyes twinkled. “That all, sonny?”

“Why not?” asked Falcon, his wild eyes fixed sullenly on those of the bushranger. “What else do you think I am?”

“I don’t hardly like to say,” pretended Power, grinning outright. “I never did like hurting people’s feelings; besides, I may be wrong.”

“I’ll soon tell you.”

‘“Will you? Then I hope I’m right,” exclaimed the bushranger, with encouraging emphasis; “for it did just slip across my mind—you’ll forgive me if I’m wrong—that you was one of my own kidney after all!”

“Say it plainer.”

“Well, then, I believe you’ve been and done a bolt from that same bank with these same thirteen hundred and fifty pounds! In which case—”

“Well?” said Falcon, who had opened his lips to say something else.

“In which case,” repeated Power gravely, “you shall have more than the odd fifty back again; for we shall be two of a trade; and there’s honor among thieves—as long as I’m one of ’em.”

“I’m glad to hear you say so,” rejoined the bank clerk; “for I’m the other, and it’s no use pretending I am not.”

He was cool enough now, the younger rogue. He had made up his mind and accepted his fate, and it promised to be no such disastrous fate after all. Indeed, there were obvious advantages for the mere novitiate in crime in a temporary alliance with a past master in the criminal arts. The clerk was (it has since appeared) a very clear-headed and calculating young man, who had yielded to no sudden temptation, but had put into unerring execution a plan laboriously laid in the coldest of cold blood. He had certainly lost that excellent head of his in the sudden presence of the one peril he had not foreseen, but he was now once more in full possession of his most distinctive faculties. He had therefore no hesitation in taking in his rather delicate hand the horny paw which was now thrust over to him in tacit sign of felonious fellowship, nor did he scruple to tell the true story of his crime in compliance with the bushranger’s request.

It was a sordid story, with no redeeming point. It was a story of manifold treachery, involving weeks of petty but consistent hypocrisy, and the final playing of a part which opened even the bold black eyes of Harry Power. As he had said himself, it wasn’t his way of doing things, nor was he sure that he would care to do that sort of thing in that sort of way.

“It’s all a matter of taste,” he conceded, “and you get the same for it when you’re caught. Likely we shall meet in the hulks, one of these days, but I rather think I shall have the liveliest time to look back upon, always supposing I don’t blow the brains out o’ some spunky young chap like you and swing according.”

He sat looking critically at Falcon, while he puffed at a short black pipe which he had lighted during the latter’s narration.

“And you did show spunk—with me,” said Power, half to himself, “you loosed out upon me like a good ’un; and I’m not going to forget it. I know pluck when I see it. I’m like to know it. And there was no mistake about you there.”

The compliment was lost upon the clerk. He had turned where he sat, and Power watching the sharp profile saw the visible eye protruding out like a bead. Next moment he had followed its direction and descried the cause—a fitful glitter of accoutrements far away through the trees, clearly accompanied, in the sudden silence, by the faint but sharp ringing of well-shod hoofs upon the flint-strewn track.

“Oho!” said Power; “so it’s the traps, is it? Get you down into the gully; there, behind you, where the ferns are thickest. Down you go—right down—and down with your horse’s head! Hang on to the reins like grim death! If his head don’t show, nothing else will; but I’ll have to learn him different when he’s mine!”

And at a whispered word his own worn veteran lay down like a dog, while the outlaw himself knelt behind a tree, and the staccato tattoo of approaching hoofs grew louder and more distinct.

“Can you see them yet?” whispered Falcon, who lay buried in bracken, his horse’s head held close to his own by shortened rein and straining muscles.

“I will in a minute. There’s three or four on ’em. See here, son, if that moke of yours offers to neigh, you cut its throat with this.” And a villainous blade came swishing and glittering within Falcon’s reach. “Stick him like a sheep,” continued Power, “the moment he opens his teeth to it; but he won’t do that if you told on tight. Now, then, steady! There we are.”

“How far off?”

“Not a couple of hundred yard’s; but they’re sticking to the road all right.”

“I hope they won’t see my revolver!”

“I hope not! You were a fool to fling it. But I think it went well to one side, and you may trust a trooper not to see what isn’t bang under his nose. Now shut your mouth, and think o’ nothing but your horse. Don’t speak till I tell you.”

The clerk obeyed, lying on his back, his biceps bulging, and the perspiration welling from a white face in imminent danger of being pawed beyond human semblance by his already restive horse. But the outlaw’s horse lay like the clown’s in a circus. And the outlaw himself did not practice what he preached, but apostrophized the white helmets and the bearded faces, as they went bobbing past upon the road below, in murmurs of half-affectionate abuse.

“You silly fools! You dear old fools! If only you knew who was lying within reach! That’s right, look this way, and welcome. A lot you can see when you’re going full split! Oh, you fools; blind, old, silly old, bloomin’ old badgers! So long, then—so long—till our next merry meet.”

Falcon turned on his elbow in the bracken.

“Is the coast clear?’

“I’d wait a bit.”

The clerk counted a hundred slowly.

“Now?”

“I can hear ’em still. It’s your moke I’m frightened of. But as you like; they must be nearly a mile away already.”

When Falcon had finished stretching himself in the sun, he turned to the older criminal for the expert opinion and the skilled advice to which the situation clearly entitled him. Power had frustrated the final issue of his darling scheme; the least that he could do for a humble follower in his own footsteps, whom he had hindered instead of helping at the outset of his career, was to present him, from the wealth of his experience, with some new plan of escape in place of the one he had upset.

So hinted the clerk, and Power nodded with characteristic good humor. He seemed to realise his responsibility in the matter. The charge of unprofessional conduct, rather humorously insinuated by the other, was taken by Power in equally good part

Yet he looked long and shrewdly at his man before replying.

“Native of this colony?” he enquired at length.

“No.”

“New chum?”

“Not exactly. I came out from home the year before last. It was another bank bother. I was in one at home. They gave me so long to clear out or be run in.”

The clerk was devoid of shame. The other looked him up and down before continuing.

“And how did you know the road so well?”

“I rode over it for my Christmas holiday.”

“You had this in your mind since Christmas?”

“I had it in my mind since last July!”

Power maintained a longer silence than any hitherto. His dark eyes were half covered by reflective lids. His beard and moustache looked all one. Falcon grew restive under the prolonged scrutiny, he scarcely knew why.

“Well,” said the bushranger, at length, “I’m going to do with you what I’ve never done with any living man. I’m going to take you along with me for a bit. I’m going to show you where you can lie low for a month of Sundays if you like, with every trap in Victoria scouring the country for you. I’ve done it, so I ought to know. I’m going to let you do it, because I seem to owe you something, and you’ve got some spunk. But, my son, there’s one thing I’m not going to do.”

Falcon waited to hear what.

“I’m not going to trust you. So I tell you straight. You’ll go there blindfold, and you’ll come back blindfold, unless you can find your own way out, and you’re welcome to that if you can.”

The bushranger paused again, took off his grey wideawake, and tapped his handsome head with firm forefinger.

“When there’s a few hundreds on a man’s head, on or off his shoulders,” said he grimly, “he don’t put up for the Melbourne Club, nor yet pick his teeth on the steps of Scott’s Hotel.”

The rest of that day they journeyed together through the veriest wilderness, not trackless, indeed, but veined only here and there with the roughest bridle-path, and that not always visible to the clerk’s eyes, which were left unbandaged after all. Time enough for that upon the morrow (said Power), for it would take them the best part of another day to reach his lair. Meanwhile they must camp somewhere for the night. And camp they did, in a rocky hollow, upon the jagged banks of a tiny creek, that seemed to have lost its way amid the grim solitudes of the mountain forest.

It was a cheerless bivouac. The bushranger produced a box of sardines and a slab of very stale damper; these he divided with the clerk, but he would have no fire for fear of attracting the police; so the meal was eaten in darkness and was washed down with very cold water from the creek. Now the month was March, when the sun is still its summer self, but the nights are the nights of incipient winter, and this was the first time the clerk had ever slept in the open. It was therefore, not astonishing that he should begin shivering over his pipe as evening cooled and darkened into night. It so happened, however, that there had been a long silence between ne pair, and that this broke it rather harshly, for it seems that the young man’s bones were suddenly rattling in his skin.

“What’s the matter?” asked Power, who was resting on one elbow, in such on attitude that he might have been watching the dim figure of his companion or might have been asleep.

“Oh, nothing,” said the clerk, in a voice half startled, half relieved. “It’s a bit chilly, that’s all. But I thought you were asleep?”

“Maybe I was,” said Power; but, you see, I sleep with one eye open—and one ear too. So you’re cold, are you? That’s soon mended. Lend us a hand.”

He groped for Falcon’s, found it in the darkness, and pulled himself to his feet.

“Well, your hand’s not cold, anyhow, said he. “It’s as hot as a coal. Have you got a bit of fever on you?”

“No,” said the clerk. “I’m all right.” Yet his voice shook like his limbs.

“You may be,” said Power, “and you may not. I’ve got a blanket for you, whether or no; so you may as well have the benefit of the doubt.”

He detached a soft blue cylinder from his saddle, which was slung over a low branch of the tree, to which the horses stood tethered and at hand. Falcon, however, flatly refused to have it over him; he was not going to take the only blanket, and he said so with more heat than gratitude. But in mere will, like the majority of mankind, he was no match for Power, who was equally determined on the point.

“Why,” cried he, “you may call this cold, but you wouldn’t if you were used to camping out like me. I call it mild as milk; but then I’m as hard as a flint myself. That blanket’s all I use in the depth of winter, and I wasn’t even going to unroll it; but now I have you’ve got to curl up in it, whether you like it or not.”

Nor was this all; For it seemed that the elder ruffian was prepared against emergencies with a flask, which he handed to Falcon, after tucking him up with his own overbearing hands. In this case, however, the clerk made no demur, but drank eagerly of the raw spirit before returning the flask without a word.

Not that Power resented the omission. The moon was rising through the trees, and the outlaw looked pityingly down upon the flushed but haggard face which its first rays touched. Clearly the clerk was ill; he seemed, nevertheless, to have fallen instantly asleep; and Power was quicker still to follow his example, with this difference, that the bushranger’s nose at once announced his condition to all the sensual world within earshot of the cheerless camp beside the creek.

It was not this that awoke the clerk; he had never been asleep at all. His eyes had opened as soon as the bushranger’s back was turned. He had lain for some minutes, glancing at the moon, still flushed and still haggard. Convinced at last by the time and timbre of the snores, he was now resting on one elbow and his teeth showed white in the moonlight. They were set. And the eyes were brilliants in a ghastly face. For in very truth the man was in a fever. But it was a fever of the mind and of the heart.

The scene is easily imagined. What passed in that fevered mind will never be known. Yet even at that one may give a fairly accurate guess.

Why should he be robbed in his turn? Why should he even share his ill-gotten gains with a greater villain than himself? Like many another he had fallen a victim to the brutal rapacity of the notorious Power; unlike the rest, however, the clerk was not contented to remain victim to the chapter’s end. It was his turn to get the upper hand, and get it he would. He was in any case a desperate men. He had flung his good name to the winds, he had no further right to his liberty, was he also to lose that for which he was risking and renouncing so much? Not if he could help it. But there was only one sure way of helping it. And it was the way that had whitened his face and brightened his eyes; it was the first conception of that way which had afflicted him with the ague of fearful temptation, with the fever of burning shame.

But now the raw spirit was at work in his brain, nerving him, hardening him, and he would not remember who it was to whom he owed his Dutch courage. Or, if he remembered, he dismissed the consideration as a sentimental weakness. What was a notorious bushranger but a menace and a curse to society at large, to be shot down at sight like a mad dog? So Morgan had been shot at Macpherson’s station—shot in the back—and yet the entire community had praised the deed. So Power—

Falcon fell to trembling again, and loathed himself for his weakness. Perhaps, after all, he might give the fellow a chance, might call upon him to surrender, or at least wake him before he fired. It was not incumbent upon him—he would not admit that—but it might satisfy some sense of which even the clerk possessed a measure. Yes, he should have his chance; but what a chance it would be, the clerk knew in his heart; and, first of all, he must obtain possession of the rifle; for Power had not permitted him to recover his own firearm, and the little cartridges were rotting uselessly in his pockets. If only he could get possession of the rifle. Success or failure—spelling life or death—both hinged upon that!

During their ride through the bush Power had carried it slung across his broad shoulders; but had detached it before lying down, and now it lay loose at his side, with but the barrel under the crook of his arm, gleaming steadily in the moonlight.

The clerk threw off the blanket which had been wrapped about him and breathed more freely when rid of it. Then he rose to a sitting posture; then lunged softly forward upon his hands and knees.

He was actually kneeling over the prostrate man, who was snoring as loud as ever. One delicate hand was planted palm downwards upon the ground between the sprawling legs; the other was creeping slowly to the stock of the gleaming rifle. And blood was running down the clerk’s chin, for his teeth were near meeting in his nether lip, to stop its trembling.

The rifle moved; the sleeper did not. In a single second it was withdrawn altogether, and—the tables were turned. Falcon knelt upright, trembling still, but yet able to cock the piece with the least possible noise. Now he was ready—now he would cry “Surrender” in his turn. But he would not hesitate to fire. And then—then there would be an entirely new situation to face at his leisure. A few hundreds on his head. The ruffian had said to himself; they were his very own words. And what if he, Falcon, were to claim this blood money—to profess that he had borrowed that of the bank merely as a bait? He would be forgiven, free, and yet have those hundreds to the good.

Meanwhile his mouth had grown very dry: he could not cry the one word needful without moistening it; and in the instant this took him that happened which had been almost certain to happen from the first. A slight move on the sleepers part—a sudden and relentless pull at the trigger—a wild cry waking the echoes of the silent bush—and the two men face to face in the moonlight. For the hammer had fallen with a harmless metallic click, and the cry had come from the clerk, who was kneeling still, but kneeling for mercy now.

Power was slow to speak. Slow also was his speech when it came.

“You blithering fool! So you thought I’d lie down with a loaded gun—and you! Didn’t I warn you I wouldn’t trust you? But I must have forgot that myself to close an eye, with you handy. And to think—”

He sat silent, dumb with his contempt. Then a grim light broke upon his moonlit face.

“Why, I stuck you up with an empty gun, you silly. How do you like that? Make you feel better? But this one isn’t empty,” and he pulled out a full-sized Colt.

“That’s it,” cried the clerk, finding a high voice suddenly. “Shoot me—shoot me dead!”

The bushranger shook his head.

“Not me, sonny. I don’t waste powder and ball on such carrion as you, who’d shoot a man in his sleep for the blood-money on his head! No; there’s nicer things reserved for such as you.”

“What things?” shrieked the writhing wretch. “What? What?”

“You’ll see, sonny. Oh, you’ll see.”

* * * * * * * * *

But it was the police who saw best, for by a poetic irony (not unforeseen by Power) it was they who found their original quarry when returning on their tracks some hours later. They found him tied to a tree, close to the road where he had been first waylaid, with plenty of breath (and little else) in his body, but the circulation stopped in half his limbs, and over his head the following document, uncouthly printed with a burnt stick and tied to the tree with strands of whipcord:—

RECEIVED
FROM THE NATIONAL BANK OF
AUSTRALASIA (EUROA BRANCH)
PER THE UNDER-TIED
HIS MARK FOR LIFE.
THIRTEEN HUNDRED AND FIFTY
POUND (£l,350 0s. 0d.)
(Signed) H. POWER.

And the mark, though fresh, inflamed, and greatly swollen, was a none the less plain round ring, burnt in the very middle of Falcon’s forehead, apparently with a red-hot rifle barrel.

 

The Christmas Story

Illustrated by Alec C. Ball.

The Pall Mall Magazine December 1911

I.

                                                   “Throne Hotel, Harrogate,
                                                                “September 7th, 1911.

MY DEAR BRUCE,—The day before yesterday I finished that thing for the Christmas number of the Vivid, after nearly a fortnight’s hard grind; late last night I destroyed it all but a redeeming bit that may come in for something else. You must make my peace with the Vivid, like the good agent and the still better pal that you always are to me. I don’t know what they will say at being let in like this at the last moment; but I know what I should have said in their place if another author had traded on his contract to shoot in such stuff as I have been grinding out down here against the grain. It wouldn’t have done, Bruce, not at any price per thousand words; and I don’t mind telling you (or your telling them, if you like) that I wanted their money at least as much as they can possibly have wanted my name or yarn. But there are limits imposed upon the most mercenary of us, not only by the saving vanity of the artisan, but by the lowest and most calculating sort of self-interest. If I had forced this thing upon the Vivid, I should not have been able to hold up my head while their Christmas Number was on the stalls, and they would never have given me another contract.

“I wish to goodness I had never accepted this one, or at least that I had not been such a fool as to take on the job in this penitential spot, in the intervals of a cure which most people find quite hard enough work in itself. It doesn’t give the cure a chance, while the cure is simply fatal to one’s work. I don’t mean to inflict a long screed upon you, but you are my only correspondent in these days, and I should like just to give you a sample of them in further extenuation of my breach of treaty.

“At 7.15 I am called from a couch against which I have no complaint to make; but no cup of tea assists me to my legs, and I only get my letters and the papers on my way to the Old Pump Room at eight o’clock. Oh, that Old Pump Room, and the first whiff of it when the wind is the other way! A foul libation of sulphur hot and strong, twenty minutes of one’s letters and the band, another deadly draught and then back to breakfast with what appetite one may. I glower from my solitary table, and think I never saw a body of people who appealed so little to my gregarious instincts; but if they honour me with a thought, I am sure it is quite as unflattering as my impression of them. Indeed, I should expect to suffer heavily from an impartial comparison, for they keep up their spirits but I make no attempt in that direction. I doubt if I have ever been detected smiling in this hotel. I see my neighbours through sulphuric glasses, and they see me under the influence of sulphur, probably conning my programme for the day. This, of course, includes another drink to cut up my morning, and then some highly elaborate bath or skilled man-handling to cut it short an hour before lunch. In the afternoon my doctor would have me take an enormous walk and climb some legendary rocks, which I have not been man enough to find as yet. After tea I am grist for some new mill in the Royal Baths; after dinner I am a dead man, and the thing I tore up last night was a dead man’s effort.

“Yet I began with all the will in the world; my very first act, or more correctly my last before the cure began to kill me, was to hire a great brute of a desk and a swivel-chair for my room; on these I was to indite my little masterpiece for the Christmas number of the Vivid. But you see what my days have been; let me only add that, in the odd moments I do spend at my hireling desk, first all the coaches and char-a-bancs of Harrogate start from under my window for the outlying resorts, compelling me to shut it in spite of the heat, and when they are gone a popular Punch and Judy show gives a daily matinée on the green across the road. Five minutes ago a band was playing selections from the ‘Pirates of Penzance,’ and as I write a sentimental cornet is blurting out ‘Killarney’ with explosive feeling. Can you wonder that in these conditions I have done a long week’s work for the wastepaper basket? I hope the Vivid people know that my loss is greater than theirs; they can easily fill my place, but my vain effort is both time and money lost. Also I almost wish that these good folk downstairs knew what a load I have been carrying all these dreary days; then perhaps they might realise how a man may glower and glower, and yet not be quite such a villain as he looks.

“I never meant to let myself go like this, Bruce; it only shows that I really do want to write, if a congenial idea would but come in time. And that’s past praying for now, I fear; wasn’t it the day after to-morrow that we promised to deliver the MS? I suppose I have a note of that somewhere; but everything except the addled tale itself lies buried beneath the dust of my defeat. I never was more haunted and hunted by anything in all my literary life; the last few days I have been going about like a person in a bad dream, and doing the most absent-minded things. I always was given that way, but I thought I had plumbed my nadir the other morning when I threw my book into the clothes-basket and marched downstairs with my dirty pocket-handkerchief under my arm! Luckily for me, the first person I saw was an old friend who has just turned up at this hotel; she put me right, and I had my first sound laugh since I got here. It is a great thing to strike a friend in a place like this. I believe you once met a soldier man named Vereker, an old schoolfellow of mine, at my rooms in town? Well, this is his sister, and we were tremendous pals when I used to stay with him in the holidays a thousand years ago; now she’s here with their old father, a decrepit curmudgeon who chains her to his side, but tells me between ourselves that she’s engaged to be married. She doesn’t mention it herself, or wear a ring, or look the part in the least. I must take her on about it when I get a chance.

“By Jove! I saw her in the road this instant as I looked up from my hired desk. Good-bye, Bruce! I must dash out and post this at once. Remember that you’re about my only friend; don’t be hard on me for letting you in with the Vivid, and do make my peace with them if you can.
                                                                      “Yours ever,
                                                                                  “P. A.

“N.B.—I’d have a fresh shot if they could give me another week and I could only get an idea.”

II.

                                                     “Throne Hotel, Harrogate,
                                                                “September 7th, 1911.

“DEAR BRUCE,—I do believe I’ve got it! If so it’s a great deal more (or less) than I deserve for one of the rottenest things I ever did in all my days.

“I was just saying I was absent-minded—I mean in the letter I only finished a few minutes ago, though now you’ll get this with it—but I’ve lowered my own record since then. I should say I had even beaten the man who went up to dress for dinner at a country house, never came down, and was found fast asleep in bed with the light out. Did I tell you about him in my last? I know I was beginning to, but I believe I went off about Ruth Vereker instead; it was she who told me the story for my consolation the other morning. But she shall never hear the one I’m going to tell you now.

“I dashed down to post your letter—the other one—and I rather thought I should run across Miss Vereker on the way. She was coming along the road when I left my room; but I was fool enough to stop to light a cigarette in the hall, thinking of course that she was on the way in. She cannot have been on her way in, because she never came in, and when I went out I could see nothing of her—anywhere. It was very annoying, because it was a chance of getting her apart from the old man and having a gossip about prehistoric times. However, I had come down to post your letter, and I could have sworn I did post it, in the pillar-box on the edge of the green, just opposite. It was not until I got up here again that I found your letter still in my hand, but no cigarette between my lips! I could not have been more shocked and ashamed if I had caught myself with the letter actually between my teeth!

“Of course, I had posted the infernal lighted cigarette, and no doubt it will burn a hole in an envelope or so. I must be thankful that nobody seems to have seen me do it, for who would believe that one could play such a trick unintentionally? No great harm is likely to be done; it isn’t as though I had put in lighted matches; but don’t you see the possibilities of the thing? These pillar-boxes must get pretty hot in the sun; that one was, now I think of it; and suppose the things inside got like tinder, suppose some thin envelope—I know it sounds ridiculous, but I think I’ll just have a look out and see. . . .

“Bruce! Bruce! How I wish to goodness I could get you here by writing down your name! I shall never be able to tell you in a letter what I’ve been through since I last laid down my pen. Yet for the sake of practice, and in case you care to submit the idea to the Vivid (without giving me away), I mean to try.

“I got up and looked out; the pillarbox is only just over the way, almost absolutely underneath my window; and—smoke was coming out of the slot! It was only just beginning, but in a minute it was quite thick, and in less than half a minute it had been seen by the people down below. An old gentleman saw it first—I was just in time to see the old gentleman. He had come out to post a letter, and he was greeted by a puff of smoke from the pillar-box! He started back as though the thing had sworn at him; and, indeed, it had a grotesquely human look about it that even I could appreciate in my horror. We all know mouths like letter-boxes, but here was a letter-box exactly like a mouth opened wide to blow a satisfactory cloud. Later in the proceedings, when the smoke came fast and furious, lit by leaping flames, it reminded me of a negro I once saw swallowing lighted fusees at the Law Courts end of old Holywell Street.

“Meanwhile the old gentleman had shouted for help, police, the fire-brigade. and everything else that he could lay his tongue to except a can of water. In a few seconds he had succeeded in collecting a crowd as excited and as helpless as himself. The Punch and Judy show, in the act of starting a fresh performance, lost its entire audience, who, however, were accompanied to the scene by Toby and the actor-manager with the squeaker in his mouth. A motor stopped in passing, and the occupants roared with laughter, without getting out or doing a thing. No policeman appeared; no policeman have I ever seen (or recognised as such) in happy Harrogate. And there was I looking down upon the grotesque jumble from my upper window—I, the incredibly unwitting author of it all!

“What was I to do? What would you have done? I started to go down, not to confess my fault, only to hear what they were saying; but on the stairs it struck me that somebody might have seen me after all, that I might conceivably be recognised as the culprit and denounced coram populo. I was not going to run the risk of that. I turned tail and came slinking up again, and here I still am with all the sensations of a hunted criminal. It may be that I shall treat that perennial type with some freshness, the next time I come to handle him.

“In the single minute of my absence the affair had entered on a new phase; our sturdy little Yorkshire porter had made his appearance with the can of water which had seemed the one thing needful. Yet it is not so easy to pour water into a pillar-box; the slot slopes the wrong way, and the porter could only dash cans of water at the gaping mouth, and more ran down outside than in. Relays of cans were requisitioned before that pillar-box ceased to belch forth smoke and steam; and by that time it seemed to me that the fire had practically burnt itself out. At all events, when a postman arrived (I hear they telephoned at last to the post-office from this hotel) the correspondence extracted was a charred litter, so far as I could see from my rather excellent coign of vantage; some of it fluttered away in black flakes, and I hear that practically everything in the box was destroyed. I have just been down to lunch, and discussed the matter with many to whom I fear I had never even nodded before. But there is nothing like a little excitement for bringing people together; only I shuddered to think what they would have said or done had they dreamt that the entire conflagration was my handiwork. There was the keenest possible indignation against the author of the outrage, whoever he might be; I was obliged to join in it to some extent myself, or run the risk of incurring suspicion by my apathy. My old friend Squire Vereker was particularly scandalised and incensed; he thumped the floor with the stick on which he leans, and said he would give something to see the ruffian flogged within an inch of his life.

“ ‘That’s what we want in these days,’ said he: ‘the cat, and plenty of it, instead of which there’s hardly any. This modern craze of coddling criminals is all confounded nonsense. It breeds ’em, sir; they thrive and multiply on it. If I wasn’t on my last legs I’d like to have the flogging of this hound myself.’

“ ‘They’ve got to catch him first,’ I suggested, with an unpleasant attack of goose-skin under my clothes.

“ ‘So they have, sir, and I don’t suppose they’ll do it. They never seem to me to catch anybody nowadays. I only hope the rascal won’t fall in with Ruth; she’s gone off on a long walk by herself—went without her lunch, if you please, and left me to get mine by myself. She might as well be married and done with me.’

“The rascal asked in which direction she had gone, but that the old curmudgeon could not say; nor has it anything to do with the case, my dear Bruce, though I feel more than ever that she must be having a precious thin time of it with the exacting old gentleman. The point is, however, that here I have a jolly good idea of the very kind I was wanting all along. It would make at least a very much better story than the one I destroyed. That’s one reason why I’ve written it at such length for your benefit; you might get whole chunks typewritten (again, of course, without giving me away) and try them on the Vivid. It’s not what they asked for, and they needn’t have it if they don’t like; but, if they do, let me have all this back and I can work it up in no time. It’s simply a question of treatment now.

“What would you say? The more or less innocent criminal is always a fascinating fellow, though I can’t profess to handle him like Anstey in ‘The Black Poodle,’ or Wells in some of his short stories. Still, that sort of thing at due distance. Suppose I had gone down into the street, and suppose somebody had spotted me as the dastardly offender playing a gratuitously double part? Should I have taken to my heels, and if so in what direction? Far afield in the heroine’s passing motor-car, or back into the hotel, up in the lift, and so out upon the roof? The essentially innocent soul, in the grotesquely desperate situation; that’s what we want, of course with the right sort of heroine to help him out in the end. Ruth Vereker would be the very one for the job. I would consult her about it, only I don’t want her to know I was such an abject idiot, or to think that I wouldn’t have owned up if there had seemed any point in it. On the whole I think I’ll go and try to find those wonderful rocks my doctor keeps preaching about. I feel like a walk for once, and they might be a very good place for my man to fly to. She would follow him there. But now I think I’ve given you as much as you can master to-morrow morning if you’re going to look after any other fellow’s work as well as mine. I shall still let my first letter go on its own, but I’ll mark it (1), and this one (2), so that you may get hold of the right end of the stick first. And then I hope the wrong end won’t seem as wrong as it might have been.

“But this time I go to the General Post Office. And I shall only light up on my way to those rocks.
                                                                 “Yours,
                                                                      “Philip.”

III.

                                                “Throne Hotel, Harrogate,
                                                      “September 8th, 1911.

“DEAR OLD BRUCE,—What wondrous weather we are still having! I have shoved this delightful desk close up to the open window, to see a bit more of what’s going on, and really the life and spirit of this place are most exhilarating. The last char-a-banc has just departed for the day; if I had not better fish to fry I might have made one of its merry load. The Punch and Judy man is mustering his first audience; it would be too much to say that his squeak attracts me, but I do not resent it as I did. And I have just thrown half-a-crown to a harpist in a flat-brimmed bowler, a fiddler of more than faulty intonation, and a lady vocalist in a feather boa who has been singing me songs of Araby in a way that would indeed have charmed me to a tear this time yesterday. But all’s well with Harrogate and me this morning, and really the people in this hotel are as nice a crowd as one could wish to meet in a casual sort of way. You perceive, of course, that I have worked out my new idea to my own satisfaction? Well, I should say I have! I am wrong, however, for it has worked itself out in a fashion that would never have occurred to me in my most deliberately ingenious moments. Fact, my dear fellow, has once more demonstrated its superiority to fiction even of the ultra-Wells or imitation-Anstey type.

“In spite of all the thousands of words I fired at you yesterday, you must bear with another thousand if you want to know the astounding conclusion of the whole matter. But don’t you show this lot to the Vivid. It is for the private eye of the pal whom I value more than any agent.

“I posted both my other letters, as I told you I should, at the Post Office here while the afternoon of yesterday was still young; then I set off for those wretched rocks of which you have heard so much. You will hear no more of them; they have not seen me yet. I had won through the Valley Gardens, and the encampment of curists listening to the band in their tent-chairs, when on the asphalt slope between the Gardens and the Moor I met Miss Vereker face to face. I was naturally pleased, after the way I had just missed her in the morning; my only trouble was that she was so near home, and rather fidgety about her father, though I was able to assure her that he was all right. She said she must get back to give him his tea after his rest; but I told her I thought he had not retired so soon as usual after lunch, as there had been some little excitement in the hotel owing to a very small fire in the vicinity. I was afraid I was going to be pressed for particulars, but Ruth seemed somewhat full of her own affairs, though I could not help thinking that in a way she was glad to see me. I was naturally delighted to have fallen in with her; and yet she seemed surprised when I importuned her to turn back for the least little stroll on the Moor.

“ ‘But don’t you want to think about your story, Phil?’

“ ‘No, thank you! I’ve torn that story up. I want to forget about it. I’m going to do another one instead, if they’ll give me time.’

“ ‘But aren’t you almost too conscientious?’

“ ‘Not a bit. It’s mere policy not to supply an order with stuff that one knows is bad. Besides, it was making an old man of me, that story. You don’t know what it is to tinker and tinker away, and yet to feel at the back of your head that you’re doing no good all the time.’

“Ruth had given in, and we were walking now in the direction of the Moor; but we went so far without further speech, and something in her figure and carriage, her colouring and her hair, had spirited me back so many years that I had lost my own thread before she took it up.

“ ‘I’m glad it was only that,’ she said.

“ ‘What do you mean?’

“ ‘You didn’t seem the least bit glad to see us again. I thought you’d forgotten us at first.’

“ ‘Forgotten you!’ I cried. ‘That only shows what a beast that infernal story was making of me. My wretched work always does drive me to one extreme or the other; if it had been going well you’d have heard about nothing else, and found me the most awful bore.’

“ ‘I don’t think I should. I haven’t had so many opportunities of hearing you talk about your work. It’s about a hundred years since we met.’

“ ‘I shouldn’t have forgotten you if it were a thousand. Besides, I heard all about you from Dick last time he was home from India. Do you remember the first time I came to stay with him in the holidays?’

“ ‘I’ve got the verses you sent me afterwards about everything we’d done.’

“ ‘You haven’t! I remember having an awful row with Dick because I would always go about with you.’

“ ‘Do you remember the day we hid from him in the loft?’

“ ‘Rather! Poor old Dick! I didn’t quite play the game by him. But it all seems like yesterday.’

“And it really did, Bruce, for we had been the most tremendous pals in our early days, and for years afterwards, until her brother went to India; but since then we have hardly ever met until this time. Yet it all came back, here on the Moor; we called up memory against memory, and laugh for laugh, exactly as though it were a game; and all the years since the end of those days seemed to drop out of our lives, or mine at least, and give me back my youth. You may say I flatter and deceive myself; you may say what you like! I never felt a younger man than yesterday afternoon, and I never sat beside a younger woman than Ruth Vereker, with her wonderful colouring and her gold-brown hair, as crisp and bonny as the day she put it up.

“I must tell you that this so-called Moor is a sort of miniature heath, only planted with tiny clumps of trees as well; and we sat under one, on a seat thoughtfully provided by the local corporation, and as carefully covered with the names and initials of local louts. It wasn’t in the least secluded or romantic; a train runs close at hand, cars hoot nearer still, nurses and children with harsh Yorkshire accents lurk behind every bush if they are not actually sitting beside you. We had our seat to ourselves; so far we were fortunate; and a hideous reservoir, with a row of raw villas inverted in its glassy depths, might have been a magic blend of Venice and Vallombrosa as seen between a neighbouring dump of birches and a more distant ridge of pines.

“It was with a kind of thud that we came back to Harrogate and 1911.

“ ‘Why on earth did you get engaged, Ruth?’

“Was it that her colouring gained in brilliance, or merely that the afternoon sun swept the cheek nearer mine?

“ ‘Who told you I was engaged?’ she asked.

“ ‘Your father. Isn’t it true?’

“ ‘Only just.’

“ ‘Only just!’ I echoed. ‘It must be one thing or the other, Ruth?’

“ ‘Then it’s true enough, I suppose,’ she said. ‘I—I couldn’t keep him waiting any longer—and now I’ve done it!’

“She looked adorably unhappy about it all.

“ ‘When did you do it?’ I demanded.

“ ‘Only this morning,’ she sighed.

“ ‘What?’ I cried. ‘Is the fellow here in Harrogate?’

“She shook her head.

“ ‘Then where is he, and who is he, Ruth? Is he an old friend,’ I asked, jealously, ‘who can talk over old days as well as I can? If so, I may remember him,’ I had the wit to say hastily.

“ ‘He is an old friend,’ she answered, ‘but of course not in the sense that you are, Phil. We weren’t children together. He lives abroad, and I sent him his answer this morning.’

“I leapt to my legs.

“ ‘You posted it?’

“ ‘Yes.’

“ ‘About twelve o’clock—opposite the hotel?’

“ ‘Yes,’ she whispered. ‘It’s done!’

“ ‘It isn’t!’ I cried. ‘Your letter never went; it was destroyed, with everything else that was in that pillarbox at that time; didn’t I tell you there had been a fire? That was the one I meant, and—and it isn’t done Ruth—and it never shall be!’

“That, my dear Bruce, is the end of the story I began to tell you yesterday, little dreaming what the end was to be. This much I owe you, and have leave to tell you word for word. The rest is silence, until you come down and see her for yourself. But you will plainly see that I cannot give it to the Vivid after all—unless—but to-morrow is Saturday, and a fine train leaves St. Pancras at 11.30. Come!
                                                                       “PHIL.”

 

A Fallen Angel

Hearst’s Magazine Oct 1918

MR. ULLATHORNE, the tailor, lived in a hovel outside a township where coats and waistcoats were out of fashion, and moleskin the only wear, for the nether man. Yet he had not retired from business, but was in fact the smartest tailor in the Lachlan District of New South Wales. All the squatters and overseers within a long day’s ride, who had once given him a trial, came back and back to Ullathorne for their cord breeches and their parlor suits; and as he employed no other hands his own were always full. His regular patrons could not say enough about him. He provided an unfailing topic where two or three pairs of his trousers were gathered together; it was the subtle cut of those prosaic garments that so intrigued their wearers. Where had the old sinner acquired his art? In Savile Row, said Ivan Guise, who still rode with the long stirrup of a cavalry officer and shaved every morning of his life. Then by what sin had such a craftsman fallen into solitary exile in the back-blocks of beyond?

There was a certain substantive no wise man uttered at that stage of Australia’s advance; but some of its synonyms, such as “lag” and “old hand,” had been whispered on dark verandas at Mr. Ullathorne’s expense. It was a kindly whisper, pitched in the key of genuine respect for a fine recovery, and that only in the strictest confidence. Yet, if it were true that the tailor had ever played the part imputed to him, it seemed strange that he should elect to look it all his life. In common decency he might have grown the full beard of other bushmen, and hidden what he could of an incriminating countenance, bristly as a scrubbing-brush worn to the wood, and surmounted by an elliptical head of scarcely longer bristles. With a needle or two protruding from his toothless mouth he looked, indeed, for all the world like a crinkly pincushion studded with the tiny tools of his trade.

Whatever the truth might be about the tailor’s past, he had, as a fact, a secondary and more sinister avocation, of which the township at his elbow little suspected him, and his most imaginative client never dreamt. Mr. Ullathorne still acted as “bush telegraph” for the one bushranger known to be at large until the memorable escape of Stingaree made two. And it was to Ullathorne that Stingaree went, as straight as he could tramp without belying his sundowner’s disguise, for news of his old mate Howie.

“Howie’sh all right,” lisped Ullathorne, grinning with both his gums. “I mind the days when his beard was blacker, but it ain’t as gray as what it might be now. He was in here only a week ago.”

“What’s he doing, and where’s he doing it?”

“Rabbitin’,” said Ullathorne, in compassionate tones. “Keepin’ as straight as what I am, again’ the time you come out to make a fresh start at the old game. Never give you up, didn’t Howie. ‘I can’t make out ’ow they go on ’oldin’ of ’im,’ he says to me time an’ again. ‘They musht be makin’ it worth the old man’s while to be a good boy,’ says he, meanin’ you, I’ll trouble you! ‘But I back the bosh to diddle ’em one o’ these ere dark nights,’ he says. ‘We’ll ’ave the old firm at it in the old form yet!’ Them was his partin’ words last time ’e come ’ere. Keepin’ sober? As the judge that put ye in the jug! ‘Way back on Doxology, in a camp after yer own ’eart, with a couple of good ’orses in case of accident, but no mate because he’s expectin’ his old ’un to join ’im any day!”

Stingaree quaffed a pannikin of steaming tea without enthusiasm. He had pulled the narrative together with a short question here and there; he heard the conclusion without comment. He looked lean and haggard as he stretched himself on the tailor’s bunk, while that practitioner resumed his interrupted labors, seated cross-legged on his mat. Stingaree watched him through steel spectacles which were more than a part of his disguise. Ullathorne was letting out a pair of dark-blue trousers with a wide gold stripe down the leg.

“In the naval and military line again, I see,” the convict remarked sardonically. “It must be like old times! But who’s your soldier-man in the back country?”

“Captain Guise, they call him,” said Ullathorne, discharging his confidential office with an artist’s zest. “He’s since your time  the new cove here on Mazeppa—latest thing in squatters between the Murrumbidgee and the Barsoo. Goes ’ome for the ’untin’ after a good season and a deshent clip; but in a drought like what we’re ’avin’ now he sticks to ’is guns and ’as ’is pals out ’ere instead. Two year ago they ’ad a race week with play-actin’ of an evenin’. I was coshtumeer to the company an’ well paid for the job. This time they’re goin’ to ’ave all Riverina under canvas like an army in the field, and dance all night an’ every night, windin’ up with a fancy-dress devilment that’ll keep me out of the Benevolent Asylum if it does nothing else. I’ve turned away half my best gentlemen, and yet promised more than my prayers. Captain’s only goin’ in his old uniform—if I can make it meet.”

“I wish you could make me meet him,” said Stingaree. “He must be a good sort.”

“He’s all that,” said Ullathorne, with an upturned eye like the needle in his mouth. “But he knows no fear, let me tell you—fought the ringer of his shed last shearing—knocked him out in no time, and then offered to resign the board to any man Jack of ’em that could knock him out! I just thought I’d mention it,” added the tailor, in lieu of comment from Stingaree, “because I wouldn’t trust the Captain at the wrong end of even your fire-iron.”

Stingaree laughed harshly on the bunk. He was no longer a traveling armory of lethal weapons. He had made his way six hundred miles up-country without a firearm on his person, but he had not the heart to boast about it to the tailor. He had a fondness for the sly old dog, a strong liking for the odor of industry pervading him, a natural appreciation of his canine attachment to Howie and himself. Ullathorne had been no great gainer by their clandestine relations; on the other hand, he might have enriched himself years ago by betraying them to the police. Not only had his loyalty been beyond suspicion, but he could enter into the purely sporting spirit which so often actuated Stingaree. That was a height which Howie had never quite attained. Ullathorne could rub his hands over an exploit that left them empty as they had been before. Howie preferred hard plunder. There was little else to choose between them; neither had excelled the other in fidelity. Yet somehow Stingaree preferred the thought of Howie, patiently awaiting him in his rabbiting camp, though fretting for a fresh career of crime, to the sight of the tailor, bestowing equal patience on an equally lawful employment, yet gloating in advance over violent adventures in which he would have no hand.

It was early afternoon, and the hovel like an oven with no damper out in the shape of open door or window. Indoor eavesdropping was impossible, because the tailor lived alone; but often the township children wandered thus far afield to spy upon the hermit at his fascinating job; and it was not an occasion for taking risks. So it was that the tinkle of the township goats had long been the only sign of outer life, and the tick and whine of needle and thread the only sound within, when a jangling stroke on the veranda roof affected both men like an invisible chuck under the chin.

“Are you in, Mr. Ullathorne?” called a pleasant and not unmusical voice.

“Coming, miss!” cried the tailor, and under his breath to Stingaree: “That’s another on ’em from the station. The Captain’s missus has ’er sister out from home—and as nice a young piece as ever you see—but I can’t do no more’n what I am doing.”

So grumbling, he went through the travesty of a shop, opened a door and was instantly silhouetted against the outer incandescence. But under the tailor’s armpits Stingaree could see the wheels of a buggy drawn up close outside, and over one shoulder a bunch of coppery hair, and over the other the writhing whip which had summoned the tailor forth.

“But you must make time for this, Mr. Ullathorne!” the girl was urging as he ushered her in. “It won’t take half-an-hour to cut it out, and I can run it up myself if you can’t manage it. We simply can’t let Captain Guise wear his uniform in this heat—it would be cruelty to squatters—besides, this is such a lovely idea, and all my own!”

“Yes, Miss Dudley?” said Ullathorne, resignedly, as he followed her in.

“It’s only a white drill jacket, and riding breeches of the same stuff,” she wheedled irresistibly. “I shall have to make them myself, if you can’t; but the cut’s the thing, and you are so famous for that, Mr. Ullathorne!”

Stingaree was sitting upright on the bunk in the inner room; indeed, his stocking soles were planted on the door, and he was quietly groping for his boots.

“May I inquire the character you have in mind?” said Ullathorne. with an eagerness that struck even Stingaree.

“Certainly. It’s that bushranger who has just broken out of prison. Stingaree, I believe he used to call himself. I never heard of him before this morning, when they were all talking about his escape. But it was my idea, and you simply must help us to carry it out!’’

“Never heard tell of Stingaree!” the tailor was reiterating with considerable humor. Such was notoriety! He seemed to throw the question over his shoulder into the inner room.

“Didn’t even know there was such a word,” the girl rejoined with a certain hauteur. She had dark eyes and darker lashes with her coppery hair, and they made it look red-gold by contrast, and her sunburnt face a paler tint of the same. “What’s more,” she added, “I don’t know what it means, and don’t much care, so long as you can make the kit.”

“Stingaree? It’s a sort of miniature marine monster. And not a bad name for a land-shark, either!”

Ullathorne had started to one side, and Miss Dudley beheld a tallish bushman standing in the inner doorway. He was lean, dark, unshaven and disreputable; but from his voice he might have been a gentleman. As he spoke his hand went up to the weather-beaten wideawake that was pulled down about his ears; and though he as promptly checked the gesture, neither the underlying instinct nor its subdual was lost upon the quick-witted girl from Home. She had heard of roustabouts and boundary-riders with Latin tags on the tips of their blasphemous tongues; she had even been warned to take no notice when one slipped out; but this was the first specimen of the type to come her way.

Her friendly face was positively beaming as she asked whether Stingaree was really as bad as all that?

“Well, he’s a bushranger,” said the prince of them, with no princely courtesy, but all the confident familiarity of the part he had to play as well as look. “What more do you want?”

“But is he one?” rejoined Miss Dudley, disillusioned but still amused. “He was, I know, but it doesn’t follow that he is, or will be any more. I wish it did. I should like to meet him. Bushranger or no bushranger, he must be a tremendous sportsman!”

Stingaree felt the tailor looking at him, not nervously but with an expectant twinkle verging on the vulgar wink. That alone might have been enough for the most perverse of desperadoes; but a sunny set in heavenly hair was looking at him harder still. Even Stingaree was not bad enough to discuss himself with this admirer for the other’s benefit.

“Do you call it ‘sporting’.” he simply asked her, “to escape prison by garroting an old gentleman who has come to see you?”

“But nobody believes he did any such thing!”

“Oh!”

Stingaree had not started—he was too old a hand for that; but he had made his exclamation with appreciable surprise.

“Everybody,” declared the girl, thus encouraged, “knows that it was a put-up job between them, with Hilda Bouverie—the Australian Nightingale, you know—at the back of it. They say he went straight to Government House to see her, and she had a disguise all ready for him, and a passage taken in some sailing ship! I dare say you know better,” she added, as he grinned and nodded rudely to himself, “but, that’s what people are saying. We have it straight from Sydney, if you want to know.’’

“Poor Hilda!” said Stingaree. “So he’s on his way home at her expense, is he?”

“I only say what I hear,” replied Miss Dudley, turning to the tailor, and wishing she had thought twice before engaging in conversation with his uncouth friend. “Somebody broke into Government House on the night of Miss Bouverie’s concert, and she was staying there. That much is in the papers. You can pay your money, and think your thoughts! But I shouldn’t say ‘poor Hilda,’ even if I was a swagman who had never heard her sing! If it’s true that he got her known by sticking up a bush concert at which she wasn’t going to sing, and simply making her—”

“It’s quite true, miss, quite true,” interposed old Ullathorne, to whom these remarks had been muttered with youthful heat, while he was trying to get his say about her errand. “It happened at Yallarook—not so far from here. I wasn’t at the concert myself, but I know them that were, and it’s as true as I’m standing here. Now, about this Stingaree costume, Miss Dudley—”

“One of the leading musicians in England was there,” she took him up, confidentially, as though no third person had ever been present. “It was he who actually made Miss Bouverie’s fortune—but, of course, it was Stingaree who made him make it! So I don’t think we need blame her for anything else she may have done, do you, Mr. Ullathorne? Personally, I envy her the chance; it must have been the one of her life, so I hope it is true!”

She had the last word in a higher key for all her airs. Stingaree let her have it without even a change of face; but his nostrils were dilated as it was; and so vigorously was he cutting up a pipeful of black plug that his blood might have run any moment behind her back. Suddenly he looked up with arrested knife. Miss Dudley had been pleading with offensive sweetness for the Stingaree costume. Ullathorne was in the middle of a profuse apology.

“The fact is, miss,” he was saying. “I’ve supplied one Stingaree costume as it is.’’

“No, Mr. Ullathorne!”

“I have, miss. I wish I hadn’t. But it wouldn’t be fair to the gentleman to supply another, and I don’t ’ardly think the captain would like it either.”

“Of course he wouldn’t. But how annoying! Who on earth is it?”

“A gentleman who’s not unlike him.”

“Like Stingaree? But you never saw Stingaree, did you?”

The man behind her back closed his knife softly and pocketed his plug; the man before her eyes stood a conscious cubit taller in them, yet was splendid liar enough to take it off his stature without delay.

“Oh no, miss! It’s only what I’ve heard. Mr. Rivington is the gentleman, between ourselves.”

“Mr. Rivington!”

Ullathorne nodded. “The Rabbit Inspector at Dumcrieff.”

“I’ve met him,” Miss Dudley nodded back, but she had changed color first. “Well, then, it’s no use. I’m sorry; but there’s no more to be said. Good-morning, Mr. Ullathorne.”

Her friendly smile was still upon her lips when Stingaree came forward with one of his own—likewise none too easy to resist.

“Won’t you tell us what you are going as—miss?” he asked boldly, but without the studied insolence of which she had suspected him before.

She looked at him for about three seconds.

“ ‘Dinah Doe,’ if you ever heard of her,” said Dinah Dudley, with insolence enough for two.

A very few seconds later she was on the burning seat of the buggy. And in fewer still her face was burning too.

In the tailor’s hovel a rather nice voice was humming:

“Fairest of darky daughters was Dinah Doe—
Was Dina Doe.
Smile like the laughing waters of the O-hi-o—
The waters of the O-hi-o. . . .”

So her first reading of the forward fellow had been the correct one, after all: he did belong to the romantic type which, like the gentle dew, falls from heaven, and was said to land oftener than not in the Australian back-blocks. She had met with it in the flesh at last.

DINAH dawdled on the back veranda, whence all but she had fled betimes to the transmogrification of their respective persons. Not that she hoped to accentuate, by a late arrival, the shock prepared for all beholders of her weird disguise. Their critical dismay had entered agreeably into Dinah’s original calculations, but she was not thinking of it now. She was hardly thinking of herself at all. She was only thinking, as she had so often thought since she came out, that she might as well be back in England. Fancy-dress balls were to be had in London or in Leicestershire; what special object was there in dressing up and playing the fool in the Bush? The only object that Dinah could see was the utter destruction of all local character and color.

That was exactly what Ivan wanted. He might not know it, but in his heart of hearts that inveterate officer and gentleman wanted to bring English country-house life into the Bush—and ceteris paribus be hanged as in the anecdote! Now, Dinah, who had passed most of her life in English country-houses, and the rest in a town house which was shut up most of the year, had come out to Australia with other visions. And thanks to Ivan Guise, that best of brothers-in-law but most English of Englishmen, she was as bitterly disappointed as a person incapable of bitterness could be.

Normally the back veranda, and incidentally her room, overlooked a home paddock as unlike anything of the same name in England as the mallee scrub was unlike Burnham Beeches. It looked best and strangest on quiet moonlight nights, when the plain lay flat as a lake, a toy archipelago of tufts and bushes. At the present moment it was a little Aldershot of tents and tabernacles, the pride of a certain military eye, and the delight of the whole encampment of guests now busy obliterating everything about them that was raciest of the soil and likeliest to appeal to Dinah.

In addition there were two voluminous marquees, one provided with a floor on which the uninitiated could hardly stand, the other set out with one of those very suppers which had been spoiling Dinah’s dances ever since her presentation. It was quite true that all but the most perishable items had come upcountry in bullock-wagons, taking weeks about it, and forming a nightly laager in camps of real romance. But they had no more to show for their adventures than if they had been driven across London in a van. And the motley guests might have arrived by cab and carriage, and been cheered into the front veranda by the regulation cockney crowd.

Ivan Guise, to do him justice, was the heavy dragoon in uniform only. Still, he seemed to have put on the cavalry touch with his expanded regimentals, and was markedly chivalrous or markedly cavalier, as the case might be, toward all the ladies or with some of the younger men. His wife, as Queen Elizabeth, gave a new reading of the part by being simply sweet to everybody. His wife’s sister was not generally recognized until the breath had been taken away by her ebony countenance, and restored (with the power of quite plain speech) by her reddish hair.

“Surely to goodness it isn’t Miss Dudley?” was the salutation of a scandalous monk, with a crimson nose, and a rope round his ample paunch.

“Of course it is, father! I’m the golden-haired darky—only I’m afraid I’ve changed the gold into coppers!”

“Bedad, then, they’re fresh from the mint!” said the old Irish rogue.

An assiduous young overseer (thinly disguised as a boundary-rider, in Crimean shirt and moleskins) earnestly wished she had gone in mourning and left her face alone; for its aboriginal blackness was, of course, set off by the rainbow hues of her barbaric frock; but indigenous dowagers had most to say about her black-silk stockings, which glistened indelicately and did not hide their feet in slippers, though soles were sewn inside them. On the whole a creation of dubious audacity, and a beauty-killer at that; but the chance of a lifetime for decent teeth and eyes; and as for her hair, it startled even Dinah when she passed a mirror. She told one partner she felt like a black fire which had suddenly burnt up.

The partner was in whitest duck from his brown throat to his long black boots with wrinkled ankles and jingling spurs. He had realistic revolvers in his belt, a broad-brimmed cabbage-tree hat jammed down to his ears, and an eyeglass twinkling ineffectively through an old-world highwayman’s mask. That was Rimmell Rivington all over; he was bound to do something wrong, and to persist in it after he was told how wrong it was. This obstinate absurdity of the mask was entirely in character, but the character was his own, not that of the heroic rascal he presumed to represent. Stingaree had always been barefaced.

Rimmell Rivington, however, was a young man of parts, though some of the parts were as mutually contradictory as he himself was contradictious. He had been some years in the Bush, but they had not made a bushman of him; they had neither given him any confidence in himself; nor yet taken out of him a quiet, irritating, temperamental conceit. His sensibilities could suffer considerably without the least loss of his own good opinion of himself. He could be chaffed into silence, but he had never been chaffed out of anything yet.

The signal instance was his stubborn weakness for perfume. It was a valiant vanity, like the minor poet’s long hair, and with much the same psychology seething at its roots. Rimmell was not going to bear that name for nothing, though it was only his Bush godfathers who had given it him at his baptism with the offending fluid. The original bottle was a chance purchase from a Bush hawker; it was nevertheless the source of the permanent supply, and thus of Dinah Dudley’s mild interest in the strange young man.

Dinah, who hated scent off the hunting-field, but dearly loved a rebel, was prepared to treat Rivington as one up to a point. He looked nice, and was by way of being a gentleman; she liked his morbid independence, little as she saw of it with her own eyes. They met but seldom, and he was chiefly tongue-tied in her presence, albeit garrulous the minute he had her to himself. He had passionately assured her that he did not dance; but she had made him promise to come to the fancy-dress at any rate; and he had requited her by forestalling Ivan as Stingaree!

Dinah had looked for her Villikins (as she called poor Rivington to the Guises only) out of the brilliant whites of her excellent eyes; had seen his whiteness stiffened and aloof, like an unsafe Dolomite; had heard the reason, and promptly semaphored with prismatic fan. He had come and been rewarded with her card’s first freshness. He had gone, and left a scribbled “Stingaree” against more waltzes than she dreamt of giving him. He had come back, to claim the first without a word, and to take the floor (if not her unprotected toes) in the clumsy silence of his public form.

But in a minute all was forgiven him. He had made too little of his dancing; at any rate he had waltzed before. His step was new to Dinah. In point of fact, as she suspected, it was several seasons before her time. But there was something leisurely about it that she rather liked when she had got into it, which was well within one length of the burnished floor. No! It was something languorous, something actually verging on the voluptuous, something that gave Dinah a sudden shake of suppressed laughter. Rimmell Rivington, of all people! But he really did it very well and nicely; and a certain waltz of the period struck her as better to dance to than she had thought,

“Tired?” he said suddenly.

“No. Let’s go through with it.” said Dinah, with breathless brevity, as he was stopping in sensitive response to her pause. His steering was improving all the time. It was a perfect partnership, not to be dissolved a moment before its time. They went through with it, not unwatched, but Dinah never thought of that.

“Something to drink!” she panted without a word of thanks.

There was a buffet groaning with all the delicacies, and flowing with champagne cooled in the deep-delved station well.

Dinah, however, demanded the waters of the Ohio, and punished the local brand severely. Her partner did neither the one thing nor the other, first filling a champagne glass to overflowing, and then toying with it in a manner equally unworthy of himself and his prototype. In a motley jumble of doublet, hose, jerkin, kirtle, farthingale and stomacher, buskin and sandal, periwig and casque, the shy bandit sulked behind his mask until the fairest of darky daughters led him prisoner into the open air.

“So you put yourself down for two running!” She had glanced at her program under a string of Chinese lanterns. “Well! I don’t mind sitting the next one out.”

Her tone began by showing that she minded intensely, went on to imply that there was nothing she ever did mind in the very least, and ended as though he were a little boy who could not be expected to know how to behave, but should have a lesson on the spot: “Not here, if you don’t mind. I know where.” But now she might have been speaking to herself. She led the way without even looking round, leaving him to follow or to catch her up, as he felt emboldened or inclined.

These things could be done at Bush dances—even when the Bush was in Victorian England—but they were not often done as openly as by the experienced Dinah on this occasion. And that was precisely why nobody saw what she did, except the lagging partner of her guilty flight.

THE most expensive band in the Southern Hemisphere struck up the next waltz in due season. Two by two, the incongruous sweepings of history, fiction, and Christmas-number art were drawn back into the kaleidoscopic vortex. But the most conspicuous couple of the last dance were already out of sight and out of mind, in a little clearing in the pine-scrub on the other side of the station. And Dinah, neither black nor gaudy in the healing starlight, was seated on one low stump, while her partner, with his foot upon its fellow, surveyed her without the mask which had veiled, of course, the veritable Stingaree.

“May I ask when you first spotted me?” he was saying as the faint strings trembled in the distance. It was the off-hand manner of the swagman in the tailor’s hut; but the voice was the voice that had caught her fancy at the start, and again at the finish, of that interview.

“When we were dancing,” said Dinah, speaking quickly into starlit space. “I might have known Mr. Rivington couldn’t dance like that. But I was wondering what else it was that was so different about him. Then you asked me if I was tired, and I recognized your voice. There’s no disguising voices; that’s why it was so clever of you hardly to open your mouth till then. It was just the way Mr. Rivington would have behaved.”

“That was a fluke. I haven’t been studying him as closely as you might think.”

“ But you have seen him?”

“Just.”

“ And why isn’t he here?”

“Prevented from coming at the last moment. Can you wonder that I came instead?”

Suddenly he was seated on his pine-stump, and leaning eagerly toward Dinah on hers. They were within hand’s reach of each other, but she did not draw back an inch. “Miss Dudley,” he said quite unconstrainedly, “I’m going to be honest with you, odd as it may sound! I have been—more or less—as it is. It would have been easy when you first tackled me just now to own up to being the low cuss I pretended to be that day at Ullathorne’s, but to deny by all my gods that I was Stingaree. I preferred to be Stingaree—to you.”

I prefer it, too,” said Dinah, more emphatically than she intended.

“As a choice of evil-doers,” he suggested with spasmodic levity. “But about this fancy-dress of mine: it isn’t one, any more than it always was, and it really is my very own! It was made for me by Ullathorne years ago—if you don’t mind keeping his secret for him. He’s a good old fellow, and I know he won’t get into any trouble through you; but I made him make me all these absurd whited sepulchers of suits. He had this one ready when I came to grief, has had it on his hands all these years, and very naturally palmed it off on Rivington for new.

“It was the same thing—so were our measurements almost to an inch. Now you must see the temptation that came over me the other day when you had gone. You seemed rather bored with the Bush, but extraordinarily interested in Stingaree. How could I resist such a heavenly chance of giving you a taste of his real quality?”

“Is that what you are here for?” demanded Dinah, quickwittedly. “Are you going to stick us all up?”

“Good Lord, no!”

“Then why are you here?”

Stingaree hesitated.

“If I say it was to dance with you, will you forgive me for having done so under false colors? They weren’t really false; if you come to think of it—but perhaps that makes it so much worse! You may have come across some Bush verses about a poor devil who didn’t know what he wouldn’t ‘give to touch a lady’s hand again.’ That was my case, too, except that there was only one lady in it!”

DINAH felt insanely piqued, and even mortified. In the starry distance she again heard the fiddling and harping, the blare of the single cornet, the thumping of the piano, even the throb of feet, that this villain’s voice had drowned. They brought her back to the law-abiding world, and fixed a meet gulf between her and him. So deep was the gulf, so utterly abysmal, that it was not necessary for her to sit more upright on her pine-stump, as she nevertheless did. It was his last remark that stiffened her, in spite of all abysses.

“Is it true that she helped you to escape?”

“Who?”

“Miss Bouverie, of course!”

“No,” he said, shortly, when he understood. “She had nothing to do with it. But that was no fault of hers. I did go to hear her sing, and I did go to see her afterward. It was one of my very maddest deeds; but I defy any escaped convict to be quite normal, when every minute’s freedom may be his last! I went to Miss Bouverie because I had been lucky enough to help her once, as you know, and I knew she was plucky enough to help me. She was all that, and a good deal more besides. She offered me a handsome fortune in the shape of her jewels, and all the ready money she happened to have with her. I don’t mind telling you that I began by taking the lot. Then somehow the whole thing seemed worse, or meaner, than all my crimes put together. And I escaped from Government House as empty-handed as I had from jail.”

The distant band had stopped before him, so far from glib was his actual statement, so palpable the effort by which it was wrung out. Yet Dinah had not egged him on by further word or look, and a tear trembled in her only comment:

“Poor Miss Bouverie! I sha’n’t tell a single soul.”

“Thank you,” he said. “But why pity her?”

“She must be so awfully fond of you!”

Stingaree laughed queerly to himself— not cynically —rather with a sane relief.

“We parted the very best of friends,” he said. “But there were no illusions on either side.”

Dinah took him up: “But she wanted to give you a fresh start, didn’t she?”

“Yes. She did.”

“Then she must have thought something of you.”

“A million times more than I deserved, no doubt.”

“But not more than you will deserve!”

“I don’t follow that,” he laughed, looking on the ground between his boots. It was not strictly true. But she was leaning toward him across that bottomless abyss; he had to say something, and that was the thing he said.

“I mean, if you go straight after this,” said she, feeling red; for she had long forgotten that she was black.

“That’s rather a tall order for a man like me.”

“But not too tall!”

“Do you think that, really?” he asked her; but only after such a pause, so full of tiny chirpings in the pine-scrub, and of the Lancers in another world near by, that a flirt would have forgotten what she had been saying. But Dinah was not one just then. She could only nod violently in reply. “Then I’ll see what can be done,” he passed it off, getting up. “I will—really—it’s no use saying more!”

Yet she gave him her hand on that, and there were vows and pledges in his short, hard grip. Then she slid it through his arm—perhaps because he had never said it was the “lady’s hand” of his one sentimental sally—perhaps to give him confidence in her and in himself. Only on a more urgent matter was she quite clear in her own mind: she meant to have the very next waltz with him, and then to hunt him off the station for both their sakes.

MEANWHILE what tingling thrills, what really excruciating exultations! The first fairy lamp sparkling through the pines dried the last tear in Dinah’s eyes: it crystallized the carnival that she had dreaded as a bore! The pines themselves stood for the whole back-country which had struck her as deficient in romance! The big tent behind the lights, which might hitherto have been pitched in any English park, and peopled with county masqueraders, was after all a focus of romance where she had danced with a desperado disguised as himself!

Dinah was trotting on air beside him before she realized that he was making her trot, that something was happening in the tent, something that made her partner drop her arm and break into a run.

The band had stopped—its startled discord still jarred the night—and an outcry arisen instead. It was all curiously in order to her disordered mind, but upsetting to a heart so lately exercised. Dinah’s beat horribly as she followed as fast as her half-shod feet would carry her.

Stingaree was in the tent before she was near it. She heard him silence a drunken fellow—and breathed again. More sweet romance! The bellowing brute had attempted some outrageous enormity which a dozen voices were denouncing as wholesale robbery, now that her robber had gone to the rescue! How quietly he quelled the lot! Not another bellow reached Dinah trembling in her tracks; not a shot had been fired; and yet every soul was inside the tent, except Dinah herself, and the men who were having their own spree out of earshot at the men’s hut.

Dinah stood and listened to her partner saving the situation without catching one of his few sharp words of command. She was dying to get to the tent, but for whole minutes her muscles failed her.

Yet nothing more might have been happening—until at last she looked in and saw what was.

A bearded Caliban, with a shock of hair in his bloodshot eyes, was taking round the hat, as though he had just been giving some performance not in the program.

Just for a moment Dinah felt relieved—and a little disappointed. Then, first she observed that the brute was unsteady on his legs, and secondly that the guests, who were crowded together on or about the musicians dais, were sullenly dropping their jewels or other valuables into the upturned wideawake. Those at the back handed their offerings over the heads of those in front. The station servants were of the group. In the center, his uniformed arms grimly folded across his heaving breast, stood her disheveled brother-in-law, Ivan Guise: officious eyes were watching him on either side, nervous fingers ready to pinion him the instant he showed further fight.

Dinah had to change her position before she could see Stingaree, at the opposite end of the tent, covering the group with a couple of cocked revolvers.

Instinctively she shrank back into the night. She had not been seen; she was not going in! Back and back she crept to the veranda, clutching wildly for the nearest post. Her fingers found foliage; next moment she had taken cover in one of the leafy nooks prepared for cooling couples. She heard enough now. The collection was over. Stingaree was calmly warning the assembly that if a soul stirred for another hour, a soul would answer for it before their Maker! In itself the blasphemy did not revolt her as it might have done; it was the gravest of grave warnings as the bushranger pronounced it; and a sufficient explanation was forthcoming in the same tone.

He and his mate proposed to leave them at once to continue their merrymaking. But they would take a hostage with them to the boundary. If they were followed, if a shot was fired, if they heard or saw another creature abroad on horseback, the hostage would pay for it with his life.

IVAN GUISE was duly volunteering for the post—sarcastically offering his parole as an old soldier—when Dinah ceased to hear another sound from the tent. Something was stirring in the station yard which her position also commanded. It was not a highly illuminated area, but the veranda lamps and lanterns flooded it as if with full moonlight. In the middle of the yard gleamed the palisade of the station well, and near each of its four corners grew some shrub or sapling, enclosed in iron hurdles covered with canvas to protect them from the sun. On the far side of the farthest hurdles a figure was stooping mysteriously and not absolutely noiselessly at work. It was a slitting sound that had made Dinah look that way. In a minute emerged a figure with naked shins under a canvas kilt. It was Rimmell Rivington, who had been “prevented from coming at the last moment!” He appeared not unlikely to have the last laugh for all that. The indomitable rabbit Inspector was armed with a hideous club, evidently selected from the station wood-heap.

Dinah watched him stealthily advance with the liveliest satisfaction. Her only anxiety was lest he should fail to brain both the bushrangers, and perhaps get shot himself. But that wouldn’t matter if all the others took the chance they were going to get!

There were only two openings to the tent; they were both at this end, and opposite each other. Within the nearer one to Dinah, the opening for which Rivington was making with his club, the two robbers were even now standing with their backs turned! If only he would hurry up! He could not see them yet, and she could not shout to him! she tried to attract his attention, but the fool would not look. Yet stride by stride he was lessening the distance between him and his victims who so richly deserved their fate.

What a pity if they killed him! But that would be a noble end, and the gallows for one or both of the unutterable villains. Dinah knew which one she hoped it would be!

Nearer he stole—and they never heard him. Caliban was still swaying a little in his horrid moleskins: there was some excuse for a man who drank. Stingaree turned to speak to him, just showed his face; and Dinah looked for the smile that should be his last. But he was not smiling; what could be seen of his neck and jaw was bleached and haggard, and of his expression grave and grim as though he had eyes at the back of his head, and could see death creeping on him inch by inch, and did not care.

“Look out!” cried Dinah at the top of her ringing voice. Rivington faltered and failed to strike. His club fell with clatter as a hairy paw took him by the cuff of the neck, and sent him reeling into the docile group as Dinah ducked.

“Naked enemy!” bellowed Howie, under the impression that he was quoting Scripture. “If it wasn’t for the ladies—” and he spanked his own thigh with ferocious significance.

“Who’s that outside?” asked Stingaree over his shoulder, his revolvers leveled afresh.

“Looked to me like a yaller-haired ’in,” said Howie, doubtfully. “May ’ave been naked enemy’s liquor—naked an’ ashamed o’shelf, that’s what ’e ought to be! Talked about temp’rance tipple n’ filled me up with Odor Colong!”

Dinah slipped through the house to her room in the other veranda. She was not altogether sorry she had shouted one last thing she meant to shout; at any rate she was not sorry any more for the incorrigible Rivington, who had obviously added to his reputation, without spoiling it for the scornful. But that only made her sorrier for herself, and more than ever infuriated with the utterly unspeakable Stingaree.

HER ears buzzed with every word that had passed between them. Let them buzz! It was what she deserved; and they buzzed so loud that she could not recapture two consecutive sentences, so the things that mattered did not plague her yet, and one that didn’t did.

It was such a stale trick that had taken them all in! If there had been anything new about it they might have forgiven themselves and had a certain sneaking admiration for Stingaree. Talk about sneaks! Yet he had done it all before—the sticking-up, the tying-up, the dressing-up in his victim’s clothes. Yet again, in fairness, were they not his own clothes?

Fairness to a hypocrite, a liar, and a thief! His crimes she could forgive, but not those unpardonable sins. The whole story was an aggravated version of a dozen that she had heard about him in the last week. He had got out of prison worse than he went in. That was neither here nor there. But he had dared to pretend to her! . . .

“Who is it?”

“Ivan. Thank God I’ve found you; nobody knew—and your room was in darkness, Dinah!”

“I wish you’d come in if you want to talk to me. I’m quite as decent as I was before.”

It was quite another matter for an officer and a gentleman, like Ivan Guise, to be holding his handsome head as high as ever, in a uniform brought so very lately into somewhat acute contempt.

“I couldn’t help it,” he said, reading her. “Any bloodshed would have been on my head as host. But I want to explain things, Dinah. I want to make you as happy as I’ve just made everybody else.”

“Happy!”

He was looking happy—rather strenuously happy—but the startling strains of a waltz bore out his actual statement while she stared.

“I suppose you know it was all a practical joke?” continued Ivan, with full military assurance, uneasy only to the very keenest of civilian eyes. But Dinah possessed that pair.

“No. I know no such thing, Ivan. If you mean that it wasn’t Stingaree at all, I happen to know it was. I danced with the brute myself. I should like a swim in the sea!”

It was what he had meant. Ivan threw up that limp sponge now. Stingaree it was, but not Stingaree’s fault. He had never meant to stick up anybody, except Rivington, and him only for an enforced loan of his very own clothes. The rest had been pure Howie, inflamed by Rivington’s cunning ministrations; but when Stingaree discovered the state of the case, and especially that of his old mate, it was a choice between either pretending to back him up or else falling out with him with proverbial consequences as between thieves.

“Still, he is one,” said Dinah, doggedly.

“Was, my dear. We had it all out as we rode ahead to the boundary, and the truculent Howie kept behind to fight a sanguinary rearguard action if necessary.

“He — this sportsman Stingaree, I mean—gave me every jewel and every penny to give back to my guests with his apologies. And for you he gave me a message—what’s wrong, Di?”

“Nothing. Go on. No; don’t! I can guess. Come and dance with me instead, Ivan.”

She had never been quite so thankful for her black face; but her eyes sparkled in it like diamonds of the first water, as indeed just then they were. They were the jewels that Stingaree had sent back to Dinah!

“Now, mind you don’t tell a soul,” he whispered as they went. “Everybody else thinks it was a joke.”

“Oh, Ivan, you darling!”

“Unless it’s that stinker Rivington. Yet even he comes rather well out of it, if you come to think. Stingaree said so himself. By the way, he looked glum when I told him you weren’t going to stop out long.”

“Amn’t I!” whispered Dinah as they took the floor. “I believe I shall live and die out here—after this!”

 

The Flying Dustman

Hearst’s Magazine Dec 1918

JOHN MAYHEW dried the bridge of his sunburnt nose, replaced his pince-nez and cocked them obliquely at the noisy clock on the wall. It was five minutes to four in the afternoon; three hundred more of those sledge-hammer ticks, and he would be free to quit the frying-pan of a bank for the open fire of a Riverina township in a hot wind.

All day he had sweltered at the receipt of custom, which had fallen to zero as the thermometer towered; not a coin nor a grain of gold had crossed the counter; and it was for this, the Bank of New South Wales had opened a branch in the desert, for this that they had put in a man of ripe experience in temperate cities! The little new banking chamber was duly darkened against the outer incandescence; closed doors and windows excluded any breath of the devastating wind; yet the place was full of the stale smells of heated things, of raw woods and brass and iron. On the slope behind the ground-glass screen an unfinished letter was curling upward at the corners; and the penholder might have been warming in a fender when Mayhew took it up once more.

“The work itself is light enough,” he continued, writing in his dull bold hand. “I do not really require a clerk at all. What I venture to suggest is some elderly man of good character to act as watchman pure and simple. Such a person would be much less likely to desert me for the diggings in this disgraceful manner, and if he had a wife I could employ her as housekeeper and have my meals in the bank, which would suit me in many ways much better than the hotel. You will, I am sure, understand that it is not that I mind sleeping alone here in the least. I am not at all afraid of bushrangers for my own sake by night or day, and can promise one a warm reception if he comes here. On the other hand—”

His pen shied violently, its fluent track drying even as the swing-door shut with diminishing thuds. Mayhew was frowning over his ground-glass bastion at the upper half of a bushman who had entered on the stroke of four. The man wore the usual sugar-loaf wideawake, a scrubby beard, and no coat; a checked shirt was open at the neck, the sleeves rolled up over fine arms flayed by the sun; and a faint clink of spurs accompanied him to the counter. A glance had reassured Mayhew as to the character of the intruder; and yet the pen rolled off his desk as his hand flew to the revolver kept in readiness on the shelf beneath.

“What can I do for you?” he demanded in the raised voice of a startled man. “It’s closing time, you know!”

“I was wondering if I could do anything for you,” replied the other, with a bristly grin, but with the better intonation of the two. The bank-manager had brought a certain accent from his part of England, but the man without coat or collar spoke like a gentleman of the world.

“What do you mean?” said Mayhew, vaguely intimidated; at once glad and ashamed of the revolver like a live coal in his hidden hand.

“I hear you are short handed. It looks to me as if you were all alone in the bank?”

Mayhew cocked the revolver with tremulous resolution, yet without a sound to compete with the now terrible ticking of the clock. It was not his courage that was oozing out of him; but he was a highly-strung, self-conscious man, already almost more afraid of shooting than of being shot.

“That’s my business,” he mumbled through his teeth. ‘‘I must ask you to mind yours—outside!”

The other smiled as though he could see through the counter, over which he now leant, empty-handed if not unarmed.

“Your name is Mayhew, isn’t it?”

“At your service—in business hours.”

“Mayhews of Northborough, I believe?”

“Who told you? What do you know about them?”

“I come from those parts myself, Mr. Mayhew.”

“May I ask your name?” mumbled the manager, with instinctive diffidence.

“I’ll sign it,” said the rough dog in his smooth voice. “Just to show you that I can!”

He look one of the slips of paper provided for such a purpose, took a pen from the tray and dipped it in the ink; and while he inscribed his autograph, Mayhew replaced the bank revolver even more surreptitiously than he had seized and cocked it. Next moment his mouth was open, and the bristly one sardonically purred:

“Now tear it up into little pieces, and call me Martin, if you don’t mind. Most people did, in the old days. Never let the other pass your lips, to me or anybodyelse.”

“I never will, Mr. Martin!”

‘‘Not Mr. to you. Jack! Why, I remember seeing you at dances in the old days.”

Mayhew remembered seeing him, too—but only seeing him—at those dances! In a flash he was going again to a certain Bachelors’ Ball, in prickly trepidation and his first dress-suit; and there was this Martin with the County set, laughing and saying things about him to his brilliant partners. Young Mayhew had not heard the things, but all the bank clerk in him had been furiously aware that they were about himself, his dancing, and his walk in life. They had met besides on less unequal fields, in village cricket-matches and the like, but never for a moment on equal terms. Then came the local scandal in high life, involving this Martin’s disappearance from a countryside aflame with moral indignation. Mayhew, for one, had never heard of his existence from that day to this; and here he stood, the supercilious dandy of the past, a grizzled and dilapidated suppliant at the feet of the despised clerk!

“If you want any help,” he was actually saying, “it would be a help to me. And you won’t regret it, Mayhew, let me tell you!”

The suppliant, however, had been very brief. It was the superior being of the old days who said, “let me tell you,” and nearly everything that had gone before; it was the ancient superiority that Mayhew felt, for all his neat hot clothes, and all the other’s rags and bristles. Not did he resent or fight against the feeling. The case was indeed altered, but he forgot to feel proud of the alteration; proud he was, but as yet only of the fact that the Martin of old should have lived to ask a favor of him, and of being in a position to do him one. It was too wonderful, especially in view of the letter he had just been writing! Here was his “watchman” ready-made, even if he was not an “elderly man of good character.” Hurrying round the counter, through an inner room, Mayhew hastily closed the bank, conducted his visitor into a little bare sanctum, and found himself apologizing quite sincerely for deck-chairs and a wicker-table which had been sufficient for his simplicity until that moment.

“A watchman!” exclaimed Martin, when Mayhew had related the coincidence over their first pipe. “ ‘A bit of a coincidence,’ you call it? It’s a double one, my lad, for a watchman is the very thing I want to be!”’

His “lad” forgot that he was over forty and a bank-manager: their pipes blew clouds of glory shrouding but the Martin of their youth, until the new Martin leant through with his bristles and his sun-chapped neck.

“I want to watch Stingaree”—and he winked a rollicking eye. “That’s what I came to you about—between ourselves.”

“Stingaree!” the manager was startled into repeating. “But he isn’t here?”

“Between ourselves. Jack, I am not so sure, he can’t be very far off. This is the country he knows blindfold—the old original Stingaree country—and your bank has had the cheek to open a new branch in its very heart! Put that in your next pipe and smoke it slowly; you will see what your chances are of not getting a little visit sooner or later, from that whited sepulcher and his eye-glass, and his inevitable twin revolvers!”

“I wonder why he always makes himself so conspicuous,” murmured Mayhew simply.

“Because he’s a fool,” replied Martin with a snap. “He ought to dress like you or me—bushy or parlor man—but he probably does off active service. The trouble is to find out his mufti.”

“He was in uniform at Mazeppa Station, when he stuck up a whole fancy-dress ball. You may know about that? It hasn’t been in the papers,”

“I know about it. Were you there. Jack?”

“No. I had only just come. I have been to stay there since,” remarked Mayhew, with spurious indifference.

“Of course you have! And what does Mazeppa say to Stingaree now? Their yarn was that it was some joker masquerading as Stingaree who stuck them all up that night.”

Mayhew wagged a long head. “They don’t think so now, though one or two of them pretend they do. The idea is that a real bushranger would never have returned a whole heap of jewels, as Stingaree appears to have done that night. But what good are jewels in the bush? Besides, some say that Stingaree only went to the ball for fun, that it was Howie who did all the rest, and Stingaree who undid it as soon as he could with safety. But Captain Guise sticks to the version he gave his guests, and his sister-in-law, Miss Dudley, backs him up through thick and thin—but it seems she was rather sweet on the scoundrel.”

Martin’s eyes glittered through a salvo of puffs from his pipe.

“I wonder what she says to this!” he exclaimed, and took a newspaper cutting from the pouch on his belt. “Here’s the very latest quotation from the Stingaree market. It only came out yesterday—but perhaps you’ve seen it?”

Mayhew had not. He pored over the announcement through his glasses, while Martin looked on and smoked sardonically.

£1000 REWARD

For the apprehension of the bushranger known as “Stingaree” and £100 each for accomplices.

WHEREAS, the above-named convict, who effected his escape from Darlinghurst Gaol on the 27th December last, is still at large, and is further charged with the commission of divers other serious crimes on or about the above date: Notice is hereby given that a reward of £1000 will be paid by the Government for the apprehension of the said offender, or, if effected upon information received, then one-half the reward to the person giving such information, and the other moiety to the person or persons effecting the capture; and, further, that the Government will pay a reward of £100, to be similarly divided, for the apprehension of any accomplice of the said “Stingaree,” arrested in his company, or associated with him in the commission of crime.

The above reward to be in lieu of all other rewards payable by the Government under previous notice for the apprehension of this offender.

           COLONIAL SECRETARY’S OFFICE,
                                 Sydney, 3rd February’.

“Divers other serious crimes!” murmured Mayhew, handing back the cutting. “That must refer to the coach robbery up this very road—only much nearer to the diggings—the week before last, and the wagon before that, even if it doesn’t include the Mazeppa business. He was in uniform, as you say, both those times, but single-handed, according to the papers. I wonder what’s got Howie?”

“My troubles about Howie!” said Martin in his stockman’s idiom. “He’s only worth a hundred notes; it’s ‘the above-named offender’ I’m after, and my moiety of the cool thousand! And what about your moiety? Why shouldn’t we go whacks—just the two of us? You bet your life the divers other serious crimes will include one here sooner or later.”

“The sooner the better,” rejoined Mayhew, and explained the dark saying without reserve. The business of the branch was at a standstill. It was too far from those new diggings that had called it into being. There was nothing doing at the diggings either, by all accounts. The alluvial seam was worked out; diggers were shouldering their picks, saying their day was over; it was another case of quartz and syndicates, and syndicates wouldn’t bank at Dumcrieff. There were not twenty ounces of gold in the safe at that moment.

“That all?” said Martin, keenly. “But I suppose you have to keep a good deal of coin to meet a sudden influx?”

“And notes,” admitted Mayhew, nodding.

Martin laughed abruptly.

“I wonder what your bosses would say if they heard you confiding bank secrets to a lousy larrikin like me! I hope you don’t make a practice of it, Jack?”

“I don’t make a practice of meeting old friends from the old country,” returned Mayhew, with a certain warmth. “And my only friend in this township is as safe as the bank itself.”

“I’m glad you regard me as one,” said Martin, as gravely as though he meant it. “Who’s my rival?”

“Sylvester, the mounted policeman, just next door.”

It appeared that when the Bank of N. S. W. deposited its baby branch at one end of Dumcrieff, its influence had procured an infantile police-barracks to act as nurse in the next vacant lot. Both were one-man establishments; naturally the two men had made friends. Trooper Sylvester was a very smart young fellow, for whom the stolid Mayhew entertained the liveliest admiration and respect. There were no secrets between them. Martin, however, immediately said there must be one,

“If you tell him I as much as breathed the name of Stingaree, it’s good-by, Jack! I am not going in with the traps. I want my moiety unencumbered by them. One partner is enough for me”

“But he’s dead-keen on taking Stingaree himself!”

“That’s awkward for your friend Sylvester. I’m afraid you will have to choose between us.”

It was also awkward for John Mayhew, who maneuvered and temporized without fairly facing the two alternatives presented to him. His finesse took the final form of strong testimony to Sylvester’s courage and tenacity. He was always out after Stingaree, and out alone; several times he had been hotfoot on the outlaw’s tracks, been the first upon the scene of outrage, been within an ace of cutting off his retreat. But as yet he had not succeeded in forcing an encounter,

“I should like to be there when he does,” observed Martin, still all attention under a sardonic aspect.

“It will be a duel à l’outrance, if a poor devil may quote foreign scripture. Your friend seems to have made a highly intelligent study of his quarry,”

“He has that! He has some great theories about Stingaree and his goings-on; he is always trying to anticipate his exploits. His dream is to stick him up in the act of sticking up other people.”

“Brilliant.”

“So he follows the coach miles and miles at a respectful distance, on the chance of coming on the scene in the nick of time.”

“The coach from the diggings, I suppose?”

“I expect so.”

“Poor old Stingaree! He oughtn’t to last long between us.”

“Sylvester says he must have come out of prison a great deal worse than he went in.”

“They sometimes do. What does he think has happened to Howie?’’

“They may have fallen out over all that jewelry that Howie insisted on stealing and Stingaree on giving back. That’s Sylvester’s notion.”

“And not a bad one, either! We shall have to be up early to get to windward of this unnatural trooper of yours, Jack; they haven’t a great name for sharpness out here, but this man must be a living razor. Where does he place the new robbers’ cave, by the way?”

“He doesn’t think there is one; he believes Stingaree has reversed all his old methods, is going about some humdrum business most of his time, and only dressing his old part now and then for a Stingaree night out! He says he may be an overseer, a boundary-rider, or even a rabbiter, all day and most days; any billet would do, as long he’s his own boss, with a good horse or two and nobody to keep too close an eye on him.”

Martin sat silenced in his chair. He no longer disguised the impression made upon him. His eyes and even his mouth were open.

“And your friend Sylvester has really thought all this out for himself?”

“Absolutely, I haven’t helped him,” said honest John Mayhew. “I have only sat and listened, the same as you’ve been doing.”

“Well! He’s a remarkable man,” declared Martin. “That’s all I can say for him.”

The manager’s little sanctum had grown sensibly cooler as they talked. To be sure, it faced south (as do studios in the southern hemisphere), so that neither hot sun nor hotter wind could enter by that one open window. The two men sat close beside it, even the prim Mayhew in his shirt-sleeves now. Between them swirled the fumes of their two pipes, though neither was now alight. Martin struck a match that went out instantly in his hand.

“That doesn’t often happen to me,” he remarked, and suddenly he was leaning out of the window. Little puffs of sand were lifting off the sandy tract outside, as though unseen creatures were gamboling in the sun. “At last!” he cried, holding out a moistened finger. “The wind is changing—has changed, as I’m a living sinner! Now we shall have a southerly bu’ster, and if we were down on the coast we might die of pneumonia before we were cool inside; but in Riverina it generally means a dust-storm.”

“A dust-storm?” Mayhew echoed excitedly. “D’you think we’re in for one?”

“Probably; it won’t be your first, will it?”

“No—but I was forgetting! I told you Sylvester had some great theories about Stingaree, but I forgot to tell you the principal one. If he’s right—and you are right—it’ll be a Stingaree night to-night!”

“What are you givin’ us?” asked the bush man, forgetting to be anything else as he wheeled round from the window.

“Sylvester says that Stingaree only goes out now when there’s a dust-storm brewing. He remarked it after the Mazeppa affair, and it has certainly been the case every time since; there has always been a dust-storm within a few hours to wipe out his tracks. The Flying Dustman, Sylvester calls him!’’

“The devil he does!” muttered Martin, only partially amused; and then: “To—wipe—out—his—tracks!” he repeated, very soft and slow of speech. “And I never thought of that, old back-blocker as I am!” (But he was chuckling now as though he might have thought of it.) “I don’t quite see how it applies to Mazeppa, though? That fancy-dress caboodle was fixed irrespective of dust-storms, But there can be no doubt your pal Sylvester is a detective genius of the first water. I’m going to take a leaf out of his book.”

And he lit his pipe with febrile energy.

“You’re not going, Martin?”

“I am, this minute—to get to windward of Sylvester!”

“But you were going to do that here!”

“You have nothing in the bank; nobody will know that better than Stingaree, though you mustn’t ask me how. It’s a sixth sense with first-class, criminals. I’m going where money is—and flying dustmen ought to be!”

There was no detaining him another minute, no going back to the watchman plan on which Mayhew had been simple enough to fancy both their hearts were set. He saw his simplicity in a flash of burning self-consciousness. Yet he could not understand it. Martin had seemed so genuinely anxious to get into the bank in any capacity; of course he had really been nothing of the kind; then what had been his motive in hunting up a man he had scarcely deigned to nod to in bygone years? What on earth was the object of this sudden flattering intimacy?

For Mayhew was still flattered, though these unanswered and unanswerable questions plagued him far into the night.

He kept hearing Martin’s well-bred voice, thinking of him by the surname he might not utter, seeing him again “bedizened and be-damned” as in his supercilious yet tempestuous youth, The stockman’s moleskins, the cheeked shirt without a collar, escaped his mind’s eye almost altogether; it was the man this fellow Martin had been, not the man he had become, who haunted and still flattered Mayhew, in solitude even more than during their actual interview. He wanted especially to go and tell the omniscient Sylvester all about him; but his undertaking forbade the thought; he had repeated it the last thing, as Martin leant from his saddle with outstretched hand, “Not a word to Sylvester!” was actually his last injunction; and Mayhew had promised, “Not a word!”

Last of all he had been struck by Martin’s horse; it was a thoroughbred like himself—only the horse looked it.

Sylvester, on the whole, to the bank-manager’s relief, was not that night at the inn where they both took their meals. Only after that, did Mayhew permit himself to call at the police barracks; and it was as he thought, Sylvester had saddled his horse and ridden off at the first threatening of the dust-storm, which by that time was such that there was no seeing the barracks from the bank.

Mayhew made his nightly round of the premises, lamp in one hand, bank revolver in the other, as a mere matter of routine. The bank clock ticked redoubtably the whole time. But all was in order except the dust, which had penetrated even more subtly than the fiery heat of the wind by day, and veneered every surface with a layer like coarse red pepper.

Mayhew had to blow it out of his pipe before he filled it, off every page of the book from which his mind wandered, and from the pillow under his cheek the last thing before he went to sleep. In the night he heard it against his closed window in tiny, tinkling gusts; later, came driving rain; and, at dawn, the drum beat of nervous and unnerving knuckles.

Mayhew sprang up and admitted Sylvester, his smart, strong face smeared with a brew of dust and rain, but dry dust on his eyelids and in his hair.

“Done again!” he ejaculated, and dropped into a chair with the abandon of utter defeat. “Coach to the diggings this time, as though he knew there was nothing coming down. But he knows everything, curse him! All mail-bags emptied out on the road; Only registered letters and a few papers taken, just like old times.”

“Yet you say he isn’t hiding in the old way?” Mayhew had to say something. He was back in bed, pretending to be cold. It was not all pretense.

‘“I don’t say anything any more,” said Sylvester, dejectedly. “I’m a fool to that, joker! Yet I was as near him again as I am to you; it must have been him that galloped past me in the thick of things. I could only hear his horse’s hoofs and his own jeering laugh, but it was the Flying Dustman, or I’m one myself.”

“Was he in uniform, as you call it?”

“Whited? How could I see? But it was as though somebody had told him I knew his dust-dodge, and he was telling me he knew I knew, and that it made it all the better joke!” Sylvester jumped up in anger, and something more. “But it’s beyond a joke this time, Mayhew,” he went on. “The wretch shot one of the passengers on the coach—shot him dead—and the others won’t have it that it was Stingaree at all! That’s what you come to in a country where the King of the Road can do no wrong!”

Mayhew was lying with teeth clenched, lest they should chatter and betray him then and there.

“They will have it he’s got clear away to England,” continued Sylvester, with a snort, “Of course, it’s always said that he belongs to one of the great old families at home; but I never believed it myself. Anyhow, he’s a bloody murderer, and he shall swing in Darlinghurst yet!”

Mayhew looked guilty of a hundred murders when he appeared at breakfast in the inn; it might almost have been the morning of his execution. Luckily Sylvester was not there to see his twitching mouth and shifty eye; the weary trooper failed to appear at all; but the news was there without him, the none-too-reputable shanty was doing early business on the strength of it; and even the model bank-manager consented to a medicinal dash of brandy in his tea.

“Isn’t there any portrait of Stingaree in existence?” he asked the landlord. “It ought to be posted up in every veranda throughout the colony; then there could be no question whether you were stuck up by Stingaree or whether you weren’t.”

“A portrait?” said the landlord, spitting into the trackless dust, “I’ve got one myself.”

And he unearthed a crude cut out of an old “Australian Sketcher.” Mayhew took it into the better light outside, and stood with his back turned until he could command his countenance. That of the desperado, as evolved from an indifferent draughtsman’s inner consciousness in former days, was of little value for purposes of identification. It was not very like the middle-aged man whom Mayhew had now most poignantly in mind; but it was not at all unlike the elegant young rake that man had been. And there was one feature that indirectly fulfilled and confirmed the manager’s worst forebodings; the notorious monocle reminded him with a stab that young Martin also had worn one in those distant days.

A SKY of purer blue looked down upon the spatter of white roofs that marked the township of Dumcrieff on one of the sandiest little deserts on the habitable globe. In a good season—to hear the township talk—the sand might have been a sea of breast-high grass, in which horses swam, and fat sheep wallowed out of their depth in the finest feed the earth could offer. But Mayhew took the district as he found it, a very hearth of Hades, and the legend of less lean years left him as cold as he could ever hope to be again above ground.

Outside the white-lidded oven of a bank a telegraph-pole made a midday meal of its own shadow, and strung a cool black tight-rope across a burning chasm in the afternoon. As the tall lean poles were the only upstanding timber within sight, and they grew a hundred yards apart, dwindling into two infinities of sand and sky, the manager was almost as fortunate as he sardonically pretended in having one at his very door.

In time the banking chamber and inner rooms got swept out, and were kept meticulously dusted as before, under the old bachelor’s eye, by a Dumcrieff dame who let him fuss and nag, but did her talking in the township, His dream of a married watchman was not only abandoned but forgotten. He had never posted his unfinished letter on that subject. In the foolish watches of the night he would still indulge unbalanced and discreditable hopes of the watchman and companion on whom for a halcyon hour he had set his heart. Bad as he had been, infinitely worse though he had since become, the villain had fascinated the virtuous bank-manager, and both his fascination and his flattery remained potent in spite of all. It so happened that Mayhew was now too busy to think of him much by day; but in the wakeful weakness of a stifling dawn he was always visualizing his next visit from—Stingaree, and sub-consciously rehearsing the part he meant to play on that occasion.

‘‘And I don’t care what he’s done!” he at times found it necessary to assure himself aloud.

Meanwhile there were no more bush-ranging crimes in Riverina or anywhere else, Sylvester said it was because there were no more dust storms.

Then a hottish wind ended in a bit of a blow with hardly any dust, and not enough rain to be worth emptying out of a gauge; but Sylvester was not at table in the inn that evening, and Mayhew returned to the bank with an almost exhilarating sense of things impending.

The wind had not gone down, and the light rain drummed in volleys on the umbrella which Mayhew quite enjoyed carrying once more. The night was dark, and the managers thoughts all afield as he mounted the veranda feeling for his key. His umbrella scraped the telegraph-post, but he neither saw nor heard the figure waiting behind it, until his key was in the lock and a disguised voice murmuring confidentially in his ear:

“Not a word if you wish to live!”

Mayhew felt the cold ring of a barrel against his temple. Even in the darkness the tail of his eye caught a cuff as white as snow.

He opened the door, went in first, and faced about as the robber shut it noiselessly behind them. An enormous revulsion was at work within him.

“There’s no reason to disguise your voice,” he said, stiffly. “I know you perfectly. I have been expecting you for a long time. Only somehow I didn’t picture you in—livery!

And he followed the unstudied sneer with a long intake of breath through the teeth.

“Show me the safe and keep your mouth shut,” whispered the bushranger. “Strike a light and lead the way.”

“I shall not shut my mouth,” replied Mayhew, as quietly on his side, though with a tremor that was not of fear. “Everything else you tell me I will do; and there’s no need for you to get between me and my desk—Martin!—for if I had the revolver in my hand, and my finger on the trigger, I wouldn’t pull it for all the money here in the safe.”

With that he unlocked the safe and displayed the contents, striking match after match, not coolly perhaps, but with an eagerness that surprised himself; as for the bushranger, he stood as still as though the surprise was chiefly (and not unnaturally) on his side.

“There,” said Mayhew, as the last match burnt his fingers and the spark went out on the floor. “That’s the lot; take it or leave it, as you like. The retorted gold is entered as 127 ounces, and I think there are five ounces of alluvial. I can’t remember the exact amount in notes; five or six hundred pounds. I should say roughly, and there must be nearly another hundred in sovereigns and siver. It’s all yours if you insist on taking it. But—but for God’s sake listen to me first—Martin!”

The robber cleared his throat, as it seemed with a certain relief.

“What the hell do you mean by calling me Martin?” he hoarsely inquired. “My name’s Stingaree—damn you!”

“I know that,” said Mayhew sadly. “I know that only too well, but you gave me leave to call you by your proper Christian name before I knew or dreamt it! Martin—Martin—for God’s sake come through into my room, and let us light a lamp and talk all this out before it’s too late. I’ve got some whisky for you this time—never been without since you were here before. The stuff won’t run away, if you are bent on taking it. But are you, Martin? Is it worth it? What good is money when every hand in the colony is against you? That’s about what it comes to; anyhow, every hand but mine! I’m different. I don’t only think of Stingaree—I remember the man he was—the family he belonged to—everything!” cried Mayhew, with hasty emphasis. “I don’t care what you’ve done,” he went on, much as he had always meant to go on if he had the chance; “but I do care what they may do to you! I want to stop them—but it can only be done by stopping you. . . . Marlin, put back that thousand in the safe, and I’ll hide you, harbor you, anything you like! I’d rather borrow some of it to get you away quietly than let you go with a hue-and-cry at your heels. Why go at all? We could alter you—you can alter your voice, better than any man I ever met—and I could have you here in the background without a soul suspecting. You’d pretend to be the bank servant, but I should really be more like yours; and then in time we might clear out together, right out of this whole cursed country, and work our way home in some sailing-ship and live more or less happily ever afterward! I don’t mean live together,” added Mayhew, with another of his self-conscious qualms; “it would be enough for me to see you back safely into the great old home, and not a soul there the wiser for anything you ever did out here!”

He finished out of breath, palpitating, but on the whole by no means displeased with his long-premeditated outpouring, and in the little inner sanctum to which they had drifted by degrees between the impassioned periods, in pauses filled by the indignant clock. The bushranger had not interrupted; but he had swept his plunder into some leather or canvas receptacle, and brought it with him regardless of Mayhew’s entreaties on that point. Otherwise he had listened with an attention almost profound, and Mayhew had now the sensation that their eyes were feeling for each other as they stood together in the dark. But when he would have lit the lamp, the other instantly blew out the match, and demanded whisky.

Deeply wounded, Mayhew found the bottle and a glass, poured out a stiff measure with clumsy clinkings, and heard the raw spirit swallowed at a gulp. Not a syllable accompanied or concluded the libation, but with another inarticulate ejaculation, between a chuckle and a snort, the ingrate had swung his booty over his shoulder, and was stumbling under it toward the window.

“Open it,” he ordered; and Mayhew obeyed promptly in his disgust. Good-by to Stingaree and to his own disgraceful dream! Already he perceived, with a truly introspective mind, that he was getting only what he richly deserved.

But it was not good-by just yet. As the sash flew up a figure started from the ground outside, lighted like a Rembrandt by a lantern held high and wide, and with the steadiest of steel barrels covering the white coat within. A vile explosion followed instantaneously, as the bushranger fired first—missed—and was struck down by a frightful blow from the bottle still in Mayhew’s hand.

“Thanks!” said a cheery voice, when the bank clock had given three terrible ticks; and as the smoke lifted Mayhew saw, with a gasp, more like a sob of relief ineffable, that he had not been mistaken in the man outside. It was he in whose power the manager had fancied himself until that minute!

“And I—I mistook him for you!” he heard himself confessing without a glance at his hideous handiwork. “I—actually —was fool enough to think—you were Stingaree!”

The man whom he knew of old as Martin smiled grimly behind his lantern.

“You thought right. Stingaree I am—or was! But I never was the Flying Dustman. I fancy he has flown his last,” he added, holding the lantern through the window, over the white suit flung prone in a widening pool as of reddish ink. “I have done no great harm since I got out,” continued Stingaree, as though he were half-ashamed of it. “This genius has been personating me. I say, Jack! I wonder what they’ll do about that moiety! Anyhow it’s yours; alone you did it, if you don’t mind; don’t drag me in!”

Mayhew dropped the jagged neck of the lethal bottle, and extended his hand through the window. He was thinking tumultuously of great things to add to his hand-grip—of the very pearls cast before the carcass at his feet—but he had not succeeded in getting any out when a loud pounding on the front of the bank parted them. Mayhew shut the window quietly, and even snecked it. The last he saw of Stingaree was as the lantern darkened, and he trod in turning on a lifeless limb of the Flying Dustman. . . . He knew little more until the crowd he let in got him back to his senses in the front veranda.

“You haven’t killed him,” said one of them. “He’ll live to swing. But do you know who he is—your Flying Dustman?”

“No. I never thought.”

“The beauty next door to you! The dandy trap—Sylvester himself!”

 

A Model Marauder

Hearst’s Magazine March 1919

DAUBENEY was one of those amiable young men of talent who seem so much more when suddenly encountered at the ends of the earth. Meeting him on a station in the company of other “parlor men,” their type in all but manner, intonation, and the cut of his well-worn garments, you were impressed to hear that he drew occasionally for the “Graphic,” were fascinated with his sketch-book full of buck-jumpers and traveling sheep, and astounded by his deft manipulation of anything in the nature of a lump of modeling clay. It was, in point of fact, as a sculptor that Daubeney had failed to pay expenses in the old country, eventually emigrating in disgust and even more in debt; but it was his comparatively untutored pencil that made him a welcome guest at Riverina homesteads, for as many days or weeks as he cared to stay, sketching the family and their surroundings.

His real gift was first appreciated at the station called Billabong after the creek that ran through the home paddock—when it ran at all. It was a mere mud bed on the occasion of Daubeney’s visitation, and out of the mud he compounded a substance that awoke all the dormant cunning of his idle hand. His bust of the squatter’s lady was perhaps better than anything he had ever done in Rome or London. The good people were so delighted that they sent a mounted messenger forty miles to wire for plaster of Paris, and made Daubeney a temporary member of the family pending its arrival by rail, coach, and buggy.

One afternoon, when he rode in from some voluntary odd-job on the run, there were two fine saddle-horses outside the veranda, but absolutely no other sign of life about the station. Daubeney put it down to the heat, and was not surprised until a creature with a beard like an Assyrian king’s came out as though the place belonged to him.

“Looking for the family?” he said, pointing across the lobby to the open door leading into the station store, but keeping one hand behind his back. “They’re all in there.”

They were, every one of them, and they were not a small family either. Daubeney thought at first that they were having some sort of an impromptu entertainment. His host and hostess were planted like royalty in the middle of the front row, with copious princes and princesses of the blood in somewhat undignified proximity. Two colored ladies of the bedchamber, a Pekinese chef and the usual bodyguard of young gentlemen in waiting, were also seated, and standing-room had been made for most of the retinue whom Daubeney had missed outside. He went in and opened his eyes at a transparent farce without words. The storekeeper was stacking tinned foodstuffs on his counter, and everybody was watching him as though it were a conjuring trick. Then Daubeney saw who was watching everybody—including every inch of Daubeney himself—down a brace of barrels and through a single eye-glass!

It was his first sight of Stingaree, then near the end of his original tether. He was perched on a tub in his long boots and spurs, his tight tan breeches and his white drill jacket. His head was uncovered on the lady’s account—a head that made Daubeney long to model it at sight—neither small nor massive, yet full of the compressed force that shot through his eye-glass and jutted out in his crag of a chin. The curve of the nostrils, and the deep flourish under each, smacked already of the sculptors chisel, augmented as they were by the slight one-sided contortion required to keep the eye-glass in position; and there was an artistic value even in that, besides an agreeably sinister effect; for it eliminated the obvious in smile or frown, it was so hard to tell exactly which was which, or when the one ended and the other began. On the whole a sun-swept rock of a head and face, with hair like lichen, delightful to model, and only the heavy mustache of the period to be deplored.

The jerk of a barrel motioned Daubeney to a back seat, and he promptly started on a surreptitious sketch of the then-satisfying desperado. All the lost artist in him had come back jubilant; he took no heed of what was happening; all he wanted was to get the specifications of that head and face down somehow. He cared not if he were detected nor knew it when he was. His man was looking just right at last, glaring ambiguously through his glass, and Daubeney just getting him to the life when he was sternly ordered to stand up.

“One moment!” the mad young man cried. “Don’t move a muscle!”

Thereupon some of the others snatched his sketch-book from him, and curried further favor by handing it up to Stingaree. He made them hold it open under his guns, and his eye-glass dangled on its cord.

“Come you here,” said he, putting it back in his face without taking a finger off the triggers. “You can hit a nail on the head, or a head on the nail if you like it better. What are you doing in this gallery? Isn't the Grosvenor more your mark?”

Daubeney was looking down both barrels by this time, but he was not going to give himself away before that crowd, and Stingaree understood.

“Take a front seat and finish it,” he said. “Sentence is deferred till I see what you really make of me.”

No draughtsman from his own point of view, Daubeney had nevertheless succeeded in hitting off Stingaree in his habit as he played the deuce, and the whole performance was after that miscreant’s heart.

When he had collected all the stores he wanted, and the Assyrian Howie had loaded up their pack-horse, they made the artist mount and ride with them to the boundary as hostage. That was a Stingaree touch of grim significance to all his victims. If a single soul showed himself before the bushrangers were out of sight, it was supposed and understood to be short shrift for the hostage. But Daubeney was not saying his prayers. He had heard all about the bushranger’s notorious weakness for new chums, and he was soon more flattered than astonished to find himself regarded as a companion case to Hilda Bouverie. The comparison occurred in a little speech made by Stingaree at the boundary, after extracting from Daubeney a short outline of his unsatisfactory career; and it was followed by advice so sound that his criminal reputation might suffer from a full report. Without exactly holding himself up as an awful example, he had so much to say about buried talents, lost chances, and wasted lives, that the young man might have sworn off the bush before they parted company if his would-be benefactor had not spoilt it all by offering him his passage home!

“No, thank you,” Daubeney was fool enough to say in fun; “I’d rather go the whole hog with you fellows than be a receiver of stolen passage-money!”

It was one of those bêtises that owe their utterance to sheer awkwardness and the nervous desire to raise a laugh. The last thing the easy-going Daubeney intended was to offend a daredevil who still had him in his power; and he quailed under a sudden devastating volley of abuse, a very rain of bolts from the beneficent blue. He was thankful to be let off with his life, especially when the ruthless Howie rode back and wanted to shoot him without so much as asking what it was all about. But he never apologized, for he had simply said what was true in jest, and the want of tact was not all on one side.

LATE that night and the whole of the next day Daubeney worked from memory and his sketches on a head of Stingaree. He meant it to be the best thing he had ever looked like doing—and it was certainly all that. The face was one of those flukes that beginners make by rushing in where ripe experience hesitates to tread. He tackled it all awry and glaring through its eye-glass, working from his own face in a mirror, with his watch-glass screwed into one eye. The others thought it lifelike, but too fierce for Stingaree. They had not seen Stingaree look like that; the young man had. When it was done he was in the old quandary for plaster to cast it in, the supply ordered not being due for days, and his makeshift clay good for about twenty-four hours in that heat, as the good lady’s bust had unfortunately shown. The others thought he should be able to do both jobs all over again when the stuff came; but Daubeney knew he had pulled off something he couldn’t do twice to save his life. The station tutor had a dry-plate camera,  and photographed the effort from every angle, before decomposition should set in; but still the sculptor was a miserable man, whipping his wits for some preservative. Then somebody thought of Solly Sonnenschein’s Traveling Show, reported on the road within fifty miles; and on learning that it included a tentful of the worst waxworks in the world, the inspired Daubeney started off at a gallop with the tutor’s negative.

His one idea was to raise wax for the molds, though it did occur to him that he might bribe the showman by promising him a free bust over and above his price. It was Solly Sonnenschein who insisted on wax for wax. He said a full-length bust was the only kind that was any good to him. He said the negatives might be black fellows for all he knew, but at a first glimpse of the pencil sketch his eyes stuck out of his head like hatpins. He then said that if Daubeney could do him a life-size model like that, booted and spurred, with white jacket and revolvers complete, and the historic tub thrown in, he should have all the wax he wanted, and peradventure a pair of glass eyes and a wig as well. It was that or nothing, take it or leave it, and Daubeney took it rather than let his prize head fall to pieces in the heat. Two cancerous models were duly selected for the honor of being melted down into Stingaree; and Daubeney rode off with Bloody Mary at his saddle-bow, and black care in the shape of Oliver Cromwell behind the horseman.

Cellini himself would have enjoyed the sequel; the cumulative difficulties encountered at the station, but gradually surmounted by aid of the Pekinese cook, the station carpenter, and the tutor who took photographs. The sovereign lady supplied the mold, mixed with alum to make her harder than she was on earth. They cut his hair before they scalped him, and the carpenter gouged his eyes out in a style that set the Chinaman’s rolling in his head. Neither pair quite suited Stingaree, but as one of his was screwed up and the other glazed, it was of no consequence. Oliver’s legs also were some sizes too long, but underwent a delicate operation without undue loss of sawdust. Mr. Ullathorne, the tailor, came and stayed a week to fit him like a glove in white and tan, of an unsuspected authenticity, and the plaster of Paris turned up in time for the hands. Now the hands, as Daubeney informed all and sundry, are notoriously the weak point at Madame Tussaud’s and even at the Musée Grevin; accordingly he took casts of the squatter’s hands, with revolvers in them; reinforced the wax with fence-wire while it was hot; and was prouder of nothing than of that device and its undoubted success. He said that it was not for him to praise the face of the finished model, but he would put his money on those hands for the very best pair in wax.

Sonnenschein, however, was over the Queensland border and far away before his figure was ready for him. Daubeney had no means of following with the unwieldy masterpiece, and no alternative but to entrust it to the teams, packed in a crate with the original tub for a pedestal—costume, eye-glass, and presented small-arms all complete. Not that he now cared so very much what happened to it; the artistic vulgarity of the thing had spoilt it for him as soon as the fun of doing it was over, and he could see only the faults in a really clever bit of modeling. He took it very little to heart when Solly Sonnenschein wrote pointing out that he was one wax figure to the bad, offering an even smaller sum than their bargain, and coolly requesting Daubeney to wait for that. Thereupon the young man, scenting a debt as bad as any he had left behind him in London, wrote this one off and thought very little more about the matter. He was reminded of it, to be sure, when Stingaree was at last laid by the heels, and again at the time of his subsequent escape, but never really forcibly until Sonnenschein and Show came his way of their own innocent accord.

The poor artist had not gone to the devil by this time, as might easily be inferred. He had abandoned Art and risen considerably in the Colonial scale. He was now a Civil Servant of the baser sort, with a comfortable camp wherever he liked to pitch it, and a buggy and pair at his disposal. So he tooled into Timber Town, where the show was to open on the Saturday afternoon, but got there later than he intended, not till long after dark. The distance, indeed, was cruelty to one pair of animals, but he had given them a feed and a spell on the way, and he drove straight into the show on his arrival.

Timber Town is the Riverina township perhaps still chiefly famous for its man-eating mosquitoes. The river winds through the bush like an avenue in a park, and that season you could have driven a coach down its bed in the drought that was ruining all the squatters. The stock-route runs alongside thereabouts, but just there the river bulges and the township forms the down-stroke of a capital D. Solomon had pitched his tents and booths along the loop under the trees, and his swings and round-about in the half-circle, which was lit up like an open-air gin-palace, with naphtha flares and a superfluous moon. Daubeney hitched up outside the waxwork tent; which was the most sheltered of the side-shows, but not by any means the best patronized, except by the local carnivora. Daubeney afterward declared that he could hear a hum of fury round the false figureheads as he paid his extra sixpence to go in.

There was his despised masterpiece, the only one of them in the least like life. It was the first thing he saw, at the far end of the aisle, perched on the old authentic tub. It had a red rope around it, a kerosene lamp to itself, and the eye-glass and revolvers covered everybody who set foot in the tent, to say nothing of all the kings and queens, politicians and other malefactors, in their paper collars and tinsel crowns. Even Daubeney could not help feeling a thrill of startled satisfaction at the spectacle. Meager though the attendance in the tent, all present were engaged in flattering contemplation of the Billabong Stingaree. It was fun going up to hear what they said; had he succeeded in his art, he could not have done the same thing at a private view with a more eager curiosity.

A trooper in a puggaree was holding forth to a glaring globe-trotter in a tropical helmet, and the rest were listening with all their ears; that was because he was talking about Stingaree and his exploits, and how quiet he had been since his escape, and what reason there was for thinking he might be dead, or safe and sound in the old country, despite all yarns to the contrary. The globe-trotter alone seemed unimpressed; but his helmet was cocked at a flattering angle under those priceless hands with the revolvers in them; and there was the highest (and dryest) praise in his only remark, that it was the model's history that interested him! Daubeney caught his breath: a man-eater had started feeding on his pallid cheek, and the meal continued without interruption. There is no mistaking a voice that you have ever heard in sorrow or in anger. The globe-trotter in the pith helmet was, of course, Stingaree himself.

Daubeney knew it long before he saw his face, which was clean-shaven, almost abnormally long in the upper lip, and rather distressingly emaciated. He might never have recognized him if he had never opened his mouth; but neither a slight Edinburgh accent, nor an equally artistic affectation of the Oxford manner, could disguise the unforgetable pitch and timbre of Stingaree’s voice. Daubeney turned round to avoid meeting his eye. which came roving down the tent as the trooper plunged into a purely legendary version of the sketching episode in the station store. And at that moment Solly Sonnenschein hopped inside at the other end, and stood there like a gorged cormorant, beckoning to the bore with all his talons.

“This way, Mr. Policeman!” he shouted excitedly. “There's a man out here wants running in!”

The effect was instantaneous. Solomon himself led the joyful stampede from the tent. The trooper started scratch. Daubeney could have been a fair second, but stood his ground. In a few moments he was alone with Stingaree, and walking up to him before there was time to think.

“I suppose you won’t remember me?” he began below his breath. “I’m the perpetrator of this effigy, from the sketches you let me make of you that day at Billabong.”

“I remember you perfectly,” replied Stingaree, looking over his head, arms folded and each hand in the opposite breast pocket. “What are you doing now?”

“Boss of a Government rabbit-camp,” said Daubeney, by no means ashamed of his billet. “I came in to have a look at my handiwork, and here you are yourself!”

“Do you want to know what I think of it?” said Stingaree sardonically. “I think you’re a far bigger fool than I took you for last year!” His eye-glass burnt like a lens with the sun behind it, but was flashing round the tent before Daubeney had time to smart. “But I can’t talk!” he continued between his teeth. “The Sydney police have been on my tracks, and I think you’ll find them waiting for me outside. Not much sound of anybody else being run in, is there? That was only a ruse to clear the tent for action, and call up the local reserve from under my wing! I spotted it the moment that old Jew showed his beak!”

There is no plain language for the blended gusto and exultation with which he jerked out these remarks. After each he waited, listening, his revolvers cocked but his body bent, slightly crouching, ready for anything, all unlike the model whose existence behind them both they had both forgotten. Daubeney also might have been listening for his life, so acutely alive was he to his companion’s peril, so dead to all present sense of his enormities. What he did remember was the outlaw’s wrath at their last leave-taking; and it doubled his appreciation of a tacit, careless, half-contemptuous reliance upon him now. Stingaree did not even trouble to keep an eye upon him, as they stood together in the deadly silence which had fallen of a sudden on the outside world, and was broken within only by the bloodthirsty chant of the little cannibals dancing round their heads, and the swish and palter of foliage sweeping the top of the tent.

Daubeney hardly knew what he said when at length he found his voice. Failure and wastrel as he was undoubtedly, and as he knew himself to be in his heart of heart, so far there had been nothing criminal in his obscure career. The law's of man, at all events, he had never dreamt of breaking. Yet there and then was he prepared to risk a fracture for one of the most notorious law-breakers alive!

“Can’t I help you to escape?” he blurted below his breath. “What about dressing up in my clothes, leaving me as insensible as you like here in the tent, and driving off in my buggy before they can see which of us it was? ”

“Sportsman!” Stingaree murmured, laying one of the revolvers lightly across Daubeney s shoulder. “But I smell the blood of my old friend, Superintendent Cairns; he’d know me on a darker night than this at ten times the range. No! But what you might do is to get hold of this Cairns, and keep him from doing anything rash for the next ten minutes. Rather longer, if you could.” he added, throwing a look behind him and another overhead. “Tell him I’m shaking like a leaf! Tell him I’ve lost my head! Tell him it’ll be a shambles if they tackle me now, but say you’re certain I’ll surrender if they give me time. Tell him I talked about it one minute—and had a shot at you the next! ”

With that the revolver went off over Daubeney’s shoulder, with a drum-splitting report in his very ear, and sent him reeling with a shout of unaffected fear. His first thought was that Stingaree had gone as mad as he was to make him out; but there the fellow stood grinning, and pointing the way with the smoking barrel. The young man fled in a panic only half assumed, but nine tenths actual as a second bullet sent him out; and the volley continued until he rushed headlong into the arms of the police.

Leaving the shooting and his own bewilderment to tell their own tale, he burst out with Stingaree’s messages as soon as he remembered them, and felt at once both reassured and more puzzled than he had been yet. Clearly there was some deep, bold game behind those wild injunctions. What it was Daubeney could not fathom, except that time was to be gained by hook or by crook. His very bewilderment, however, was a certain aid thereto, might even have been part of the swift and subtle plan. He was obviously in no condition to return satisfactory answers to the cross-fire of questions to which he was instantly subjected.

A most truculent and excited little semi-hunchback, whom he speedily discovered to be Cairns himself, lost his temper with the witness in about ten seconds; but even he could not have suspected the insane sympathies which were at the bottom of an excitement greater than his own. His zeal and valor were self-evident, but it was equally clear that he was no leader of men. In his efforts to get what he wanted out of Daubeney, he shouted down those who were volunteering later and more valuable information, and retarded his own ends by bullying all alike. They were trying to tell him that Stingaree had shot out all the lights in the waxwork tent; when once the good man took their meaning, he incontinently flew to the other extreme, devoted all his energies to a hasty and ill-considered plan of attack, and left Daubeney to follow the course of events without further molestation.

The tent was indeed in a degree of darkness that rejoiced the young man's darkened soul. The overshadowing trees kept the moon off it, and it was just beyond the radius of the naphtha flare. The strategic advantage to the man inside was inestimable, but it was very far from equalizing the hideous odds against him. Already the ground seemed to be alive with armed men; already their stealthy advance had begun, from every visible point of the compass. The open space was dotted with trees enough to afford them almost continuous cover. Yet no shot had been fired since the volley which began under Daubeney’s ear and ended by reducing the tent to its present pitch-darkness.

He stood watching, stood listening to his own heart. Cairns and some chosen spirits had reached the buggy, under the last and nearest tree of all on the township side. Daubeney could hear his horses munching in their nosebags as the ring closed in and in. He was beginning to steal toward them in his turn, his brain a chaos of mad counter-plans and merciful impossibilities, when the end came too quickly for him to follow it. Round the tent the ring tightened like a noose round a murderer’s neck; against its gray, taut sides the black figures stood out as thick as savages round a dying fire; at some given signal they stabbed and slit the canvas in so many different places, and poured out of sight through the rents, while Cairns led a rush through the proper entrance. Daubeney could only hold his breath, and wait in an agony for the fusillade to start.

But not a single shot was fired. Instead, came puzzled shouts, then a light that filled the gashes in the tent as if with blood, then a baffled and bewildered chorus and the hoarse solo of the Superintendent shouting them all down once more. In a frenzy of enthusiasm Daubeney fought his way into a tentful of beaten men, at the very moment of their dazed enlightenment.

The spectacle was not more startling than enigmatic until one had the clue. Sonnenschein’s execrable waxworks had met their deserts at the hands of the iconoclast. In the center of the central aisle they were stacked, piled, heaped on high, in a funeral pyre that needed but a match, an unlit holocaust of ideal inflammability. Gilt-crowned heads, and headless bodies with the sawdust running out of them, and tawdry tinsel and horrible pink libels on the human hand, and genuine exhibits such as a stuffed alligator from Queensland, with its gigantic grin and its sly little eye on General Tom Thumb, made a mountain of incongruity from the ground to near the top of the tent. In the mountain-side Daubeney looked at once for the live eyes and ambushed barrels of Stingaree. The same idea seemed to have occurred to everybody else before him; some were still poking in the rubbish-heap with their guns; it was only as he entered that some inspired wiseacre pointed overhead with a shout, to a great hole in the canvas roof, to a stout branch dragged down through the hole and still in contact with the topmost monstrosities of the pile.

“Out and up into the trees! After him! After him!” yelled Cairns, and dashed outside with the wild pack yelping at his heels.

And this time Daubeney was with them, swept off his feet in the press, burning, too, to know the worst. But it was a night on which they could have mooned a ’possum in the tallest gum-tree in the colony. If Stingaree had made his escape that way, he had come down the tree while they were all inside the tent; there was no sign of him in the branches above, or in the river-bed below, or on the moonlit flats upon the further side.

The pack scattered and spread like slugs from a blunderbuss. In a minute the open space lay deserted under rolling moon allying cloud, and the fiery streamers of the naphtha flares. A thick voice raised in blasphemous lamentation drew Daubeney back into the tent: it was Solomon shedding tears over the battered relics of his departed glory, as he gingerly retrieved the injured from the wreck.

“Come, come, Mr. Sonnenschein,” said the young man. for they had exchanged some sort of greeting after his first dramatic expulsion from the tent, and the showman was throwing himself upon his sympathy without a shadow of shame. “You may bemoan some who were his superiors in the flesh, but you must admit that he has spared the one decent waxwork in your show, even if he did it out of vanity!”

For the Billabong Stingaree still towered inviolate on its tub, aloof and apart from the slaughtered herd, still glaring through the legendary monocle, and looking more lifelike than ever by the naked flame of a shattered lamp, burning smokily on the ground beside the showman.

“To hell with Stingaree!” cried the old man bitterly, reaching down a female figure with its face trodden in. “Look what he’s done to Kitty Webster! I shall have to fix her in the white cap she was hung in, with the identical rope round her neck. I wish it was round his! I wish they’d ride ’im down, an’ trample ’im under foot, an’ drag ’im back with just enough life in ’im to be worth lynching!”

“I was talking about my model,” said Daubeney, admiring it at a distance in the murky light. “It is mine, you know, because you never paid me for it. And it’s the best thing in the tent, with the rest nowhere; it’s so good, that I’ll be shot if that isn’t a mosquito biting its nose!”

“Mosquito biting its nose!” jeered the showman, with a laugh as noisy as his lamentations. But he went up to see for himself; and the eventual shrug of his weighty shoulders spoilt a posture of Napoleonic defeat. The chuckle with which he returned was less convincing; the low cunning of his altered look as plain as print.

“Well, Mr. Sonnenschein? Wasn’t I right?”

“ ’Course you were!” cried the ready rogue. “I was only larfin’ because you seemed to think it somethin’ wonderful. Why, we puts mosquito curtains over ’alf their ’eads every night in life when we shuts up shop! That wasn’t what I was lookin’ at; I was lookin’ at this ’ere dam’ fine likeness what you keep blowin’ about. Likeness? Why, bless my body an’ soul, it is about as like Stingaree—now we seen ’im face to face—as what it’s like me! Yet you talk about me payin’ you—for a barefaced fraud—when the fraud’s found out! Pretty good cheek you got; it’s more like you payin’ me, for makin’ a fool o’ me these two years, with your alleeged portrait of Mr. Sanguinary Stingaree! Portrait o’ your grandmother! The game’s up, Daub’ney. You an’ yer portraits, when we’ve seen the real man!”

“Right you are,” replied Daubeney, with much alacrity. “I admit it isn’t too like him now. Just as well for all concerned; you’ll miss him so much the less when I cart him away.”

“Cart him away!” The old Jew’s voice and jaw had dropped together; the light from the ground hit the upper plate of his false teeth. “Who said you were going to cart ’im away—my figure—my wax figure o’ Stingaree, the greatest bushranger that ever lived?”

DAUBENEY made the obvious answers in the tone he could now afford; but the day was his before even he expected it. Right! He could take it away that night, that minute, the sooner the better. Solomon Sonnenschein was not going to be made a laughing-stock by any man. But he had been; yes, he had! Take it away?

He had a great big mind to smash it himself, like all the rest: then there would be no takings away, nothing to take, and it was what his fine friend jolly well deserved. Take it away to hell, for all he cared, but better look sharp about it! He was going over for a drink—the whole thing made him so sick. If he found either of them there when he got back. . . . And his volte face concluded with a palsied shaking of enormous fists from the other end of the tent, and an ostentatious whistling solo without—for whose benefit Daubeney was trying to imagine as it died away between the deserted show and the nearest shanty on the other side.

It was a supervening sound that brought him to the right-about with a jump. Stingaree himself was upon him, in full waxwork fig, but with both revolvers in one hand, and his free fingernails violently occupied with the tip of his nose. The wax masterpiece had vanished into space.

“Don’t look like that!” said Stingaree, with something of a chuckle in his urgent whisper.

“Take him at his word before he thinks better of it. I’m not a heavy-weight—you look strong enough. Wait a second —now!

All in that second he had struck the attitude of the waxwork, stiffened himself, and tilted backward into Daubeney’s arms, exactly as though he had been the glorified lay-figure all the time. The pinch of practice was worth a pound of explanation, and out the young man dragged him by the shoulders at a clean angle of forty-five. His own two working revolvers pointed at the tree-tops for anybody who might be extant to see; but it was one of the waxwork’s spurs that considerately came off to bear out all the rest.

Getting him into the buggy was the great crux now. It presented every obstacle except an audience—which there might have been in ambush—and every risk short of volunteer aid. Without a flicker of his moonlit mask the bushranger insisted on being put in feet first. Luckily it was less a buggy than a light cart, with the single seat well forward, and a tailboard to make the thing just possible. But it was a dreadful deadweight that Daubeney lifted in by the waist, despite the casual collaboration of outwardly inanimate heel and elbow. Even with his robber rammed home, like a coffin in a hearse, Daubeney had to go back for the historic tub—all this time containing the globe-trotter’s disguise — and trundle it out and get it up and in beside them. The whole business took perhaps the longest minutes of two fairly adventurous lifetimes. But in the end the precious couple got off without a hitch.

FROM the start Stingaree took charge, albeit on the broad of his back in the bottom of the buggy, with his toes turned up next to Daubeney’s flat feet, and nothing else to be seen of him without looking round: there are things that can be seen with the nape of the neck, and a brace of revolvers sticking up the solar system were simultaneously behind Daubeney’s back and never for a moment out of sight. Assuredly he saw them plainer than he did the track, which was always running into heavy timber, under another narrow track of stars, and when it widened there were mobs of scudding clouds to douse the moon.

The hot wind had gone round to a southerly bu’ster, and it was more than usually like a recoil from summer into early spring. An inch of rain fell next morning, after the wind; but that night it was rising, and making such an uproar in the trees that it was a case of howling it down before one could make the other hear. Daubeney only tried it once—when he made sure they were being followed on horseback—and a cursing was all he got for his pains.

“What do you expect?” sang out Stingaree. “The old Jew spotted me before you did! Turn round and talk if you want to draw their fire; drive like the devil if you don’t!”

Daubeney might have driven in blinkers after that; but still the thunder of pursuing hoofs played a sort of muffled tattoo on his ear-drums, and he could not see that it mattered what he did as long as they were paying out plenty of track behind them. Escape was the only consideration if they were really being pursued; and on reflection he could not but agree about Sonnenschein having tumbled to the trick.

The old rogue’s cunning and his own innocence were equally plain to him now; but he could not for his life see why Stingaree should have persisted in playing a part to the elaborate end, when it was no longer taking anybody in, and when time had become the paramount consideration.

HIS ruminations were arrested by a fresh thunderstorm of following hoofs, by a chorus of excited shouts, and by a mounted policeman shooting past the buggy on either side, bringing the pair to a standstill in a few rocking lengths. More ground thunder, and the buggy was surrounded by a mob of steaming horses, winking lanterns and gleaming barrels, with the carbine of Superintendent Cairns to the fore for Daubeney’s special benefit.

“Thought you’d help him to escape, did you?” he barked. “You’ll find you’ve helped yourself to a dose of Darlinghurst, my lad! Take a hand off those reins and you’ll be shot—if you like that better.”

Though rejoinder seemed but further foolishness, Daubeney could not help taking his cue from Stingaree. Out of the tail of his near eye he could just see one of the revolvers, still sticking heavenward; and the slant of most of the gleaming barrels, combined with the look in the eyes behind them, assured him that the bushranger was still absurdly personating his own portrait model.

“I helped nobody to escape.” Daubeney lied like a man. “All I did was to remove my own property with Mr. Sonnenschein’s full knowledge and consent. If he’s here, I should like to know if he denies it?”

“I deny nothing,” shouted the thick voice of the showman, somewhere out of sight. “But I only gave you leave when I saw—the waxwork—was alive.” Something more than his hesitation made Daubeney look right round. His tune had changed even as he spoke; it was suddenly transposed into the key of consternation; and it harmonized with all the faces to be seen—except the waxen face staring glassily at the stars. Swathed to the waist in a rug that he had thrown over Stingaree, but otherwise clad precisely as in the waxwork tent, only naturally crumpled and begrimed, with one of the two stark arms doddering from the socket, it was the graven image that Daubeney had made to himself and mounted on the tub now yawning empty at its side!

The young man tried not to laugh or scream outright, and so far succeeded that every available vial of wrath was forthwith emptied on the showmans puzzled head. That worthy would still have had it that the waxwork was not a waxwork when he told Daubeney he could take it away; he was only the more bitterly denounced, abused and scarified by Cairns for a drunken coward. He would still have sworn to a red mosquito bite, but the ribald laughter of the mob turned his asseverations into maudlin tears.

Even he, however, had not the face to ask for his waxwork back again after his own public acknowledgment of his bargain; but suffered himself to be driven off the scene with insults that might have excited pity for a meaner man with less right on his side. As for the outward and visible Daubeney, he sat there sardonically waiting until graciously permitted to proceed upon his way.

ONE thing he gathered before that consummation, and it too fitted in with all else like the last piece in a puzzle. Though the scattered army of volunteers had not discovered Stingaree in the river (or any other) timber, his old mare Barmaid had not been quite so fortunate. Some bold spirit had not only laid hand on her, but thrown a leg across the saddle. How long he kept his seat, or if he ever obtained one, would not be known until the man recovered consciousness, even if then.

“She’s our dart!” cried one of the local police. “She scents him an’ foller him like a dog! We’ve only got to follow her.”

“We’ve only got to find her first you idiot!” thundered the amiable Cairns. “I suppose you haven’t seen anything of a white mare—you, Dauber, or whatever they call you?”

‘Not a thing.” answered Daubeney with perfect truth, and all the humility he still thought fit and proper to display to Cairns.

But he began to think that he had heard something, in that first quartet of hoofs, which had caused him to look round for the first and last time while Stingaree was in the buggy.


THE END

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